AAnd there I was… sobbing over a wedding dress in a museum in Hobart, Tasmania. I hate weddings. By all means, plan your big day, create your mood board and do the princess thing. I got married in a five-minute ceremony, wearing a Stetson, before going to the pub. Fanciful nuptials leave me cold. It wasn’t just any wedding outfit, though. It was the meringue that I believe sealed my fate.
It was Charlene’s wedding dress in Neighbors. Backlit and plumped in one corner as the classic Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan episode played in the background. The object of my pilgrimage, resplendent in all its splendour, was only visible for a month. High collar. Huge sleeves. Lace. Roses. Frilly. A frou-frou masterpiece that can take middle-aged Britons back to November 1988. School. Lincolnshire. Where the wonderful Mrs. Russell let us watch the lunchtime ceremony on TV in the sixth grade center. She understood the gravity of the situation; it wasn’t just the family getting married. It was our royalty. The wedding of the century.
For much of Britain, what even has been Australia before the neighbors? A galaxy far, far away where people have disappeared, like the two red-haired boys from Doughty Street in my home town in the 70s. loaded: “All the best with thisIt was a place that featured with terrifying frequency in the reunion segment of Surprise Surprise – the grand finale where Cilla Black told a bewildered pensioner that her sister from Brisbane, whom she hadn’t seen in 37 years , was about to take the stage.. Australia was farther than the moon.
Sure, we’d had their soap operas before – the Sons and Daughters theme music was practically our soundtrack to avoid school – but we’d never seen this Australia before. The neighbors reset everything. It was so bright. There were cafes, hangouts, and HSCs (higher education certificates). They seemed so much sexier than GCSEs. And, if you failed them, you could just start your own chauffeur business. Every time I’m in Melbourne and see a green car, I wonder if Helen Daniels’ Home James service is still running.
Also, Neighbors had teenagers who argued with their parents and then went out and had fun. Don’t mope around Albert Square to meet your baby’s secret father, Michelle Fowler style. Young Australians went to beach. It was a strange place, with no pier, donkeys or slot machines, but it looked amazing. Zero sharks and lots of splashing with hot boys.
And here is the real attraction: Australian men. Scott/Jason. They were interchangeable for me. Not the left Foster-swigging Paul Hogan stereotype of Aussie men. Scott/Jason supported Charlene/Kylie’s effortless mechanical feminist ambitions. Then there was the sensitive grafter Mike/Guy Pearce, who ended up dating Plain Jane “Super Brain” Harris. What is this wonderful world? It’s a country where geeks can score a hot guy and working-class people can have single-family homes with big yards. It is a country where even Labradors can dare to dream.
But, like Bouncer’s nocturnal hallucinations, it was all fantasy. At the time, I had no desire to live abroad. With my teenage panic attacks, Peterborough was as far as I could go. But, somewhere in me, a seed had to be sown. The media in the 90s was littered with Aussies. They were everywhere. I was friends with many of them; I married one. After a decade of living in the UK, he said: “Why don’t we live the for a while?” It was terrifying. But Skype had arrived: now you could see people far away. And the echoes of Erinsborough echoed in my head.
The Neighbors became, in my mind, the pseudo-documentary on which I based one of the key decisions of my life. Everything would be fine. madge. Jim. Clive. Helen. I just had to avoid the cliffs. “Harrrrrrrolllllldddd!
As we prepared for the move, I sorted through some of my partner’s old Polaroids from the ’80s. He looked, I thought, like an extra from Lassiter’s cafe. When I recently shared the photo on Facebook, I embellished the post with what I thought was an obvious lie: “He had been on the soap for seven episodes as a waiter Jason Byrne at Mr. Udagawa.” Despite the ridiculousness of the claim, some of my friends believed it. He looked like the Donovans around him. The neighbors, it seems, gave me a deep Australian bent. And I didn’t even know it.
Life is falling. Living here “a little” turned into more than a decade. You rarely see your life as a complete series – more like chapters and episodes. However, in this wedding dress, I saw my trajectory from adolescence to 50. From that crazed, fat teenager who couldn’t go anywhere to a functioning adult… on a bloody island near Antarctica.
As of this writing, Charlene’s dress is about to be safely stored in a box at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. I have no idea what this will mean for future generations, but I suspect Minogue’s endless and joyous reincarnations will ensure her relevance. For me, it will always be more than a dress. Much more than a symbol of romance. By the time you get to half a century, you know the limits of that. And yes, I’m still married to my brilliant Aussie.
The neighbors opened up the world to me. Scott and Charlene stayed in my soul for years. Their wedding — plus all the ’80s flourishes Minogue wore — reminds me of when I needed to believe there was something else. A bigger and better future that, at that time and in that mental state, I could not quite conceive. I still have days like that, wherever I am in the world. Aren’t we all? That’s when a good dose of foamy soap can make all the difference. Neighbors of Onya.