Sleeping, dusty streets. Saturday afternoon like a still creek.
Memories, rushed and gentle on every corner. Footy, cricket. Bikes.
A pasty each up by the high school lawns. Awash with grey Midford shirts. Roman sandals. Unfinished essays. The poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins. Year 12 Biology and a vegetation transect on Banksias.
A cricket match shout from the oval. Share a beer and chat in the pub later with my cousin, Froggy. The captain. Rolled for bugger-all.
Visit our history teacher, Macca and his wife, Kerry. Discuss 1983 and everywhere since. Feel seventeen again.
Dinner around a big kitchen table with old friends, Woodsy and Sue. Happy collision of past, present and future. Not enough time to see others. Next time.
Sunday morning. Out to scan the golf club. Admire the lush fairways and nod at the greens which replaced the scrapes of my youth. Recall the handful of 21sts. White HQ Holdens lined up like butchers of West End. Hoodoo Gurus blasting into the cold night.
Drive back across the River Light bridge towards the city.
Stand By Me remains a favourite film and I was reminded of this yesterday whilst hiking with the boys and two of their friends in Onkaparinga Gorge.
I once heard that most beer commercials will feature a group of four men (not women) drinking together. It’s not two men because this can appear a little intimate and conflicts with the stereotypical image at play in beer drinking contexts. Neither is it three as this is an odd number and suggests two friends and an outsider and an uncomfortable, unbeery dynamic. So, the aesthetic and psychological forces mean that four works best for the assumed audience.
The director, Rob Reiner, might have known this numerical truth when making his film about Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern going on a secret hike across Oregon to find a dead body. But, of course, it’s really about friendship and being on the cusp of surrendering their innocence. I had the afternoon off and thought it timely to get out of the house and into nature. There were four boys and me in the car and it took thirty minutes to get there. Most of the conversation was about farts. It was ridiculous and compelling. Farts never go out of style when you’re twelve.
In blustery conditions we hiked the Punchbowl Link Trail on which we saw no-one. The ground was soggy and we all grabbed walking sticks for beyond a torch there’s not many objects that resonate so enduringly with a boy than a stick.
Another inescapable boyhood trait is for wearing socks outside. Why is this? With a couple kilometres to go we again struck some muddy terrain and one of the boys took off his shoes and completed the hike in his socks which, I’m sure, will never be that vibrant yellow again. Apologies to his parents. Apologies to the socks. Us adults are helpless against this incurable desire. It’s a rite of passage if not a daily habit. Maslow might argue that wearing socks in mud leads to self-actualisation, but maybe not.
Back at the car we all scraped our shoes on the road to get rid of the mud. It didn’t work. We drove down from the hills and home towards the beach. There was no mention of farts.
It was a fun afternoon and I was aware of our fortune in being able to venture to this isolated trail when so many across our country can not enjoy some distant exercise, and for the boys to be with each other in a time and place they might remember, or not.
Stand By Me is narrated by a writer played by the excellent Richard Dreyfuss and he’s telling this very story. In the final scene he types on his computer screen-
I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
It’s 140 metres from Strathalbyn’s Victoria Hotel to the Terminus Hotel. However, a wide aesthetic divide reveals itself inside these proximate pubs. How did this happen? We were about to find out.
Arriving mid-afternoon, Claire and I saunter about the fetching park and gardens, River Angas, bowls club and swimming pool. As a measure of its prosperous agricultural location there’s many handsome and sprawling homes. We go to the oval where the Strathalbyn Roosters Junior Colts are training ahead of Saturday’s Preliminary Final against the Willunga Demons. The surface is lush and closely mown. Circle work is underway.
We peer in the window of the footy club. The bar’s open and some parents are yakking around a table. Pausing on the verandah, with the yelling and the voices leaping about the damp oval, we conclude that with its small court and limited players, netball doesn’t need much vocalising whereas footy, played on massive meadows with 36 participants, demands constant interaction. The young Roosters move the ball well and I hear, “Macca, Macca! Run hard Josh. Good pass Scotty!” Their full-forward takes a few grabs and leaning back, Grenville Dietrich style, he slots a couple majors while we watch and chat, the soundtrack of Thursday afternoon training making me nostalgic for my own small, distant playing days.
The Victoria pub is open-hearted with a fire place, multiple tap beers, and exposed brick and stonework. After our strolling it’s a treat to park ourselves by the flames and, just as I think it needs some attention, mine-host emerges and hoicks on some logs before prodding it like a gruff publican. The orange warmth cloaks us and our cold thaws. In the morning, with snow forecast, we’ll drive to Mount Lofty and step out of the car into a tumble of silent flakes. In late September! In Adelaide! Back in the boozer, Claire has a sparkling white while I select a Balter XPA. Both are crisp and tipped in with joy.
The dining room features table candles and wine barrels sitting atop the ceiling beams in acknowledgement of our closeness to Langhorne Creek, picturesque home to fine cabernet sauvignon. My salt and pepper squid is fleshy and tasty and I ask Claire, “How’s your vegetarian curry?” to which she replies, “Curried and vegetably.” There’s a gladdening buzz in the bar as we jettison ourselves into the rainy darkness.
Late Saturday, we learnt that The Terminus is truthfully named and my only doubt is if it best describes the clientele, staff, or pub itself. Recently renovated, it includes clean walls and a wide, self-possessed bar that have only rendered it charmless and incurably grim. It’s a place for devoted punters and should at least smell of fresh paint, but I detect despair and plummeting testosterone. Our drinks were slopped out by a sour type who ensured all her coloured-glass water bottles were filled to the brim before she lifted her lifeless eyes and sullenly served us, understanding, of course, there’s immense profit in tap water compared to tap beer.
Suddenly craving fresh air we bypassed the bent menfolk, watery-eyed over their warm glasses and, like the pesky kids in Scooby Doo, crept outside. A beer garden should cultivate sunshiny conversation and laughter but, despite overlooking the emerald park and the river, that of The Terminus merely nurtures ugly tables, upturned plastic chairs, unendurable dog poo, and disappointment.
I’ve been to Paris three times but, until last week, never to Strathalbyn which is less than an hour from Adelaide. How does this happen? We’ll soon return to its pastoral cosiness if not all its pubs.
We’d been to a café (I was going to write “local café” but as Jack Nicholson’s character scowls in A Few Good Men, “Is there any other kind?”) and drifted through an op shop where Claire bought me a retro print.
Williamstown is set on the Barossa’s southern fringe among low, rolling hills and in spring is green and awakening. There’s creeks and dairy cows and vineyards too.
Despite these natural advantages and a handsome townscape it features the world’s most forlorn barbeque. Williamstown’s park comprises mighty gums, a tempting playground and a modern gazebo with splendid potential sites in the shade, or on the soft grass for a meat cooking machine.
No, our little barbeque finds itself cruelly exiled on a grimy concrete slab by a road and a carpark and some garbage bins. There’s no shade to protect against the summer sun and the brutal concrete and black road amplify the heat. It’s surely victim to a town-planner’s hoax, signed-off by an anti-snagger, or a medium-rare Scrooge.
It sits there in silence, a shrunken parody of the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It could lend portent to a (deleted) scene in which man (sic), guided mysteriously, marks a key evolutionary moment for our ridiculous, slight species, and happens upon pine-nut and spinach chicken sausages.
So, after discussing this peculiar barbeque over the past year Claire and I decided to visit it last Sunday. I don’t think we were disaster tourists on a bus to Chernobyl, but were certainly motivated by a need to understand this oddity, forsaken in its bewildering mise-en-scène.
Planning a late breakfast we arrived at noon and the barbeque was available. With its winding, narrow roads Williamstown is a Harley riders’ destination and across our vista hordes of these bikes postured and crackled as the weekday lawyers kneaded their needy egos.
Ignition complete and hotplate warming I put down some bacon and bread and eggs while Claire poured thermos coffee.
There was laughter and roaring from behind the public conveniences. I was curious. Distinctly masculine, the bellowing was in concert and suggested a raucous performance. Claire investigated. “I couldn’t see in but it’s coming from the back of the pub.”
A couple of matching polo shirted lads crept through the carpark and sabotaged a tired-looking 4WD. They’d come from the pub. “Ahh, footy trip,” we concluded as the lads eased the wipers off the glass of their mate’s rusty wagon before continuing their mischief inside the cabin. I hoped the owner wasn’t a meek viticulturist who’d kitted up in a handful of B-grade games, and that by sundown he wasn’t guts-up in an amateur remake of Wake in Fright.
I flipped the eggs.
With the Barossa’s footy season over for most sides it might’ve been some Tanunda types or the local team. Within an hour or so, out the back of the pub a timid back-flanker would be dacked, or find something disturbing in his beer, or both.
I sipped my coffee.
A family and their dog walked past to the playground. A boy followed on his tricycle, entirely unlike Danny in The Shining. I checked my watch. The Crows match against Carlton started in a few minutes. I liked our chances.
This curious, heartlessly contextualised little public barbeque; pushed out by its own park; banished by the ancient, sullen gum trees; forever crouching; haunted but defiant by the road and carpark and garbage bins, had cooked our breakfast impeccably.
In the Sunday sun we sat and munched our bacon and egg sandwiches.
Pulling up at the Broadway pub on Friday afternoon Claire remarked on how atypically easy our drive had been from the city to the beach. So much so that the car’s clock displayed our triumphant arrival as –
This, of course, scientists will gladly tell you is the optimal afternoon pub starting time, at least in the southern hemisphere. Locating a cosy table in the beer garden we let an hour drift away and all was providential in our world.
Saturday our local footy team the Glenelg Tigers were hosting a twilight match and the boys and I headed down. Sitting on the eastern side the late winter sun (now, we all acknowledge that spring only commences after the equinox on either September 21 or 22, don’t we?) poured honeyed light across the grass, the sky and us.
As is customary Alex, Max and their mates watched minimal minutes of the match, their attention taken by hot chips, each other and roaming about the oval.
Glenelg skipped away early and kept West Adelaide subservient throughout, and it was a spectacular afternoon. The fresh air and stroll did us all some good.
Once each winter month we set our fire bucket going with some red gum and spend a glowing evening on the patio. Claire struck a match as we made our way home from the footy and we enjoyed a few hours in the crackling warmth.
Games give the night some diverting structure and we engaged in Family Feud which is based upon the eponymous TV show. One night I flicked on the box and caught this question, just before the show was axed. This may have been the question that finished it off, but I still can’t decide if it’s towering genius or beyond moronic. We surveyed our studio audience and got their top 100 responses to this:
Name something a spider might think about?
Saturday night I read a question for Claire and Alex that went:
Name a calorie-burning exercise?
Claire and Alex called out running and cycling and others but couldn’t get the final reply which had seven responses. There was much guessing and frustration. Remember the question was:
Name a calorie-burning exercise?
Coming from the country that bought us Sco Mo and Warney’s autobiography called My Autobiography and XXXX Gold (at best a bronze product) the fourth reply was, you guessed it, exercise.
Sunday dawned as Father’s Day and we had Mum and Dad and my sister’s family over for a BBQ. It was sunny and warm and gentle. We ate lamb and chicken and beef. We had tossed salad and Thai noodle salad and red wine from McLaren Vale and the Barossa.
We spoke of renovations and footy and holidays. We then had Mum’s bread and butter pudding which may have had its origins in poverty but is now emblematic of comfort. The day was affirming and then it became late afternoon and with waving and tooting that was it.
While it would be an exaggeration to say it’s a hot August night it’s at least a delightfully mild August evening in Semaphore when I pull into the Exeter’s carpark.
Inside I gaze about and think it’s a pub that straddles the fuzzy line between olden working men’s boozer and a more inclusive family venue. Maybe it’s both, or neither.
I’m early and in this situation would usually take a wander about the salad bar and form a plan of attack. Potato salad? Possibly. Coleslaw? Nup, not enough carrot and too much cabbage. Pea and corn? Arrh, now here’s a treat. Takes me back to the Kimba Cricket Club barbecues after training on Thursdays when there’d be seven blue ice-cream containers, each complete with a tin of peas and a tin of corn, lovingly upended by seven bachelors as they rushed (or not) to the town nets by the oval.
But, of course, the pandemic means salad bars are barred, possibly even at country cricket clubs.
I have a Session Ale and Claire settles upon a house red. It comes from a large, stainless steel dispenser that could’ve once smothered sticky-fingered and faced toddlers with soft-serve ice-cream in a Pizza Hut. The bar staff member simply pushes a button and deep red plonk eases into Claire’s glass! Sadly, the spectacle outstrips the shiraz, but still, it was a diverting eight seconds.
Subconsciously designating tonight a Neil Diamond tribute I think about the Greek Theatre and so order the seafood duo which comes with calamari, so beloved on Santorini if not in Croydon.
Claire decides upon the pie, mash and peas, noting that pies are notoriously difficult to destroy. And, of course, she’s right. Serve up a steak and everybody’s got a view. Too tough! Too stringy! Should only be eaten medium-rare! Take the same meat and stick it under the comforting cloak of pastry and there’s only happy, munching silence.
We eat on the lower floor not far from the indoor playground which has attracted running, boisterous kids. That’s the problem with having an indoor playground in a pub: the kids treat it like an indoor playground. I know. My boys bloodied themselves here a few years’ ago.
The upper floor has sport on screens everywhere, but there’s only one near us and it’s showing an A-League final. Remember back in April when sport across the entire planet stopped apart from the Belarus Premier League? Now, to my shame I couldn’t tell you how Torpedo Zhodino FC is travelling.
Claire’s pie is a treat and my seafood duo is excellent. My salad comes with cherry tomatoes. Sometimes these can be a watery disappointment, like a Backstreet Boys song, but mine are zesty little bombs.
Pubs around the land are showing the Horn v Tszyu fight from Townsville, but I head home to watch Micallef with the childish hope that Darius Horsham will call the host, “an economic girlie-man.”
Don’t you agree that one of life’s little thrills is turning the key to your brand new motel room? There’s all that expectation and excitement, then – click – the door swings, and you make your cheerful way in.
Now, I’m sorry to say this, Brad, but my experience at your motel didn’t live up to this promise.
The first sensory shock was the smell. Yours is a handsome city, stuffed with natural and cultural charms so I’m curious as to how you recreated what I can only guess is the pong of a plague-stricken medieval village. Of course, I instantly leapt at the window to let in some air, but it had been painted shut. Can you believe it? Like a feudal serf, the stink was going nowhere.
That very evening, a combination of fatigue and accommodation-driven disappointment meant I was exhausted. I needed a decent night’s sleep. You know those days, Brad, when you fall into bed and flop into the gorgeous, unbroken slumber of a babe? This, I’m troubled to report, was not me.
How horrid must it have been to lug the mattress up the stairs, given that it’s made of concrete? It put me in mind of an inner-city heli-pad. Or a road, a magnificently – engineered road, somewhere in, say, Germany, where Formula 1 race-cars are tested. Have you ever tried sleeping on a road, Brad? I now have.
Remember I mentioned the window was painted shut? I then hoped this might suggest my room would be quiet for when I was, you know, attempting to slumber. During the day I had the impression that your motel was located in a picturesque part of town, populated by charming yet respectful artisans. Wrong, Brad.
After sundown the laneway directly beneath my window (eternally closed), became a movie set. No, movie sets for as near as I could tell the following blockbusters were being filmed, simultaneously: a spy thriller; the latest instalment in a teen horror franchise; an especially energetic gangster epic, and in a genuine surprise, something with sharks! Even though we’re an hour from the beach.
I love the movies, Brad, I really do. But when I’ve had a taxing day of challenge and disillusionment, I don’t want to sleep on a movie set. Not even one that’ll lead to multiple awards and break box-office records. When dawn arrived like an otherworldly ogre I felt as though I was in my own zombie flick. And because of my unsleeping evening I required no make-up.
As a motel manager, I’m sure that you’re a reasonable and sympathetic person, Brad. So much so that I trust, after hearing of my misery, you’ll provide a full refund.
I look forward to receiving this from your company.