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Dad’s 75th

Dear Dad

I think about the Christmas holidays we had as kids, often spent up the river. Invariably hot, we’d stay in parks and places like those around Lake Bonney. I still hold great affection for the Murray and we go there regularly with our boys. I thank you and Mum for this vital legacy.

But I do remember one time at Loxton when we came home to Kapunda early because Jill and I were fighting so much- not my fault mind you. Upon reflection this was especially disappointing as, by then, Jill and I were in our mid-thirties.

As always, it’s beautiful to be in the Barossa, thanks to everyone for coming here today.

Dad loves to talk footy. When I ring up or we’re around a table with a shiraz in hand there’s a pattern to our discussion. We start with the Crows. Who’s playing well, who’s not? Will we make the finals? How good is the Honorable Edward A. Betts?

We then touch on Port. Not for long though. Years ago, I told Dad of how Tony Morrison, a keen Norwood fan, and the father of an old school friend, Claire, called Port “the Filth.” Then for a while when we’d mention Port instead of calling them “the Filth” Dad would call them “the Slime.” No, it’s not funny, is it Jill, but it amuses me still. The Slime.

We then move onto the SANFL and talk of Glenelg and how they’re travelling. Not much joy in recent years, but we used to speak glowingly of Rory Kirby and former captain Ty Allen. If on the terraces at the Bay I’d seen Peter “Super” Carey or Graham “Studley” Cornes I’d update Dad about the adoring crowds flocking around Super, and then of course, about those crowds somehow not adoring Graham.

Finally, we move to the Barossa and Light and analyse the competition there. Who’s playing well for Tanunda and Nuri and, of course, Kapunda. Whenever I go to Dutton Park it makes me proud to see RW Randall on the life membership board. These chats remain important. Even when yakking about the Slime.

When Kerry and I lived in England Mum and Dad came to visit in 2004. We had a fantastic month or so travelling through England, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy. One night we saw a play called Blood Brothers at London’s Phoenix Theatre.

The story revolves around fraternal twins Mickey and Eddie, who were separated at birth, one subsequently being raised in a wealthy family, the other in a poor family. The different environments take the twins to opposite worlds, one becoming a councillor, and the other unemployed and in prison. They both fall in love with the same girl, causing a rift in their friendship and leading to the tragic loss of both.

We were in the front row and it was brilliant. See it if you can. At interval Mum and Kerry bought a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. In second half everyone was crying again- Mum and Kerry at the tragedy of the story, Dad and I at how expensive the wine was.

We wish him and Mum well today, over the bowls season and for the future.

We love you. Now please raise your glasses.

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The Summer of 1983: New Frontier

gemini

Stephen’s harlequin green Gemini took us to Adelaide Oval one-day matches starring the Bruces (Laird and Yardley) and on other days to Kapunda’s Duck Pond lawn and memorably across the roo-infested plains preceding Blanchetown so we could rollick and crash at Crackshot’s family shack by the river.

It was a significant car. There was continuous music for we were teenagers with our windows down and the volume up.

We often played Donald Fagan’s The Nightfly.

The Gemini’s cassette player had a fast-forward feature that miraculously read the gaps in the tape and moved to the next song! If, say, a mixed tape was on, one moment we’d have track 3- perhaps a lesser tune from McCartney’s Tug of War, and then suddenly, track 4- probably “Smoke on the Water”- boomed from the Pioneer speakers (woofer, midrange and tweeter). I found it astonishing. How amazing would the future be?

My gateway to original music was Brendan. He’d moved to Kapunda from the Barossa and although the same age as us he was somehow older and viewed the tiresome planet through world-weary eyes.

In his darkened loungeroom I first heard Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Midnight Oil’s 10,9,8. In 1983 it was a centre of cool. He also introduced me to The Smiths, U2, and one evening to Donald Fagan, who I learned was half of Steely Dan.

astral

Brendan had a Flock of Seagulls haircut before Flock of Seagulls existed.

“IGY (What A Beautiful World)” is The Nightfly’s opening song and first single, and my favourite ever tune referencing the International Geophysical Year (actually eighteen months in duration, going from July 1957 to December 1958) but it was “New Frontier” which grabbed me.

I’d like to declare that back then I was drawn to Fagen’s nostalgic depiction of young love in suburban America; that this energetic Bildungsroman or coming of age account spoke to me intensely; that the interplay between wide-eyed youth and our cynical selves was enticing.

But no, it was the cowbell.

When K-Tel ultimately releases 20 Cracking Cowbell Classics! with “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Drive My Car” among other percussive pearls I trust “New Frontier” will occupy a prominent (vinyl) place.

Concluding with a suitably slick, LA cool, instrumental guitar break, and with the Gemini hurtling down a country road I’d accompany the song on my own invisible cowbell (air cowbell remains my chief musical talent) and aim to stop wacking my invisible drumstick on my invisible idiophone hand percussion instrument when it suddenly yet predictably ceased on the cassette.

This synchronisation was tough but if I timed it right there’d be a nod from one of my fellow passengers like Chrisso or Claire or Trish. But not Stephen for he was driving. It’s still the pinnacle of my (invisible) musical career.

flock.png

I can now see that I’m wistful about the lyrics which convey a wistfulness of their own. I guess scholars call this meta-wistfulness. It’s a song of innocence. It’s about being on the magical cusp of your future, when your world is opening up, and this is curious given that, for the geeky semi-autobiographical narrator the action- real and anticipated- takes place one weekend in the family’s nuclear bomb shelter.

Yes we’re gonna have a wingding

A summer smoker underground

It’s just a dugout that my dad built

In case the reds decide to push the button down

We’ve got provisions and lots of beer

The key word is survival on the new frontier

My last high school summer was punctuated by New Year’s Eve. It was the first time I stayed up all night. We were at Stephen’s in his absent parents’ loungeroom. Around 4am, with my hometown sinking to sleep and the music muted, a couple of us decided to aim for the dawn. It was a new frontier.

Beyond seeing that year’s first light, there was no other incentive. Standing on the concreted driveway we peered out over the chaff mills towards the unremarkable hills and I recall my exhilaration as the sun’s easterly rays filtered down to dusty, slumbering Kapunda.

Shortly after I fell asleep on the floor. Later, Boogly and Bongo and the others woke and soon music began – probably Australian Crawl’s Boys Light Up- from the imposing boom-box. Someone then made a cup of pineapple cordial.

Over my next twelve months there was footy and cricket; weekend work at the Esso service station; Year 12’s unforgettable anguish and ecstasy.

1983 was here, and The Nightfly would become part of the soundtrack.

nightfly.png

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The Gorgeous Garden Wedding of Jasmine and Rich

 

A and M
I do love a garden wedding.

This one was special as it was set in a stunning Adelaide Hills garden complete with various rooms of ponds and hidden tables and stools and towering natives and ornamental scrubs. The ceremony took place in an amphitheatre just behind the house with the wooded hills and Gorge Wildlife Park presenting as painterly backdrops.
Occasionally, emu and deer would wander up to the fence like silent but welcome wedding-crashers.

It was also special for it was the wedding of my wife’s youngest brother, Rich and Jasmine.

The week beforehand had been typical of spring- berserk temperature fluctuations, insane wind gusts and weather patterns as fickle and daft as a Trump tweet.

Saturday was warm and gentle and affirming; ideal for late afternoon matrimony. We were in Cudlee Creek by both name and nature.

For Alex and Max it was their first family wedding.

J and R

They’d chosen suits to wear and Max picked out an orange tie. I later showed him how the tie matched both my glasses and Coopers Mild Ale label and he enjoyed this new symmetry. I’m sure that if he’d been offered a cravat, he’d have happily donned it instead. He enjoys being a provocateur, even in a fashion context.

Alex had on a slick grey suit, something Arthur Daley from Minder would’ve called a “nice drop of cloth.” He also wore a red-checked shirt, one like those preferred by his Dad, and a pair of Converse sneakers that suggested a young fella on the cusp of teenage hood.

I was in the black suit that I had worn nearly sixteen years ago at my own wedding – on the day Northerly won his second W.S. Cox Plate- although I dared not do it up in case a button pinged off into someone’s eye like a pebble catapulted from a slingshot and an ambulance was required. I didn’t need the bother.

The ceremony was compact and elegant with vows and photos and tears and laughter and applause. At its conclusion I found myself on the blub. There was no specific trigger; just generalised gratitude and goodwill at the event and its assembled, happy meaning.

A highlight was when the bride, Jasmine arrived and her beautiful dog, Simba was trotting alongside too. Who can resist a dog at a wedding? It’s a twin threat. Max told me Sunday night that Simba was now, “his third favourite dog, behind (our two) Buddy and Angel.” I agreed.

simba

There was a cubbyhouse for the kids as well as a roundabout, sandpit, and slippery slide, and I happily sat in the sun on a chair and watched the colour and movement and innocence.

Over near the grand home was a marquee for the reception. Early on in the evening, I sat for a while next to my other brother-in-law’s partner, Robyn. Along with my Uncle Des and Aunty Claire she’s one of the few people who calls me Mickle. Having dispensed with talk of footy and work and our boys she said, “So what do you think love is, Mickle?”

I offered her a list including shared hope and forgiveness and admiration and awe and respect. I then moved to the idea that George Clooney’s character, Matt King, suggests in one of my favourite films, The Descendants: “You try to make your partner’s passage through life easier.”

The speeches were excellent. Both the parents of the bride and groom were generous and optimistic in their observations and all in the marquee nodded and smiled too, as if a tuning fork had been struck and we were in harmony with this splendid song.

The groom, Rich, spoke with sincerity and thankfulness at how, seemingly, the universe had allowed all these terrific things to happen at just the right time, to him. Being astute in these matters, and of course, his big brother, my wife remarked that she could tell half a minute out, the point at which he’d become choked up.

A, K and M

Music and singing and dancing followed and the father of bride, David and father of the groom, Darryll concluded the celebration at midnight with a port each and I went down the hill to our sleeping campervan.

Sunday awoke to fog and mist but cleared to a sunny morning, and the promise of bacon and eggs and chat, and then late lunch and wine with our Queensland relatives.

It was a wonderful wedding.

j and r 2

 

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Pub Review: the Magpie and Stump, Clare Valley

 

front of pub
Geometrically, I think the lawn’s a trapezium but I might be wrong.

Either way, it’s a Clare Valley garden, which just happens to come with its own pub!

There’s slate tables on the grass; umbrellas on bases- although the spring breeze means these are tethered lest they launch toward an unsuspecting vineyard or throbbing Harley; and two fire buckets embedded in imposing circular structures as if they’ve come from a 1970’s playground, or a Texan mechanic’s barbeque.

fire bucket

We’re at one of my favourite places on the planet: the Magpie and Stump.

Last year we sulked pub-ward suffering afresh from the Crows’ grand final defeat, hoping schnitzel might sooth our spirits. Spooked, Mozz uttered, “It’s quiet. Too quiet.”

The pub was shut.

And had been for some months.

But in 2018 new owners have flung open the doors- this sudden change in fortune is called peripeteia by the Greeks- and I’m thrilled. Shaking mine host Paul’s hand, he explains he’s expecting seventy for lunch. He adds that, “We did 700 meals over the June long weekend.” I peek in the kitchen en route to the bar and see four chefs: all busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.

Our entourage takes up residence at a generous garden table. Having consulted the pub’s website, I know $15 jugs of Coopers Session Ale are waiting. At my urgings Bazz and Mozz enlist. “Go on,” I say, “it’ll be funny.”

lawn

The bar-keep seems unimpressed by my digital espionage but honours the offer. There’s wine and cider for the others and raspberry for the young fellas so we sit in the sun and speak of many people and places.

It’s perfect.

Most opt for the Stump burger, a challenging treat with meaty patties the size of small, beefy UFOs. The chips are crisp and tasty- this isn’t always a given- and come in those miniature wire baskets that could’ve been hocked from a Lilliputian fish shop.

Kath has salt ‘n’ pepper squid but it needs additional NaCl dusting. Flopping about with their iPods and assorted devices our male progeny orders nuggets. These are breathed in, instantly.

table 2

Post-lunch, the entertainment’s on under the veranda: a guitar and keyboard duo. Looking like an older Jack White the vocalist announces, “I’m Paul and this is Andy. Together, we’re known as Paul and Andy.”

They provide an afternoon of agreeable covers including our request for “Sweet Caroline.” Given the comprehensive demographic of the audience they ignore our plea for Frank Zappa and his 25-minute magnus opus, “Billy the Mountain.”

The pub staff are also congenial, even when one of our crew, Bazz attempting to assist, drops five glasses onto the table’s unforgiving slate. Disappointingly, only four break but the employee with upturned trouser cuffs laughs throughout his dustpan deed.

table 1

As the sun dips in the western sky we each get out three coins to engage in a few rounds of spoofy- known by my old mate Whitey as, “the free beer game.” Your correspondent enjoys complimentary cups.

We leave with some newly-minted stubby holders. However, these look better on display behind the bar as rolling them about in our mits, they’re, as Ian Chappell used to say, a bit thin. The cover of an old National Geographic would provide similar beverage insulation.

But it’d been a terrific Sunday on this fetching lawn and despite intermittent outages over the decades, the Magpie and Stump again powers on.

I urge you to enjoy its lawn soon.

stubby holder

 

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Pub Review: The Crown, Victor Harbor

 

chernobyl ferris wheel

If petite bread rolls deliver doughy joy then the frisson when these are also hot from the oven is seismic. Surely a clear sign of a caring god, or at least, reliable electricity.

This unexpected bliss began our Friday night meal at the Crown Hotel. Driving into Victor Harbor as the wide bay swims into happy view I wondered how our boys hadn’t been here previously for an extended visit yet had holidayed to the Bavarian Alps, artistic Left Bank in Paris and Murray Bridge’s world-class Bunyip.

Having checked-in at our caravan park digs and positively appraised the bunk beds, bouncy pillow and decidedly unappealing pool we drove to Warland Reserve with its twin pubs standing sentinel over the foreshore.

Upon presenting our boisterous trio at the bistro, the pub staff now appraised us silently and then did what I’d do which is to quarantine us in a marginalised corner away from the quiet, undeserving diners. In hospitality circles I’m sure this is some form of pre-emptive damage control. There was an American college football game on TV, but disappointingly it didn’t feature Purdue. It was Boise, Idaho’s finest.

bouncy pillow

Our boys were drawn instantly and they assured me, ravenously, to the salad and vegetable bar. It would’ve been easier to stop an aspiring reality television star (read: talentless, vacuous twit) from taking a selfie.

Pleasingly, their lemonades were served in sturdy plastic cups. You know, the coloured models that you used at your cousins’ place for cordial after you’d been running about or chucking rocks at your footy, now stuck at the top of a eucalypt.  

As a fan of haute cuisine Max chose the Italian Hawaiian Irish fusion. Unfortunately, when his ham and pineapple pizza and chips arrived, despite his father’s sobbing implorations, he was chock-a-block with hot bread rolls. I had the pizza on Saturday, save for the solitary bite Max had taken.

Boise was constantly handing the ball back to their opponents as they couldn’t get their passing or running games to fire. Out the window, and across the reserve I could see the lights of the amusements and the Ferris wheel.

I trusted that the compulsory mangy dog would be there, wandering and weeing and roaming about in a vaguely menacing way when we visited in the morning and like a drunk bookie, I forked over wads of cash to a carnie.

dinosaur

As a ten-year-old Alex is on the cusp of moving from kid’s meals to adult portions, and this causes me emotional if not fiscal despair. But tonight, he’s happy to tackle the nuggets and chips.

When served they’re not the traditional ones shaped as rectangles or ovals: these are in the form of dinosaurs confirming what archaeologists having been telling us forever which is that if we visit Jurassic Park, take down a T-Rex, and cook it, it will, of course, taste like chicken. He inhales them as if he’ll soon need the energy to outrun a velociraptor.

Continuing our involuntary theme of transmogrified chicken my Kiev arrives. It’s been a while and my excitement had risen, like that of a rooster when sunrise is imminent over the henhouse.

chernboyl

While the Ukrainian geography of my chook was nebulously accurate I think its origins were not in Kiev but more precisely 142 kilometres to the north of the capital in Chernobyl.

I suspect the meal may have come directly from reactor number 4 itself. How else to explain the impossibly dry and disastrously crunchy properties, other than thermonuclear accident?

I felt especially sorry for the cold garlic butter that had presumably been once trapped in this poor poultry, all trace now gone, doubtless a victim of irradiation’s cruel physics. I may have been better off with the amusement park hound.

Luckily, I hadn’t downloaded a Geiger counter app to my phone or it would’ve now been clicking away like a barn full of tap-dancers, attempting a world record.  

Still, we all survived and retired to our cabin. The footy was about to start and the weekend was upon us. We were in front.

Afterall, we’d had hot bread rolls.

crown-hotel-victor-harbor-SA-5211

 

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Finally, some Japanese poetry honouring the beer fridge

BF 2

Haiku is a noble yet tiny poetic form. It combines natural imagery, brevity and ancient timelessness, and was made famous by the seventeenth-century master, Matsuo Bashō.

Here’s his finest-

Flower
Under harvest sun- stranger
To bird, butterfly

Blowing stones
Along the road to Mount Asama,
The autumn wind.

Moon-daubed bush-clover-
Ssh. In the next room
Snoring prostitutes.

nature

See. Gorgeous natural imagery including the flower, butterfly, autumn wind and snoring prostitutes.

*

We’re the same, you and me. While there’s lots to celebrate in this fine, bursting world, big gaps have opened up.

Time to plug these, for everyone’s sake.

As I see it a dangerous cultural chasm exists with the shameful lack of ancient Japanese poetry promoting the unreconstructed joy that is the humble beer fridge.

BF 1

Thanks to them internets old mate Greg and I ended this tragic chapter last night while in different parts of our nation, watching distinguished haiku inspiration, Animal House.

Thinking haiku: think toga party and Bluto Blutarsky.

I suggest you print the following and put ‘em up on your beer fridge, alongside the kids’ finger-paintings. The sense of peace and artistic bliss will be all yours.

And then crack open a Kirin lager and toast our old mate, Matsuo Bashō.

BF 3

Under moonlit night
Stubby holder on white shelf
Beer fridge

Beer fridge empty
Actually not so empty
Carlton Cold

Full fridge
Thirsty as buggery
All XXXX

Beer fridge dies
Ale warming
Within and without, light’s off.

MB

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Galveston and me

 

postcard

In New York City I thought about two novels. I was eager to explore Central Park and within its savannah we took in the summery games on Heckscher Ballfields and weaved around the picnickers sprawling in the sultry heat.

Of interest was The Pond given the fascination this held for Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. He was inquisitive as to where the ducks went during the frozen winter, and like many teenagers was troubled about his future and our shared vulnerabilities. I could picture Holden watching his sister Phoebe on a carousel, tears streaming at the happiness he’d finally found.

Nearby on 5th Avenue is The Plaza Hotel. Hosting the toxic quarrel between Gatsby and Tom in Scott Fitzgerald’s famous savaging of selfishness, The Plaza’s a grand building in this swirling city. Seeing it amplified the novel for me, and I could almost hear Daisy protest from up in one of the elegant suites, “You want too much!”

However, there’s an ignored American town in which I’d love to immerse myself while contemplating another significant work. My favourite intertextuality: locale and music.

Galveston.

The opening line is as euphoric as any sung. At, “Galveston, oh Galveston” we’re elevated by the combination of soaring string-section, guitar and Glen Campbell’s impossibly-honeyed voice. This proclamation is so joyous, so devout; it’s an irresistible invitation but also a prologue and an epilogue. Then, of course, there’s darkness to follow.

Galveston picture

Jimmy Webb’s genius presents as achingly exquisite simplicity. In three lines he engrosses us with evocative place, love and foreshadowed dread. And this is it: an entire story, captured haiku-like with all the fictive elements required for a comprehensive saga, or epic cinema.

I still hear your sea winds blowing
I still see her dark eyes glowing
She was twenty-one, when I left Galveston

The lyrics are almost deceptive with their innocent rhyme and sparse vocabulary. Here the repetition of the adverb still conveys the protagonist’s endless torture and hauntedness. We wonder if he’ll ever return. His torment is ours, too.

Galveston record

Debate centres on the historical context. Is Webb referencing the American Civil War, the Vietnam War, or the Spanish-American war?

while I watch the cannons flashin’

While of interest to those with a military bent, the superior reading is that it’s any war, and indeed, every war.

“Galveston” is an anti-war declaration, but there’s a deeper premise at play. Ultimately, it’s pro-love, pro-life and celebratory. Our main character is a soldier, so hopeful, so eager to re-embrace his former world’s vitality that this amplifies his terror. He misses his girl, home town and old life. As we all would. He wants to live well.

The sonic qualities intensify this triumph with strings by the Wrecking Crew that are majestic; stirring; elemental. These lift the song ever-skywards, investing it with golden light. Tellingly, they’re only silent in the instrumentation when Campbell sings, “I am so afraid of dying” and their omission here bequeaths the necessary desolation.

sea bird

Then there’s the remarkable vocal performance. With perfect phrasing it’s Sinatra-like, while displaying an enveloping, earthy warmth, and a weighty authenticity. Campbell is both the central figure and also each of us, and like a Sampras backhand, a Richard Ford sentence, or a Barossa Shiraz, there’s an outward effortlessness that leaves you sunny, but also gasping at the beauty within.

Along with “Wichita Lineman” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” Webb set these in decidedly unregarded parts of America, for he considered it best to lyrically escape the famed metropolises. The world agreed. While this particular tune uses an inconsequential resort town it speaks timelessly. The cycle’s other towns in Kansas and Arizona are now invested with an imaginative, cultural gravity. These owe Webb and Campbell.

Common across these is dislocation. They feature a man who’s someplace else; jettisoned and in disequilibrium. Briefly but profoundly, we’ve glimpsed the characters’ lives at a nexus. Do we dare guess at how they turned out? Did he get back to Galveston? Did he again experience those sea winds?

How is all this achieved in one hundred and eleven words? When the vocals are done in two minutes? It seems a bigger song: more Guernica than minimal art.

Our youngest, partly primed for his musical voyage by his Dad’s captaincy, has, in the bath and while getting dressed for school, started singing snippets of “Galveston.” In time, I reckon he’ll also want to come on our literary tour to this minor Texan town.

Locale and music.

We’ll stand on that windswept shore by the Gulf of Mexico and imagine lives other than our own.

Galveston music