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Eleven

alex 1

You and I were both up early on your birthday. I gave you a hug and a kiss and said, “Happy birthday Alex.”

You sang, “Dad, I’m so happy to be eleven!”

*

Of course, you’re embarrassed by Dad’s music. You don’t think much of Fleet Foxes or Vampire Weekend, but you like Lana Del Rey, and Ben Folds is our road trip soundtrack. Every time. We turn it up loud.

In the same way there’s days you love the Old Gum Tree Park, and other days, when not so much. You swing between being a little boy and an almost teenager who, some might say, can be a little demonic! I guess your emotional vocabulary is developing, and this isn’t always easy to spectate. But I mean this in a kindly way.

It’s what happens when a boy is eleven.

All you wanted for your birthday was a lunch at an all you can eat restaurant (term employed loosely here, I think) so off we went to Charlie’s Diner at the Brighton Metro. As I’d been at a conference Saturday morning I arrived late and you’d all eaten.

alex 2

Where Max had sat appeared as a site in Pompeii when the tables and houses were frozen forever as the lava struck. There were plates and drinks and bowls, all with just a sip or bite taken, as if Vesuvius had burst through. It wouldn’t take the archaeologists long to discover whose meal this was.

I loved that you and Max immediately took me on a tour about Charlie’s to the bains-marie as you both pointed out the endless offerings.

“Dad, here’s all the pizza! There’s the Asian food.”

“Look at all the chips. They’re pretty good.”

“Right now, come to the dessert bar. Around here. You can come back as many times as you want!”

*

You’re a beautiful big brother. As one of the people down the park said to me last week- “Alex is caring, and tries to look after his younger brother- I don’t think Max listens too well.” But you do laugh at and love him as we all do.

I become misty when I think of you both in fifteen years. I can see you at the Ashes cricket, or at a music festival (I think you’ll come around to Vampire Weekend), and I know you’ll be there for each other. There’ll be knowing nods and gruff exchanges and glances across the pub just to check on your best friend, your brother.

I know you love him with gentle ferocity.

boys

Your humour makes me happy. Just like an eleven-year-old should, you laugh at YouTube and those crazy physical dares and stunts that are all a bit Three Stooges, but I also love how you watched Frontline with me- and can quote the clueless current affairs show host Mike Moore, and at random times around the house you’d say, “Mmmm. Martin Di Stasio there with that disturbing report.”

I love that you roar instantly with me at Mad As Hell when Micallef features one of his fake promos, for funny ABC shows like

The Rise of Hollywood’s Power Mice

The Depraved, Godless, Sicko Hedge Sparrows of Yorkshire.

*

You’re nearly finished at primary school and are in the senior unit where, in an innocent, unlikely symbol of your unstoppable progression, you can use a microwave or boil a kettle to have noodles for lunch. I can see you in there quietly leading your friends with your constant sense of justice.

Just as I can still see you in our Singaporean condo on your first ever school day as you headed out under the towering cityscape and into the hugging heat. My hot tears from that day are never far away.

alex 3

Tim Winton is my favourite Australian writer and one of his best lines for me is not found in Cloudstreet or The Riders or Dirt Music, but the Young Adult novel he published thirty years ago.

Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo.

At the end Lockie is talking to Vicki who, like some adolescent girls, wants to grow up too fast, and I’m so joyful that in this gorgeous character’s reply I can hear you, dearest Alex.

“I hate being a kid,” she said.

“See? I’m weird,” he murmured. “I love it”

LL

1

Vampire Weekend’s Hannah Hunt

2

It’s an enthralling, alliterative name. Say it aloud. Hannah Hunt. It’s easy to pronounce. There’s an affable rhythm, and linguists suggest the repetition of “H” creates romantic introspection.

See, it’s started already.

That autumnal afternoon Hannah was the girl you noticed strolling across the uni lawns, smiling and chatting, smiling and chatting. Not having seen her before, suddenly you looked for her everywhere.

She had an irresistible laugh; a laugh that promised unexpected fun, and every time you heard it you fell further. She wasn’t routinely beautiful, although Hannah was deeply attractive. You’d pinch a peek at her and she’d be unaware; unaffected; completely at ease with herself, and her moment. You loved this too.

vw 1

But Hannah was maddening. She was dangerously spontaneous and you kept tumbling. You never felt more alive. You always forgave her.

And then, that was it.

How many of us have fallen in love with a Hannah Hunt? I have.

*
Discovering Vampire Weekend a decade ago, I grew to love their sunny, literate pop. I’d often listen on my phone to their second album, Contra, as I moved beneath Singapore’s concrete towers and jungle heat.

I then enjoyed their third release, Modern Vampires of the City, but it was years before track six, at the record’s heart, stirred something significant in me.

Hannah Hunt opens in a seascape. A gentle, pretty song, it initially glides in that ethereal space between sleeping and waking. There’s a quietness, an almost meditative quality to the music that maybe mirrors our narrator’s quest for peace.

vw4

We first meet the couple when their world is bright and astonishing and they share those daily discoveries, as all new lovers do.

A gardener told me some plants move
But I could not believe it
Till me and Hannah Hunt
Saw crawling vines and weeping willows

Lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice is hopeful yet haunted, and harmonises with Rostam Batmanglij’s murmur in a pristine fragility. It’s almost acapella, so sparse is the instrumentation.

The narrator and Hannah are on their road trip and such is the cinematic scope the song feels like a four-minute film. They travel from Providence to Phoenix (in America two especially symbolic names) and Waverley to Lincoln before their westward wanderings end, as they must, among scenes of desperation, on the bitter Californian coast.

In Santa Barbara, Hannah cried
I miss those freezing beaches
And I walked into town
To buy some kindling for the fire
Hannah tore the New York Times up into pieces

Like the best stories there’s an atom of doubt in how it concludes. Seemingly a break-up song, but in Dylanesque style we remain unsure.

If I can’t trust you then damn it Hannah
There’s no future, there’s no answer
Though we live on the US dollar
You and me, we got our own sense of time

But he’ll forever remain in her orbit, no matter how wide the galaxy.

vw3

Following the second verse there’s a gorgeous explosion when the drums, bass and that detuned piano burst into aching life. This is among my favourite ever melodic instants. With Gatsby-like uproar, and swelling anguish, it’s a flowering. Like Hannah, the piano sounds broken yet still attractive, while the drums are as insistent as the pounding heart of her protagonist.

Finally, we have Rostam Batmanglij’s guitar solo. It’s the perfect coda. Played with a soaring slide effect it provides the listener with release, wailing and crying like the human hurt that inspired it.

I love the joy and transportive passion. It’s aural splendor.

I’m going to listen to it now.

6

Finally, a pub review: The Broadway

pub front

I write today with shame in my heart.

As this modest blog moves into its fifth year I apologise to my small and disturbed audience.

I’m yet to pen a pub review.

I thought of pubs in town and pubs overseas. I remembered pubs on the West Coast and pubs in Kapunda.

I thought of shameless beer barns and boozers with utterly miserable happy hours.

bar

No such problems at The Broadway in Glenelg South. Despite being a resident of the area on and off over the last couple decades I’m a recent convert to the collected charms of The Broadway enclave.

It’s parallel to the more celebrated Jetty Road, but superior in myriad ways. Named for the small town in Worcestershire in the Cotswolds, it presents and functions as an English village but with generally better weather.

It has Glenelg’s best butchers, fish ‘n’ chips, book shop/café, dental surgery, pizza – Pizza on Broadway although it’s actually on Partridge Street; I guess Pizza on Partridge may have led the munchers to think they were getting roasted spoggy on their Italian takeaway, and I’ll admit this is a niche category, the best restaurant/dry cleaners in a former petrol station/ garage.

The Broadway pub is great. Most Fridays I wheel in there around 4.27, depending on traffic and invest an energetic hour. I get there then because I have a medical condition which renders me physically (psychologically, spiritually, mentally etc) unable to remain at work beyond 4pm at week’s end. After this time it’s also not possible for me to guarantee the safety of my colleagues, and I’d rather not end up on A Current Affair.

For a brief, deluded period I frequented a boozer much closer to home, near the Buffalo, but it was also frequented by clots (I employ this metaphor advisedly) of high-vis chaps, who seemed to have been in the pub since mid-morning, as they were bleary-eyed and looking like they might thump some strangers. This idea has decreasing appeal for me so I decamped to the Broady.

The bar staff, led by Gavin, is attentive and anticipatory. There’s a flock of TV screens showing lots of sport, but these are turned down low and a Triple J- type playlist drifts across the pub-o-sphere. Last night I heard The Smiths and Queens of the Stoneage. I’ve never heard P!nk. On Saturdays there’s a warmer bursting with snags, and a loaf of bread nearby to keep the punters happy.

The house next door was recently bought and its front yard; turned into a beer garden (how good would this really be? A garden that grew beer!) from which you can watch folks exiting the neighbouring dentists; one hand nursing their numb jaw, the other nursing their bruised wallet.

garden

A while back I made a solemn promise to my old mate Bazz. I said I’d ring him every time I went to the pub. Not out of any deep human concern; I just thought it would be funny. And now, about a year in, when I ring every single Friday at 4.45pm I seem to go through to Bazz’s voicemail. It’s a mystery.

Yesterday old mucker Trev* joined me and we had a terrific hour. As old school mates we moved between the sunny nostalgia of old friends and old music and old times. We laughed, as Les Norton used to say, like drains. We dissected and discussed and were merrily diverted. Of course he immediately referenced this line from The Blues Brothers when Jake is talking with Bob from Bob’s Country Bunker

I’d better check up, see how he’s doing, see I have to sign it too. I usually sit in the car and write it out on the glove compartment lid.

And, courtesy of the Broadway’s excellent happy hour, we did it over six dollar beers which, of course, starts the weekend in an appropriately brisk and lively style. If a pub’s optimal function is to replicate your lounge room then this pub succeeds, easily.

Next time you’re in Glenelg South, give me a shout, and I’ll sneak in there with you, and let you buy me a beer.

*his real name

dudes

0

The Shortest Song in the World

ND

As a kid I loved playing Mum and Dad’s records on the stereogram. There was always a little zap of frisson as I dropped the needle onto the vinyl, spinning at 33 1/3 RPM, and the speakers would spit and sizzle, and provided the stylus didn’t bounce off, we’d soon hear some music. Not the cold digital tunes of today with their obedient binary code, but some warm, enveloping sounds.

A favourite record was Creedence Gold.  Its track listing is-

Side 1

1.”Proud Mary” – 3:07

2.”Down on the Corner” – 2:43

3.”Bad Moon Rising” – 2:19

4.”I Heard it Through the Grapevine” (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong) – 11:03

Side 2

1.”The Midnight Special” (Traditional) – 4:11

2.”Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” – 2:39

3.”Born on the Bayou” – 5:14

4.”Susie Q” (Dale Hawkins, Stan Lewis, Eleanor Broadwater) – 8:34

The last track on Side 1, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” mesmerised me. It featured not one but two great guitar solos. The second of these stretched on forever and to my eight year old self was impossibly cool. It was always disappointing when the song faded out.

There was so much happening within it, it was a snaking southern boogie like the Mississippi itself, and I wondered how this huge instrumental break enlarged upon the lyrics, how it connected to the story, and of course, it didn’t. It had no textual meaning.

It just was.

It was beyond narrative, but nonetheless epic. It told me that there was much in the world about which to get excited. There was possibility and opportunities for wild, unhinged self-indulgence. And Creedence Clearwater Revival was from San Francisco, a city that fascinated me.

Long, meandering songs such as this open themselves up to connotation and interpretation; like a novel or a film, and many argue that these marathon songs often possess a cinematic quality.

But how do we locate meaning in the world’s shortest song?

“You Suffer” is a track by the British grindcore band Napalm Death, from their debut album, Scum.  It’s precisely 1.316 seconds long. It’s now over thirty years old. Its lyrics are officially listed as-

You suffer

But why?

However, I must confess, I was unable to detect these unaided. I only heard the lyrics “Raaaah.” I had to find them on the web, probably because rightly or wrongly, my ears have enjoyed limited grindcore listening experience. Like arc welding, I think lyric decipherment, when it comes to micro grindcore, is actually quite a specialised skill. There’s possibly a TAFE, or adult education course in it.

I first came across the song when teaching in Singapore (don’t tell the authorities- they might come after me) when babysitting covering a Maths class one humid, bothersome afternoon. I played the song on my MacBook at random points during the lesson when the pupils- all compliant and sweet, were silently immersed in matters algebraic and entirely unsuspecting. I made a few of them jump. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in Maths. It was decidedly un-Singaporean.

Among other places it’s located on an album called Earache: The World’s Shortest Album which has thirteen songs and clocks in at a total of ninety-two seconds. You can listen to the entire album when watching the evening news, in the advertisement break between, say, the sport and the weather. For our British friends iTunes lists the album for sale at 29 pence. There’s a walk-the-dog and put-out-the-bins pocket money incentive for the kiddies of Birmingham.

So, micro grindcore fans, it’s nice to have visited your world, but I don’t think I’ll stay long, despite it being the funniest song about human suffering I’ve ever heard.

1.316 seconds is more than enough.

 

 

 

 

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Round 10 – Adelaide v Fremantle: The 2013 Wolf Blass Brown Label Classic Shiraz Is Dramatically Better Than The Dockers

fire bucket.png

Fire, footy and friends.

Of course, my wife’s right. She bought it about six weeks ago, from the sausage sizzle hardware emporium. It’s been a great addition to our patio and we’ve had many nights around it. As autumn descends to winter there’ll be many more.

It’s a fire bucket.

Once aflame, a chair, a cup and some company’s all that’s needed.

Among our party tonight are some of my favourite folks, including three girls with whom I shared house when at uni. As you know, there’s a lifelong attachment made when sitting cross-legged on stained carpet, in a daggy rented house in a then pre-gentrified suburb, glugging cask wine by candlelight.

Surprisingly, Josh Jenkins is better in the wet. Our warm, still autumn has not been kind to him. Tonight, the harder the Dylanesque rain falls the nimbler the monstrously-built forward plays. Maybe he’s more whale than herbivore dinosaur. Light on his feet, he finds space, and like Lennon in the Dakota Building seems happier in this dissimilar environment. I was bewildered by his sudden recall, but he does well.

Among our friends is a junior footballer. Jed’s nine. He and our boys burst about the house like joyous thunderclaps. Bedroom, backyard and back. Repeat. About four games into their 2017 season Jed’s team’s been utterly scoreless so far. Not a lonely, lazily rushed behind. Nothing. Happily, no-one’s keeping score and their competition has no cruel premiership ladder. A Sunday afternoon text tells me they scrambled four behinds today. Despite another loss, they’re on the board.

The Honourable Edward A. Betts snaps a goal square major that must be barely satisfactory for him, such is the unchallenging simplicity. Indeed, each of Betts’ majors is registered from the square, away from the boundary lines with which he enjoys a preternatural, endless affinity. Another lashing rain shower jangles on our roof and we’re unable to hear special commenter Mark Ricciuto and his monotone monosyllables.

During his thousand-day absence from the Crows, dual knee reconstruction survivor Andy Otten came to our island home one weekend as a guest of the Singapore Sharks footy club, and provided much curious excitement for the ex-pat urchins. Now back in the Adelaide tri-colours and sporting an Oregonian lumberjack’s beard, he’s enjoying an attractive stretch as an enigmatic forward. Four goals courtesy of his considerable footy smarts is a luminous return.

Again, the brutal rains lash our city, oval and house with a ferocity that reminds me of The Deadliest Catch, save for the Alaskan King Crabs. Instead, we’ve party pies, garlic bread and various processed Germanic meats. It’s comfort food, and I feel decidedly comfortable. Our patio blaze crackles and exerts a happy gravity onto our loose circle of friends.

Wayne Milera’s been hovering on the cusp, and presents well in this Indigenous Round match. I hope his growth continues. With Chas and Eddie, they’re a vivacious triumvirate. They’re huge fun.

At halftime, we bring out a chocolate cake with a solitary candle to acknowledge the recent major birthday of one of our guests, RS Bowden, and we share a 2013 Wolf Blass Brown Label Classic Shiraz, and we nod at our good fortune. Indeed, Wolfgang Blass, AM, is also a dedicated Rolls Royce driver and Norwood fan. I wonder if he and Garry McIntosh have met. As always, his plonk goes terrifically. It’s luscious and at once, atomic and universal, while whispering of our tremendous providence, in a lifted fruit and gorgeously brick dust and ironmongery scented way.

The fire roars on into the wintry dark. Our visitors drive off into the suburban night. The Dockers, now doubtless suffering the troubled sleep of footballers tormented by a coach with more unfathomable psychobabble than constructive game plan.

On an inhospitable night where they somehow registered forty-three scoring shots, the Crows remain top. I have leftover chocolate cake for Sunday breakfast.

wolf blass

 

 

 

0

Radiohead and me

headphones

I was a tourist, but also trying to be a detective. We ambled over the bridge and looked down at the Thames, making its quiet way towards London. Naught. In the town centre St Nicolas’ Church surrendered no clues, and I wondered what influence the former MG car plant had with its suggestions of status and privilege.

Abingdon is six miles from Oxford, and we were there visiting friends. It’s the birthplace of Radiohead. Following the requisite pub lunch, we took a stroll. While our hosts knew nothing of the town’s famous sons I attempted some connections. Any signs in the market square that could further decode “Karma Police?” Would Abingdon Gaol’s architecture enlighten my reading of “Pyramid Song?”

Of course, my thinking assumed that art is chiefly autobiographical. We often want it to be. But, was mine a ridiculous quest? Having worked for a decade near Kensington in Adelaide’s east, I’d not gained much geographical insight into Paul Kelly’s back catalogue.

However, it was also a sensible quest, for music is more meaningful if we can somehow make its birthplace enchanted. Landscapes might matter, even for Radiohead, whose existential songs are devoid of setting.

Driving home from Oxfordshire I acknowledge that from a wholly unremarkable village, a remarkable band emerged, as we’d hope.

*

Indeed, it was commuting up Kensington Road past Norwood into Paul Kelly territory (I taught two of his nieces) when on Triple J I first heard “Paranoid Android.” After, Mikey Robbins and The Sandman linked it to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I devoured as a teenager. References to Douglas Adams’ cult novel are infused across the record.

I was spellbound, apprehended by the song’s circuitous, multi-part structure that also announced Radiohead’s dominant theme: the horrors of modern life. They continue to explore this with gallows humour and compelling soundscapes. Perfect through headphones.

That afternoon I bought OK Computer.

*

Arriving in Singapore my wife and I bought smartphones, onto which I uploaded my CDs. I then rambled about that hot, teeming islet, accompanied by some beloved collections, which both isolated me and somehow welded me to those equatorial streets. Now, back in Australia when I put on Exile on Main St, Belle and Sebastian’s Tigermilk or Vampire Weekend’s Contra I’m walking through the thick heat at Robertson Quay.

Great albums present discovery and rediscovery as every track enjoys periods of personal high rotation in which it becomes the favourite. I like these evolutions in my explorations of an artist.

A few Octobers ago, around our Phuket pool, I played OK Computer. Horizontal on my sun lounge I became enamoured with the final song. The waltz-tempo and cathartic rhythm of “The Tourist” deliver a telling full stop to this record of splendor and portent. After a ferocious guitar solo, it closes with a single note struck on a triangle. Superb.

I also recall eating pizza by that pool when a neighbouring family leapt up and scattered. An emerald snake had appeared at their feet, and startled, it slipped hastily over the pavers and climbed a palm. We peered up at it, hanging green on a frond, fifteen feet up like reptilian tinsel. Could a frightened snake populate a Radiohead song? Feature as a symbol of contemporary alienation? Don’t be silly, I thought. Have another heat, the Chang’s getting to you.

*

In a distant Port Pirie winter, we lit a backyard fire and sat about it in black coats. The grey smoke phantomed around and through us while we drank shiraz and stories and music. It’s the year PJ Harvey released Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, but what I remember from this evening is Radiohead’s second offering, The Bends.

I remember “Fake Plastic Trees” and aside from the consciously tautological title I love the soaring atmospherics of the guitars, although now Radiohead hasn’t been a guitar band for two decades. Throughout, Thom Yorke invests his vocals with vulnerability, and this matches the dread and defiance of the lyrics.

The next afternoon I bought The Bends.

*

1993 in a forgotten pub. “So, what do you think about that British band Radiohead? You know that song, “Creep?”

I replied. “Not much. Reckon they’re a one-hit wonder.”

Oops, but who can tell? Radiohead’s debut, Pablo Honey is a turgid mess, and proposes no capacity. However, about this time a blonde leg-spinner took 1/150 in his first Test…

*

I subscribe to Spotify because I love suddenly recollecting a song, and then hearing it within seconds. As a streaming service, it’s brilliant. Nevertheless, it worries me how the artists receive miniscule royalties, such that their yearly dividend may only allow a band to huddle naked around a can of flat Fanta.

I do prefer an artefact: vinyl, CD, even a cassette, but visiting the local K-Mart with three discs by the execrable Pink isn’t worth the free parking. I remind myself to buy a turntable, and return to that dear friend, the past.

A Moon Shaped Pool is the record Radiohead promised to make all millennium. When everyone’s asleep I sometimes listen to “The Numbers” through headphones. Concerning climate change, this track exquisitely combines fragile metaphor, guitar, and tinkling piano. I love a string section, and the urgent stabs accentuate the ominous themes.

Given their form I hope Radiohead continues. The menace of neo- conservativism and dire planetary health means there’s still much for them to ponder.

hitchhiker

5

Wichita Lineman and me

wl

In my mind I’ve mapped the itinerary. Of course, a massive RV will hurl us along some of Route 66’s celebrated black ribbon. All the iconic music cities: Chicago, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans.

On my first sojourn stateside I noticed a Hotel California in Santa Barbara. Just off the handsome esplanade of palm trees and roller-bladers, it was unexpectedly modest. Of course, I didn’t go in because, as the Eagles cautioned back in 1976, the leaving gets a bit tricky.

It may surprise that Kansas is a personal musical attraction, and more particularly its largest metropolis. Why? Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” as performed by Glen Campbell.

Like many remarkable artworks; Mona Lisa and The Great Gatsby spring to mind, it’s smaller than anticipated, coming in at only 117 words, which, let’s understand, might only be part of a Dylan verse, as magnificent as the Noble Laureate is. Webb could’ve penned this song on a beer-coaster.

With only two verses and a fractional refrain, it’s also chorus-free. Each verse opens with a modest personal observation

I am a lineman for the county

And I drive the main road

And then in the second

I know I need a small vacation

But it don’t look like rain

Whilst the song is simple in structure, its meaning is complex, and following each verse’s introductory image we find an abstract idea

I hear you singin’ in the wire

I can hear you through the whine

There’s expert use of alliteration here with “wire” and “whine” as the lyricist announces our central character’s romantic yearning. As many could attest living and working away from loved ones is tough, although the narrative’s about being lonesome, but not lonely. It’s also solemn, but not melancholy.

Like so much in life my “Wichita Lineman” journey is circuitous. I’d always known the song as Mum and Dad had a Glen Campbell record or two, but was alerted again to its genius by REM, who’ve performed it occasionally.

My thinking was that if Michael Stipe liked it then it must be magnificent, and his plaintive singing invests it with quiet elegance. Sometimes we need to come to something through a third party, like overhearing a stranger remark how great your friend is, which makes us smile and remember why we liked them in the first place. From time to time we all need this reassurance.

Sparsely presented but broad in their evocations, the peak of Webb’s craft is

And I need you more than want you

And I want you for all time

Here, he arranges simple words into a profound sequence, and these are among my favourite lyrics. Have you heard anything more romantic?

Rightly called the “first existential country song,” the considered angsts of an electrical worker in Kansas are as instructive as any, but they’re also universal in their poignancy. There’s aching authenticity of voice too, and his earthly investment is real. Someone once said that it’s a song about nothing, but also a song about everything.

Is it country music or a pop song? Probably neither, probably both.

One muggy Singapore afternoon I was with friends in an Orchard Road bar, bursting with American sailors. Drowning their final hours of shore-leave before departing for Iraq, we talked with a few of them. Already some were homesick and missing their family, while others were eager for some desert adventure.

Above the throng a vast TV screen played continuous country music: awful, thoughtless fodder. Think, “Achy Breaky Heart” but without the subtle insights into the human condition, and majestic instrumentation.

Between Budweisers I said, “Hey Colin, have you noticed that every singer is wearing a Stetson?” Considering the televisual entertainment Colin took a swig, and replied, “Yep. Uncanny, isn’t it?” Indeed, the primary musical skill seemed to be the generally accurate and unaided wearing of a hat.

That night there was no “Wichita Linesman.” On the cusp of its fiftieth anniversary it transcends the dusty prairies, and remains suspended above time.

It’s the perfect distillation of hope. Play it to someone you love.

*

I am a lineman for the county

And I drive the main road Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

I hear you singin’ in the wire

I can hear you through the whine

And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

 

I know I need a small vacation

But it don’t look like rain

And if it snows that stretch down south

Won’t ever stand the strain And I need you more than want you

And I want you for all time

 

And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

And I need you more than want you

And I want you for all time

And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

 

Here’s a 43-minute version. Highly recommended.

 

 

0

Belle and Sebastian: The State I’m In

 

B and S

 

The opening track on Belle and Sebastian’s  debut album Tigermilk is “The State I’m In” and this vignette hosts some memorable characters. I first really listened to it on Karon Beach in Thailand, and often played it walking around Singapore beneath her towering skyscape. The jangling, Byrds-like guitar adds to its sunny glow.

The initial verse contains remarkable personal and family detail, and insight into our narrator’s psychological condition. “The State I’m In” utilises language in clever and complex ways to create vivid characters. The first line’s hyperbole offers humorous, arresting insight into our narrator.

I was surprised, I was happy for a day in 1975

I was puzzled by a dream, stayed with me all day in 1995

These simple, matter-of-fact, year-specific declarations engage the audience by provoking many questions, and the revelations continue through the following verse

I got married in a rush to save a kid from being deported

Now she’s in love

With this we learn that he’s compassionate, and even self-sacrificial, but then wonder who the girl’s now in love with: is it our narrator, or another? He then recounts another relationship in which he has been vulnerable: that with the priest whom takes his admissions, breaks confidentiality and the Seal of the Confessional, and turns these into art

He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called

“The State I Am In”

By the finish of the opening stanza’s confessional intimacy we’ve learnt of the family’s dynamics, challenges and history courtesy

He stood up with a sailor friend

Made it known upon my sister’s wedding day

We then hear the final affront where his highest authority hesitates before belatedly accepting our narrator; no wonder he’s in a despondent state

So I gave myself to God

There was a pregnant pause before he said ok

His self-loathing finds pathetic and final expression in the song’s last verse

            Now I’m feeling dangerous, riding on city buses for a hobby is sad

The language used in the lyrics is deceptively simplistic, but depicts vivid characters.

With this complex domestic context established our protagonist, or possibly antagonist, reveals in a striking act that shocks

I was so touched, I was moved to kick the crutches

From my crippled friend

Is this truth, or is it a comedic device; a strange metaphor? Certainly its oxymoronic nature invites deeper thought. Should we be horrified, amused, or both? Subsequently the narrator confesses this act of violence, and events take another unexpected turn with the priest acting immorally.

We find dark humour in the idea that a religious figure would steal a story and publicise it in a novel. Little wonder that our main character is disturbed! With this development the song title is invested with wicked irony that generates sympathy.

This powerful vignette catalogues key moments in the narrator’s life as he seeks purpose and meaning. The final image offers a positive picture of one, troubled as he is, wanting to do earthly good. There’s poignant use of circularity with the repetition of previous detail

Lead me to a living end

I promised that I’d entertain my crippled friend

My crippled friend

Expertly using first person perspective, the lyricist provides understated descriptions to provoke us, and our reactions encompass the witty, the sad, and the frightening. Belle and Sebastian have created some vivid characters, and this song invites deep contemplation.

 

karon

0

global revolutions

globe

 

I love a globe. There’s simple joy in being hypnotised by the cascading sweep of the Americas, contemplating the distant familiarity of England, and contending with innumerable Stans where once was the muscular bulk of the USSR.

Ah, seduced by a sphere.

For my birthday Mum and Dad bought me a standing floor globe, and Sunday morning Max and I assembled its dark wooden frame before slotting in the tilted ball. Max gave it a spin.

Ocean. Land. Giddy revolutions. Ocean. Land.

Like the best gifts it’s made me reflect.

Alex and Max often chat about the wider world, and as they engage with the possibilities, their curiosity is comforting. Globes encourage this.

“Alex, how deep is the Marianas Trench?”

“Really deep. You couldn’t even touch the bottom.”

And last year, walking by the Singapore River-

“Max, when we’re older, like probably thirteen, Joseph and I are climbing Mt Everest. We won’t even need any oxygen tanks.”

“No oxygen tanks! Really?”

As a kid I had enchanted possessions. The tape recorder and accompanying best of Little River Band cassette I received one Christmas; my first cricket bat- Polyarmoured, and now resting in a cupboard at Mum and Dad’s, and a yellow, wooden skateboard. But, in our house in Kapunda the globe of my childhood held quiet and enduring power over me, like a mystic. Globes conjure memories, and are gateways into our future.

From his Nanna and Poppa Alex also got one for his eighth birthday. With eyes widening he ripped the wrapping paper from the box then hopped about the room with delight. His globe came with a touch-activated light, and when the boys are in bed, it cloaks their room with a snug glow. Living in a corner, it watches over them, a silent sentry as they sleep.

As an adult how did I survive so long without a globe? For too many years my homes were without one; emptier dwellings surely dulled by their absence, and now we’ve three, offering buzzing invitations to our planet’s mysteries and marvels, and voyages and stories. Our imaginative power is enhanced. They’re as essential as milk and I love turning them gently like a monk, fingers on the thermoplastic joy, meditating on unknown places, and the promise of drenching wonder.

Globes urge consideration of yourself, and the bustling world, waiting for you, just outside.

For our boys, I hope as much.

Thanks to Mum and Dad for their gifts of globes, over many decades.

 

tape recorder

0

The View from Afar

darwin

It’s a hot and muggy evening in Darwin for the footy. And it’s a hot and muggy evening here in Singapore too. Both cities are former colonial outposts, and I’m watching West Coast and Melbourne in an apartment fourteen stories up, and can see across to the famous suburb of Little India. After the game we’ll head down there for a Rogan Josh Kennedy.

There’s a boisterous crowd in at TIO Stadium, and a grassy mound behind the goals. Both teams get an early goal, and Melbourne’s playing with welcome vigour. Coming to the Demons from Glenelg in the SANFL Billy Stretch collects some early possessions. It’s also the suburb to which I’ll return next week after I fly from here. Today the Tigers won consecutive matches for the first time in, well, eons after last week knocking off current premier Norwood.

I’ll soon be on the Glenelg Oval terrace, or in front of Snout’s Bar, named for 1970’s cult Tiger John “Snout” McFarlane. My mate Bob coached twelve year old Billy Stretch in SAPSASA, the fabled week long carnival for primary schoolers. He told me then Billy would play at the highest level. He was on the field with thirty-five other kids, but playing his own game.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch the footy in some fun places. I saw my Crows get flogged by Essendon in Barb’s Bar in the east of Bali a couple seasons’ back. The highlight of that night, apart from Barb’s rissoles and chips, was Black Caviar’s win in the William Reid Stakes; shown at half time.

I was in Singapore’s Boomarang Bar for the Adelaide and Hawthorn preliminary final of 2012. This was Tippett’s valediction before homesickness forced him back to the Gold Coast suburb of Sydney. I was strangely relieved when Cyril got the Hawks home in the final minute as I was to be at a Hong Kong conference the following Saturday. Barely into my new job, I didn’t think I could be suddenly stricken by illness, and seeking alternative treatment in a Kowloon bar.

During the second quarter West Coast exerts their dominance in front of the vibrant Territory crowd. I think of my only trip to Darwin, again for a training workshop (No, I’m not just a conference attendee!). By the final afternoon I’d had my fill of multi-literacies and neo-Marxist interpretations of Hamlet, so headed out to the Adelaide River for the jumping crocodiles and termite mounds. How many chooks are annually dangled off boats to coax the reptiles to leap up like Nic Naitanui? I couldn’t pause for a Darwin stubby at Humpty Doo, but there’s always next time.

I’m always keen to see how Shannon Hurn performs. The prodigious kicking Eagle is from Angaston which is in the Barossa and Light league along with my home town of Kapunda. Shannon’s dad William was a solid footballer with Central Districts in the SANFL.

Angaston is the scene of my own football misfortune. The season after I finished school the association changed the age rules for senior colts footy. To be eligible you had to be under eighteen at the start of July. A premature baby, my birthday’s in June so, both happy and forlorn, I watched on as my mates won a flag on Angaston oval. I didn’t play in one ever. My friend Trev took what we still reckon is the best mark ever taken by a Kapunda Bomber. A lanky lad, Trev rose impossibly to the crest of the pack, grabbed it and it stuck! This got the loudest roar when the video was shown at their recent reunion.

I spent most of that season in the B grade. We hardly won a game. In the huddle at three-quarter time of the final match we were down by truckloads. Our coach’s address was less Barack Obama than drunken barracker. “Well boys we’re in trouble. Again. And we’re out of excuses. I don’t know what to say. Just go and run a lap. Or something.”

With the West Coast comfortable victors, the crowd spills out into Darwin’s balmy night. And we head down to Little India to continue our balmy night too. My last Saturday in Singapore.

This story was first published in Inside Football. For more go to http://digital.insidefootballonline.com/#folio=1

kapunda

1

Singapore and Me

laneway

The captain is a one-armed dwarf

He’s throwing dice along the wharf

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King

So take this ring

“Singapore” by Tom Waits

This island is a photocopier.

Delivered and installed on a Monday, everyone gathers around in an uncomfortable semi-circle. However, the collating, duplexing, and high-end printing means we’re swiftly smitten. We ooh and aah. Then, the boss has a turn. Attempting a scan/sort/staple/wrong ‘un he messes it up spectacularly.

They’re technologically exciting, doing whizzy things beyond the boundaries of your competence but, do you know what? You can’t love them. And photocopiers, I’ve discovered, don’t love you back. Ever.

Within weeks, the most frightening phrase in English will blink onto the condescending screen.

Add toner

Then, the phantom paper jams start.

I admire Singapore, but leave not having fallen in love. And it’s sad to not fall in love, because it’s the only place I’ve lived that’s not grabbed my full affection. Maybe in time it will. I know you shouldn’t compare siblings, but as our ferry bumped into the dock in Dover, I fell for England.

*

Koh Lanta has the best beach I’ve seen. Long Beach. Flying into Krabi, it took nearly three hours to get there, but was worth it. When you go to a travel agency, take a booklet from the shelf, and gaze at the aquamarine ocean, flawless sand, and Thai beach resort, it’s Koh Lanta that you’re staring at.

We were there in March, and every day I was on a lounge bed, with book and beer, gazing out at the shimmering water as our boys played by the gentle gulf. These are golden moments, and I know they’re as good as it gets. I know how lucky I am.

Then, I thought about the fragility of beauty, and how infinitesimal our lives might be.

*

Our boys began Auskick in Singapore. Suddenly, they were there, flopping about in their green and gold Sharks guersneys. Of course, the best, most instructive moments as a parent are those when you spy on your kids.

Yes, they’re frequently appalling in your company, but maybe that’s the key function of the family. It’s the moments that we strive for; when you see them, getting it right, with nobody looking. We enjoy those.

I was umpiring the adjacent game, and glanced over at the boys. In a wonderful, painterly scene they were holding hands. I was instantly teary. When I looked back a few minutes later Alex and Max were entirely indifferent to the crazy arc of the ball, and wrestling each other. And the next time Alex was on the ground chatting with his opponent, while Max had wandered off. He was putting an orange cone onto his head, as if Grand Master of a peculiar branch of the KKK.

*

Like denying Warney cheese slices, living with two boys (and a wife and a helper) in a small apartment is cruel. It just is. Sometimes, we can’t adjust to our domestic environments.

I now want harsh light, and space, and private greenery. I want to rush the boys out the back door, and to wheel my own bin out into the quiet Thursday street.

Here in Singapore we swim daily, but are drowning in an obscenely overpriced jail cell. Now, the door’s open, and my harmonica’s in my back pocket. Pssst. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m anticipating my lawn back home as much as anyone.

*

A Tim Winton enthusiast since university I bought Eyrie when home eighteen months back.

I read his words hungrily. The protagonist, Tom Keely, is archetypal of the author’s males: in an emotional crisis of his own invention, and scrabbling destructively within his relationships. For me it was significant when Keely considered reaching out to his sister, living in Singapore.

Singapore. The word zapped me. How exciting. Singapore. Frisson. Terrific that she lives in the Republic. What a plucky and daring soul.

Then, the bizarrely delayed realisation.

Wait a minute. I live there! We’re brave too. Despite the tropical location isn’t this just the dreary triangle of home, work, shops. Home, work, shops? Adelaidean suburbia, but hot and humid? Only if we let it.

Why is it that our lives occasionally read better on paper than in their practical expression?

There’s something incendiary in Winton’s single word that burnt me, and gave me some gruff underage footy coaching. Periodically, we all need some third person perspective.

*

At the Meadow within Gardens by the Bay, in the sizzling sun, with Marina Bay Sands soaring over us, we stretch out on our blanket with Heineken pints, squinting, and drinking in Vance Joy’s sunny pop.

Music festivals can remind you, somewhat savagely, of the youth that has now sprinted past you. But, the Laneway Festival in Singapore is among my highlights. Off we went. Each January.

Thirty years ago we’d be thirty foot under water, but the land reclamation here is mind-blowing. The Raffles Hotel on Beach Street is now downtown and not seaside. The home of the Sling has been slung inland.

The Laneway Festival is Australian, reaffirming, and vital. The wife pats me on the knee, and says, you know, this is not a bad life.

And it’s not.

*

Once taken, Europe’s an incurable drug. It’d been nine years since we climbed off Heathrow’s tarmac, and we’d often talked of the first country we’d take our boys. Italy? Greece? Spain?

So, on a Saturday just before Christmas, we left Asia, stopped during the afternoon in North Africa, and then arrived in Europe that night.

I love that I’m still a country kid who finds astonishment in this. Munich, and sleet slashed across the autobahn, battering our taxi. One day. Three continents, three time zones, three airline bread rolls.

I’m grateful that life in Singapore made this possible.

*

Our world shrinks, and shrinks.

I remember the half hour journey from Kapunda to Robertstown for boyhood football, standing huge and preternaturally hairy man-childs, and cold showers and colder pasties. It was to venture to the edge of the world.

But now, clinging to the equator ahead of my departure I see how small the infinite country of Australia is.

Many argue nostalgia’s the memory of childhood food. Today my mind’s swirling with images of Mum’s sausage rolls, tuna mornay topped with cheese, and plastic cups of Bobo cordial.

It’s time to go home.

BoBo

0

Round 13- Adelaide v Brisbane: Johnny Gastev Is Playing Quite Well

DSC04987

Climbing over Fort Canning I’m sweating buckets. Stewart Loewe-sized buckets.

The wife and boys are this morning back in South Australia, where there’s boots and Nanny’s pumpkin soup and a fire. I’m in Singapore, wrapping our stuff up before jetting to them, and the thrilling, forgotten winter.

Like Adelaide, the Lion City has modest hills. Fort Canning’s among these, and is less intimidating than a wheat silo, so I reckon Billy Brownless could get a torp over the silent cannons and trees, and drop it into the Singapore River.

Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival established his command post here to defend the island from the invading Japanese forces in 1942. Singapore was mostly conquered by bicycle, which is both ghoulish and brilliant.

I stroll on towards neon-drenched Clarke Quay.

*

I’d love to get to the Gabba again. Last time I was there I saw Greg Ritchie club a quick forty in a shield game. Correct, there was no running between wickets.

The Adelaide Crows are proudly top-knot free in 2015, but with horrid predictability Brisbane opens us up and goals with a decisive movement. As Casey Kasem used to say, “For the thirteenth big week in a row Adelaide begins in a pedestrian fashion.”

As good as the Lions appear we’re fumbling and sporadic, and our forward line is Hong Kong tram while the home side’s is Tanami desert. We’re down by three goals, quickly.

Narrowly edging out Alex Ischenko, my favourite ever Brisbane player is Johnny Gastev. In an upset win over the Sydney Swans early in 1989, Gastev kicked seven goals after half-time! Beforehand, he’d not kicked a goal all season. Who doesn’t love this story? Not long after his career was ended by a brutal Gary Ablett bump.

*

During the second quarter the outrage grows as Man Mountain cum dwarf ant hill Josh Jenkins continues to be pushed off the contest. Is he a footballer or an ectoplasm? Then, miraculously, he goals.

Suddenly, the Crows find focus and Smith fires a fricken laser. We’re alive despite being outplayed across the ground. Cameron demonstrates singular poise and vision to get the ball to Crows’ forward impersonator Jenkins, who converts. Brisbane is efficient; meanwhile we launch the footy out of bounds with galactically shite regularity. Half time and the defibrillator’s on its way to our rooms.

*

Zorko. Zippy Lions forward, but was he a member of the Animal House fraternity? His name suggests Delta Tau Chi frat debauchery with Flounder, Boon, D-Day, Hoover, Bluto, Stork, Otter and Pinto. Based upon today’s performance, Faber College (“Knowledge is Good”) Dean Vernon Wormer would surely announce the Crows’ grade point average as,

Zero…. Point….. Zero.

*

Soon after the recommencement, Hanley goals with the cringeworthy effortlessness of a George W gaffe. In the emotional gloom of the Boomarang (sic) Bar I start to hope the TV will switch to a replay of Lee Kwan Yew’s funeral highlights.

With his Grand Tour classical antiquities moustache back on his beak Tex gets one, and crazily we’re still in this. An unscheduled break in Australia’s Funniest AFL Footy Videos allows Cameron to goal with a roost that should generate confidence for the young Crow.

Everyone’s nineteenth favourite Mitch (Robinson) then drives his head into Talia’s groin in an unrehearsed outtake from an adult film I don’t wish to see. His pornographic pluck is rewarded with a free kick. He goals. I reach for a fork.

*

During the final period the game abandons its dreadful, cartoonish tone, and Adelaide, terrified of the implications, starts to behave. We kick six goals, Betts and Walker metamorphose into the forwards they should be, and the Crows win.

*

My Eyre Peninsula mate Craig worked in the Minnipa pub, on the highway from Perth to Adelaide, where he’d often amble past the dining room’s Japanese tourists, bewildered and broken by the long, bitumen ribbon. He’d ask,

How was the crow? What! You didn’t have the crow? That’s what we eat ‘round here. Mutton. And crow.

Craig would tell them about the mythical outback station, the Speewah. He’d talk of its continental size and gigantic shearing icon Crooked Mick. He’d describe Mick standing on a towering peak, and peering out across the plains. The mountain was so tall, of course, that he could see the back of his own head.

But Craig especially loved recounting that, “During shearing, the Speewah was so huge, it had six cooks cooking for the cooks.”

Today, at least, unlike those of the Minnipa pub, the Crows are not yet done.

NB- the title offers homage to Central Districts Footy Club’s cult fanzine Brendan Maguire Is Playing Quite Well. Brendan’s career really took off when he subsequently moved to the Kapunda Bombers.

DSC05108

0

Quinella Holiday: Singapore Races

Sally

We left at ten, luncheoned for an hour, and were back on the couch by two. During which the boys and I had circumnavigated the entire country by rail. Jungle. High-rise. Shopping mall. Jungle. High-rise. Shopping mall. From the train carriage I glimpsed Singapore’s racetrack, Kranji. I vowed to visit.

Apart from Vatican City, Monaco, Gibraltar, Liechtenstein, Christmas Islands, the Maldives, Malta and Bermuda, where else could we do a leisurely lap of a nation, eat at a faux New York diner, and be home in time for The Bold and The Beautiful?

The last time I went to the races was at Morphettville three years back to see Black Caviar take the Goodwood Handicap, and post her twenty-first win. We were on the flat about thirty deep from the rails. Such was the squash and blare, we could’ve been at a One Direction concert, except they weren’t born then.

Although I couldn’t see the horse, I knew she’d won. It was fantastic to have been there. A where were you when you heard Lady Diana had died moment, but with a cheerier, Group 1 feel.

In keeping with Singapore’s colonial past, entry to the races was formerly restricted to members and horse owners. Members of public were allowed into the club only in 1960. Then, after about sixty years in Bukit Timah, the racecourse relocated to the island’s north during 2000.

The Singapore Turf Club, the oldest existing club in Singapore at more than 170 years old, now operates from a $500-million racecourse in Kranji. Like Adelaide it’s a single-track city.

It’s fitting that we’re there in the Derby Room with friends from South Australia on a hot Friday evening deciphering the local betting lexicon. A tierce is a trifecta and a trio is a boxed trifecta, while a quandro is the first four, in any order.

Being Singapore GST is payable on all winnings, and the turf club takes a weighty commission on your earn too. The government plays bookmaker, colourful racing identity, and coat-tugger.

The evening’s first mishap is in the second event. A long-term fan of the novelty-named neddy (think Waikikamukau), I’d picked Laughing Gravy, but due to punter error didn’t get on. You know how this finishes.

As is the way at the modern sport arena, TV screens are everywhere. Beyond electronically urging us to bet, they are a rich source of data including how much each horse weighs in kilograms, and how much it’s changed. As I peered down into the mounting yard, several stories below, I saw a conveyance complete what seemed to be a personal pre-race ritual, and I think I saw his weight change from 507 to 505 kilograms.

There’s a grand piano just outside the restrooms. Once an hour a man plays it while a woman sings a Harry Connick song. Why just one, and why apparently only Harry Connick, I’m not sure. They play, “It Had To Be You” from When Harry Met Sally, but I have no Katz’s Delicatessen punting moments all night.

Being Singapore there’s arguably a shopping mall soullessness about the facility. It’s new, efficient and clean. But there are no betting slips on the concourse. It’s a strangely empty space. Despite the panoramic views there’s no fetching sunset. Instead, it’s sunlight, then instantly an unquiet dark cloaks all. Alongside the winning post is a forty-six metre long screen. It tells us the poly track temperature is twenty-seven degrees. I assume this is normal, if not good.

Mid-evening a Dash of Class salutes to cheers from our table. As a South Australian, I’m happy the horses run anti-clockwise, and the outside track has a straight longer than Flemington’s. Encircling the course are about twenty light towers, reminding me of Footy Park in 1984. Look! There’s Kernahan kicking ten in State of Origin!

It could easily be used by NASA, or for indoor golf, and the fully enclosed grandstand is four or five decent drop punts long. I go for a walk, and each section is a replica of the previous one: bar, self-serve investment kiosks, and betting counters like those found in an Australian TAB. The staff are all women, and don’t look at me, but point their eyes at things.

At the Derby Room entrance is a miniature statue of a horse. It has no informative plaque, so it’s possibly there for kids or buck’s show enthusiasts to ride, or to assist customers in identifying the animals ridden outside by small men. There seems to be no celebration of history here. The first Singapore-based galloper to win an International Group 1 race, Rocket Man, could be honoured, but I see nothing.

Our beer girl is embarrassingly attentive and the flow of the Korean lager, Dester, is an amber waterfall. In a thrill for the legion of local Geelong Cats fans, Golden Tomahawk gets up late in the card, but in an attempt to locally connect I’m on the Sun Tze Chinese military classic inspired, Art of War. However, the horse and jockey have not read chapter three: Strategic Attack, and it finishes last. One of the treatise’s famous lines is

All warfare is based on deception.

Sun Tze was right. I have been deceived. Still, it’s been fun, and we’ve had what grandma calls, “a night out.” Our taxi races across the island, towards the river.

Kranji

Thanks to our friends Caryn and Brett for organising the evening, and also to our hosts Premier Racing.

0

A Yarn About Writing Yarns

skyline

I nod goodbye to the cleaner. Always gracious, she simply gets on with it. Aunty Chong’s nudging seventy. She’s paid two hundred dollars a week.

My school has a half soccer pitch. On its eastern wing, roots push up through the soil. Being by Orchard Road means this grass rectangle is worth hundreds of millions. Modern economies can be ridiculous, but Singapore’s is unfathomably so.

Traffic’s roaring along Grange Road, and I move through the thick heat. I turn onto Bishopsgate, with its modernist homes at thirty and forty million a pop. How can this be? Singapore often places opulence and poverty together in hideous proximity. I think of Aunty Chong.

I pass home, where it’s just us, and seven hundred and twenty-seven other condominiums. More people live here than Kapunda, the country town I’m from. The Singapore River travels sluggishly today. I arrive at the Zion Road Food Centre.

I’m in shorts. I only wear shorts. Apart from the wedding last March at the Fullerton Bay Hotel in Collyer Quay, but I reckon if I’d turned up in boardies, I’d have been fine. Well, maybe a few hours into the reception. The bride was Australian. They may have played, “Eagle Rock.”

Like the nation itself, the hawkers’ centre runs on obedience. Signs insist upon no smoking, touting, littering, bicycling, dogs, or pet birds, which is probably compassionate as there’s ducks hanging everywhere in their gastronomic gallows. Remember, pet birds have feelings too.

But there’s chicken rice. Fish steamboat. Pig organ soup. To avoid the chaos of free will, all seating is fixed. On each table is a plastic number.

Additionally, here in the republic, public restrooms often have labelled urinals. Join me and listen now to, say, a banker. Please don’t stare, but he’s phone up and zipper down.

Mate? I’m just in the loo. Yeah, urinal U3. Nah, U3. Nah, someone else is at urinal U2. Nah, mate, unfair. The Joshua Tree is a great album. Yeah. Yeah. Bono wasn’t always a tosser. Hey, get me a pint. Heineken. I’ll be there in a minute. Righto. Don’t let Stephanie leave.

On Thursdays I park outside, beneath an umbrella, as it’s often punishing sun or rain. With a Tiger in my tank (lager, not the carnivorous cat) I write.

It still astonishes me how my phone can get radio from distant lands. I’m probably like Bill Bryson who once remarked that he remains surprised electricity doesn’t leak out from the wall sockets.

As a radio listener I’ve tried to assimilate. About a month ago, a rock station launched. It confidently declared a national first, promising, “Singapore’s Only No Repeat Workday.” No, really. I’ll be disappointed if one afternoon, I’m skiddled by a Black Thunder loaded up with icy cold cans of Coke.

So I listen to footy talk, to catch the teams and previews, surfing between 5AA, 3AW, and Triple M. There’s curious contrast in sitting near Boon Tong Kway, while listening to Richo’s prediction for the Bombers and Magpies clash, or Stephen Rowe’s hyperventilations as a whiff of Hokkien Prawn Mee drifts across.

5AA host: Let’s go to Bill from Rosewater.

Bill from Rosewater: Hello there. I’m a long time listener, first time caller.

5AA host: Welcome, Bill. What’s on your mind?

Bill from Rosewater: I want to talk about the umpiring in last Sunday’s Port game.

5AA host: Utterly disgraceful. What’d you think, Bill?

And so on. But do you know what? I love it. It’s the familiarity of the accents, as secure as Christmas lunch, when the pudding comes out. It’s our dialogue, begging, on behalf of our discarded simplicities. Maybe it’s aural homesickness.

When I’m not in Australia I spend disproportionate time thinking about the bloody place. I devour its media, its music. Trawl its websites. About twice a year I reacquaint myself with Coopers, but it’s like the Indian cricket team. Brilliant at home, unaccountably poor in the other hemisphere.

I feel sad for the people who’ve declared they’ll never again live in their homeland. Canadians, Americans, Brits. If this is possible, they’re professional refugees.

So why are whites are ex-pats, when everyone else is an immigrant? I’ve been an ex-pat twice, and like the expansiveness, the exuberance of it. Australia is home, but I’m not sure at what point we’ll say enough, and stay put.

Singapore soon turns fifty, but is still under shadows: China, Malaysia, England, as local obsession with the Premier League is pathetically immature. Enjoy it sure, but to slavishly dedicate most of your sports reportage to it? To care more about Tottenham than your own Tampines Rovers?

Even Australia looms, as our boys drown their breakfast cereal in milk from near Melbourne. And we recently had some steak. Bewilderingly, it came from Omaha, Nebraska. So, that’s now two Nebraskan products I’ve had. Bruce’s album with its songs of despair and death. And, last Saturday, a modest segment of cow.

*

Soon, this will be done. We’ll return to Australia. I know Singapore’s weather the July day we fly home: 32 degrees, with a chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. Then, we’ll watch the Glenelg Tigers, and hop on a tram to Adelaide Oval, to yell at the Crows.

In the meantime, I stroll down here most weeks, and invest an hour. Keyboard and cup. Channel footy noise into my ears. Dwell upon ladder positions, hamstrings, handball receives.

After, the boys and I flop around in the pool for a boisterous bit. Puff them out. I like the late week rhythms, the easy routines. I especially like the time to write.

Our home and away season’s underway.

zion

2

Songs of Sparkling Shiraz

 CT

Just before her weekly massage Catriona Rowntree eyes the camera coquettishly.

The Getaway audience is transfixed. Where’s tonight’s rubdown? Fiji? Ah, lovely.

But it’s about her voice. A voice, some would suggest, belonging to the blissful space between sleep and waking.

Like Catriona in her fluffy bathrobe, sparkling shiraz is also distinctly Australian.

No matter that the rest of the planet views it like a toasted cheese sandwich in India.

*

October long weekends. Our throng stayed two hours’ north of Adelaide at the Clare Country Club. We’d observe an annual routine.

Golf. Dinner at Bentley’s hotel. Golf. Watching the SANFL Grand Final in the Watervale pub (another Port flag). Golf. The Magpie and Stump in drowsy Mintaro, where I first heard a publican inquire, “Another cup of tea vicar?”

The Clare Dragon Chinese restaurant where the crankiest person in the world would serve us: Colleen. Every year she’d mutter, “Well I won’t be here next time you visit. This is driving me mad. I can’t stand it.”

And come next October Colleen’d deliver these same lines like a poem. A poem performed by the cantankerous employee of a regional Chinese eatery.

There’d also be a winery tour. One stormy Sunday we coasted into the Wilson Vineyard near Polish Hill River. At the counter, we began our work with Freddie Flintoff gusto.

A single sip. The subterranean purple hue, the mesmerizing flavor, the sassiness. It was dangerous fun. It was a sparkling shiraz. It was called Hippocrene. I was enthralled.

Poets can be fibbers, but I reckon John Keats got it right in “Ode to a Nightingale”

O for a beaker full of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim

Tellingly, the parents-in-law smuggled a bottle into England for us to share on my birthday. If a Google map showed who was drinking what across Europe, then we were likely the only sparkling shiraz slurpers. I didn’t care.

Hippocrene was an occasion wine. Sometimes it’d be Christmas. Sometimes the occasion would be Sunday. We only ever had two or three bottles a year, so at the easing of the cork there was always frisson.

Like the Greek civilisation from which it inherited its name, one October the cellar door assistant announced that Hippocrene was no more. “Have you any left?” I begged. Out the back were a few bottles of the ’96. We bought half a dozen.

And then it was gone.

*

The Black Chook

This can open the batting at your barbeque. Unlike Watto, it doesn’t plonk down a dumb left pad and get struck plumb. More like Boof, it’s good for a chirpy thirty.

Surprisingly sturdy, it boasts drinkable complexity. And it receives extra points for having the word “chook” in its name.

The Black Chook’s about $18 in Australia, or approaching a hundred bucks and two months’ national service in Singapore.

The Black Queen

A tremendous wine by the late Barossan, Peter Lehmann.

We’d been to Kapunda to climb over and in and on Leo the Train at the Hill Street playground. We’d luncheoned at Masters’ bakery on the main street, helpfully named Main Street. As Dr Evil might say, “Try the sausage rolls. They’re breathtaking.”

Heading home I thought I’d buy a bottle of sparkling shiraz. So I said to myself, “Self. Why not actually call into Peter Lehmann’s winery on the way through Tanunda?”

Rather than going to a liquor chain this seemed a retro, fun thing to do. Not so much slaughtering a cow because you fancy a hamburger, but more like listening to Revolver on vinyl.

A profound, exotic gargle, the Black Queen is about $40 in Australia, or the price of an inner-city apartment here on the tip of Malaysia.

Andrew Garrett Sparkling Shiraz

Like a glass of agitated Ribena®. You’d be better off with a wine made by Midnight Oil warbler, Peter Garrett.

Andrew Garrett once tried to sue Westpac for- raise your little finger to the corner of your mouth- eleven billion dollars. I’m less chance to drink this again.

Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz

Here’s a confession. Langhorne Creek’s an hour south of Adelaide, but it was only three years ago that I first visited. For me, that’s the oenological equal of never having heard 16 Lovers Lane by The Go-Betweens. The Bridge Hotel serves lunch, and you can sit outside, under the obliging gums, with a Coopers Pale Ale.

It’s parched and dusty, but the vines often enjoy winter flooding from the Bremer River. Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz reminds me of writer and Exeter Hotel inhabiter, Philip White.

When the Advertiser was still a newspaper, he penned a column called Drinks. White once described a wine, I think a Greenock Creek, as being “full of iron and steel, and women and children.” Obviously, this also summarises the Bleasdale.

A snip at $20 for Tony’s Team Australia, or if you’re from the Republic of Singapore, similar coin to a luxury holiday on Koh Samui.

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Sparkling shiraz is the viticultural Skyhooks. Unheard of in Europe. Never caught on in America. Yet enduringly significant and loved in Australia.

For a certain demographic, both provide a cracking soundtrack to backyard barbies.

As the creator of pastoral poetry, and Deniliquin Ute Muster fan Theocritus said, “Now give me goat and cup.”

skyhooks