1

Mindfulness on Mystery Date

Having met your gorgeous, smiling self at the gate we strolled through the Botanic Gardens, under enthralling arches, and along a winding path by which we happened across a wedding and this drew our sighing attention. Suddenly and not a little sadly, the day after would be our six-month anniversary. I love being hand-in-hand with you and the garden’s mysterious and magical qualities added to this soaring joy.

We arrived at the National Wine Centre. I had not been there ever and so was glad to be chaperoned in by you. Our blind wine-tasting was urgent and funny. We guessed none of the wines but sharing the tastings and swapping the glasses back and forward was an almost secretive endeavour, deep in the hull of that marooned viticultural ship. I watched you scribble your notes and thought of how I’d first been captivated by your quick, confident cursive many years ago, possibly in Year 9 or maybe year 10 homegroup.

Being led by you along the North Terrace was cocooned perfection. Peering east from the Luna10 sky bar we identified landmarks: Norwood Oval, Mount Lofty, and then we spied a hardware store. Again, we were trying to make sense of our world and connect to its shared locations, which sits among a marriage’s prime demands. It was an activity of such warmth and optimism. The buildings and the trees became mere context for our bigger story; sets for the private play in which we are both starring.

During the film we’d whisper thoughts to each other as we wrestled with its thorny notions. While we’d been to the cinema together over the decades from An American Werewolf in London to now, I’m not sure we engaged each other during a screening with such intimacy. I would’ve liked to but doubt I’d have had the requisite bravery.

As Nine Days was an essay on mindfulness and the towering, tremendous gift that is life, you were deeply moved by it. How great that we could explore it after in The Austral. Like most of our beautiful day, we were in the midst of a busy city but mostly seemed to be in secluded spaces. That part of the pub was ours alone too. Where were all the kids? It was 9pm so they were at home and would arrive in the CBD in a couple hours when their parents were snoring.

Finally, home at our table, we concluded our amazing afternoon with some lines from Walt Whitman whose poetry from Leaves of Grass had featured at the film’s climax. Walt’s book had been waiting patiently on our shelf for just this moment. He and the film’s director urge awareness of the links between self, others, and our environment.

Do you see, O my brothers and sisters. / It is not chaos or death, it is form, union, plan, it is eternal life, it is happiness. / The past and present wilt, I have fill’d them, emptied them, and proceed to fill my next fold of the future

And that’s exactly the day you lovingly arranged for us.

2

Burgers and Bear Night

I love a good tradition such as watching the first over of the Boxing Day Test. I also hotly anticipate walking annually from the Melbourne CBD to the North Fitzroy Arms for a Footy Almanac lunch. I even love a bad tradition such as believing the Glenelg Footy Club will win grand finals! They’re now five from 19 appearances.

Tuesday is Burgers and Bear night. Like most traditions it simply became the repetition of a comfortable idea. When he was about eight Alex was a big Bear Grylls fan and had a collection of Man v Wild DVDs and water canteens and a pocketknife but like his dream of opening an Egyptian museum in his bedroom this, too, faded.

One Tuesday night a few years’ ago we saw on TV an episode from Bear Grylls’ adventure and survival vehicle, Man v Wild and Max was interested too so we watched again the following week and when the series finished airing, we dragged out Alex’s DVDs. Quickly, this became a weekly expectation. It also gave structure and when Bear was rescued the boys knew it was bedtime.

While enjoying the physical exploits of our protagonist we also discuss issues of media literacy such as how real or contrived the scenarios are- “Dad, do you think those goat-herders just happened to be there?” and “I think the cameraman is braver because he’s climbing the cliff with Bear while actually filming at the same time!”

In an affectionate way, the boys would also critique Bear’s habit of drinking his own pee (or worse still that of an animal), eating live snakes (beheaded, of course) and sleeping inside the dead carcass of a camel to protect against Saharan sandstorms (it’s what I always do).

I’m sure Bear views these as personal traditions. (*adopts Bond villain voice) See, we’re not so different, you and I, Mr. Bear.

Of course, he’d also strip off in subzero temperature to cross a freezing river whether it was required or not. If the icy river’s there it must be entered! As the Russian playwright Chekhov was always banging on about, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise, don’t put it there.” Bear’d be on the tundra and to build suspense he’d say, “In 2004 a group of hikers got lost out here, survived for a week and then went dog-paddling in a stream. Their bodies were found a year later.”

With our star was turning blue and doing star-jumps to maintain a pulse, he’d peel off the remainder of his clothes. It was always the bleakest of Siberian days and in post-production they’d fuzz out his genitalia and I once said to the boys, “Oh dear. Bear’s got out his John Thomas again” and the boys giggled. Attempting to recall this a few weeks’ later Alex asked, “Dad, do you think Bear will get out his Tom Johnson tonight?”

And, just like that, another family tradition began.

Each week Bear would eat tarantulas and extraterrestrial-looking bugs and horrific non-food things that’d inevitably led to yellow goo spurting from his grimacing mouth and running down his chin like crunchy snot, so I determined that in Glenelg North the accompanying culinary challenge would be minimised. Our dining experience would contrast completely with the on-screen revulsion. After-all, my favourite, yet to be broadcast episode of Man v Wild is when he makes camp in the Barossa on the lawns of Peter Lehman’s winery and survives only on mettwurst and emboldened Shiraz.

Therefore, we have burgers on Tuesdays which, even in winter, gives me a happy chance to ignite the barbecue and there’s a deep psychological reassurance in this ritual, at least for me. Max handles the salad, and his brother (with prompting) toasts the bread.

In recent weeks Alex began complaining about the eggs being prepared outside (really?) so now insists on doing these inside on the stove. While I love his rising independence, is there a more terrifying prospect than a teenage boy set loose in the kitchen with a spatula and frying pan?

But like many traditions, Burgers and Bear Night might run its race with the boys outgrowing it, or us simply exhausting episodes of Man v Wild.

Then one distant day, when working or at uni, I hope Alex or Max might cheerfully say, “Hey Dad, let’s watch an episode of Bear, you know, one when he swims in a freezing river with his Tom Johnson out!”

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Sunday lunch review: J & F Pizza at 58 Cellar Door and Gallery, Port Elliot

For me life’s biggest dilemma remains: is Friday or Sunday the best day for a long lunch? Saturday is often hijacked by sport, shopping, and lawn-mowing but makes up the trifecta. I’m also a fan of strapping on my boots for a Friday lunch marathon that concludes dangerously close to the first appearance of twinkling stars.

But let me tell you about last Sunday’s lunch.

It was set by a leafy vineyard. There were families with kids on the balcony enjoying the mottled sun and a boisterous, happy group was gathered inside for a 60th birthday. We were close to the woodfired pizza oven, and a great vocalist and guitarist in Pat Ramm accompanied our meal and conversation.

We were guests of 58 Cellar Door and Gallery and particularly J & F Pizza run by two local mates, Josh and Frazer.

With champagne, two Meechi Pale Ales (brewed in nearby Langhorne Creek) and a bottle of Thunderbird Cabernet Sauvignon the refreshments were sorted, and our formidable batting lineup was set.

Frazer and Josh are always looking to keep their pizza menu dynamic and so offered us a Four Cheeses pizza as entrée. It was zesty and subtle, and I hope it finds a long-term place for it was an excellent start to our lazy afternoon.

Throughout, we spoke of footy and family and friends and art.

After a digestive interval the main event was upon us: Prawn pizza and one that was half Hot Salami and half Margherita.  At this point there might’ve been mutual food envy. All looked and smelt appealing, and the Hot Salami was especially delicious with the olives and pickled chilli working with and not against the salami.

The acoustic music continued with covers of Neil Young and The Eagles providing a relaxing soundtrack while over at the birthday gathering those good folks were settling into a rhythm too.

Back in my foggy uni days there was a local joint that did a dessert pizza, and I was once tempted although like many student culinary experiences it was horrible.

However, J & F Pizza do a Lemon Curd pizza which with its delicate blend of curd and basil is a fantastic way to round off a lunch at 58 Cellar Door and Gallery.

Moving toward summer and balmy holidays, when you’re next down around Port Elliot on the Southern Fleurieu, I urge you to sample the fine work of J & F Pizza. Find them on (08) 8554 3149 or at no58pizza@gmail.com.

It’s Sunday lunch (and afternoon), done right.

*disclaimer: we luncheoned with Frazer’s parents, Chris and Letitia

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Our Swedish kitchen

Our first Swedish breakfast.

On the table is a carton of milk, a bag of muesli, a punnet of berries. Two coffee cups form a conspiracy of caffeine, almost nodding at each other like we might’ve done at a party decades ago.

You’ve set a candle flickering and guiding its oblique gold throughout the kitchen. Among the lessons you’ve given me is the joy of a wax light, at any time, and I thank you for this glow on a very Swedish day. Somehow, only now am I awake to a candle’s therapy. The best gifts are often invested with gentle unfussiness. 

The table’s dressed in a red-checked tablecloth. A symbol of ease and understated exhilaration, it isn’t classic Italian bistro, but still evokes Roman cobblestones.

I think of our dinner in Copenhagen a few days’ ago, just across from Jorcks Passage, on the edge of this holiday, when time stretched out exquisitely. We were blissfully alone, in that restaurant-cocoon with wine and pasta, as all about us the late afternoon diners pressed in to happily punctuate their Saturdays. That now distant table grew in enchantment as, finally, we found ourselves together in Northern Europe.

In Ljungbyhed the front door features a window too. Out beyond the cold glass are the forest, lake, and our brisk-air days. We’ll hike and talk and quietly interrogate the town and earth and sky. Later, upon that drifting pontoon I’ll dwell upon you: curious, compelling, divine in that elongated dusk and how, as the geese skid on the water, we breathe our words to and fro.

The kitchen is a tiny, expansive space.

You’re on a chair at our wooden table, ostensibly for four but perfect for us two. This is our morning and evening altar, and here we share the day’s fresh promise and sink into night’s snug entwining. We’ve conversation both affirming and prodding, while playing music somehow close and remote, first commanding and then detached. Our soundtrack.

The light bends in and falls across you like soft piano notes. I consider the following and with surprised gratitude am their happy hostage: Sweden; late winter; you; me; us. An obedient satellite blinking at your earthly beauty, I’m in your orbit.

Lost in thought, you’ve been reading and planning so we can wring the most from our Nordic surroundings; your mind untiringly devoted to others. Your glasses lay there, an emblem of industry while your eyes are on the middle distance or maybe a world away.

Soon you’ll return or I’ll collect you, but it matters not for I’m waiting. With gorgeous hair tumbling like a misty waterfall, and black shirt you’re astonishing; at once modest and shudderingly thrilling.

The cottage is a meniscus, and like migratory atoms, we are within, and then, without. Tomorrow morning the sun will again slant into our Swedish kitchen.

4

Affection in Aisle 7

He paused in Aisle 7.

He usually found it difficult to become animated in hardware stores and this aisle was more mundane than most. It was late Saturday afternoon, and this was not a place he frequented at this point in the week, but he studied the shelving supports and thought about the choice he had to make.

The burden of his errand was lightened by the glow of a cocooned morning and the golden promise of their evening together on the darkening patio, on the lounge and then, finally, drifting into slumber. He spotted the bag of white shelving supports and considered these. He’d come for the transparent ones but was changing his mind.

He pulled out his phone and rang her and felt a frisson of love and shared investment as the ringing continued. She answered and their words were necessarily technical, but the subtext was soaring. As he drove back to their quiet street it already ranked among his favourite phone calls for the connection and the exquisite exchange gripped his heart.

Later, the subterranean intimacy and joy of their ninety second chat stayed with him like a film, and he would smile to himself over the following days when he remembered their triumphant little phone call.

0

Our passage through life

As his car skulked towards the lights, he scanned the intersection and then southward along the blurred footpath.

Sometimes he’d see all of her but often his eye would be caught by a detail: the sunlight bouncing on her tumbling hair, or the shapely elegance of her skirt, or the work basket, bursting with her cleverness.

He loved these arrangements. For some they’d be a burden, an interruption to a busy day but for him these sparkled with private joy. They represented a chance to connect in the mysterious city so he could make her passage through life easier.

These transactions were about much more than dropping off the car.

If these domestic details were shared with friends at the pub or over a coffee they’d quickly drift off into their own orbit, and the words would quietly flutter away like confetti. Who can truly know of the innermost machinery of strangers? Sustainable intimacy doesn’t happen only in a restaurant or in a tropical resort. He nodded with the thought that it happened on Friday mornings navigating the glacial traffic along a major arterial while plotting to relieve the knotty demands of each other’s responsibilities.

He eased into a car park and saw her more closely now. The always-generous smile, ever open to bright possibility. Her eyes alert and warm. He knew their history, and some of what they’d seen. Alongside those blue eyes he’d gaze later at the sunset over the sea when despite the waves and the gulls and the passing couples they’d sit alone.

Trying to invest the sound with his surprised fortune that she was about to enter the cabin, he tooted the car horn.

She looked up and was smiling.

0

If I was a dopey ex-marketing man I’d say, “How good’s June?”

With a long weekend, the official (and scientifically supported) start of winter on June 21 or 22, and our birthdays (Claire on the ninth and mine on the sixteenth) it’s an excellent month for open fires (home and quite possibly a pub), footy and, of course, putting the slow cooker to gentle and inviting work with pumpkin soup or a beef casserole or stew.

A stew is cooked on the stove while a casserole goes in the oven so what’s its name if it’s in a slow cooker? PM me with your answer to win a prize.

Spotted in Farrell Flat where it was the only living thing we saw. I allegedly once had seven passengers in my Exa one night in 1991. See Chubb for more details/legal advice.
Here’s Claire in Clare with her lovely hair, looking debonair and without a care.
Mystery Pub was the Grace Emily, and we were greeted by this phalanx of smiling beer taps.
Meanwhile up in the Onkaparinga national park the boys leapt up onto this table as if they’re goats.
Our dear friend Trish joined us for dinner at a Mongolian BBQ. I can’t remember how many Mongolians I ate.

1

Riesling Trail Ramblings

Recycling an abandoned railway line, The Riesling Trail runs from north of Clare out at Stanley Flat to Auburn in the south. It makes its good-natured way past wineries, over bridges and through hamlets.

Flashing along on our e-bikes between the Mr Mick and Tim Adams wineries we overtake ambling families and dogs straining at their leashes, feel sombre by the Sevenhill cemetery, and gush at the former Penwortham station. Sometimes the trail takes a commanding view over the vines and moderate hills, and then with close rows of trees leaning in it becomes a leafy tunnel, all secret green and Famous Five thrilling.

The Watervale pub inspires contemplation of our deeply advantaged situation. Claire and I discuss our charmed lot, uncommon safety, and this opportunity to indulge in food, wine and wonder. It’s a high point during an afternoon of discovery. Last time I was here was decades ago on a Sunday watching the SANFL footy grand final (No, not a Centrals’ victory) on TV with a crew from Kimba. While the front bar’s skeleton is unchanged all around has been converted into a succession of remarkable spaces and the pub’s now a prettily realised expression of quietly engaging light and warmth and luxury.

Its menu is modern, and I suspect, of initial concern to many, a schnitzel-free zone. I have lamb cigars (who knew that sheep smoked?) and roast potatoes while Claire has a toasty which is elevated to artform. Sitting outside by a bespoke fire bucket, we receive table service from the owner, Warrick Duthy, and then two staff, both sporting French accents. I wander wide-eyed and open-mouthed about the boozer with its stylish rooms and nooks and Chesterfields, and the pub manages to suggest both the Clare Valley and Chipping Norton.

Despite an excellent exception in Pikes at Polish Hill River all the wineries only offer paid samplings with which I’d have no quibble however we’re mostly herded to a corner and asked to unromantically tick some boxes on a form (not unlike completing a breakfast order the night before in a country motel) before a paddle of five mean-spirited glasses is plonked in front of us while the winery staff otherwise unblinkingly ignore us.

This McDonaldsisation appears unstoppable. If I was attracted only to the product it might be fine, but I like to natter with the folk behind the counter, make some connections, and hear some stories. The narrative richness has been poured down the sink (or spat into a spittoon). If I’ve enjoyed myself, I’m likely to buy some slurp.

Our day would’ve been incomplete without learning (no, not learnings) about the trail, each other, and the wine. I’m not especially open to culinary adventure but had this instructive chat at Crabtree Wines on its hill overlooking Watervale:

Viticultural Host: Can I interest you both in a muscat?

Me: No thanks. I don’t like dessert wines.

Viticultural Host: Ours is great. It’s liquid Christmas pudding.

Me: Christmas pudding? I might try a splash.

And with a sip it was mid-afternoon on December 25. Belly-full adults like bears on the warm cusp of hibernation stretched in their chairs as regular blurs of kids dashed about and an album of yuletide standards (Frank Sinatra captaining his team here) drifted above our paper party-hatted heads. This evocative power is chief among the charms of wine and not a gift I often find in the generally global and utilitarian beer. I may try muscat again.

With its name a homage to Rome, Sevenhill is not simply a winery but a village founded by the Jesuit order around 1850. Among the striking church, former seminary and college, and majestic setting one notable detail grabbed us. On the narrow veranda as we pushed inside to the tastings room sits an untidy box bursting with sporting goods. Folks are welcome to help themselves and leap about on the large lawn while dodging the picnickers with a few dobs of a footy or a game of cricket (Dad’s hammy at persistent risk).

I love these heartening offers of civic glee.

Weaving our late-afternoon, bicyclic way back to the trail, we pass the Stations of the Cross, distributed among the scrub and beneath the gum trees. For Claire Sevenhill is evocative so we speak of and remember our Catholic pasts and family and childhoods and distant lives. Shutting my eyes (not typically recommended when riding) I could be frocking up at St Roses in Kapunda for Saturday night altar boy duty.

Minutes later my e-bike battery gives way and with a final blink is dead (days later in an Angaston pub my mate Chris asks if this could’ve been due to the extra load) and in an image of despair I’m cruelly forced to pedal. Claire finds this somewhat amusing and fizzes past with high voltage as I start to huff and puff. Effortlessly vanishing into the darkening distance, I’m unsure but hearing, “Climb every mountain/Ford every stream” she might have been singing (her lungs unchallenged) a taunting tune from Sound of Music.

While it’s been windless and cloudless dusk now closes in, and after thirty-four mostly delightful kilometres our bikes are wheeled down a sloping driveway to the hire company shed.

4

Five Scenes from Our Wedding

The weather presented us a story that will, doubtless, enjoy regular airings over the decades. Standing alone on the croquet lawn as yet another squally shower progressed from mist to rain, I wrestled with what to do: brave it or ring the Kapunda boys to put up some marquees? Shelter might be functional, but it’d ruin the aesthetic and checking the BOM radar for the dozenth time that hour I could see more dark clouds racing our way.

Yet again I changed my mind. As family arrived a hundred chairs were dried off and with the last row done the rain slashed across the school again. Crippled by indecision I reluctantly rang you, interrupting your preparations and feminine fun. But your voice was calming in its reassurance.

Mere minutes before our ceremony the clouds fled and while it was gusty and bracing the April sun shone upon us and that lavish lawn as if it had sisu, the Finnish concept of resilience and determination.

*

After hours, months, years of anticipation an occasion can suddenly rush upon you and despite all the expectation and longing it shocks with its realness now that you’re finally living it and are right in the magical moment. I was initially a little anxious when I saw the first guests’ cars pull up outside Kapunda High on dusty West Terrace and felt blissfully powerless as our time finally arrived.

Then Lisa Mitchell’s “Providence” soared across the afternoon and launched our narrative, while you made your graceful way, and I decided to wait and not strain or move onto tippy-toes. Our guests stood and some lurched into the grassy aisle. Camera, heads, hair. I could not see you. I remained on our rug between the plinths.

Then you emerge as if in a cascading, serene dream. Smiling, singular, focussed. Hair tousled and tumbling, cheekbones perfectly formed, eyes flashing.

Your dress is shimmering, shapely and a vision of painterly elegance. I surrender to this, and to you.

*

It was as if the town and each citizen we encountered had been bewitched and a golden hour descended, just for us. There could have been a clandestine operation and Kapunda was now our private movie set. As the photographers captured us in our intermingling blue attire we moved about from Dutton Park where we danced by the iron gates to the Main Street murals to the mine chimney and above us and about us the late afternoon light was enchanted and invested with unhurried kindness.

*

Hand-in-hand and entering through the Dutton Park doors was a triumph. You imagined it flawlessly and then realised it with cinematic style. The candles, the balloons, the rustic beauty. Our friends and family were assembled for the evening in an event that was firstly about us but also allowed for old connections to be remade and renewed. The sound was raw and welcoming, a rush of affirmation and liquid joy. It was a twilight sea of warmth.

*

And finally in the midnight stillness, we walked back to our accommodation at the School of Mines through Dutton Park’s lingering jubilance, under the gates, past the dark homes, over the disused railway line near the Duck Pond, across from the playground and swimming pool, next to the Institute and museum, around the quiet library corner, under the Rawady’s veranda and to our front door.

The geography and place are so unremarkable, and so familiar but now re-contextualise as a private paradise, and as we stroll and reflect upon our perfect day, these bear hushed witness to our love.  

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The Monthly Photo Essay: May

It’s time again to complete my monthly photo essay and this month’s photo essay is for the month of May although I’m completing it in the month of June, which is probably the wrong month for those who care about months.

We love the Onkaparinga National Park and again undertook the Punchbowl link trail. Next time we might take the Sundews Ridge Hike. While hiking we found a full and unopened can of whisky and cola. Please contact me if you think you know the owner.
Spotted this on the annual Melbourne cultural, spiritual and literary retreat.
Doughballs? No, it’s not the little known sequel to Animal House but a pizza place on Moseley Square and was a Wednesday night surprise.
Had a Mother’s Day lunch at Uleybury wines which went well. Worth a look if you’re in the vicinity.
Meanwhile at the North Fitzroy Arms they’ve moved the Gough and Percy photo from the dining room to the front bar. We’re still recovering, and should eventually be fine.