1

A Sunday in the Barossa

rockfords 2

A celebration of excellent weather, the gentle environment and our astonishing privilege: an autumn Sunday in the Barossa!

The trick (or life hack as the young ‘uns call these) with winery tours is to keep the itinerary simple: don’t fall for vaulting ambition, or an overly complex itinerary. With this in mind Claire said, “I reckon we should go along Krondorf Road.”

Beginning at Grant Burge Wines a highlight was the view down to and across the rolling valley floor with the trees all gilded and brunette and anticipating their winter drink. There was a lengthy list of wines to work through and these were uniformly adequate if somewhat devoid of charisma.

Noting the massive bottles on display we spoke of the biblical names ascribed to these: Methuselah, Balthazar and my favourite to say, often apropos of nothing, Nebuchadnezzar: holding 15 litres, an unholy receptacle with catastrophic hangovers for the extended family (perhaps not the kiddies).

rockfords 1

Rockfords is always a delight. The former stables host the tastings. All stone and pastoral calm; inside is warmly dark, and the punters drift and mingle, scuffling to and from the counter. Above our heads is a row of dusty, hoary bottles, the labels whispering of meeker times. With our dear friend Trish in mind we bought a bottle of Alicante Bouchet as voices murmured about us, all low and vaguely thrilling and festive.

The Basket Press Shiraz is Olympian, and I remembered I’d a bottle at home, a significant birthday gift from old friends Bob and Trish. As always with long-distance wine I’m torn: do I lay it down for years on the hazy promise of a milestone, or given life’s uncertainty, dash home on an otherwise unspectacular Tuesday, and turn the church key?

It was divine to then emerge from this intimate dusk and into the cobblestoned light of Rockford’s courtyard. Dust and pollen and laughter pirouetted about in the golden air, and I remarked to Claire how I found it difficult to believe there could be a happier place on the planet.

hallets 2

Our clocks had chimed midday and so we drove westward. Our pace was like that of the horses and carts of centuries ago when stoic Lutherans slapped the reins, and crunching the carpark gravel at St. Halletts we both noted how it had been decades since either of us had visited.

The cellar door has a generous, handsome bar. Even the toilets are luxurious in their appointments. We discussed the received silliness of the various euphemisms for these: bathroom. Aside from the physical hopelessness of the cistern, who’d wish to take a bath in one? And restroom: these may have once offered welcome refuge, but with an unsophisticated world view shaped by my amenities experiences out the back of Adelaide Oval I reckon toilets are like proctologist visits; get in and out (as it were) as quickly as you can.

We chatted over our cups with the woman serving the drinks. She was Parisienne and pregnant. On a working holiday years ago she met her eventual husband in an aisle of the local hardware store, and now here she was. It was a natter in keeping with the day’s themes of warmth and gratefulness and she popped extra crackers on our cheeseboard.

With the Para River acting as a gentle guardian there’s an ample lawn punctuated by some silent gums and wooden tables, like those favoured in English country pubs. We had cheese and olives and sunshine and stillness. And a glass of wine each. My sparkling red was exquisite, delicate and with a haughty effervescence that contrasted ever so slightly with the surroundings.

hallets 1

“Do you know what my favourite drink is when wine-tasting?” I asked, the sun slanting across the lawn.

“A shiraz?” Claire suggested.

“No, but good try.”

“Go on then.”

“After the last winery it’s the Pale Ale I have at a pub.”

So, our day ended with a first. We swung into the Sandy Creek pub, a boozer I must’ve passed a thousand times, but had never entered.

With the light collapsing beyond the low hills we sat out the front and watched the steady stream of cars and trucks and vintage jalopies roar along the highway as on the TV inside the Crows and Dockers began their unwatchable match.

It had been a sunlit day of space and conversation and bursting gratitude.sandy creek

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3

Beer Review: Coopers XPA (spoiler: boiled shite)

costaAn iconic Australian brewer, Coopers have launched a new beer. This is of considerable excitement to me, and here’s a quick list of launches that are far, far worse.

The launch of a P!nk album
The launch of the Costa Concordia
The launch of Paris Hilton’s eponymous perfume
The launch of an Exocet missile
The launch of AFLX
The launch of Shane Warne’s new wig
The launch of an all you can eat tofu diner.

That’ll do for now.

*

I’m in a suburban Adelaide pub. It’s called the Highway, and is stylised as HWY. Some would argue that for the HWY, this is where style ends. It’s actually pronounced “Hur- wah- yee” and emits exactly the sound you’ll make when paying for a drink here.

It’s one of those maddening pubs that insists on using those ridiculous glasses that are well short of being pints, yet they charge you as if they’re Jeroboams of lager.

Maybe it’s called the Highway because in the Lounge Bar and accompanying deck, highway robbery is the business plan. I often feel in there as if I’ve been personally served by Ned Kelly masquerading as a twenty-something arts/law drop out called Charlotte whose boyfriend plays footy for an Old Collegians club.

You know the one.nedWith all these crimes temporarily excused I’m in the Sports Bar seeking a Coopers XPA, largely as there’s nowhere closer to home with this on tap. As sports bars go this one is fine with screens showing golf, cricket replays and the thoroughbreds from Hawkesbury and Quirindi. On the other side there’s a mega-wall of betting screens and some burly high-vis blokes.

As is law in this country there’s that one cove in the bar, sans hygiene and base-level socialisation who, despite the early hour, has already been here too long. Wandering about aimlessly he invariably glances and blinks at me, and wobbles over as in his fuddled head it’s time for a chat. Oh, here he comes.

No use putting my head down and avoiding eye-contact. It must be my deodorant. Well, at least his fly is up and on his upper thigh he’s not sporting a dinner-plate sized pee mark.

He belongs to another era, particularly the one before the Highway was renovated when, even around 5 bells on a Friday, the front bar was as dark as a Thai cave and a grizzled and aproned butcher squatted at a table, sold cubes of cheese and slices of mettwurst and handed over your happy hour tucker on actual butchers’ paper. This was before butchers’ paper was hijacked by every clueless conference convenor and it became a toxic weed along with housekeeping, plenaries and parking lots.

pub front

The Coopers XPA?

Colossally disappointing. Taking a spot adjacent to the bar with my undersized, overpriced glass, I took a sip. Nothing on the front palate. Pause. Nothing on the middle palate. Another awkward pause. Expecting a late rush of taste and flavour and Coopers yum from the back palate I still found nothing.

I acknowledge that at 5.2% it is more Ali than featherweight, but the XPA seems to have pipe-cleaners for arms, and not guns.

Old mate Puggy then joined me, and instantly confirmed my dismal analysis. We had been promised a lumpy V8, like a Brock Commodore, all throaty and snarling up a country straight, but instead were piloting an insipid sedan. With bald tyres.

Highway2016

The previous Coopers release was Session Ale, and it was sun and joy and tropics. A golden splash of fun, and reggae straight in ya gob. It has proved to be a hit, like a Beatles’ tune from their Rubber Soul era.

Coopers XPA is the song that came 17th in Eurovision 1987, but without the charm, longevity and ridiculous applause from the irradiated Ukrainians.

0

Bob Hawke, Brutalism and Banana Bread: Melbourne Trip 2019

 

pub

Who doesn’t love an existential question just after dawn, on a festive Friday? Our flight had entered Victorian airspace (the state, not the historical era) and breakfast (adhering to Spartan and not Southern American culinary tradition) was dumped onto our tray tables.

Propelling eastwards, several kilometres above the awakening and expectant earth, Chris asked, “So, what’s the difference between banana bread and banana cake?”

“Extremely good question, old mate,” I replied staring at the brownish block of mashed fruit, all unanimated and morose.

Trev observed. “I reckon the difference is about three dollars. “

“Yep,” I confirmed, my linguistic prism primed. “Given the alliterative appeal, banana bread is more expensive.”

*

In part the North Fitzroy Arms appeals because it presents as a country pub. Pushing open the front door at 12.01 is all frisson and happy expectation. The décor and the memorabilia are as I remember. Unlike some soulless modern venues there’s no seductive chrome or glass. The taps offer familiar brews. I comment, “Good to see Pentridge Pale Ale is available.” Gough and Percy are on the back wall, in black and white, forever frozen in the early 1970’s.

gough

It’s great to see everyone, and the lunch is a beauty with the Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup with Mascarpone & Basil Oil scoring well. This weekend, everyone is a Eurovision judge.

Today’s guest speaker, George Megalogenis, is compelling and his book, The Football Solution: how Richmond’s premiership can save Australia, underpins the conversation with John Harms courtesy of a magnificent mix of history, politics, inner-Melbourne geography, sports psychology and Bob Hawke memoir.

The post-lunch exchanges are always splendid and I especially enjoy meeting Footy Almanac editor Colin Ritchie and hearing of his most recent trip to New Orleans. We yak of jazz icons Dr. John and Trombone Shorty, and the legendary venue Preservation Hall which with a wave of his hand Col suggests is the same size as the pub’s dining room.

*

Saturday morning we’re strolling north. Chris asks, “What time is it?” Of course, breakfast television motifs litter our weekend, so I channel former NBC Today host Bryant Gumbel and reply, “There’s breaking news overnight, but firstly let’s see what’s happening in your part of the world. It’s thirty-seven minutes after the hour.”

Mere moments later we pass Barrie Cassidy, in the midst of a Very Big Week, given the passing of Bob Hawke and the election. “We should’ve asked Barrie to join us in the All Nations Hotel for a quick beer,” laments Trev. “I reckon he might be on the hop for the next day or two, but otherwise I’m sure he would’ve been in,” I reassure the boys, based on zero personal insight.

Trev stops suddenly and points across at a concrete structure. “See that architecture. That’s Brutalism and inspired some of the buildings and spacecraft in Star Wars.” And indeed, looking at the stark, overbearing façade I see his point. If Trev went on Hard Quiz or Mastermind he’d pick Star Wars as his topic. That, or The Kapunda Tennis Club in the early 1980’s, or Shoegazing: Indie Rock’s Most Alluring Sub-genre. Same as all of us, I reckon.
NFA

Chris had spotted on Friday that Coopers Brewery launched a new XPA ale in Melbourne. Suitably inspired, and trusting the Internet, we arrived at the suggested pub, but were told it was closed for cleaning, hadn’t heard of Coopers XPA and that we might simply bugger off. Our disappointment could only have been lessened if the pub was instead a Frank Walker’s National Tiles outlet.

Surging into the All Nations Hotel at thirteen minutes after the hour we note that our regular stools (of the furniture variety) are waiting. Instantly, there’s an ornithological theme: geese. On tap is a craft beer called Goose Session IPA. We then spy the Grey Goose vodka on the shelf. Naturally, we text Kapunda identity Greg “Goose” Mickan whose prolonged digital silence indicates he’s delighted to hear from us. Googling him we find an introductory video on his business website. He boasts of there being, “720 degree views on his property. Provided you turn around twice.” We dedicate the following game of spoofy to him.

ANH

Safely at the Punt Road End (or Free Bird Seed End) of the MCG having invested (badly as it turns out) in Adelaide’s premier sprint, the Goodwood Handicap and Brisbane’s Doomben Cup, we locate our seats, and SANFL memorabilia enthusiast and champion bloke, Swish Schwerdt.

We yak about our respective Adelaide teams, Centrals and Glenelg, who are playing at the Ponderosa (the Tigers prevail for the first time out there since accidental leg spinner John Winston Howard was in power although as near as I can tell there’s no deep connection). We also recall the fabulous days on local radio when, at an urgent juncture a voice’d announce: “Let’s go round the grounds. Nipper Christie down at Alberton.” Much giggling follows.

MCG

During all of this, sixty thousand people completely ignore our charming dialogue and instead watch a match between Collingwood and St Kilda. The half-time Four N Twenty pies are at least equal to the footballing Pies, and the fixture finished, we move with clear-eyed purpose towards the Duke of Wellington cup-house.

*

Sunday’s breakfast television is the PGA golf and we decide that having to skool every time we heard, “In the HOLE!” would be dangerous; then bemoan the absence of David Marr on Insiders, but enjoy Barrie Cassidy’s fine work; and finally, on Eurovision, we decide that having to skool every time there’s geopolitical and not musical merit voting – “Hello Tel Aviv! Thanks for a great show. Greece gives twelve points to Cyrus!” – would also be dangerous, but not as dangerous as repeated listening to any of the songs.

Returning to the CBD after our Lygon Street brunch during which Trev confronts a colossal veal scallopini we pause respectfully at Carlton’s John Curtin Hotel with a Coopers beer to toast Bob Hawke; a venue in which Bob Hawke himself often toasted Bob Hawke (with ample cause).

Curtin

Our penultimate pub is the Exford (surely a sister hotel to Rundle Street’s Exeter) and we watch the Port and Gold Coast game from a sodden Adelaide Oval. The big screen shows that the locals have turned up in their dozens (forget Winter is Coming, I think the tarps are coming), and with the Filth the Power claiming control we scarper.

It’s forty-six after the hour, we’ve a plane to catch and banana bread to battle.

spoofy

 

1

These Things Amuse Me Way Too Much

Amusing Thing #1

Years ago the British comedian Ali G interviewed David and Victoria Beckham. Their son, Brooklyn came up and Ali asked where the name originated.

Posh replied, “That’s where he was born.”

“Right,” Ali said, “But where was he conceived?”

Denmark was the coy answer.

“Dat is interesting,” said the host, “Cause if me and my Julie had a baby it’d be called, ‘In The Bog Of A KFC.'”

Ali then inquired, “So when young Brooklyn grows up, would you like him to be a footballer like Beckham, or a singer like Mariah Carey?”

Amusing Thing #2

I gave been known to sing and apparently am not quite as horrific as I was. With the Kimba crew, one of my favourites is by the sixties band, The Turtles. Their big hit was “Happy Together” but their other song was written to annoy their record company as they were hugely impatient for another top 40 song.

“Eleanor” is also great, despite the band’s intention. They deliberately aimed for terrible lyrics but I find endless amusement in these

Eleanor, Gee I think you’re swell

And you really do me well

You’re my pride and joy etcetera.

This is the best use of the word “etcetera” in the history of the world. Employed to grate it actually works to comic and romantic effect, although I can’t imagine a groom saying, “I promise to look after you in sickness and health, etcetera.”

All of you songwriters out there, here’s my challenge to you: pen some lyrics using the word “etcetera.”

Amusing Thing #3

That is all.

0

Pub Review: Hotel Victor, Victor Harbor

DW 1

Iconic Australian cricketer, leviathan punter, beer inhaler and former Rothmans enthusiast Doug Walters famously said, “When in Victor Harbor be sure to swing by the Hotel Victor. It’s really good.”

Actually, he didn’t say this, and I just made it up.

Doug is a fabulously cool cat, and once went to bed in Perth well after dawn and well-oiled before mere hours later, going out to bat for his country. He possesses a remarkably mild temper, but I wonder what even he’d make of the Hotel Victor.

taps

The boys and I were in town and as the Tuesday sun was setting, all autumnal and fetching, we suddenly had a dinner dilemma. I won’t say it was poor planning on my behalf but our holiday cabin menu read: half a raw sausage, two bread crusts and nine grapes.

Among the safest beer choices in this land of plenty is Coopers Pale Ale, but happily sat in the front bar and peering across the park, my first sip was, as they say in beverage circles, putrid. Mmm. Something not right here. All metallic edges and prodding screwdrivers, and not the fruity, plentiful palate so richly celebrated.

Eleven patient slurps later I cleared my poisoned throat and rasped at the innkeeper, “Excuse me, young man with the hipster beard, my ale is poorly.” He replaced it, but the second was equally miserable. It lay in the glass like a sad, Liverpudlian puddle.

bistro

Occasionally, the first beers poured daily from a keg can be, as Doug himself describes, a little sharp. However, this was beer o’clock in Victor Harbor during the splendid guts of school holidays. There were punters nursing cups all over the boozer. I was no pioneer.

A pub unable to provide a crisp gargle is like a frisky pup not wanting to reproduce with your bare leg: inexplicable.

We should’ve decamped to the fish ‘n’ chippery, but I persevered with the cold-eyed application of the Never Dead.

I’d a discount meal voucher and was singular in my wish to redeem it. “No, you can’t use it in here, only in the bistro,” announced the pig-tailed girl with cheerful senselessness. “What difference does it make?” I blinked. “Do the meals not come from the same kitchen? How can it matter where we sit?”

She blinked back.

In the apparently magical bistro with the boys gawping at their devices I ordered, but the pub again gave the rude finger. “Sorry, you can’t use this coupon for kids’ meals, only adult ones.”

I was tempted to use Aunt Edna’s favourite expression, the elegant and timeless, Fuck me.

I was getting extra good at loosing arguments, and my will to live was about to drown itself in my rancid ale, so naturally I continued. “But the discount here is ten bucks. Should I return, and buy the adult-only lobster and save thirty dollars? Would that be better for you?”

Hotel Victor 3, me 0.

lobster

I admit my roast beef was terrific. Tender, exquisitely flavoursome and a treat to eat. The carvery vegetables were also delicious; especially the cauliflower, although as Aunt Edna used to suggest, “If you somehow manage to fuck up cauliflower we’re all in deep shit.” She had a shocking mouth, Aunt Edna.

Upon arrival we were promised water and glasses, but the four wait staff were so stressed attending to the excessive, punishing demands of the six other diners that this didn’t happen. Mercifully, humans are only 60% water so replenishing with H2O wasn’t important, and at no stage were we in significant biological danger.

They were also busy dwelling on Doug Walters’ famous century made entirely in the final session at the WACA in 1974. He bought it up with a six off the day’s last ball.

For the Hotel Victor to have also hit a six off their last delivery would’ve required free Coopers Sparkling Ales for me, and buckets of chocolate ice-cream for both Alex and Max.

The wait staff (yes, we’re still waiting) were consumed by their own ridiculous rules for acceptance of vouchers; an unwavering commitment to shagging up the country’s finest keg beer; and avoiding minimal levels of table service and so, with eyes shut, flopping about at the crease like a wounded sea mammal, and failing to offer a cricket shot, were bowled middle stump.

DW 2

0

On Granite Island

 

granite island

Of the bounteous opportunities we have here clinging to the southern coast of this wide land, circumnavigating Granite Island is, for mine, among the best for our occasionally battered souls.

Beautifully situated an hour from Adelaide and connected umbilically to Victor Harbor (note the inexplicable American spelling) by a causeway, Alex, Max and I set out enthusiastically in the gap between Easter and Anzac Day (depending on your view, either two grim or celebratory holidays) as the affirming autumnal sun drenched us with healthy effervescence.

The horse-drawn tram was also on holiday (possibly still partying in honour of the equine heroine Winx) so, gun-barrel straight, we galloped across to the island with the boys chatting ceaselessly and in that lovely, unconscious, yet stream-of-conscious way only the young and excited can.

Their old man was buoyant too so for reasons I still can’t quite unpack we found ourselves at the kiosk prior to and not following our moderate exercise. Like a pickpocketed Dickensian character, before I knew it the boys had persuaded me into a pair of chocolate milkshakes.

pulp

Such is the passage of time and the unrelenting effects of inflation that the $5 milkshake Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega shared in Pulp Fiction had long since lost its shock value and Alex and Max briskly slurped their $6 refreshments, completely unaware of any cultural and fiscal dissonance with the iconic filmography of Quentin Tarantino.

We trekked in an anticlockwise fashion and shared the gravel path with folk from across the seas and across the road. It was one of those utterly self-contained moments in which we were constantly in the company of others, yet felt no need to interact, or to broaden our world beyond our complete, little bubble. Some days, we is all we need.

Happily, however, the boys were unrelenting in interrogating the island. They rushed constantly along the path, before like an old sea dog, or Quint from Jaws, I reeled them in. They scrambled up and over the smoothed and the ragged outcrops while paying attention to my startled wishes that they not endanger either themselves or the part of me that suffers from incurable and eternal risk assessment.

rock

On the island’s southern edge Alex declared, “The ocean here is normally cold as there’s nothing between us and Antarctica.” I felt gratitude for his global insight as I reflected upon my own worldview at his age which was, “Gee, Angaston Oval is a muddy poop-heap in August.”

The town-side of Granite Island hosts a distinctive ancient tree with stripped limbs enticing young climbers. Each branch appears as a blonde vaulting horse and indeed, upon our last visit Alex was riding its sturdy frame until, like a character in a deleted scene from Blazing Saddles, he slipped several feet directly onto another blonde bough in a way that I could tell, caused considerable shock to both his face and his groin. I could almost hear a fast-plucked banjo. I may have yelped.

On Wednesday’s lap Max spied this friendly foe and yelled, “Alex! Alex! Here’s the nut-breaker. Here’s the nut-breaker!” With this public declaration I expected either a rush of Asian tourists seeking autographs, or a rush of Asian tourists desperately seeking higher ground, but neither eventuated.

tree

Rounding the gentle final curve we took in the long sweep of Encounter Bay and The Bluff, and bemoaned the old, dry hills. A week or so back Alex had declared that when he was older he’d live in Victor Harbor because it was “really cool.” Max then countered how he was going to dwell in the viticultural gem that is South Australia’s Clare Valley.

Of course, he added in what really should be a surprise to no-one, “And Utah.”

We then eased onto the sparkling causeway and the boys, like tightrope walkers, tried to travel the entire distance balancing on a single rail-track before we reached the car, sitting patiently by The Crown Hotel.

A few minutes later we were barbequing our lunch just behind the clean, dappled beach.

causeway

 

5

When Too Much Football Is Barely Enough

SS

The best Barry Humphries’ character Sandy Stone would describe it as a “nice afternoon’s entertainment.”

With a gorgeous autumnal forecast in the mid-twenties here’s the plan for Saturday.

1. Stroll down to Glenelg Oval just after lunch for the Round 3 fixture between the Tigers and the South Adelaide Panthers. I understand that in the Big Cat World a tiger would be expected to defeat a panther but in early season SANFL footy there are few certainties. The boys, their mates and I will set up shop on the sloping lawn in front of the scoreboard. While the football will be punctuated by four siren blasts finishing the action each quarter, Alex and Max will eat incessantly and in keeping with the theme of the event, carnivorously.

oval

2. At 2.30 (interestingly I had a dental appointment during the week, which I think I’m pleased to say hurt my wallet more than my mouth) we’ll scamper into the bar and watch Winx make her final start in the (time-honoured) Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick.

winx

If Prince Charles had a horse race named after him (not his wife?) would it be known as the Chuck Cup? Before, during and after Max will compare the iconic mare and Black Caviar (he has a salmon pink and black spotted cap with her name on it). “Who would win out of the two, Dad?” and, tragi-comically, “How would Waikikamukau go against those two horses?”

chuck

3. During the second half of the Glenelg game the boys will climb one of the trees (as you do at the footy) bordering the ground’s eastern side, leaving me to drink beer in peace guard their snacks, and check the progress of my assorted trifectas and bets personal investment portfolio. Once the game is over we’ll make our way home beneath the golden sunlight, when in a most fortunate twist it will be time to finally watch some football. Port Adelaide play Richmond and this’ll be on TV. At the continued, if expected risk of upsetting the Port fans the match will open with the rather one-sided clash of each club’s theme songs. The Richmond song, “Oh We’re From Tigerland” is, to linger with the racing motif, the best of the pair by the length of the Flemington straight (450 metres, thanks for asking). It’s a rousing, joyous ditty. However, the Power tune, I’m afraid to report, suffers in many regards such as this significant lyric

We’ll never stop, stop, stop
Til we’re top, top, top.

Even casual fans of the Power (is this really a thing?) will know that they did, indeed, finish top in 2004, but unfortunately, they’ve adhered to their own promise since then, in terms of premiership aspirations, and they’ve well and truly stopped. Of this there can be no doubt. They’re good for their word.

tarps.png

4. By the time the Crows verse (as everyone under 21 says) the Kangaroos at the Docklands Stadium I’ll have celebrated each of my horses having saluted. Referencing the Docklands venue, I prefer to only use its generic label for it has, I’d argue, suffered more nomenclature change than the American singer John Mellencamp who has been known variously as John Cougar, Johnny Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp, Johnny Mellencamp, Cougar John, John Mellen-head, Old Mellencamp John, and the decidedly unhelpful and confusing mononym John. Anyway, by the time this match ends I may well have had sufficient football for this April Saturday, but we’ll see.

JC

Even if the Crows win, I doubt I’ll watch the replay. There’s a surprise, but I reckon it’s what Sandy Stone would chose.

It might, instead, be time for bed.

BC