This is the race that stops a nation. A public (bank) holiday marks the date in its home state of Victoria. Essentially, it is an opportunity for boozing in the middle of the week (as though Australians need any more of an excuse) and the chance to wear such things as fascinators. Even in the West, as far from the track as one could possibly be on the continent, feathers, dresses and suits pervade the inner city streets. Some with promising all-day lunches to look forward to, others little more than a public house.
One anomaly of life in an isolated economic power-house is the triviality of time differences. This is an example of federalism functioning badly. The West recently voted against the introduction of Summer Time yet again, despite a successful three summer trial. This now has us 3 hours behind the East for a significant part of the year, including the special race day that is the first Tuesday of November. While in Melbourne they wine and dine over lunch before the race at approximately 3pm, we are (usually) soberly subjected to the race at 12pm, before then beginning to lunch. The natural order of things is consequently reversed - the winners and losers decided before the first morsel is even consumed. While fun, it remains regardless and anti-climax.
Tuesday 2 November 2010 marks the first Melbourne Cup I truly feted. I cannot describe the heat. An all-enveloping wall of high temperature that followed wherever one went, a shadow with no shade. No relief, but for the air-conditioned indoors. Thank goodness that was where I was to spend 5 hours of the day. I was fortunate to have been invited along to Must, in Mount Lawley. The gem of Russell Blaikie, considered to be one of Perth's best talents, and boasting one of the best wine lists in the city. This we attacked with great gusto, and whyever not? Must has such a good reputation, and I have so enjoyed eating there in the past, that I think I heaped too much expectation on the food. It was fine, no doubting that. But it wasn't quite there, for what I had anticipated. The atmosphere was wonderfully relaxed and informal, tables were joined and intimately spaced, giving a tremendously communal atmosphere. The joy of the winning was shared, and the pain of the losing commiserated with equal measure.
A surprise highlight came towards the end of the lunch. There had been various in-house raffles and prizes, and Must finished off by awarding some fashion prizes. Hastily before the MC returned to the mezzanine, a waiter had asked my name, saying I might have won a prize. I never win anything, so I was positively beaming with pride in anticipation of what was to come. Best Dressed Lady was announced, then came Best Dressed Gentleman. When my name was not called out, I was forced to use my best "I didn't win an Oscar face". I've always believed it's not how you look in winning, but in losing that counts. Dignity exists far more in the gracious vanquished than in any winner. Though that could well be a lifetime of bitterness speaking. Oh I performed so well, the face I used was so gracious. The rest of the table had erupted indignantly. "Of course that was your prize!", "Only a fool would have awarded that bald-headed, poorly suited troglodyte a fashion prize.", "Do you think it was rigged? Why bother asking your name then...". Quite funny in retrospect. The came the surprise - the award for best tie. In truth, I won this by default, I was the only person sporting a bow tie. But I take the victory regardless. Mounting the stairs, to deafening applause, I shook hands with Mr Blaikie, who presented me with a signed copy of his cookbook and a Must voucher.
I'm sure it isn't hard to imagine what that was spent on...