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Pub Review: The Exeter, Adelaide

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The beer is fresh and cold, if unspectacular. Coopers features, but otherwise it has a decidedly pedestrian array of beer taps. And the food’s fine although I can’t recall an amazing meal I’ve had in its quirky beer garden.

Ultimately, none of these matter when deconstructing Adelaide’s mighty Exeter Hotel.

Some pubs offer accessibility as their key attraction. A vital yet drearily utilitarian function when you get home after a tough day on the hamster wheel and realise you forgot to take out the chops to defrost, so you barrel down to your local for some cheap schnitzels.

This is not the raison d’être of the X.

Set amidships at 246 Rundle Street in the city’s East End alongside the restaurants, cafes and retailers, a visit to this peerless boozer can set you on the road to Damascus, or at least Kent Town.

Beyond the usual, but still praiseworthy self-promotion of “No Pokies!” the X also positions itself by quietly announcing that pub crawls (Adelaide Uni Engineers: they’re lookin’ at you!), buck’s and hen’s nights and misshapen birthdayers younger than 21 can look elsewhere to celebrate.

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This is a pub that knows its mind. It won’t listen to an hour of AM radio talkback, or watch Q&A and suddenly change its view. It’s a pub that wins the toss on a muggy day, ignores the hectoring of its opening bowlers, and decides to bat.

Just like it always does.

The front bar of the Exeter is an Adelaidean experience par excellence but the grungy microcosm within is removed from the monolithic culture of the day: there’s no which school did you attend? Crows or Port? Mix or Nova? Fruchocs or FUIC? Nonsense you might encounter at other more nakedly aspirational pubs.

Indeed, this incongruity is most welcome and isn’t incompatible with the genteel surrounds: it’s an earthy compulsion. The X, in roaring, bursting flight with its eclectic denizens, is more Soho or Camden Town or Hammersmith pub. As a point of difference, it’s wholly life-affirming.

If the Exeter didn’t exist, it would be necessary to build it.

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Decades back our mate Chris was emigrating to Queensland to work for a software company. So, to mark this, we dined on curry and Kingfisher lager, and then galloped across to the Exeter.

Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remained, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

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As always, we navigated travel and bands and film, and our discussion arrived at Harper Lee’s autobiographical masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Over and through our Coopers, we pondered the novel’s last lines, and admired their uncomplicated elegance. They’re among the finest words printed. After the rush of the climax, we’re left with a painterly scene, a world profoundly restored by the love of Atticus

atticus

He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

This is why I love the Exeter.

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Among my favourite writers is the Adelaide Hills-based wine scribe Philip White. Early in my career a highlight was opening Wednesday’s Advertiser in the English faculty office with my then boss and old mate Digby. We’d devour Whitey’s column and belly-laugh and nod. He’s a magnificent author, and naturally, his articles were not about grog, but stories. People, places, events both happy and poignant.

Some years later I finally met Whitey in the Exeter. We yarned at length about much including the account he wrote of the Darwin Stubby Drinking Competition held, of course, at the Humpty Doo pub.

darwin

“I loved the character at the centre of that story, Dave Gaston”, I stated.

Whitey replied. “Yeah, I reckon I compared him to Mick Jagger saying he’d ‘carefree elegance.’”

“You did. And it was great that while Dave won the prize you put a twist in the tail.”

“It was true,” the plonk critic nodded, “The quickest Darwin Stubby guzzler on the day was Norman. A Brahman bull.”

This is why I love the Exeter.

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So, the X can be curmudgeonly. But safely within its ageless walls- check out the TOURIST DIES OF THIRST newspaper billboard behind the bar- you’ll be at this town’s ragged, charming heart and in a place of conversation and character and cheer.

It’s that most rare of locations: the destination pub.

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Pub Review: the Magpie and Stump, Clare Valley

 

front of pub
Geometrically, I think the lawn’s a trapezium but I might be wrong.

Either way, it’s a Clare Valley garden, which just happens to come with its own pub!

There’s slate tables on the grass; umbrellas on bases- although the spring breeze means these are tethered lest they launch toward an unsuspecting vineyard or throbbing Harley; and two fire buckets embedded in imposing circular structures as if they’ve come from a 1970’s playground, or a Texan mechanic’s barbeque.

fire bucket

We’re at one of my favourite places on the planet: the Magpie and Stump.

Last year we sulked pub-ward suffering afresh from the Crows’ grand final defeat, hoping schnitzel might sooth our spirits. Spooked, Mozz uttered, “It’s quiet. Too quiet.”

The pub was shut.

And had been for some months.

But in 2018 new owners have flung open the doors- this sudden change in fortune is called peripeteia by the Greeks- and I’m thrilled. Shaking mine host Paul’s hand, he explains he’s expecting seventy for lunch. He adds that, “We did 700 meals over the June long weekend.” I peek in the kitchen en route to the bar and see four chefs: all busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.

Our entourage takes up residence at a generous garden table. Having consulted the pub’s website, I know $15 jugs of Coopers Session Ale are waiting. At my urgings Bazz and Mozz enlist. “Go on,” I say, “it’ll be funny.”

lawn

The bar-keep seems unimpressed by my digital espionage but honours the offer. There’s wine and cider for the others and raspberry for the young fellas so we sit in the sun and speak of many people and places.

It’s perfect.

Most opt for the Stump burger, a challenging treat with meaty patties the size of small, beefy UFOs. The chips are crisp and tasty- this isn’t always a given- and come in those miniature wire baskets that could’ve been hocked from a Lilliputian fish shop.

Kath has salt ‘n’ pepper squid but it needs additional NaCl dusting. Flopping about with their iPods and assorted devices our male progeny orders nuggets. These are breathed in, instantly.

table 2

Post-lunch, the entertainment’s on under the veranda: a guitar and keyboard duo. Looking like an older Jack White the vocalist announces, “I’m Paul and this is Andy. Together, we’re known as Paul and Andy.”

They provide an afternoon of agreeable covers including our request for “Sweet Caroline.” Given the comprehensive demographic of the audience they ignore our plea for Frank Zappa and his 25-minute magnus opus, “Billy the Mountain.”

The pub staff are also congenial, even when one of our crew, Bazz attempting to assist, drops five glasses onto the table’s unforgiving slate. Disappointingly, only four break but the employee with upturned trouser cuffs laughs throughout his dustpan deed.

table 1

As the sun dips in the western sky we each get out three coins to engage in a few rounds of spoofy- known by my old mate Whitey as, “the free beer game.” Your correspondent enjoys complimentary cups.

We leave with some newly-minted stubby holders. However, these look better on display behind the bar as rolling them about in our mits, they’re, as Ian Chappell used to say, a bit thin. The cover of an old National Geographic would provide similar beverage insulation.

But it’d been a terrific Sunday on this fetching lawn and despite intermittent outages over the decades, the Magpie and Stump again powers on.

I urge you to enjoy its lawn soon.

stubby holder

 

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Pub Review: The Crown, Victor Harbor

 

chernobyl ferris wheel

If petite bread rolls deliver doughy joy then the frisson when these are also hot from the oven is seismic. Surely a clear sign of a caring god, or at least, reliable electricity.

This unexpected bliss began our Friday night meal at the Crown Hotel. Driving into Victor Harbor as the wide bay swims into happy view I wondered how our boys hadn’t been here previously for an extended visit yet had holidayed to the Bavarian Alps, artistic Left Bank in Paris and Murray Bridge’s world-class Bunyip.

Having checked-in at our caravan park digs and positively appraised the bunk beds, bouncy pillow and decidedly unappealing pool we drove to Warland Reserve with its twin pubs standing sentinel over the foreshore.

Upon presenting our boisterous trio at the bistro, the pub staff now appraised us silently and then did what I’d do which is to quarantine us in a marginalised corner away from the quiet, undeserving diners. In hospitality circles I’m sure this is some form of pre-emptive damage control. There was an American college football game on TV, but disappointingly it didn’t feature Purdue. It was Boise, Idaho’s finest.

bouncy pillow

Our boys were drawn instantly and they assured me, ravenously, to the salad and vegetable bar. It would’ve been easier to stop an aspiring reality television star (read: talentless, vacuous twit) from taking a selfie.

Pleasingly, their lemonades were served in sturdy plastic cups. You know, the coloured models that you used at your cousins’ place for cordial after you’d been running about or chucking rocks at your footy, now stuck at the top of a eucalypt.  

As a fan of haute cuisine Max chose the Italian Hawaiian Irish fusion. Unfortunately, when his ham and pineapple pizza and chips arrived, despite his father’s sobbing implorations, he was chock-a-block with hot bread rolls. I had the pizza on Saturday, save for the solitary bite Max had taken.

Boise was constantly handing the ball back to their opponents as they couldn’t get their passing or running games to fire. Out the window, and across the reserve I could see the lights of the amusements and the Ferris wheel.

I trusted that the compulsory mangy dog would be there, wandering and weeing and roaming about in a vaguely menacing way when we visited in the morning and like a drunk bookie, I forked over wads of cash to a carnie.

dinosaur

As a ten-year-old Alex is on the cusp of moving from kid’s meals to adult portions, and this causes me emotional if not fiscal despair. But tonight, he’s happy to tackle the nuggets and chips.

When served they’re not the traditional ones shaped as rectangles or ovals: these are in the form of dinosaurs confirming what archaeologists having been telling us forever which is that if we visit Jurassic Park, take down a T-Rex, and cook it, it will, of course, taste like chicken. He inhales them as if he’ll soon need the energy to outrun a velociraptor.

Continuing our involuntary theme of transmogrified chicken my Kiev arrives. It’s been a while and my excitement had risen, like that of a rooster when sunrise is imminent over the henhouse.

chernboyl

While the Ukrainian geography of my chook was nebulously accurate I think its origins were not in Kiev but more precisely 142 kilometres to the north of the capital in Chernobyl.

I suspect the meal may have come directly from reactor number 4 itself. How else to explain the impossibly dry and disastrously crunchy properties, other than thermonuclear accident?

I felt especially sorry for the cold garlic butter that had presumably been once trapped in this poor poultry, all trace now gone, doubtless a victim of irradiation’s cruel physics. I may have been better off with the amusement park hound.

Luckily, I hadn’t downloaded a Geiger counter app to my phone or it would’ve now been clicking away like a barn full of tap-dancers, attempting a world record.  

Still, we all survived and retired to our cabin. The footy was about to start and the weekend was upon us. We were in front.

Afterall, we’d had hot bread rolls.

crown-hotel-victor-harbor-SA-5211

 

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Ten Terrific Films- Part Two

lantana

5. Lantana
Great line- What are you doing here? Most of the guys in this place aren’t much older than our son.

This is a mesmerising, sumptuous mix of sex and death with a stellar cast including Barbara Hershey, Geoffrey Rush, Anthony La Paglia and Russell Coight Glenn Robbins. Written by South Australian resident Andrew Bovell it’s mysterious and gripping and sad. Paul Kelly provides the suitably atmospheric score.

Set in Sydney the film engages us visually and aurally, and I can almost feel the uncomfortable humidity of both the setting and the relationships.

groundhog

4. Groundhog Day
Great line- Ned… Ryerson. “Needlenose Ned”? “Ned the Head”? C’mon, buddy. Case Western High. Ned Ryerson: I did the whistling belly-button trick at the high school talent show? Bing! Ned Ryerson: got the shingles real bad senior year, almost didn’t graduate? Bing, again. Ned Ryerson: I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple times until you told me not to anymore? Well?

With its themes of redemption and finding joy in every moment this is a favourite among Buddhists, and as cynical weatherman Phil Connors, arguably Bill Murray’s finest performance.

A magnificent comedy the film also appeals with its life-affirming messages although it’s impossible to now hear Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” without an involuntary twinge.

Not only is Groundhog Day- February 2- my wife’s birthday, but I recall legendary Australian sports-caster Bruce McAvaney struggling uncharacteristically to say the name of a race horse called Punxsutawney Phil (a gelding). It’s the only time I’ve heard Bruce frustrated. The horse had a mercifully short career.

It’s a film I like to see annually, just to luxuriate in the fun of a Pennsylvanian town called Punxsutawney. Last February 2 a British pay TV channel showed the movie. On a loop. All day. Genius.

goodfellas

3. GoodFellas
Great line- You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?

I know we’re all supposed to love The Godfather, and I do, but GoodFellas is my favourite mob movie. Again, it’s a film with a great, laconic narration, by the doomed protagonist Henry Hill, and based upon a true story, which concluded in witness protection as these things often do.

In a curious tribute one of The Sopranos producer called this movie his “Koran” and I love Scorsese’s soundtrack. His rule was if a scene was set, for example, in 1973 then it couldn’t feature a song from after then.

There’s a gruesome montage with bodies turning up in cars, garbage trucks and a meat freezer van set to the gorgeous slide guitar and piano coda from “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes. The disconnect between image and sound emphasises the absurdity and horror of this barbaric landscape.

With Aretha Franklin, The Who and The Rolling Stones the soundtrack evokes the broad historic sweep of this magnificent movie.

Now

2. Apocalypse Now
Great line- Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
Willard: I don’t see any method at all, sir.

In many ways this is beyond a war movie as it’s a journey into the deep horror residing within our human condition. The physical action is set within Vietnam and Cambodia but the real conflict occurs within the psyches of the characters and us.

Among the questions it asks and demands we also ask is who has the moral supremacy? Kurtz? Willard? Kilgore? Dennis Hopper’s photojournalist? It also asks questions of American imperialism and war.

The mythology of making this film is a story in itself that nearly approaches Coppola’s epic. Hearts of Darkness documents the troubled production with the health issues of both Sheen and Brando; typhoons; financial blow-outs and more.

The Doors’ “The End” has been used in many films but none approach the impact it has here.

Years ago, before our boys arrived I went to our local cinema on a Sunday night to see the then newly-released Redux version. For a thrilling, brief interlude, I thought I would achieve that geeky nirvana: I’d have the entire theatre to myself and would take in the 180 minute spectacle in a private screening. Yeah, I know.

But, as the film finally opened two other punters came in, broke the spell and took their seats. Oh, well.

For the record this version is inferior. Coppola got it right first time as none of the additional scenes contribute to the original. It’s a film for a murky, wintry afternoon.

Pulp

1. Pulp Fiction
Great line-
Jules: Tell him, Vincent.
Vincent: Royale with cheese.
Jules: Royale with cheese. Do you know why they call it a Royale with cheese?
Brett: Because of the metric system?
Jules: Check out the big brain on Brett. You’re one smart motherfucker.

I’ve only ever seen one film three times in the cinema. Pulp Fiction. Upon seeing it in January 1995 it stayed with me for weeks and months. Key in this was the Elmore Leonard-inspired dialogue with its pop culture references that was at odds with the on-screen action of gangsters and violence. The film lived and thrived in this space and, to this day, colours many of my conversations.

One Sunday when we lived in St Albans just out of London we were visiting friends. The boys Joey and Laurence, had had a big night out, and had just finished their midday breakfast. I asked them what they’d eaten.
“Burgers,” came the reply.
That was my cue. “Burgers. The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.”

While not invented by Tarantino the technique of chopping up the narrative so the story is delivered in a way that heightens our response to the characters and plot. So, instead of the film ending with Butch and his girlfriend riding off on Zed’s chopper just after killing Vincent Vega it concludes triumphantly after the coffee shop hold-up.

Like many I also bought the soundtrack and maintain that Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” splicing into Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” is the most exhilarating opening credits and frames the movie perfectly.

Thanks for reading.

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Ten Terrific Films- Part One

 

I was recently invited by Footy Almanacker Rick Kane to post ten of my favourite films. I enjoyed the challenge, and now offer some personal commentary on these.

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  1. Cane toads: An Unnatural History

Great line- Cane toads are comin’

Thirty years on, this documentary still ranks among the biggest grossing of those made in Australia. It’s a gonzo folktale on that beast of FNQ, the cane toad. The director Mark Lewis conjures sympathy for these amphibians with clever point of view camera angles and a weird contrast to the humans who find strange pride in their relationships with these repulsive creatures.

A triumph of editing is the scene where a local politician spruiks of a future statue to the cane toad which then cuts superbly to a grizzled farmer retorting that, “Surely, this bastard’s not in his right frame of mind.”

I love that the theme of the film is while we might find the toad an odd, peculiar animal, we humans are just as peculiar.

psycho

  1. Psycho

Great line- Norman Bates: A boy’s best friend is his mother.

I loved teaching this remarkable cultural phenomenon.

The class would invariably groan as one at the thought of a black and white film from 1960, but within the first hour all were drawn into its hypnotic embrace.

Most had never seen a movie in which the main character is dead half-way through, and how Hitchcock effects sympathy for a thief in the form of Marion, and then for Norman, a murderer, is a lesson in filmic art of the highest order.

Visiting Universal Studios in LA, a highlight for me was the presentation exploring how the week-long shoot of the shower scene was completed, with, of course, chocolate syrup standing in for blood.

Among the many taboos broken are the first instance in a Hollywood release of a flushing toilet.

koyaan

  1. Koyaanisqatsi

Great line- Near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky (Hopi Indian prophecy featured in the closing scene)

I had not long left teenage-hood when I saw this film in North Adelaide with my girlfriend’s sister. My tiny world was expanding and this documentary, with its majestic and terrifying vision of our planet, kicked off my passion for non-verbal cinema such as Microcosmos and Baraka. All make expert and haunting use of juxtaposition between the natural and constructed worlds.

A critic noted that the film is satirising how we don’t use technology, but we live it.

This visual poem compromised largely of slow motion and time lapse sequences features a mesmerising Phillip Glass score, as do the two sequels, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi. I once owned these on CD, and when I lived in Wudinna in a secluded farm house, played them quite obsessively, to the barren, uninterested paddocks.

To watch Koyaanisqatsi is to view our world afresh with wonder, but also fear.

big

  1. The Big Lebowski

Great line- Walter Sobchak: [shouting] Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules? Mark it zero!

Inspired by The Big Sleep, this shaggy dog story, with its meandering plot and eccentric characters is unyielding fun. I’ve realised that I love films with a voice-over narration, and Sam Elliot’s is a perfect baritone drawl.

A measure of its personal impact is how often it bobs up in my everyday life. From Maud’s ultimate reference: “A good man- and thorough” to Walter’s interior design critiques: “That rug really tied the room together” it has tremendous longevity.

Against stiff competition like King Pin it’s the best bowling movie and for mine, Townes Van Zandt’s version of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Dead Flowers” is a peerless closing credit song. A laconic, cool ending to a laconic, cool film.

royal

  1. The Royal Tenenbaums

Great line- He started buying real estate in his early teens and seemed to have an almost preternatural understanding of international finance.

I’m a spoken word, auditory type of chap, with little native grasp of visual beauty, but Wes Anderson’s filmography is wonderful to look at. It’s sumptuous. I love his use of palette and the painterly nature of his shot composition in The Grand Hotel Budapest, for example. There’s also an exquisite use of symmetry in his work that renders it irresistible.

The opening sequence of The Royal Tenenbaums employs the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” to jubilant effect and establishes an uplifting tone to what could otherwise be dismal material. Alec Baldwin’s narration offers both a comic and sensitive tone, and throughout, the Tenenbaum family and its hangers-on bounce off each other with such joyous ridiculousness that despite all I’m left with a huge sense of fun and heart.

It’s a great ensemble performance.

Up next, my top five!

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Pub Review: The Holdy, Glenelg South

 

ab-and-me
Just before our youngest son was born I became, through an outlandish crinkle in the space-time continuum, that most unhinged of aquatic creatures: a XXXX Gold beer ambassador.

An eager supporter of Coopers beer it was a mystifying position in which to find myself, but I remain grateful for all I was gifted: a corporate box experience at the Adelaide 500, the fully-catered BBQ I hosted one autumnal afternoon, and a seemingly endless, almost terrifying supply of XXXX Gold beer.

I call it the year I barracked for Collingwood.

holdy bar

The highlight was a XXXX function at the Holdfast Hotel during which I spent some time with former Australian cricket captain, Allan Border. How good? He was generous and wry and I loved it. I opened by telling him that because of his tenacity he’s my Dad’s favourite cricketer.

He replied with champion modesty, “Well, we all have our own style.”

Later, we spoke of when Warney exquisitely seduced Gatting with the Ball of the Century, and AB commented how fielding at backward square leg he’d not enjoyed a great view of it.

But he then added that during drinks Heals noted in a hyperbolic understatement, “It was a fair seed.”

Holdy table

Once upon a time, The Holdy was the summery destination: post-Test sunburn and panel vans and West Coast Cooler.

Having spent much of the past month indoors recovering from foot surgery the urgent medical advice was to bask in some vitamin D and I’m sure Doc ordered me to accompany this with schnitzel and necessary quantities of Coopers.

In these matters I’m nothing if compliant. It was time to get back to the Holdy.

The street bar offers daily specials, and we leapt at two schnitzels (Snitty Kitty about to resume racing) and a jug of beer for $25.

$25!

Coastal value not spotted since on a distant, sweltering Sydney weekend a young AB himself padded up for Mosman.

Holdy beer garden

In my misshapen youth beer brought forth in a jug was a wildly exciting event; a bold announcement of intent; a brazen promise of future mischief. Holding a jug of ale like Liberty extending her torch skywards I burst back into the beer garden, an adolescent cockiness in my (limping) stride.

My dining colleague Puggy and I calculated that with this special offer either the schnitzels, or the jug had cost us a solitary dollar. How good? This set the tone for an hour or so of luxuriating in this dappled beachside icon, once owned by another cricketing star, GS Chappell.

There was singular application to the culinary and cuppage challenges. Both food and ale were excellent.

holdy

Like many a boozer it has bobbed about variously and is again resurgent, having endured hostile seas a few moons ago. Similar to SK Warne on a hat trick, or with his spiky hair gelled, and about to go on the ran tan, the Holdy is finding irresistibility afresh.

Our only critique is that Coopers Session Ale, the ale du jour, is unavailable from her galaxy of glistening taps. Still, for a former XXXX Gold ambassador, this is a tolerable omission. As Indian batting genius VVS Laxman says, “Pale Ale suffices.”

Named for Colonel Light’s ship, HMS Rapid, which once endured a violent storm without breaking its anchorage, I reckon this pub will hold fast for a century or two yet.

It’s tenacious, just like AB.

jug

 

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Finally, some Japanese poetry honouring the beer fridge

BF 2

Haiku is a noble yet tiny poetic form. It combines natural imagery, brevity and ancient timelessness, and was made famous by the seventeenth-century master, Matsuo Bashō.

Here’s his finest-

Flower
Under harvest sun- stranger
To bird, butterfly

Blowing stones
Along the road to Mount Asama,
The autumn wind.

Moon-daubed bush-clover-
Ssh. In the next room
Snoring prostitutes.

nature

See. Gorgeous natural imagery including the flower, butterfly, autumn wind and snoring prostitutes.

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We’re the same, you and me. While there’s lots to celebrate in this fine, bursting world, big gaps have opened up.

Time to plug these, for everyone’s sake.

As I see it a dangerous cultural chasm exists with the shameful lack of ancient Japanese poetry promoting the unreconstructed joy that is the humble beer fridge.

BF 1

Thanks to them internets old mate Greg and I ended this tragic chapter last night while in different parts of our nation, watching distinguished haiku inspiration, Animal House.

Thinking haiku: think toga party and Bluto Blutarsky.

I suggest you print the following and put ‘em up on your beer fridge, alongside the kids’ finger-paintings. The sense of peace and artistic bliss will be all yours.

And then crack open a Kirin lager and toast our old mate, Matsuo Bashō.

BF 3

Under moonlit night
Stubby holder on white shelf
Beer fridge

Beer fridge empty
Actually not so empty
Carlton Cold

Full fridge
Thirsty as buggery
All XXXX

Beer fridge dies
Ale warming
Within and without, light’s off.

MB