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You in the Garden

Bustling through the kitchen I’m delighted to hear music as the Billy Joel record would’ve finished twenty minutes ago when I was at the beach.

I’m instantly elated that you’ve put another album on the turntable. I want it to be your record player too. I want it to be a shared hobby. Music is such a rich part of our relationship, and with this simple, affirming act, you just composed another song.

Arriving on the patio is a scene from our movie and this one is shot from my point of view. The record is Supertramp’s Breakfast in America and I know you like them too. They are evocative of our teenage years. All the promise and the torture.

There’s been a whirl of activity with plants and prunings and dead stuff scattered on the lawn in piles. This is movingly symbolic. It’s our home and you’re invested. I love that this has happened while I’ve been elsewhere, during our mid-afternoon.

This is a quiet triumph. A minor, suburban miracle.

Then, of course, there’s you.

In your lovely hair, all tied in a ponytail, there’s bits of twigs and leaves. You’re in a simple, checked shirt and your (now) muddy jeans. You’re wearing black gardening gloves, and these are at once stylish and practical. The camera trails us around while overhead the festive clouds skip by. The water feature percolates away.

With their galloping piano and saxophone and catchiness Supertramp continues, at volume of course. You give me a tour of your horticultural achievements. This is boundlessly heartening and yet another big moment in our small, precious life.

And regularly during this episode you smile your smile. It’s so loving and pure and utterly perfect. I follow you about the garden across the lawn. Our anonymous space is now enchanted by care and devotion but mostly you.

This movie scene has been a magical, unforeseen gift.

Thank you, Claire Louise.

1

Mystery Date: Magarey Medals and Magill Road

Claire and I share a monthly tradition in which one takes the other to a secret pub for a Friday hour. But Mystery Pub has a less frequent and more leisurely sibling we call Mystery Date.

Saturday was my turn to be indulged.

Some loathe surprise but I love to bask in the underlying kindness. Parking the car at Light Square I’m then on foot and chaperoned through our handsome city. The clouds made a low, grey ceiling and the streets were emptyish. Claire wondered if the subdued, barren landscape were still plagued by the pandemic.

North Terrace is an elegant boulevard befitting Paris or Madrid and as we scurried past the casino, art gallery and assorted statues of older men, less-old men and dead men on horseback I was curious about our first stop.

Our Footy, Our People, Our Stories was an invitation to drift back gently to my childhood. The SANFL exhibition features photos and sound archives and film footage. We watched the highlights of Glenelg’s 1986 triumph and then saw Port Adelaide win the 1988 flag, the first of nine premierships in about a decade. I understood Macbeth’s despondency upon seeing that Banquo’s offspring would reign forever when he mutters in disgust, ‘Will the line stretch out until the crack of doom?’

How great to then pause in the Library Café and peer out across the wet courtyard and admire the museum and meditate upon the joyous escapism these majestic buildings provided us when we were kids. They still do.

After some sneaky misdirection and circuitous driving to preserve the mystery Claire pulled up on Magill Road. Drifting east and in and out of some antiques stores we also gazed in the windows of boutiques and restaurants and speculated upon their offerings. We chatted constantly and made connections to our surroundings, and each other.

Wolfie’s Records occupies an entire cottage and sells vinyl, vintage clothing and used turntables. In a small room Claire and I flicked through the racks of albums and here’s a snippet of our conversation-

C- Rod Stewart. Yuk.

M- Here’s a Jackson Browne record I’ve been after.

C- Great. I like him too.

M- Phil Collins. One word- why?

C- Oh, God. Dr. Hook!

M- No, we already have the Sherbet Collection.

C- Ripper ’77?

M- Has the entire country flogged off their LRB collection?

And then in another cottage crowded with audiophiles we repeated the process a few doors up at Big Star Records. It was a lovely, diverting hour and I was keen to play my new/used $10 copy of Running on Empty. Over a warming shiraz later that night it would teleport me back to Kapunda and Year 11 when I understood little of it but tried to imagine its palm-treed Californian world.

Having gifted me an afternoon of footy and music, with her unparalleled kindness my wife then drove me through Stepney’s narrow streets to the Little Bang Brewery at which she’d made a reservation for two.

It was bursting with good fortune and a thrumming din. A sign announced a party that had assembled for ‘Mitch’s 30th.’ With Pinto Gris and IPA refreshments aboard we decamped to our cosy balcony space and surveyed the steel beer vats.

Suitable menu items were selected and we dissected our excursion and considered the evening. Identifying Mitch we note that his wife appeared to be about 8 and 3/4 months pregnant so we silently wished them joy and patience from our lofty location.

The fare was fine and as always I enjoyed my beery excursion into novelty. Steering through the mid-winter dusk and thrilling despairing at the radio’s description of Port losing, I contemplated the spring edition of Mystery Date which I’d curate for Claire.

It would soon be upon us.

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On Being Gentle

Over the Adelaide Hills an orange pinkness stretches out into our sky. It bursts as a cathedral across the city.

Here, on the tiny yellow ribbon of sand we’re rotating deathlessly towards the sun and a Thursday dawn is upon us. The beach is ours alone and in coats and scarves and beanies we tramp north. Heading along by the regularly crashing waves, and into our promising days, we exchange ideas both small and transformational.

Are these vivid almost hallucinogenic sunrises and sunsets still caused by the Tongan volcanic eruption? Or given our seemingly heightened human catastrophe, is this nature’s reassurance that our problems are petty and of cosmic inconsequence?

On the sand there’s a scramble of human and dog prints like kid’s scribble. In the gathering light we wonder if these are the earthy reminders of those who’ve come before us this morning, or these fleeting impressions survived the night by escaping the high tide’s indifference.

It’s a great spot to visit as a dog. Some parade abound, heads proudly aloft with dribbly tennis balls wedged in mouth while others greet the water and each other. On the King Street bridge we later spy the much loved trio of Golden Retrievers. Their happiness is instructive. But today, the beach is quiet and we’re bathed in gentleness.

I can’t name a single Charlotte Church song but glancing at an article recently noted that her best advice is, ‘be gentle.’ It’s something I’ve heard over the years and it’s curious that saying this to myself in a Welsh lilt (she’s from Cardiff) I’ve finally vowed to allow it deeper governance. Unlike the mock-heroic inner forearm inscriptions of ‘Brayden’, ‘Jayden’ or ‘No Regerts’ I think ‘be gentle’ would make a good tattoo. Maybe not on your bum.

A Friday or two back my wife Claire and I went to the Gov to see Josh Pyke. It was a triumph and sitting by the open fire it was lounge room intimate. Paul Kelly is our finest storyteller, but there’s an argument that JP is our most accomplished and affecting musical poet.

He took us on a kindly tour of his celebrated catalogue and these songs are often fragile prayers. They promote gentleness. ‘The Lighthouse Song’ is an ode to the joyous notions of sacrifice to the other and mindfulness-

So we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I
While seas drown sailors, we’ll be locked up safe and dry
And we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I
Our beams will burn the clouds to beacons in the sky
And though our doors may knock and rattle in the wind
I’ll just hold you tight and we’ll not let those others in.

But at dawn with my wife Claire on our sweep of beach I thought of his new tune called, ‘A Town You’ve Never Been To.’ It’s a hymn of gratitude for his musical and poetic gifts, and a wish for his various personal and artistic loves to remain unbroken. It’s a quest for adventure and truth.

I think it’s also about wishing to be gentle.

So find a street that you’ve never been down
In a town that you’ve been to
And sing a song that you love for me

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The Wedding of Nugg and Loz

Last October the Kimba crew were in a Yorke Peninsula winery but it was closing early because of a wedding reception. The rustic setting was decorated in bright colours and a large sign announced the nuptials of Nugg and Loz. We speculated on the nature of the father of the bride speech over shiraz and a charcuterie , Chaka Chan platter. It was a funny lunch.

Any resemblance to persons living or otherwise is tremendous.

*

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Nugg and Loz’s wedding. I’m proud to be giving this father of the bride speech. Don’t you agree that what we saw earlier was a moving and beautiful ceremony?  

I want to start by thanking everyone for coming here to the reception tonight at the Currabunga/Nungeedowner/St Frumentius Cricket Club. Even though the windows were all stolen yesterday I don’t think it’s too cold in here at all. I just heard that Fred’ll be back soon with two blankets so that’ll help. It’s lovely here, though, isn’t it? Well, at least it is now that the blizzard is over.

A big thanks as well to everyone who’s assisted with the catering. I’m confident when I say that these are the finest egg and brussel sprout sandwiches that’ve ever been served at a wedding.

Today, December 15, is also Sam the butcher’s birthday. Sam grew up a long, long way from here in Cairns and we learnt ukulele together as kids. Although he’s never visited here and as near as I can tell none of you has heard of him, I thought it important to mark this date.

As you can see, Loz or Lauren as her mother and me and Uncle Dennis named her, inherited her stunning looks from her mother, definitely not me.

You’ve become a strong, independent woman. We’re all so proud of you Loz and especially your decision to start your own plumbing business. It’s the finest plumbing business in Currabunga. It might be the only plumbing business in Currabunga, but I’ll stand by these words.

We also know that deciding to run your own plumbing business without a vehicle is challenging. We’ve all seen you out on your bicycle riding around town, carrying broken toilets and washing machines and kitchen sinks under your right arm as you steer your wobbling bike with your left. This is surely a sign of your determination, Loz.

Now to Jayden or Nugg as everyone here knows you. Loz’s mother Beryl and I have long had our eye on you as a very talented young man. Once I first noticed you as a twelve-year-old when you came 5th in the fielding trophy for the Currabunga/Nungeedowner/St Frumentius Cricket Club Under 10’s, I knew you’d be a leader in our town. Maybe one day you’ll tell me your secret. I was never much of a cricketer. I guess it doesn’t help that I didn’t learn to swim.

I’m not a man of endless words; honestly, I’m more comfortable playing a ukulele to my pet goats around the woodshed, but I do want to say that Jane, sorry, Loz, has been the light of my life.

Now, a little birdie told me that these two newlyweds have planned a very exciting honeymoon. Tomorrow Nugg and Loz are leaving the Currabunga/Nungeedowner/St Frumentius Cricket Club and cycling forty minutes east to achieve their life-long dream. And do I hear you ask where are they going? Yes, you guessed it! To Jones Valley and its world-famous Dishwasher Museum.

And now, as I end this father of the bride speech, I’d like to raise a toast to my daughter and son-in-law. I wish the two of you the very best in the years ahead.

To Nugg and Loz and a beautiful future.

2

Dawn in Dubai Airport

Early morning.

My favourite time of day as it’s when I’m best aware of my enormous fortune and the garden of wonder that’s you. But I’ve not had one like this before.

Generically, Dubai airport is familiar, and the air is warm and cocooned. There’s buzz and privilege as well as some thrilling strangeness. Just as there should be when travelling.

We saunter about this recognisable and vaguely indecipherable place before claiming a table in Costa Coffee. I feel the delirium of little sleep, and the gentle euphoria of life blissfully interrupted, blended with the expectation of what’s ahead in our week. It’s like when you stay up all night the first time as a teenager and see in the dawn.

There’re people everywhere and I love the secret intimacy of being with you in a crowded place.

As we waited for our coffee – I’m unsure if we ordered food; possibly a small cake – I remember feeling safe. I’m sure it was because of you and the psychological and emotional comfort you bring. I also felt distinctly still, despite hurtling 11,000 kilometres.

These were our first overseas moments together and they’d been an infinity coming. Having fled Australia, we now caught our breath.

It was a key scene in our movie and the camera was rolling.

I recall speaking low and conspiratorially with you. We shared confidences. As you spoke, I had a moment, born of responsibility and devotion. These moments are unexpected and seismic; I think they rush out of our long past and wash over me with a warmth and a love and a relief to which I can only surrender.

It was an episode that to a stranger might have seemed ordinary but was a sublime, quietly joyous hour. It continues to possess deep and subtle symbolic power for me.

Airports are hubs of promise where life can be amplified to magical dimensions. In that otherwise forgettable coffeeshop we were halfway to Europe and our fête, for two.

It was both prologue and epilogue.

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Walking each other home

It’d been a forgettable November afternoon at work.

But, one click led to another and I legitimately found myself watching a TED talk by the American writer Anne Lamont. It’s called, ’12 truths I learned from life and writing.’ She is funny and wise and worth hearing on many topics. However, the idea that’s made an impact on me isn’t even one of her declared truths. She was mid-point and as an aside remarked that

We’re all just walking each other home.

I paused the video and sat at my desk for a while, looking at nothing in particular. Like all great poetry this simple arrangement of words held a profound notion. Later I shared the idea with Claire.

It’s about beauty and hope. It suggests joyful partnership and unalterable love. It’s uncluttered. It encapsulates so much.

The twin and universal images of walking and home marry so elegantly.

*

Following Nazeem Hussain’s stand-up comedy gig at the Rhino Room for which Claire was an Auslan interpreter (she did a great job and was funny too) it remained a warm, buzzing evening so we ascended the 2KW bar for a snack and nightcap. The Fringe Festival was well underway. There was much to celebrate.

The streetlights twinkled and if a hens’ night brood hadn’t claimed the deck for a private function then we would’ve drank in the vista over the Festival Centre and Adelaide Oval. Instead, we were happy to sit in a booth.

We returned to the idea of walking each other home.

It is the loveliest thought.

Over her shiraz Claire observed that, ‘It’s an idea that can only really work later in life.’

I agreed that it’d be somewhat ‘previous’ to promise it in one’s twenties, the metaphor of home perhaps being a mood-killer on a first date.

It appears to be an idea that is attributed to nobody in particular and is timeless. Some could see it as a little grim, but for me it speaks of serenity and dignity. It suggests the beach in winter; winery fireplaces and dawn’s first light when the dark is eased back down into the earth.

I’m grateful that I discovered it on a listless afternoon at work.

Although it’s not from a poem, it’s the noblest poetry.

2

Saturday morning, on the Glenelg North esplanade

The beach was a pale gold and wide.

A few lone swimmers bobbed in the shallows. It was well after 10am, the hour deemed as cut-off for unleashed hounds, but a few dogs bounded along the sand ahead of their owners unbothered by any petty council bylaws. A boat or two scattered atop the shimmering gulf.

Heading north the first one was an elderly woman on a bench. She was alone. She was immersed and had a coffee beside her. She was reading a romance novel. I was instantly buoyed and felt the associated glow of life lived well by the beach.

Nearly a kilometre later I reached the esplanade shelter we call the Mormon Hut. We know it as such because occasionally on the weekend it hosts a group from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who set up displays and stands of pamphlets. I’m unsure if their honeyed ways have netted many flies, but I do admire their optimism and enterprise in setting up churchly shop right by the sea where there’s plenty of pedestrian traffic. If not theological interest.

As I arrived at the MH this morning on the near bench was an aged man also by himself, deep in a book about Greece. It may have been in Greek. He seemed relaxed and at profound peace and was enjoying his Saturday morning of leisure.

With my hands on my hips I puffed and sweated and drew in some air and looked at the other bench. There’s only two tables in the MH. On the northern side was an elderly woman with an iced tea by her elbow. She was reading a large novel. In the minute I was there she didn’t look up.

Opposite her was a man who seemed to be well into his eighties. A walking stick leaned against his seat, diagonally. He had a white beard and was hunched over an equally huge novel. By his elbow was another iced tea. Like his wife he didn’t look up nor speak.

I was pleased to be in their company, momentarily.

Continuing to huff I gazed at the elderly readers, there by the calming ocean, on a mid-summer morning, living exquisitely and with singular application.

Four people by the beach on benches. All engaged by the written word. It was poetically simple. It was as if I, too, had spent a languid hour with a book. It gave me hope and reassurance.

When I got home all drenched and ridiculous I said to Claire, “I’ve just got another idea for our retirement…”

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The Week Before Christmas

Claire and I made a pact that we’ll watch When Harry Met Sally once a year. So, a couple Sundays ago we did. It features great dialogue by the late Nora Ephron but also some moving monologues and my favourite is delivered by Harry to Sally on New Year’s Eve when they both finally realise exactly what they want. It’s a list of the things Harry loves about Sally.

Groundhog Day is another romantic comedy from the same era and it, too, includes a simple yet touching list of the things Phil finds astonishing about Rita.

Inspired by these two monologues I wrote one too, in the week before Christmas. Before Love Actually had its annual airing!

*

I love when we go to the beach how you kick off your shoes and abandon them on the sand by a rock and trust that they’ll be there upon our return. I love that you care nothing for cars and will never tell the difference between a BMW and a Mazda. I love that you run your life with a paper diary which is misplaced every few months, but somehow always turns up. I love that Angel understands you are the most compassionate person she’ll ever see because dogs just know. I love how I can catch your scent in an empty room and then our beautiful, rich past rushes back towards me. I love when I meet your eye across a busy space and how at that moment, we share many secrets without uttering a word. And I love when you smile because it shows me that this world is bursting with joy and promise and magic.

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Claire at the Sandalmere Gate

It was a lyrical scene and if I was an artist, I’d have tried to capture it.

Late Friday afternoon we arrived at our rented property just outside the Riverland hamlet of Cadell. Smeared by the blue-grey fuzz of saltbush the flat ground was already seared dry despite the wet winter.

A friend once observed that even improbable landscapes have beauty, you just need to unlock your eyes and mind. But if not for our great river dissecting the countryside these towns, including sleepy Cadell, wouldn’t exist.

With the merciless spring wind shoving through but the sky a hopeful azure I stopped our car by the iron gate. Sandalmere, the swinging-sign announced. Freshly greeting our latest holiday digs, we were again on that privileged, effervescent cusp.

Pushing open the passenger door Claire then tended the gate. Spectating through the windscreen I was swiftly transfixed as my view had the compositional elements for a Heidelberg School by McCubbin or Streeton: native bush; rural cottage; iron gate; elegant wife.

How fantastic to be surprised by your partner; to momentarily see them anew; to be jettisoned and allow wonder to take command?

Claire loosened the chain and opened the gate.

At this instant time paused and a thousand bright thoughts presented themselves, as a succession of gratitudinous waves. It was an arresting image.

For decades Claire had wrestled with gates in different ways and in various locations, so I revered her as she did this now, for me, for herself, for us.

We talk often of the film The Descendants during which George Clooney’s character Matt says to his wife Elizabeth, “As a spouse your job is to make their passage through life easier” and this maxim’s become a shared aspiration. Claire’s gatekeeping might’ve seemed a minor gesture, but against the lengthening arc of our intertwined lives it twinkled like a solitary star.

With the gate opened Claire looked back at the car where the tinting meant I was likely an indistinct figure behind the dark glass. Nonetheless she smiled wholeheartedly as I engaged first gear; a smile that swept the world away like a flimsy film set. Still beaming, this was magnified in the gilded light by her Audrey Hepburn sunglasses and frolicking hair.

The gate was safely latched and with Claire reaching the car door, I was tempted by that ancient lark: as her hand grasped for the handle, lurch the car forward! Go on, how wacky. Of course, this is what both of us would’ve done, probably did do many times back in those murky, disappearing decades. Although it’s the automotive equivalent of a whoopee cushion, sometimes it’s disappointing if not attempted. It’s now funnier as an ironic gag than in its earliest comedic form.

Later, over our weekend I’d finally enact this antique prank but not on our initial entrance for I was enchanted by a brief vista of deep, resonating beauty: Claire at the gate.

1

Mindfulness on Mystery Date

Having met your gorgeous, smiling self at the gate we strolled through the Botanic Gardens, under enthralling arches, and along a winding path by which we happened across a wedding and this drew our sighing attention. Suddenly and not a little sadly, the day after would be our six-month anniversary. I love being hand-in-hand with you and the garden’s mysterious and magical qualities added to this soaring joy.

We arrived at the National Wine Centre. I had not been there ever and so was glad to be chaperoned in by you. Our blind wine-tasting was urgent and funny. We guessed none of the wines but sharing the tastings and swapping the glasses back and forward was an almost secretive endeavour, deep in the hull of that marooned viticultural ship. I watched you scribble your notes and thought of how I’d first been captivated by your quick, confident cursive many years ago, possibly in Year 9 or maybe year 10 homegroup.

Being led by you along the North Terrace was cocooned perfection. Peering east from the Luna10 sky bar we identified landmarks: Norwood Oval, Mount Lofty, and then we spied a hardware store. Again, we were trying to make sense of our world and connect to its shared locations, which sits among a marriage’s prime demands. It was an activity of such warmth and optimism. The buildings and the trees became mere context for our bigger story; sets for the private play in which we are both starring.

During the film we’d whisper thoughts to each other as we wrestled with its thorny notions. While we’d been to the cinema together over the decades from An American Werewolf in London to now, I’m not sure we engaged each other during a screening with such intimacy. I would’ve liked to but doubt I’d have had the requisite bravery.

As Nine Days was an essay on mindfulness and the towering, tremendous gift that is life, you were deeply moved by it. How great that we could explore it after in The Austral. Like most of our beautiful day, we were in the midst of a busy city but mostly seemed to be in secluded spaces. That part of the pub was ours alone too. Where were all the kids? It was 9pm so they were at home and would arrive in the CBD in a couple hours when their parents were snoring.

Finally, home at our table, we concluded our amazing afternoon with some lines from Walt Whitman whose poetry from Leaves of Grass had featured at the film’s climax. Walt’s book had been waiting patiently on our shelf for just this moment. He and the film’s director urge awareness of the links between self, others, and our environment.

Do you see, O my brothers and sisters. / It is not chaos or death, it is form, union, plan, it is eternal life, it is happiness. / The past and present wilt, I have fill’d them, emptied them, and proceed to fill my next fold of the future

And that’s exactly the day you lovingly arranged for us.

0

Our Swedish kitchen

Our first Swedish breakfast.

On the table is a carton of milk, a bag of muesli, a punnet of berries. Two coffee cups form a conspiracy of caffeine, almost nodding at each other like we might’ve done at a party decades ago.

You’ve set a candle flickering and guiding its oblique gold throughout the kitchen. Among the lessons you’ve given me is the joy of a wax light, at any time, and I thank you for this glow on a very Swedish day. Somehow, only now am I awake to a candle’s therapy. The best gifts are often invested with gentle unfussiness. 

The table’s dressed in a red-checked tablecloth. A symbol of ease and understated exhilaration, it isn’t classic Italian bistro, but still evokes Roman cobblestones.

I think of our dinner in Copenhagen a few days’ ago, just across from Jorcks Passage, on the edge of this holiday, when time stretched out exquisitely. We were blissfully alone, in that restaurant-cocoon with wine and pasta, as all about us the late afternoon diners pressed in to happily punctuate their Saturdays. That now distant table grew in enchantment as, finally, we found ourselves together in Northern Europe.

In Ljungbyhed the front door features a window too. Out beyond the cold glass are the forest, lake, and our brisk-air days. We’ll hike and talk and quietly interrogate the town and earth and sky. Later, upon that drifting pontoon I’ll dwell upon you: curious, compelling, divine in that elongated dusk and how, as the geese skid on the water, we breathe our words to and fro.

The kitchen is a tiny, expansive space.

You’re on a chair at our wooden table, ostensibly for four but perfect for us two. This is our morning and evening altar, and here we share the day’s fresh promise and sink into night’s snug entwining. We’ve conversation both affirming and prodding, while playing music somehow close and remote, first commanding and then detached. Our soundtrack.

The light bends in and falls across you like soft piano notes. I consider the following and with surprised gratitude am their happy hostage: Sweden; late winter; you; me; us. An obedient satellite blinking at your earthly beauty, I’m in your orbit.

Lost in thought, you’ve been reading and planning so we can wring the most from our Nordic surroundings; your mind untiringly devoted to others. Your glasses lay there, an emblem of industry while your eyes are on the middle distance or maybe a world away.

Soon you’ll return or I’ll collect you, but it matters not for I’m waiting. With gorgeous hair tumbling like a misty waterfall, and black shirt you’re astonishing; at once modest and shudderingly thrilling.

The cottage is a meniscus, and like migratory atoms, we are within, and then, without. Tomorrow morning the sun will again slant into our Swedish kitchen.

4

Affection in Aisle 7

He paused in Aisle 7.

He usually found it difficult to become animated in hardware stores and this aisle was more mundane than most. It was late Saturday afternoon, and this was not a place he frequented at this point in the week, but he studied the shelving supports and thought about the choice he had to make.

The burden of his errand was lightened by the glow of a cocooned morning and the golden promise of their evening together on the darkening patio, on the lounge and then, finally, drifting into slumber. He spotted the bag of white shelving supports and considered these. He’d come for the transparent ones but was changing his mind.

He pulled out his phone and rang her and felt a frisson of love and shared investment as the ringing continued. She answered and their words were necessarily technical, but the subtext was soaring. As he drove back to their quiet street it already ranked among his favourite phone calls for the connection and the exquisite exchange gripped his heart.

Later, the subterranean intimacy and joy of their ninety second chat stayed with him like a film, and he would smile to himself over the following days when he remembered their triumphant little phone call.

0

Our passage through life

As his car skulked towards the lights, he scanned the intersection and then southward along the blurred footpath.

Sometimes he’d see all of her but often his eye would be caught by a detail: the sunlight bouncing on her tumbling hair, or the shapely elegance of her skirt, or the work basket, bursting with her cleverness.

He loved these arrangements. For some they’d be a burden, an interruption to a busy day but for him these sparkled with private joy. They represented a chance to connect in the mysterious city so he could make her passage through life easier.

These transactions were about much more than dropping off the car.

If these domestic details were shared with friends at the pub or over a coffee they’d quickly drift off into their own orbit, and the words would quietly flutter away like confetti. Who can truly know of the innermost machinery of strangers? Sustainable intimacy doesn’t happen only in a restaurant or in a tropical resort. He nodded with the thought that it happened on Friday mornings navigating the glacial traffic along a major arterial while plotting to relieve the knotty demands of each other’s responsibilities.

He eased into a car park and saw her more closely now. The always-generous smile, ever open to bright possibility. Her eyes alert and warm. He knew their history, and some of what they’d seen. Alongside those blue eyes he’d gaze later at the sunset over the sea when despite the waves and the gulls and the passing couples they’d sit alone.

Trying to invest the sound with his surprised fortune that she was about to enter the cabin, he tooted the car horn.

She looked up and was smiling.

4

Five Scenes from Our Wedding

The weather presented us a story that will, doubtless, enjoy regular airings over the decades. Standing alone on the croquet lawn as yet another squally shower progressed from mist to rain, I wrestled with what to do: brave it or ring the Kapunda boys to put up some marquees? Shelter might be functional, but it’d ruin the aesthetic and checking the BOM radar for the dozenth time that hour I could see more dark clouds racing our way.

Yet again I changed my mind. As family arrived a hundred chairs were dried off and with the last row done the rain slashed across the school again. Crippled by indecision I reluctantly rang you, interrupting your preparations and feminine fun. But your voice was calming in its reassurance.

Mere minutes before our ceremony the clouds fled and while it was gusty and bracing the April sun shone upon us and that lavish lawn as if it had sisu, the Finnish concept of resilience and determination.

*

After hours, months, years of anticipation an occasion can suddenly rush upon you and despite all the expectation and longing it shocks with its realness now that you’re finally living it and are right in the magical moment. I was initially a little anxious when I saw the first guests’ cars pull up outside Kapunda High on dusty West Terrace and felt blissfully powerless as our time finally arrived.

Then Lisa Mitchell’s “Providence” soared across the afternoon and launched our narrative, while you made your graceful way, and I decided to wait and not strain or move onto tippy-toes. Our guests stood and some lurched into the grassy aisle. Camera, heads, hair. I could not see you. I remained on our rug between the plinths.

Then you emerge as if in a cascading, serene dream. Smiling, singular, focussed. Hair tousled and tumbling, cheekbones perfectly formed, eyes flashing.

Your dress is shimmering, shapely and a vision of painterly elegance. I surrender to this, and to you.

*

It was as if the town and each citizen we encountered had been bewitched and a golden hour descended, just for us. There could have been a clandestine operation and Kapunda was now our private movie set. As the photographers captured us in our intermingling blue attire we moved about from Dutton Park where we danced by the iron gates to the Main Street murals to the mine chimney and above us and about us the late afternoon light was enchanted and invested with unhurried kindness.

*

Hand-in-hand and entering through the Dutton Park doors was a triumph. You imagined it flawlessly and then realised it with cinematic style. The candles, the balloons, the rustic beauty. Our friends and family were assembled for the evening in an event that was firstly about us but also allowed for old connections to be remade and renewed. The sound was raw and welcoming, a rush of affirmation and liquid joy. It was a twilight sea of warmth.

*

And finally in the midnight stillness, we walked back to our accommodation at the School of Mines through Dutton Park’s lingering jubilance, under the gates, past the dark homes, over the disused railway line near the Duck Pond, across from the playground and swimming pool, next to the Institute and museum, around the quiet library corner, under the Rawady’s veranda and to our front door.

The geography and place are so unremarkable, and so familiar but now re-contextualise as a private paradise, and as we stroll and reflect upon our perfect day, these bear hushed witness to our love.  

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Honeymoon in Arkaroola

Located 635 kilometres north of Glenelg’s Broadway Hotel, I imagine Arkaroola’s an infrequent honeymoon destination, but the pandemic’s made prickly and independent nations out of Australia’s states so with Hobart, Darwin and Cairns omitted we hired a 4WD and headed bush.

“Let’s go down there and have a look,” Claire said as we clattered along The Flinders Ranges Way. Turning right the guttering on the road instantly shook the car like we were on a shuddering, fillings-flying-out-of-your-gob ride at an Outback World theme park. A glance in my side mirror and there’s rubber like darting black birds. Shredded tyre.

Australia’s Vast Interior 1, Novice Driver 0.

On Sunday morning we joined the Ridgetop Tour. Bum-surfing in the back of an unrelenting old Toyota, this took us over the Gammon Ranges’ brutal granite and sedimentary peaks. However, geology is like baroque music to me: admirable, but largely beyond my appreciation. It was difficult terrain and our driver showed surgical skill and a cray boat skipper’s eye in getting the vehicle up, and down, the merciless tracks. Thankful for my seat-belt, I felt for the big man opposite who was forced to ride the tray sans harness like it was a Japanese-built version of the legendary bucking bull, Chainsaw (Australian Bull of the Year, 1987 to 1994). I questioned if we were all in an unauthorised Tourism as Violence experiment.

At Sillers’ Lookout, we stared out towards Lake Frome and Beverley uranium mine’s ribbon of airstrip, and I said to my wife, “After weeks of trudging across the desert how would those first explorers have reacted to this range? Relief at the change or despondency at how tough this place is?” We drank our complimentary (not really) coffee and ate slender fingers of lamington while others in our party took selfies.

Back in our cottage mid-afternoon we reflected that we were having ourselves a unique honeymoon. No pool-bar cocktails or reef-oil aromas for us. I could, however, have conceded to a club sandwich out on our verandah.

Griselda Hill looms over Arkaroola’s southern entrance and the advice is to climb it just before sunset. Our original aim was to take a bottle of wine and enjoy it at the summit as we bathed in the orange-pink wash of the surrendering sun. How quickly we became elevated. How still and quiet the dusky village below. Picking our careful way up the steep goat track we soon agreed this would’ve been ridiculous.

Earlier Claire mentioned seeing Shane Warne on I’m A Celebrity and his arctic terror when confronted by large, creeping arachnids. My response, I recollected, had bordered on mocking his fear, and now, mere hours later, I was on my hands and knees and utterly frozen on a sheer outcrop in what could’ve been a fatal blow to my vacillating sense of physical masculinity, if not Warney’s. I could not go up. I could not go down. Hours of virtual training with Alex and Max watching weekly episodes of Bear Grylls: Man v Wild had left me skill-less and with no actionable problem-solving.

If I’d been capable of thinking beyond my catastrophic context, I might’ve speculated bitterly upon the honeymoon sunset we could’ve experienced on a ferry returning smoothly to Hobart’s Constitution Dock (doubtless with a splash of the very same wine that was currently waiting unloved a few hundred metres below in our spartan room), following an aesthetically challenging, yet physically safe excursion to MONA. I might’ve also wondered about the alarmingly large number of grooms who expire just after their nuptials, and therefore get to star at two big family events within the same month.

With one of her first significant acts of marital love Claire coaxed me towards the summit. Like many moments in life our final ascent was rewarding – retrospectively. Peering over the edge she saw the ghoulish cliff-face so we remained on my recovery rock, and with a slowly stabilising heart rate I took in the broad, astral view.

Next morning, we arose in the desert dark and did the sunrise hike along Acacia Ridge. It was pleasantly crisp, and we had it to ourselves. We swapped the lead with unspoken intimacy but talked of weighty matters and trivia and each other and life a considerable distance to the lush south. Nearing the ridge’s summit and our ultimate viewing spot, another ridge would reveal its dreadful peak, and so on we’d ramble. Sunrise was at 6.36. The minutes began to gallop. The sky began to brighten. Yet another ridge.

When we reached our summit, the sun was already low in the sky. But it was only a technical disappointment for there we were, newly together in an ancient land. An Australian Raven offered acknowledgement. We talked some more, and we looked.

Sitting on a rock we shared our bottle of water. Married life was magnificent.