Freshly painted like a Cunard ocean liner, the Ramsgate is a big, majestic seaside pub.
It puts me in mind of similarly white-washed beach-front boozers in Brighton, England and St Kilda in Melbourne. It’s Friday evening and Claire and I are about to dine with Nick and his wife, Chris.
Someone once observed that Glenelg’s Moseley Square is for kids and that you graduate to Henley Square as an adult. I’m not sure the demographics are quite this dichotomous, but it’s a curious thought. I feel lucky that we can enjoy both.
The barkeep speaks my language (a local dialect- Friday Night Thirsty), “We’ve imperial pints for $7.” This was welcome news indeed, but it troubles me that in our tiny colony we differentiate between pints (425ml) and imperial pints (568ml). Surely, a pint is a pint. And I, governor, vote for the big one. It’s like we’ve a South Australian minute that only runs for 45 seconds.
We’re shepherded to our table.
Port and the Bulldogs are playing on multiple screens. A few Januarys’ back Nick and I and some chaps booked lunch in the Ramsgate beer garden to watch the Sydney Test, only to discover that it was showing endless UFC fights. Unable to quickly get some neck tatts we slinked off to the front bar and the gentler magnetisms of cricket.
Nick and I’ve been mates since our Kapunda High days when we bonded over Skyhooks and the Stones’ 1981 album Tattoo You (predating UFC). Later came Midnight Oil and Dylan (for his 21st we gave him a book with the entire collected lyrics of his Bobness) and Nick Cave.
There’s sharing of family histories with ships departing from Hamburg mid-1800’s and Polish Hill and the Victorian goldrush. It’s a compelling privilege to hear the remarkable yarns tracing how you all came to be sitting at the same pub table on an August night. The waiter pays us three patient visits before we’ve decided on our tucker, such is the gusto of our yak. It’s a positive metric.
Claire and Chris finish their bubbles, so Nick asks for a Running with the Bulls Grenache, made in the Barossa. The wine’s Spanish narrative, I’m sure, is designed as a point of difference from the largely German motifs of the valley. Initially, it’s a little sharp but then softens, like a 1950’s hospital matron.
Nick and I have the first of our compulsory conversations about the Rolling Stones and again agree that “Gimme Shelter” is their finest song. I mention reading once of its opening being characterised by “apocalyptic dread” while Nick speaks in awe of Merry Clayton’s backing vocals, probably the most revered in music history.
War, children It’s just a shot away It’s just a shot away
Given Charlie Watts’ passing days after our discussion this chat now seems a little haunted.
Claire enjoys her butter chicken while Chris and I each settle upon the lime-infused squid. There’s no audible complaining. Nick’s steak is delayed due to human error, which philosophically, I’d argue, is the only real type of error. Ultimately, he’s pleased with it.
There would seem to be Teal-flavoured human error aplenty on the big screens for at half-time in the footy Port’s only managed a solitary goal. The pub’s front door is shut so we can’t hear the yelping from Alberton.
It’s a prosperous and lively place, this Ramsgate and our night’s replete with conversation, cups and respectable nosh.
Tomorrow night’s a full moon. We stroll up the balmy, windless esplanade for a nightcap.
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.
My thong presses the accelerator as we pass the Bluebird Café and steer along Queen Elizabeth Drive with the lake on our left and a row of beige residences on our right. We see the besser block holiday unit I stayed in with Mum, Dad and my sister Jill when I was thirteen.
In that hot bedroom I played Hotel California over and over on my little cassette player when I wasn’t walking to and from Barwell Avenue and gazing in shops or drifting by the jetty just across from the town oval, home to the Barmera Roos.
We’ve decided upon the guessing order for the week and each must declare their prediction before we leave the town limits.
Max goes with his traditional low number. He’s already a student of the form, and gets us away with a crisp, ‘Three.’
Alex quickly declares, ‘Four’ and Claire participates with an optimistic, ‘Six.’
I then finish the formalities with what history tells us is an unlikely seven. All moving vehicles count, but we must pass them on the road itself before we get to the finish line. We call it the Lake Lap and it’s now in its third big season.
It’s a January afternoon and time for our daily tradition. Just before 5pm we coax the boys into the car from the jetty or the caravan park pool or their cabin chairs in front of the Test and alight in the pub drive-through where we negotiate our refreshments. A soft drink for the boys and a can of something serious for Claire. I get a Sparkling Ale. Alex says, “Dad, can we have some jerky too?”
‘No’ is my automatic reply, ‘you won’t eat your dinner.’ The protests begin. I then say to the drive-through attendant, ‘Can I leave the boys here with you for an hour?’
‘No’ comes his automatic reply. He’s a wizened, laconic type who looks like this job is to get him out of the house. ‘I should be immune to the noise. I’ve got eleven grand-kids.’
Easing through Barmera’s empty streets I note the bowls club and recall my first long-distance journey as a learner driver. It was 1983 and Dad had a tournament up here. In the green Ford Falcon I was legally limited to 80 kph, irritating a trailing and snarling V8. After a lengthy period he growled past me with horn blaring and outrage billowing from his twin exhausts. A mile or so later I saw a flashing blue light and the grumpy driver taking roadside receipt of a speeding fine. How I itched to honk my horn back at him, but this wouldn’t have done for a L-Plater with his Mum and Dad.
Lake Bonney’s shore is defended by dozens of dead gum trees and with the open road ahead we gather speed, but I keep to an unhurried ninety so we can better enjoy our circuit. Lonely caravans squat on the bank with their deck chairs and murmuring AM radio and late-afternoon mugs of strong tea. Above us is a soaring azure sky, and save for the mighty river and this lake we’re in a desert of scrub and sheep stations. There’s few vehicles on this section of the lap.
The radio’s on Triple J and the boys’ musical world is expanding along with their limbs so I introduce them to Tame Impala’s best album Innerspeaker and they enjoy the swirling psychedelic guitars. Is one of the selfish joys of parenthood inflicting your culture upon your offspring? Our other aural routine is Ben Folds’ Rocking the Suburbs on the way to Barmera, once we leave the Truro bakery and descend Accommodation Hill.
Drifting by the ruins at the Morgan Road intersection we then see Chambers Creek which feeds the lake’s 1700 hectares. To our right the road goes to the Overland Corner Hotel and it’s again changed hands, but is without a license until February and, of course, this is unbeknown to us on our Slim Dusty visit. Like many Murray landmarks it boasts a sign indicating the eye-widening 1956 flood level. No-one went thirsty back then.
More traffic is likely now and the current sedan score is only two so I tease with Dad comments like, “I can see a convoy of cars coming!” or “What if we pass the Hell’s Angels?” We pass the ubiquitous Pelican Point and its advertised Nudist Resort, but don’t call in as we’re overdressed. Along a fence there’s a teapot atop each of the strainer posts. With the bitumen curving about, vehicles might suddenly emerge as they make their way around the glittering lake.
After the ceaseless slog of parenting the boys as babies and toddlers they’re blossoming and rewarding company, and now choosing shared rather than solitary fun. Our daily Lake Lap represents this happy change, and I hope in years to come it’ll remain a keenly anticipated holiday routine and one they’ll discuss with affection and gentle mockery of their Dad.
Reaching the Sturt Highway today’s game concludes with Max again victorious. We’ll drive back to the cabin for a barbecue or to the Cobby Club for schnitzel night or maybe a swim in the parched, motionless evening.
In June I chronicled our first pub visit in 92 days, and now I describe our final pub experience for, well, dunno.
Back then it was at the Broady in Glenelg South, and on this occasion circumstances allowed us to swing by the Excelsior in the inner suburb of Brompton.
The government’s lunchtime press conference saw our lockdown outlined, and so, with a singular wish, we made a booking.
I’d last frequented the Excelsior about twenty years ago as part of a loose, but committed collective which attempted to visit every hotel in Adelaide under the cross of a Wednesday Schnitzel Club. Back then the pub’s interior design was Phantom-themed as in the ghost who walks, man who can not die. I’ve since discovered this connects to Marvel comics hero Stan Lee’s lifelong catchcry- excelsior.
Now, this motif has been retired and the pub is a little more anonymous with standard boozer carpet and taupe walls and a circa 1998 Triple M soundtrack. But, its location is trendy Coglin Street and the mise en scène as we alighted our cars was suggestive of Melbourne’s Fitzroy given the proximity to the CBD, and aspirational and artsy population.
The service was friendly and the staff were certainly approachable. There was no gloomy subtext which in their position would’ve been fair. Ordering a Big Shed American Ale the advice was, “It’s highly drinkable and quite fruity.”
Claire opted for an entrée of parmi (not parma) bread and this got our last supper underway in a fashion of which JC may have nodded his Neoplatonist approval. It was a warm evening, but C’s glass of red was both generous and pleasant in that luxurious, midweek way.
Despite the swirling uncertainty in our city-state the pub patrons appeared calm and accepting. Nearby, a family with three young girls coloured in their books in functional silence. Even their pigtails were cooperative, laying still on their narrow shoulders. Thinking of the boys at their age, I shuddered at the likely fiscal and psychological tolls of a similarly modest mealtime.
My beef burger was satisfactory although I’m constantly dismayed at the absence of beetroot in these. Surely, its inclusion is as Australian as pineapple on a Hawaiian pizza. My chips came in one of those petite wire baskets about which I have reservations. Still, they’re better than suffocating them beneath a schnitzel which must soon enjoy a Royal Commission.
Claire’s salad was plentiful and enjoyed. The roast capsicum, red onion, baby bocconcini, and bacon all played their roles like a young Meryl Streep, whatever this means.
Strolling out into the early evening a clot of lads was settling in for the night on their apartment balcony and judging by the hollering were each about five beers deep.
We were all on the cusp of lockdown, but I remember that excelsior means upward and I nodded to myself and glanced again at the balcony.
“Some hats can only be worn if you’re willing to be jaunty, to set them at an angle and to walk beneath them with a spring in your stride as if you’re only a step away from dancing. They demand a lot of you.”
Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys
“You can never have too many good hats.”
Phil Klingberg, Kimba Cricket Club (1993)
On this gusty afternoon I’m on our patio writing. I’m just up the road from where the Chappell brothers attended St Leonards Primary School in the palindromic suburb of Glenelg.
It’s sitting on the table quietly, but has a full and boisterous past. Faded and frayed, on its front an emblem; two golden stalks of wheat embrace the acronym KCC. Kapunda Cricket Club. Down one side; the crowded loops of a celebrated signature.
It’s in its fourth decade. Mothers, wives and girlfriends, everyone, please look away now for it’s never been caught within twenty-two yards of a twin-tub.
It’s my Greg Chappell cricket hat.
I was at high school when the Kapunda Cricket Club distributed these hats in 1982. Cold Chisel had released Circus Animals, the Violent Femmes erupted with their eponymous debut, and the Eagles presented their second greatest hits album, meaning there were only forty-three such offerings to come (thus far). On average each Australian household now contains six separate versions of “Desperado.”
My hat was there as I featured in four losing grand final sides on the West Coast (South Australia, not California). This doesn’t bother me as cricket was always more social than showdown, and provided a fun, often protracted afternoon and post-afternoon structure to my Saturdays. I enjoyed the temperate rhythms, wit and mateship because if you played cricket with a chap, then bumping into him at Adelaide Oval guaranteed a happily frothy conversation.
How’d you go if you could face your own bowling? Would your eyes light up? Or would you cringe at the crease? Like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn attending their own funerals it’s delicious to ponder, but unattainable. I’d endured a poor season when I made more runs than I took wickets. And my bowling wasn’t fearsome. More Les Paterson, than Lenny Pascoe.
I’d my cricket hat with me when old mate R. Bowden and I flew to New Zealand for that shamefully compulsory rite of passage, the Contiki Tour. On the South Island we visited Fox Glacier, where our tour guide advised us to take a hat. Yes, a fox hat.
It was summer, however in the photo we’re huddled on the bitter, elevated tundra. I’m petrified as I’ve climbed many icy steps to the frozen plateau, but know in that nagging way going up is easy; it’s the coming back down which gets unpleasant. I didn’t want my distorted limbs, innards and freshly bloodied cricket hat sent back across the Tasman in a chilly bin.
Like any commendable cap it’s versatile. An enthusiastic but fabulously incoherent golfer, on a par four I can go from Greg Norman to Norman Bates to General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf (I’m assured he’d a hideous slice) in seven shots. I like to wear my Greg Chappell hat up and down, but more often, across the fairways, and remember a coach telling me, “You’ve got it arse-about. You hit a cricket ball in the air, and a golf ball along the ground.”
It was shielding my boofy face just before the change of millennium when, up the Riverland on the wonderful Waikerie golf course, I lipped out on the last. This would’ve given me a best-ever back nine of 39. The next morning at Renmark, sure I’d the sport sorted, I bludgeoned my way to, and swiftly beyond one hundred, like David Warner in a feisty frame of mind.
At Kimba playing Buckleboo during harvest an unspeakable northerly roared down the desert, blasting sand and flies and primordial horror. While umpiring in the reddish apocalypse a team-mate signed my hat with the names of West Indian cricketers Viv, Joel and Clive. He even spelt most of them adequately. But that was ages ago, and his ink is submerged beneath the yellowing cloth.
While we lived in Singapore my Greg Chappell hat spent three years in friendless and dark storage. How did I do this? Retrieving the hat from its tomb, I felt the antique brim, creased from its slumber, but still sturdy.
Now like a retiree forever doomed to two-fruit-and-ice-cream its solitary excursion is accompanying me and my Victa across our lawn. Given its unattractive capacity for making babies cry and dogs growl, my wife’s banished the hat from public appearances.
But on the backyard table it’s looking at me like Wilson the volleyball, from the Tom Hanks’ flick Cast Away. Later tonight with the wife and boys in bed I’ll continue to write and reflect over a Barossa shiraz, and when nobody’s peeking, I’ll stick it on my head.
A massive cold front lashed the Adelaide coast as we placed our order. As required by the new regime, we moved outside to the footpath and the rain blasted in, piggybacking or, maybe, rodeo-riding on the howling wind. It was not an archetypal evening for fish and chips by the seaside. No picnic rug accompanied by carousel music as a blue sky stretched above us.
Late May and all week I’ve screamed at TV news anchors as they’ve crossed to the weather reporter with variations upon, “So Amanda/Jane/Kate, how’s the last week of autumn looking?” With the winter solstice weeks away, it seems season change denial remains as incurable as climate change denial.
Semaphore is Adelaide’s most idiosyncratic beach suburb. There’s a range of compelling shops and eateries and attractions. The jetty is quaint and the wide lawns attract families and all types. While other strips such as Jetty Road in Glenelg and Norwood’s The Parade might present as tired, Semaphore is a vibrant and diverse village.
On this elemental evening, Claire and I order fish and chips from Sotos Fish Shop, established in 1949 and occupying a grandfatherly position in Adelaide’s seafood scene.
There’s a sturdy torrent of customers and, once I’ve got our food, we head to the foreshore where the diabolical conditions dictate that we eat in the car. I suspect the seagulls have clocked off for the day. Already the dark has closed in and the broiling ocean is hidden.
We’ve a medium chips and it’s a most generous pillow. The front seat of a mid-sized car is not an ideal dining venue and I’m worried that the floor may become a chip graveyard. Chips deserve better.
But casualties are minimal and the chips are excellent: crisp and golden and soft in the middle, and not too big. Pleasingly, they are far beyond the french fry’s absurd, Lilliputian dimensions which are a design and gastronomic parody. Who actually likes them? With its addiction to the huge and the excessive, I can’t believe these haven’t been outlawed in the US. Additionally, I recall seeing this online (not Sotos) and am still struggling with its paradox-
I’ve a piece of battered hake and it’s a treat too. Belonging to Iceland’s favourite family, the cod, I devour it as insulation against the peninsula’s cold. The staff at Sotos are also a deft hand with the salt shaker, achieving a balance between taste and imminent heart surgery.
Given the beverage restrictions, Claire has packed a thermos of hot chocolate. Is there a word as suggestive of huddled winter gatherings as thermos? Fish and chips followed by hot chocolate is a unique pairing, but Semaphore is a unique destination. Outside, the storm passes, on transit to the Adelaide Hills.
On the way home I listen to Triple J which, in a break with their usual brief, has been playing requests all week. Yesterday I heard Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 5 in C minor’ and the Mamas and Papas’ ‘California Dreaming’. Happily, I missed Axel F’s ‘Crazy Frog’, and the Antiques Roadshow theme song but, navigating through Henley Beach, I hear ELO offer up ‘Mr Blue Sky’ with its magnificent coda.
It’s been a day of welcome peculiarities – culinary, musical and meteorological.
Glen Campbell is waiting in the studio for a song. He has an album to finish. A courier rushes in with a cassette. The Wrecking Crew, a collective of session musicians, gets to work.
The song is ‘Wichita Lineman’ and the writer Jimmy Webb. Under pressure to finish it, he sent an incomplete version, but heard nothing back. Bumping into the singer weeks later Webb said, “I guess you guys didn’t like the song.”
Campbell replied, “Oh, we cut that.”
“It wasn’t done! I was just humming the last bit!”
‘Well, it’s done now!”
Yes, it was.
Indeed, Webb had scarcely completed two verses totalling a dozen lines. He’d intended to add a third if required. In this space Glen Campbell put his now famous and improvised solo.
I wonder if Jimmy Webb ever finished his lyrics. What might he have said? What else might he have taken from the lineman’s interior monologue? In the original he moves between the immense three of love, self and work. What else is there?
It’s a great unfinished artwork like Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, and Gaudi’s Basílica de la Sagrada Família.
If Webb had now penned a third verse I’m unsure I want to read it. Would it be like painting a hat on the woman in the Mona Lisa?
The song’s superb just as it is.
Lengthy songs have always fascinated me for their enhanced narrative possibility, and I enjoy entering these protracted sometimes strange worlds. I find The Doors’ ‘The End’ (11:43), ‘So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain’ by Father John Misty (9:58), ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival (11:04), and Frank Zappa’s ‘Billy the Mountain (24 minutes) are all, for me, enduringly absorbing.
Early in our post-Sweden isolation, I was scanning the alternate music website Pitchfork when I found a post on suggested music for these uncommon times. Seeing the song title ‘Wichita Lineman’, I leant closer to my screen. It was the famous song but a cover version by the Dick Slessig Combo. No, I hadn’t heard of them either.
There was a YouTube link and my search indicated that the song wasn’t on Spotify. Indeed, trawling the internet I’ve discovered that they’re from LA and formed after the demise of cult group Acetone with guitarist Mark Lightcap common to both. They pressed a few hundred CDs. That’s about it.
Clicking the link I hear a slowed, almost eerily subdued set of notes. The iconic melody only arrives after seven minutes, and the entire piece – ‘song’ seems inadequate – drifts and hovers with guitars quietly climbing before falling away like an elderly priest. Over its 42-minute duration it’s entirely instrumental.
The soundscape conjures both the empty landscape of Kansas and the protagonist’s mindscape with graceful use of tremolo and reverb.
Vast and sprawling, it evokes Webb’s everyman “apparition.” It’s not sad or lonely but rather about aloneness. There’s deep beauty carried in the music and a compelling, respectful fragility. It probes and portrays.
Like the original, it’s inward-looking but also a meditation. Given the deep and universal thoughts of Webb’s character, the existentialism is expressed perfectly with the sound flowing like an ancient holy river.
The occasionally maligned Billy Joel once said “Wichita Lineman” is “a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.”
The Dick Slessig Combo offers an exquisite tribute and exploration of the song’s haunting, singular image.
Colonel William Light’s vision for Adelaide included five public squares: Hindmarsh, Light, Victoria, Whitmore and Hurtle. Each has a distinct appearance and mise en scène and despite driving through it for decades I’d not enjoyed the latter’s leafy space.
Claire and I bought a late lunch from this state’s dominant petrol retailer and biggest private company: an On The Run (OTR) service station. Of course, its customers are rarely running anywhere as they’re in vehicles and as such are necessarily sedentary, and most outlets of this type haven’t provided any traditional service for epochs. Simply fill the car and then scoop up hideously overpriced drink and food and go to the cashier. The only service offered is a chirpily redundant, “Would you like your receipt?”
Hurtle Square is in the south-eastern corner of the city and mostly surrounded by low-rise apartments whose balconies look out over the greenery. Arboriculturally, this park is diverse with magnolia and thin pine trees and other trees in seemingly random arrangement. But I remember that like a late-period Steely Dan album, it’s possible to over-engineer.
I’ve a cheese and bacon sausage roll. It makes a positive optical impression with agreeable pastry that’s neither flaky nor oily, but my context is reminiscent of the soon-to-be-regecided King Duncan gazing upon Macbeth’s home when he remarks: this castle hath a pleasant seat.
Unsurprisingly, this pastry’s sinister mission is to protect an inferior filling, like a heavy-set Secret Service agent from a 1980s film starring Brian Dennehy. While it’s admirable, camouflage and strategic distraction are evident and I note that yet again subterfuge lurks in my simple foodstuff.
Its texture is uncertain and mushy, and I understand that sausage rolls don’t contain real sausages, but if this were encased and sizzling away on my barbeque in front of people both dear or of mere acquaintance, I’d have an acute case of Sausage Shame (SS). Knocking sullenly on the office door of my superior, I’d hand in my tongs and apron and barbequing badge (a scene from a different Brian Dennehy film).
The cheese I was promised is barely present. Instead it’s like the elusive memory of cheese from, say, my middle past, and in the manner of a Wordsworth conceit it’s both troubling but also hopeful in that one day I may again enjoy cheese, possibly in a sausage roll advertising such. In 2020, even cheese is complicated.
My longing deepens when I gaze over at the Coopers Alehouse. It began as the Earl of Aberdeen before Dame Edna Everage reopened it with a new name in 1987 (wouldn’t Sir Les Paterson been better placed to handle this?). Like many pubs it has a forlorn canvas advertising pick up only meals from 5-8pm.
Still, it’s a breezeless, mild May in our mostly safe and opportunely isolated state. SA’s had no new cases for twelve days and Audrey’s vintage coffee van was doing a lively trade this morning on the Glenelg North esplanade as I ambled through.
While my sausage roll was of motley quality Claire and I now turn to the next course of our alfresco eating: an unapologetically decadent vanilla slice with a calorific count probably beyond a K-Mart abacus.
As the Two Fat Ladies’ Clarissa and Jennifer used to rejoice, “Munch on, munch on, what a lovely luncheon!”
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”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.