2

Our Grand Final

ROAR
Less than a minute in the umpire blew his whistle to pay a holding free kick to Glenelg, and from a few rows behind us came the comforting, Pavlovian yelp, “He’s been doin’ it all bloody day, Ump!”

A convivial tone now set in the bottom deck of the Fos Williams Stand at Adelaide Oval our afternoon unfolded in exhilarating fashion. Even the subsequent Popcorn Chicken Incident served as a petit carnival of community and generosity.

Footy jumpers, scarves, caps and t-shirts in Port and Glenelg colours smeared across the outer like a monochrome Monet, and with the crowd split evenly the atmosphere was enthusiastically tribal, but also exhibited an unedited defiance of the AFL, in celebration of local footy as it was before we capitulated to national (Victorian) interests, and permitted our suburbs to be annexed.

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Admittedly, I’m also an Adelaide fan, but there’s a deeper, elemental quality about your footy team having its own discrete place and particular geography. Last Thursday I walked along Jetty Road and about Moseley Square, buoyed by the balloons and streamers and team posters in the windows. However, in this city the Crows are both everywhere and nowhere. They have no earthly claim; no Alberton, no Patawalonga.

The pre-game concert is another ritual, and I loved You Am I in 2015 with footy-mad Tim Rogers up front siphoning Pete Townsend and Ray Davies. Local outfit Bad/Dreems are energetically gruff and glug West End Draught as they romp through their set. The drummer sports the prison bars of a Magpies guernsey.

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History always hovers at the SANFL grand final. Former stars Peter Carey who I pass walking his dog on the esplanade most mornings and Greg Anderson, whose timeless locks are surely in the Mullet Hall of Fame (next to those of Billy Ray Cyrus) do a lap in a ute while clasping the premiership cup, and both relish the sunny applause.

Glenelg skips away early. Their tackling has jungle ferocity and as if channelling the glory days when footy was only on boxy black and white Pye TVs, they kick long into their forward line.

Port are flint-hard and the twenty years since they’ve won a flag must present as volcanic outrage. They harass and coerce, but the Tigers use crafty handball to dominate possession.

For Magpie fans the unknowable has arrived, and nineteen excruciating minutes elapse in the second quarter before Frampton comes alive and they register their afternoon’s first goal.

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Alex and Max and two of their primary school mates are as unrelenting in their eating as Glenelg is in their attack so I muster extra supplies. Juggling food worth the GDP of a small Pacific nation I shuffle back down aisle 133 as Marlon Motlop kicks a clever goal, and a rejoicing fan’s arms shoot out periscopically and clock me. Instantly, it’s raining popcorn chicken all over the concrete steps and my person. I’m a friendly-fire casualty.

The colonel can’t help me.

The Glenelg fan apologies saying, “Can I buy you another one of those?”

My automated response is a polite but stunned, “No, mate it’s fine.”

I surrender the surviving chook to the boys who are wholly unsympathetic to my fiscal, social and psychological loss, and inhale them. Old mate comes down and announces, “Mum feels badly so she’ll get you some more chicken.” Claire and I nod thanks. He’s about forty years old. Perhaps he’s already spent his pocket money.

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Another most kind witness to the Sudden Chicken Storm appears with a box of popcorn poultry, and says, “I felt very sorry when I saw what happened. Some Port fans started laughing.” She hands these over, and before she can reclaim her seat, the boys have slurped them up. So, the kindness of strangers gladdens our hearts, if not our arteries.

Claire is bemused that my only contributions to the stadium noise are the binary and monosyllabic, “BALL!” when a Magpie player has had too long and, “YEEEAAAHHH!” when we kick a goal. On advice of my singing coach I ration these, but come Monday morning my vocal stylings are still more Joe Cocker than Tiny Tim.

The clouds dart and race, and we alternately soak up the sun and then shiver. Glenelg controls the narrative from prelude to epilogue. At the siren the four boys are on their seats shrieking and waving their yellow and black flag. The Tigers club song loops about the arena.

We cross the pedestrian bridge over the Torrens, and then head for home and our premiership suburb, by the silvery sea.

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2

This exquisite, unrepeatable moment

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Driving Alex and his mates to Adelaide Oval last Sunday I’m reminded of the final line from 1986’s coming-of-age film, Stand by Me, in which the narrator ponders his distant childhood with affection and melancholy:

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?

We’re heading to see Glenelg contest its first SANFL final since these boys were toddlers. I’m keen for the Tigers to secure a spot in the grand final, but by sunset I’ll have learnt, all over again, that at best, football should only be a happy distraction.

It’s an archetypal early spring day: fluctuating between encouraging sun, blustery breeze, and quick showers. On our way to Hindley Street the car radio’s on. As it better matches where these boys are at I’ve changed stations from Triple J to commercial pop music. The songs seem immediate and disposable, but my passengers are more interested in rapid chat about teachers; food both healthy and not; exotic classmates; a recent school camp in the Adelaide Hills.

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We see the fourth quarter of the Norwood and Crows match. Despite a spirited finish by the Redlegs, the tricolour interlopers advance to the preliminary final. Sitting in front of the Sir Edwin Smith Stand, of course the boys spear straight down to the fence, so they can get as close as possible to the action, although for most of the afternoon they enthusiastically ignore the footy.

They eat. They chat. They laugh. They do whole mobs of stuff except watch the action.

For them footy is mere situational context; Aristotelian theatre of minor consequence; a fuzzy backdrop to their endless, summery banter.

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Glenelg and Port is pulsating. The Magpies are taller, bigger and dominate aerially, but the Bays appear to quicken as the shadows lengthen. The boys’ chat continues.

“Our grade five camp had way better food! Don’t you think Ty?”

“I met Steve Smith at the Cricket Warehouse when I was six. Mum let me have the day off school.”

“Jacob, are you going to do karate next year?”

I love the easy egalitarianism among them. Each takes his turn, enjoys his moments in the sun, is allowed his voice. There’s no clear pecking order or obvious Alpha male. There’s esprit de corps.

It’s gladdening.

At half time they dash behind the stand onto the lawns for some kick-to-kick while I watch their black backpacks, bursting with snacks as we arrived, and now mostly empty like deflated tyres.

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Stretching my legs too I wander down to the ornamental grass. There’s an irresistible puddle. The boys are bunched by the statue of Boof Lehmann while Alex skims his footy through the water and at them, again and again while they squirm and shriek. However, they’re wet and it’s fresh so I ask them to stop. They do. Maybe I should’ve left them to it. Boof is spared further drenching.

In the gathering gloom (literal and metaphorical; tending towards pathetic fallacy) Port win by four points over a fast-finishing Glenelg. The boys exclaim their vague despair, but it’s vaporised before we exit the Southern Plaza and their natural natter then pings about, as it should. We cross the footbridge.

With my headlights cutting through the murk I again steer along Anzac Highway and think of Stand by Me. Alex and these mates will have next year in their snug, neighbourhood primary school, and then move on. They’ll likely attend different high schools. Maybe their bond will endure, maybe not.

But, for the moment, this exquisite, unrepeatable moment, Alex and his eleven-year-old friends, bouncing between childhood and adolescence, are deep in the greatest of simple gifts: each other.

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2

September and everyone’s in love and flowers pick themselves

BC

It must be acknowledged that autumn is ridiculously good in Adelaide. The cloudless, immensely liveable days host a tremendous array of outdoor fun at the beach, at the Fringe Festival, in the backyard. It’s a spectacular time in this cosy city, clinging to the edge of our isolated island at 34.9285° S.

Every month has highpoints, but September is the one to which I pin most happy expectation. I love winter, and while here it’s brief, I’m mostly pleased to wave farewell to it, and smile at spring.

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So what is it about September?

Football finals.

From my home town of Kapunda, to Adelaide’s suburban competition and then to the immovable Australian Football league, it’s the best month to enjoy our unique game. I love that it must be the only sport in which competitors miss a goal but are rewarded with a point for being close. You know, for having a go. In this country we value laconic imprecision, of course.

With the Adelaide Crows yet again having September off for poor behaviour my attention now goes elsewhere. I still take a huge interest in the AFL finals, and my inner socialist dictates that my temporary affections are with the most deserving, and generally least successful team.

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I can offer no love towards Geelong, Collingwood, West Coast, Essendon or the confected opportunism that is the GWS Giants so I’m barracking for the Western Bulldogs. They’ve one flag in the last six decades.

Triumphing on the month’s last Saturday will provide associative hope to the Crows for 2020. Football fans, after all, must be optimists. Without this, we cease to be.

At the local level my team Glenelg qualified for the finals following a dark decade of absence. Indeed, they have a shot at the premiership cup; their first since the antediluvian era (1986, but you get my point). It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be surprising. Most vitally, it’s going to be memorable.

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Spring is a seductress, but a shameless tease too. With the days lengthening swiftly we end our hibernation and amble outdoors expecting bright, sunny skies. There’s a burst of cheerful warmth, and suddenly, barbeques sizzle, thongs flip-flop out of the wardrobe, and a few frenzied punters even splash down to the beach.

But, before you’ve pumped up the tyres on your cobwebby bike, or ironed your speedos, a gusty change lashes through, and again you need a beanie on just to stick out the bins. And this schizophrenic weather can go on endlessly. It’s like buying tickets to a Bob Dylan concert and worrying about who’ll turn up on the night. The good Bob, or the bad Bob?

The international cricket season is slow to get a rumblin’ so horse-racing enjoys some attention until mid-November. I love the Group 1 races such as the Makybe Diva Stakes, named after the Port Lincoln wonder mare who won three consecutive Melbourne Cups, and the Moir Stakes, which sadly isn’t the Moi Stakes and therefore named after Kath and Kim. The boys and I will invest the odd hour in the Broadway pub watching some of the turf action. Max might even wear his Black Caviar cap. It’ll be a raspberry and chips for all.

Kath and KIm

September is rebirth and renaissance; promise and hope; a farewell to the murk and a cautious nod at the light. It’s when the year stomps down on the accelerator and tyres squealing, burns towards Christmas like a mad Monaro.

Let’s wind down the windows, and crank up the radio!

 

 

*the title comes from the celebrated American poet ee cummings

 

 

 

1

A Sunday in the Barossa

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A celebration of excellent weather, the gentle environment and our astonishing privilege: an autumn Sunday in the Barossa!

The trick (or life hack as the young ‘uns call these) with winery tours is to keep the itinerary simple: don’t fall for vaulting ambition, or an overly complex itinerary. With this in mind Claire said, “I reckon we should go along Krondorf Road.”

Beginning at Grant Burge Wines a highlight was the view down to and across the rolling valley floor with the trees all gilded and brunette and anticipating their winter drink. There was a lengthy list of wines to work through and these were uniformly adequate if somewhat devoid of charisma.

Noting the massive bottles on display we spoke of the biblical names ascribed to these: Methuselah, Balthazar and my favourite to say, often apropos of nothing, Nebuchadnezzar: holding 15 litres, an unholy receptacle with catastrophic hangovers for the extended family (perhaps not the kiddies).

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Rockfords is always a delight. The former stables host the tastings. All stone and pastoral calm; inside is warmly dark, and the punters drift and mingle, scuffling to and from the counter. Above our heads is a row of dusty, hoary bottles, the labels whispering of meeker times. With our dear friend Trish in mind we bought a bottle of Alicante Bouchet as voices murmured about us, all low and vaguely thrilling and festive.

The Basket Press Shiraz is Olympian, and I remembered I’d a bottle at home, a significant birthday gift from old friends Bob and Trish. As always with long-distance wine I’m torn: do I lay it down for years on the hazy promise of a milestone, or given life’s uncertainty, dash home on an otherwise unspectacular Tuesday, and turn the church key?

It was divine to then emerge from this intimate dusk and into the cobblestoned light of Rockford’s courtyard. Dust and pollen and laughter pirouetted about in the golden air, and I remarked to Claire how I found it difficult to believe there could be a happier place on the planet.

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Our clocks had chimed midday and so we drove westward. Our pace was like that of the horses and carts of centuries ago when stoic Lutherans slapped the reins, and crunching the carpark gravel at St. Halletts we both noted how it had been decades since either of us had visited.

The cellar door has a generous, handsome bar. Even the toilets are luxurious in their appointments. We discussed the received silliness of the various euphemisms for these: bathroom. Aside from the physical hopelessness of the cistern, who’d wish to take a bath in one? And restroom: these may have once offered welcome refuge, but with an unsophisticated world view shaped by my amenities experiences out the back of Adelaide Oval I reckon toilets are like proctologist visits; get in and out (as it were) as quickly as you can.

We chatted over our cups with the woman serving the drinks. She was Parisienne and pregnant. On a working holiday years ago she met her eventual husband in an aisle of the local hardware store, and now here she was. It was a natter in keeping with the day’s themes of warmth and gratefulness and she popped extra crackers on our cheeseboard.

With the Para River acting as a gentle guardian there’s an ample lawn punctuated by some silent gums and wooden tables, like those favoured in English country pubs. We had cheese and olives and sunshine and stillness. And a glass of wine each. My sparkling red was exquisite, delicate and with a haughty effervescence that contrasted ever so slightly with the surroundings.

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“Do you know what my favourite drink is when wine-tasting?” I asked, the sun slanting across the lawn.

“A shiraz?” Claire suggested.

“No, but good try.”

“Go on then.”

“After the last winery it’s the Pale Ale I have at a pub.”

So, our day ended with a first. We swung into the Sandy Creek pub, a boozer I must’ve passed a thousand times, but had never entered.

With the light collapsing beyond the low hills we sat out the front and watched the steady stream of cars and trucks and vintage jalopies roar along the highway as on the TV inside the Crows and Dockers began their unwatchable match.

It had been a sunlit day of space and conversation and bursting gratitude.sandy creek

3

Beer Review: Coopers XPA (spoiler: boiled shite)

costaAn iconic Australian brewer, Coopers have launched a new beer. This is of considerable excitement to me, and here’s a quick list of launches that are far, far worse.

The launch of a P!nk album
The launch of the Costa Concordia
The launch of Paris Hilton’s eponymous perfume
The launch of an Exocet missile
The launch of AFLX
The launch of Shane Warne’s new wig
The launch of an all you can eat tofu diner.

That’ll do for now.

*

I’m in a suburban Adelaide pub. It’s called the Highway, and is stylised as HWY. Some would argue that for the HWY, this is where style ends. It’s actually pronounced “Hur- wah- yee” and emits exactly the sound you’ll make when paying for a drink here.

It’s one of those maddening pubs that insists on using those ridiculous glasses that are well short of being pints, yet they charge you as if they’re Jeroboams of lager.

Maybe it’s called the Highway because in the Lounge Bar and accompanying deck, highway robbery is the business plan. I often feel in there as if I’ve been personally served by Ned Kelly masquerading as a twenty-something arts/law drop out called Charlotte whose boyfriend plays footy for an Old Collegians club.

You know the one.nedWith all these crimes temporarily excused I’m in the Sports Bar seeking a Coopers XPA, largely as there’s nowhere closer to home with this on tap. As sports bars go this one is fine with screens showing golf, cricket replays and the thoroughbreds from Hawkesbury and Quirindi. On the other side there’s a mega-wall of betting screens and some burly high-vis blokes.

As is law in this country there’s that one cove in the bar, sans hygiene and base-level socialisation who, despite the early hour, has already been here too long. Wandering about aimlessly he invariably glances and blinks at me, and wobbles over as in his fuddled head it’s time for a chat. Oh, here he comes.

No use putting my head down and avoiding eye-contact. It must be my deodorant. Well, at least his fly is up and on his upper thigh he’s not sporting a dinner-plate sized pee mark.

He belongs to another era, particularly the one before the Highway was renovated when, even around 5 bells on a Friday, the front bar was as dark as a Thai cave and a grizzled and aproned butcher squatted at a table, sold cubes of cheese and slices of mettwurst and handed over your happy hour tucker on actual butchers’ paper. This was before butchers’ paper was hijacked by every clueless conference convenor and it became a toxic weed along with housekeeping, plenaries and parking lots.

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The Coopers XPA?

Colossally disappointing. Taking a spot adjacent to the bar with my undersized, overpriced glass, I took a sip. Nothing on the front palate. Pause. Nothing on the middle palate. Another awkward pause. Expecting a late rush of taste and flavour and Coopers yum from the back palate I still found nothing.

I acknowledge that at 5.2% it is more Ali than featherweight, but the XPA seems to have pipe-cleaners for arms, and not guns.

Old mate Puggy then joined me, and instantly confirmed my dismal analysis. We had been promised a lumpy V8, like a Brock Commodore, all throaty and snarling up a country straight, but instead were piloting an insipid sedan. With bald tyres.

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The previous Coopers release was Session Ale, and it was sun and joy and tropics. A golden splash of fun, and reggae straight in ya gob. It has proved to be a hit, like a Beatles’ tune from their Rubber Soul era.

Coopers XPA is the song that came 17th in Eurovision 1987, but without the charm, longevity and ridiculous applause from the irradiated Ukrainians.

0

Pub Review: Hotel Victor, Victor Harbor

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Iconic Australian cricketer, leviathan punter, beer inhaler and former Rothmans enthusiast Doug Walters famously said, “When in Victor Harbor be sure to swing by the Hotel Victor. It’s really good.”

Actually, he didn’t say this, and I just made it up.

Doug is a fabulously cool cat, and once went to bed in Perth well after dawn and well-oiled before mere hours later, going out to bat for his country. He possesses a remarkably mild temper, but I wonder what even he’d make of the Hotel Victor.

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The boys and I were in town and as the Tuesday sun was setting, all autumnal and fetching, we suddenly had a dinner dilemma. I won’t say it was poor planning on my behalf but our holiday cabin menu read: half a raw sausage, two bread crusts and nine grapes.

Among the safest beer choices in this land of plenty is Coopers Pale Ale, but happily sat in the front bar and peering across the park, my first sip was, as they say in beverage circles, putrid. Mmm. Something not right here. All metallic edges and prodding screwdrivers, and not the fruity, plentiful palate so richly celebrated.

Eleven patient slurps later I cleared my poisoned throat and rasped at the innkeeper, “Excuse me, young man with the hipster beard, my ale is poorly.” He replaced it, but the second was equally miserable. It lay in the glass like a sad, Liverpudlian puddle.

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Occasionally, the first beers poured daily from a keg can be, as Doug himself describes, a little sharp. However, this was beer o’clock in Victor Harbor during the splendid guts of school holidays. There were punters nursing cups all over the boozer. I was no pioneer.

A pub unable to provide a crisp gargle is like a frisky pup not wanting to reproduce with your bare leg: inexplicable.

We should’ve decamped to the fish ‘n’ chippery, but I persevered with the cold-eyed application of the Never Dead.

I’d a discount meal voucher and was singular in my wish to redeem it. “No, you can’t use it in here, only in the bistro,” announced the pig-tailed girl with cheerful senselessness. “What difference does it make?” I blinked. “Do the meals not come from the same kitchen? How can it matter where we sit?”

She blinked back.

In the apparently magical bistro with the boys gawping at their devices I ordered, but the pub again gave the rude finger. “Sorry, you can’t use this coupon for kids’ meals, only adult ones.”

I was tempted to use Aunt Edna’s favourite expression, the elegant and timeless, Fuck me.

I was getting extra good at loosing arguments, and my will to live was about to drown itself in my rancid ale, so naturally I continued. “But the discount here is ten bucks. Should I return, and buy the adult-only lobster and save thirty dollars? Would that be better for you?”

Hotel Victor 3, me 0.

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I admit my roast beef was terrific. Tender, exquisitely flavoursome and a treat to eat. The carvery vegetables were also delicious; especially the cauliflower, although as Aunt Edna used to suggest, “If you somehow manage to fuck up cauliflower we’re all in deep shit.” She had a shocking mouth, Aunt Edna.

Upon arrival we were promised water and glasses, but the four wait staff were so stressed attending to the excessive, punishing demands of the six other diners that this didn’t happen. Mercifully, humans are only 60% water so replenishing with H2O wasn’t important, and at no stage were we in significant biological danger.

They were also busy dwelling on Doug Walters’ famous century made entirely in the final session at the WACA in 1974. He bought it up with a six off the day’s last ball.

For the Hotel Victor to have also hit a six off their last delivery would’ve required free Coopers Sparkling Ales for me, and buckets of chocolate ice-cream for both Alex and Max.

The wait staff (yes, we’re still waiting) were consumed by their own ridiculous rules for acceptance of vouchers; an unwavering commitment to shagging up the country’s finest keg beer; and avoiding minimal levels of table service and so, with eyes shut, flopping about at the crease like a wounded sea mammal, and failing to offer a cricket shot, were bowled middle stump.

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0

On Granite Island

 

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Of the bounteous opportunities we have here clinging to the southern coast of this wide land, circumnavigating Granite Island is, for mine, among the best for our occasionally battered souls.

Beautifully situated an hour from Adelaide and connected umbilically to Victor Harbor (note the inexplicable American spelling) by a causeway, Alex, Max and I set out enthusiastically in the gap between Easter and Anzac Day (depending on your view, either two grim or celebratory holidays) as the affirming autumnal sun drenched us with healthy effervescence.

The horse-drawn tram was also on holiday (possibly still partying in honour of the equine heroine Winx) so, gun-barrel straight, we galloped across to the island with the boys chatting ceaselessly and in that lovely, unconscious, yet stream-of-conscious way only the young and excited can.

Their old man was buoyant too so for reasons I still can’t quite unpack we found ourselves at the kiosk prior to and not following our moderate exercise. Like a pickpocketed Dickensian character, before I knew it the boys had persuaded me into a pair of chocolate milkshakes.

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Such is the passage of time and the unrelenting effects of inflation that the $5 milkshake Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega shared in Pulp Fiction had long since lost its shock value and Alex and Max briskly slurped their $6 refreshments, completely unaware of any cultural and fiscal dissonance with the iconic filmography of Quentin Tarantino.

We trekked in an anticlockwise fashion and shared the gravel path with folk from across the seas and across the road. It was one of those utterly self-contained moments in which we were constantly in the company of others, yet felt no need to interact, or to broaden our world beyond our complete, little bubble. Some days, we is all we need.

Happily, however, the boys were unrelenting in interrogating the island. They rushed constantly along the path, before like an old sea dog, or Quint from Jaws, I reeled them in. They scrambled up and over the smoothed and the ragged outcrops while paying attention to my startled wishes that they not endanger either themselves or the part of me that suffers from incurable and eternal risk assessment.

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On the island’s southern edge Alex declared, “The ocean here is normally cold as there’s nothing between us and Antarctica.” I felt gratitude for his global insight as I reflected upon my own worldview at his age which was, “Gee, Angaston Oval is a muddy poop-heap in August.”

The town-side of Granite Island hosts a distinctive ancient tree with stripped limbs enticing young climbers. Each branch appears as a blonde vaulting horse and indeed, upon our last visit Alex was riding its sturdy frame until, like a character in a deleted scene from Blazing Saddles, he slipped several feet directly onto another blonde bough in a way that I could tell, caused considerable shock to both his face and his groin. I could almost hear a fast-plucked banjo. I may have yelped.

On Wednesday’s lap Max spied this friendly foe and yelled, “Alex! Alex! Here’s the nut-breaker. Here’s the nut-breaker!” With this public declaration I expected either a rush of Asian tourists seeking autographs, or a rush of Asian tourists desperately seeking higher ground, but neither eventuated.

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Rounding the gentle final curve we took in the long sweep of Encounter Bay and The Bluff, and bemoaned the old, dry hills. A week or so back Alex had declared that when he was older he’d live in Victor Harbor because it was “really cool.” Max then countered how he was going to dwell in the viticultural gem that is South Australia’s Clare Valley.

Of course, he added in what really should be a surprise to no-one, “And Utah.”

We then eased onto the sparkling causeway and the boys, like tightrope walkers, tried to travel the entire distance balancing on a single rail-track before we reached the car, sitting patiently by The Crown Hotel.

A few minutes later we were barbequing our lunch just behind the clean, dappled beach.

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