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On the patio with old friends, listening to Ripper 76

Is there much better than a simple lunch on the patio with old friends, and a retro record player?

Claire and I went to Kapunda High with Stephen who’s lived by the river in Brisbane for decades. He and his wife Eleni were in town having visited family and Kangaroo Island.

With an unforced and graceful joy our conversation moved across our extensive history.

Over at the record player I cue up Side 2 of mid- 1970’s compilation Whopper which is glitter-ball, flared-pants glee. It’s irresistible while Side 1 is mostly turgid country ballads. We all giggle at both the name and wild-haired evocations of Disco Tex and his Sex-O-Lettes and their hit, ‘Get Dancin’.

But this is mere entrée for we then play Ripper 76. Everyone has a story about Ripper 76. It’s the finest compilation album in the catalogue of compilation albums.

Eleni tells us how as a young girl she won a copy in a Brisbane radio station phone-in and this persists as immeasurably superior to winning an icy cold can of Coke from a Black Thunder. She talks of the excitement of her mum driving her into the city to collect her vinyl.

*

Our focus shifted to the global marriage of music and geography. Stephen spoke. “I had ‘Autobahn’ by Kraftwerk ready to go as soon as we hit the autobahn. Next thing a BMW went past us like we were standing still. Must have been doing 200k.”

I then offered. “When I was in California in 1992, we hired a convertible and driving around Santa Monica, heard The Doors’ ‘LA Woman.’ The sun was shining, and it was such a moment.”

Stephen continued the American theme. “As Eleni and I drove into Nevada we played, ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and now, whenever I hear that song I’m immediately back there. We’ve done similar things in the Black Forest and New York.”

Claire asked a question. “Can you do this in Australia?”

My first memory was instant. “Walking through Treasury Gardens to the MCG I was listening to Triple R and Paul Kelly’s ‘Leaps and Bounds’ came on just as the stadium swam into view. It was early in the footy season so the “clock on the silo” said more than eleven degrees but it was still fantastic.”

Our lively topic concluded in Europe when I mentioned Claire and I driving across Sweden and hearing the radio announcer say something like, “Just nu är det riktigt kallt här på landsbygden i Sverige och jag hoppas att du har tätt upp Volvos rutor för det kan komma snö. Hur som helst, det var Billy Joel.”

As lovers of both song and travel what wonderful, remindful privilege we shared. How amazing to enjoy those synchronised soundtracks?

People, place, and musical portraiture.

*

Stephen and I also reminisce on collecting albums together as teenagers. We didn’t buy ones we knew like 10, 9, 8 by Midnight Oil for these were already in circulation but instead sought records that represented new, slightly dangerous terrain.

With Layla and Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominoes and a Yardbirds double album (on transparent vinyl) we edged into the world of blues. However, we also bought the Animal House soundtrack featuring ‘Shout!’ by Otis Day and the Knights, from surely one of the finest toga party scenes in modern cinematography. Before we were adults (clearly) many of us saw this film dozens of times.

As adolescents we also frequently mocked Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and then one night in someone’s wintry loungeroom as we finally listened to it properly, we came slowly to a realisation. Van’s jazz, blues, folk mysticism was brilliant. This was a humbling moment and I think we were all too embarrassed to confess. For many of us this album’s remained an intriguing, lovable companion.

Back on the summery patio I eased myself out of my chair and put on The Best of the Bee Gees- Volume 1 and pondering my wife and our dear old friends I thought of the divergent yet entangled paths we’d taken since leaving Kapunda.

Much had changed, and in some delightful, fundamental ways, nothing had.

5

Spinning Records on our Patio

A while back Mum and Dad gave me all of their vinyl records including a couple Beatles’ singles from the early sixties. I tweeted this photo and explained that I’d inherited these because they’d downsized in the Barossa.

A mate replied saying, “Gee, it must be a small house.”

*

Following the year’s first edition of Mystery Pub which was at the Hilton (on South Road) and returned this verdict: spacious; bland; utilitarian; expensive Claire and I decamped to the patio and cranked up the new (retro) record player and enjoyed a dozen or so albums. Here’s our evening’s top three as voted by me alone (hmmm- selfish):

3. Shilo by Neil Diamond.

This is a magnificent compilation and the cover featured a “connect the dots” which Mum completed at the kitchen table. There were 200 dots and such is my still shaky numeracy that I remember being relieved I wasn’t entrusted with the black pen to bring Neil and his guitar neck to life.

Spence Berland of Record World supplied the cover notes and he wrote that Neil’s voice, “is filled with love, beauty and the type of human pain that everyone can identify with.” Yes, but mercifully for Claire I chose not to sing along for her auditory pain would’ve been profound and possibly, incurable. “Kentucky Woman”, “Cherry, Cherry” and “I’m A Believer” are magnificent and while it has a sublime melody the lyrics of “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” remain just a little bit creepy.

2. Blow Your Cool by the Hoodoo Gurus

I’m fairly confident that this was bought for my 21st by old school friend Chrisso. He couldn’t confirm this but did share that Woodsy and I gifted him Astral Weeks by Van Morrison for his birthday that year. Of course. I’m quite sure that Woodsy is yet to hear this album.

Many of us curated the music for our own coming-of-age parties and I made four C-90 minute cassettes which were each played twice at the Kapunda Golf Club on that distant June night. I recall Chrisso saying that he sequenced “Good Times” from Blow Your Cool to finish his Kapunda Trotting Club event so people would hear it and agree that, yes, they had had a good time at his party. I’m sure we did. Most of The Bangles, including Susanna Hoffs, provided backup vocals on this track, having just returned from a pedestrian crossing in Cairo.

The hit single, “What’s My Scene” features these fantastic opening lines which take us straight into the middle of a lovers’ tiff-

And another thing I’ve been wondering lately / Oh, baby, tell me, where have you been? 

The evening raced by and Claire and I’d drained many cups of tea when we popped on what would be the night’s top selection.

1. Best of The Bee Gees

Another old school friend, Stephen, visited during the week and told us that there’s a statue of the brothers Gibb in Redcliffe, Brisbane where the young Mancunians found themselves in the 1950’s. The unveiling was a mighty affair and Stephen suggested the statue could well rank in the top ten attractions in Redcliffe.

Sadly, the Bee Gees are now The Bee Gee but the album is tremendous with soaring harmonies and superb pop sensibilities. “Massachusetts” might be difficult to spell but is probably a better title for the song than “Punxsutawney.” Other gems are, “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” and one of my all time favourites, “To Love Somebody” which I have mercilessly destroyed with shiraz-driven warblings across the decades.

All are excellent examples of pop music, but excuse me for I’m about to drop the needle on Ripper 76.

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Three European Beers

Mowed the lawns and bought the boys a new cricket bat so thought it only fair to shout myself a Norwegian lager.

So, I did.

The paragraph on the can includes some stereotypical gibberish asserting that Trost, “brings together ancient Norse philosophy and modern brewing techniques to deliver an impossibly smooth and sublimely refreshing premium lager.”

No, Trost lager is probably best taken in a Norwegian wood during the depths of a snowy winter with one’s taste buds frozen shut while a reindeer pokes one in the snout. Watch that antler! Ouch!

In a conclusion sure to anger the Norse gods I found the beer uncannily reminiscent of Great Northern lager, from that other famous Nordic outpost, Cairns. Do your worst Baldur, Borr and Bragi for I found it muted and lacking fatally in charisma.

Using the Pitchfork alternative music metric I give it 2.0. Avoid.

My late Saturday excursion then took me about 900 kilometres south to Dargun, Germany for the approximately homophonic Bear Beer. It was a considerable improvement on my previous ale but that’s akin to declaring a screeching cat better than, well, anything in Pink’s back catalogue.

Bear Beer. Is this beer made from a bear? Or is it beer that might be drunk by a bear? I’ll have to jump the Adelaide Zoo fence after midnight and pop by Wang Wang and Funi’s enclosure with a six pack and see what they reckon.

In a confusing development the label now reveals that the beer is approved by the Royal Danish Court. Does this mean that Princess Mary chugs a few back Sunday night while watching the Magpies and GWS? No, I think not.

While the refreshment was inoffensive this was also precisely the problem for it had been stripped of robust taste. Beer without taste becomes merely functional, like a Soviet-era apartment block on the outskirts of Prague.

Don’t avoid as quickly as the Trost, but still avoid. 4.7 on the Pitchfork scale, you edgy kids.

The final leg of my hoppy world tour saw me touchdown in Holland which, if I can believe this label, is home to a beverage cunningly called Hollandia. The can suggests the beer was first manufactured in 1758.

Now, I love that European beer has a proud history with Stella Artois dating back to 1366. It’s a remarkable beer, befitting its 700 year legacy. While Hollandia is only 250 years old, I think it should be much, much better. Thomas Cooper first brewed Sparkling Ale in 1862 and as an upstart, it’s streets in front.

Hollandia’s not a disaster. It’s approachable, but then again, a beer shouldn’t punch you on the beak when you first meet. It possesses a zing that’s a little Amsterdam and canals and bicycles to the Rijksmuseum.

If a mate brings some to a barbie at your house, don’t kick them out before they can enjoy a neck chop. 6.1 on the scale.

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New Year’s Eve, 2021

New Year’s Eve’s a funny old day. During daylight it’s one of my favourite days but once the sun’s down I lose interest.

As a teenager in Kapunda I remember regularly waking early on the last day of the year- often before anyone else at home- and in the still dawn riding my bike around town and evaluating everything through my decidedly adolescent eyes. The Main Street was quiet- there was not a HQ Holden to be seen or heard- and I’d feel something probably akin to gratitude for the place- my place- and wonder about the year ahead, due to get underway in a few, brief hours.

It was always a solitary exercise but I’d experience connectedness to my hot, dusty hometown.

Claire and I and the dogs have just returned from the beach where the loose streams of walkers along the wide, flat sand suggest many others have resisted a sleep-in and are also extracting what they can from 2021 before it’s too late.

Happy new year to you!

Early January the boys and I (and later Claire too) headed to Barmera on our traditional trip. Here’s the last known photograph of our yabby nets prior to them being hooked by some miserable Collingwood supporting sod.
With Alex turning thirteen he and I spent a night up in Hahndorf to mark his official ascent (or is it descent) into teenagerhood. It would be churlish to mention that I narrowly won the mini-golf, so I won’t.
Max had his birthday at the Beach House (it remains an effort not to call it Magic Mountain). It was a fun morning and my hearing, the audiologist tells me, will soon have recovered.
Late afternoon at the Kapunda Mine Chimney on our wedding day this selfie captured our photographers too. How often is a photo taken of the photographers? Not often enough so thank you both.
Here we are, mid-April, on our honeymoon in the Flinders having just had a picnic lunch. If you listen carefully to this photo you can hear the lonesome call of the crows.
At the annual Footy Almanac lunch at Australia’s best soup pub, the North Fitzroy Arms, the spicy pumpkin was, as Rick Stein himself might’ve enthusiastically said, tasty.
We e-cycled the Riesling Trail one June Saturday and Claire enlisted a stick to correct our host town’s spelling.
In early spring I spent two days writing while overlooking the beach at Port Elliot before Claire joined me and we went for a dawn walk to begin our weekend.
Alex received a retro record player for Christmas. In between him dropping the needle on some hippity-hop vinyl I ushered him into the sacred world of Ripper 76.
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Claire at the Sandalmere Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claire loosened the chain and opened the gate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November Rein(s)

The first Tuesday of the month saw me back the Melbourne Cup winner for the first time in over twenty years when Verry Elleegant saluted. Nevermind that I was unable to watch it live due to work commitments (ed- what type of unAustralian horror is this?). Invested the winnings wisely on donuts and pizza on our mortgage and superannuation.

Made the trip to Kapunda to watch some local cricket at Dutton Park where the dreadful weather meant we were spared the chore of actually seeing any action on the field. Am about to pitch a sit-com to a major network entitled Twelve Men in a Shed. Can’t fail.
One Friday evening we sat by the Murray and chatted of the past and the vast, sunny future.

I love the expansive utilitarianism of a community club and Cadell has an excellent example for all of your weekend refreshment needs. That’s the Cadell Club. Phone Fred on 13, after 3pm to make a booking.

Spent a lovely lunchtime at Caudo winery and Cadell has an excellent example for all of your weekend refreshment needs. That’s the Caudo winery. Phone Francie on 14, after 3pm to make a booking.
Morgan is a curious community with magnificent water-front mansions and two pubs, as they might say in Barossadeutsch, side-by-each in the middle of town. We popped by a craft store where Claire bought some gifts and I did not.

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Not the Kapunda Rodeo

It was a relief, really.

The date was chosen months ago. We’d meet at Dutton Park and watch a few hours of cricket under a tree on the northern lawns and as the sun sunk the nonsense meter would start lurching towards, “high” then, “dangerously high” and possibly even, “Are you blokes (Fats) kidding me?”

The pitch covers had been left off since Thursday and so the overnight rain meant that the match was abandoned early Saturday morning. Safely inside the Kapunda Cricket Club we were therefore relieved of the functional burden of spectating.

In the ragged glory of the communal shed we gathered in a loose circle about an esky (no ice necessary given the cold weather and a dozen task-focussed chaps) and inside the trotting track, just up the way, the star-spangled rodeo began in its ridiculous, boot-scootin’ style.

Meanwhile our gathering was opportune and contemporary and nostalgic, often in the same sentence. Almost immediately there was concurrent chat about matters weighty and matters trivial although our subsequent recollection of these topics is neither here nor there. The art and act of conversation is sometimes more important than any content.

Up at the rodeo a young chap pulled into the carpark in an overly large ute.

Out in the middle of Dutton Park’s oval encouraged by the wet spring and regular mowing the grass continued to grow.

In the KCC sheds someone, likely Fats or Whitey or Froggy told a story. There was much laughter as you’d expect on a Saturday afternoon a month or so out from Christmas.

Most of us then made our way up to the much-loved hotel that is Puffa’s. It was the rodeo-is-in-town quiet, and we determined to enjoy our time. There’s nothing quite like settling into your favourite hometown pub with people who’ve known you since you were wetting the bed (as a child).

For those following along at home Puffa’s doesn’t often serve meals however we’re invited to cook our own out by the back lawn on a hulking ancient barbecue. In an act of collective care Woodsy had organised and marinated some chicken, sourced salad (well, shredded lettuce but let’s not reduce the spectacle with culinary accuracy) and purchased bread rolls.

Since surrendering my Weber kettle I’ve not recently been a devotee of the charcoal grill despite the PM requiring us to all unconditionally love coal in its various forms. Tolly had left us an air-blower which quickly had lava-hotness happening and chook a-sizzling. How I marvelled at this miracle of modern hairdryers!

Up at the rodeo a young woman sang along to an especially dreadful country song. You know, one that can’t decide if it’s American or Australian as it chugs away but is forgotten moments after it stops.

Disappointingly nobody in our crew remarked, “If that’s dinner then I’ve had it.” We retired to Puffa’s tiny front bar where over the decades so much, and truth be told, so little had occurred. Chris and Andrew’s dad, Jimmy, made a welcome, patriarchal appearance as did my 1985 A3’s cricket captain Beetle and the A2’s vice-captain Fickle. The presence of these chaps gave our entertainment historical and personal context, I think.

Out in the middle of Dutton Park’s oval it was now country-town dark although nobody noticed at the rodeo or in Puffa’s where talk had inevitably moved to the prospect of spoofy. It would’ve been churlish not to rattle the coins and each utter in theatrical turn, “Good call” or “Your buy!” or “Three” (everyone’s favourite spoofy call).

All that boisterous and bonding nonsense complete we walked up Clare Road in the still evening, lighter in the (digital) wallet and lighter of heart with connections refreshed and hometown joys revisited.

I’d rarely enjoyed not watching Kapunda play cricket or going to a rodeo so much.

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October

Rocktober is an annual event on a certain blokey radio station where across the month they play Cold Chisel every fifteen minutes.

I’m starting my own series of themed months including Woktober in which I eat endless bowls of noodles. Jocktober means I’ll buy a new pair of underwear or eat haggis daily. Stocktober requires me to make gallons of soup or huge money on the currency exchange. In Hocktober I drink German white wine.

And Frocktober demands I get about in a dress. As is tradition.

I visited a place I worked at fifteen years’ ago and saw that this passive aggressive pissive sign is still there! Inaccuracy is always fashionable.
Got lost hiking near Chapel Hill and ended up taking refuge in the winery! It’s what Bear Grylls suggests.
Max’s school turned one hundred and he sang in the choir at the celebrations. Coincidentally, I was in my final year at Kapunda Primary when it also had its centenary!
The Kimba krew went to Barley Stacks winery where despite missing the wedding of Nug and Loz we all became friends for life.
I was chaperoned to the National Wine Centre by Claire one lovely Saturday. In the blind-tasting we scored a respectable 0/7.
The Whitlams personally invited us to The Gov last Thursday night. Sort of. OK, not really, or at all.
Rupert published one of my stories in The Australian. Payment is me being allowed to remain in his country.
2

Gough and The Whitlams: we’ll play chess and drink claret

I liked The Whitlams before I ever heard them.

How could I not enjoy a band named for this iconic leader, a man whose disgraceful 1975 dismissal interrupted Singing and Listening one Tuesday afternoon at Kapunda Primary School? The man whose perfect photo with Percy Jones hangs in the North Fitzroy Arms. I always bow at its altar.

“Gough” is my favourite Whitlams’ song and we played it at our wedding reception. It captures the wide-eyed awe I always felt about the man. I would’ve loved for Gough to, “Come over have dinner with me, we’ll play chess and drink claret.”

I’ve been wondering about other Australian Prime Ministers and how they might connect to music. It follows from a game I like to play when someone says something – generally a snappy, domestic phrase that could, with minor adjustment, be the title of a country music album. For example, Claire might yell out from the shower, “We’ve run out of shampoo!” That’s my cue and I’ll yell back in my terrible American accent,

And the nominations for best Country Album are: (dramatic pause and then I lean into the microphone) Running Out of Shampoo by Claire and The Cactus Girls!

Or I’ll remember that most vital chore as I scramble about Friday morning. The bins! Again, I then put on my imaginary black Stetson and announce to the imaginary music awards auditorium,

And the winner is: (another dramatic pause) Putting Out The Bins by Chester Pink and the Garbage Trucks. 

But which other PM moonlights in music?

John Howard and the Horrible Bowling Action for their (unlistenable) record A Dead Ball in Pakistan. We’ve all watched the video of JH harpooning one into the pitch just beyond his (doubtless) sensible fecking shoelaces.

Defending himself he later explained, “They had a ball that was basically the inside of a tennis ball with some white tape around it.” What? Sorry, Little Johnnie but that’s just backyard cricket as millions of us know it! It’s how I spent half a dozen summers with my mate Nick down at his Port Willunga beach shack.

(Bob) Hawkey and Singo – A Beer with Belle du Jour. I’m anticipating a Dolly and Kenny style duet here. The story goes that, back in 2000, Singo hadn’t bought Bob a gift for his 70th so gave him a share in his racehorse, Belle du Jour. The filly then won the Golden Slipper. To celebrate Singo famously shouted the bar at Rosehill. A karaoke hit.

Paul Keating (performs solo; no backing band tolerated) – Flogged with a Warm Lettuce, the follow-up to All Tip and No Iceberg. Its first single is the surprise indie smash, “I Wanna Do You Slowly.”

***

The Whitlams’ leader is Tim Freedman and his sweetly sung songs of gentle optimism and suburban irony are Sunday barbeque joyous. Their best tunes also include ‘Melbourne’, ‘No Aphrodisiac’ and ‘You Sound Like Louis Burdett’ which was modified among my peers to honour the cult Adelaide oval curator Les Burdett.

At uni I once caught a bit of the Midday Show (probably having just arisen) when the preposterously coifed Ray Martin asked, “Who’s Australia’s greatest living politician?” His guest was Gough and he waited with faultless theatrical effect before replying with his very E. G. Whitlam vowels, “Well, Ray, I can tell you who the second greatest is.”

We’re going to see The Whitlams tonight at The Gov’s early show. They’re on stage at 6.30 so we’ll be home just after sundown for hot chocolate and a (shared) digestive biscuit. As we slide into the weekend I’ll be humming,

It’s for you Gough, you Gough, you Gough

Edward Gough Whitlam

1

Mindfulness on Mystery Date

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2

Burgers and Bear Night

I love a good tradition such as watching the first over of the Boxing Day Test. I also hotly anticipate walking annually from the Melbourne CBD to the North Fitzroy Arms for a Footy Almanac lunch. I even love a bad tradition such as believing the Glenelg Footy Club will win grand finals! They’re now five from 19 appearances.

Tuesday is Burgers and Bear night. Like most traditions it simply became the repetition of a comfortable idea. When he was about eight Alex was a big Bear Grylls fan and had a collection of Man v Wild DVDs and water canteens and a pocketknife but like his dream of opening an Egyptian museum in his bedroom this, too, faded.

One Tuesday night a few years’ ago we saw on TV an episode from Bear Grylls’ adventure and survival vehicle, Man v Wild and Max was interested too so we watched again the following week and when the series finished airing, we dragged out Alex’s DVDs. Quickly, this became a weekly expectation. It also gave structure and when Bear was rescued the boys knew it was bedtime.

While enjoying the physical exploits of our protagonist we also discuss issues of media literacy such as how real or contrived the scenarios are- “Dad, do you think those goat-herders just happened to be there?” and “I think the cameraman is braver because he’s climbing the cliff with Bear while actually filming at the same time!”

In an affectionate way, the boys would also critique Bear’s habit of drinking his own pee (or worse still that of an animal), eating live snakes (beheaded, of course) and sleeping inside the dead carcass of a camel to protect against Saharan sandstorms (it’s what I always do).

I’m sure Bear views these as personal traditions. (*adopts Bond villain voice) See, we’re not so different, you and I, Mr. Bear.

Of course, he’d also strip off in subzero temperature to cross a freezing river whether it was required or not. If the icy river’s there it must be entered! As the Russian playwright Chekhov was always banging on about, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise, don’t put it there.” Bear’d be on the tundra and to build suspense he’d say, “In 2004 a group of hikers got lost out here, survived for a week and then went dog-paddling in a stream. Their bodies were found a year later.”

With our star was turning blue and doing star-jumps to maintain a pulse, he’d peel off the remainder of his clothes. It was always the bleakest of Siberian days and in post-production they’d fuzz out his genitalia and I once said to the boys, “Oh dear. Bear’s got out his John Thomas again” and the boys giggled. Attempting to recall this a few weeks’ later Alex asked, “Dad, do you think Bear will get out his Tom Johnson tonight?”

And, just like that, another family tradition began.

Each week Bear would eat tarantulas and extraterrestrial-looking bugs and horrific non-food things that’d inevitably led to yellow goo spurting from his grimacing mouth and running down his chin like crunchy snot, so I determined that in Glenelg North the accompanying culinary challenge would be minimised. Our dining experience would contrast completely with the on-screen revulsion. After-all, my favourite, yet to be broadcast episode of Man v Wild is when he makes camp in the Barossa on the lawns of Peter Lehman’s winery and survives only on mettwurst and emboldened Shiraz.

Therefore, we have burgers on Tuesdays which, even in winter, gives me a happy chance to ignite the barbecue and there’s a deep psychological reassurance in this ritual, at least for me. Max handles the salad, and his brother (with prompting) toasts the bread.

In recent weeks Alex began complaining about the eggs being prepared outside (really?) so now insists on doing these inside on the stove. While I love his rising independence, is there a more terrifying prospect than a teenage boy set loose in the kitchen with a spatula and frying pan?

But like many traditions, Burgers and Bear Night might run its race with the boys outgrowing it, or us simply exhausting episodes of Man v Wild.

Then one distant day, when working or at uni, I hope Alex or Max might cheerfully say, “Hey Dad, let’s watch an episode of Bear, you know, one when he swims in a freezing river with his Tom Johnson out!”

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September

In our spot on the globe September means footy finals, spring racing, and vaguely improving, if wildly temperamental weather. It also marks when the lawns need more frequent mowing and attention as well as a chance to give the barbeque more love. I may begin a barbeque lobby group. I once read a book featuring a grumpy character who had a bumper sticker on his car.

The sticker said: Eat more beef, you bastards!

We took an Onkaparinga holiday and instead ventured to Belair. Until this happened I worried that it could be a stick-free hike.
I prefer my butterfly with soy sauce. Yes, they do taste like chicken.
After months with seemingly no beach one Sunday we could’ve hosted the World Beach Cricket tournament.
John Does’ Local Bar hosted (unbeknownst to them) Mystery Pub. It was the first MP to feature candles since the Lady Burra in July. I understand this worries many of you.
Dawn on a Saturday morning is, apparently, a real thing and we experienced it at Port Elliot. Might even do this again, one day.

So, Claire, who are you wearing? Answer to red carpet host: Beanie by husband.

After a long day of solitary relaxation and quiet introspection I rewarded myself with a $5 beer at Port Elliot’s Royal Family Hotel. It was the least I could do.
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Sunday lunch review: J & F Pizza at 58 Cellar Door and Gallery, Port Elliot

For me life’s biggest dilemma remains: is Friday or Sunday the best day for a long lunch? Saturday is often hijacked by sport, shopping, and lawn-mowing but makes up the trifecta. I’m also a fan of strapping on my boots for a Friday lunch marathon that concludes dangerously close to the first appearance of twinkling stars.

But let me tell you about last Sunday’s lunch.

It was set by a leafy vineyard. There were families with kids on the balcony enjoying the mottled sun and a boisterous, happy group was gathered inside for a 60th birthday. We were close to the woodfired pizza oven, and a great vocalist and guitarist in Pat Ramm accompanied our meal and conversation.

We were guests of 58 Cellar Door and Gallery and particularly J & F Pizza run by two local mates, Josh and Frazer.

With champagne, two Meechi Pale Ales (brewed in nearby Langhorne Creek) and a bottle of Thunderbird Cabernet Sauvignon the refreshments were sorted, and our formidable batting lineup was set.

Frazer and Josh are always looking to keep their pizza menu dynamic and so offered us a Four Cheeses pizza as entrée. It was zesty and subtle, and I hope it finds a long-term place for it was an excellent start to our lazy afternoon.

Throughout, we spoke of footy and family and friends and art.

After a digestive interval the main event was upon us: Prawn pizza and one that was half Hot Salami and half Margherita.  At this point there might’ve been mutual food envy. All looked and smelt appealing, and the Hot Salami was especially delicious with the olives and pickled chilli working with and not against the salami.

The acoustic music continued with covers of Neil Young and The Eagles providing a relaxing soundtrack while over at the birthday gathering those good folks were settling into a rhythm too.

Back in my foggy uni days there was a local joint that did a dessert pizza, and I was once tempted although like many student culinary experiences it was horrible.

However, J & F Pizza do a Lemon Curd pizza which with its delicate blend of curd and basil is a fantastic way to round off a lunch at 58 Cellar Door and Gallery.

Moving toward summer and balmy holidays, when you’re next down around Port Elliot on the Southern Fleurieu, I urge you to sample the fine work of J & F Pizza. Find them on (08) 8554 3149 or at no58pizza@gmail.com.

It’s Sunday lunch (and afternoon), done right.

*disclaimer: we luncheoned with Frazer’s parents, Chris and Letitia

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An Alberton Afternoon

In the dining room there’s an upright piano.

This declares much about the Alberton Hotel: traditional values, a vibrant history, a suggestion of simpler, better times when live music was the entertainment.

Of course, there’s also a sign forbidding anyone to touch it. It’s a truth widely acknowledged that nobody wants their salt and pepper squid sound-tracked by a kid or drunk uncle banging out ‘Chopsticks.’

Still, there’s nostalgic delight in a pub piano.

The front bar bursts with football memorabilia. Framed premiership photos, ancient posters, murals. Both the Magpies and the Power. Which one is it? No, sorry, it doesn’t seem like one club. Drop Igor from Siberia in here and ask him how many clubs he can see. Igor will reply, “Is two.”

But it’s a traditional front bar and promoted on the website as one, ‘enjoyed by all the family’ and there’s kids in here with dad and granddad all around a table, in their Power tops. The atmosphere is pre-match, festive, Saturday.

Velour coats, black cans and fags are in vogue out in the sports garden. There’s a gigantic TV screen showing the early spring races. My Coopers pint is well-priced at $7 and while nursing this, Nature Strip, one of the country’s best sprinters, wins at Randwick.

A brisk shower squalls over as my beef parmigiana arrives, hearty and tasty, with a decent tangle of golden chips (mercifully not buried beneath the schnitzel). My salad includes pickled purple cabbage, and it’s an unexpected treat.

*

Today I’m also making my Alberton Oval debut. How can this be? Unlike Glenelg Oval, parking’s easy and there’s no 2-hour limit. I see no sneering knots of yoof in Everlast tops, and the lawns all look clipped. It’s a handsome suburb with splendid villas and bungalows. I enjoy the walk.

Coming through the Bob McLean Gate, the cheer squad is going off-chops. And we’re still a few minutes before the bounce. I’ve not seen (or heard) a real SANFL cheer squad for years so congratulations Port.

I survey the ground. It’s long and broad and the turf is immaculate. Like the best sporting complexes, it’s a measured mix of the historic and the modern. The old grandstands are low and cosy while the Allan Scott Power Headquarters is sleek but not daunting.

I locate the imagery I was anticipating. The Dry Zone is empty. There’s an octogenarian in knee-high ugg boots. Near me is a skull completely covered in a curious tattoo and then, of course, I see his hairstyle opposite, Greg Anderson, whose locks, I suspect, will forever be 1990. While he was a fine footballer, his Vanilla Ice mullet should also enter various halls of fame.

A bar offers Point Nine beer by Pirate Life. It’s a ‘hop forward ultra-light.’ I ask for a 2007 grand final commemorative lager, the One Hundred and Nineteen, but they’ve sold out.

Unlike Glenelg home matches there’s no shrill, unrelenting music between quarters. Just a welcome chance to chat. Ducking into the Social Club it’s festooned in celebrated iconography. Ebert, the Williams family, Ginever. Unforgivably, no Bomber Clifford. This is a unified crowd, a mob who love their preacher, a bunch happy with their evangelism. Ambling about the ground the sense of community is indisputable.

Port’s in front all game courtesy of a five-goal opening stanza. The swirling breeze makes for scrappy footy punctuated by lightning bursts when one side gets clear. Glenelg’s not been in great form over the past month but has scrambled some last quarter escapes. While the Magpies get good service from some of their AFL types in Hartlett, Mayes and Woodcock they’re not the difference.

After seventeen consecutive wins, with all this significant history looming, Glenelg’s final minor round match is a loss at Alberton. But I’ve enjoyed an afternoon plunged in football culture.

However, and this really disappoints: I don’t spot a single duffle coat.

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Macbeth marks strongly but misses to the near side

How evocative to attend the Goodwood Theatre for a performance of Macbeth.

It’s a play I’ve been spellbound by since I was at school and studied it in Mrs Maloney’s class. When she was a teenager this small theatre is also where my wife Claire made her theatrical debut in Lola Montez but, Your Honour, to my continuing shame I have no recollection of this.

While I’d read and taught the Scottish play countless times, the recent realisation that I’d never seen it on stage startled me. The Goodwood stage was raked towards the audience at an alarming angle and was diamond-shaped. It made me concerned that the artistes might tumble onto the spectators and make us unwitting, additional victims of the supernatural bloodletting.

Our state premier Mr Steven Marshall took his seat just in front of us. Looking like a Kelvinator draped in shapeless black shade cloth, his personal security chap sat next to him. I decided to behave myself. Given the play is about civil mayhem and assassination it is surely tax deductible for all aspiring and upright politicians. I trust Mr Marshall kept his ticket stub. Regicide’s always in vogue.

The production was arresting and visceral and I since discovered an article which argued that in this most sinister of Shakespearean texts made notorious by words such as dagger, cauldron and weird the most unsettling word is the.

Best illustrated by this famous section as lady Macbeth urges her husband-

Your hand, your tongue. Look like th’ innocent flower,

But be the serpent under ’t.”

Academics argue that instead of using the generic a, the definite article the as in the serpent rather than a serpent implies an underlying idea, a lurking agency and invests it with greater menace and unknown symbolism.

*

Friday afternoon in the city and Claire led me by the hand along the harried streets as we evaded the suits and clots of yoof and e-scooters. I felt warm anticipation and the joy of unveiling surprise for it was the monthly moment of personally curated escape that is Mystery Pub.

Tucked away in an almost secreted nook The Historian is like a summery London boozer as the punters were a-throng outside and in. Squeezed in around a pillar on our stools there was pub clamour and buzzing bustle. I was reminded of Jordan in the Great Gatsby who remarked that she loved big parties because, “they’re so intimate.” Our conversation took on a conspiratorial quality and we could’ve been Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in isolated Dunsinane castle, save for the murderous scheming and horrific descent into lonely madness.

*

I took Alex and Max and their mates to the Glenelg v Centrals game Saturday and can report that the five of them saw upwards of five minutes of footy, collectively. This healthy apathy transported me back to Kapunda games as a kid when the match was often just a loose backdrop, a vague context that gave shape to the afternoon. What a marvellous fortune to be able to take in this beachside frivolity in the late winter. And kids under 18, are admitted free!

During the A grade when I was about ten I ran after my footy among the pine trees behind Freeling Oval and almost stepped on a snake catching some winter warmth. Heart a-pumpin’ I stopped and then like a lorry took a wide arc to snatch my Lyrebird footy. Again, Macbeth and its reptilian imagery comes to mind-

We have scotch’d the snake, not kill’d it.

She’ll close and be herself, whilst our poor malice

Remains in danger of her former tooth.

*

Our Sunday morning pattern is to take the dogs Buddy and Angel (Buddy and Angel does sound like a dreadful movie in which two unlikely LA cops solve a previously impenetrable crime and win grudging praise from the grumpy Chief of Police) down the beach for a scamper among other hounds and humans.

The winter storms have dumped giant mounds of seaweed over the sand. On the grey, swirling days I could almost sense the hideous witches from Macbeth huddled over a bubbling pot, described thus

By each at once her choppy finger laying

Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,

And yet your beards forbid me to interpret

That you are so.

It’s an invigorating and elemental way to begin a Sunday and the brisk air does us good and Angel, such a timid, delicate puppy, yelps with delight and leaps like a hare. She’s a beach dog, more Enid Blyton than The Bard.

*

My old school friend Chris, now splitting his time between Angaston (Ango) and Adelaide texted asking me of my Wednesday night plans. I replied, “What have you in mind?”

My phone buzzed with his clear wish- “Meat and three veg.”

So we took our meat and (limited to potato) veg at the Duke of Brunswick. Unlike the charmless beer barns of the anonymous suburbs this pub’s an inner-city delight. Warm, snug and with glowing lighting it invites talk of hometown mates and ancient bonds.

In my week of diverse gratefulness, this is another luminous episode.

While the Duke of Brunswick is well-named there’s other British pubs like the Ape and Apple, The Cat and Custard Pot Inn and The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn (try the ploughman’s lunch).

But I’d opt for the title given Macbeth just before he slays King Duncan-

              The Thane of Cawdor.

That’d be an apt boozer for a gloomy winter’s night.