1

After isolation

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In the driver’s seat and turning the key I notice the windshield is dusty. It’s nearly a month since my car went anywhere. It’s been in quarantine too.

Having reversed out the garage I change gears. Crunch. Like a dawn golfer on the opening tee-block I’m easing into my routines.

Up the end of our street I see a girl, bent down in the driveway, admiring her chalk drawings of pink and blue on the grubby concrete. Home-schooled, her Art lesson’s done.

I’ve not been outside in Australia since early March. April 1st is a fitting date to tiptoe out. Over the past fourteen days the mostly imagined, newsfeed horror of supermarket fights, deserted malls and shut playgrounds has battered me. A girl drawing out the front of her home is a welcoming image; at once pristine and sweetly unknowing.

Heading towards the city Anzac Highway is quiet although a bus cuts me off. I almost applaud. The ancient annoyances are now likely to comfort. I see an old man at a bus-stop. Squatting next to him is his terrier. Both appear calm. There’s a patience about them. What choice do we have?

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Triple J is playing something antagonising. Maybe now, I’m finally too old. I push the radio button for Triple M. Some dire 1980’s song. Maybe not.

I pass the monolithic and charmless Highway Inn, all shut except for its drive through. It’s mid-morning, but a couple utes are in there. Taking opportunities when they can. Never have I so acutely felt the tension between self and family and community.

Up near South Road a new petrol station is being built. Half a dozen tradies are in the forecourt, on the canopy, putting in windows. Previously, I’d connect this to cars, fossil fuels, climate change. But today it’s a reluctant symbol of growth and hope.

I then see an old BP. Fuel is 84 cents. This seems more 1991 and not 2020. I rub the back of my neck. No. No mullet there. The day before we flew to Sweden fuel was $1.40.

On our final night in isolation I shaved off the first-ever beard I’d grown. Confinement offered opportunity too. The patio pavers enjoyed their first pressure clean in a decade. Claire got stuck into the cupboards. I rang family and friends. Sat in the sun.

Arriving at work to collect a camera for the globally-compulsory Zoom meetings, I pulled into the barren carpark.

I was also there for my flu shot.

In our world of heightened immuno-consciousness, this seemed an urgent idea. I fumbled for my security tag.

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Kenny Rogers and me

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In 1983, during Year 12, these are the songs I unforgivably thought were cool:
“Twisting by the Pool” by Dire Straits
“Bop Girl” by Pat Wilson
and this, yes, this
“Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats.

How could this ever have happened?

Later that year, just after I turned seventeen, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton released “Islands in the Stream” (named after a Hemingway novel) and I scoffed at it. Country music! Old people! Corny! I was seventeen.

It was unlikely played on 5SSA-FM as SA-FM was then known. I can’t recall hearing it on the Morning Zoo with John Vincent and Grant Cameron as I drove my sky-blue HR Holden to Kapunda High to endure the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins (“I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon”).

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I didn’t appreciate its alternating lead vocals, superb harmonies, and thrilling key change until, I’m ashamed to share, much later in life. And Dolly, somehow both tiny and colossal, is the perfect partner to Kenny’s warm yet seasoned voice.

Often now making an appearance on the back patio at a BBQ it’s one of the great duets.

*

Growing up in the 70s, Mum and Dad had some of Kenny Rogers’ vinyl including his greatest hits and the compelling Eyes That See in the Dark (of course, he could never have been Ken Rogers for he’s obviously the manager of your local hardware store). The albums are long gone but I remember him spinning on the Pye 3-in-1 (turntable, cassette and radio) and his voice. It was golden but with an edge of experience and slight menace as needed. It also hinted at a mythic America of adventure and promise. It evoked a place I wanted to go.

As with much in art and music there’s often a dramatic gap between the sunny melodies and the lyric’s dark narrative. “Coward of the County” is about sexual violence, “Reuben James” explores deep-seated racism and “Ruby” concerns a Vietnam veteran whose disability renders him unable to satisfy his wife so she ventures into town- “painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair”- to get her needs met, but my childhood ears were deaf to these distant themes.

*

The Big Lebowski is my favourite film and Kenny contributes to this too. In this shaggy-dog story bringing together a congregation of random, found objects, “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was in)” fits the much-loved dream sequence perfectly. It’s by The First Edition and lead vocals are by Kenny. The scene begins when porn star Jackie Treehorn drugs The Dude’s White Russian.

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The Dude is the main character played by Jeff Bridges and presents like Kenny if he’d let himself go and frequented his local supermarket Ralph’s in his house pants and dressing gown. Featuring bowling, Saddam, love interest Maude in Viking costume, and some Johnson-dismembering Nihilists welding novelty-sized scissors, this psychedelic pop track is an irresistible accompaniment, and gave Kenny some late-career pop culture panache.

The lyrics open thus:
I woke up this morning with the sundown shining in
I found my mind in a brown paper bag within
I tripped on a cloud and fell-a eight miles high
I tore my mind on a jagged sky
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.

Just like the Dude, and most of The Big Lebowski, these are joyously nonsensical.

*

Early this century on my first big overseas trip I saw much that bedazzled me. The Berlin Wall, Big Ben, the Colosseum. But, among the strangest sights was one at the start in Penang. Wandering about Georgetown, the muggy, sister-city of Adelaide, and staring at the Chinese, Indian, Islamic and British architecture beyond the downtown markets, I saw what appeared as yet another American restaurant.

Getting closer, I squint at the signage. Kenny Rogers Roasters. Oh, must be another of that name I thought. A local icon I’ve not heard of. Fantastic. That’s why we travel. But the face seems familiar. White beard, grandfatherly. Vaguely Colonel Sanders so that is right for a chook place. Intrigued I stroll in.

It was that Kenny Rogers. With his own restaurant! In the middle of Asia! A long way from Nashville. What a glorious, unforeseen world.

Inside the walls were festooned with gold records and beaming (possibly photo shopped) pictures of Houston’s favourite country star. “The Gambler” strummed out beneath the slowly circulating ceiling fans. Still disbelieving, and considering the menu, it seemed neither Southern American nor Asian but possibly a Mississippian/ Malaysian fusion.

A decade or so later there was a Kenny Rogers Roasters (although the last American KRR diner closed in 2011, it’s still powering in Asia) across from my Singaporean condominium at the geographically-confused shopping centre Great World City. Fresh to the country, I took the boys there once for a dreadfully expensive meal of chicken and chips, and wondered how mad the unrelenting stream of Kenny’s Greatest Hits might send even the most devoted of wait staff.

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*

Kenny Rogers has drifted in and out of my life in both affectionate and minor ways. Glancing at his back catalogue, there’s an ungodly number of Christmas albums, but he’s made a personal mark. Yesterday with everything spiralling, a mate sent me a message which said:
Kenny Rogers dippin’ out in the middle of an apocalypse is the most “know when to fold ‘em” shit I’ve ever heard.

Well played, Kenny. Thanks.

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0

Scandinavia’s finest pontoon gin bar

 

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It was with glowing-heart astonishment that I found myself in a small wooden cabin just outside Ljungbyhed, a town in Skåne County, Sweden.

This European week began for Claire and me when, jet-lagged and head-fuzzy and grumpy that our initial hire car booking was somehow lost, I spent ten befuddled minutes trying to jolt a 2020 model BMW into life (tip for readers: press the start button and brake simultaneously). It’s a technological distance from a HQ Holden. I felt like a baby-boomer with an X-box.

I hadn’t driven on the right for fifteen years and among my first challenges was the Øresund Bridge linking Copenhagen and Malmo. Setting the wipers a-flapping every time I indicated was compulsory for your Mr Magoo.

It was blustery on the elevated bridge and a dizzying way above the sea. I kept my eyes arrow-straight and tried to not imagine our Germanic sports wagon being blown into the Sound where we’d doubtless perish among some bemused flounder, turbot and halibut.

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Ljungbyhed is home to around 2,000 folks. It has a cinema. It has a welcoming supermarket or Hemköp. It has two Italian restaurants: Oregano and one named after the famed Napoletano pizza pioneer, Adam. It has no pub or bar and the two Italian restaurants are unlicenced. It has no government-owned liquor outlet, the Systembolaget.

Beside our red cabin is a forest. In this is a lake and, moored on the near bank, are a couple of pontoons. Each has a wooden table, and some chairs. On the older one is a squat barbeque kettle. On the deck of both vessels is a single oar. The water is dark and, I imagine, dreadfully cold.

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Claire and I decide to self-host (a most 2020 term) a happy hour. The wane sun is suspended high in the blue sky as we climb onto the far pontoon. We’re in coats and drape a rug across our laps. Looking like I’m about to rob a servo, or barrack for Port, I put on a black beanie. The beech trees are all bared and grey like ash, and awaiting the spring. Large, honking geese fly in and skid across the lake beside its island. These are called Sknegs, or Scania Geese.

With no wi-fi or signal our phones have become cameras (remember those?) and we ensnare some blissful moments. In Adelaide it’s about 2.00am, the Fringe has finished for the night and most are sleeping through a warm March evening. On our gently itinerant deck we chat of family and friends; shared high school days; the afternoon’s trek through Söderåsens national park; the languid autumn weeks ahead back home.

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I have another olive and it’s delicious. Kalamata is king. Mediterranean joy in a Nordic setting. We have gin and tonic, too (like half the planet, I’m a recent convert) and this seems as London as the Hammersmith & City line.

There’s an endless twilight here but in half an hour we’ll hike back through the forest to our cabin. We’ll light the wood stove and open a duty-free Primitivo Cabernet Sauvignon from Puglia to enjoy with our pasta.

Scandinavian happy hour is terrific. You don’t even need a pub.

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2

Hottest 100 (minus 90) Stubby Holders of the Week

Apologies to Triple J, those entrusted with preparing gravy, Billie Eilish, fans of the long barbeque lunch, Humphrey B. Flaubert, Jock Cheese, Eugene de la Hot Croix Bun and Ron Hitler-Barassi.

In a very particular order, and with no editorialising, here they are. Judges votes are final etc.

10. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Cobdogla and District Club (est.1958).

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9. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Kapunda Footy Club. Congratulations. Your prize will be sent by carrier pigeon.

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8. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) comes to you live today from the Kimba Golf Club where, in a curious twist, the winner is the Kimba Golf Club.

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7. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Footy Almanac. Congratulations to all involved.

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6. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the one Allan Border signed when I met him at the Holdy. Yes, it is a XXXX Gold holder (don’t show your kids).

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5. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Sharks FC, one of Singapore’s finest Australian Rules footy clubs. Your prize will be posted shortly.

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4. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Coopers Session Ale. Obviously, no actual beer was harmed during the taking of this photo.

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3. Congratulations to former Adelaide resident and Le Cornu shopper Ben Folds on receiving Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW).

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2. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Crows’ icon Darren Jarman- Around the body, that will do. That. Will. Do. Congratulations Darren, your prize will be mailed to you.

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1. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to Adam and Caitlyn. I bloody love youse. I have never met you.

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2

Club Review: The Cobdogla Club

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I need to apologise to the wonderful Kimba Area School Year 9 class of 1992 whom I took on a week-long camp to Burra, Barmera, Renmark and Clare.

Planning the event I booked some aquatics at Lake Bonney and struggled to find another activity when I stumbled across the Cobdogla Steam and Irrigation Museum. It somehow seemed reasonable. Recently in the car my youngest Max said to his brother Alex, “Why would you ask Dad a big-brained question when we know he’s a small-brained man?” and dwelling now upon that early- 90’s afternoon, I see this as a terrible pattern on my behalf.

I should’ve taken the Year 9’s to Lake Bonney and demanded they jetty-jump for six or seven hours. Provided they had their swimming jeans.

We had a tour guide: an aged man of terrifying, non-infectious passion and an ability to lecture at length matched only by his ability to not sense the crushing boredom he was inflicting upon his audience. If teenaged violence had erupted that day in Cobby, no judge would’ve convicted anyone.

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He spoke to us for 45 excruciating minutes on the world’s only working Humphrey pump with charcoal-fired gas producers. During his unbroken monologue I found myself wondering if I’d turned off the iron, how the Nicaraguan soccer team was travelling and what Allan Border might’ve had for breakfast that very morning. I’m sure the actual inventor of that wretched pump would’ve nodded off himself.

So, again I’m sorry. I owe you a drink.

However, just up the road is the Cobdogla Club which is one of my favourite places. We were there last Thursday and this happened to be Schnitzel Night. If you live in this part of the world the pubs and clubs have it neatly organised so that every night of the week is Schnitzel Night, although this could be both a dietary blessing and a curse.

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On the front door is a friendly sign asking the patrons to not swear, and in 2020 when the casualisation of this is rampant, I like it and get the boys to read it.

Inside is spacious and rustic. The boys rush to the free iPads which is fair enough as they’ve endured a horrific ten-minute car ride from the holiday park without a device.

The drinks menu is broad and the wine prices seem frozen at 1995. A glass of white (no, not Hock) is $4.70, and the lack of Coopers on tap is disappointing, but XPA cans are a fiver.

The salad and veggie bar is always a treat. Brussel sprouts are what Max calls, “balls of leaves” and I inhale six. There’s corn, carrots, and cauliflower and broccoli bake. It’s terrific.

We talk of the coleslaw. It can’t be easy being coleslaw, especially if you’re mostly cabbage and therefore overly pale and grim. Next to the rich colours of the beetroot and the Asian noodles you, poor coleslaw, look more ghostly than the long-gone inventor of the Humphrey pump, sitting quietly across the fields, in its dusky horror.

The schnitzels arrive quickly and are a generous size. They’re tasty, perfectly cooked and in another demonstration of the Cobby Club’s timelessness, the meat isn’t on top of the poor fecking chips, making them squashed and sweaty as happens in too many places forcing diners to go through the mindless ritual of rescuing their fried potato friends.

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No, dickhead. Not like this.

Who started this nonsense? Bring them to me, and I will scold them for 45 excruciating minutes, in an unbroken monologue, about the profound annoyance of this, and how in a world crying out for simple, uncluttered joy we must keep our schnitzel and our chips separate.

But, of course, this doesn’t happen at The Cobby Club. And that’s one reason we’ll be back next year.

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Ten Footnotes from Vampire Weekend at Melbourne’s Forum

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I notice it early. The drummer, lashing and bombastic and then gentle, is wearing a Collingwood jumper. Chris Thomson is the stickman for Vampire Weekend and here in The Forum, in the heart of Melbourne, it’s a gesture emblematic of this band’s magnanimous outlook. I’m not a Magpie fan, but I smile. It’s an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

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I instantly love The Forum. An arts venue must be evocative and not simply functional. It should also be an instructive text, and a participant in the unfurling theatre. Inside’s a blue night sky, kitsch yet confirming Roman busts, spaciousness, coolness, and a beguiling solidarity amongst the eclectic gathering, all there for the same connection. A generous security guard takes our photo, while the beardy Scottish one near the VIP section is chirpy denial when we ask to sneak in.

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*
Third song in is, “Unbelievers” from Modern Vampires of the City. It’s chugging, train-like rhythm and stubborn optimism, but I love the distillation, the there’s-a-life-right-there, gorgeous binary of

I know I love you

And you love the sea.

*
An Oxford comma is a controversial punctuation mark. It’s also the title of the first Vampire Weekend song I heard in which it’s a symbol to critique affectation and exclusivity. It references Dharamshala in India, site of the world’s most strikingly situated cricket ground with the snow-capped Himalayas creating a painterly mis-en-scene. Dharamshala is also home to the Dalai Lama. I hope Vampire Weekend write a song about the apostrophe. Gee, we need’s it.

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*
Fresh from lunch at Il Tempo on Degraves Street we amble up Flinders Street to investigate The Forum. The capitalised black font on the front’s white hoarding rouses a frizz of frisson. Next door Hosier Lane ribbons with its urban art while across the road is angular and aggressive Federation Square. Like the difficult, exciting world itself we’re at once confronted and comforted.

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*
That other 2020 Australian phenomenon, the power outage, quieted the band part way into “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and twenty minutes later they took up the song where it had collapsed before it plunged again and Ezra said that a third, and final attempt to fix the electrical issue would proceed, but we dreaded our night would suffer voltage interruptus and Claire and I would wing back to Adelaide, unrequited and hollow. Blissfully, the show then rollicked through 27 songs including an encore request for, “Ottoman” which shares lyrical intertextuality with, “Cape Cod” courtesy of the gently self-mocking

it feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too.

It could be a nod to the band’s supposed Afro-beats cultural appropriation.
*
To soar music needs space and silence. Within songs and across songs this transpires Tuesday night in The Forum. I like being invited to dart into the air and light by harmony. Colour and texture and welcoming lulls for my mind and ears. Art’s a conversation, a handshake, an invitation to make an investment. I can hear former band member Rostam Batmanglij’s legacy: bewilderingly pretty piano lines; unique guitar resonances; sonic and human fragility.

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Greta Morgan’s a multi-instrumentalist touring with Vampire Weekend and like everyone on stage, she contributes effervescently. We enjoy her 80’s dancing behind the keyboard during which she sways from side to side like she’s in a Human League tribute band. Brilliant. She plays a maraca too, and in a 7-piece outfit, in this age of drowning sounds and buffoon noise, we watch and concentrate and pick out its tiny sunny rattle. At once each band member is both within the ensemble and without, operating in a private territory and yet coupled to organic whole.
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Of the songs I’ve anticipated across both hemispheres and many decades we especially want to hear Vampire Weekend’s “Hannah Hunt.” It’s a text of deep and shuddering significance. At 2.40 the music bursts, and the moment is perfectly formed with beauty and despair and somehow, despite it all, triumph. After the song, front man Ezra Koenig describes how the opening lines were inspired by dialogue from Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

A gardener told me some plants move

But I could not believe it

Till me and Hannah Hunt

Saw crawling vines and weeping willows

As we made our way from Providence to Phoenix

*
Two giant blue and green globes are thrown among the mosh pit who bounce and tumble them about with joyous physics. It’s been a superb set and the realisation of a shared goal. The final song is “Ya Hey” and it’s introduced with an acknowledgment of the bushfire crisis and there’s poignancy in the lines

Through the fire and through the flames

You won’t even say your name.


It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

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4

Sausage Roll Review: Banjo’s, Moseley Square, Glenelg

Approaching the bloodthirsty climax of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War tour de force Apocalypse Now there’s a scene in which Colonel Kurtz: bloated, monstrous, world-weary, insane, hidden in the jungle dark, murmurs to his would-be assassin Captain Willard, “Get me a sausage roll.”

Sadly for film aficionados this didn’t make the final edit, but the idea translates into contemporary living.

With thoughts of luncheon foodstuffs swimming before me like the haze of the Mekong River delta I ventured to Moseley Square, which hosts a new bakery, named Banjo’s. Like fruit bats or swine flu South Australia is the final challenge in their plan to colonise our country.

It’s a bright and spacious retailer with swarms of tables and chairs and a large menu board. The first problem occurred as I peered into a glass display case, otherwise warm and oddly exciting.

A cheery, young thing hovered behind the counter.

“Someone chopped all your sausage rolls in half,” I noted.

“This is how we make them,” she retorted rather obviously, I thought. A bit like saying, “Ouch, that hurt,” when a white pointer makes off with your favourite leg.

“Oh.” I wasn’t keen on an argument, just a full-sized sausage roll. They were all squat and abbreviated. What fresh madness is this I moaned inwardly.

“We have an offer,” she continued eagerly, entirely unlike Bill Murray’s character Phil in Groundhog Day. “You can buy three for $5.60.”

This seemed better than a half sausage roll for $2.70, so me and my gizzard signed up.

Francis Ford Coppola himself would’ve enjoyed the mis en scene of my outside table, two happy dogs and Glenelg’s seaside square, on a spring afternoon.

I sat with my trio of sausage rolls which might’ve been described by a minor character in Apocalypse Now as trio de petits pains aux saucisses.

I began modestly, with the traditional version. It was appropriately hot and the pastry was flaky and sweet, but not sweaty as it can often be at times. Taking a bite I examined the innards. It was alarmingly pink and pale, and I must report, tasted just this way. If I ran a photocopying franchise, I’d analyse it as being a crappy copy of what must be an insulted, once illustrious original.

A sausage roll should possess subtle spiciness.

Coming in after this golden ball duck, the next batsman was nervous. It was curry and chickpea. Yes, in a sausage roll. Does this strike you as being overly-ambitious for a common or garden sausage roll? It did me, but I found it pleasant enough to endure, although I’m unlikely to venture there again, which is what visitors say about the North Wagga Wagga RSL.

The dogs next to me continued to show interest while their female owners chatted. Apparently Corey had disappointed Kylie. And not for the first time either. In fact, he had been poorly behaved for a while. Move him on Kylie I thought. You’re better than that.

About my third sausage roll the bakery server (Hello, my name’s Siobhan and I’ll be your server today) said, “It looks like a sausage roll but tastes like a pasty as it has the same ingredients.” She smiled at me and I wept for the future.

Sweet Jesus I said to myself (if there’s kiddies watching flip the screen down now). What the actual fuck are these people doing?

Happily my inner monologue stayed just that.

I ate it outside in the warm sun, and you’ll be comforted to hear that it tasted just like a pasty although like a shape-shifter in a dreadful teen horror movie it was dressed up as a sausage roll.

Why?

Having set off earlier with pure intentions and a simplicity in my heart, my dream of a single, uncomplicated sausage roll had become overly complex. Banjo’s had not been in tune.

No wonder Colonel Kurtz went mad.

 

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