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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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The Ragged and Clumsy Beauty of Cricket Clubs

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Psst. Come over here. Lend me your shell-like ear for I’ve a confession.

I learnt more at cricket clubs than I did when undertaking my degree.

Now, this isn’t a criticism of my alma mater, or untoward praise of the gents with whom I shared a summery oval and a clammy protector, just a reflection from my current viewpoint.

And why shouldn’t it be?

Yesterday, the Plympton Bulldogs Cricket Club had its Under 12’s Presentation Night (Presso), and after twenty-odd years it was great to again be in a cricket community.

The wood-panelling was festooned with premiership pennants, and the dates on these were sufficiently regular and recent to confirm that we’d made a wise choice for our boys.

If their last flag had been in, say, 1953, it might have spoken of the club’s resilience and bright optimism in slogging away over fruitless decades, but as any mug punter will tell you, if I can mix speculative and seafaring metaphors, it’s necessary to have an earn or two along the journey, to keep the scurvy at bay.

Happy in their undisputed real estate at the corner of the bar were a couple chaps in red and black Bulldogs polo shirts. On the back, triumphantly listed, were their team-mates: Dogga, Perky, Kev, BK etc. In the roster were universal names, and a few quirky inclusions that also suggest a healthy and robust culture.

Glancing up at the TV to check the score from South Africa I see that everyone’s fourth favourite Test-playing, West Australian Marsh: the elongated Mitch (behind Rod, Geoff and Shaun) was assembling a tidy innings. He seems in danger of becoming a useful cricketer.

The family in front of me struggles to finalise their meal order as the kids are compulsorily indecisive. “But you said you wanted gravy. Are you sure? Once it’s on the schnitzel we can’t take it off. Lemonade or squash? You might just have to have water.”

If this was a pub there could be an impatient urgency, born of a commercial subtext, but this is a community, and the matronly manager runs both her till and club with the reassuring and unhurried calm of a pilot’s pre-flight announcement.

Each coach presents a trophy to all his players, and makes a considered, careful, encouraging, inclusive speech. The words are promises and handshakes. Most refer to their stapled pages, and these hand-scrawled notes are emblems of investment, beacons forward for a modest, suburban cricket club.

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About an hour in, Alex’s coach cycles around to the bowling trophy. The audience has been respectful and attentive, only occasionally requiring a shrill whistle from an elder to refocus the boisterous pups by the bar.

The coach continued. “This lad’s only just turned ten. And after playing the first game in the Under 10’s he came up to our team.” I speculated silently on the recipient. “He always bowled a really good line and length, and across the season had over a hundred dot balls (each player only gets two or three overs a game).”

“The winner is Alex Randall.” And up from his plastic chair in the fifth row he went, boyish and shyly pleased, as his Mum and I both got a bit of dust in our eyes, simultaneously. We found each other’s hand, and after an exhausting week had a moment that suddenly reminded us again of the worth in those often hideous Sunday starts, the washing of grassy whites, and the nagging to pack away the sprawling cricket coffin.

Wandering back to the car along the balmy, twilight oval past assorted kids running and hollering and launching balls skyward I thought, not for the first time these past weeks, about the trajectory from childhood across the adult decades.

Situated along this arc there’s many gorgeous people competing for our loyalty and love – wives; husbands; kids; parents; friends. But in trying to best shape ourselves I’ve decided there’s another who I’ve forgotten, and who I now really want to impress: a golden-haired, perfectly-conceived boy who sees you exactly as you want to be seen.

My ten year-old self.

Meanwhile go and hug a cricket club, in all its ragged, clumsy beauty.

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The Catch

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Scorecards sometimes disguise the truth. 

Lillee c Willey b Dilley is among cricket’s most famous scorebook entries yet it’s a wholly unremarkable wicket, a mere 1970’s transaction at the WACA.

In the same group as the Indian spelling bee-worthy Chamundeshwarnath c Balasubramaniam b Ananthapadmanabhan at Visakhapatnam, perhaps.

Match 35 of BBL07 was likely to be remembered, if at all, for the Strikers’ import Colin Ingram swatting a handful of crisp sixes at the Docklands stadium in front of a languid Monday night crowd, the spectator numbers down like a late season MBL assignment with the Arizona Diamondbacks hosting the San Diego Padres on an airless August evening.  

This scorecard is essentially innocuous:

Bravo c Weatherald b Khan

Cricket might be a team game played by individuals but Bravo’s dismissal was a masterpiece of collaboration, a triumph of imagination that reminds us of sport’s capacity to thrill and surprise.

Among the Bucketheads and the Bruno Mars song grabs and the confected entertainment this catch, although probably insignificant in the broader context of the night’s result and the lengthened summer, was a moment to rival John Dyson on the SCG boundary and Glen McGrath at horizontal stretch in front of the members at Adelaide Oval.  

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Dwayne Bravo, the Trinidadian cricketer, lofted a Khan delivery high towards the Docklands’ angular roofing architecture and it began its descent at extra cover with journeyman carpenter Ben Laughlin cleverly netting the ball close to the rope, too close as is often the way, and as cruel momentum pulled him like iron filings at a magnet he somehow saw the blue flash of a team mate.

Jake Weatherald was inboard, but at a full pitch distance from the immediacy of the heroics. With Laughlin airborne and scorching at the line he flicked the Kookaburra towards his bluish colleague with the authority of a Federer backhand before diving into the turf, the first act of this drama complete.

Weatherald has had a modest campaign which has threatened, but not fired. He now became the Jagger to Laughlin’s Keef, producing an equally athletic manoeuvre to take the catch with a diving effort that, in this often-singular enterprise, demanded cooperation of balletic beauty as well as Zen-presence and advanced physical literacy.

It was a remarkable relay catch that even the most visionary fans of the last century could have scarcely conceived.

Football and cricket continue to evolve, and watching old grand final and Ashes footage are sometimes acts of almost ridiculous nostalgia so as to make these games often seem beyond the child-like in their structure and execution.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Thoughts from my Caloundra Balcony

FM radio is illegal in Op Shops

Going to the late Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo is a waste of money for in Queensland dangerous and toxicologically startling fauna comes to you, for free, every minute of the godless day

By 2020 “GPS signal lost” will be the biggest killer of over-fifties in this country

I love our boys, but to teach them about privilege and perspective I’m writing a series of books with titles such as, “The Boy Who Died Because He Had To Listen To Triple J In The Hire Car” and “The Boy Who Died Because He Ate His Pavlova Slowly”

What does it mean that the small town of Murgon boasts ten churches of different denominations?

Bundaburg has the nation’s best Target, I think

How do I process the grief of buying my family a pepperoni pizza that achieved the astonishing, postmodern feat of being entirely free of pepperoni?

Country radio provides two truisms: David Bowie was boiled shite in the 1980’s and Neil Diamond was always great

Cricket conversations are fantastic: Is Peter Siddle one of your favourites? and, Dad, was it Lillee caught Dilley, bowled Willy?

At least every six months we should camp somewhere free of light-pollution, and sit about a fire, and stare up at the remarkable blanket of stars, and remind ourselves to live well, and to love fiercely