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Five Summery Delights

Beach House Café

A two-minute squirt towards Victor Harbor from our digs at the Bluff. This rickety eatery on the esplanade was bursting last Thursday with folks like us keen for the wood oven pizza or its slightly surprising culinary cousin, North Indian curry. The service was brisk yet relaxed and we inhaled our pizza.

It was fun dining.

The cafe hosts live music and there’s a history lesson as the walls are busy with mounted posters for the iconic acts that have played across the previous two decades, such as Mental As Anything and Ol 55.

Get in there soon to enjoy a Rogan Josh while listening to the Countdown classic, ‘Looking for an Echo.’ It’d be fantastic on a wintry Sunday.

Willowman

Why aren’t there more novels about cricket?

With Test matches allotted five days there’s rich and natural narrative possibilities. I’ve read novels that mention the sport so was thrilled to learn of Willowman which promised a singular attention to the great game.

Inga Simpson’s recent paperback was on my holiday menu and while the plot and characterisation aren’t especially original, the poetic meditations upon batting, music and the patient craft of fashioning beauty are exquisite. Like this section on the main character and Test cricketer

Harrow was using the old Reader bat for the occasion, a deep divot worn in its face…It was yellowed, a few fine cracks in the face, but still beautiful. Some kind of magic at work that it didn’t really age. In the soft English sun, the bat was golden, containing all the hope and possibilities of the game.

I loved reading a chapter or two mid-afternoon, and then napping!

Soul Music

Since the turn of the century this British series has been offering its simple genius.

The producers at BBC Radio 4 take a piece of music and weave together the stories of about five people. The connection: how a particular song features in their lives and became the soundtrack for personal change. There’s the everyday, the tragic and the wryly comedic centred on the transformative power of music. It’s compelling storytelling and gives insight into some remarkable art.

Last Saturday night Claire and I dragged the beanbags out onto the back lawn and listened to episodes on Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’, U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and following a stroll around the block, John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads.’

I was inspired to play the live version from Rattle and Hum which features the Voices of Freedom choir and late in the song Bono and U2 allow them to take over. It’s spinetingling.

The Banshees of Inisherin

Darkly comedic, this is an essay on male friendship and the complex consequences of its failure. Set against the Irish Civil War we, like the main characters, Pádraic and Colm, are vulnerable to their island’s claustrophobia and agoraphobia. It’s a beautiful, terrible place.

It was unsettling and like all great cinema remained with me for the following days as I tried to reconcile its themes. Not for the squeamish, it also has much to say about mortality and art and sacrifice.

After we saw it Claire and I enjoyed exploring it at Patritti wines.

Pirate Life South Coast Pale Ale

Seeing this on tap I invariably feel a pulse of ale frisson. It occupies that select space I call occasion beers. Fresh and redolent of beachside beers gardens (deliberate plural for who only has one beer?) and gentle swimming bays, it’s an afternoon treat.

Once at Alberton watching Glenelg lose to Port the bar was serving a Pirate Life light beer called 0.9 (based on the alcoholic value). I instead wanted the 2007 grand final commemorative beer, Pirate Life 119 but none was available.

And with an incandescent appearance, the Pale Ale looks painterly in a glass as if Monet had captured it by a French field. Not a regular Friday cup, but one to mark a moment, like a festive luncheon.

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Royal Family pub, Port Elliot

The year’s first Tuesday. Alex, Max and I are in one of my favourite beer gardens.

In each of the last two Septembers I’ve come down here to a townhouse overlooking Knight’s Beach for a writing retreat. After each big day of introspection and prose, I enjoy a late afternoon ale in this glorious pub.

The beer garden’s coastal and festive in that loosely shared sense, with ten or a dozen big wooden tables scattered on the lawns. Today, as a mark of familial solidarity we’ve all decided upon a chicken schnitzel but with varied toppings (parmigiana and Kilpatrick minus the sea boogas).

My ridiculous generosity continues as I treat myself to a Pirate Life South Coast Pale Ale which seems geographically appropriate down here on the south coast, masquerading as the Fleurieu Peninsula. Increasingly, it’s my occasion beer. Fruity and summery, these are fine qualities in a refreshment.

The boys are hugely grateful for their tumblers of room temperature tap water.

Strolling into the airy and light and old front bar we’d noticed opposite how the queue to the (doubtless award-winning) Port Elliot bakery stretches a decent drop punt along the footpath. Hopefully, the bakers have prepared well for the masses so that most accusatory of rhetorical questions need not be asked, ‘Who ate all the pies?’

Between claiming our booked furniture and ordering, some folks have mistakenly pinched our chairs so upon our return I merrily shoo them away. I’m sure they welcome my inserting them into their correct place in our messy universe. At least that’s how I interpret the audible absence of their cussin’ at me.

The boys and I plan our week.

Jetty-jumping. Ascending The Bluff. Exploring Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island. There’s also the Murray mouth, which I can reveal, for the hydrologically unexcitable like me, lacks a little star power. I had hoped for towering waves and deafening crashing and Niagara-like power. I wouldn’t invest any coin in a Murray Mouth theme park just yet. But it was important to view it during these times of biblical flooding.  

While waiting monk-like for our poultry Alex and Max pop next door to the surf shop while I peer at the racing form with Stony Creek and Maree gallops on the menu. Nothing takes my fancy, so I wander back outside.

As the late Victor Lewis-Smith often asked in his restaurant reviews, what made me pleased to be here?

The food was honest and tasty. My beer was great as is always the case with early-January-on-holidays-beers. The boys’ excitement at the beginning of our languid week with busy days and cricket nights ahead of us. Our tremendous fortune and the soft charms of this inviting pub.

Schnitzels inhaled; we drive back to Victor Harbor for our Granite Island pilgrimage. We’ll follow the horse-drawn tram out along the new causeway.

Our week is underway.

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To Alex and Max, on 2022

Dear Alex and Max

So you’ve now had a year back together at the same school. I was excited about how you’d go and hopeful that you’d look after each other as needed. I’m confident you’ll remain protective of each other.

I know it’s sometimes boring but am glad that most days you both head off to school willingly, and once there, generally try your hardest. Of course, I’m impressed that you seem to enjoy and do well in English! Reading and writing are, as I keep telling you, the keys to every subject. You are fine users of language. I’m also pleased by your achievements in Company Bright Alex and by yours in HASS, Max.

In addition to this I’m thrilled that you show excellent humour, and this great skill applies to school, home and life in general. You also understand the power of story.

I’ve been rapt by your approach to your new job at Caruso’s Alex. Thriving in part-time work is important and gives you many wonderful opportunities and life skills. I’m sure you’ll also get a job when you’re able Max, and will find it of huge personal benefit. I look forward to this too. What if you got a job at Caruso’s too?

Another year highpoint was our Melbourne adventure. I enjoyed exploring the city with you and going to the footy. I also look forward to our New Year trip, this time to Victor, and swimming, playing beach cricket and American football. We must decide on a Lake Lap equivalent for each afternoon around 5pm. It’s a vital tradition!

I’m happy how both of you show commitment to exercise. Hoops and biking are your passions Max and it pleases me when I say, ‘How about you go down to the school and play basketball’ and you usually accept the challenge, and do it!

Alex, I’m delighted with your regular sessions at the gym. I’m glad we made this happen for you. I was pleased too, when you went for a run to the beach and back before school earlier this week. I hope you’ll both continue to appreciate that Glenelg North and the beach are a wonderful place to live. Another highlight of our year has been the Onkaparinga hikes, which are great as they give us a chance to enjoy nature too.

I’m happy that we’re going to the Strikers this season and hopefully, we’ll be regulars in the members at Adelaide Oval for a long time! As you demonstrated at the first match, one of the attractions of watching cricket is the chance it offers to have good conversations, and I liked how you both chatted the other night about all sorts of stuff like the NBA and school.

So, well done on your years and I’m proud of your achievements. I’m excited to see what 2023 brings for you both.

Love Dad.

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Boys and basketball

Obviously, professional basketball appeals to teenage boys.

Ridiculously over-sized men doing ridiculously physical things with a ball and to each other. This all happens on a ridiculously under-sized court which appears to be the dimensions of a suburban shower cubicle.

How could this not appeal?

When I was seventeen some mates and I were all obsessed with basketball and more particularly the NBA, the professional American competition.

A match was televised on Sunday mornings and we’d all watch and discuss it that afternoon and at school during the week. It was my first real experience with sport that wasn’t Australian. Magic Johnson, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving were the big names and being adolescent I was seduced by their skill and their seemingly exotic names.

The teams and their locations were also mesmerising: Boston and the Celtics, Philadelphia and the 76ers, and Los Angeles and the Lakers. Given their rivalry, LA and Boston games were always the highlight.

So, I’m pleased and entirely unsurprised that Max, now gangly and twelve and curious about his expanding world, is besotted by the NBA. In his room he has about six basketballs, all arranged at the foot of his bed in a brown-orange pyramid. If he’s not playing the game during or after school, he’s in his room watching it online or talking about it to his brother Alex or me.

He loves the Brooklyn Nets.

With their New York City hipster-borough aesthetic this is probably the team I’d support if I were his age. Indigenous star Patty Mills plays for them as do some of Max’s favourites in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Australian export Ben Simmons is also on the roster but is currently spending much time on the bench, fouling out frequently.

Brooklyn’s a bit far to go during term time so I offered to take Max to the Adelaide 36ers and New Zealand Breakers match. He accepted.

It was my first time at a professional basketball match too. I’d been to footy, soccer, rugby league, golf, and cricket but not the hoops.

It was great.

We sat midcourt (not far from where Alex and I were at the Tame Impala concert a few nights’ previous) and it was engrossing, ridiculous fun. In his attempts to encourage our ownership, the courtside announcer often insisted, ‘Your Sixers.’ Max and I spoke of the implied ownership in the second person pronoun, ‘your.’ He gets it. As always, we’re being sold stuff.

Cricket’s Big Bash League has borrowed extensively from basketball’s entertainment formula. Merciless noise, music, lights, quick gimmicks and silly crowd participation. The curmudgeon in me tried to resist but couldn’t. It was harmless, sugary distraction.

And why not on a Friday night?

Max commentated throughout. He has the language and the technical insight. His vocabulary even seemed taken from Brooklyn with its streetwise, vaguely combative terminology.

An odd rite then occurred. Whenever the Breakers would earn shots from the free-throw line a mysterious ritual took place. Resulting, I imagine, from a weird sponsorship deal, the kids in the crowd began chanting.

‘Hungry Jacks! Hungry Jacks!’

Now, I wasn’t sure if hearing this was supposed to inspire or distract or scare the opponents with the thought that they might be force-fed a whopper, or, heaven forbid, a yumbo?

‘Hungry Jacks! Hungry Jacks!’

Maybe, I wondered, if they missed, the kid who yelled loudest would receive their (meagre) body weight in cheeseburgers or Baconators? This, of course, would likely condemn them to a life without any hope of being a professional basketballer.

But still they chanted.

Half-time at the merchandise stall I offered Max a hat or singlet but at his request bought him yet another basketball. Can you have too many? I’m probably guilty of having an excess of checked shirts in my wardrobe.

Using his surname as inspiration we adopted Craig Randall as a home team favourite while Antonius Cleveland also found our affection. The seven-foot Korean centre, Kai Sotto, impressed us with his dunking and gentle athleticism.

Despite the fuzzy etymology of The Breakers, they whopped us by thirty points. We turned the ball over too often and our Kiwi competitors made the most of their three-pointers, but it mattered little to us.

On our way home Max talked excitedly. I reckon we both won.

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Tame Impala: A Superb Show

We had waited over 700 days.

It was among the multiple victims of the pandemic but finally happened last Wednesday and was wholly exhilarating.

A reliable personal measure of the deep impact of an art experience is if it remains with me days later, and this occurred with my first viewing of Pulp Fiction and when I read Jonathan Franzen’s tour de force, The Corrections.

It has certainly been true for Tame Impala’s Rushium concert. It’s dominated my thoughts since, and I’ve had the Spotify concert list on repeat all weekend.

Alex and I had seats to the left of stage, and we could see over the crowded mosh pit. This attracted him. I then told him how a mate missed a large chunk of a Big Day Out as he was getting stitched up at hospital following a flying elbow in the Wayville mosh. Deciding to stay with me he saw my point which is good. I always have a point.

Kevin Parker’s music is inspired by the psychedelia of the sixties and seventies with its swirling, cosmic guitars and keyboards while there’s also a distinctive science fiction angle. Despite these key elements it’s timeless and seemingly autobiographical.

Like many of my age I was disappointed when on the 2015 album Currents he exchanged the guitar for the keyboard as his major instrument of expression. However, Parker’s sense of melody is peerless, and he builds songs which at once are simple and complex but always compelling.

There were many highlights and ‘Elephant’ was one when the confetti canons burst into dazzling, mesmerising life. I remember first hearing this song at my desk in Singapore and streaming Seattle’s KEXP (local radio remains untreatably dreadful). I was sure John Lennon was singing but the music seemed too modern. I was delighted to hear it back-announced as Tame Impala.

Sharing our excitement during the eighteen-song set I reflected on how music is now truly intergenerational. How great that my fourteen-year-old and I could genuinely enjoy this together and it not be something than one or the other must simply tolerate?

In the 1950’s rock belonged exclusively to the kids with the unrelenting despair of their parents and now music is accessible to all. It’d be easy to attribute this solely to the Internet, but I think it’s probably knottier than this. Either way it’s excellent and I’m also pleased that Alex plays jazz icon Miles Davis when taking his (ridiculously lengthy) showers.

Our night was not just about the music. It was a complete show and a massive lighting rig, like the spacecraft from Close Encounters of The Third Kind was suspended above the band. It was lowered and set spinning in a way that was thrilling and almost menacing too. The scale of the effects with video screen and laser show made the event colossal and cinematic. Alex captured much of it on his phone.

The setlist was sequenced magnificently with tracks from The Slow Rush dominating. I would’ve loved for Innerspeaker to have featured beyond the solitary tune, ‘Runway, Houses, City, Clouds’ with its soaring and extended guitar solo, but I understand that the bulk of the audience were there for the recent releases. The kids can’t be ignored! I especially loved two songs from Lonerism in “Mind Mischief’ and ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ with their spacey vocals and rising rhythms.

It was a great night and I was so jubilant that I bought Alex a t-shirt although I wasn’t sufficiently euphoric to consent to $90 Tame Impala tracky dacks.

I look forward to our next musical adventure.

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10,254 days

Running is an invitation to think.

Setting off in Kurralta Park, six kilometres from the Colley Reserve rotunda gave me ample opportunity to dwell on my joyous present and varied and wide past.

Ambling towards Glenelg over the following 36 minutes I did just that.

I was paid up for my first City Bay fun run since 1994, and this alone represented a triumph. Although I was only entered in the six-kilometre event and not the full twelve I was keen to participate and prove things to myself. But a week out I suffered an avulsion fracture in my foot which is when a flake of bone attached to a ligament is pulled away from the joint.

Ouch.

I was disappointed and that this happened at our Port Elliot townhouse on my annual writing retreat dampened the celebratory mood. Slipping on the bottom rung of the darkened staircase following three generous glasses of shiraz, I knew I should’ve gone the merlot.

Shiraz can be shameless.

So, ever supportive and kind, Claire suggested I do the City Bay fun run when I’d recovered. Five weeks later, this morning at 11.50 by Anzac Highway, and across from Australia’s best K Mart (no, really) my lovely wife said, ‘3, 2, 1, go!’

Like Forrest Gump, I was RUNNING! It was no leisurely jog to the beach and back. It was my own private event with the attendant excitement and exhilarating occasion.

Heading down the Anzac Highway footpath past the homes and shops and pubs I felt deep gratitude (especially when I didn’t go in the execrable Highway Inn). I wondered about the groups of lads I passed ambling down to the Morphettville racecourse. An Indian man was then easing local council how to vote pamphlets into letterboxes outside a big block of cream units. He cheerfully ignored me.

A biker roared through the traffic, his chopper adorned with ghastly yet tremendous wood-panelling, and with his stereo blasting. Speakers installed on motorbikes is always noteworthy and just a little bit funny. I couldn’t identify the music due to the car noise but the funky, yet laconic bass suggested Talking Heads. Puffing along, I inwardly nodded approval.

I was making pretty good time. In 1994 during my last City Bay, when I was non-grey and non-chubby, I had on the Swatch watch I’d bought duty-free on the way to New Zealand’s Contiki Tour the previous summer. Being on the youthful side of thirty and boosted by adrenalin I ran my first six kilometres in 24 minutes! In 2022, I knew this was beyond me however I remembered to be kind to myself. As the Dalai Lama says, ‘Kindness is my religion.’ He knows a few things, our Dalai.

Today my pace was more leisurely, but I had much more for which to be grateful. There was a cooling breeze and cloudy sky as friendly company. Just by the racecourse I felt a wave of nostalgia for the faded, sometimes vexed previous decades and renewed appreciation for where I was at this exact moment.

Indeed, I have the three ingredients for happiness: something to do, something to look forward to, and most vitally, someone to love. Arriving at the next intersection I again got the run of the lights and scampering across (this might be a generous description) was now in Glenelg East.

It was going well, and my sense of joy was percolating nicely. He’s deeply flawed but as American Beauty‘s Lester Burnham says when he’s on the verge of physical reinvention: ‘But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.’

With the grass of Colley Terrace beneath my Brooks running shoes I peered anxiously ahead at the rotunda. It appeared deserted and my bespoke City Bay fun run was nearly done.

All about me people were easing into their Saturday afternoons by the beach and for the first time in decades I’d easily run a reasonable distance. I hoped this would be a symbol of capacity, of happy future surprise and of the rich possibilities of life, well-contemplated and favourably executed.

My run complete I effected the rotunda stairs (mercifully this time without incident) and Claire was waving some fizzing sparklers, just for me.

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Dearest Alex, on watching Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell

Dearest Alex

As you know we love rituals such as attending the SANFL grand final, hiking in the Onkaparinga National Park, and when on our annual trip to Barmera completing a late-afternoon lap of Lake Bonney. Rituals celebrate our past and give excitement and shape to our future.

But among these there’s been Wednesday nights watching Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell.

I had long enjoyed it and reckon you were about ten when you first joined me on the lounge. As one of the show’s characters (probably played by Tosh Greenslade in a wig and glasses) may have said, ‘Shaun, you’re never too young (not even at fourteen like you) to be introduced to searing political satire and viciously sharp comedic writing and acting in this bumbling, endlessly self-parodying nation of ours.’

I loved how you’d laugh about the characters who’d feature in that week’s episode. You’d often do your own impersonation of them, such as the Daily Telegraph’s sub-editor Chris Lorax with his pathetic defence of his ‘lamentable puns’ when he feebly says, ‘It’s just a bit of fun’ or at the close of a sketch as the fantastic Sir Bobo Gargle would holler, ‘Release the Kraken!’ or the traffic reporter in the helicopter would say, ‘I’m Lois Price for Mad As Hell.’

All of this you got which pleases me hugely. I think a sense of humour and keen awareness of human frailty are vital and already you have these in ample proportion. I loved how we’d laugh at the same jokes, at the same absurdities such as Darius Horsham, chomping on his cigar and scalding the host by saying, ‘Shaun, don’t be an economic girly-man.’

In anticipating the next episode you’d wonder aloud if there’d be another caricature of a BBC nature documentary such as the Polyamorous Self Pleasuring Gastropods of Bolivia or this one-

We’d also look forward to the increasingly surreal and self-referential spoof of Enid Swink. Your appreciation of the ridiculous was obvious when we’d laugh uncontrollably as the characters would attack each other with the lightening that’d come from out of their fingers. Among our favourite moments was Swink: Origin with all that the title alone says about the shamelessness of the rubbish that Hollywood is trying to sell us.

But you’re alert to this.

It’s an indicator of how significant Mad As Hell is for us that watching the news or driving around and hearing mention of the current Opposition Leader you’d immediately go into character of the spokesperson Brion Pegmatite and mutter the name, ‘Peter’ in that sneering, villainous way that was his Voldemort-like signature. He and the man that inspired him really do find it difficult to show empathy, compassion, or joy.

So, beyond the thirty minutes of mutual fun this provided I can tell that the show has given you much as a thinker and writer, an emerging citizen, and a talented drama student. It’s been a joy to share it with you.

It’s sad that it’s finished but as we know one of Micallef’s exquisite skills is his sense of timing and this is probably another example.

I know there’ll be more rituals to come for us, and I look forward to seeing what these might be.

Love Dad

Thanks to the ABC for both the show and these images.

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The 12.23 to Gawler Central, stopping all stations

In the dim belly of the Adelaide railway station a smiling, high vis attendant asked, ‘Are you good? Going to the show?’

The boys and I scurried past, en route to Platform 7. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘We’re off to Womma.’

I doubt he hears that often.

During winter of 2020 we completed the other three Adelaide rail journeys- Noarlunga, Outer Harbor and Belair. With the Gawler Rail Electrification Project (GREP) now done we had our final trip to make.

For train station aficionados this northerly line includes a maximum of 27 stops.

Along the soursobbing way we saw soccer near Kudla; a mattress factory; bemused sheep; Costco and we might’ve alighted if we’d suddenly required 47 kilos of chicken wings. The rail yards flashed by; long snakes of rolling stock paused outside the window.

I suspect the last time I went through Womma on the train was at 7 in the morning on the way to an Australia Day one-dayer in the 1980’s. We would’ve risen in the hot dark and en convoy of HQ Holdens, made our way to Gawler with chairs and eskies and towelling hats and gallons of Reef oil (skin cancer was yet to be discovered). Some in our unruly throng (you know who you are) likely had a couple discreet Southwarks in transit.

Lunch was in a shopping centre adjacent to the station. The boys all agreed that it was the best sushi they’d (or probably anybody’d) ever had in Gawler.

The return leg was express from Dry Creek and this is always welcome. We crawled through the lovely North Adelaide station which now houses a quiet cafe. We shared our carriage with people who seemed to be heading to the Show.

There were pylons; tall dormant chimneys; substations; eruptions of misplaced townhouses.

The project cost 842 million dollars although as near as I could sympathetically tell, Womma was still Womma.



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Running up that Carrackalinga Hill

Claire and I trudge through the soft sand of the beach and then nurse a coffee at the village green. How daggily cool when from the barista’s van bursts, ‘The Pina Colada Song?’ Of course, I’m not into yoga but may have half a brain.

We’re in Carrackalinga with old friends. It’s Saturday morning and our day reaches out with electric possibility.

Planned equally with science and enthusiasm, my run’s to the Forktree Brewery and back to our accommodation. It’s my daily four kilometres. But up a hill.

How tough can it be?

Round, emerald knolls watch over Carrackalinga and making my way up the road a herd of sheep encourages my ambling by bleating in charitable ways. Last night’s pizza is now unwelcome ballast.

On the outskirts of town, a council election poster urges participation in this democratic event. Texas-sized utes and rattling 4WDs pass and some swerve away from me in vehicular acknowledgement of my ascent. Or not wishing to bloody their gleaming bull bars.

There’s several twists and the road’s undulating. Accustomed to the flat esplanade of Glenelg North, my thighs protest this topographical change to their jogging routine.

Finally, the brown tourist sign I’ve been seeking for excruciating minutes:

Forktree Brewery.

Despite being presently incapable of having a beer, I’ve never been so pleased to arrive at a brewery.

I’m soaked. My ears popped on the way up and my legs are so convinced of an alpine elevation that they expect a few twirling snowflakes.

A woman and her dog survey the beer garden. We exchange a few only-one-of-us-is-in-a-brewery words. With her hound marching her tree-ward she asks, ‘Where have you run from?’

Still in the carpark and puffing I reply, ‘Our holiday house back down the hill.’

She replies, ‘Awesome! Great job!’ Her husband appears with two pints. She’s an American but they live on Kangaroo Island. They both take a sip.

‘How’s the beer?’

‘Pretty good,’ they nod.

‘Lovely,’ I say, ‘We’re heading to Myponga later. Might go to the Smiling Samoyed Brewery.’ They both offer a glowing critique.

The brewery’s 151 metres above sea level. This might seem numerically unimpressive but having extracted a personal toll each of those demanding centimetres now generates a handsome reward.

Hands on hips, I drink in the wide vista up and down the Fleurieu coast. Gentle, green ranges. Sprawling white homes hugging the shore. A seaweedy tan smears the shallows and then the gulf deepens into a marine blue.

Tumbling down the hill. It’s almost controlled falling. Again, the vehicles are generous, and the sheep are softly supportive. A couple rotund blokes nod at me from a front lawn.

The cotton wool clouds loom as if they’re daubed on a God-sized canvas and although it’s mid-winter these pledge imminent awakening. Spring could almost be ready to say, ‘Boo!’

Our double story digs swim into sight and wondering what’s happening inside with Claire, my friends, and the boys, their past thirty minutes is unveiled: toast, hairdryers, and teenagers still in bunks.

I crunch up the gravel driveway.

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Mystery Date: Magarey Medals and Magill Road

Claire and I share a monthly tradition in which one takes the other to a secret pub for a Friday hour. But Mystery Pub has a less frequent and more leisurely sibling we call Mystery Date.

Saturday was my turn to be indulged.

Some loathe surprise but I love to bask in the underlying kindness. Parking the car at Light Square I’m then on foot and chaperoned through our handsome city. The clouds made a low, grey ceiling and the streets were emptyish. Claire wondered if the subdued, barren landscape were still plagued by the pandemic.

North Terrace is an elegant boulevard befitting Paris or Madrid and as we scurried past the casino, art gallery and assorted statues of older men, less-old men and dead men on horseback I was curious about our first stop.

Our Footy, Our People, Our Stories was an invitation to drift back gently to my childhood. The SANFL exhibition features photos and sound archives and film footage. We watched the highlights of Glenelg’s 1986 triumph and then saw Port Adelaide win the 1988 flag, the first of nine premierships in about a decade. I understood Macbeth’s despondency upon seeing that Banquo’s offspring would reign forever when he mutters in disgust, ‘Will the line stretch out until the crack of doom?’

How great to then pause in the Library Café and peer out across the wet courtyard and admire the museum and meditate upon the joyous escapism these majestic buildings provided us when we were kids. They still do.

After some sneaky misdirection and circuitous driving to preserve the mystery Claire pulled up on Magill Road. Drifting east and in and out of some antiques stores we also gazed in the windows of boutiques and restaurants and speculated upon their offerings. We chatted constantly and made connections to our surroundings, and each other.

Wolfie’s Records occupies an entire cottage and sells vinyl, vintage clothing and used turntables. In a small room Claire and I flicked through the racks of albums and here’s a snippet of our conversation-

C- Rod Stewart. Yuk.

M- Here’s a Jackson Browne record I’ve been after.

C- Great. I like him too.

M- Phil Collins. One word- why?

C- Oh, God. Dr. Hook!

M- No, we already have the Sherbet Collection.

C- Ripper ’77?

M- Has the entire country flogged off their LRB collection?

And then in another cottage crowded with audiophiles we repeated the process a few doors up at Big Star Records. It was a lovely, diverting hour and I was keen to play my new/used $10 copy of Running on Empty. Over a warming shiraz later that night it would teleport me back to Kapunda and Year 11 when I understood little of it but tried to imagine its palm-treed Californian world.

Having gifted me an afternoon of footy and music, with her unparalleled kindness my wife then drove me through Stepney’s narrow streets to the Little Bang Brewery at which she’d made a reservation for two.

It was bursting with good fortune and a thrumming din. A sign announced a party that had assembled for ‘Mitch’s 30th.’ With Pinto Gris and IPA refreshments aboard we decamped to our cosy balcony space and surveyed the steel beer vats.

Suitable menu items were selected and we dissected our excursion and considered the evening. Identifying Mitch we note that his wife appeared to be about 8 and 3/4 months pregnant so we silently wished them joy and patience from our lofty location.

The fare was fine and as always I enjoyed my beery excursion into novelty. Steering through the mid-winter dusk and thrilling despairing at the radio’s description of Port losing, I contemplated the spring edition of Mystery Date which I’d curate for Claire.

It would soon be upon us.

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On Being Gentle

Over the Adelaide Hills an orange pinkness stretches out into our sky. It bursts as a cathedral across the city.

Here, on the tiny yellow ribbon of sand we’re rotating deathlessly towards the sun and a Thursday dawn is upon us. The beach is ours alone and in coats and scarves and beanies we tramp north. Heading along by the regularly crashing waves, and into our promising days, we exchange ideas both small and transformational.

Are these vivid almost hallucinogenic sunrises and sunsets still caused by the Tongan volcanic eruption? Or given our seemingly heightened human catastrophe, is this nature’s reassurance that our problems are petty and of cosmic inconsequence?

On the sand there’s a scramble of human and dog prints like kid’s scribble. In the gathering light we wonder if these are the earthy reminders of those who’ve come before us this morning, or these fleeting impressions survived the night by escaping the high tide’s indifference.

It’s a great spot to visit as a dog. Some parade abound, heads proudly aloft with dribbly tennis balls wedged in mouth while others greet the water and each other. On the King Street bridge we later spy the much loved trio of Golden Retrievers. Their happiness is instructive. But today, the beach is quiet and we’re bathed in gentleness.

I can’t name a single Charlotte Church song but glancing at an article recently noted that her best advice is, ‘be gentle.’ It’s something I’ve heard over the years and it’s curious that saying this to myself in a Welsh lilt (she’s from Cardiff) I’ve finally vowed to allow it deeper governance. Unlike the mock-heroic inner forearm inscriptions of ‘Brayden’, ‘Jayden’ or ‘No Regerts’ I think ‘be gentle’ would make a good tattoo. Maybe not on your bum.

A Friday or two back my wife Claire and I went to the Gov to see Josh Pyke. It was a triumph and sitting by the open fire it was lounge room intimate. Paul Kelly is our finest storyteller, but there’s an argument that JP is our most accomplished and affecting musical poet.

He took us on a kindly tour of his celebrated catalogue and these songs are often fragile prayers. They promote gentleness. ‘The Lighthouse Song’ is an ode to the joyous notions of sacrifice to the other and mindfulness-

So we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I
While seas drown sailors, we’ll be locked up safe and dry
And we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I
Our beams will burn the clouds to beacons in the sky
And though our doors may knock and rattle in the wind
I’ll just hold you tight and we’ll not let those others in.

But at dawn with my wife Claire on our sweep of beach I thought of his new tune called, ‘A Town You’ve Never Been To.’ It’s a hymn of gratitude for his musical and poetic gifts, and a wish for his various personal and artistic loves to remain unbroken. It’s a quest for adventure and truth.

I think it’s also about wishing to be gentle.

So find a street that you’ve never been down
In a town that you’ve been to
And sing a song that you love for me

0

Running along the Yarra

It’s breakfast time in Melbourne.

Traversing Flinders Street, I jog by the Sea Life Aquarium and make my way through Enterprize Park. I later learn it’s where the first European settlers arrived in 1835. My boys, Alex and Max, are asleep upstairs in our apartment. We’re here for a weekend of footy and exploration.

It’s still and crisp. A cloudless winter morning in this elegant city.

I cut across an empty Queens Bridge Street and step cautiously over the bumpy cobblestones of Banana Alley. I imagine the Yarra was once vital to the economic life of Melbourne. I guess its value today is mostly ornamental. Some rowers are stretching out on the coffee-coloured surface.

There’s buried, industrial rumblings from Flinders Street Station. I press on.

Under the Princes Bridge an Asian man is fishing. Two lines are dancing on the drink. I wonder what he might be after. If the concrete boots aren’t too heavy, he could land a Ganglands War victim.

Progressing along Flinders Walk I pass a gin bar, Junipalooza, which confirms that ‘looza’ is an overused suffix. Has our planet reached peak gin yet? Will Bundy ever be world dominant? No, I don’t think so.

Melbourne’s cityscape is a marvel. Yesterday, as we headed to the MCG for our midday tour Alex remarked to Max that he found the metropolis, ‘architecturally interesting.’ This became a discussion and I’m pleased they express curiosity about these things.

Entering the space of Birrarung Marr I’m struck by birdsong and the accompanying aural surprise in what’s otherwise a vast built environment. It’s refreshing. And now there’s a bicycle repair station between me and the river! What a simple yet generous gesture and I hope the vandals respect it. It’s symbolic of the petit accommodations ubiquitously afforded by Melbourne.

Rod Laver and John Cain Arenas swim into view. In 1988 some Kapunda boys and I left the MCG after a day-nighter. I wanted to watch Allan Border bat but was at the loo in the stadium’s bowels when he came and went for a first-ball duck. Like a scene from a Russian documentary, we later saw hundreds of workers toiling away under floodlights to finish the Tennis Centre in time for the Australian Open.

My half-way point is the Swan Street Bridge, so I nudge along it and head home on the other bank.

Boathouse Drive is quietly industrious with relaxed, flush-looking folk carrying out their oars and boats. They seem to be enjoying the leisurely rhythms of their exercise routine. A barbecue sizzles away on a rowing club balcony.

Wearing a New York marathon t-shirt, a jogger is alongside me. I smile and vow to also buy a similar souvenir from eBay. He then propels past me as if I’m a statue. Disappearing like the roadrunner, I note that he has an athletes’ calves. I reconsider. Perhaps the shirt is authentic.

Southbank is tranquil apart from scattered patrons hunched over lattes and the (now dismembered) Age. Late yesterday when I ran along the river the restaurants were all busy with enthusiastic punters. The emerging trend for Friday nuptials continuing, a large wedding party promenaded past me, with knots of impossibly prosperous-looking couples off to the reception. There were also some boisterous lunches ambling into what sounded distinctly like hour number four. I doubt that I’ve seen any of the participants at this bright, embryonic stage of morning.

Near home I by-pass two mature women waiting for a taxi. Even at my distance I catch a gust of their perfume. It’s from the Chemist Warehouse and surely named Ski Field (for Seniors).

The apartment elevator takes me upstairs.

0

To Alex and Max, on our Melbourne Trip

Hello there boys

There’s endless excitement in the alarm buzzing at 4.15, when dawn is hours away, and with surprise and shared adventure, a holiday stretches out before us. This trip was special. It was our first time on a plane for years and we’d planned it together.

By mid-morning when we sat down to a late breakfast on Degraves Street we’d taken an Uber, caught a plane, hopped on the express Skybus, and with luggage dragging behind, had ambled from Southern Cross Station to our apartment. Perhaps to complete the set we should’ve each ridden a unicycle to the footy.

Much of this now appears in my mind like a private film screening. In distinct scenes I can see you both walking by the Yarra and through Carlton Gardens to the museum and along Jolimont Road to the MCG. You’re chatting constantly about everything and anything. As brothers you’re robust and occasionally fierce, but this is what I’d long hoped for and imagined. These pictures are already precious and timeless.

At Australia’s museum of screen culture, ACMI, many of the displays dated from before you were born but you both entered this historical world with enthusiasm. I love your interest in culture and when you jumped in the box dedicated to the music show Countdown Alex immediately yelled, ‘Take a photo, take a photo!’ You knew this was important and so made a bid to me.

Just after lunch on Saturday we were on Swan Street in Richmond gawping through salesrooms at the luxury cars. We saw Lamborghinis, Ferraris and finally, a Rolls Royce Ghost. Its price tag featured, in smallish black print: $1,100,000. We were startled. Max provided a running commentary on all the makes and models while around us, puffer-jacketed men sipped lattes and signed on the dotted line. It was fun.

I loved zipping through the Sunday brunch crowd in the Queen Victoria Markets as you both ate a chocolate croissant (the breakfast of champions). Outside it teemed down in typically Melbourne style as our nostrils were overpowered by fresh mullet and Coffin Bay oysters.

After examining clothes and books we explored a movie poster stall and flicking through the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson sections you both said, ‘How about this one, Dad?’ or ‘You like this one, don’t you?’ I still can’t believe there was no Lebowski.

A highlight was the IMAX cinema at the museum. We’d not all been together at a film for ages – the last time was probably something from the Marvel universe. We were right at the front and the screen was the size of a couple megalodons. It was the 3D documentary, Antarctica and we had on our funny black glasses. It was narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, which Max found amusing to say repeatedly and as the film began, he reached out his hand and grabbed at the air while whispering, ‘Dad I can touch the words of the credits.’

There were funny moments across the weekend, and these then bobbed up and were giggled at again and again. On Friday night at the Docklands match three Bulldogs defenders all flew for a mark and all three touched it before the umpire blew his whistle and awarded it. I said, ‘I don’t think marking should be a group assignment’ and you laughed.

Then there was the guy at Saturday’s MCG game in the row in front of us who liked to chat and chat and chat about Richmond and Geelong and North Melbourne and then North Melbourne. And after the final siren in the 60,000-throng pressing along Daniher Way, he eyed me again and promptly took up where he’d left. After Alex said, ‘Dad, did you enjoy that convo?’ I’m quite surprised that he’s not rung.

Throughout our days there was unrelenting action and playfighting and laughter. It was enchanted. On each morning, I’d come up the elevator all sweaty from my run along the Yarra, gently turn the key and creep inside. Edging open your bedroom door, I’d glimpse in.

You were both still asleep.

Thanks.

Dad

xx

2

Goodbye to a faithful friend

In the end it was deceptively quick.

As should always happen in these situations, mercy prevailed. With no witness and limited ceremony I simply nodded briefly and acted swiftly.

Appropriately, it was in the grey light of Wednesday’s unremarkable dawn. A dawn that would be forgotten as soon as it was complete.

The symptoms revealed themselves late last week: feverish temperature; ungainly sweats, internal functioning becoming increasingly laboured. I wished that a simple solution were available. Experts were consulted and their chorus was clear and while sympathetic it was unanimous: a terminal prognosis.

Our relationship had endured for over a decade, and to my shame I admit that I took far more than I gave. I offered rare gratitude but demanded constantly. I heard no complaints.

Of course, I became grief-stricken when faced with the grim inevitability of the pending loss. As the sun struggled up in the east that morning my despair hurtled towards me. Why is it only when the final hour descends that we pause and show the kindness we’ve failed to display previously?

Yes, dear reader, my beer fridge was dead.

I turned off the power. The Southwark mugs that for long years had been kept crisply chilled in the freezer were now thawing in the feeble June sun.

2

Dawn in Dubai Airport

Early morning.

My favourite time of day as it’s when I’m best aware of my enormous fortune and the garden of wonder that’s you. But I’ve not had one like this before.

Generically, Dubai airport is familiar, and the air is warm and cocooned. There’s buzz and privilege as well as some thrilling strangeness. Just as there should be when travelling.

We saunter about this recognisable and vaguely indecipherable place before claiming a table in Costa Coffee. I feel the delirium of little sleep, and the gentle euphoria of life blissfully interrupted, blended with the expectation of what’s ahead in our week. It’s like when you stay up all night the first time as a teenager and see in the dawn.

There’re people everywhere and I love the secret intimacy of being with you in a crowded place.

As we waited for our coffee – I’m unsure if we ordered food; possibly a small cake – I remember feeling safe. I’m sure it was because of you and the psychological and emotional comfort you bring. I also felt distinctly still, despite hurtling 11,000 kilometres.

These were our first overseas moments together and they’d been an infinity coming. Having fled Australia, we now caught our breath.

It was a key scene in our movie and the camera was rolling.

I recall speaking low and conspiratorially with you. We shared confidences. As you spoke, I had a moment, born of responsibility and devotion. These moments are unexpected and seismic; I think they rush out of our long past and wash over me with a warmth and a love and a relief to which I can only surrender.

It was an episode that to a stranger might have seemed ordinary but was a sublime, quietly joyous hour. It continues to possess deep and subtle symbolic power for me.

Airports are hubs of promise where life can be amplified to magical dimensions. In that otherwise forgettable coffeeshop we were halfway to Europe and our fête, for two.

It was both prologue and epilogue.