Among the week’s high points is watching Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell with Alex. Our favourite part is his preview for a ridiculous nature documentary which always makes us laugh like lizards.
We think it genius.
Shuffling past the Old Gum Tree Reserve at lunchtime my boys are playing golf.
They’ve designed a course and while each hole is unique they share one green, located near the back fence and made with a disposable drink cup. Both carry various irons and woods and they’ve the park to themselves, but I hope the putters don’t suddenly become light sabres or Samurai swords.
Continuing west I mourn that in 2020 we’ve not yet had a BBQ in the park as circumstances haven’t allowed the simple joy of snags in a public place. This now belongs to a distant, almost unknowable era but one day…
Every Proclamation Day the park hosts formalities and a morning tea to mark the province’s beginning. A few years’ ago a friend, Sarah, took a selfie with Julia Gillard, who was in town for Christmas.
Bounding up to the then PM as she made her way through the scone-loving crowd, Sarah asked the question and so they both paused, smiled and click. Just like that. No burly black suits panicking into their lapel microphones and leaping like bears onto a salmon. I love that this could happen, just down the road.
It’s a kilometre from home to the beach and then another along the waterfront so my round trip’s about four kilometres. While I once ran, to now call it a jog might be hopeful. I could time myself with a sundial.
Over Tapleys Hill Road, I pass the MacFarlane Street reserve with its playground guarded by orange bunting. Alex learnt to ride a bike here. Palm trees patrol the perimeter and on spring mornings magpies swoop me. One once pecked my skull but I was clearly under-cooked as he didn’t come for a second bite. I wouldn’t eat my head either.
Waiting for me is the unhurried Patawalonga River. It’s only seven kilometres in length, but this is decidedly Mississippian compared to Kuokanjoki, the shortest river in Finland which connects lakes Sumiainen and Keitele. It’s three and a half metres long.
The King Street Bridge conquered I reach the esplanade and the sea swims into happy view. To my left is the sand castle-like Marina Pier with its now ghostly restaurants and apartment balconies. Turning right the pavers follow the beach and bounce along the dune line. There’s an energetic torrent of walkers and cyclists.
Glenelg North’s beach is wide and dotted by dogs, and with a gentle sky above it’s easy to momentarily ignore the cataclysm. People appear joyful. There’s communicable resilience.
Rip-rap rocks armour the shoreline against erosion. I recall how in 1983 during a Year 12 Geography excursion with our teacher Ali Bogle we visited this very spot on a balmy Thursday prior to our penultimate Kapunda High School social. I was astonished when Ali told us that it costs a million dollars a kilometre to build this protection.
The esplanade rises gently as I go, but on a rough day with a headwind it seems Himalayan. The eastern side is flanked by houses, all glass and chrome and dazzlingly white. Soon all will be modern, when the sixties-build apartments are bulldozed.
I often smirk at Number 20 with its outsized silver numerals on the front wall, and remember Shrek seeing the size of Lord Farquaad’s castle, and asking Donkey, “Do you think maybe he’s compensating for something?”
A sunshiny addition to this landscape is Audrey’s coffee caravan. It’s homemade with wooden window frames and pop-riveted aluminium and a chalkboard menu out the front. There’s always a punter or two waiting and drinking in the aroma.
I’m nearly at West Beach and the enviably positioned Sewerage Treatment Works on Anderson Avenue. Gee, poo often enjoys an idyllic (temporary) coastal address. Just short of the dunes there’s a small shelter. Occasionally, a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses sets up a pamphlet display to conscript the dog-walking, beach-loving, track-suited clientele so affectionately referred to in the Old Testament.
Although they cheerfully ignore me I recall the words of Bill Bryson: I don’t know why religious zealots have this compulsion to try to convert everyone who passes before them – I don’t go around trying to make them into St Louis Cardinals fans, for Christ’s sake – and yet they never fail to try.
I turn for home.
In the driver’s seat and turning the key I notice the windshield is dusty. It’s nearly a month since my car went anywhere. It’s been in quarantine too.
Having reversed out the garage I change gears. Crunch. Like a dawn golfer on the opening tee-block I’m easing into my routines.
Up the end of our street I see a girl, bent down in the driveway, admiring her chalk drawings of pink and blue on the grubby concrete. Home-schooled, her Art lesson’s done.
I’ve not been outside in Australia since early March. April 1st is a fitting date to tiptoe out. Over the past fourteen days the mostly imagined, newsfeed horror of supermarket fights, deserted malls and shut playgrounds has battered me. A girl drawing out the front of her home is a welcoming image; at once pristine and sweetly unknowing.
Heading towards the city Anzac Highway is quiet although a bus cuts me off. I almost applaud. The ancient annoyances are now likely to comfort. I see an old man at a bus-stop. Squatting next to him is his terrier. Both appear calm. There’s a patience about them. What choice do we have?
Triple J is playing something antagonising. Maybe now, I’m finally too old. I push the radio button for Triple M. Some dire 1980’s song. Maybe not.
I pass the monolithic and charmless Highway Inn, all shut except for its drive through. It’s mid-morning, but a couple utes are in there. Taking opportunities when they can. Never have I so acutely felt the tension between self and family and community.
Up near South Road a new petrol station is being built. Half a dozen tradies are in the forecourt, on the canopy, putting in windows. Previously, I’d connect this to cars, fossil fuels, climate change. But today it’s a reluctant symbol of growth and hope.
I then see an old BP. Fuel is 84 cents. This seems more 1991 and not 2020. I rub the back of my neck. No. No mullet there. The day before we flew to Sweden fuel was $1.40.
On our final night in isolation I shaved off the first-ever beard I’d grown. Confinement offered opportunity too. The patio pavers enjoyed their first pressure clean in a decade. Claire got stuck into the cupboards. I rang family and friends. Sat in the sun.
Arriving at work to collect a camera for the globally-compulsory Zoom meetings, I pulled into the barren carpark.
I was also there for my flu shot.
In our world of heightened immuno-consciousness, this seemed an urgent idea. I fumbled for my security tag.
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.
Well played, Kenny. Thanks.
It was with glowing-heart astonishment that I found myself in a small wooden cabin just outside Ljungbyhed, a town in Skåne County, Sweden.
This European week began for Claire and me when, jet-lagged and head-fuzzy and grumpy that our initial hire car booking was somehow lost, I spent ten befuddled minutes trying to jolt a 2020 model BMW into life (tip for readers: press the start button and brake simultaneously). It’s a technological distance from a HQ Holden. I felt like a baby-boomer with an X-box.
I hadn’t driven on the right for fifteen years and among my first challenges was the Øresund Bridge linking Copenhagen and Malmo. Setting the wipers a-flapping every time I indicated was compulsory for your Mr Magoo.
It was blustery on the elevated bridge and a dizzying way above the sea. I kept my eyes arrow-straight and tried to not imagine our Germanic sports wagon being blown into the Sound where we’d doubtless perish among some bemused flounder, turbot and halibut.
Ljungbyhed is home to around 2,000 folks. It has a cinema. It has a welcoming supermarket or Hemköp. It has two Italian restaurants: Oregano and one named after the famed Napoletano pizza pioneer, Adam. It has no pub or bar and the two Italian restaurants are unlicenced. It has no government-owned liquor outlet, the Systembolaget.
Beside our red cabin is a forest. In this is a lake and, moored on the near bank, are a couple of pontoons. Each has a wooden table, and some chairs. On the older one is a squat barbeque kettle. On the deck of both vessels is a single oar. The water is dark and, I imagine, dreadfully cold.
Claire and I decide to self-host (a most 2020 term) a happy hour. The wane sun is suspended high in the blue sky as we climb onto the far pontoon. We’re in coats and drape a rug across our laps. Looking like I’m about to rob a servo, or barrack for Port, I put on a black beanie. The beech trees are all bared and grey like ash, and awaiting the spring. Large, honking geese fly in and skid across the lake beside its island. These are called Sknegs, or Scania Geese.
With no wi-fi or signal our phones have become cameras (remember those?) and we ensnare some blissful moments. In Adelaide it’s about 2.00am, the Fringe has finished for the night and most are sleeping through a warm March evening. On our gently itinerant deck we chat of family and friends; shared high school days; the afternoon’s trek through Söderåsens national park; the languid autumn weeks ahead back home.
I have another olive and it’s delicious. Kalamata is king. Mediterranean joy in a Nordic setting. We have gin and tonic, too (like half the planet, I’m a recent convert) and this seems as London as the Hammersmith & City line.
There’s an endless twilight here but in half an hour we’ll hike back through the forest to our cabin. We’ll light the wood stove and open a duty-free Primitivo Cabernet Sauvignon from Puglia to enjoy with our pasta.
Scandinavian happy hour is terrific. You don’t even need a pub.
At noon I remember my quest: to eat this country’s finest sausage roll. The two proximate bakeries offer products of middling quality like Little River Band’s 1978 album Sleeper Catcher which after the hit single “Lady,” falls away dispiritingly.
The Dulwich bakery began in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs (yes, in Dulwich) and has since expanded like the belly of the man who ate all the pies and now there’s one in Glenelg South too.
Heading along Partridge Street I pass a school where it’s also lunchtime and I see all the straw-hatted girls, all eating entitled food, all named Charlotte.
Gliding through the roundabout near the Broadway pub and despite being a modest Korean model, my car issues a little automotive whimper as I cruelly ignore the lure of beer garden refreshment and carry on.
Outside the bakery are shiny nubs of metal tables and chairs while inside are wooden booths, and my sausage roll, having been, “plated up” as Gordon Ramsey might bark, I take a quiet corner.
I have a bite.
Food and memory are coupled. Fish and chips on the breezy foreshore; a bucket of undrinkable coffee in an airport dawn; the languid schnitzel in a wine valley pub.
Sausage rolls speak of the past. Even if you trot out after reading this and buy one, I reckon you’re time-travelling to your childhood. They live in a black and white era when you were small and the world was unthinkably big. Sausage rolls, home-made with fork marks sealing the pastry, at a primary school birthday, when the fun was unscripted and there was running, lots of aimless, skun-knees running.
Today, the pastry is tasty and of a welcoming texture. It avoids the twin evils of being greasy and soggy or dry and flaky. A bright opening like, “Help Is On Its Way” the first song on Diamantina Cocktail. 1978 was a great year for LRB and for sausage rolls.
The filling is a pleasure: warm, with a suggestion of spice and pepper and showing a brownish, beefy hue unlike the Barbie pink of other sausage rolls loitering within this postcode. Various lunch punters come and go; variously corporate, high-vis, matronly, harried parent.
If I applied the Pitchfork (an alternative music website) album review metric I’d give my sausage roll an 8.3.
And with my lunch now commencing its growling digestive journey I considered my good fortune on this autumnal afternoon. I had the three essentials for a happy existence: something to do; something to look forward to; someone to love.
If peak Little River Band is the full version of, “It’s A Long Way There” the first song from their eponymous album, then while the Dulwich bakery release is excellent, I’ve not yet located the sausage roll equivalent.
My quest continues.