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Tuesday in Fitzroy

 

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Tramway Hotel, 165 Rae St, Fitzroy North

Underground music. Likely a Melbournian band from the 1980’s. One punter inside, one outside at the row of three tables on Church Street near the roundabout. The young fella out at a table appears from my spot by the fireplace to have an Andalusian dancing horse tattooed on his skull. Opposite me is a macramé wall hanging, and I feel as if I’ve been taken hostage by the horrific 70’s. At the centre of the Tramway is its triangular bar.

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I order a Young Henry’s Pale Ale which I find safe if unspectacular. It’s a mild afternoon so I move outside into darkening street. The Andalusian dancing horse has galloped off into his evening. Bikes outnumber cars on Rae Street and I find this reassuring. Most folk sport beanies. The upcoming gigs blackboard announces Acid Country broadcasting live this Thursday on PBS 106.7FM. Their website promises “an intimate afternoon of music, radio and community”.

Royal Oak Hotel, 442 Nicholson St, Fitzroy North

In the world of pub names is this the equivalent of John or Mary?

Here’s another fire and candles. There seems to be a distinctive inner-city intimacy at work in Fitzroy North. I can’t recall going into an Adelaide pub and finding lit candles. I like it. The Beatles are playing. My Hargreaves Hill Pale Ale is curious.

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Apart from me (obviously) there are three blokes in the front bar talking footy. They speak of the Scott brothers. One chap is theorising that the Geelong coach, Chris Scott, might be lucky to keep his job. It seems unlikely given that his team is top by some distance.

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I see an Escher print on the wall, murky books above my head and a tram zings past. A bowls scoreboard sits nearby. It’s quiz night and a staff member asks me if I’m here with a team. I shake my head. Scotland’s finest, The Proclaimers come on and I smile to myself. Indeed, Adelaide is 500 miles away. Having run The Tan earlier today (for the first time) which is a lap of Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens I think these lyrics true-

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

I look up and there’s an upturned wooden surf boat over pool table. I leave.

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Suddenly, suburban floodlights. WT Peterson oval. Footy training over by the grandstand. Naked trees watching silently by me. Just in front on the forward flank: man, dog, tennis ball.

Lord Newry, 543 Brunswick St, Fitzroy North

First port of call in this boozer is the gents. There are astonishing quantities of graffiti on every surface. I rush. Don’t dry my hands.
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I order a Four Pines Pale Ale. Some Glaswegians in the back bar are talking football. In the front bar’s a muted glow, like grandma’s lounge room if she loved orange light shades and early disco music.

I detect a nautical theme because of the turgid and, I suspect, ironic prints of British ships. I think of the postcolonial perspective and associated ideas about imperialism, but only briefly.

I look up at the ceiling which has been stained yelpy yellow by a million Ardath and Black and White darts. And then I think about Sir Walter Raleigh who introduced smoking to Britain and I’m back to postcolonialism, but only briefly.

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I note that there’s only five items on the Specials menu board. I think this the maximum allowable number because any more and I’d question just how special those dishes might be. Wouldn’t you?

Royal Derby, 446 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

In the men’s the exhaust fan is whirling like the propeller of the Indianapolis but without Quint’s sharks. It’s so noisy I fear the whole building might take off.

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The Kings of Leon are playing and I find them restorative at this point if not generally. I keep with my broad ale theme and buy a Stone and Wood Pacific Ale. There’s a table tennis table in a dedicated room although no-one’s using it, and it would be difficult for me to play by myself.

Over in the betting corner a man is having trouble with his eyes and these go from menacing and mean to glazed and then incapable of focus. He leaves. It’s the only pub in which I hear no footy talk.

The Rose, 406 Napier St, Fitzroy

Happily, I walk in and hear blokes talking footy around a central rectangular bar. There’s a big dog by a table. Warm chat everywhere. Exotic beers abound, but also Coopers.

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With exposed bricks and beautiful and enveloping light this is suburban joy. It’s the standout on my brief tour. India and New Zealand begin the World Cup semi-final and I speak with an Englishman about this fixture and our upcoming clash. We agree that the bowlers might dictate the result and Mitchell Stark could be the difference.

I order a burger. It’s a treat. Some young lads near me talk of commercial airline seat configurations on flights into and out of the Western Australian mines. They appear knowledgeable. As I leave, they’ve turned to the bright prospects of the Brisbane Lions who, of course, used to be Fitzroy.

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Pub Review: The Three Brothers Arms, Macclesfield

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Becalmed by the fireplace a smiling chap said, “It’s great isn’t it?”

I agreed.

“It’s just like your living room. That’s how the owners want you to treat it.”

“Tell the Truth” by Derek and the Dominoes made its earthy, laconic way from the speakers to the ears of the punters. It had that warm, enveloping feel to it because it wasn’t coming from a juke box, CD player or streaming service.

Audiophiles agree that it remains the finest way to enjoy an album, and over by the pool table was that most uncommon yet esteemed of front bar furniture: an antique turntable and speakers.

Brilliant.

“This is a very English idea,” I nodded. “Publicans over there want you to treat the pub like your own home. It’s rare here.”

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Living on a West Coast farm I bought a second-hand turntable that had somehow lost its legs, so I used split squash balls to absorb the bumps and rumbles because as is established fact there’s nothing worse than the stylus bouncing across your most prized vinyl which of course is Ripper ’76.

With the volume screaming past eleven it kept the sheep away from the house. Digital music is omnipresent but real records provide us with the physical and the kinaesthetic. It’s a richer sensory experience.

Eric Clapton and Duane Allman were undertaking some acceptable fret work on this most perfect of Saturday afternoon pub soundtracks. Along the pub wall rest half a dozen rows of LPs. Blues masters, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, sixties and seventies gems. Pinned nearby is a brief set of rules for busy times- one side only per person etc.

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With regular live gigs in the Heritage Bar and beer garden (Kasey Chambers’ dad Bill playing soon) it’s a musical nirvana and complements impeccably the pub across the road, The Macclesfield, which offers standard services like big screen footy, TAB, happy hours, pokies.

Is there a better balanced two-pub town?

Earlier we took in the Mary MacKillop Way which with paintings and text documents the saint’s local work. One station highlights the sisters’ efforts during a bushfire when Mary offered the volunteers, “drinks and light food.” Light food?

Happily, I’ve no experience in this but imagine after elongated hours of hot and dangerous labour battling a blaze, I’d be a little disappointed to be only given a cup of tea and a scone, and to hear the dreaded words, “Sorry love but we’re out of jam and cream.”

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Originally known as the Goats Head Inn it’s visually engaging with memorabilia and photos, and curios like an upturned umbrella and wooden toy train dangling from the ceiling. There’s historic Guinness and stout signage too.

By the window we find a spot on a ruby Chesterfield couch, and in our nook’s an upright piano and a Hendrix (I’m claiming this as a collective noun) of acoustic and electric guitars.

The resident kelpie Ranger wanders about saying hello. I love dogs in pubs. In England this is routine and they’re welcomed with water bowls and spaces to stretch out. Hounds are so central to our way of life here yet rarely spotted in public buildings. Why? I’ve seldom seen an unkempt, drunk dog wobbling about picking fights in a pub, and know who I’d rather sit next to. One of the bar staff tells me that Ranger loves playdates and often has canine callers.

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Well done, Three Brothers Arms.

With the fire crackling away, I attempt another beer. “I might try the Goats Head Lager. Who makes it?”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” insists the young barkeep with a wink. Maybe it’s difficult following a Coopers Sparkling Ale, but although I get that it’s a tribute to the pub’s original name and neighbouring brewery, I find it somewhat bland.

Convivial knots of chaps are at the low tables and many of them sport tweed jackets. They look like minor characters in an Ian McEwen novel. With its uncomplicated sense of purpose and refined atmospherics it does feel decidedly English in here, and I reckon the pub would sit sympathetically in the Lakes District or by a brook in the Cotswolds.

Meanwhile, someone drops Bob Dylan onto the turntable and his endearing whine mingles warmly with the patrons’ wine. Underscoring the music is the staccato percussion from the pool table. It’s a jovial place.

Claire and I have dinner plans, but vow to return. The beer garden stretches down to the Angas River and is a summery must. We pat Ranger goodbye and head out into the afternoon’s fresh coolness.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bob Hawke, Brutalism and Banana Bread: Melbourne Trip 2019

 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Pub Review: Hotel Victor, Victor Harbor

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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On Granite Island

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Vampire Weekend’s Hannah Hunt

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.