Fifteen years ago my mother uprooted us from our hometown, Albury-Wodonga, and drove us all the way to Sydney in pursuit of love and good coffee shops. Since then, every Christmas has begun with a seven-hour road trip. We scream at each other in the morning while we're trying to pack the car and set off at least 2 hours after we aim to. Other than the sound of Scheherezade, the aptly named bull terrier panting in our ears, begrudging silence pervades until we reach a cluster of petrol stations outside Marulan and all three get out to have a pee.
Calmer and more comfortable, this is when mum and I settle into our annual bonding session. Given that we're in the car for the seven hours one way and seven hours back, you can pretty much guarantee we have discussed you. Any secrets you have told us, we now both know. We've broken it all down, taken it out for a good shake, looked at it closely, devised numerous theories of how's and why's and what should's. And then we put a CD on.
Now, mum's a bit special. There are certain sounds she can't handle – at all. I wouldn't recommend sitting next to her in the cinema – or even the living room - if you're going to chew pop corn or crunch chips. She is likely to turn on you with the speed and menace of venomous snake. “Sounds good!”, “How long are you going to crunch those for?”, “WOULD YOU STOP MAKING THAT NOISE!” So, basically, when choosing the tunes, for occupational health and safety reasons, I make sure it's going to be shit she will dig.
The Rolling Stones are good. Puts her in a good mood and she does this little dance with the steering wheel, wiggling her arse in the driver's seat, which makes me smile, which makes her go “What? What?!” Bob Dylan gets a pretty similar reaction out of both of us and last year someone leant us Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon which the old girl revelled in, perforating each track with a very motherly “you must thank [name removed for privacy reasons] very much for this, it was very kind of him to lend it to us.”
Lunch happens at the Yass service centre where I suspect the phrase “every man and his dog” was first devised by those unfortunate enough to require its services during a Christian holiday period. With a tank full of 'petty' (as they call it in these parts) and a stomach full of greasy chicken using up all our energy, this is usually when mum requires “something soft”. Antony and the Johnsons, Yasmin Levy, I like to play her Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter album for the track Wash my Soul in the River's Flow in anticipation of do that very thing when we hit the Murray.
And once in town it gets all Lamb of God and Suicide Silence with my cousins, Whitney Houston and Darryl Braithwaite with my girlfriends, and some sickeningly atrocious remixes of sickeningly atrocious top 40 tracks that we just have to get rotten drunk to if we're going to survive it and which always inevitably makes the cover band in another area of the pub seem like rock gods. I put it to you that there is not a small town in the whole of Australia that doesn't LOVE a cover band doing a rendition of Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl.
The first part of the journey back to Sydney is usually pretty melancholy. Mum spends the first 40k's repeatedly asking whether she did the right thing moving us out of Albury while I stare out the window at bleached paddocks and rolling hills knowing that it was the right thing but really sad none the less. “Put Leonard Cohen on,” she says. “It will help you get in touch with your pain.”