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At 4pm on my birthday I remembered something remarkable

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Having fled work, I was scurrying along Greenhill Road towards its most westerly origin where it is neither green nor hilly. I was thinking ahead to the hour or so of Friday sunshine left in the week and how it’d be happily spent. Park, dogs, boys, a few dobs of the footy in the closing dark.

As birthdays go it’d been fine. Not quite up there with the birthday I had years ago, by Lake Balaton in western Hungary when we had a lovely lunch of pilsner beer and goulash overlooking the water in the glorious European summer, but pleasant enough.

Then I remembered.

Like a car’s agitated navigator trying to really concentrate on a crucial part of the journey, I turned down the radio as the thought formed fully in my mind.

A decade. It was now a decade.

I swung down Anzac Highway and commenced the vaguely downhill run to home. A few tears then formed hotly. I was having a moment.

It was ten years to the day that we learned Alex was on his way.

*

I recall much of Saturday June 16, 2007. My dear old mate Chris was down from Brisbane, and he had stayed with us the previous night.

It was a sunny day and early in the morning Kerry thought we should definitely go to the doctor. She’d done a test at home. It was positive.

From then on, the day, my birthday assumes a nimble quality as though we’re in a floating cocoon and the world is spinning but without our interest or participation. This most physical, most real of events is confirmed, and all about me has now assumed a gentler quality; a welcoming, smiling face. The simplest household items are invested with magic and wonder.

While hanging out the washing I rang Mum and Dad on the cordless phone. Pegging the socks and jocks we had a brief excited chat. The future, especially early 2008 swirled and leapt about me.

That evening we dined with friends at a now long-closed Polish restaurant just off Henley Square. The Adelaide Crows played the Kangaroos on the Gold Coast and in those pre-smart phone days my mate Bob was texted the score at the end of every quarter. We won. The food was good, but I mostly remember the sense of our brilliant warm secret, the fuzzy binary code and a feeling that we were in a happy, symmetrical orbit.

*

Like every decade, it has been full and fast. Everything has changed. Much is as it was.

Alex was born a week after his mum’s birthday. Two years after his little brother Max came along. We left Australia for Singapore, and then returned. Now there’s karate and dogs, guitars and school.

And so, every year I remember that birthday, now a decade back, when the anniversary of my birth was also the day we learned that Alex was on his beautiful, astonishing way.

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On Sunday we went to a lovely lunchtime wedding in a park

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I reckon for many of us it’s about a decade. It begins in your mid-twenties and drops away as forty looms like a stop sign. I speak, of course, of weddings.

I attended lots of great ones in little country churches surrounded by paddocks of waving wheat, on golf courses, by the beach in Victor Harbor, at large suburban places of worship.

The receptions have been in country footy clubs with the catering done by the matronly pillars of the community, no nonsense women. Pubs, backyards, function centres and more than I can count have been at Ayers House, in the middle of Adelaide which I think is somewhat compulsory if you live here.

One Saturday we had four weddings and as we’d both been given a duty, I went to the one in the Barossa and Kerry, another in the city. She was a bridesmaid and I was asked to do a reading from Corinthians 13. You know the one-

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell.

Sunday’s affair was special. The boys were invited, and it was their first. The last wedding we’d been to was in Singapore over three years ago at the Fullarton overlooking the harbour and the heat.

It was in a park along the Torrens with the reception in a community hall. It was one of those great days where the sun shines and everyone enjoys it knowing it could be the last time before winter’s rain and cruel wind forces us inside.

The ceremony was lovely and people smiled and took photos on their phones but also held hands and cried when the groom choked up as he said his vows and I paused and thought of the many things for which I should be grateful.

Max sat on the grass right at the front listening intently and drinking in the language, and his special treat of a can of lemonade while Alex sat on the nearby wooden fence looking about the trees and sky but also concentrating.

After the knot was tied the new bride sang along with Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” which will weld these two together whenever I hear this song. This is the job of a song.

Central to the catering was that most 2017 of experiences, the food truck. Parked on the fresh bitumen behind the hall, folks lined up and ordered Argentinian burgers. We had the steak, the chorizo and the chicken. They were great. Alex had some pumpkin soup, but it wasn’t as good as Nanny’s.

People sat inside or out in the sun on plastic chairs. There was music, mostly from the sixties. I’d finished my lunch and was talking with the celebrant about St Albans and London. On her second glass of Bird In Hand bubbles, from across the table my wife winked at me. They then played one of my favourite all time songs, the Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody.” I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye.

There were other kids and pregnant women and older folks too. A widower got in my ear with lots of detail about the vans and dogs he’s owned, but I didn’t mind. There were reminders everywhere of the richness of life. Max and I went for a walk along the linear path. Alex flopped his gangly self about the playground. For the last hour we sat in the sun on an ornamental rock with old friends who’d visited us when we lived in England.

Around mid-afternoon we drove home through the lazy Sunday traffic and I took the dogs down to the Old Gum Tree where there were two or three gently swirling groups also enjoying life’s landmarks.

It was a wedding. A gentle, affirming wedding.

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We love our new kennel

 

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Cockroaches might withstand nuclear attack, and forcible drowning as my garden hose was turned right up and blasting onto their stinking evil-black little scuttling arses, but as we know a rubber thong, like a Texan electric chair, guarantees a swift, if messy exit.

Unsurprisingly, there were three or four of these dreadful bugs living in our new, second-hand purchase along with some spiders, who, having heard and possibly witnessed the executions, headed south along the lawn to the pumpkin patch.

The boys and I were cleaning our dogs’ kennel. Buddy and Angel (or Angela Merkel as we also respectfully know her) need an outside bed.

Ignoring the time-wasters and spectacularly moronic wanna-be scammers I love Gumtree. Kerry reminded me just after lunch to have a look, and by mid-afternoon it was home and enjoying an aquatic enema, of sorts.

It was fifteen dollars, but to buy the timber would cost, I reckon, about fifty. It’s sturdy and has a beautiful, homemade, bespoke quality to it that screams, “I was built in a Fulham Gardens garage by a lovely old Italian gent while his wife was in the kitchen cooking.” No, not a cheap stereotype, the truth. She told me as I hauled it to the car, taking some bark off my shins.

With its off-white finish, asymmetrical spires and welcoming façade we immediately christened it The Chapel of Love. Speaking of christenings, remember after the birth of one of his kids when David Beckham was asked if he and Posh were getting the child christened and he replied, “Yeah, we have to fink about it. We’re not sure which religion yet.”

If I squint and imagine a stunning tropical esplanade behind the kennel it also reminds me of St Marys’ by the sea in Port Douglas, but I concede, this might be fanciful.

So pleased were we with our purchase that we sent photos to family and friends celebrating our good fortune and clever commerce.

Under the patio sitting around our new fire bucket- more on this soon- that night I kept sneaking glimpses of our kennel. We love it and it invests the backyard with a sense of completion; a warmth that arises from both its function and its daggy, delightful form.

Now, if we can just get the dogs to sleep in it.

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On this otherwise routine Tuesday my boys walked to school together

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Backpacks a-swinging, out the gate, and into the suburban morning. It’s both ordinary and extraordinary. The simplest of connectives, from home to school is approximate to a pair of gentle 8-irons.

By the gate, I watch after them. Alex and Max evaporate around the corner, a sudden jolt to the right.

In my car, I ease around the block to intercept them. Our bond is broken by a tangle of local geography and ribboned tarmac for the one-way street insists I steer away from them, cruelly, past the park, and finally down an untroubled avenue.

It’s ninety seconds of paused terror, it’s ninety seconds of forbidding blackness, but it’s ninety seconds they need.

Of course, their little world grows.

At the intersection by their school, my car crouches and the playground yelps and squeals through the open window like snatches of sudden pop songs.

Alex and Max have escaped my orbit, but I return to them. Like a satellite, my trajectory’s veering back into their warm atmosphere.

And there they are, bouncing along the path, side-by-side, as brothers should, their flapping shorts of uniform-green, quince-peels of hair. The trees fold forward into a guard of honour, and in beaming silence, I smile.

Seeing me is simple permission for them to run to school, like exploding scraps of rainbow, accelerating through the gate, and to their mates.

I yell after them, but my voice is lost behind their giraffe legs and the innocent rush of a new day. “Good job, boys. See you tonight!”

Misty-eyed, I drive off. A bright, early morning, but already it seems late.

Soon, it will be.

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Footy Traditions

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I love traditions, and footy rituals are special.

Tomorrow afternoon, an hour or so after lunch, the boys and I will walk down to Glenelg Oval. Backpacks, footy, coats. Alison Street, dash over Anzac Highway, cross the tram line, and then stroll along leafy Malcolm Street before entering the ground at the Rugless Street end.

We’ll then secure a spot on the sloping grassy mound in front of the scoreboard. Seconds later one of the boys, probably Max, needs a snack. From their backpacks these will be administered, drip-like across the day. Alex and Max only eat one meal a day. It starts around dawn and goes until after they’re in bed.

At half time, I get them a pie each from the stall adjacent to the Snout’s Louts bar. Sitting on the grass, these are eaten with joyous messiness. Sauce adds to the theatre and the washing machine.

During the third quarter at the Good Friday game they wanted to kick the footy so I sent them behind the southern goals- the Fred Phillis End (869 goals in 275 games from 1966-81 and the Magarey Medallist in 1969).

Coming back some time later they told me what had happened. Quickly abandoning their game Alex and Max completed a vital rite of passage. One that pleased me and their mum. They joined the unruly, scrambling throng of kids who race after the match ball when it sails over the fence after a goal or a behind. A tradition which dates back to the beginnings of the game itself. An instructive, robust custom.

“Dad, Dad. I touched the footy three times.” Alex declared.

“I nearly had the footy,” Max shouted. “But a big kid grabbed it from me. Then he dropped it. We were both on the ground, so I swam past him and got it.”

How cool I thought. What innocent fun. Get in there with a bunch of kids and try to touch a footy. Scramble about on a dusty hill to grab the Burley ball (probably the worst footy in the universe) and then attempt (often unsuccessfully) to heave it back over the tall mesh fence.

Resilience. Enterprise. Confidence.

It’s remarkable what can be got from impromptu games. Even against the Dogs.

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A Day on the Green: Annie’s Lane

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One of life’s unexpected joys is to chance upon a game of cricket. Arriving in the Clare Valley we locate the bush camping ground ($10 a head) at the Watervale Oval. Setting up our camper trailer is like every couple assembling Ikea furniture together, but without the fun, laughter and argument-free marriage-building.

Indeed, a game of cricket is happening. The oval is shielded by an impressive stand of gums along its eastern side while a handsome grandstand sits atop a gradient that makes Lords appear flat. A round robin Masters tournament is underway, and my lunch is a snag in bread ($3 a pop, sauce no extra) and a Rabbit & Spaghetti ‘The Fox’ Hop & Rye Lager ($5 per 500ml can, 4.8% ABV).

The boundary is in, and the boundary is breached, often. Very few singles are taken. None are run. One innings is opened by inaugural Crow and dual Margery Medallist, Andrew Newton Jarman, who makes, as you may suspect, an exotic and inevitably brief seven.

We stroll up to Annie’s Lane winery for A Day on the Green. Models began and are serviceable, but more cask white than perfumed Riesling, with “I Hear Motion” the highlight. There’s lots of darting, skipping infants here, and between sets the DJ spins Bowie’s “Suffragette City” and a boy of about ten immediately sings along. I’m impressed. He’s wearing a Coopers brewery cap, advertising Mild Ale, which at 3.5% is mid-strength. They’re obviously responsible parents.

NMFC fan and guitar-slinger Tim Rogers is next, and announces that the Adelaide Crows have won the grand final. A mate and I discuss which Tim might perform. I say, “When I last saw him in November we got bad Tim. I hope good Tim’s here today.” Neil replies, “Oh, I don’t know. Bad Tim could make it interesting.”

I get a Fat Yak ($8, 355ml) and a local sparkling shiraz for the wife ($35 a bottle, 13.7%, with “lifted aromas including black olives, figs and Christmas cake spices”). Good Tim does an up-tempo version of “Heavy Heart” which has this great lyric

Been watching so much TV

I’m thinner than I should be

I’m like a waterlogged ball

That no-one wants to kick around anymore

Stopping by various islands of friends I visit the merchandise stand, and settle upon a Day at the Green stubby-holder ($10, but bottomless) while the wife selects a Violent Femmes t-shirt ($40, the one featuring their eponymous album’s cover). There’s gorgeous autumnal light on this tropical afternoon, and it endows the valley with a McCubbin quality; even the curved line of rickety porta-loos ($0, minimal wait time).

The Whitlams are excellent, and I’m struck by the agelessness of Tim Freedman’s voice. With their blend of wit, quirky sentimentality and piano-driven pop they remind me of Ben Folds Five, North Carolina’s finest trio. Among their terrific lines are, from “Melbourne”

If I had three lives, I’d marry her in two

and their signature song, “Gough”

Come over have dinner with me, we’ll play chess and drink claret

Walk slowly down my little street, can you bring Margaret?

Finishing with “You Sound Like Louis Burdett” we rename it to honour the iconic Adelaide Oval curator, Les Burdett. I get another Fat Yak (still $8, mercifully no variable pricing) and the wife and I pull apart and devour our savoury pull-apart ($6, you know the bakery chain, the one with the jangly jingle).

The next act is introduced as coming from Ohio, but the Violent Femmes are from Milwaukee. Is it a mistake, irony or an alternative fact? Is there an issue with what Colbert calls “truthiness?” Invigorated by winery produce and news of Hawthorn’s imminent loss the crowd is up and dancing as they zip through their country-twinged songs about adolescent desperation.

“Blister in the Sun,” “American Music” and “Old Mother Regan” are superb. It’s charming to also be in Clare with my dear old friend Clare and she films us, if this is the correct verb, singing “Country Death Song.” Clare promises to post it on social media, and I’m sure we’ll soon be celebrated as a contemporary Sonny and Cher. However, Sunday afternoon’s initial viewing exposes this as unlikely (probable recording contract value, $0).

“Add It Up” is all psychotic teenage anguish and the Gen X crowd is jumping to this last song. Gordon Gano’s voice has been perfect: at once sunny and whingy and smiling, leading us to happy places, while Tasmanian resident and MOMA curator Brian Ritchie monsters xylophone, jaw bone and bass with good humour too.

Led by Flacco lookalike Dave Faulkner, I saw the Hoodoo Gurus in the late nineties on their break-up tour, which of course, was from the pre, post-truth world, and never something anyone really believed. For the right fee, even the Ramones might again tour. So here we are in 2017 as they perform “Leilani” and “Bittersweet.” Along with Jackson Browne’s “The Load Out” and the Rolling Stones’ “Torn and Frayed” the anthemic “1000 Miles Away” is among my favourite road songs.

Remember how “Like Wow, Wipeout” became the theme song of Brylcreemed, ear ringed and punkish Australian off-spinner Greg Matthews? That was 1986. The song endures while Mo Matthews is now a radio commentator so I’m unsure if he still uses hair product from when Menzies was PM. It’s the final song of a fun day.

Prior to breaking camp and over a breakfast latte ($5.50, red van by the oval) I check the footy and cricket scores. I also see that Dad’s Nuriootpa Tigers Division 1 bowls team has jagged another flag, his twelfth.

All about the campsite there’s deceased camping chairs (too many $$, the sausage sizzle hardware mega-store) in Salvador Daliesque tangles of disappointment and enthusiastic Sauvignon Blanc. Our twenty-year veteran chairs ($40, Port Pirie camping store, late lamented) are in the boot, ready to ride again.

The cricket begins. We drive south, into our muggy Sunday.

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Fun and Feasting at the Beggars Banquet

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Who forgot the apostrophe? Mick or Keith? Should it be Beggar’s Banquet or Beggars’ Banquet? I prefer the later, imagining a mythical party hosted by the Rolling Stones somewhere like, say, Tangier in Morocco.

Punctuation marks denoting possession aside, this 1968 release is the most fun of their career with sitars, LA’s Watts Street Gospel Choir and a polite devil all prominent. Forgetting the psychedelic swill of Their Satanic Majesties Request, this album’s ambitious but also homage to their American influences.

The music of Satan is not, as many might attest, heavy metal or any of its more ridiculously camp variants. His accompaniment, of course, is something much more seductive. Opening Beggars Banquet is “Sympathy for the Devil” which is narrated by Lucifer himself.

Underpinned by congas the music is a samba: hypnotic, sexual, inescapably charismatic. And there’s the Devil, resplendent in a sharp suit, drawing you in over a cocktail with his allure, but also his invisible menace. Indeed, the opening to this dramatic monologue is a deferential “Please allow me to introduce myself…”

In the days after its release, I imagine God-fearing folk from places like Lynchburg, Virginia quivering at Mick’s vocals, but I reckon it’s now fanciful fun, fetching theatre.

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In Keith Richards’ autobiography Life my favourite vignette centres upon the young author and his grandfather in Soho, during the austere 1950’s. Upon seeing a poor urchin, the elder asks, “Keith, have you got a shilling?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now go and give it to that boy. He needs it more than you.” Keith does.

“Well done,” praised granddad, “That’s very kind.” He pressed his fist into Keith’s paw.

Keith opened his hand. In it were two shillings.

*

“Dear Doctor” is the third track and takes us musically and narratively to the American south with the mawkish tale of a doomed boy, trapped to his betrothed.

The melodramatic context is clunky, but it’s one of the record’s fine acoustic songs that could be dismissed as irreverent; making fun of the genre. However, this would misjudge the band’s deep admiration for this music, as they deliver us to their beloved blues and country destinations. Worship, and not cheap parody is driving the pick-up. Such is the authenticity of Mick’s vocal characterisation that the finale is a relief for us all

It read, “Darlin’, I’m sorry to hurt you.

But I have no courage to speak to your face.

But I’m down in Virginia with your cousin Lou

There be no wedding today.

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In February 1965, my Mum and Dad saw the Rolling Stones at Centennial Hall. It was part of the Showgrounds, but the building is now demolished. A short Par 4 from where I work, and commuting past, I envisage flickering black and white footage and screaming. Shrill, teenaged, screaming.

Roy Orbison took the stage beforehand and with his voice like “the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window” the crowd adored him. But then, Mum and Dad both remember the Stones being booed and jeered. What? They played eight songs with competent energy, but it was too late. Adelaide loved the Big O, and gave the boys from Dartford the Big A.

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The Rolling Stones are now popularly connected to the electric guitar, but on Beggars Banquet the acoustic songs generate much of the fun. “Prodigal Son” is a country blues, Bible-infused number that on the record’s early pressings was wrongly attributed to Jagger and Richards. It was by the Rev. Robert Wilkins, a Memphis gospel singer and herb medicine specialist whose first recording was “Rolling Stone Blues, Parts I & II.” It dates from 1928.

It’s a reminder that they still loved the blues and regarded themselves as belonging to Memphis as much as London. “Prodigal Son” is a terrific driving song, and the Mississippi swims into widescreen view as Mick’s harmonica eddies and swirls across the speakers.

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The album is colonized by rich characters and the richest here is the “Factory Girl.” It’s a curious amalgam with violins, South Asian congas or tablas giving it a Hindustani feel and Mick’s mid-Western vowels providing a pilgrimage too. The girl is irrepressible: catching buses, sporting “curlers in her hair” and loving a weekend fight. Even with the “stains all down her dress” she’s attractive. It’s my pet track.

Opening the batting for the band’s astonishing run of form which witnessed consecutive centuries through Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St, it’s a whirling, boisterous set. While it doesn’t gather the acclaim of its successors, it’s their most fun record.

*

And I’m not sure that the title’s absent apostrophe is rock’s greatest grammatical crime. This surely belongs to Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” for its maddeningly redundant preposition, which if you’re not vigilant, sticks in your head like a rusty nail

But if this ever changin’ world

In which we live in.

Ladies and gentlemen, Beggars Banquet!

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