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Kenny Rogers and me

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In 1983, during Year 12, these are the songs I unforgivably thought were cool:
“Twisting by the Pool” by Dire Straits
“Bop Girl” by Pat Wilson
and this, yes, this
“Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats.

How could this ever have happened?

Later that year, just after I turned seventeen, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton released “Islands in the Stream” (named after a Hemingway novel) and I scoffed at it. Country music! Old people! Corny! I was seventeen.

It was unlikely played on 5SSA-FM as SA-FM was then known. I can’t recall hearing it on the Morning Zoo with John Vincent and Grant Cameron as I drove my sky-blue HR Holden to Kapunda High to endure the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins (“I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon”).

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I didn’t appreciate its alternating lead vocals, superb harmonies, and thrilling key change until, I’m ashamed to share, much later in life. And Dolly, somehow both tiny and colossal, is the perfect partner to Kenny’s warm yet seasoned voice.

Often now making an appearance on the back patio at a BBQ it’s one of the great duets.

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Growing up in the 70s, Mum and Dad had some of Kenny Rogers’ vinyl including his greatest hits and the compelling Eyes That See in the Dark (of course, he could never have been Ken Rogers for he’s obviously the manager of your local hardware store). The albums are long gone but I remember him spinning on the Pye 3-in-1 (turntable, cassette and radio) and his voice. It was golden but with an edge of experience and slight menace as needed. It also hinted at a mythic America of adventure and promise. It evoked a place I wanted to go.

As with much in art and music there’s often a dramatic gap between the sunny melodies and the lyric’s dark narrative. “Coward of the County” is about sexual violence, “Reuben James” explores deep-seated racism and “Ruby” concerns a Vietnam veteran whose disability renders him unable to satisfy his wife so she ventures into town- “painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair”- to get her needs met, but my childhood ears were deaf to these distant themes.

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The Big Lebowski is my favourite film and Kenny contributes to this too. In this shaggy-dog story bringing together a congregation of random, found objects, “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was in)” fits the much-loved dream sequence perfectly. It’s by The First Edition and lead vocals are by Kenny. The scene begins when porn star Jackie Treehorn drugs The Dude’s White Russian.

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The Dude is the main character played by Jeff Bridges and presents like Kenny if he’d let himself go and frequented his local supermarket Ralph’s in his house pants and dressing gown. Featuring bowling, Saddam, love interest Maude in Viking costume, and some Johnson-dismembering Nihilists welding novelty-sized scissors, this psychedelic pop track is an irresistible accompaniment, and gave Kenny some late-career pop culture panache.

The lyrics open thus:
I woke up this morning with the sundown shining in
I found my mind in a brown paper bag within
I tripped on a cloud and fell-a eight miles high
I tore my mind on a jagged sky
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.

Just like the Dude, and most of The Big Lebowski, these are joyously nonsensical.

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Early this century on my first big overseas trip I saw much that bedazzled me. The Berlin Wall, Big Ben, the Colosseum. But, among the strangest sights was one at the start in Penang. Wandering about Georgetown, the muggy, sister-city of Adelaide, and staring at the Chinese, Indian, Islamic and British architecture beyond the downtown markets, I saw what appeared as yet another American restaurant.

Getting closer, I squint at the signage. Kenny Rogers Roasters. Oh, must be another of that name I thought. A local icon I’ve not heard of. Fantastic. That’s why we travel. But the face seems familiar. White beard, grandfatherly. Vaguely Colonel Sanders so that is right for a chook place. Intrigued I stroll in.

It was that Kenny Rogers. With his own restaurant! In the middle of Asia! A long way from Nashville. What a glorious, unforeseen world.

Inside the walls were festooned with gold records and beaming (possibly photo shopped) pictures of Houston’s favourite country star. “The Gambler” strummed out beneath the slowly circulating ceiling fans. Still disbelieving, and considering the menu, it seemed neither Southern American nor Asian but possibly a Mississippian/ Malaysian fusion.

A decade or so later there was a Kenny Rogers Roasters (although the last American KRR diner closed in 2011, it’s still powering in Asia) across from my Singaporean condominium at the geographically-confused shopping centre Great World City. Fresh to the country, I took the boys there once for a dreadfully expensive meal of chicken and chips, and wondered how mad the unrelenting stream of Kenny’s Greatest Hits might send even the most devoted of wait staff.

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Kenny Rogers has drifted in and out of my life in both affectionate and minor ways. Glancing at his back catalogue, there’s an ungodly number of Christmas albums, but he’s made a personal mark. Yesterday with everything spiralling, a mate sent me a message which said:
Kenny Rogers dippin’ out in the middle of an apocalypse is the most “know when to fold ‘em” shit I’ve ever heard.

Well played, Kenny. Thanks.

KR record

 

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Sausage Roll Review: LRB plays the Dulwich Bakery, Glenelg South

 

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At noon I remember my quest: to eat this country’s finest sausage roll. The two proximate bakeries offer products of middling quality like Little River Band’s 1978 album Sleeper Catcher which after the hit single “Lady,” falls away dispiritingly.

The Dulwich bakery began in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs (yes, in Dulwich) and has since expanded like the belly of the man who ate all the pies and now there’s one in Glenelg South too.

Heading along Partridge Street I pass a school where it’s also lunchtime and I see all the straw-hatted girls, all eating entitled food, all named Charlotte.

Gliding through the roundabout near the Broadway pub and despite being a modest Korean model, my car issues a little automotive whimper as I cruelly ignore the lure of beer garden refreshment and carry on.

Outside the bakery are shiny nubs of metal tables and chairs while inside are wooden booths, and my sausage roll, having been, “plated up” as Gordon Ramsey might bark, I take a quiet corner.

I have a bite.

Food and memory are coupled. Fish and chips on the breezy foreshore; a bucket of undrinkable coffee in an airport dawn; the languid schnitzel in a wine valley pub.

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Sausage rolls speak of the past. Even if you trot out after reading this and buy one, I reckon you’re time-travelling to your childhood. They live in a black and white era when you were small and the world was unthinkably big. Sausage rolls, home-made with fork marks sealing the pastry, at a primary school birthday, when the fun was unscripted and there was running, lots of aimless, skun-knees running.

Today, the pastry is tasty and of a welcoming texture. It avoids the twin evils of being greasy and soggy or dry and flaky. A bright opening like, “Help Is On Its Way” the first song on Diamantina Cocktail. 1978 was a great year for LRB and for sausage rolls.

The filling is a pleasure: warm, with a suggestion of spice and pepper and showing a brownish, beefy hue unlike the Barbie pink of other sausage rolls loitering within this postcode. Various lunch punters come and go; variously corporate, high-vis, matronly, harried parent.

If I applied the Pitchfork (an alternative music website) album review metric I’d give my sausage roll an 8.3.

And with my lunch now commencing its growling digestive journey I considered my good fortune on this autumnal afternoon. I had the three essentials for a happy existence: something to do; something to look forward to; someone to love.

If peak Little River Band is the full version of, “It’s A Long Way There” the first song from their eponymous album, then while the Dulwich bakery release is excellent, I’ve not yet located the sausage roll equivalent.

My quest continues.

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Hottest 100 (minus 90) Stubby Holders of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten Footnotes from Vampire Weekend at Melbourne’s Forum

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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

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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.

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A Superb Christmas Song

1963

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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Pub Review: The Lighthouse Wharf, Port Adelaide

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Lighthouses have significant symbolic power as they represent saving innocent lives, but also those lost to the infinite power of waves. Tributes to consuming love and optimistic simplicity, lighthouses are also emblematic of aspirational elegance.

Besides, who hasn’t entertained the thought of a month in one, with the person of your dreams?

According to them internets Australia’s lighthouses are variously classified as: active, deactivated, destroyed, automated, solar-powered, survived cyclone Tracy, abandoned, struck by lightning, and my favourite, kerosene-driven. Is kerosene still available? I hope so, and might later pop down my local servo with a rusty tin and get some, just to keep in my shed.

With its suggestions of whale-boned corsetry Lady Bay Lower Lighthouse in Victoria is an evocative example while Malcolm Point on Lake Alexandrina features the country’s only inland lighthouse built to support River Murray trade. I can picture Sigrid Thornton frowning beneath its towering majesty in a big frock and bonnet. It was turned off in 1931.

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South Australia has 27 lighthouses and there’s one on the Port River following its relocation in 1986. Red and white, cast iron skeletal and hexagonal, it stands 82 feet tall and is adjacent to the Lighthouse Wharf Hotel.

Drifting in around 5 bells as part of my now annual visit to this part of town I’m impressed by the light and breeze and welcoming mis en scene, all exposed brickwork and craft beer taps. I mention Greg Phillips the former publican, Port Magpie powerhouse and sire of Erin Phillips, herself an icon, but the bar staff reply

“I’m only new.”
“Check with Nick. I’ve only been here a month.”
“Greg who?”

Waiting for my $5 happy hour pint of Coopers Pale Ale (delicious and inexpensive) I note a poster advertising the pub’s Trivia Quiz Nights. I can only conclude that these include questions like

What is the most common form of trivia?
Did Shakespeare use the word trivia in any of his comedies?
What are the top five topics for trivia in Moldova?
Should pubs avoid tautology in their marketing and have either trivia nights or quiz nights?

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Old mate Bob and his lad Jack join me out the front and we take in the Customs House, sailing ships and knots of punters (maritime metaphors are compulsory down here) who are also in their Thursday, Adelaide Test eve, chirpy cups. Jack has a Coke and a bag of chips, which is surely all that an eight-year-old needs after basketball training and with a mere month until Christmas.

Nautical suburbs are inescapably compelling and Port Adelaide, with its tangle of narrow streets and grand architecture, is wonderful. However, its promised rejuvenation seems a way off. Bob and I agree that a key strategy must be to increase the local population with affordable housing.

The Hilltop Hoods are playing in the background and urging us in myriad ways, to myriad unforeseen destinations. We have another beer.

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Lighthouses feature in music too. British prog-rock pioneers Van der Graaf Generator have a song in their sludgy catalogue called, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers,” a ten-part, 23-minute concept piece ruminating on the complexities of lighthouse keeping, what with all those storms and ships smashing upon jagged rocks and sailors perishing. But it’s not blasting over the speakers in this beer garden today.

I prefer Sydney troubadour Josh Pyke’s paean to these beacons called, rather unconfusingly, “The Lighthouse Song.” It’s about the beauty of binary and the need to flee a crushing planet.

So we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I
While seas drown sailors, we’ll be locked up safe and dry
And though our doors may knock and rattle in the wind
I’ll just hold you tight and we’ll not let those fuckers in

We vow to return soon. There’s much left to experience such as a meal hopefully not featuring a schnitzel inexcusably crushing its desperate bed of hot chips, live music, and that most potent symbol of great hostelry, the giant connect four game in the beer garden.

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Pub Review: A Story from the Story Bridge Hotel

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

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

Bugger I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our pies were magnificent.

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

Claire’s mash was pinnacle potato. Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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