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Backyard Cricket

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During that beautiful hour or so before dark when the light is golden and the world’s rough edges disappear the boys and I played cricket in the backyard. It was warm and still and the kids next door were having a pool party. They had a great soundtrack and sang along to Gang of Youths and The Smith Street Band. They even played Eagle Rock.

Max likes to bowl leg spin, that most difficult of the cricketing crafts. But he has reasonable control and can get them to bite and spit. With his blonde locks he’s not unlike a certain SK Warne. I encourage him. “Don’t try to bowl fast like your dopey old Dad. There’s millions of very average medium pacers out there. Keep the leg spin going!”

Our home is in a constant state of tennis ball crisis. An already modest backyard, it will continue to shrink as the boys likely stretch into six footers. We share fences with five properties and all have endured our friendly fire.

A couple months back the people behind us had their yuccas removed. They ran the length of their back fence and were quite tall. I came home from work and suddenly could see the eastern sky as that vegetative wall was gone. And on our lawn were about ten tennis balls and a toy or two which had taken refuge in the trees. I was surprised there wasn’t also a Jetstar blanket, a German motorcycle and the Best of the Jackson Five. They were big trees.

yuccas

After a brisk delivery from Alex, Max edged one over the tree and into Mrs Hambour’s yard. Like Farmer Fred’s wethers we had no balls. Mrs Hambour is 97. She lives alone. She makes me laugh.

Earlier in the week when the temperature reached 46 degrees I rang her from work during the day just to check on her. She told me (again) of how she’d been recently hospitalised at the new Royal Adelaide following a fall during which she suffered two black eyes and hurt her nose.

“It was very nice Michael. They were good to me. I even saw one of those heart people- what are they called?”

“A cardiologist.”

“Yes, that’s it. And I said to him, ‘Don’t worry about my heart. It’s no good. Have I broken my nose?'”

The boys returned with two tennis balls and two chocolates each.

Having had a bat and a bowl I took up the prestigous position of umpire/ commentator/Dutch beer drinker in my chair under the patio at short extra cover. I channelled Australia’s finest all round broadcaster Tim Lane.

lanes

“Max comes in and tosses one up just outside off stump. Alex steps into it and punches it through mid off for four!”

The boys found it amusing, although, if truth be told, not as amusing as their Dad. I continued.

“With his characteristic loping approach Alex bowls and Max is defending this one back up the pitch. There’s no run.”

And then like all great commentators (real and backyard) I had to show the power of brevity.

“Edge. Gone!” I made myself giggle.

Being brothers there was frequent disagreement so I turned to more televisual theatre to help. Alex was sure Max was out LBW. It was irresolvable. So I made the TV rectangle with my fingers. We’d go to DRS (Decision Review System is a technology-based system used in cricket to assist the match officials with their decision-making). I began.

drs

“Can I have side-on vision of the bowler please?” For reasons unknown I adopted an English accent for my third umpire duties. There’s probably some interesting post-colonialism going on here. Alex and Max had stopped fighting and were watching me and my recreation. “Yes, that’s a legal delivery,” I said to no-one and everyone, putting my hand to my invisible ear-piece.

I continued. “Can we go to Hotspot please?” The boys eyes widened. “Can you rock ‘n’ roll it please?” A meaningful pause. “Again… Thank you. No edge showing.”

I took a sip of beer. “Let’s go to ball tracking please.” We were getting close to the truth. “Yes, it’s pitching in line.” Another pause. “But the ball is going over the top of middle stump. Can you please reverse your on-field decision to not out?”

And do you know what? The boys nodded and returned to their positions. Dispute ended. I learnt something too.

And with this the game continued under the orange sky until we again exhausted our tennis ball supply and it became time for baths and then bed.

It had been a brilliant hour.

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Four pubs and a funeral

I love the week between Christmas and New Year, and know I’ve achieved happy levels of festiveness when I forget what day it is. Someone like the wife will say, “Don’t forget we’re going to X and Y’s on Thursday.” Then I’ll feel a frisson of panic and reply, “Right. What day is it again?”

Bliss.

Yesterday I went to the funeral of my dear mate Bob’s brother Jeff. We all went to Kapunda High with Jeff. He’d passed away too soon. He left a young wife and two daughters. He was 48.

The service was in Gawler and closed when the casket was draped with a Hawthorn footy club flag and their team song was played on a loop. Training as a junior with Central District he’d idolised Johnny Platten.

Jeff was laid to rest in the church cemetery where a couple decades’ prior he’d married a local girl. Atop this hill just outside of Saddleworth, the wind roared from the north in that menacing, apocalyptic way, as the temperature screamed into the hundreds. Fahrenheit, as always, seems more appropriate for these timeless occasions.

In the interim we called into the Gilbert Valley pub. It’s one of those places that has the take-away drinks fridges in the bar itself. Puggy and I had a quick pint of Session Ale. In a corner below the tele two chaps wearing farming equipment hats were slumped. For some reason the screen was showing an old movie, and not the cricket. They were drinking West End Draught cans.

GV

There was a reception at the bowls club. While the party pies, sausage rolls and scones were all in attendance the sandwiches, of course, were uniformly excellent. For the first time in ten years I saw a girl I went to school with Gert*, and her husband Kempy* against whom I’d played footy and cricket. Again I was reminded of my unbreakable home bonds of school and growing up. On a day of mixed emotions this was a lovely moment.

Saddleworth

Mid-afternoon our convoy of two conveyances set forth towards Marrabel and its singular pub. I reckon I’d last been inside in 1986, and as near as I could tell all was as I’d left it. Most of us opted for a West End from the keg, largely on account of it being the only draught option.

Marrabel is a town known for its eponymous rodeo, and so we searched the pub wall photos for Kapunda’s champion bull rider and colourful identity, the late Les Cowan. One of the Hayward brothers, Hollis, and I reckon we spotted him clinging to a vertical beast, frozen but waiting for the eight-second horn. However, the memorbilia had no caption so we couldn’t be certain.

Marrabel

Among the flow of cricket stories, both recent and prehistoric, we then paused to toast Jeff, while Chris also hoped that 2019 could be funeral-free.

We then pushed on through Hamilton where there were four churches and a now vacant shop. I wonder how many kids live there today and go to Kapunda High. There was once a dedicated school bus. The earth is desperately brown and scorched.

As always it is a treat to call into the Allendale pub. It is cosy, welcoming and inn-like in its charisma. Happily, Greenock Creek ales are on tap. Indeed, two of the four offerings are from our old school mate Chris Higgins and his thriving micro-brewery. A trip home, even amid awful circumstances such as those of today evoke much, both good and bad.

Allendale

It was time to continue our cricket reminisces. Of course we spoke of the Lyndoch Cricket Club which at tea breaks provided the most gentlemanly afternoon tea, all scones and egg sandwiches and pleasant conversation.

First experiencing this as an eighteen year old- the day Wocko took a hat trick- made a mark on my young self. Of course, once this culinary interlude concluded and the locals again stepped across the mythical white line psychopathic hostilities resumed. Both accompanying cousins, Froggy and Puggy understood.

I then dragged out the old chesnut concerning Rodney Hogg and his debut appearance at Mildura’s Willowfest. Handed the ball the recently retired Australian quick heard from the boundary, “Bowler’s name?” The captain answered only to hear, “One ‘g’ or two?”

Finally we adjorned to Kapunda’s Prince of Wales. It was the natural conclusion for our day. Although only six in physical number our party expanded courtesy of the anecdotes. Froggy and Hayward the Elder had a moment of faux disappointment concerning some confusion among the beverage orders.

Prince

Night was gathering when we then heard of the night at the Mickans when Paul E. White, having smoked the brothers in cards, starting counting the cash. One of the brothers Mickan admonished him saying, “You know it’s not etiquette to count your money while still at the table.” His voice rising its customary couple octaves, Whitey retorted, “I’m not counting my money d**khead, I’m counting yours!”

And so homewards.

The good that comes of funerals is community and connection and the silent vows we take from these to live well, to stride with purpose and to take care of each other.

It is how we can honour the deceased and ourselves.

Vale Jeff.cemetery

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Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy” and me

 

songs from the south

My favourite Christmas song is twenty-two. But it seems as though it’s been around forever. Like Love Actually, which premiered in 2003, they’re both part of the festive furniture, and signal the season’s arrival.

It’s the 21st of December and our protagonist Joe, freshly imprisoned and hotly anxious, reaches out to his brother. But is “How to Make Gravy” a letter or a phone call? Initially, the form seems spoken- “Hello Dan, it’s Joe here,” but then moves to a written mode- “I hope you’re keeping well.” Which is it? I don’t know.

Over four and a half minutes, this mystery of the medium continues while we meet the brothers; Angus; parents Frank and Dolly; Joe’s wife Rita; his kids; sisters Stella and Mary; Mary’s former boyfriend, the olfactorily-offensive one (just a little too much cologne) and, of course, the almost missable Roger.

Although most are only mentioned once they’re Australia’s first family of Christmas song. We feel like we know them. Despite these skeletal sketches, they’re writ large. Dolly’s the uncrossable matriarch. I can imagine having a beer with Angus, and if he were alive surely Bill Hunter would play Frank in the film version, all gruff wisdom and barbeque tongs.

‘How to Make Gravy’ begins with opening chords similar to Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’ but its guitar riff by the recently-departed Spencer P. Jones almost nods in homage to the British band’s late-sixties hit song. This might be partly why Kelly’s tour de force seems like it’s been around longer than 1996. It’s deep in our musical tectonics.

Willunga

Across the top and also underneath is that doleful slide guitar, foreshadowing the anguish to come. Exhilarating, it’s suggestive of outback space and tropical heat and melancholic veranda conversations.

The next surge is when Peter “Lucky” Luscombe’s drums kick in with an electrifying jolt at, “I guess the brothers are driving down from Queensland and Stella’s flying in from the coast”. Although I was drawn to the song upon its release, and taught it (and Radiohead’s “Karma Police”) to year 10 classes, it was our move to England early this century when it took a profounder hold.

Kerry and I each took ten CD’s with us and Paul Kelly’s Greatest Hits- Songs from the South was the first I packed along with Jeff Buckley’s Grace and The Beatles’ Revolver. Settling happily into a village rhythm I’d cycle home on Fridays post-pub, and put it on in our townhouse after the dark had already stolen through our patio windows.

At this moment I’d then fly homeward, down across the land and ocean. Its melodic panorama contrasted with the claustrophobic British winter and the unforgivable 4pm nightfall. We spent a first European Christmas in Madrid, freezing under a pale sun far, far from Australia’s burnt dirt.

I’d only considered it as a stand-alone song until I read this from the singer: “I’m sort of aware where certain songs are written a few years apart from each other – ‘To Her Door,’ then ‘Love Never Runs on Time’ and ‘How to Make Gravy’ – I’ve got a feeling it’s the same guy. He keeps coming back.”

Here Kelly’s created a fictional universe, or at least some intertextuality, especially as the line, “Tell ’em all I’m sorry, I screwed up this time” indicates a wider backstory, an extended narrative, featuring our central character and his wife Rita.

Hay Plains

And what of that famous recipe for gravy?

“It’s a real recipe of my first father in law, which he used and which I still use. When I make gravy for my family, that’s the recipe that I use, and now they always make me, make the gravy. It’s my job now (laughs). When I made up the song it wasn’t my job but it is now. Sometimes art influences life or the other way around.”

I love how the song’s acknowledged with today, December 21, declared national Gravy Day. There’s even a hashtag- #GravyDay.

A portrait of timeless Australia, it’s as evocative as the timber pylons of the Port Willunga jetty; a backyard cricket match; the ribbon of road unrolling across the Hay Plains.

As our boys splash about in the twinkling pool on Christmas morning, and I sneak my first piece of ham I anticipate that plaintive strumming and forlorn slide guitar and hearing, yet again, Joe’s confessional.

 

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Pub Review: Lord Exmouth Hotel, Exeter

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Among the minor benefits of my brief stint working nearly an hour from home at an architecturally-barren university campus is that my commute takes me through the rich and diverse pub destination of Port Adelaide and surrounds.

The Lord Exmouth is a corner pub just to the south of bustling and charismatic Semaphore Road where it sits on a suburban street. Its crooked front veranda, suggestive of the curious experiences promised within. For inside is a 1970’s museum.

Old mate Bob has a slender window between work and baseball commitments so agrees to meet for a brisk cup. It’s happy hour at this boozer, also known as the Monkey House, so-named as there’s dozens of toy monkeys crammed into the shelves above the bar. Of course it doesn’t matter why these are there, only that they are.

Bob gets a West End Draught and it’s only $3.50. This sets a happily nostalgic tone. My personal bravery has always been in question so I avoid his example and order a Coopers. The front bar is narrow and unlikely to have enjoyed any form of renovation since Gough strolled about Parliament House.

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There’s six or eight chaps in there too, and I’m sure this is exactly as they prefer it. They engage in banter about those who are here, and those who aren’t, with the easy familiarity of men who’ve invested many a regular hour, or three, in here.

Graham and Barbara Cox have run the place since the late 1970’s. It’s a family affair and their daughter is a flight attendant but can often be found behind the bar when she’s home. I wonder if she motions elegantly towards the doors, telling new patrons that, “In case of an emergency the exits are located here, and here.” And if she hands a punter a particularly astringent glass of, say, moselle, I also imagine she crisply urges that they, “Brace, brace.”

Our nostalgic theme continues when I mention to Bob that the pub was featured in the films Wolf Creek and Australian Rules. Taking in the interior with its authentic 1970’s decor and vaguely haunting mis en scene I can’t imagine either film’s art director had to do much in the way of preparation.

Graham lets us out the back to the cosy and welcoming beer garden. There’s a rectangle of lawn (dirt) and like Mick Taylor himself, some weathered tables are scattered about. Each table has multiple fliers advertising the pub’s Christmas Eve festivities and I suggest to Bob, “That’s you sorted then.” But he seems uncertain.

bar

Now both helplessly trapped in our 1970’s youth we speak of the Kapunda Cricket Club; currently keen to attract former players to its struggling third team. Our comebacks to this formative outfit are probably more imagined than real, but it’s victimless to dream. West End Draught can do this to unsuspecting men.

Our beers drained we wander back through the bar where Terry is being ribbed in his inexcusable absence and we move out into the Wednesday afternoon. We’ve spent the previous half an hour so deep in the past that I’m surprised there’s not a HQ Holden and a brown Torana awaiting us.

I’m also shocked that I’m not twenty pounds lighter and sporting a mullet.

The Lord Exmouth is another excellent pub discovery, down at the Port.

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In 1994 Bobby Bowden and I did a Contiki tour of New Zealand

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In early 1994 old Kapunda mate, Bob Bowden and I went to New Zealand. Of course it was illegal back then to not undertake a Contiki tour so you could travel to exciting, distant lands, meet fellow Australians, and spend your evenings in exotic pubs arguing about footy, cricket and which state made the best pies.

In a shameless attempt to impress the locals I took a range of Canterbury clothing with me, including this, the timelessly stylish top known as an “Ugly.”

RFB in Auckland

Here’s Bob on a windy hill overlooking Auckland in his Kapunda Bombers- themed red and black outfit proving again that the 1990’s is not as hideous, fashionistically, as the 1980’s. If it were Brownlow night a reporter would ask Bob, “And who are you wearing?”

If you peer at the cricket ground in the middle distance you’ll see Sir Richard Hadlee, smirking up at us, for no good reason.

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Upon returning to Kimba my Year 9 English class was decidedly unimpressed when I included this Kiwi place name in their first spelling test for 1994.

glacier

A highlight was ascending and then descending, perilously, the South Island’s Fox Glacier. Although my GS Chappell floppy cricket hat came in useful that day, there is no truth that a sudden hail storm gave it its first and last wash in over thirty years.

This hat is now tragically banned from all overseas travel. It can not be issued a visa.

backyard

I’m forever indebted to David, the English bloke on the left, who pointed at the grim base of Fox Glacier and quoting a classic British comedy said to me, “See that freezing death trap over there? That’s your backyard in summer, that is.”

toga!

What trip to the hotspot of Queenstown is complete without a toga party? Toga! Toga!

As Doug Neidermeyer declares in Animal House, “And most recently of all, a “Roman Toga Party” was held from which we have received more than two dozen reports of individual acts of perversion SO profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.”

NB- my boatshoes as worn in Rome 34BC.

sheep dog statue

While we didn’t see any sheep statues- no, seriously- we did spot this bronzed sheep dog who refused to fetch the stuck stick I threw.

spoofy

Our tour finished in Christchurch by which time Bob and I had introduced our travel mates to the ancient art of Spoofy. A game of chance using three coins the loser has to buy all the participants a beer. The UN should use it as a diplomatic strategy to resolve international tensions.

In fact , I think Bob Hawke once did.

This was a quarter of a century ago. Time to return methinks.

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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.

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Pub Review: The Prince of Wales, Kapunda

prince

I’d driven non-stop for over four hours, dodging kangaroos, AM radio (up next the latest from Danni Minogue!) and berserk truckies like the one in Spielberg’s Duel, and Friday-exhausted, fell into the front bar around 8pm. It was a hike from Kimba.

“Hello West Coast smack-head,” greeted mine host. “Christ you’re getting fat, Mickey.” He continued. “Are you still driving that dopey sports car?”

Welcome to Kapunda’s Prince of Wales hotel, run with gruff affection by lumbering iconoclast Peter “Puffa” Jansen.

The blunt cranial and corporeal references are like warm handshakes. These are Puffa’s way of welcoming me into his cosy pub. His is an inclusive environment: no-one is spared his jibes, and these are all part of the boisterous charm. To not be abused would be offensive.

But to understand the publican we need to know more of his curiosities. He was fond of a mid-week luncheon and these sometimes included local identities such as Norton Schluter. Norton ran the Greenock Creek Tavern: a Barossan boozer with such similar atmospherics it could be a sister pub to the Prince.

Legend has it that Puffa and some captive chaps once when out to lunch. When traversing the state Puffa preferred to sip cans. He reckoned they “travelled better.” Post-dessert they inexplicably then drove to Broken Hill in the big publican’s even bigger Falcon and returned four days later.

The Prince of Wales is a snug pub with a front bar like a lounge room. It’s this spatial dynamic which assists the natural intimacy.  The decor is spartan and the space is dominated by the beautiful, antique pub fridge with timber doors and those ancient chrome door handles. About the bar are maybe ten black-topped stools.

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Often, early in the afternoon, there’d be but a single conversation with the tethered denizens such as Roger and Matesy, and the quips would shuttlecock about the bar and there’d be volleys of chirping from in their cups.

Retrospectively, I can see that chief among its attractions was a clear-minded absence of TAB, thumping music, big-screen TVs and dining options. The Prince was solely dedicated to conversation and cups although I recall watching the 1989 Grand Final in there on, I imagine, a boxy old Rank Arena, and willing on Ablett the Elder before the clock ran out.

It was a venue for personal firsts. On a lazy Sunday afternoon I was introduced to the English public school tradition of spoofy which initially only required three coins but, if you lost, it resulted in significantly more fiscal investment, especially if there were six or seven of you in a roaring circle. And the pain of loosing to Goose or Whitey went far beyond the mere monetary.

spoofy

Also in 1989 some mates and I hired a VN Commodore wagon and headed to Brisbane for about three weeks. Of course, we set off from the Prince. Ever the social benefactor Puffa said, “Here you yo-yo’s take my radar detector. I’ve seen how you blokes drive. It might save you a few bucks. Just bring me back a carton of that new Powers beer from Queensland.” And the detector did ping numerous times across New South Wales. We delivered Puffa his slab.

I also remember old mate Trev and his band ‘Imelda’s Shoes’ playing one Sunday afternoon in the bottle-o drive way. I stood by the war memorial as the drums and guitar blasted down Mildred Street.

Puffa loved a bet. Up on the wall behind his bar, next to the clocks, was a row of coasters on which the wagers had been scribbled. It was like a silent bookie. Puffa once said to me just after Christmas, “Don’t worry about the Sydney Test, smack head. It’ll be a draw. It’ll be rained out.”

I’d seen the forecast, so retorted, “I reckon it’ll stay dry.”

Puffa then barked, “I’ll give you 4 to 1 that it’ll rain. Easy money for me, you yo-yo!”

Of course, Fanie de Villiers bowled South Africa to victory in a rare, entirely rain-free Test. After I returned from New Zealand in late January Puffa took down the coaster and I enjoyed his cash momentarily, before donating it in yet another ill-conceived spoofy final. I had a skill for that.

Although it now offers a broader range of tap beers I’m sure we only drank West End Draught in either schooners or butchers. My A3s cricket captain Kym Ryan took his lager in a handled mug, and this seemed sophisticated. In 1986, it probably was.

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Early one morning during our last year in Singapore my cousin Puggy- called a “smack head” by Puffa as often as anyone- sent me a message to say that the iconic publican had passed away.

Trev and I called in a while back when in Kapunda for Woodsy’s birthday. We invested a vigorous hour as the pale sunlight bent through the windows, and I expected Puffa to burst behind his bar and bark, “Hello smack head!”

When next in Kapunda I urge you to visit and enjoy a butcher of West End Draught! But not a game of spoofy.

Puffa