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After isolation

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In the driver’s seat and turning the key I notice the windshield is dusty. It’s nearly a month since my car went anywhere. It’s been in quarantine too.

Having reversed out the garage I change gears. Crunch. Like a dawn golfer on the opening tee-block I’m easing into my routines.

Up the end of our street I see a girl, bent down in the driveway, admiring her chalk drawings of pink and blue on the grubby concrete. Home-schooled, her Art lesson’s done.

I’ve not been outside in Australia since early March. April 1st is a fitting date to tiptoe out. Over the past fourteen days the mostly imagined, newsfeed horror of supermarket fights, deserted malls and shut playgrounds has battered me. A girl drawing out the front of her home is a welcoming image; at once pristine and sweetly unknowing.

Heading towards the city Anzac Highway is quiet although a bus cuts me off. I almost applaud. The ancient annoyances are now likely to comfort. I see an old man at a bus-stop. Squatting next to him is his terrier. Both appear calm. There’s a patience about them. What choice do we have?

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Triple J is playing something antagonising. Maybe now, I’m finally too old. I push the radio button for Triple M. Some dire 1980’s song. Maybe not.

I pass the monolithic and charmless Highway Inn, all shut except for its drive through. It’s mid-morning, but a couple utes are in there. Taking opportunities when they can. Never have I so acutely felt the tension between self and family and community.

Up near South Road a new petrol station is being built. Half a dozen tradies are in the forecourt, on the canopy, putting in windows. Previously, I’d connect this to cars, fossil fuels, climate change. But today it’s a reluctant symbol of growth and hope.

I then see an old BP. Fuel is 84 cents. This seems more 1991 and not 2020. I rub the back of my neck. No. No mullet there. The day before we flew to Sweden fuel was $1.40.

On our final night in isolation I shaved off the first-ever beard I’d grown. Confinement offered opportunity too. The patio pavers enjoyed their first pressure clean in a decade. Claire got stuck into the cupboards. I rang family and friends. Sat in the sun.

Arriving at work to collect a camera for the globally-compulsory Zoom meetings, I pulled into the barren carpark.

I was also there for my flu shot.

In our world of heightened immuno-consciousness, this seemed an urgent idea. I fumbled for my security tag.

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Kenny Rogers and me

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In 1983, during Year 12, these are the songs I unforgivably thought were cool:
“Twisting by the Pool” by Dire Straits
“Bop Girl” by Pat Wilson
and this, yes, this
“Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats.

How could this ever have happened?

Later that year, just after I turned seventeen, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton released “Islands in the Stream” (named after a Hemingway novel) and I scoffed at it. Country music! Old people! Corny! I was seventeen.

It was unlikely played on 5SSA-FM as SA-FM was then known. I can’t recall hearing it on the Morning Zoo with John Vincent and Grant Cameron as I drove my sky-blue HR Holden to Kapunda High to endure the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins (“I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon”).

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I didn’t appreciate its alternating lead vocals, superb harmonies, and thrilling key change until, I’m ashamed to share, much later in life. And Dolly, somehow both tiny and colossal, is the perfect partner to Kenny’s warm yet seasoned voice.

Often now making an appearance on the back patio at a BBQ it’s one of the great duets.

*

Growing up in the 70s, Mum and Dad had some of Kenny Rogers’ vinyl including his greatest hits and the compelling Eyes That See in the Dark (of course, he could never have been Ken Rogers for he’s obviously the manager of your local hardware store). The albums are long gone but I remember him spinning on the Pye 3-in-1 (turntable, cassette and radio) and his voice. It was golden but with an edge of experience and slight menace as needed. It also hinted at a mythic America of adventure and promise. It evoked a place I wanted to go.

As with much in art and music there’s often a dramatic gap between the sunny melodies and the lyric’s dark narrative. “Coward of the County” is about sexual violence, “Reuben James” explores deep-seated racism and “Ruby” concerns a Vietnam veteran whose disability renders him unable to satisfy his wife so she ventures into town- “painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair”- to get her needs met, but my childhood ears were deaf to these distant themes.

*

The Big Lebowski is my favourite film and Kenny contributes to this too. In this shaggy-dog story bringing together a congregation of random, found objects, “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was in)” fits the much-loved dream sequence perfectly. It’s by The First Edition and lead vocals are by Kenny. The scene begins when porn star Jackie Treehorn drugs The Dude’s White Russian.

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The Dude is the main character played by Jeff Bridges and presents like Kenny if he’d let himself go and frequented his local supermarket Ralph’s in his house pants and dressing gown. Featuring bowling, Saddam, love interest Maude in Viking costume, and some Johnson-dismembering Nihilists welding novelty-sized scissors, this psychedelic pop track is an irresistible accompaniment, and gave Kenny some late-career pop culture panache.

The lyrics open thus:
I woke up this morning with the sundown shining in
I found my mind in a brown paper bag within
I tripped on a cloud and fell-a eight miles high
I tore my mind on a jagged sky
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.

Just like the Dude, and most of The Big Lebowski, these are joyously nonsensical.

*

Early this century on my first big overseas trip I saw much that bedazzled me. The Berlin Wall, Big Ben, the Colosseum. But, among the strangest sights was one at the start in Penang. Wandering about Georgetown, the muggy, sister-city of Adelaide, and staring at the Chinese, Indian, Islamic and British architecture beyond the downtown markets, I saw what appeared as yet another American restaurant.

Getting closer, I squint at the signage. Kenny Rogers Roasters. Oh, must be another of that name I thought. A local icon I’ve not heard of. Fantastic. That’s why we travel. But the face seems familiar. White beard, grandfatherly. Vaguely Colonel Sanders so that is right for a chook place. Intrigued I stroll in.

It was that Kenny Rogers. With his own restaurant! In the middle of Asia! A long way from Nashville. What a glorious, unforeseen world.

Inside the walls were festooned with gold records and beaming (possibly photo shopped) pictures of Houston’s favourite country star. “The Gambler” strummed out beneath the slowly circulating ceiling fans. Still disbelieving, and considering the menu, it seemed neither Southern American nor Asian but possibly a Mississippian/ Malaysian fusion.

A decade or so later there was a Kenny Rogers Roasters (although the last American KRR diner closed in 2011, it’s still powering in Asia) across from my Singaporean condominium at the geographically-confused shopping centre Great World City. Fresh to the country, I took the boys there once for a dreadfully expensive meal of chicken and chips, and wondered how mad the unrelenting stream of Kenny’s Greatest Hits might send even the most devoted of wait staff.

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*

Kenny Rogers has drifted in and out of my life in both affectionate and minor ways. Glancing at his back catalogue, there’s an ungodly number of Christmas albums, but he’s made a personal mark. Yesterday with everything spiralling, a mate sent me a message which said:
Kenny Rogers dippin’ out in the middle of an apocalypse is the most “know when to fold ‘em” shit I’ve ever heard.

Well played, Kenny. Thanks.

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Scandinavia’s finest pontoon gin bar

 

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It was with glowing-heart astonishment that I found myself in a small wooden cabin just outside Ljungbyhed, a town in Skåne County, Sweden.

This European week began for Claire and me when, jet-lagged and head-fuzzy and grumpy that our initial hire car booking was somehow lost, I spent ten befuddled minutes trying to jolt a 2020 model BMW into life (tip for readers: press the start button and brake simultaneously). It’s a technological distance from a HQ Holden. I felt like a baby-boomer with an X-box.

I hadn’t driven on the right for fifteen years and among my first challenges was the Øresund Bridge linking Copenhagen and Malmo. Setting the wipers a-flapping every time I indicated was compulsory for your Mr Magoo.

It was blustery on the elevated bridge and a dizzying way above the sea. I kept my eyes arrow-straight and tried to not imagine our Germanic sports wagon being blown into the Sound where we’d doubtless perish among some bemused flounder, turbot and halibut.

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Ljungbyhed is home to around 2,000 folks. It has a cinema. It has a welcoming supermarket or Hemköp. It has two Italian restaurants: Oregano and one named after the famed Napoletano pizza pioneer, Adam. It has no pub or bar and the two Italian restaurants are unlicenced. It has no government-owned liquor outlet, the Systembolaget.

Beside our red cabin is a forest. In this is a lake and, moored on the near bank, are a couple of pontoons. Each has a wooden table, and some chairs. On the older one is a squat barbeque kettle. On the deck of both vessels is a single oar. The water is dark and, I imagine, dreadfully cold.

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Claire and I decide to self-host (a most 2020 term) a happy hour. The wane sun is suspended high in the blue sky as we climb onto the far pontoon. We’re in coats and drape a rug across our laps. Looking like I’m about to rob a servo, or barrack for Port, I put on a black beanie. The beech trees are all bared and grey like ash, and awaiting the spring. Large, honking geese fly in and skid across the lake beside its island. These are called Sknegs, or Scania Geese.

With no wi-fi or signal our phones have become cameras (remember those?) and we ensnare some blissful moments. In Adelaide it’s about 2.00am, the Fringe has finished for the night and most are sleeping through a warm March evening. On our gently itinerant deck we chat of family and friends; shared high school days; the afternoon’s trek through Söderåsens national park; the languid autumn weeks ahead back home.

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I have another olive and it’s delicious. Kalamata is king. Mediterranean joy in a Nordic setting. We have gin and tonic, too (like half the planet, I’m a recent convert) and this seems as London as the Hammersmith & City line.

There’s an endless twilight here but in half an hour we’ll hike back through the forest to our cabin. We’ll light the wood stove and open a duty-free Primitivo Cabernet Sauvignon from Puglia to enjoy with our pasta.

Scandinavian happy hour is terrific. You don’t even need a pub.

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Sausage Roll Review: LRB plays the Dulwich Bakery, Glenelg South

 

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At noon I remember my quest: to eat this country’s finest sausage roll. The two proximate bakeries offer products of middling quality like Little River Band’s 1978 album Sleeper Catcher which after the hit single “Lady,” falls away dispiritingly.

The Dulwich bakery began in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs (yes, in Dulwich) and has since expanded like the belly of the man who ate all the pies and now there’s one in Glenelg South too.

Heading along Partridge Street I pass a school where it’s also lunchtime and I see all the straw-hatted girls, all eating entitled food, all named Charlotte.

Gliding through the roundabout near the Broadway pub and despite being a modest Korean model, my car issues a little automotive whimper as I cruelly ignore the lure of beer garden refreshment and carry on.

Outside the bakery are shiny nubs of metal tables and chairs while inside are wooden booths, and my sausage roll, having been, “plated up” as Gordon Ramsey might bark, I take a quiet corner.

I have a bite.

Food and memory are coupled. Fish and chips on the breezy foreshore; a bucket of undrinkable coffee in an airport dawn; the languid schnitzel in a wine valley pub.

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Sausage rolls speak of the past. Even if you trot out after reading this and buy one, I reckon you’re time-travelling to your childhood. They live in a black and white era when you were small and the world was unthinkably big. Sausage rolls, home-made with fork marks sealing the pastry, at a primary school birthday, when the fun was unscripted and there was running, lots of aimless, skun-knees running.

Today, the pastry is tasty and of a welcoming texture. It avoids the twin evils of being greasy and soggy or dry and flaky. A bright opening like, “Help Is On Its Way” the first song on Diamantina Cocktail. 1978 was a great year for LRB and for sausage rolls.

The filling is a pleasure: warm, with a suggestion of spice and pepper and showing a brownish, beefy hue unlike the Barbie pink of other sausage rolls loitering within this postcode. Various lunch punters come and go; variously corporate, high-vis, matronly, harried parent.

If I applied the Pitchfork (an alternative music website) album review metric I’d give my sausage roll an 8.3.

And with my lunch now commencing its growling digestive journey I considered my good fortune on this autumnal afternoon. I had the three essentials for a happy existence: something to do; something to look forward to; someone to love.

If peak Little River Band is the full version of, “It’s A Long Way There” the first song from their eponymous album, then while the Dulwich bakery release is excellent, I’ve not yet located the sausage roll equivalent.

My quest continues.

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Best go through puberty on a Tuesday

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As Wordsworth lamented, doubtless about Mondays, “the world is too much with us” and on the first day of the week he’s right. Thursday and Friday are too frivolous for these matters, and Wednesday, at least in my house, belongs to Micallef and Mad as Hell.

After deep introspection I choose Tuesday night, and Tuesday night it is.

Formerly, if somewhat brazenly called Sex Ed, the evening session of Growth and Development for children and parents begins at our primary school.

Looking about from the back row I see Max’s soccer coach and his son, our neighbour and his lad, and other slightly uncomfortable children and their significantly more uncomfortable mums and dads. Alex tells me he helped put out the chairs. We’re in the school gym. While it’s a place of fun and games I wonder about the kids for whom sport means humiliation and tears.

As such tonight’s about puberty.

The presenter is sunny and welcoming and she has a PowerPoint with amusing cartoons including the compulsory picture of a boy at his local pool on the diving board. It’s obvious to the world that he finds particular physical pleasure in wearing Tony Abbott swimwear.

We discuss a diagram of the female genitalia and use a glossary to identify what’s what. Working through the list our leader says, “Can anyone tell me another word for labia?”

One eager boy blurts, “Pecker!”

We then had the legislated vulva and Swedish car joke which always goes down well, especially on a warm Tuesday night in a beachside suburb.

Moving to the male anatomy chart the cheerful host pauses at scrotum, as we all do, and asks for alternate names.

“Ball sack,” yells a small boy up the front of the gym.

A disembodied, pre-pubescent voice squeaks, “Nut sack.”

“Good, good,” replies our expert and then in a synonymic surprise she chirps, “Now does anyone here call it a Santa sack?”

There’s much roaring from the floor. Alex and Max jump and dance in their chairs. Your correspondent guffaws.

I then find myself contemplating Vas Deferens, and wondering if as well as starring in the Male Reproductive League (MRL) he was a footballer in the 1970s. I can hear Rex Hunt calling, “Vas Deferens collects the air conveyance, breaks a tackle and goes looooong!”

What characterised his career? Impressive clearances (of course) and dour defence, but he couldn’t lock down a spot with Carlton, so moved to South Adelaide in the SANFL, played one hundred serviceable games and now runs a pizza bar at Port Noarlunga where among older footy fans he enjoys a cult following. To this day not even his closest mates call him “VD.”

Our host subsequently speaks of each male producing 30 to 250 million sperm per millilitre of semen and I feel proudly productive, if suddenly tired.

The PowerPoint then shows a teenager mid-wet dream and I’m sure the dads in the gym become distantly nostalgic although no knowing nods are exchanged among us in the back row.

Our final topic is on being kind to yourself through the challenges of puberty. We’re reminded that being a loyal friend is far more important than any temporary looks, and how we should think of the things we’re good at like caring for others or reading or helping at home.

She then asks us to be glad for other blessings, and I lean in to Alex, newly twelve and veering between young man and innocent boy and whisper, “I know you and Max are grateful for Dad’s tremendous comedy” and he punches me on the thigh with affection and I feel pleased for this tiny moment.

Walking home I’m keen to talk about our evening, but excited and with pent-up energy, the boys run and wrestle and bounce along the footpath like an enthused epididymis and I don’t mind. They’re busy being kids.

We’ll speak of sperm and scrotums in the morning. Or not.

There’ll be time next Monday.

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Hottest 100 (minus 90) Stubby Holders of the Week

Apologies to Triple J, those entrusted with preparing gravy, Billie Eilish, fans of the long barbeque lunch, Humphrey B. Flaubert, Jock Cheese, Eugene de la Hot Croix Bun and Ron Hitler-Barassi.

In a very particular order, and with no editorialising, here they are. Judges votes are final etc.

10. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Cobdogla and District Club (est.1958).

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9. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Kapunda Footy Club. Congratulations. Your prize will be sent by carrier pigeon.

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8. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) comes to you live today from the Kimba Golf Club where, in a curious twist, the winner is the Kimba Golf Club.

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7. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Footy Almanac. Congratulations to all involved.

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6. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the one Allan Border signed when I met him at the Holdy. Yes, it is a XXXX Gold holder (don’t show your kids).

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5. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Sharks FC, one of Singapore’s finest Australian Rules footy clubs. Your prize will be posted shortly.

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4. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Coopers Session Ale. Obviously, no actual beer was harmed during the taking of this photo.

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3. Congratulations to former Adelaide resident and Le Cornu shopper Ben Folds on receiving Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW).

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2. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Crows’ icon Darren Jarman- Around the body, that will do. That. Will. Do. Congratulations Darren, your prize will be mailed to you.

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1. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to Adam and Caitlyn. I bloody love youse. I have never met you.

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Club Review: The Cobdogla Club

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I need to apologise to the wonderful Kimba Area School Year 9 class of 1992 whom I took on a week-long camp to Burra, Barmera, Renmark and Clare.

Planning the event I booked some aquatics at Lake Bonney and struggled to find another activity when I stumbled across the Cobdogla Steam and Irrigation Museum. It somehow seemed reasonable. Recently in the car my youngest Max said to his brother Alex, “Why would you ask Dad a big-brained question when we know he’s a small-brained man?” and dwelling now upon that early- 90’s afternoon, I see this as a terrible pattern on my behalf.

I should’ve taken the Year 9’s to Lake Bonney and demanded they jetty-jump for six or seven hours. Provided they had their swimming jeans.

We had a tour guide: an aged man of terrifying, non-infectious passion and an ability to lecture at length matched only by his ability to not sense the crushing boredom he was inflicting upon his audience. If teenaged violence had erupted that day in Cobby, no judge would’ve convicted anyone.

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He spoke to us for 45 excruciating minutes on the world’s only working Humphrey pump with charcoal-fired gas producers. During his unbroken monologue I found myself wondering if I’d turned off the iron, how the Nicaraguan soccer team was travelling and what Allan Border might’ve had for breakfast that very morning. I’m sure the actual inventor of that wretched pump would’ve nodded off himself.

So, again I’m sorry. I owe you a drink.

However, just up the road is the Cobdogla Club which is one of my favourite places. We were there last Thursday and this happened to be Schnitzel Night. If you live in this part of the world the pubs and clubs have it neatly organised so that every night of the week is Schnitzel Night, although this could be both a dietary blessing and a curse.

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On the front door is a friendly sign asking the patrons to not swear, and in 2020 when the casualisation of this is rampant, I like it and get the boys to read it.

Inside is spacious and rustic. The boys rush to the free iPads which is fair enough as they’ve endured a horrific ten-minute car ride from the holiday park without a device.

The drinks menu is broad and the wine prices seem frozen at 1995. A glass of white (no, not Hock) is $4.70, and the lack of Coopers on tap is disappointing, but XPA cans are a fiver.

The salad and veggie bar is always a treat. Brussel sprouts are what Max calls, “balls of leaves” and I inhale six. There’s corn, carrots, and cauliflower and broccoli bake. It’s terrific.

We talk of the coleslaw. It can’t be easy being coleslaw, especially if you’re mostly cabbage and therefore overly pale and grim. Next to the rich colours of the beetroot and the Asian noodles you, poor coleslaw, look more ghostly than the long-gone inventor of the Humphrey pump, sitting quietly across the fields, in its dusky horror.

The schnitzels arrive quickly and are a generous size. They’re tasty, perfectly cooked and in another demonstration of the Cobby Club’s timelessness, the meat isn’t on top of the poor fecking chips, making them squashed and sweaty as happens in too many places forcing diners to go through the mindless ritual of rescuing their fried potato friends.

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No, dickhead. Not like this.

Who started this nonsense? Bring them to me, and I will scold them for 45 excruciating minutes, in an unbroken monologue, about the profound annoyance of this, and how in a world crying out for simple, uncluttered joy we must keep our schnitzel and our chips separate.

But, of course, this doesn’t happen at The Cobby Club. And that’s one reason we’ll be back next year.

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