NYWF16 – Saturday

Photo by Bridget

I decide that I will make breakfast. I message all the people in the vicinity who I would like to make breakfast for and then realise that I have invited rather a lot of people over for breakfast. In the surprisingly well stocked kitchen I stew up fistfuls of ingredients – onions and capsicum and garlic and tomatoes. I spread it over two dishes and cover it in basil and then eggs and then cheese. We sit in the sunlit courtyard to eat. And I smile at everyone and demand they eat more eggs and this is basically my heaven.
I leave my phone at home (because I can) and we traipse down to the sea. Beth and I fling ourselves into the baths and it is deeper and colder than we expected. The cold sucks all the air out of my lungs and I am gasping and treading water and trying hard to breathe. But then our limbs get used to it and we are content enough to convince Lauretta and Fin to jump in too (“at first you will regret it a lot but then you will not regret it”). We eat sour worms, passed to us by Alex and Tom who are lazing on the sturdy wooden bridge which divides the pool. We decide that sour worms taste good with a hint of salt.

Tom buys chips from the kiosk and we eat them while wandering across the rock ledge behind the baths, peering into impossibly perfect rock pools. They are almost exactly circular and some of them are so deep that the bottom is shimmery and out of focus. They are like paintings. I show the others how cunjevoi work, stepping on them to make little jets of water shoot toward the clouds.

Photo by Jake

We go home and change and while Jake and Alex and Vee settle in to watch the Grand Final, the rest of us go in search of lunch. We end up at the Newcastle Bakery which is now called something like “Next Day” or “This Day” or “These Days” for reasons that are not clear. Luckily it is exactly the same inside and I order an almond croissant and resist gushing to the man behind the counter about how I have waited all year to eat this almond croissant.
I decide I should actually see a couple of events, just to break the day up so I trek up to the Gun Club. Science Fiction vs. Science Fact is silly and funny and afterwards I say hello to Dave because I am 40% just there to say hello to Dave (but also the event was very good). I finally meet the two remaining members of the new NYWF staff and Khalid calls me “Alex Neill” and for once I like the way my whole name sounds. I am sleepy and have had too much sun so I just watch Lex and Dave talk to each other on the lounges and lazily think about how all my friends are very talented and lovely. We stay to hear some excellent poems and then Rachel and I duck out.

We arrive back to a lounge room full of happy, shouting people. As we walk in Alex yells “HOW WAS YOUR THING BECAUSE OUR THING WAS GREAT” and Kylie cheers and pumps her arms in the air. I sit on the stairs and I watch a lot of very nice people coming and going from this room and lots of them cry and they’re all smiling and it makes me happy to see them all this happy. And between the sun and the friends and the Bulldogs winning the Grand Final the happiness is so thick in that room that it takes on a gravity of it’s own, making it hard to pull away.
I get the tubes and tubes of glitter out of my suitcase and offer them to people. I feel a lot like a drug dealer of some kind, only glitter is not illegal though maybe should be. beccamarshand I have a conversation about the advances in glitter technology (because they can just get it so fine these days) and this doesn’t make me feel less like a drug dealer.

Photo by Fin

There are only a couple of mirrors in the house and I go from one to the other – putting gold on my eyelids and glitter on my eyebrows and bronze on my lips and flowers in my hair. In the bathroom, lit by the fairy-lights encircling Beth, I wind Lauretta’s hair into horns, using only a dozen bobby pins and a can of hairspray. Tom comes downstairs in a surprise costume that he sneakily bought at Spotlight hours before. “We did this in three minutes and I’m the best dressed out of all of us!” Jake says when, as we’re about to leave, we decide to put glitter in his beard.
We walk up Hunter St in a sprawling convoy. Someone takes our photo out of a car window. A passing man asks us if we’re playing Pokemon. This is such a ridiculous heckle that when another person asks what we’re doing beccamarsh replies “playing Pokemon”. Vee, from far behind us shouts “WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP ASKING US ABOUT POKEMON’.

Photo by Beth

Outside the venue, a man with a trumpet asks us if we’re there for the ball and I tell him that we are, assuming that a man in a gold vest with a trumpet must be TiNA related. Only I don’t think he is? Which raises the question: why does he have a trumpet if it is not for art? We go inside to find zero party but are more than prepared to start one. Pretty soon there are people and all the people are nice. I tell a lot of the people that they are nice, even some who I don’t know yet.
Georgia comes and gives us all a card to play the game she has designed for tonight. The cards range from ace to 7. Georgia explains that of all the cards in the room, only one is a four. To play, you approach other players and ask “are you four”. You show them your card and if it’s one number either side of theirs (like a 5 and a 6) you swap. The aim is to swap cards until you can find and acquire the four. The person holding the four at the end of the night will win.

Photo by Katie

Jake gets the four as his starting card and after a quick circuit of the room to get myself a three, I take it off him. It is at this moment that, collectively, we realise that the game is not about finding the four at all. It is about holding it. This is also the moment that we go from casually playing the game to playing the game.

Jake forms an alliance with Dave. I quickly form one with beccamarsh and Casey. Casey keeps telling me that the “larger our alliance is, the weaker it is” and Jake keeps trying to double cross Dave. It is possible that we have been watching too much Survivor.

Alex starts to DJ and I drag everyone onto the dance floor because we only have a few hours and I have a year’s worth of dancing to do. My boyfriend has been making this playlist all year. He can read the crowd like our dancing is words. He tells me that the key is to forget your ego. Never mind that he loves all this music unironically, that ego never plays a part in his tastes. There are few times I love him more than when he is dancing.

Photo by Beth

While we dance, beccamarsh, Casey and I keep giving each other significant looks and covertly trading cards. Our tactic is simple. One member of our alliance has the four. The other two have either a three or a five. This allows us to cycle the four between us constantly so that Jake and Dave (who don’t know we’re working together) can never keep track of it for long.

I dance until I can’t feel my feet, until the only thing keeping my legs up is sheer willpower. It is so hot that we start collapsing against the wall and leaning our faces against the slightly cool surface. Alex and Casey dance like idiots in the space between the DJ booth and the wall. beccamarsh leans over to tell me that my boyfriend is cute and I remember when I introduced them to each other and I was terrified that she wouldn’t like him because it mattered so much that she did.

Photo by Katie

The bar has (once again) ignored the warnings about exactly how much gin an NYWF ball can drink and is under stocked and understaffed. At the start of the night Casey is given a gin and tonic in a scooner glass but later on, gin is being served in miniature beer glasses, like over-large thimbles. I was only going to dance as long as Alex DJed but he’s still going and so I can’t stop. Alex and Seb have a very involved conversation and Casey shout-whispers that they should kiss and Sophie and I nod emphatically because we are very invested in the friend-crush our boyfriends have going. All the while, we pass the four between us until it is limp and creased.

Alex plays Dancing On My Own and I have a full body flashback to the moment when I cried to this song at the ball two years ago. I want to pull that version of myself onto this dance floor and show her that it will be ok. That all those things will pass and she will be so happy that it scares her. And then so happy that sometimes she forgets to be scared.

Photo by Katie

We are having such a nice time that we get cocky. And at 11:00pm, shortly after Alex finally finishes his set, Jake takes the four from beccamarsh. I have a two. Casey has a seven. Also I don’t even know where Casey is because I told him to go away and not come back until he had a number that is better than seven. By the time we regroup and find Jake, the four is gone.

Casey and I frantically begin circling the ball. Between us, we demand to know if every single person in that room is four. I see Hera properly for the first time all weekend and she says “Alex!” and I say “It’s so lovely to see you but I’m sorry, I’m playing a game”.  Bec shouts “I’M NOT FOUR” before we’ve even have a chance to ask her. I wave four fingers in front of multiple strangers on the dance floor and throw my arms in the air when they clearly have no idea what I mean. I run past Georgia and she taps her watch and I shout “WE HAD IT GEORGIA WE HAD IT ALL NIGHT”. Jake cackles madly. Dave insists that Jake has double crossed him and suddenly I realise that they haven’t lost it at all. They know where it is. They’ve hidden it with someone. I shout this at Casey and we sprint in different directions again. I quickly begin to loose hope. I’m standing beside the DJ booth scanning the crowd for anyone that might have it when Casey barrels past me. “I’VE GOT IT!” he screams, “I KNOW WHERE IT IS AND JAKE IS AFTER ME!” And then he vanishes into the crowd.

Photo by Bridget

And then I’m grabbing Georgia and insisting that I know where it is and dragging her through the crowd and shouting for Casey. And then Georgia is asking beccamarsh if she is four and beccamarsh is producing the card and we’re all hugging each other and shouting at Jake because we’re not very gracious winners. It’s one of the greatest moment of my life.

Glowing with victory, we tumble with the crowd down Hunter St in the direction of the ocean. People who are new to NYWF ask me where the baths are and I tell them to follow everyone, to just walk toward the sea. We swing past the house for supplies and on the way to the baths, I intercept Katie and Will trying to go to bed. Still giddy with dancing emotions, I demand that they stay, just for a bit. I know them both through my day-job, where I have to be much more grown up than I am right now (covered in glitter and topped with foliage and tipsy with happiness). It is strange that not that long ago, Katie and Will were young people who I had to be responsible for. And now, sitting here with our feet in the ocean, we are young people together. Life is strange. And NYWF is stranger still.
The baths are glistening, lit by the streetlights which loom over the façade. There is so many people here. I’ve never seen this many people at the baths post ball. I talk to lots of them because lots of them are nice and it is so beautiful here and I am so happy. Imagine knowing, with some certainty, which day of every year would be your best? Imagine being able to mark on a calendar the night you are likely to be happiest? That’s what ball night at NYWF is for me.

Photo by Beth

beccamarsh has bought a bottle of wine called “whispers”. It is sweet and pink and in the absence of cups, we pass it between each other and drink from the bottle. We say “whispers?” so many times, so quickly that it becomes uncoupled from it’s original meaning. And before too long we are saying “whispers” to each other and suddenly it means “this is nice and you are nice and everything is nice and do you want a drink”.
Casey and I sit on the edge of the baths with our toes in the water and we discuss internal ABC gossip. We both work at the ABC and it is a contractual obligation that a majority of our conversations are about internal ABC gossip. It’s in the Charter. The water is crystalline and so green. I splash beads of it into the air with my toes. It is so nice to be sitting with my feet in the ocean, falling rapidly into friendship with someone and barely notice. Like suddenly being very good friends is no big deal.

We keep saying that we should go home but somehow we don’t, not yet. And then quite suddenly the only people left are our little group and several couples in the early stages of serious smooching. The night is starting to thin at the edges. So we agree, without speaking, that is is definitely time for bed.

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Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year