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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.

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ONJ and me

During Saturday’s breakfast on the patio, I popped the needle on Olivia Newton-John’s Greatest Hits.

Instantly, I was six years old and back home in Kapunda. Mum and Dad’s lounge room is again wallpapered, the TV’s black and white and the carpet is burnt orange. It’s winter, and I’ve got on my footy boots. They’ll be on all day.

When Mum and Dad downsized, all the family vinyl came to me and since taking delivery of a retro record player at Christmas I’ve been happily swimming in nostalgia. Some of the albums had been untouched since 1988.

ONJ features prominently on the soundtrack of my childhood.

*

The second song on side 1 is, ‘Banks of Ohio’ and this transports me to a still, musty room on Hill Street in Kapunda. I’m still six and strumming a guitar during my weekly lesson, while the massively patient teacher, Deborah, helps my fingers to stretch across the chords. I love the idea of a guitar and singing, but the latter is galaxies beyond me and my gruesome tone deafness.

ONJ does the definitive version of this nineteenth century standard. Her voice and the melody are bouncy, and I always loved the basso backup of celebrated singer Mike Sammes who subterraneously echoes Livvy’s, ‘where the water flowed.’ Sammes also contributes on, ’Let Me Be There’ and ‘If You Love Me (Let Me Know).’

Trying to sing along with Deborah, I’m a little anxious about the lyrics. The narrator declaring that she, ‘held a knife against his breast’ is squirmingly grown-up and I vow to avoid this so-called Ohio River. Bad stuff happens on its distant, murky banks.

Nowadays the tune would come with attendant humourless warnings: adult themes, graphic violence, and persistent mention of a river that enjoys confluence with the Mississippi in Illinois.

The song’s a murder ballad.

*

Sipping coffee out the back and then emerges gently from our turntable the 1975 Grammy winner for Record of the Year. As it plays across the garden we discuss ‘I Honestly Love You’ with Claire suggesting it’s ‘depressing’. I counter that it is certainly pretty although I’d always viewed it as a disposable love song.

On it Livvy’s voice is beautifully warm and pure, but not drenched in palpable sadness. It bathes the listener in sunlight. But as with much music there’s a disconnect between the medium and the message.

Hearing it as Mum played it at home and on the car AM radio, my generation’s all logged many hours in its company. But following breakfast last Saturday we were moved by repeated listens and became profoundly aware of its narrative intensity.

As we learn both characters in the song are trapped by marriage, and unable to be together. The lyrics are by Peter Allen, who at the time of composition, was married to Liza Minelli but had fallen in love with a man who was similarly stuck.

I’m hesitant to see all texts as autobiographical because sometimes stories are just fictional. Not everything is inspired by real life. But there’s a good case here.

The opening verse is disarming: tender, vulnerable, brave. I imagine our main character talking in a café or a park. 

Maybe I hang around here

A little more than I should

With this we’re instantly eavesdropping on a private confessional and there’s tension as ONJ sings, ‘I got somewhere else to go’.

While the chorus of, ‘I love you, I honestly love you’ is necessary, the verses and the bridge are superior because these are where she reveals the story. The characters remain ageless, genderless, and timeless.

In the second verse we hear, ‘Maybe it was better left unsaid’ and this second ‘maybe’ confirms our narrator’s nervousness. Her vulnerability is crushing, and we all know a bit about this. The repetition of ‘chance’ in the third verse shows how powerless they both are in this sometimes-cruel universe.

How can I have been unaware of all of this since I was a child?

The way the strings soar in the final verse is stirring while a harp is used sparingly but to great effect. It lifts a tender song to an enhanced fragility. The eternally imponderable is here too in

If we both were born in another place and time

This moment might be ending in a kiss

But there you are with yours and here I am with mine

So, I guess we’ll just be leaving it at this.

The last line is only superficially dismissive of their plight and given the emotional stakes of the story is also deeply ironic. If we view the song as a monologue, it’s dramatic and affecting.

I love rediscovering old music and reaching a new, heightened appreciation.

*

Of course, many of ONJ’s songs feature women who’ve relinquished or make no claim on their rightful power. These are females for whom life appears to happen rather than be controlled. ‘Sam’ and ‘Please Mr. Please’ are key examples. Claire suggested that maybe ‘Physical’ was in part ONJ actively promoting a feminist perspective.

Students of ‘I Honestly Love You’ will know that it features in Jaws just prior to Amityville’s second shark attack but I prefer to reference the 90’s indie singer Juliana Hatfield who, in 2018, produced an album of ONJ covers. She remarked that

‘I have never not loved Olivia Newton-John. Her music has bought me so much pure joy throughout my life.’

And I agree when she goes on to say, ‘Listening to her is an escape into a beautiful place.’

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Walking each other home

It’d been a forgettable November afternoon at work.

But, one click led to another and I legitimately found myself watching a TED talk by the American writer Anne Lamont. It’s called, ’12 truths I learned from life and writing.’ She is funny and wise and worth hearing on many topics. However, the idea that’s made an impact on me isn’t even one of her declared truths. She was mid-point and as an aside remarked that

We’re all just walking each other home.

I paused the video and sat at my desk for a while, looking at nothing in particular. Like all great poetry this simple arrangement of words held a profound notion. Later I shared the idea with Claire.

It’s about beauty and hope. It suggests joyful partnership and unalterable love. It’s uncluttered. It encapsulates so much.

The twin and universal images of walking and home marry so elegantly.

*

Following Nazeem Hussain’s stand-up comedy gig at the Rhino Room for which Claire was an Auslan interpreter (she did a great job and was funny too) it remained a warm, buzzing evening so we ascended the 2KW bar for a snack and nightcap. The Fringe Festival was well underway. There was much to celebrate.

The streetlights twinkled and if a hens’ night brood hadn’t claimed the deck for a private function then we would’ve drank in the vista over the Festival Centre and Adelaide Oval. Instead, we were happy to sit in a booth.

We returned to the idea of walking each other home.

It is the loveliest thought.

Over her shiraz Claire observed that, ‘It’s an idea that can only really work later in life.’

I agreed that it’d be somewhat ‘previous’ to promise it in one’s twenties, the metaphor of home perhaps being a mood-killer on a first date.

It appears to be an idea that is attributed to nobody in particular and is timeless. Some could see it as a little grim, but for me it speaks of serenity and dignity. It suggests the beach in winter; winery fireplaces and dawn’s first light when the dark is eased back down into the earth.

I’m grateful that I discovered it on a listless afternoon at work.

Although it’s not from a poem, it’s the noblest poetry.

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January is here, with eyes that keenly glow

With New Year’s Eve out the road (bed early, eyes shut, ears blocking out the staccato soundtracks of various fireworks displays both legal and otherwise) we move to the serious business of holidays and relaxation or as my friend Nick calls it, relack.

Lake Bonney is our annual setting for this and we now have a bursting itinerary of traditional activities that commence when the teenaged boys race out of bed at the crack of 9.45am and, I suspect, continue to well after I’m safely a-slumber.

No carp were harmed (much) during the taking of this photo as I stylishly alighted Barmera’s jetty into the fresh depths of Lake Bonney.
The Hilton Hotel on South Road (the address is always given as a differentiator from the other Hilton) hosted (probably unknowingly) January’s Mystery Pub. Neither Claire nor I were responsible for the demise of this chip, but during its darkest moments did offer it thoughts and prayers. It would be unfair to say that this chip is the most exciting feature of the pub, so I won’t.
We had our annual late lunch at the Seafaring Fools café on the Broadway. Here’s Claire enjoying a hot Milo.
There’s a $4.50 voucher at the Oodnadatta Roadhouse coming your way if you can guess which boy is currently learning at home.
Since confessing that, for the first time ever, I (in the fetching company of Claire) left Highway One and visited the historic town of Port Wakefield I have been flooded with stories from people who’ve actually been there too. Thanks to both of you. Let’s get some t-shirts made.
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Saturday morning, on the Glenelg North esplanade

The beach was a pale gold and wide.

A few lone swimmers bobbed in the shallows. It was well after 10am, the hour deemed as cut-off for unleashed hounds, but a few dogs bounded along the sand ahead of their owners unbothered by any petty council bylaws. A boat or two scattered atop the shimmering gulf.

Heading north the first one was an elderly woman on a bench. She was alone. She was immersed and had a coffee beside her. She was reading a romance novel. I was instantly buoyed and felt the associated glow of life lived well by the beach.

Nearly a kilometre later I reached the esplanade shelter we call the Mormon Hut. We know it as such because occasionally on the weekend it hosts a group from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who set up displays and stands of pamphlets. I’m unsure if their honeyed ways have netted many flies, but I do admire their optimism and enterprise in setting up churchly shop right by the sea where there’s plenty of pedestrian traffic. If not theological interest.

As I arrived at the MH this morning on the near bench was an aged man also by himself, deep in a book about Greece. It may have been in Greek. He seemed relaxed and at profound peace and was enjoying his Saturday morning of leisure.

With my hands on my hips I puffed and sweated and drew in some air and looked at the other bench. There’s only two tables in the MH. On the northern side was an elderly woman with an iced tea by her elbow. She was reading a large novel. In the minute I was there she didn’t look up.

Opposite her was a man who seemed to be well into his eighties. A walking stick leaned against his seat, diagonally. He had a white beard and was hunched over an equally huge novel. By his elbow was another iced tea. Like his wife he didn’t look up nor speak.

I was pleased to be in their company, momentarily.

Continuing to huff I gazed at the elderly readers, there by the calming ocean, on a mid-summer morning, living exquisitely and with singular application.

Four people by the beach on benches. All engaged by the written word. It was poetically simple. It was as if I, too, had spent a languid hour with a book. It gave me hope and reassurance.

When I got home all drenched and ridiculous I said to Claire, “I’ve just got another idea for our retirement…”

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New Year’s Eve, 2021

New Year’s Eve’s a funny old day. During daylight it’s one of my favourite days but once the sun’s down I lose interest.

As a teenager in Kapunda I remember regularly waking early on the last day of the year- often before anyone else at home- and in the still dawn riding my bike around town and evaluating everything through my decidedly adolescent eyes. The Main Street was quiet- there was not a HQ Holden to be seen or heard- and I’d feel something probably akin to gratitude for the place- my place- and wonder about the year ahead, due to get underway in a few, brief hours.

It was always a solitary exercise but I’d experience connectedness to my hot, dusty hometown.

Claire and I and the dogs have just returned from the beach where the loose streams of walkers along the wide, flat sand suggest many others have resisted a sleep-in and are also extracting what they can from 2021 before it’s too late.

Happy new year to you!

Early January the boys and I (and later Claire too) headed to Barmera on our traditional trip. Here’s the last known photograph of our yabby nets prior to them being hooked by some miserable Collingwood supporting sod.
With Alex turning thirteen he and I spent a night up in Hahndorf to mark his official ascent (or is it descent) into teenagerhood. It would be churlish to mention that I narrowly won the mini-golf, so I won’t.
Max had his birthday at the Beach House (it remains an effort not to call it Magic Mountain). It was a fun morning and my hearing, the audiologist tells me, will soon have recovered.
Late afternoon at the Kapunda Mine Chimney on our wedding day this selfie captured our photographers too. How often is a photo taken of the photographers? Not often enough so thank you both.
Here we are, mid-April, on our honeymoon in the Flinders having just had a picnic lunch. If you listen carefully to this photo you can hear the lonesome call of the crows.
At the annual Footy Almanac lunch at Australia’s best soup pub, the North Fitzroy Arms, the spicy pumpkin was, as Rick Stein himself might’ve enthusiastically said, tasty.
We e-cycled the Riesling Trail one June Saturday and Claire enlisted a stick to correct our host town’s spelling.
In early spring I spent two days writing while overlooking the beach at Port Elliot before Claire joined me and we went for a dawn walk to begin our weekend.
Alex received a retro record player for Christmas. In between him dropping the needle on some hippity-hop vinyl I ushered him into the sacred world of Ripper 76.
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The Week Before Christmas

Claire and I made a pact that we’ll watch When Harry Met Sally once a year. So, a couple Sundays ago we did. It features great dialogue by the late Nora Ephron but also some moving monologues and my favourite is delivered by Harry to Sally on New Year’s Eve when they both finally realise exactly what they want. It’s a list of the things Harry loves about Sally.

Groundhog Day is another romantic comedy from the same era and it, too, includes a simple yet touching list of the things Phil finds astonishing about Rita.

Inspired by these two monologues I wrote one too, in the week before Christmas. Before Love Actually had its annual airing!

*

I love when we go to the beach how you kick off your shoes and abandon them on the sand by a rock and trust that they’ll be there upon our return. I love that you care nothing for cars and will never tell the difference between a BMW and a Mazda. I love that you run your life with a paper diary which is misplaced every few months, but somehow always turns up. I love that Angel understands you are the most compassionate person she’ll ever see because dogs just know. I love how I can catch your scent in an empty room and then our beautiful, rich past rushes back towards me. I love when I meet your eye across a busy space and how at that moment, we share many secrets without uttering a word. And I love when you smile because it shows me that this world is bursting with joy and promise and magic.

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To Max, on finishing primary school

Dearest Max

You are about to have your last week at primary school. So, now’s a good time to think on what you’ve done and all that’s happened.

I recall your first Celebration Night at St Leonard’s. You were in Dennis’s class and with the sun slanting in above the gum trees you danced with your friends in the back row. What was the song called? Can you remember? It seems such a long time ago, but also as if it’d occurred just a few days back. You’ll find that time is weird like this and then it’ll start to accelerate like a Koenigsegg Agera RS (which we know is the world’s fastest production car).

I hope you enjoy Celebration Night and take a moment to think about this farewell and the many teachers who’ve helped you and the friends who’ve left and the friends who’ve stayed.

I’m also reflecting on Saturday mornings and soccer matches at school, in the Adelaide Hills and everywhere in between. It was sometimes freezing when everyone’s legs went blue through to torrential rain but we also had those cloudless, pale sun days. I loved your eagerness on the pitch with your team-mates and how you listened to the coaches and were keen to impress them. Every goal you scored was a life highlight for me but I particularly loved the one at Mitcham in 2020!

Tee-ball was summery fun and I lost count of the number of homeruns you whacked and how when fielding you sprinted like a leopard for struck balls across the crunchy grass. As the coach it was a challenge to get your team to sit in the batting line-up! Were you naughty then? Just a bit.

I’ve such special memories of the camp to Narnu Farm on Hindmarsh Island and especially the horse ride around the paddocks. I reckon you were on the old one named Pudding. Do you remember playing tennis? You were such a good sport and kept the game going with your kind leadership ensuring everyone had fun.

There were fifty kids on that trip and because you’d done everything with such unstoppable enthusiasm by 10pm you were the first asleep! Sitting in the kitchen with our coffee I remember Barry the Deputy Principal saying how he wasn’t shocked as you, “ran pretty hard most days” and I was delighted by this. I trust you’ll continue to live this way.

Next morning one of your friends said at breakfast that you were the first awake and with all the kids still in their sleeping bags you told everyone funny stories. This also made me smile.

My favourite achievement is your recent poem and debate on racism in footy. It was a task you took seriously and you worked so hard on this assignment. It was probably the most important piece of school work you’ve done and it showed your deep and growing skill with language. I reckon English and critical thinking will be at the centre of your success at Brighton and beyond school it’ll remain a big part of your life.

I was thrilled and not at all surprised when you earned an A+ for this task. No, you didn’t get or receive an A+, you deserved it.

Here’s some other writing you’ve done that I love. These are from your long “list of activities” which is still up on the kitchen cupboard-

1. Ride (anywhere)

8. Eat (food).

And in accordance with the tradition you began about once a month you announce on the fridge whiteboard

                The cordial is pre-made.

This is one of our great literary rituals and of social service too!

There’re many things I’ll miss as you finish at St Leonard’s but high on my list is driving past at lunch or recess when the playground is a surging sea of green shirts and hats and suddenly, just like that, I see you dashing about, your unmissable blonde locks bouncing along as you chase your friends or climb that tree just outside the front office or kick a footy.

So, primary school is over. I hope you’ll always look back upon this with deep affection and satisfaction. Enjoy your holidays.

I’m proud of you.

Love Dad

xx

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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.

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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.