0

The Blanchetown pub: a pea and corn salad celebration

Weather permitting I take my workday lunch on a bench. It’s a chance for some fresh air and sunlight but is devoid of ceremony and any broader meaning. It’s entirely functional and that’s fine. Across the calendar other meals are invested with ritual and expectation.

Lunch at the pub on the October long weekend is one of those. It’s among my favourite occasions of the year. It’s about tradition and nostalgia with people who knew you when you were young and ridiculous.

Mozz and Kath had organised a small bus and driven it from Pinnaroo. Named the ‘Okey Chokey’ payment takes the form of whisky. Rattling into the pub carpark at noon there were already eight or ten vehicles, almost all large, lumbering 4WD.

The pub is the oldest in the Riverland (est. 1858) and is close and low of ceiling which gives it an intimate, historical atmosphere, completely unlike modern, suburban taverns that possess less charisma than a K Mart. Whitewashed walls add to this ambience. None of our party had been to the pub previously and this was a rare first.

Our table was on the expansive front deck and this was also hosting a 50th party. Just as our meals arrived so did the guest of honour and the cheers and her reaction made it clear that it was all a surprise. I hope they enjoyed their celebration.

Mozz and I each assembled a personal betting portfolio for the day courtesy of the in-pub TAB and I must report that both of these were wildly, spectacularly unsuccessful. But even this, given the afternoon’s deeper magic, was a triumph. A horse I’d selected is called ‘The Astrologist’ and it ran fourth. Surely, if it was any type of fortune-teller, it would’ve seen this coming and scratched itself that morning, saving both equine animal and sad human some heartache.

Claire had a local red from Burk Salter and as a cabernet merlot it was acceptable if not spectacular. The beers were cold and fresh and that’s as simple and complicated as they should really be.

Our meals were mixed with the boys having meat-lovers’ pizza that was pretty good and my beef schnitzel was excellent and although I was initially disappointed with the portion of chips a quick phone call to my heart surgeon confirmed that this was not, indeed, a bad thing.

We had spoken around the kitchen table the night before of the cultural and social significance of pea and corn salad. At country cricket clubs across the country Thursday night, post-training barbeques would witness an oversupply of these, lovingly organised and presented in blue ice-cream containers by multiple late-order batting bachelors.

Imagine our shared joy when my lunch arrived with this green and gold nourishment. It was a culinary highlight. I doubt a salad has ever been received with such communal delight. I’m pleased I gave peas (and corn) a chance.

Claire and I popped back into the dining room to chat again with Kapunda folk R. Lewis and P and A. Schultz about their weekend at the shack and the forthcoming Kapunda High School celebration of one hundred years of Sir Sidney Kidman’s bequeathing of ‘Eringa’ to the education department.

Then it was time for ‘Okey Chokey’ to be steered back home via the agricultural, frequently pot-holed route through Morgan. We had a balcony and a riverbank and an obligation to commence some serious relaxing.

Just as ritual and happy history demanded.

0

2022 AFL grand final Haiku

Early in the week I was thrilled to be invited to participate in the annual AFL grand final haiku event run by fellow Footy Almanacker Rob Scott from his Melbourne bunker.

Haiku is the Japanese poetry from which, translated into English, consists of three lines of five syllables, then seven and finishing with five. Traditionally, it centres on natural imagery often involving seasonal change.

As such it lends itself well to the theatre and agony of footy.

Across the week and then on Saturday dozens of poets contributed. It was fun to read and also write and offered structure and interest in what was otherwise a game devoid of appeal for me.

So, we had lunch during which I ran out of barbeque gas part way through cooking it. I love when people say, ‘I was part way through cooking the barbie and I ran outta gas.’ How else would this happen? Do folks turn on their barbeques, forget to pop some chops on the hotplate and just let it run until the gas splutters out?

first bounce kept this year

broadcaster craves for twilight

fans soon in the dark

footy’s biggest week

Family Club cruelty broke

icy winds inward

morning rituals

butcher doing a brisk trade

time to mow the lawn

excited for lunch

pain as gas bottle’s empty

and B Taylor speaks

how many times will

BT say ‘here’ with a spare

syllable? Awful.

avian blunders

Hawk’s a massive lurking Cat

Joel Selwood’s a duck

Cats are flying

Swans are flightless, earthbound, cut

restore nature now!

Swans must hear music

They’ve torn up all their hymn sheets

tuneless as Meatloaf

Cats pouncing on Swans

Port fans suddenly hoping

120 points

Red and white bleeding

onto William Barak Bridge

empty seats and hearts

channel 7 scrambling

Norm Smith narrative lacks fizz

But on they still bleat

2

Dearest Alex, on watching Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell

Dearest Alex

As you know we love rituals such as attending the SANFL grand final, hiking in the Onkaparinga National Park, and when on our annual trip to Barmera completing a late-afternoon lap of Lake Bonney. Rituals celebrate our past and give excitement and shape to our future.

But among these there’s been Wednesday nights watching Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell.

I had long enjoyed it and reckon you were about ten when you first joined me on the lounge. As one of the show’s characters (probably played by Tosh Greenslade in a wig and glasses) may have said, ‘Shaun, you’re never too young (not even at fourteen like you) to be introduced to searing political satire and viciously sharp comedic writing and acting in this bumbling, endlessly self-parodying nation of ours.’

I loved how you’d laugh about the characters who’d feature in that week’s episode. You’d often do your own impersonation of them, such as the Daily Telegraph’s sub-editor Chris Lorax with his pathetic defence of his ‘lamentable puns’ when he feebly says, ‘It’s just a bit of fun’ or at the close of a sketch as the fantastic Sir Bobo Gargle would holler, ‘Release the Kraken!’ or the traffic reporter in the helicopter would say, ‘I’m Lois Price for Mad As Hell.’

All of this you got which pleases me hugely. I think a sense of humour and keen awareness of human frailty are vital and already you have these in ample proportion. I loved how we’d laugh at the same jokes, at the same absurdities such as Darius Horsham, chomping on his cigar and scalding the host by saying, ‘Shaun, don’t be an economic girly-man.’

In anticipating the next episode you’d wonder aloud if there’d be another caricature of a BBC nature documentary such as the Polyamorous Self Pleasuring Gastropods of Bolivia or this one-

We’d also look forward to the increasingly surreal and self-referential spoof of Enid Swink. Your appreciation of the ridiculous was obvious when we’d laugh uncontrollably as the characters would attack each other with the lightening that’d come from out of their fingers. Among our favourite moments was Swink: Origin with all that the title alone says about the shamelessness of the rubbish that Hollywood is trying to sell us.

But you’re alert to this.

It’s an indicator of how significant Mad As Hell is for us that watching the news or driving around and hearing mention of the current Opposition Leader you’d immediately go into character of the spokesperson Brion Pegmatite and mutter the name, ‘Peter’ in that sneering, villainous way that was his Voldemort-like signature. He and the man that inspired him really do find it difficult to show empathy, compassion, or joy.

So, beyond the thirty minutes of mutual fun this provided I can tell that the show has given you much as a thinker and writer, an emerging citizen, and a talented drama student. It’s been a joy to share it with you.

It’s sad that it’s finished but as we know one of Micallef’s exquisite skills is his sense of timing and this is probably another example.

I know there’ll be more rituals to come for us, and I look forward to seeing what these might be.

Love Dad

Thanks to the ABC for both the show and these images.

1

Mystery Pub: Silver Brewing

Claire indicated (always the preferred option) and swung our car into a narrow park next to that most generic of suburban motors, the Barina. We were on Gouger Street but on the western side of that boisterous, gastronomically-celebrated thoroughfare.

I had no idea where we were heading for winter’s final instalment (spring commences on September 22 as per the astronomical seasons) of Mystery Pub which, of course, is central to the concept. There was more puzzlement than an episode of Scooby Doo, set in an abandoned amusement park.

The bar/brewery/distillery/restaurant etc is located in a former warehouse with multiple rooms and an outdoor area. Despite the cavernous interior there was a cosiness. Adjacent to the bar is a Millard caravan and Claire and I spoke of this being Glenn McGrath’s first and best nickname, given to him when he lived in one as an aspiring young cricketer, down from the bush. The caravan was clearly a successful conversation starter and I anticipated circumnavigating the continent in our retirement and every single night for two years setting up our van in say, Wollongong, and without fail, telling Claire this cricketing factoid.

Claire had a pinot noir served in the now compulsory giant glass. If these continue to expand in volume Friday’s plonk will need to come with a yellow-shirted lifeguard. I had the pilsner and being five o’clock on a Friday, my enthusiasm compensated for its lack of crispness. A kindly man gave us his chair so we moved camp away from the door and the pesky (like the kids of the aforementioned Scooby Doo and especially Velma) late afternoon sun.

A generous crowd was assembling and they appeared to be in buoyant attitude. They matched our demographic and I wondered where the young folk were. And almost immediately, I didn’t care.

We dissected our days and spoke of our weekend. I was eager to get home and play my new (old) Jose Feliciano vinyl featuring the greatest cover of all time (alright, top 43) in ‘Light My Fire.’

Claire ordered another pinot noir and purchased me a pale ale, made on premises and cooked in one of the copper vats I saw near the caravan. Although there was initial disappointment that there were no chips (crisps for those playing along in the UK) we knew this was actually a good thing. The menu advertised ‘Viking Burgers’ but a recent blood test and medical discussion suggested I needed to reduce my consumption of Scandinavian seafaring warriors, so we declined.

A window behind us revealed a large room with DJ decks out the front. I imagined a late-night rave with impossibly youthful types dancing their evenings (and mornings) away whilst temporarily forgetting the global housing crisis.

Back at our car on Gouger Street the Barina had fled.

We did too.

5

Sausage Roll Review: The Goolwa Bakery

It’s a snaking and demanding ribbon of tar from Glenelg to Goolwa along and across the Hills and between the vines until the great arc of the Southern Ocean appears like a pale blue relief.

It was supposed to pour down but instead just spat with appalled apathy on my Korean car’s bonnet. I’ve the best part of three days overlooking Knight’s Beach to write and think and read for which I’m enormously grateful.

But I need to open my holiday with a sausage roll, as one should.

My now annual writing retreat is largely predicated on nostalgia and other investigations of the past so exiting the Southern Expressway and ignoring the radio I push in a CD on my hugely old-school car stereo.

The Eagles accompany me on my trip down to the gushing, green Fleurieu. Although my tiny brain is prejudiced happily to the past, I reckon they stand up well. It’d be easy to mock them as symbols of 70’s American excess but the songs and the musicianship are peerless. Eagles Live was enormous in my youth, and it might’ve had the be-jesus overdubbed out of it, but ‘Seven Bridges Road’ and its climbing harmonies still arrest me.

The Goolwa Bakery is located on a side street, and I was instantly smitten by the cosy interior. Some modern bakeries tend towards supermarket dimensions, to their consequent detriment. The atmosphere was also buoyed by a fishbowl in TV, sitting on a table near the door, as it always is in a rural baked goods emporium.

Ordering my $5 sausage roll my thoughts meandered towards Pulp Fiction’s Mia Wallace and her famous $5 shake, a speciality at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Initially expressing disbelief Vincent Vega then takes a socially inappropriate sip and exclaims that it’s a ‘pretty expletive good milkshake!’

And so it was with my sausage roll.

Claiming a chair on the early afternoon footpath and withdrawing (careful now) the lunch from its brown bag it appeared as a freshly busted hunk of axe handle in both girth and approximation.

My first bite met with peppery whiffs and pleasantry. There was flaky, tasty pastry and it wasn’t sweaty which the medically alert among you will know is the biggest killer of over 55’s in this antipodean country.

Looking about my environs I note that the bakery shares premises with the Goolwa Health Centre and hope that all the kiddies reading now grasp the attendant irony.

The woman serving the baked grub was effervescent if somewhat resigned; I wondered about her life but not for long.

Munching on I was acutely aware of my enormous privilege as I was soon to drive to my beach accommodation. I’d be on a balcony with long, glorious hours in front of me.

Five quick minutes later I’d finished my lunch, scanned the surroundings, and pointed my motor west.

The Goolwa Bakery is over a century old. They know how to craft a sausage roll.

I’m unsure but they might even serve them (sauce if required) with ‘pink champagne on ice’ in the Hotel California.

0

The 12.23 to Gawler Central, stopping all stations

In the dim belly of the Adelaide railway station a smiling, high vis attendant asked, ‘Are you good? Going to the show?’

The boys and I scurried past, en route to Platform 7. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘We’re off to Womma.’

I doubt he hears that often.

During winter of 2020 we completed the other three Adelaide rail journeys- Noarlunga, Outer Harbor and Belair. With the Gawler Rail Electrification Project (GREP) now done we had our final trip to make.

For train station aficionados this northerly line includes a maximum of 27 stops.

Along the soursobbing way we saw soccer near Kudla; a mattress factory; bemused sheep; Costco and we might’ve alighted if we’d suddenly required 47 kilos of chicken wings. The rail yards flashed by; long snakes of rolling stock paused outside the window.

I suspect the last time I went through Womma on the train was at 7 in the morning on the way to an Australia Day one-dayer in the 1980’s. We would’ve risen in the hot dark and en convoy of HQ Holdens, made our way to Gawler with chairs and eskies and towelling hats and gallons of Reef oil (skin cancer was yet to be discovered). Some in our unruly throng (you know who you are) likely had a couple discreet Southwarks in transit.

Lunch was in a shopping centre adjacent to the station. The boys all agreed that it was the best sushi they’d (or probably anybody’d) ever had in Gawler.

The return leg was express from Dry Creek and this is always welcome. We crawled through the lovely North Adelaide station which now houses a quiet cafe. We shared our carriage with people who seemed to be heading to the Show.

There were pylons; tall dormant chimneys; substations; eruptions of misplaced townhouses.

The project cost 842 million dollars although as near as I could sympathetically tell, Womma was still Womma.



0

Mystery Pub: The Largs Pier

‘After an afternoon on Brighton Pier they’d all race off for a feed of scampi,’ I remarked to my wife. We were discussing Brighton, the East Sussex version. Not the Adelaide or even the Melbourne suburb.

‘What is scampi?’ she asked, not unreasonably.

I paused and considered. ‘Fishy stuff. Crumbed.’ Piscatorial insights have never been in my (fishing boat) wheelhouse.

Claire was not about to accept such an enfeebled reply. ‘Right, but what is it exactly?’

‘Err,’ I mumbled. ‘Dunno. Scampi is just scampi.’

I gave up and opened my phone. Dublin Bay Prawn or Norway Lobster. Not only these but it’s also a ‘seafood delicacy,’ I volunteered.

The Largs Pier is a place to ponder big questions such as this. Even non-gastronomic ones. My wife, Claire and I were here for our monthly Mystery Pub excursion. It was my choice. I had an aged Sparkling Ale in front of me and Claire had a brandy.

We had wandered through the pub. It’s regal and opulent with high ceilings and views out into the flat gulf. There’s a restaurant and another bar named Dixon’s (being the middle name of Jimmy Barnes, the main screamer for Cold Chisel). It’s a popular wedding venue too.

Big question #2 then emerged as contemplating our current context I took my turn to quiz Claire. ‘What’s the difference between a jetty and a pier?’ Our relaxing hour in the pub was transmogrifying into an episode of It’s Academic. We should’ve worn our Kapunda High School blazers. That may have prompted comment from strangers.

I explored the question. ‘So, why isn’t this the Largs Jetty Hotel? And why isn’t the Glenelg pub called the Pier?’

Claire had an answer. ‘I think a pier has entertainments on it like rides and stalls and assorted amusements.’ I’m unsure why she responded in a grammatical style reminiscent of a Wikipedia entry.

‘Right,’ I nodded. Who knew that going to the pub could be so instructive? I vowed to do this again soon. Perhaps I should keep the drinks receipts and use them at tax time as a self-education deduction.

The wintry sunset slanted in across our table and outside under the wide veranda, some young tradies were making an enthusiastic start to their weekend. Dotted about the pub, faux 1920’s artworks gave the place an appropriately jaunty, seaside atmosphere.

Our second and final round of drinks included a Pirate Life South Coast Pale Ale or PLSCPA, as nobody abbreviates it. It was crisp and confident, while Claire had a white wine of indeterminant variety and style but she didn’t seem to mind. We didn’t want our visit to suffer from too much information.

The Largs Pier (Jetty) Hotel is an arresting, grand old esplanade boozer. It has mobs of beers on tap and offers a wide menu.

There’s no immediate plans to serve scampi.

0

Wherein I describe recent, joyous photographs of personal note

Now many of you are looking forward to spring but let me remind you that it begins on September 21 or at a pinch, 22. It is ridiculous that here in Australia our media treats us as if we’re so moronic that we need the seasons to change on the first day of the relevant month. It’s as if the words ‘solstice’ and ‘equinox’ are deemed too difficult for our antipodean bonces.

At the end of this month you’ll be subjected to a newsreader saying to the weather presenter, ‘And so Kylie/Jane/Blonde Chicka what’s the forecast looking like for the first day of spring?’ At this you must holler back at the screen like a deranged, mad as hell type, ‘Please, spare me this continuing nonsensical attack! I deserve better!’

Of course, this introduction bears no relationship to the celebratory theme of my post, but never mind.

Josh Pyke is our best poet/singer. Calm down, Paul Kelly is great but he’s our premier storyteller. I would argue that Josh anchors a song in a central metaphor with subtle, unequalled skill (‘The Lighthouse Song’ and ‘Sew My Name’ top this lengthy list). Claire and I saw him at The Gov one Friday and it was exquisite. We sat by the fireplace. Listen to ‘A Town That You’ve Never Been To.’ Go on.
Needing fresh air and unbroken dialogue, the boys and I tramped about Belair. An empty sky winter afternoon is among this life’s great invigorations. Especially when you have a large stick. Of course, we followed this hike with servo pies for all.
On a mystery excursion my lovely wife Claire took me through Magill Road’s murky nooks where we spied these. No, we didn’t buy one, as the use-by date was late 1976. But what a childhood treat when a man would drop a crate of these at the front door of our Kapunda house.
The Smiling Samoyed Brewery in Myponga. It was a luxuriating, diverting hour during our annual (sometimes bi-annual) Carrackalinga escape and from across the reservoir the sun bent at us through the windows.
I saw this on the wall at the Smiling Samoyed Brewery. I question the inclusiveness of the pronoun ‘our’ and trust you do too. A housemate put a ‘Joh for PM’ sticker on the bumper of my HQ Holden when I was at uni. I drove about for nearly a week before I noticed. My shame remains.
0

You in the Garden

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

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

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

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

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

Then, of course, there’s you.

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

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

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

This movie scene has been a magical, unforeseen gift.

Thank you, Claire Louise.

0

Running up that Carrackalinga Hill

Claire and I trudge through the soft sand of the beach and then nurse a coffee at the village green. How daggily cool when from the barista’s van bursts, ‘The Pina Colada Song?’ Of course, I’m not into yoga but may have half a brain.

We’re in Carrackalinga with old friends. It’s Saturday morning and our day reaches out with electric possibility.

Planned equally with science and enthusiasm, my run’s to the Forktree Brewery and back to our accommodation. It’s my daily four kilometres. But up a hill.

How tough can it be?

Round, emerald knolls watch over Carrackalinga and making my way up the road a herd of sheep encourages my ambling by bleating in charitable ways. Last night’s pizza is now unwelcome ballast.

On the outskirts of town, a council election poster urges participation in this democratic event. Texas-sized utes and rattling 4WDs pass and some swerve away from me in vehicular acknowledgement of my ascent. Or not wishing to bloody their gleaming bull bars.

There’s several twists and the road’s undulating. Accustomed to the flat esplanade of Glenelg North, my thighs protest this topographical change to their jogging routine.

Finally, the brown tourist sign I’ve been seeking for excruciating minutes:

Forktree Brewery.

Despite being presently incapable of having a beer, I’ve never been so pleased to arrive at a brewery.

I’m soaked. My ears popped on the way up and my legs are so convinced of an alpine elevation that they expect a few twirling snowflakes.

A woman and her dog survey the beer garden. We exchange a few only-one-of-us-is-in-a-brewery words. With her hound marching her tree-ward she asks, ‘Where have you run from?’

Still in the carpark and puffing I reply, ‘Our holiday house back down the hill.’

She replies, ‘Awesome! Great job!’ Her husband appears with two pints. She’s an American but they live on Kangaroo Island. They both take a sip.

‘How’s the beer?’

‘Pretty good,’ they nod.

‘Lovely,’ I say, ‘We’re heading to Myponga later. Might go to the Smiling Samoyed Brewery.’ They both offer a glowing critique.

The brewery’s 151 metres above sea level. This might seem numerically unimpressive but having extracted a personal toll each of those demanding centimetres now generates a handsome reward.

Hands on hips, I drink in the wide vista up and down the Fleurieu coast. Gentle, green ranges. Sprawling white homes hugging the shore. A seaweedy tan smears the shallows and then the gulf deepens into a marine blue.

Tumbling down the hill. It’s almost controlled falling. Again, the vehicles are generous, and the sheep are softly supportive. A couple rotund blokes nod at me from a front lawn.

The cotton wool clouds loom as if they’re daubed on a God-sized canvas and although it’s mid-winter these pledge imminent awakening. Spring could almost be ready to say, ‘Boo!’

Our double story digs swim into sight and wondering what’s happening inside with Claire, my friends, and the boys, their past thirty minutes is unveiled: toast, hairdryers, and teenagers still in bunks.

I crunch up the gravel driveway.

1

Mystery Date: Magarey Medals and Magill Road

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

Saturday was my turn to be indulged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

C- Rod Stewart. Yuk.

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

C- Great. I like him too.

M- Phil Collins. One word- why?

C- Oh, God. Dr. Hook!

M- No, we already have the Sherbet Collection.

C- Ripper ’77?

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would soon be upon us.

0

On Being Gentle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

Mystery Pub: El Cheeky Flamingo

‘As your attorney I advise you to have a beer,’ said Claire.

No she didn’t, but I just wanted to insert a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reference given that I’m re-reading Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism classic. Gonzo denotes an exaggerated and crazy and proudly subjective style. But you knew this already.

It’s a text that celebrates excess and ridiculousness and decadence which, of course, is entirely unrepresentative of the ideals we hold dear regarding the monthly excursion of Mystery Pub.

Parking at Claire’s CBD worksite we then galloped a mile or so to the East End. I had no insight into our destination and arriving at Vardon Street there were tables and chairs and fire pits all stocked and awaiting ignition. It was another episode in their Winter Weekends event.

Having secured a chardonnay and a draught beer we sat by a gas heater as event staff set the redgum ablaze. Microphones and amps were connected under a marquee.

Meanwhile music played and the acoustics meant we could only hear the bass. The vocals were terribly muddy. We thought one song the Shawn Mullins’ tune ‘Lullaby.’ You know the one that begins with an almost spoken-word style that’s a bit Jack Nicholson in tenor-

She grew up with the children of the stars
In the Hollywood hills and the boulevards.
Her parents threw big parties. Everyone was there.
They hung out with folks like Dennis Hopper and Bob Seger and
Sonny and Cher.

And then the chorus goes-

Everything’s gonna be all right.
Rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye.
Everything’s gonna be all right.
Rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye.

A one-hit wonder from 1998, we agree that it’s a good song.

But it wasn’t the one we heard. I don’t know what it was. Something with a similar bass guitar line. Good for the mystery to continue on Mystery Pub night.

Meanwhile a man cooked meat with Spanish aromas. None of that for us as we had some equally evil charcuterie treats home in the Frigidaire. Is there anything better than Friday night cheese?

I had a Balter XPA and Claire had an approachable merlot blend. All wine should be approachable. I’ve no truck with haughty plonk.

We made our way back to the car via the Illuminate Festival on North Terrace. A giant queue of kids and parents stretched outside the museum. Like blackheads on a teenager there were inky puffer jackets everywhere.

Inside was a Lego event. A gonzo occasion of tremendous proportions. We left them to it.

0

Running along the Yarra

It’s breakfast time in Melbourne.

Traversing Flinders Street, I jog by the Sea Life Aquarium and make my way through Enterprize Park. I later learn it’s where the first European settlers arrived in 1835. My boys, Alex and Max, are asleep upstairs in our apartment. We’re here for a weekend of footy and exploration.

It’s still and crisp. A cloudless winter morning in this elegant city.

I cut across an empty Queens Bridge Street and step cautiously over the bumpy cobblestones of Banana Alley. I imagine the Yarra was once vital to the economic life of Melbourne. I guess its value today is mostly ornamental. Some rowers are stretching out on the coffee-coloured surface.

There’s buried, industrial rumblings from Flinders Street Station. I press on.

Under the Princes Bridge an Asian man is fishing. Two lines are dancing on the drink. I wonder what he might be after. If the concrete boots aren’t too heavy, he could land a Ganglands War victim.

Progressing along Flinders Walk I pass a gin bar, Junipalooza, which confirms that ‘looza’ is an overused suffix. Has our planet reached peak gin yet? Will Bundy ever be world dominant? No, I don’t think so.

Melbourne’s cityscape is a marvel. Yesterday, as we headed to the MCG for our midday tour Alex remarked to Max that he found the metropolis, ‘architecturally interesting.’ This became a discussion and I’m pleased they express curiosity about these things.

Entering the space of Birrarung Marr I’m struck by birdsong and the accompanying aural surprise in what’s otherwise a vast built environment. It’s refreshing. And now there’s a bicycle repair station between me and the river! What a simple yet generous gesture and I hope the vandals respect it. It’s symbolic of the petit accommodations ubiquitously afforded by Melbourne.

Rod Laver and John Cain Arenas swim into view. In 1988 some Kapunda boys and I left the MCG after a day-nighter. I wanted to watch Allan Border bat but was at the loo in the stadium’s bowels when he came and went for a first-ball duck. Like a scene from a Russian documentary, we later saw hundreds of workers toiling away under floodlights to finish the Tennis Centre in time for the Australian Open.

My half-way point is the Swan Street Bridge, so I nudge along it and head home on the other bank.

Boathouse Drive is quietly industrious with relaxed, flush-looking folk carrying out their oars and boats. They seem to be enjoying the leisurely rhythms of their exercise routine. A barbecue sizzles away on a rowing club balcony.

Wearing a New York marathon t-shirt, a jogger is alongside me. I smile and vow to also buy a similar souvenir from eBay. He then propels past me as if I’m a statue. Disappearing like the roadrunner, I note that he has an athletes’ calves. I reconsider. Perhaps the shirt is authentic.

Southbank is tranquil apart from scattered patrons hunched over lattes and the (now dismembered) Age. Late yesterday when I ran along the river the restaurants were all busy with enthusiastic punters. The emerging trend for Friday nuptials continuing, a large wedding party promenaded past me, with knots of impossibly prosperous-looking couples off to the reception. There were also some boisterous lunches ambling into what sounded distinctly like hour number four. I doubt that I’ve seen any of the participants at this bright, embryonic stage of morning.

Near home I by-pass two mature women waiting for a taxi. Even at my distance I catch a gust of their perfume. It’s from the Chemist Warehouse and surely named Ski Field (for Seniors).

The apartment elevator takes me upstairs.

1

Beer Review: The Rancid, Amoral Horror of Great Northern

It was almost there and then it was gone.

The faintest suggestion of a promise of a possible future hint of tiny taste and then it disappeared.

Great Northern Original Lager is representative of all that is evil in late-period capitalism.

It was clearly developed around a table by some untreatably dreadful marketing types. Wearing dangerously pointy boots and strategic stubble, I’ll bet it was workshopped (these shameless ones can often be caught turning innocent nouns into vapid verbs) on butcher’s paper, or the slick e-equivalent.

Their website declares that the beer was, ‘brewed with an outdoor lifestyle in mind’ and I remain curious as to what this might look like given the beverage nightmare. ‘Outdoors’ might mean attack from a marauding numbat or vaguely agitated moth, and you could pelt one of these (unopened) beer bottles at them. If you didn’t hit them, at least they’d be terminally offended by your unspeakable taste in lager.

I took another reluctant sip and peered again at the (dis)information on my screen. With a bold face it stated that the ale was, ‘Light golden in colour with a fruity aroma, subtle bitterness and light palate.’ The following then occurred to me: Adelaide water, that universally maligned liquid, has superior aroma, bitterness and palate.

The bottle label also tells me that the Cairns brewery was established in 1927 which might’ve been fortunate for the then good folk of FNQ. Just play around with F and Q and it’s almost onomatopoeic of their attitude towards us, the customers. Happily, the Great Depression struck in 1929 and the local public may have found themselves unable to afford this depraved slop.

*

My inattention then turned towards the Great Northern Super Crisp Lager which comes in at a non-descript 3.5%. 3.5 is widely acknowledged as the most bland of all numerals. Italian mathematician (and slashing middle-order bat) Fibonacci hated it.

This lager is also allegedly brewed with, ‘an outdoor lifestyle in mind.’ Is there something offensive to these people about drinking a beer indoors? In fact, I reckon this might be for the best. I’d go one step further, just in case someone you knew was walking past and saw what you were voluntarily doing, and pull down all the blinds.

I’m now thinking about the ‘Super Crisp’ qualifiers. I think this might be a fair claim, but only if you’re comparing this sorry muck to week-old lettuce. And given the price of lettuce I’d gobble that up as soon as you left the supermarket checkout, before a Leaf Vegetable Gang mugs you in the carpark.

Further investigation uncovers that our marketing funsters refer to this as the, ‘ultimate refreshment for the Great Northern conditions.’ Remember that scene in Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne convinces Captain Hadley to buy beer for him and his co-workers? They then drink it on the roof and Andy is celebrated as a hero. If it had been Great Northern Super Crisp Lager that scene might’ve been unmatchably gruesome. Andy would never have peeled back the Raquel Welsh poster and dug his way out of prison. They’d have hoicked him off that roof.