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.
Here we are at the scene of the crime – the place where I first met Claire and Michael.
It all began on a blisteringly hot day in February 1981, the first morning of the school year – the start of Year 10.
Now, I know what you’re all thinking: 1981?! Surely these good looking, youthful, vital people weren’t even BORN in 1981, let alone starting Year 10 at high school! I can assure you, that I can’t understand it either. It remains one of the Great Cosmic Mathematical Conundrums. Nevertheless…
On that fateful February day, I walked through the school gates in considerable culture shock. I had moved with my family from the city only the day before to our half-built house in a paddock behind Mount Allen – about 10 minutes north of Kapunda. Our electricity was not yet connected. There were sheep, a cow and a horse in our front yard and our house had a moat. And the vintage yellow school bus had just taken me on a 50-minute dirt-road trip to Marrabel-and-back in a cloud of dust you could see from Gundry’s Hill.
Thank goodness I had the good sense to approach Mrs Maloney, the first teacher I saw, and ask her to introduce me to some Year 10 girls. Thank goodness Mrs Maloney introduced me to a group including Claire Louise Morrison.
Starting a new school where the friendship groups have already formed and settled can be tough, but starting a new school in the country, where the kids have all known each other since pre-school, can be especially rugged.
Claire had experienced this, firsthand, the year before, and had magnanimously decided that she would make the transition much easier for any future new girls, should she encounter any. (What a generous and kind decision to have made, Claire. You are a brick.)
Presented with the opportunity on that bright February morning, Claire took the leading role as a one-girl welcoming committee. I remember her smiling at me, stepping forward, shaking my hand and enthusiastically introducing me to Lisa Trotta, Sandra Bell, Cate Dermody, Wendy Fechner and possibly Our-Pam-the-Pastor’s-Daughter. She asked me all about myself, gave me a bit of a run-down on herself and everyone else, and told me where I could meet up with everyone at recess and lunch.
That alone says a lot about Claire and the person she is. But it only hints at the dynamic and direct energy that radiates out of her – her charisma, her sense of humour, the animated way she moves. Well, I knew within two minutes that Claire was lively, generous, outgoing and fun – and an innate leader – and I hoped we would become friends.
Shortly after – possibly that same day – I met Michael Randall. While there was no stepping forward and effusive hand-shaking, I do remember him being one of the only boys who might volunteer helpful information. Aloof. Maybe a little gruff, but at least vaguely sympathetic. I think he saw me going in the wrong direction to find a classroom, and muttered something like, “No, it’s over there.”
Now Mick had met Claire the year before. And, as time has revealed and the Weekend Australian Review can testify, he pretty much fell for Claire on the spot.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: he listened intently to everything Claire said; he laughed at all of her jokes; and, although he did his best to hide it, he pretty much gazed adoringly at her all day.
AND, when he saw that Claire and I were becoming besties, he started talking to me a whole lot more. In fact, as time progressed, I started getting long phone calls from the public phone box outside the Kapunda Post Office.
Why the public phone? Because in The Olden Days, there was only one telephone per house. This one telephone was attached to a wall socket, and the curly cord from the phone to the handset would only stretch so far. If you were lucky, you might be able to pull it tight around the corner of a doorframe to gain a bit of privacy, but, generally, your whole family could listen in on your phone conversation, and – worse – call out embarrassing things.
Your parents would regularly tell you to hurry up and get off – because if you hogged the phone for hours, giggling and theorising over who liked who, and what it might have meant when he said this or she said that – no-one else could make or receive a call. And, get this: there was no SMS, no texting, no SnapChat or memes or gifs or social media of any kind. Not even Email!
These were all good reasons for Michael Randall to put 30 cents in his shorts pocket, bid farewell to Lois, Bob, Jill and Sam-the-Tough-Cat, and ride his bike to the Post Office.
His calls to me were long, hilarious and entertaining, and our own friendship grew as he made his thinly veiled attempts to find out more about Claire.
Of course, I spent even more hours giggling and theorising with Claire – on the phone, on our walks with Bonnie by the duckpond, or scoffing mixed lollies from Rawady’s deli in the Morrison’s sunroom. There was no doubt whatsoever, even back then, that she ‘loved’ Michael Randall – but would she ever ‘lerve-love’ him?
In Kapunda at that time, there grew a mighty Love Triangle. Possibly even a Love Dodecahedron. Between the beginning of Year 10 and well beyond the end of Year 12, the Class of ’83 negotiated the grave situation where everybody loved somebody sometime, but they didn’t love you back because they loved somebody who loved somebody else. All those hopeful hormones with nowhere to go!
And as teenagers growing up in a small country town, this was tragic and torturous. There was school and sport and church and Lutheran Youth and Rural Youth and there was the Clare Castle Hotel and parties at friends’ houses. Once we could drive, there were also discos in the Angaston Town Hall, movies at the Tanunda Drive-in, spooky midnight trips to the Reformatory and early drives to Gawler to catch the train to the city for a day at the cricket. And we went to all of these places, on rotation, with PRETTY MUCH THE SAME PEOPLE ALL THE TIME. So there was no escaping the Mighty Love Dodecahedron.
The angst was real. But so was the friendship.
Even after Year 12, when we started making our way into the wider world, we clung together – a tight band of Kapundians. Claire and Mick and I stayed especially close.
After matriculating (another Olden Days word), and a wonderfully long, study-free summer, February 1984 saw the three of us embarking on studies to become teachers. We chose Salisbury Teacher’s College because it was close enough to drive to daily in Michael’s HQ Holden.
(Of course, it was necessary to tease each other mercilessly about our cars. Claire had dubbed Michael’s sensible white HQ sedan ‘the Parent’s Car’. My Hillman Imp was ‘The Wimp’, and Michael also liked to call it ‘The Shitbox’.
Claire’s Mini Minor didn’t have a nickname but was considered miraculous – mostly because Claire and her passengers continued to survive Claire’s death-defying driving – but also because, at one time it had reportedly transported all seven Morrison siblings, plus Fran’s luggage, home from the airport.)
In any case, the Mini and the Wimp were deemed unsuitable for the daily trips to college. Looking back, I wonder if Michael Randall volunteered The Parent’s Car, not because our cars were unroadworthy – which they were – but more because they both lacked something that proved vital over those long miles: a cassette deck.
I promised myself I would only say kind things about Michael today, on this Day of Days, but, during these trips he did force us, against our wills, to listen to the Animal House soundtrack and the Foul Sixties Music. And it was pre-meditated: he had taped these things on cassettes. (That’s another Olden Days thing.) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and, through this experience, the bond between Michael, Claire and me grew ever more solid.
I think, even then, we all knew we’d be friends for life.
And here we are today, with decades of shared memories.
There have been annual winter pub dinners to co-celebrate our birthdays. Countless catch-ups for drinks and laughs and to share news of life’s triumphs and challenges. Endless discussions on career choices and child-raising and renovations and travel and world events and art and literature and the TV advertisements that Claire can’t stand. Lively debates about music: Michael make your peace with Pink. Weekends away. Picnics and beach walks and barbecues. Meals that Claire has generously finished for us. The yearly spate of heavy Fringe plays at the Holden Street Theatres. All those amateur musicals we made Michael watch us in – and that one time we actually got him up on stage for talent night at a Rural Youth Rally. There are the jokes only the three of us get. The crippling, weeping giggling fits. Speeches we’ve made for each other at milestone events. And the trips we’ve made together – and for each other – to attend a special event, or just be together – when one of us has experienced sadness, loss, loneliness or grief.
We’ve walked different paths with different people, sometimes even in different countries, but we’ve always made time and space to nurture this magical friendship.
We three made our own love triangle – of friendship love. One where the three sides provide unshakable strength and support.
Within this love triangle, we enjoy the insights we get from the male and female perspective, but I can say honestly that gendery things have never, ever divided us.
Claire and I have acknowledged again and again how important Mick’s friendship has been to us. He’s an extraordinary man. He is thoughtful, gentle, kind, deeply respectful, intelligent, fair, well-read – and so very funny. Mick is a true feminist – an equalist – and we both love him for that.
There are so many kinds of love – and love itself can swell or shrink. Love, even enduring love, can evolve and change.
I’ve spoken about Mick’s ongoing love for Claire, but I have also closely witnessed, over many years, Claire’s deep and abiding love and respect for Mick. As we’ve travelled along our own life paths, there have been times when the deep connection between them has almost broken to the surface. For a long, long time they were not free to acknowledge this, even to themselves, much less to each other. They each honoured the commitments they had made elsewhere and devoted their energies to raising their beautiful children.
But, as they say, true love will find a way.
As the other paths they were travelling came to an end, they turned towards each other, as they’ve always done, to offer strength and support. They found so much more. And I found myself, once again, on the end of long phone calls – from both of them. All the what-ifs, and could-bes and what-do-you-think-it-could-means were there again. And you didn’t have to be Nostradamus to know that, one day, we’d end up here, at a wedding. And given that these two are the most sentimental, nostalgic people in the Whole World, you could have placed bets on it taking place in Kapunda.
So, here we are, at the scene of the crime…
This wedding brings together two very dear friends, who, this time, have everything on their side. They have the foundation of a long friendship – all the jokes, all the memories, and all the understanding, compassion and trust that goes with that. They know, love, embrace and enfold each other’s children. They have life experience, past successes and mistakes to learn from and draw on to ensure that they face life’s challenges together with kindness, consideration and empathy. They face their future with optimism and excitement. They see the significance of this second chance. They truly treasure each other, and will do everything in their power to nurture each other and the love that binds them…
Lastly, and most importantly, they share a great love of pubs and all things alcoholic and snack-related. This, I know, will carry them through any dark times.
Claire and Michael – my best friends – I don’t need to wish you happiness together. Instead, I wish you long, healthy lives, so that you can wring every ounce of joy out of this enduring love.
I am so very happy to have been a part of your story to date, and feel honoured to have been invited to share it with your friends and family today. I know we all look forward to sharing in every good thing that is to come.
A few months ago, Michael and I wrote our will together.
My old will, written decades before, was on the table. Michael leaned over to take a peek, and cheekily asked if his name was there. I was excited to show him that indeed, it was. Right there in my will I’d written and signed more than twenty years ago were the words:
“to be left special mementos in the event of my death, my dear friend, Michael Craig Randall”.
It was a memorable moment for us both, for here was yet more evidence of the deep bond we’ve shared since we first met. In many ways, it’s hard for us to convey the continuity of our love, when, for so many years, we were apart. We hear about twins separated at birth, later to be reunited as adults. Finally, everything makes sense for them and their hearts find peace. Or maybe I can explain it as an undercurrent. Gentle, but constant, and despite our having climbed into different boats many years ago, it kept pace with us over time. Or as a shape shifter, our love taking on different forms and shapes over the years.
However it is best described, our story is one of patience, respect, hope and courage. One of grief, second chances, triumph and unforetold magic. One of ancient and enduring love on an enormous scale. Today, Michael and I have been telling you our story in many different forms; through the songs we’ve chosen, the ceremony we pieced together over shared bottles of wine, the speeches, our photos and of course the venues that we chose for our wedding. Our lives have been intertwined both inescapably and intentionally, since we first met in 1979 resulting in a shared history that spans six decades.
So let’s start there, with our first decade together, the 1970’s. We didn’t know it then, but in the dying part of this decade, our course was set in unstoppable motion. We were 13 year- old kids together, meeting for the very first time at your little disco at Kapunda primary school. There was us sitting on the floor of my room at our family home just down the road in Crase Street, where you told me that a book in my bookcase was “profound”. I had to wait until you had gone home to look up the meaning of “profound” in the dictionary. Already then you were a fine wordsmith.
Then came the 80’s. This was the decade of high school’s happy days. You were working after school at Boo Menzels’ butcher shop, cleaning up animal guts and I was working across the road at Rawady’s deli, bagging up mixed lollies. You’d often come in on Saturdays in your cricket whites, and, if you were lucky, I’d put extra ice cream in your milkshake. But most profoundly (see, I know how to use that word now!) there was our memorable Year 12 together (right where we were married just a few hours ago) where we would argue with our friend Trish, about Paul McCarthy, our beloved history teacher, and who he liked the best. (……………………………………)
The 80s continued with parties at the nearby duck pond, dunkings at the Kapunda swimming pool, hot vodka-infused days at Adelaide oval one dayers, and afternoons watching each other play netball and footy right here at Dutton Park. There were the commutes together to Salisbury teachers college, rural youth camps, and night time visits to the local St John’s Cemetery to find ghosts (although never one to mess with the paranormal, you refused to come out of the car!). Michael and I have always been proud that our birthdays are only one week apart and in this decade we celebrated our 18th birthdays together and, as the 80’s ended, our 21sts.
Along came the 90’s. Champagne on the salt pans of Lake Gilles in Kimba and a joyously happy summer together. But the universe had different ideas for us during this decade – our working lives began and the world beckoned. We both trod different paths but we stayed deeply bonded as friends and continued to share in each other’s joys and sorrows. There were dinners, coffees, movies and our 30th birthdays. Our bond of friendship remained strong while we travelled the world. There were letters, cards and phonecalls, whether they were from a pub in England, the Boomerang bar in Singapore, a hotel room in California or a phone box in Turkey.
The 2000’s brought a decade of significant life events for us. On that terrible day, September 11th 2001 we sought each other out to spend the afternoon together to try and make sense of that crazy moment in world history. During this decade we celebrated our 40th birthdays and the births of our wonderful children. You shed tears with me at the funerals of my mum, my dad and my eldest sister Fran.
The decade of the “twenty teens” saw countless pub dinners, shared laughter and fringe shows with Trish and our MC, Kerry. There were barbecues, drinks and significantly our 50th birthdays when Trish and I made you a world class video on the lawn of our high school, right where we were married today, that was premiered at your party.
And then…..finally, in the twilight part of the twenty teens, the world righted itself, the universe smiled upon us and decided it was time to offer us a new beginning – together.
And so now we come to this decade – the 2020’s, and our wedding day. A scarcely dared dream; when finally it’s our time to have a shared life, where we get to call each other from Aisle 7 in Bunnings to discuss the colour of shelving supports or push pins vs thumb tacks. So everyday, so ordinary yet for us, extraordinary. I know, I get that you will be surprised to learn that in this decade we get to celebrate our shared 60th birthday party, and our retirement together!
If mum and dad and Fran, my eldest sister, were here today, they would have been filled with happiness and be cheering us on. Mum and dad knew you so well. Dad would have loved sharing a beer with you, together bemoaning the AFL management, and singing the praises of the SANFL. Mum would have served you your own stash of homemade biscuits so you wouldn’t need to sneak them from the top of the fridge, like you used to. And Fran would have made us a wedding cake. How I wish they could experience our joy today and see the warm, engaging and quality person that you have become, and how proud of you I am.
There are four people we would like to single out to say thank you to: our four children – Francie, HP, Max and Alex. All four have embraced us, and our love and our marriage. I am ever so thankful for their loving support and am proud to say that Michael and I have children who are insightful, generous and open hearted. To Max, Alex, HP and Francie, my deeply heartfelt thanks.
And now Michael, of course to you….
Michael, I’ve known you at nearly every stage of your life. As a boy, as a teen, as a young man and now as an approaching senior! I’ve watched you blossom from an inarticulate and awkward boy to a self-crafted, clever and insightful man. I love you for your boyish charm, your ability to find beauty in the everyday, your tenderness, your mindfulness, your forgiveness. I love you for your wish to see the best in people. Your wit, comedic timing and playful smile. Your openness to learn from others. You are an inspirational, dedicated teacher, a keeper and writer of the finest literature and have the best Michael Caine and Arnie accents in Glenelg North. I love you for your expansive, unwavering and boundless love for me.
Michael Craig Randall, whether it was as young sweethearts, or as the best of friends, I have loved you. But we just had to wait. And we waited well. With faith, love and grace in our hearts.
And now, at last, I get to love you as my husband. You are every dream inside my soul and I love you completely.
Thanks to everyone for joining us at our beloved Kapunda High School, and here now, in this footy club which is one hundred years older than Claire and me. These places have such profound and affirming meaning for us, and across the ceremony and this reception we’ve wanted to tell our story; our long, sometimes maddening, always beautiful story. I thank Claire for making today the elegant event it’s been. Your dress, the candles, the delicate details you’ve created for this celebration – I love you.
We were still teenagers when Claire rang to tell me she’d won the job. I knew she would – such are her impressive talents and attractive, girl-next-door persona. She was to be a host on the kids’ TV show Cartoon Connection. Of course I was thrilled for her, but also secretly despairing…
I imagined Claire (and her shapely calves) at Channel 7 touring the facility and saying hello to Wheel of Fortune’s Adriana Xenides and the goofy Baby John Burgess. But she’d also encounter the weather presenter, Keith Martyn. According to some, a gruff and condescending figure, he also annually published his own South Australian almanac, the impressively entitled, Keith Martyn’s South Australian Almanac. Now Keith’s book included tide times and details about when to plant tomatoes. How could I compete with this glamour? I could see Claire stepping in and out of Italian sports cars, going to A-list events and having her photo in the Sunday Mail (and not just the Possums Pages). I was right to be concerned at the high stakes: early on in the show they gave away – I’m not making this up – a 14-inch Phillips portable colour television!
I feared that Claire might be swept away from us for there I was, working weekends in Kapunda at Rexy Draper’s service station. Datsun 180Bs returning from day visits to Cadell would limp in with hissing radiators and billowing smoke and the frowning drivers would plead, “Can you fix it?” and nineteen-year old me would reply, “No, sorry. I’m not a mechanic, I’m a historian”. But then, one afternoon, I saw you on Cartoon Connection. You’d taken your dog, Bonnie, to appear with you on the show, and got her to count to ten with her paws. During that segment, you were so engaged with, and proud of, Bonnie that I reckon you forgot you were on camera. In that moment, I knew it was all going to be alright. You wouldn’t forget us. You were still our Claire– and always would be.
But before you moved on from your TV career you were to be offered a job as a weather presenter. That would’ve been fantastic. “Let’s cross now to Claire who’s up in Kapunda outside the Clare Castle Hotel and she’s got your four day forecast (the seven day version had yet to be discovered). Oh, we seem to have lost Claire. No, wait, she’s actually inside the pub! Ordering a brandy and coke!”
In 1991 I was living in Kimba and that November, you and Trish came to visit one weekend. Our worlds were expanding and we were all being pulled on different paths, but a photo from that weekend captures the moment when you and I sat together at Lake Gilles on a wooden sign – looking out towards the horizon. Things shifted that weekend, and we turned towards each other and in the two months that followed, I thought our time had arrived. On Boxing Day I went to America for three weeks and with you as a constant, joyous reference point I visited San Francisco and Phoenix and Santa Barbara and I stood on the snowy rim of the Grand Canyon. I was at some of the most exciting places in the world but, most exciting was the thought that you were awaiting me, back home across the Pacific in Adelaide. But the world turned. You continued with your life and I, mine. I did the only thing I could: I went out to Buckleboo one February afternoon and for the Kimba Cricket Club took 5/15. Gee, I bowled well. My in-swinger was never better. Tragically, we were later rolled by Waddikee who went on to win the A grade grand final.
And then, precious Claire, after almost thirty years, our paths changed and we found ourselves again sitting side-by-side, gazing at the horizon. In early 2020 we allowed ourselves the kind of indulgence only permitted those in love: we flew to Sweden for a week. We drove (not in a Volvo) across the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo and then near Lyungbyhed to a secluded cabin. It was a remarkable, enchanted time. Some evenings we’d walk through the forest to a dark, still lake and climb onto a creaking pontoon. We’d sit at the table with a lighted candle, pull a rug over us, eat olives and talk of all we’d done that day, and of old friends, and things over the years that had made us laugh and things that made us cry, and of our children, and our hopes. And geese would skim across the lake and gather on its island and you’d smile at me in that heartening, exquisite way. Around us a peculiar, blue twilight would grow above the trees and my heart was singing for I knew, after all the desperately rushing decades and the long aching years, that finally, finally – kind, clever, funny, amazing Claire – we were together.
Pulling up at the Broadway pub on Friday afternoon Claire remarked on how atypically easy our drive had been from the city to the beach. So much so that the car’s clock displayed our triumphant arrival as –
This, of course, scientists will gladly tell you is the optimal afternoon pub starting time, at least in the southern hemisphere. Locating a cosy table in the beer garden we let an hour drift away and all was providential in our world.
Saturday our local footy team the Glenelg Tigers were hosting a twilight match and the boys and I headed down. Sitting on the eastern side the late winter sun (now, we all acknowledge that spring only commences after the equinox on either September 21 or 22, don’t we?) poured honeyed light across the grass, the sky and us.
As is customary Alex, Max and their mates watched minimal minutes of the match, their attention taken by hot chips, each other and roaming about the oval.
Glenelg skipped away early and kept West Adelaide subservient throughout, and it was a spectacular afternoon. The fresh air and stroll did us all some good.
Once each winter month we set our fire bucket going with some red gum and spend a glowing evening on the patio. Claire struck a match as we made our way home from the footy and we enjoyed a few hours in the crackling warmth.
Games give the night some diverting structure and we engaged in Family Feud which is based upon the eponymous TV show. One night I flicked on the box and caught this question, just before the show was axed. This may have been the question that finished it off, but I still can’t decide if it’s towering genius or beyond moronic. We surveyed our studio audience and got their top 100 responses to this:
Name something a spider might think about?
Saturday night I read a question for Claire and Alex that went:
Name a calorie-burning exercise?
Claire and Alex called out running and cycling and others but couldn’t get the final reply which had seven responses. There was much guessing and frustration. Remember the question was:
Name a calorie-burning exercise?
Coming from the country that bought us Sco Mo and Warney’s autobiography called My Autobiography and XXXX Gold (at best a bronze product) the fourth reply was, you guessed it, exercise.
Sunday dawned as Father’s Day and we had Mum and Dad and my sister’s family over for a BBQ. It was sunny and warm and gentle. We ate lamb and chicken and beef. We had tossed salad and Thai noodle salad and red wine from McLaren Vale and the Barossa.
We spoke of renovations and footy and holidays. We then had Mum’s bread and butter pudding which may have had its origins in poverty but is now emblematic of comfort. The day was affirming and then it became late afternoon and with waving and tooting that was it.
The Footy Almanac is a magnificent community for reading and writing, and occasionally it runs competitions. It recently held a microfiction event in which twitter stories with a maximum of 280 characters on the theme of the current virus were sought.
It was terrific and the entries were varied and offered compelling insights into the challenges and human responses to our circumstances.
Claire and I were in Europe when this contagion accelerated. In chronological order here’s my three stories.
At the outbreak of the outbreak in a Swedish cottage. Beyond the cold glass are the forest, lake, brisk air, and our sublime late afternoons. We breathe our words to and fro. The cottage is a meniscus, and like migratory atoms, we are within, and then, without.
Our languid breakfast is done. On the table: a carton of milk, muesli, a punnet of berries. Two coffee cups, almost nodding at each other like we might’ve done at a party decades ago, a conspiracy of caffeine. The day stretches its arms. Isolation begins.
The light bends in and falls across us like soft piano notes. A tiny expansive space. This is our morning and evening altar, and here we share the day’s fresh promise and sink into night’s snug entwining. Outside, an earth spins. Inside, it’s our second week.
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.
I notice it early. The drummer, lashing and bombastic and then gentle, is wearing a Collingwood jumper. Chris Thomson is the stickman for Vampire Weekend and here in The Forum, in the heart of Melbourne, it’s a gesture emblematic of this band’s magnanimous outlook. I’m not a Magpie fan, but I smile. It’s an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.
I instantly love The Forum. An arts venue must be evocative and not simply functional. It should also be an instructive text, and a participant in the unfurling theatre. Inside’s a blue night sky, kitsch yet confirming Roman busts, spaciousness, coolness, and a beguiling solidarity amongst the eclectic gathering, all there for the same connection. A generous security guard takes our photo, while the beardy Scottish one near the VIP section is chirpy denial when we ask to sneak in.
* Third song in is, “Unbelievers” from Modern Vampires of the City. It’s chugging, train-like rhythm and stubborn optimism, but I love the distillation, the there’s-a-life-right-there, gorgeous binary of
I know I love you
And you love the sea.
* An Oxford comma is a controversial punctuation mark. It’s also the title of the first Vampire Weekend song I heard in which it’s a symbol to critique affectation and exclusivity. It references Dharamshala in India, site of the world’s most strikingly situated cricket ground with the snow-capped Himalayas creating a painterly mis-en-scene. Dharamshala is also home to the Dalai Lama. I hope Vampire Weekend write a song about the apostrophe. Gee, we need’s it.
* Fresh from lunch at Il Tempo on Degraves Street we amble up Flinders Street to investigate The Forum. The capitalised black font on the front’s white hoarding rouses a frizz of frisson. Next door Hosier Lane ribbons with its urban art while across the road is angular and aggressive Federation Square. Like the difficult, exciting world itself we’re at once confronted and comforted.
* That other 2020 Australian phenomenon, the power outage, quieted the band part way into “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and twenty minutes later they took up the song where it had collapsed before it plunged again and Ezra said that a third, and final attempt to fix the electrical issue would proceed, but we dreaded our night would suffer voltage interruptus and Claire and I would wing back to Adelaide, unrequited and hollow. Blissfully, the show then rollicked through 27 songs including an encore request for, “Ottoman” which shares lyrical intertextuality with, “Cape Cod” courtesy of the gently self-mocking
it feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too.
It could be a nod to the band’s supposed Afro-beats cultural appropriation. * To soar music needs space and silence. Within songs and across songs this transpires Tuesday night in The Forum. I like being invited to dart into the air and light by harmony. Colour and texture and welcoming lulls for my mind and ears. Art’s a conversation, a handshake, an invitation to make an investment. I can hear former band member Rostam Batmanglij’s legacy: bewilderingly pretty piano lines; unique guitar resonances; sonic and human fragility.
* Greta Morgan’s a multi-instrumentalist touring with Vampire Weekend and like everyone on stage, she contributes effervescently. We enjoy her 80’s dancing behind the keyboard during which she sways from side to side like she’s in a Human League tribute band. Brilliant. She plays a maraca too, and in a 7-piece outfit, in this age of drowning sounds and buffoon noise, we watch and concentrate and pick out its tiny sunny rattle. At once each band member is both within the ensemble and without, operating in a private territory and yet coupled to organic whole. * Of the songs I’ve anticipated across both hemispheres and many decades we especially want to hear Vampire Weekend’s “Hannah Hunt.” It’s a text of deep and shuddering significance. At 2.40 the music bursts, and the moment is perfectly formed with beauty and despair and somehow, despite it all, triumph. After the song, front man Ezra Koenig describes how the opening lines were inspired by dialogue from Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.
A gardener told me some plants move
But I could not believe it
Till me and Hannah Hunt
Saw crawling vines and weeping willows
As we made our way from Providence to Phoenix
* Two giant blue and green globes are thrown among the mosh pit who bounce and tumble them about with joyous physics. It’s been a superb set and the realisation of a shared goal. The final song is “Ya Hey” and it’s introduced with an acknowledgment of the bushfire crisis and there’s poignancy in the lines
Through the fire and through the flames
You won’t even say your name.
It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.
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.
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.
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.