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A Week Before Our Wedding We Went To The Races

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Here at Mickeytales Towers November Nostalgia continues with much spectacle and sparkling ale. But, you somehow already knew this.

We decided to have a joint pre-wedding party at the now demolished Victoria Park racecourse on Caulfield Cup day way back in 2002. It was a glorious spring afternoon- still, sunny and the good earth itself was bursting with rude health and robust conversation. We set up afternoon camp on the sloping lawns that fell away from the old grandstand.

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Here’s the bride with her mum, Joan and grandparents who’d driven down from Queensland for a few weeks. Griff liked a punt, and for many a year after would talk about this day, especially the bewildering fact that we hadn’t invested nearly enough on the Cup winner, a handy horse named Northerly.

We’d be up in Gympie with the cricket wandering along on their boxy, old TV, when, in complete contrast to the topic at hand he’d announce wryly, “You know what? We should’ve had more money on that bloody Northerly.” He’d then cackle at his own belated wisdom, and drum his fingers in that special way he had.

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Ali Hennessy has ample respect for authority, and of course, there’s no greater authority in Australia than Major Les Hiddins (retired). No, that’s not him on the right as that’s Paul, a Kapunda boy. Les is a devotee of VB, and he used to say, “In the army we’ve a saying. Two cans, per man (or woman), per day. Perhaps.” See what I mean by respect? Of course, it’s possible that Ali’s holding the can for her husband, Hen, who may have ducked across to the betting ring to invest in Waikikamukau, only to be briskly told that the horse was retired, or that he was even less likely to run a place, as he was deceased.

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Here’s Dad. Loves a red wine, loves a chat. Loved a punt. I reckon he had a pretty good day out. I reckon we all did.

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Bronwyn and Jonesy. My dear old friends from Mount Gambier, or the Mount. Of course, when at the races if someone asks where you’re from, and you reply, “The Mount” they could glance towards a nearby gelding and wonder if there’s an equine connection, so be careful. Just sayin’. Social confusion is best avoided.

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Here’s my sister Jill and her husband Barry. They were married earlier in 2002 at Partridge House in Glenelg before the reception, which was at Ayers House. I was their MC (sadly no DVDs available for purchase at time of writing).

Back then people drank Crown Lager as it possessed a rarefied, almost posh image that meant it was an “occasion” beer. Now, it holds the charm of a solitary night in a deserted pokies tavern, complete with stale biscuits and cups of tepid tea.

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A bottle of water? Whose is it? Whew, nobody in our group! Had me worried for a minute.

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From left to right: my father-in-law Darryll, my grandmother-in-law, Jean and my mum, Lois. Note that Jean is holding an ancient parchment called a form guide. It’s not an app, or on a phone or even on the TV with some baritone idiot barking, “The Curse!” or “Happy Puntmas” every nine seconds. Kiddies, ask your elders.

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Dad’s chatting here with his brother John and his wife, Liz, who in a curious twist also happen to be my Uncle John and Aunt Liz. What a crazy life! The coincidences!

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I miss the Victoria Park races, located as they were on the edge of the city. I recall heading in there one July afternoon with Hen (far right) but leaving early to cab down to Adelaide Oval to watch the Dogs play a SANFL fixture. After the match we snuck into the CDFC rooms.

The next day we flew to Brisbane with fellow Kimba-folk, Bazz and Annie, on a mystery flight. While in Queensland, Bazz bought a child’s toy called a “cat in a bag.” With his own money. I often wonder about that cat.

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This was the last time we went to the races there. It’s now an open park although the old, heritage grandstand maintains vigil over the sweeping grass and waving gum trees. Thanks to everyone who shared the afternoon. Now, and then, it reminds me of the many and varied things for which I should be thankful.

I do wish I’d stuck more coin on Northerly though.

 

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21st birthdays- good old Eagle Rock’s here to stay

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How great was that procession of 21st parties? Footy clubs, town institutes, trotting tracks, backyards and in my case, a cosy golf club. It was a time of fuzzy optimism and innocence and skinny leather ties. It was the eighties.

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One lunch-time in the Kapunda Golf Club when we were nineteen Davo and I learnt a key life skill. An elder statesman of both the club and the community Gus Higgins lined up some glasses and began.

“Now boys, you want to keep it tilted. That’s it. Don’t panic, but snap it off quickly.”

Gus was teaching us how to pour a beer. We were excellent students. We wanted to acquire this universally-admired expertise so we could take our place among the men of the world, or at least those of Kapunda. His gentle tuition continued.

“Don’t over-fill it. You want to leave a nice head on the glass.” As Davo eased the West End amber into a butcher, Gus uttered his final, terrifying command, “Make sure you don’t choke it.”

This was a rite of passage. Happily, we passed. My 21st was another.

For my party, I recorded four TDK cassettes of music. Six hours’ worth. Much like Rob Fleming making a mixtape in High Fidelity I saw myself as an artist who was curating an artefact of considerable beauty. If this is possible with The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

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The tapes are long gone, but I remember the Hoodoo Gurus featuring prominently, especially “Like Wow – Wipeout” with its urgent rhythms and connotations of Sydney beaches and oddball Australian off-spinner Greg Matthews. Johnny and June Carter’s “Jackson” was on there too, as I loved, “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.” When Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” played there’s a youthful, exaggerated drawl as we sang along- “How does it feeeel?” And we didn’t really know, for we were twenty-one.

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I was also a fan of sixties music, mostly British bands like the Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks, so this became the dress theme. My dear friend Trish designed the hand-drawn invitations. On the night, much paisley and purple swirled about the brown timbers of the club house. Wide ties flapped. Nick came as a blonde Mick Jagger, complete with Union Jack flag flowing behind him as he strutted about the bar and dance-floor, most notably when “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” blasted the room.

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Woodsy made a VHS video of the night including the speeches. Mick Dermody told a joke with the punch-line concerning train passengers pooping in each other’s shoes, but said some lovely, touching things too. I made exactly the speech an unworldly country boy would make.

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In the photo album there’s happiness and smiles, but sadness too for some of these people are gone, and some have drifted away. I think of the Australian writer Tim Winton who views life as a series of corridors of time and space. And then we or they move through a door.

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But what a fun corridor this was. Not a school kid anymore, but not really yet an adult either. At uni and on the cusp (cups). A honeyed place in which you’re finding your way, and the world’s opening up, beyond the dusty town you call home.

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“Eagle Rock” was a preposterous badge of this confidence, this unarticulated need to separate ourselves from the generation that came before. There’s a belief that this tradition originated at the University of Queensland and migrated to South Australia. My first recollections of it were from 1985, at a St Anne’s College toga party with Rocket and Stolly and Harmesy and others.

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This Daddy Cool classic saw you instantly crowding in a circle, dropping your trousers and then swaying along to the song with your Levi’s bunched down over your Adidas Romes and dragging onto the brandy-sticky carpet.

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 Of course, it doesn’t stand up to modern scrutiny. It does, however, have an undeniable tribalism, even an evangelism that functions as a crude declaration of independence. But these broad churches held no salvation for some of the older adults who departed soon after, grim-faced and steering their Holdens north.

Around breakfast on Sunday the cold sun bent through the windows and the captain came in. Some of us had slept on the floor. I was near the honour board, as near as I would ever get, under one of those brown, laminated tables that’s compulsory in country golf clubs. Watto simply announced, “You’ve got an hour to clean up before the first group tees off.”

I stood up and adjusted my tan velour tie. I started picking up beer glasses.

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Road Trip- Kapunda cars and boys

 

Once upon a time we took photos by cars. Were vehicles more important when we were young? I suspect they were, and now we’re defined by other things: family, houses, work.

Here’s some old photos. Each tells a story.

 

Some friends- Chris, Stephen, Rodney and I bonded while at Kapunda High over a shared ownership, and then, love of the iconic Adidas shoe, the Rome. We became the Romers. There were four of us, and in this snap we’re heading off on a trip in Stephen’s Holden Gemini, but for reasons I can’t recall, Rod is absent.

Of course, we’re all blubbing and bellowing into our hankies, wondering how we’ll cope without Rod.

Yes, well spotted. I’m wearing a Kapunda Cricket Club cap.

Why did they stop painting cars in that particular green?

In 1988 Paul, Mikey, Chrisso and I ventured to Melbourne in Paul’s VK SS Commodore. It accelerated, as they say, like the clappers. We went to the MCG and saw Dean Jones up close, hitting a few in the net. I was keen to see the Australian captain, Alan Border, bat. After some refreshments I wandered down in the bowels of the stadium to use the facilities.

Coming out into daylight and blinking, I looked at the scoreboard. AB had made a duck. It was the last time full-strength beer would be served at the MCG for many a year.

Yes, well spotted. I’m wearing hideous, fluoro-coloured, hyper-coloured board shorts. No, I don’t know why.

In January of 1985 Woodsy, Chrisso, Trev and I drove to Sydney to stay with Stephen and Brendan in Drummoyne.

Yes, Woodsy and I are wearing Adidas Mexicos shorts, which for humanitarian and visual arts reasons are now banned.

On the way we stopped in West Wylong and met some local girls who, apparently because of our accents, thought we were British. In Sydney we played cricket, and went to the SCG and saw Simon O’Donnell make his debut while sitting on the Hill. We swam at Curl-Curl, Bondi and Manly. It was innocent fun. Then we went to Kings Cross where our country boys’ eyes were widened.

We also went to the Basement to take in some jazz. One afternoon in The Rocks we saw Kamahl and his Rolls Royce.

Ah, the days of the Road Trip!

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Philip Road, Elizabeth- Holden cars and me

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There was still a post-Coronation glow across the Commonwealth when Holden started making cars in Elizabeth, just north of Adelaide. Indeed, our Queen had only been in Buckingham Palace for a few years, and with this respectfully in mind, those mapping the satellite city instead decided that the thoroughfare next to the car manufacturing plant should be named Philip Highway, Elizabeth. I guess Philip Road, Elizabeth was a bit horizontal in tone, especially in the 1950’s.

I’m not a petrol-head, but as a country boy, I was always going to buy a Holden for my first car. Purchased from solid farming folk near Greenock, it was a pale blue HR Holden complete with two-speed Powerglide. It had razor-blade thin tyres, which had the unfortunate habit of prolonged squealing as I gently rounded a corner, or accidently drove in circles at the intersection just up from the Kapunda Pizza Bar. Prior to buying an FM radio, for my driving pleasure I had a portable cassette player and a kazoo. The HR’s registration was REM-097.

Part way through my degree I upgraded to the model I’m confident was made in greater numbers than any other at the Elizabeth plant: a HQ Kingswood (white). In our little country town, there must’ve been twenty of these, and they were mostly driven by us young fellas. Sometimes there’d be three or more of these in a diagonal row, outside Nugget’s Clare Castle Hotel*, late on a Sunday. Owning one seemed almost compulsory, and it functioned as a type of vehicular uniform for our silly army. Its rego was UXA-100.

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For a few months, my friends commuted to uni and back with me. Claire and Trish* were Abba fans and musical theatre devotees, and I now confess that I took fiendish, even megalomaniacal delight in controlling our musical accompaniment. They’d holler, “Put on the radio” and “We want SA-FM.”

Deaf to their words, I’d then lean over and pump up the volume on a ten-minute blues song like, “Key to the Highway.” Somehow, we’re still friends.

Nineteen. There may well be an age at which Australian males are more stupid, but I doubt it. With sudden and inexplicable urgency one Friday night, when I was barely nineteen, three friends and I decided that we needed to race down to one of the Kapunda main street’s four pubs (or possibly, all of them).


So, we left the home of the mate that for legal reasons I’ll refer to as Woodsy* and failing entirely to navigate the dirt road behind Kapunda High School, my left fender prised open about twenty feet of the corrugated fence like it was a tin of Whiskers*. The car came to an immediate halt. Our friend was studying electronic engineering at Adelaide uni, so I said, “Chris*, you’re smart, fix it!” He couldn’t.

Subsequent crash analysis revealed a major cause being the HQ Holden’s front bench seat on which, for now obscure reasons, all four of us were, for want of an ergonomically accurate term, sitting. Apparently, this lack of physical space made it difficult for the driver (me) to successfully operate the steering wheel.

Later, another mate, Crackshot* remarked that despite it being only eighteen months since I’d somehow won Kapunda High’s Paul Giles Memorial Prize for Character and Leadership, I still clearly wanted to make a lasting mark on my former school. Under the cold light of Saturday morning, in grim conversation and looking at my Adidas Rome-d feet, neither the headmaster nor the town’s police officer, saw my yearning for scholastic legacy as a legally relevant issue.

The final Holden I owned was the most expensive of the three, and certainly the least likable. Heading off to the West Coast to teach I bought a VK Commodore from Hage’s in Tanunda. It drove well, if thirstily, but the stereo was terrible and the front speaker rattled like buggery whenever I’d turned up a tape, like Billy Joel*. Billy deserves better.

One evening after a prolonged cricket fixture and raffle-ticket selling duties in the Wudinna Club, the VK batted last and was dismissed, run-out by a Ford at a railway line on the road back to my farmhouse accommodation (I wasn’t driving). After extensive rehabilitation, during which I drove Jock* and Snook’s dune buggy, I sold it.

I didn’t know it, but my relationship with Holden’s was finished. I’m unsure whether I’m yet to have my mid-life crisis, or if I’ve been having one all my life, but I often think that one day, I’ll buy myself an EH Holden.

I might even take it on Sunday drives, and do a lap of Kapunda High.

Thanks, Holdens.

 

*names not changed

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To old mate Chris Hayward, on his 50th

 


About a month back six former Kapunda High scholars- Rocket Ellis, Nick Lienert, Trevor Lucas, Andrew and Chris Hayward and I were at the MCG taking in Port versus Collingwood: a truly post-apocalyptic and dentally-challenged fixture. Ours was a tidy collective.

During the second quarter Chris returned with his round, and this is instructive for he had not six, but two Bundies. One for his brother, and yes, one for himself. Now some of you are possibly thinking, that’s a bit selfish. Indeed, some of our ensemble in Row G may have thought this too- despite none of us liking Bundy. What do we make of this purchase? The meaning is, of course, that Chris values family deeply, and for this how can we but admire him?

And those in our group at the MCG not called Hayward were pampered by Chris with refreshments. Yes, light beer. No, one each. As the insipid lagers made their sorry way to the downcast recipients there was anger and a fight threatened, and partly because it was Port and Collingwood and we wanted to blend in, a fight threatened.

But this is to misunderstand the situation. Ever a visionary, Chris had foretold that we’d end up in an Irish bar at 3am, and plainly, he was looking after his mates. Our safety, and our health were, as always, his priorities. So, thanks for your human concern Chris. Indeed, leadership can be lonely.

Chris is a tremendous enthusiast, and as all of us know, this great gift is contagious. To spend time in his company is one of life’s joys for Chris finds happiness and fun everywhere. He loves laughter and people, and lives in robust and generous ways. And for this, we thank him.

So happy 50th Chris. To Chris!

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Greenock Brewers Barossa Valley

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In one of his more reflective and tender moments Australian poet-balladeer Kevin “Bloody” Wilson offered the following as a courtship inquiry

            Does your Dad own a brewery?

I’m unsure what reply Kev received- probably one in the negative, but I do know that a bloke from my hometown of Kapunda runs Greenock Brewers Barossa Valley in this gorgeous hamlet about an hour from Adelaide.

If you ask the average punter their favourite law what do you get? Thou shalt not kill? The deliberate out of bounds law? Unlikely. I nominate the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, and happily the owners, Chris and Lisa Higgins are fans of this one too, and it guides their craft. And, of course, it’s especially relevant here in the Prussian-settled Barossa with its tradition and strict codes and nodding respect.

I ducked in last week, and while Chris was down in town, Lisa let me in and after a couple snifters, I strolled out with some tremendous cargo in the form of two six-packs. I drove back to Glenelg with matronly care.

Bunawunda Blonde is dangerously easy to drink. But unlike many commercial beers (read muck) this lager rewards with complexity and maturity that doesn’t scream, “Messy Millennials on a hot Sunday”. There’s delicate spice infused with a smiling approachability. I like it. It’d find a cheery spot around a BBQ, or at five bells on a Friday (or earlier in the week).

The brewery is set just off the town’s main drag on Mill Street. Coming from Nuriootpa (where a young HG Nelson once kicked a footy) if you get to the pub, once run by iconic mine hosts, Norton and Mick Schluter, then you need to turn the EH Holden around. But if you slip into the Greenock Tavern’s front bar, never fear, for the brewery’s excellent product is available there too.

Having spent not a few winters up at spoggy’s on a Saturday and playing footy in various Barossa towns I can assure you it gets decidedly crisp, and in these times of personal need the application of dark ale becomes vital.

Greenock Brewers Dark Ale is like the Bunawunda Blonde, in that it’s a beer of subtlety and elegance. It doesn’t get in your face like a Tanunda Magpies fullback or an Angaston opening bowler, but moves with seduction. This, as many will tell you, always works better and jags the win. There’s some lingering Mocha and wafts of smokiness too that seems perfect for an evening around a cracking fire, after the Kapunda Bombers have had a top day in the lead-up to finals.

When I poked my head in the other day I spotted a cosy outdoor area with tables and chairs and a fire. The brewery itself is housed within a fetching old stone wheat store that immediately makes a wonderful impression. It sets a tone, and turns up the thirst a few Fahrenheit notches. Couple this with occasional live music- probably no Kevin B Wilson, although I can’t be certain- and it makes the Greenock Brewers Barossa Valley an attractive location, in an attractive town, in an attractive valley.

I’m there.

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https://www.greenockbrewersbarossavalley.com.au/

 

 

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Battery Point Boozers: Brave Journeys into Hobart’s Hotels

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Striding up Runnymede Street into the heart of Battery Point and the beginning of Friday night with the dark and the cold pressing down upon me, I take in my surroundings. I dichotomize Arthur Circus, Australia’s only circus, with its cottages built close to each other as if they’re all huddling together around a scrub campfire.

These are streets with houses and restaurants and stores all pushing for attention, right up on the footpath. There’s no sweeping front lawns and yawning gum trees, but cobblestones, and a distinctly London-like topography.

I’m in Hobart for a conference and tonight the Crows are hosting the Bulldogs back at Adelaide Oval. As there’s also a pub back in my hometown of Kapunda called the Prince of Wales I involuntarily step inside the Tassie version, and find my place at the side bar.

It’s a snug corner populated with eccentric locals and bohemians and ordinary folks and tourists who seem to possess some organic ownership over this space. One of the staff, Aaron, is the brother of Nathan with whom I worked in Singapore. Between his pouring and my emptying, we chat in a necessarily staccato way.

I then have a yarn with a raspberry farmer, Phil and his partner Mary, about Turkey. How do these conversations commence? Together, we roam through Kusadasi and its heady lanes of Irish bars, and on to Istanbul and the Bosphorus and the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque, and then, finally, to Gallipoli.

Phil offers me half of his burger. I buy his wife a Bacardi and Coke. Just like the Crows, we’re all winning. Later, they move to the front bar, to dance to a jazzy blues band.

After the siren, I again cut across Arthur Circus, and head down the hill.

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Saturday, late afternoon and the dark is rising as I amble past the chippy and the curry house towards the Shipwrights Arms, all white and majestic like a billowing sail. Safely inside and perched like a parrot on a stool, I examine her stained-glass windows and nautical photos.

There’s Sydney to Hobart memorabilia including pictures of my favourite yacht, Brindabella, while across the wall is a black and white depiction of HMAS Vampire. By the door is a rack. Black coats hang as if deflated ghouls. The footy’s on a tele and Sydney’s again galloping towards the finals.

Suddenly, I realise the aural beauty. The commentary is muted, and there’s no music pounding down from ceiling speakers, and no jiggly death clatter from hidden pokies. There’s only the lowing conversations from happy knots of folks. No TAB and Sky racing insistence, just human voices like a heartbeat line, traced on an ECG, with laughter providing the graph’s healthy spikes.

It’s a pub in which chat is treasured. The business plan could be: encourage them to talk and relax, just like they would at home. I could be in Cornwell or Yorkshire.

The Shipwrights Arms has but five beers on tap, and around its lavish bar are scattered some older blokes who each buy a stubby, and pour it into a small glass. Although I wasn’t born, it seems very 1955. I recognise one fellow from last night at the Prince of Wales. He’s just retired, and is heading to Sicily next week for a few months. He’s pretty excited. I’m happy for him.

In another nook, by the fire, I see another television screen. The darts is on and Barney is in strife against Chisnel in the Shanghai Masters. By the bar, just next to me, Ted and Ron and Bruce are ribbing each other with the gentle affection of old mates. They drink pots, and talk of absent friends and golf and the daily driftwood of a quiet island life.

*

I know I should pop into a most marvellously named pub, Doctor Syntax, over in Sandy Bay, but time is against me. It’s branded after a famous nineteenth century British racehorse, and as I’m in town for a literacy convention the name should also be personally symbolic or hyperbolic, but maybe instead it’s a name for an editing franchise. Having trouble with apostrophes? Call Doctor Syntax on 1-800-COMMA.

When I walk into a pub I try to look at the floor for I reckon this can be informative. Polished concrete? Run for your life! The Whaler, in the heart of Salamanca Place, has old worn tiles that echo with Moby Dick and Ishmael and the swish of harpoons.

Inside is deep like an old friend’s hug and chocolate dark and above the bar timbers there’s stained glass that’s austere and haunted and vaguely Eastern European. In front of me a circle of young women, possibly tertiary students, are all in black coats. One, clearly the alpha, is setting a fierce Chardonnay pace, and she’s lapped her peers. I’ve seen this movie before. It could be lights out at eleven, for her.

Given it’s a uni pub there’s music. There’s 60’s soul and then songs featured on hip alternative films from the nineties. It makes me smile. A girl from the circle shuffles a few steps across the prehistoric tiles to Morphine’s “Buena” and its saxophone, all sultry and snaking and menacing, but when no one joins her, she flops onto her stool.

There’s an early evening ease, but then an agitated young guy and two barely clad girls burst in, and the spell is broken. There’s now a ménage a trois edge. Time to bolt. I tip down my ale and head home to the footy and Rockwiz.

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