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Best go through puberty on a Tuesday

sperm

As Wordsworth lamented, doubtless about Mondays, “the world is too much with us” and on the first day of the week he’s right. Thursday and Friday are too frivolous for these matters, and Wednesday, at least in my house, belongs to Micallef and Mad as Hell.

After deep introspection I choose Tuesday night, and Tuesday night it is.

Formerly, if somewhat brazenly called Sex Ed, the evening session of Growth and Development for children and parents begins at our primary school.

Looking about from the back row I see Max’s soccer coach and his son, our neighbour and his lad, and other slightly uncomfortable children and their significantly more uncomfortable mums and dads. Alex tells me he helped put out the chairs. We’re in the school gym. While it’s a place of fun and games I wonder about the kids for whom sport means humiliation and tears.

As such tonight’s about puberty.

The presenter is sunny and welcoming and she has a PowerPoint with amusing cartoons including the compulsory picture of a boy at his local pool on the diving board. It’s obvious to the world that he finds particular physical pleasure in wearing Tony Abbott swimwear.

We discuss a diagram of the female genitalia and use a glossary to identify what’s what. Working through the list our leader says, “Can anyone tell me another word for labia?”

One eager boy blurts, “Pecker!”

We then had the legislated vulva and Swedish car joke which always goes down well, especially on a warm Tuesday night in a beachside suburb.

Moving to the male anatomy chart the cheerful host pauses at scrotum, as we all do, and asks for alternate names.

“Ball sack,” yells a small boy up the front of the gym.

A disembodied, pre-pubescent voice squeaks, “Nut sack.”

“Good, good,” replies our expert and then in a synonymic surprise she chirps, “Now does anyone here call it a Santa sack?”

There’s much roaring from the floor. Alex and Max jump and dance in their chairs. Your correspondent guffaws.

I then find myself contemplating Vas Deferens, and wondering if as well as starring in the Male Reproductive League (MRL) he was a footballer in the 1970s. I can hear Rex Hunt calling, “Vas Deferens collects the air conveyance, breaks a tackle and goes looooong!”

What characterised his career? Impressive clearances (of course) and dour defence, but he couldn’t lock down a spot with Carlton, so moved to South Adelaide in the SANFL, played one hundred serviceable games and now runs a pizza bar at Port Noarlunga where among older footy fans he enjoys a cult following. To this day not even his closest mates call him “VD.”

Our host subsequently speaks of each male producing 30 to 250 million sperm per millilitre of semen and I feel proudly productive, if suddenly tired.

The PowerPoint then shows a teenager mid-wet dream and I’m sure the dads in the gym become distantly nostalgic although no knowing nods are exchanged among us in the back row.

Our final topic is on being kind to yourself through the challenges of puberty. We’re reminded that being a loyal friend is far more important than any temporary looks, and how we should think of the things we’re good at like caring for others or reading or helping at home.

She then asks us to be glad for other blessings, and I lean in to Alex, newly twelve and veering between young man and innocent boy and whisper, “I know you and Max are grateful for Dad’s tremendous comedy” and he punches me on the thigh with affection and I feel pleased for this tiny moment.

Walking home I’m keen to talk about our evening, but excited and with pent-up energy, the boys run and wrestle and bounce along the footpath like an enthused epididymis and I don’t mind. They’re busy being kids.

We’ll speak of sperm and scrotums in the morning. Or not.

There’ll be time next Monday.

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Hottest 100 (minus 90) Stubby Holders of the Week

Apologies to Triple J, those entrusted with preparing gravy, Billie Eilish, fans of the long barbeque lunch, Humphrey B. Flaubert, Jock Cheese, Eugene de la Hot Croix Bun and Ron Hitler-Barassi.

In a very particular order, and with no editorialising, here they are. Judges votes are final etc.

10. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Cobdogla and District Club (est.1958).

cobby

9. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Kapunda Footy Club. Congratulations. Your prize will be sent by carrier pigeon.

KFC

8. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) comes to you live today from the Kimba Golf Club where, in a curious twist, the winner is the Kimba Golf Club.

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7. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Footy Almanac. Congratulations to all involved.

almanac

6. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the one Allan Border signed when I met him at the Holdy. Yes, it is a XXXX Gold holder (don’t show your kids).

AB

5. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Sharks FC, one of Singapore’s finest Australian Rules footy clubs. Your prize will be posted shortly.

sharks

4. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Coopers Session Ale. Obviously, no actual beer was harmed during the taking of this photo.

session

3. Congratulations to former Adelaide resident and Le Cornu shopper Ben Folds on receiving Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW).

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2. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Crows’ icon Darren Jarman- Around the body, that will do. That. Will. Do. Congratulations Darren, your prize will be mailed to you.

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1. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to Adam and Caitlyn. I bloody love youse. I have never met you.

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A Superb Christmas Song

1963

The 22nd November, 1963 was a dark day in American history, but also one of the brightest too. Their president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, but A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector was released. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t perform well at the time, but is among the greatest festive records, and has now enjoyed both commercial and critical success.

The album has been on high rotation for me and running for just over half an hour, it features The Ronettes and The Crystals. Its songs are secular and mostly covers, but performed with wide-eyed innocence, speaking of mid-Western values, fresh snow and an idealised version of an American Christmas.

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They are uniformly effervescent. Produced by visionary record producer Phil Spector using his famous “wall of sound” methodology he described this as a Wagnerian approach and it’s akin to a musical collage. Often in mono, the instrumentation is layered and sumptuous, and influenced the Beach Boys, most notably on “God Only Knows.” Serving his second-degree murder sentence Spector has been in a Californian jail for a decade. He’s due for parole in 2025.

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Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy” and “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues are central to my auditory experience of the year’s penultimate week, but not that nameless aspirant squawking at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in front of those sleeping babes during Carols by Candlelight. You know the one: she came seventh in season 6 of X Factor and is now upsetting Alf in Summer Bay. At time of writing I trust the cryogenic defrosting of serial baritone warbler Dennis Walter is on schedule.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is the highpoint of A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector and rightly assumes an elevated position in popular culture. It’s performed by Darlene Love (a minister’s daughter) who like Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Marvin Gaye learnt to sing in church.

And what benefits her religious upbringing has brought us! Sadly for your correspondent, a sustained childhood in Kapunda’s St Rose’s Church, with a suitably pious stint as an altar boy, provided me with no vocal assistance as my ungodly atonality attests.

DL

In addition to Darlene Love performing it for thirty consecutive years on Letterman it’s used as a dramatic counterpoint in Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed gangster film Goodfellas. Robert De Niro’s character Jimmy (of course) has just pulled off the country’s biggest ever robbery at JFK airport, the so-called Lufthansa heist, and at their Christmas party various mobsters are bragging about what they’ve bought. Jimmy is upset. They need to keep low.

What did you say? You being a wiseguy with me? What did I tell you? What did I tell you? You don’t buy anything, you hear me? Don’t buy ANYTHING!

Despite all its sweetness and joy the song generates jukebox menace as we know there’ll be ugly consequences. It might be Christmas, but someone’ll get wacked! After all, De Niro’s involved.

heist

This aside, it’s a gorgeous, uplifting track; rollicking along in an irresistible, up-tempo way that evokes connection and fireplace closeness. I reckon if you listen carefully you can also hear seventeen-year-old Cher singing backup vocals. It was among her first jobs.

But in 1963, back when our planet was alive with youthful promises of the space age and small town purity and neighbourly generosity, Darlene Love gives an almighty musical performance.

Go on, play it as you enjoy Christmas lunch. The pudding will never have tasted better.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exSDgA9eMtU

 

 

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This (first love) life

typewriter

She appeared at the doorway, and said hello.

Like most boys at thirteen, his youth and inexperience in the world rendered him essentially inarticulate, but within him something profound spoke, as it would every time he saw her across the next four decades.

She was summery: pretty swirling dress, tennis shoes, hair in pigtails. She was cute, unaffected, curious. Fresh cheekbones, wide smile, bright eyes. She came from the city she said. Magill. He’d heard of it, but couldn’t place it on a map.

He found her electric, but smartly aware of her surroundings. She had a compelling voice. It was melodic, confident and engaged him as if he were an infant. In his universe it would ultimately occupy an exalted place. Its warmth blanketed him in previously unidentified ways, and made the space around him melt so that all else vanished. It was a voice from which he’d happily never recover.

It was the first quality about her that he loved.

A cloudless November day, the little primary school room was empty. His former art teacher invited him to run a disco at the annual fete, so he’d brought his cassette player and it moved along with songs from Grease, Saturday Night Fever and other tunes of the day.

cassette player

Involuntarily committing this moment to memory, his higher-self took charge and the infinite, twinkling stars comprehended more than he, as we need stars to do. Over the years he’d return to that enchanted sliver of time and space, and strain to recall the detail.

But he had no cinematic vision, no snippets of dialogue to replay in his mind. Just a knowing sensation below the crust, the lithosphere, the mesosphere, in his now-surrendered inner core.

With the trajectory of a distant comet, prodigious events were at that point set in silent motion. He couldn’t see them, and of course this knowledge would have been both comforting and terrible in its certainty.

Cosmology intervened and before she left, he had subscribed to her orbit. How remarkable that his short life had been a rehearsal for this dream role. He was unaware that he’d already been cast.

She was with him in that wooden room for eleven minutes.

kilimanjaro

His molecularity, his neurology, and his fledgling heart now had a brief meeting. At its conclusion they all nodded towards each other. Let the record show, they chorused, that this would be the defining moment.

Later reflecting that he could scarcely list the actual beginnings of any key relationships, this one would stand above all others like Kilimanjaro above the savannah.

He was thirteen.

Although it wasn’t an urgent and consuming affection, he knew it was a significant encounter, unlike a meteorite which collapses to earth, and is forgotten, for it was more substantial than that.

They were to be classmates and friends and inescapably connected. High school’s happy days extended out beyond their immaculate horizon. Then would follow university, other loves, travel, kids, sadness and the wider planet.

She skipped back out through that doorway, and he was happy he’d see her again soon.

And so, he fell in love with her.

Their story had begun.

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Pub Review: A Story from the Story Bridge Hotel

gem

The waitress plonked down two Beef and Guinness pies, but my food envy was immediate and crushing.

Like a grinning fool I had ordered mine with chips and coleslaw, but ever the better judge, Claire went with mash and green beans.

Bugger I thought.

It was strangely wintry Friday in Brisbane with the temperature pathetically marooned in the teens (some would suggest not unlike my psychology). Flying in from Mackay like characters in an old Paul Kelly song a tropical storm threatened.

SBH1

Appropriately, we were in the Shelter Bar of the Story Bridge Hotel with our dear friend Stephen. We all went to Kapunda High, but it had been years since we’d sat around a pub table. Working in aviation he’s lived in Queensland for many a decade.

Continuing my misappropriated maxim of act local, drink global I opted for a Balter XPA, brewed down the road in Currumbin, while Claire chose a house white. Mine was tasty and compelling, but it was late afternoon on a Friday; a time when I’ve been known to stick my bonce in a sheep trough and come up smiling.

At school and in those golden years immediately following we were close with Stephen. He owned a new lime green Gemini. It had that most miraculous automotive accessory of the late twentieth century: the sunroof. Which when coupled with a Midnight Oil or Australian Crawl cassette made for unparalleled exhilaration on, say, the straight stretch past Freeling in transit to Adelaide Oval.

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Dining and sipping Stephen reminded us of the old Story Bridge boozer. “It had low ceilings. Was always smoky and sweaty. I saw many bands in here. It’s one of a few iconic Brisbane pubs.” Looking about all was glass, polished timber and shafts of light. I wondered if the renovations had robbed it of its rough charisma, and imagined that I could be in Perth or London or Singapore.

Then I spotted a brush turkey pecking a chip in the beer garden. Perhaps not.

Our pies were magnificent.

The meat was tender, the pastry was suitably flaky and inviting to both fork and mouth, and the caramelised onions slumped over the lid were a zesty, brown treat. My coleslaw was a little bland; a result of over-reliance upon cabbage in the same way that if Prince Charles was a sole after-dinner speaker, then the entertainment might be wanting.

Claire’s mash was pinnacle potato. Of course.

Immediately upon collecting us at the airport I recalled why we’d been friends with Stephen. He was interesting, thoughtful, witty and generous. Although it’d been years, too many years, we chatted as if one had simply ducked into the loo and re-joined the circle in Kapunda’s Clare Castle Hotel.

brush turkey

We spoke of the re-emergence of vinyl records and Stephen’s proud purchases including Daddy Cool and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica which like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks was an album that only revealed its curious but profound charms when our adolescence was safely in the rear-view mirror (of the Gemini).

We had another drink. I stayed with the Gold Coast’s own and Claire switched from house white to house red. This was catastrophic (in a decidedly first world way) with the wine undrinkable, even, I suspect, by alcoholic cats. I wondered about the marketing potential in travelling about our vast country, and cataloguing and reviewing house wines for a specific, perhaps, caravanning audience. As my old Wudinna mate Dick would say, “It’s a pissabolity.”

Having moved easily and happily between the present and the recent and not-so-recent past it was time for us to go. It had been a wonderful afternoon of nostalgia and news.

Kangaroo Point’s Story Bridge Hotel is a superb place for old friends. Especially those who shared many a moment in a lime green Gemini.

SBH3

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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.

tigers
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.

MCG
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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Beer Review: Coopers Sparkling Ale- It’s just a shot away

keef

When I think of Coopers Sparkling Ale (and this probably happens way too often) many metaphors present themselves concerning kings and empires and black and white cricket footage, and the launch of exquisite super-yachts, but the Rolling Stones feature prominently in my vivid imaginings, and more particularly the opening track of their heralded 1969 release Let It Bleed.

I speak of “Gimme Shelter” which opens with Keef’s ominous, storm clouds-a-gathering, open-tuned guitar, and one of the most iconic, menacing riffs recorded.

Sparking Ale and “Gimme Shelter” are both instantly recognisable, demanding of your attention and have rightly earnt a place in popular culture. If I drew a Venn diagram of these two joys, I’d colour the overlap with a thick, red 4B pencil.

There’s a story that Keef played an Australian-built guitar while recording the song and so vigorous had the sessions been that on the final note, the entire neck fell off, onto the studio floor.

sparko

This brings me nicely to Coopers Sparkling Ale long necks. For this correspondent, it’s the finest way to enjoy this fruity, zesty ale, and one of the few beers that isn’t superior out of a keg. A frosty 750ml bottle and a large glass and if you peer into the middle distance you can hear God. Or maybe Keef: mountain craggy and skinny and puffing endlessly on a dart, conjuring the devil with his rhythm axe.

Iconoclastic Kapunda publican Peter “Puffa” Jansen was a single-minded advocate for beer in cans as he reckoned, “they travel better” particularly on his spontaneous and legendary lunch trips, which could stretch over half a week. But I’m unconvinced and with all of this pretext and subtext in mind bought a six pack of these newly launched, hipster-friendly red cans earlier in the week.

So, what is my considered and probing view?

I’ve enjoyed Sparkling Ale in London, Edinburgh, Singapore and New York, and despite the often eye-watering frequent flier points these beers may have earnt jetting about our blue-green planet, I found these to always be a treat. Along with my twangy accent, I saw them as a foamy badge of Croweater honour.

southwark

I resisted all urges to tip the can into a trusty Southward mug, not because of the seemingly warlike combination (like wearing a Crows scarf and Power beanie at the same time), but as I imagine this is how these will generally be consumed. I slurped away at my metal tube.

I found the trademark Sparkling Ale aroma and bold, arresting citrus notes were largely absent, as though they’d been shut down by the can, like a curmudgeonly deputy principal. Like a Boggo Road inmate who’d been in solitary for a month there was blinking uncertainty and confusion at its place in the world. It seemed muffled, as though I was hearing “Gimme Shelter” on a Goldstar tape player through an uncooperative bedroom wall.

It was a big Coopers beer, but I mourned the lack of visual delight: the rich, soupy hue in a front bar pint or backyard cup. Instead, a dullish, bashful red tin, which was apologetic rather than assertive, unlike a Andy Warhol long neck on a laminated kitchen table.

table

Doubtless, our bearded craft beer cousins will love ’em, but I’m unlikely to buy more tins. In this highly competitive market of targeted demographics and business plans, where boutique brewers have sprung up like boy bands, I’m sure these will be a commercial success, and they’ll march out the door of your local boozer.

However, I’ll be the old bull at the counter with a couple long necks in paper bags, heading home to my back patio, a large glass and with Keef in majestic, gnarly delight, Let It Bleed, snarling at volume.

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