Weird time’s a charm

Katoomba’s Paragon Cafe is one of those irritating places that can never wind up on Past Lives because even though there’s so much to say about it, it’s still doing what it’s always done…with the exception of the oysters, anyway.

I guess Past Lives will just have to end up on the Paragon instead.

Weird Sydney Final

That’s right, it’s back.

On August 12th, you can join the incomparable super-team of Peter Doyle, Chris Mikul, Vanessa Berry and myself for an afternoon of the weirdest Sydney has to offer.

How can we possibly fit everything that’s weird about this messed-up town into one afternoon, you ask? You’ll just have to come along and find out!

Get your tickets here! Wear your best sideburns and you might even end up with your picture on the wall!

And if all that’s not momentous enough for you, this year happens to be the Paragon’s 101st anniversary. Yes, they chose to hold this event on that non-anniversary.

Don’t you find that a little…weird?

Computer Service Centre/Pharmatex – Epping, NSW

Come gather round, children, and I’ll tell you a tale of a time when people played “computer games”.

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Epping is a bit of a mess these days: no two floors of a shop can seem to agree on what they’re going to be. This one in particular features voices from the future (education – the Children Are Our Future), the present (the natural health joint), and the past. We’ll get to all of them, but let’s begin yesterday.

In 1983, the market for console video games in the United States crashed and crashed hard. In a panic, the computer gaming industry (there’s a difference) sought to distance itself from its ailing cousin. IBM, Amstrad, Commodore were just a few of the names attempting to usurp Atari as household standards.

In Europe and Australia, it largely worked. By the early 90s, naff adults would refer to kids’ Sega Master Systems and Game Boys as “computer games”. Ugh.

When you’re a kid, it’s a travesty. You and your passions, tarred and feathered by misunderstanding. Or was it a lack of wanting to understand?

It took years for the computer games terminology to wear off. You’ll still hear it today if you listen (or care) hard enough. Sure, there have been some great games for computers during the past two decades, but as our old buddy Lana Del Rey likes to say, something something video games.

Which brings us to today’s focus. This place serviced computers, and wisely separates computers and games. It’s hard to tell where to place this in the gamut of understanding, but I’m going to go ahead and chuck it in the “totally gets it” pile. For one, the sign appears to be neon – cool. And two, the shop doesn’t look that old.

The computers and games and computer games have long since left the building, however. It’s symptomatic of a larger sickness – when was the last time you saw a games department at Myer? At K-Mart? It’s clear this was just another casualty of the digital takeover.

Today, it’s home to Pharmatex. Or it isn’t. Their website has the right address, but the shop itself appears to contain no less than two other pharmaceutical/health food outlets.

If you’re that curious, call them toll free on 1800 GLOVES (seriously).

As for the HSC English specialists, I wonder what percentage of these tutors exist purely to stop the students from playing computer games instead of studying?

Golden World Restaurant/Xinjiang Noodle House – Ashfield, NSW

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If you’re planning on visiting Ashfield, wolfing down a Chinese meal and washing it down with an icy cold Coca-Cola, I’ve got some bad news for you: it won’t be a golden experience.

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As you may remember, there was a time when things, particularly restaurants and take-away shops, went better with Coke.

John Pemberton’s miracle tonic was being poured wherever you’d see signs like this, usually with the tiny-lettered name of the venue pushed aside to make more room for that contoured logo – as if it needed any more exposure.

The thinking was that unless you advertised drinks were available, you’d alienate thirsty customers, or worse still, make them think you sold Pepsi.

I’m not sure how well Coke goes with the kind of unpretentious Chinese food Golden World would have sold. I do like the chutzpah of Golden World to name itself that, and then set up in the very un-golden world of Ashfield.

I also can’t help but feel for the person or persons living in that upstairs room back in the Golden years, with that bright red and white sign glowing outside their window all night. I hope you finally found peace, whoever you are.

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Golden World’s deal with the sugar devil expired long ago, but odds are the brownest of the brown liquids is still sold at today’s Xinjiang Noodle House. They probably sell Coca-Cola, too.

And as for those panning for gold in Ashfield, get yourself up the street. Golden times await…

Cyclops Toys/Residential – Leichhardt, NSW

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“I live near the Cyclops Toys building” was a direction I heard often when I lived in Leichhardt.

Every inner westee seems to know this place and certainly, if you spend any time in the suburb, you can’t miss it.

The fun, red letters spelling Cyclops Toys speak loud from the top of this old red and beige trike and bike factory. The fact they’re squashed into the sawtooth roof makes them look like they’re in speech bubbles. Are the words being shouted proudly or whispered knowingly? It’s hard to tell.

The Cyclops Toys building sits in a dip on William Street on the corner of Francis Street, so it talks clearly at you as you drive down from Norton Street. It has three storeys, including the lettering, which makes it mammoth compared to Leichhardt’s oft-tiny, one-storey weatherboards and brick semis that my friend’s mother once described as “a collection of posh beach shacks”.

The sawtooth design of the roof suggests this place was actually a factory, not just a storage facility. The sawtooth, with its glazed steeper surfaces facing away from the north, was designed to shield workers and machinery from direct sunlight, while allowing natural light into the deep-plan building. Or perhaps Cyclops just wanted to stop their bikes and trikes getting too hot.

Cyclops have been making bikes and trikes since 1913. And in fact, Leichhardt was where it all began. John Heine Sheet Metal started making flat framed trikes at Hay Street, on the other side of Leichhardt, that year. The Cyclops name was registered two years later.

By 1920 the company was on fire – it started mass producing the Cyclops pedal car, which it claims to be the “first Australian mass produced car” – 30 years before the Holden came along.

Around ten years later it started making the Dinky Trike, soon to be found strewn across children’s backyards, parks and footpaths around Australia throughout the early-mid 20th century.

Those years were huge for Cyclops. Two world wars and the Great Depression meant less toys coming in from Europe and the company positioned itself nicely to fill the gap.

The William Street factory – listed with Cyclops Toys for the first time in 1930, according to History of Sydney – would have been key to Cyclops’ growth, and would likely have employed a considerable number of local workers.

By the 80s Cyclops claim to have made over 50 different types of wheel toys, including pedal cars, scooters and even doll prams. Alas, the original Dinky was not one of then – that design was shelved in 1950.

Today Cyclops still make a wide range of trikes, bikes, scooters and even helmets. You just need to pop along to Target.

As for the William Street factory, it’s now a set of attractive “warehouse conversion” apartments. Agent blurbs on Realestate.com talk up the apartments’ original hardwood floors, exposed beams, picture windows and soaring ceilings. And the market is lapping them up; some three-bedroom apartments have sold for way north $1,500,000.

But despite the building being closed off for private owners, it’s still treasured by locals. The vintage-style letters speaking loud and proud to anyone who comes down the hill. It’s almost as if Cyclops knew their future market; it’s the inner west all over.

C’s Flash Back Second Hand Clothing/City Convenience – Newtown, NSW

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What’s this? A second hand clothing store in Newtown that’s no longer in operation?! How could this be?!

I’m sure C didn’t see the convenience in this situation. Nor did the council when it was forced to take a bite out of the awning to get that pole in. It’s not a good look, but neither were most of the fashions C had up for sale. Let’s please leave flares in the past.

Please.

C actually fills in the historic blanks him/her/itself on the C’s Flash Back website: “C’s flashback began as a humble stall at Glebe Markets selling antique collectables 20 years ago.”

Here’s where the timeline gets a little muddy: “Within 2 years they had expanded to a brick and mortar store in Newtown and later in Surry Hills.”

So this sign has been here for 18 years? There’s no mention of when the Newtown location closed; in fact, the website speaks as if it’s still operating: “With quality low-cost exotic clothing in the heart of Newtown, the King Street store provides many of the costume pieces for fancy-dress uni-parties throughout the year.”

You don’t say.

It’s also noted that C’s love of dressing people in outdated styles continues to have outlets at Surry Hills, Paddington and Glebe Markets.

Thank goodness Glebe still has a place to buy second hand clothing.