I'd just relocated to the countryside. The fast-paced city lifestyle wasn't for me; I felt burnt out. Belmoral was tiny, with only one main street and a population of 3,000.
On my second night, after moving in, I decided to go for a stroll down Piper Avenue, where everything could be found.
Feeling hungry, I entered the restaurant Cheerful Hippo. It was packed, families occupying tables everywhere.
Awkwardly, I sat alone at the back, towards the kitchen, where I could hear loud voices barking instructions.
After ten minutes, a waiter arrived at my table, notepad and pencil in hand.
'Apologies Mister, we are very busy tonight,' gesturing around at the packed room.
I smiled. 'No problem. I'd like to order fettucinne carbonara, thank you.'
'Water will be fine.'
I was the only solo diner in the restaurant. It was something I'd gotten used to, back when I lived in the city; there were places I'd discovered that were more accommodating for the solo diner than others.
The meal was delicious, but after paying at the front desk, I decided I likely wouldn't be back as I'd detected mutterings from nearby diners regarding the fact I was the only solo diner in attendance.
Two days later, 12pm. I was relaxing on a bench in Rosewood Park, which was just a couple blocks down from my apartment. Smartphone in hand, I was also looking for any potential job openings, but after half an hour I gave up.
The park was close to Piper Avenue, like everything in Belmoral. Being lunchtime, it'd be easier to find a spot more accommodating to the solo diner.
I passed by Cheerful Hippo, feeling awkward, possibly because I doubted I'd be returning, and knowing I'd have to walk past there many times in the future.
Eventually I came upon a tiny Japanese eatery called Bententei, who specialized in bento boxes.
I opted for bento box A, which included karaage chicken, gyoza, a nori roll, and salad.
Given the time, the place wasn't as busy as I expected, but at least I could eat undisturbed.
The food was delicious, and I left a happy customer. I'd definitely be back again.
As I mentioned, Belmoral was tiny, so there wasn't much to do. There was a school, a post office, a park, a supermarket, the Cheerful Hippo and Bententei, and not much else.
So I walked back to my apartment and opened Instagram, then performed a search for Solo Dining Adventurers.
You may be surprised, but there's a lot of people who, even if they don't choose to at first, eventually embrace the idea of dining alone. So they check out different restaurants, cafes, bistros, and document their experiences online as a solo diner.
While living in the city, I got into solo dining as a way of finding peace and time for myself. When you're dining alone, there's no one to bother or rush you, you can go at your own pace, and it quickly became my favourite manner of dining.
I didn't have many friends in any case.
The following day, once more Bententei was my lunch spot of choice. I discovered they offered okonomiyaki, Osaka-style savoury pancakes. The ingredients consisted of shredded cabbage, egg, spring onion, and topped with a special okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, powdered nori, and Benito flakes.
If that wasn't enough, the lady serving me asked if I'd like any additional ingredients, such as crispy bacon or karaage. I said yes to the latter.
While waiting, an older lady entered the eatery and proceeded to order the exact same thing as myself: okonomiyaki, with extra karaage. Trying not to look surprised, I kept my eyes locked on my table.
A few minutes passed, and I received my order. As I made my first bite, I felt somewhat self-concious, hoping the woman wouldn't notice I was eating the same thing as her.
Upon finishing, my mouth felt dry, so I bought a Mount Franklin spring water to quench my thirst. The lady was almost finished with her okonomiyaki when I returned to my table and had a sip of water.
I paid at the front and when I turned to leave, the lady was standing in my way.
'Oh, sorry,' I stammered. It had long since become instinctual for me to apologize to people.
'No need,' she said, smiling slightly.
I stepped past her awkwardly, and outside to Piper Avenue. As before, I couldn't think of anything to do, so I decided to head home.
Before I could, though, the door from the eatery opened behind me, and I saw the woman appear from it.
'First time I've seen you around,' she said to me, totally casual.
I blinked. What should I say?
She smiled. 'This is a small town, as I'm sure you've gathered. When there's someone new around, they're easy to spot.'
I cleared my throat. 'The food here is good.'
'Agreed. And it seems we have similar taste.' She winked.
The sky was dark and overcast, and as forecasted the rain began to tumble down. The lady waved goodbye, and we turned in separate directions, my mind full of various thoughts.
Bententei wasn't open tomorrow, unfortunately. I spent the day indoors, listening to the steady pounding of the rain.
The day after, the rain had stopped at last, though the weather was very cold. I wondered if Bententei made miso soup? It would really be ideal on a day like this.
Stepping inside, I asked them as much, and the owner confirmed that yes, they do make miso soup. Tofu or no tofu? Tofu, please, I replied. I hoped it'd be especially chunky tofu like they served at a place I went to in the city.
Bententei was busier today, and it was soon filled to capacity. There was still a chill in the air, though as my soup was served, I could see the sun breaking through the clouds.
It was around this time that the lady entered the eatery. She quickly noticed me, and walked towards my table.
'What did you order? Miso?'
I nodded. 'Seemed ideal on a day like this.'
She smiled. 'Agreed.'
Walking up to the counter, the lady ordered herself a bowl of miso soup, then noticed the place was completely packed.
'Can I sit here?' she asked, placing her hand on the chair across from mine.
I smiled. 'Of course.'
'My name's Meredith.'
It's raining here too. I'm not complaining, though it's unfortunate for those who've planned the Parade down in the city today - I'm not sure if it'll be cancelled, or if it'll go ahead with a lowered attendance.
Here in Bendigo, every Easter a Chinese Dragon dances through the city streets. I loved th8s spectacle as a child, especially the firecrackers going off alongside the dragon.
Why a Chinese Dragon? A few hundreds years back, Bendigo had a gold rush, in fact the city was once the wealthiest in the world, apparently. Many folks from around the world flocked here, including the Chinese. Some decided to stay, and their influence is still felt today.
You can find a Chinese cemetery in Bendigo, and many superb Chinese restaurants, though I suppose that's not such a surprise.
Branches and leaves, this sight of nature is a comfort, especially when the rain comes. My neighbour has an extensive garden which he takes good care of, currently the flowers and vegetables are under a thick green cover to protect them, why, I'm no gardening expert, so you'd have to ask him, but I'm sure he has good reason. I just checked the weather forecast, and unfortunately there's little to no rain to come for the coming week. My neighbour does have sprinklers, though, so his garden will get the required nutrients regardless.
Thoughts on pride
I haven't accomplished a lot in my life, still there's some things I feel prideful for. A few years ago I got seven short stories published in an anthology that was then distributed to three libraries across Australia.
It's a smaller matter, but I'm quite a good Tetris player, or more specifically, Tetris 99, a more modern varient of the classic puzzler which was released three years ago. Some people struggle to win a single match; I've claimed over a thousand.
I'm not accustomed to hearing others say that they're proud of me, and when such an event does occur, it's in my nature to doubt their words.
I feel a lot of pride for family and friends, in particular my brother, who's overcome many hardships and has worked so hard to end up where he is today. I wish I was as strong as he is.
I actually cut my nails today. They'd gotten so long, I'd ended up with a number of scratches across my chest and face. For a while now, I've been depressed, and I've neglected simple things like my personal hygiene - almost four months into the year, and I've only showered a handful of occasions. The same with shaving - I'll let my beard grow until it's enormously thick and bushy, uncomfortably so, so I end up scratching it with my also neglected fingernails.
Four years ago my family left the city for the countryside. One of the benefits since coming here is discovering all the different restaurants and cafes nearby, and in particular there's this pasta dish which blew me away, and whenever I returned, it was all I'd ever order, along with some Moscato. The pasta in question is called spanner crab, and the only shame is that I'd wolf it down so quickly, the experience was over too quickly.
So that would be my final meal. Anything Italian to be honest. I had pizza last night, and for breakfast too.
Can I take it?
I was doing a creative writing course, and part of that course involved workshopping each other's stories. One of my classmates, during a ZOOM class, told me I should do more showing, less telling. She had some other suggestions, but this stood out.
It really stung, and at first I found it hard to accept; I was sure I'd submitted a brilliant story beyond critique. What a big head I've got.
Of course, my classmate was only trying to help and improve my work, but inwardly I felt resentful.
I realized how stupid I was behaving when I edited her story, and her reaction was so much more mature than my own, as she thanked me for pointing out a few areas needing improvement.
I was doing well not long ago - I'd received the certificate for professional writing and editing at the nearby TAFE, which is an educational institution here in Australia, if you don't know.
I was supposed to continue the course by doing the diploma, and I did start it, but unfortunately we changed campus as the one in the city was undergoing construction.
This new campus was difficult to get to for me, transport wise. And only a few months into the diploma portion of the course, I stopped.
And so began my slump. Since I stopped studying, I've rarely left the house, except when necessary, such as blood tests. And last year my father passed away.
It would be more accurate to say that I rarely left my bed. I have a Samsung Galaxy tablet, and a Nintendo Switch, and those never leave my side from morning to night. I'm living the life.
I began to neglect myself. My personal hygiene. The other day I showered, and I can't remember the last one I had. My hair is dirty and caked with dandruff, and my diet is awful...
I had a blood test this morning. Normally I'd go to the pathology lab in person, but for the past year I've been receiving in home visits. The lady who came is so lovely though. To be honest, I've got a crush on her.
What does that have to do with this piece? Nothing really.
I just felt like writing something, I suppose because it makes me feel a bit more productive. At least I'm not just playing video games or watching streamers play video games on Twitch.
I would like to go back to TAFE, but I don't think my family can afford it currently. There are cheaper writing courses available elsewhere, which I'm considering.
There was a massive thunderstorm last night. I enjoyed it. They help me relax.
What I know
I must be pretty ignorant because I don't know what makes them so controversial. I'll have to investigate after I write this. I do know Venus and Serena Williams are part of the organization. Serena mentioned Jehovah during the Australian Open final awards ceremony some years ago. And actually a family member is a Jehovah's Witness. She's a very nice lady, a hard working mother.
Myself I'm not religious at all. I don't have a problem with religion except when religious folks try and force it on to others, or use it as an excuse to hurt people.
By the beach
I'm really fond of my hometown, although I no longer live there. Me and my family shifted four years ago, because property in the countryside is so much more affordable, and in doing so, we could live mortgage free.
We lived in a small beachside suburb, about 40 minutes by train from Melbourne's CBD. I mention the beach, but I actually wasn't much of a beach person. For one thing, I couldn't swim. During lessons I'd always panic in the pool, and I was so relieved to be out.
The night before we left, I did have a special night down at the beach, however. While my parents were sleeping, me and my brother snuck out of the house and walked down to the beach and just relaxed there for a while. Usually I find the beach somewhat boring, but at night - midnight no less - with hardly anyone else around to disturb us, it was a special night that I'll always remember.
For the most part we relaxed against the sand, but eventually we stood and kicked out heels against the surf.
Walking back was surreal, surrounded by buildings we knew so well, but everything deathly silent, except for our voices. Our parents were still asleep when we arrived home.