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In 1994 Bobby Bowden and I did a Contiki tour of New Zealand

canterbury

In early 1994 old Kapunda mate, Bob Bowden and I went to New Zealand. Of course it was illegal back then to not undertake a Contiki tour so you could travel to exciting, distant lands, meet fellow Australians, and spend your evenings in exotic pubs arguing about footy, cricket and which state made the best pies.

In a shameless attempt to impress the locals I took a range of Canterbury clothing with me, including this, the timelessly stylish top known as an “Ugly.”

RFB in Auckland

Here’s Bob on a windy hill overlooking Auckland in his Kapunda Bombers- themed red and black outfit proving again that the 1990’s is not as hideous, fashionistically, as the 1980’s. If it were Brownlow night a reporter would ask Bob, “And who are you wearing?”

If you peer at the cricket ground in the middle distance you’ll see Sir Richard Hadlee, smirking up at us, for no good reason.

place name

Upon returning to Kimba my Year 9 English class was decidedly unimpressed when I included this Kiwi place name in their first spelling test for 1994.

glacier

A highlight was ascending and then descending, perilously, the South Island’s Fox Glacier. Although my GS Chappell floppy cricket hat came in useful that day, there is no truth that a sudden hail storm gave it its first and last wash in over thirty years.

This hat is now tragically banned from all overseas travel. It can not be issued a visa.

backyard

I’m forever indebted to David, the English bloke on the left, who pointed at the grim base of Fox Glacier and quoting a classic British comedy said to me, “See that freezing death trap over there? That’s your backyard in summer, that is.”

toga!

What trip to the hotspot of Queenstown is complete without a toga party? Toga! Toga!

As Doug Neidermeyer declares in Animal House, “And most recently of all, a “Roman Toga Party” was held from which we have received more than two dozen reports of individual acts of perversion SO profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.”

NB- my boatshoes as worn in Rome 34BC.

sheep dog statue

While we didn’t see any sheep statues- no, seriously- we did spot this bronzed sheep dog who refused to fetch the stuck stick I threw.

spoofy

Our tour finished in Christchurch by which time Bob and I had introduced our travel mates to the ancient art of Spoofy. A game of chance using three coins the loser has to buy all the participants a beer. The UN should use it as a diplomatic strategy to resolve international tensions.

In fact , I think Bob Hawke once did.

This was a quarter of a century ago. Time to return methinks.

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Pub Review: the Magpie and Stump, Clare Valley

 

front of pub
Geometrically, I think the lawn’s a trapezium but I might be wrong.

Either way, it’s a Clare Valley garden, which just happens to come with its own pub!

There’s slate tables on the grass; umbrellas on bases- although the spring breeze means these are tethered lest they launch toward an unsuspecting vineyard or throbbing Harley; and two fire buckets embedded in imposing circular structures as if they’ve come from a 1970’s playground, or a Texan mechanic’s barbeque.

fire bucket

We’re at one of my favourite places on the planet: the Magpie and Stump.

Last year we sulked pub-ward suffering afresh from the Crows’ grand final defeat, hoping schnitzel might sooth our spirits. Spooked, Mozz uttered, “It’s quiet. Too quiet.”

The pub was shut.

And had been for some months.

But in 2018 new owners have flung open the doors- this sudden change in fortune is called peripeteia by the Greeks- and I’m thrilled. Shaking mine host Paul’s hand, he explains he’s expecting seventy for lunch. He adds that, “We did 700 meals over the June long weekend.” I peek in the kitchen en route to the bar and see four chefs: all busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.

Our entourage takes up residence at a generous garden table. Having consulted the pub’s website, I know $15 jugs of Coopers Session Ale are waiting. At my urgings Bazz and Mozz enlist. “Go on,” I say, “it’ll be funny.”

lawn

The bar-keep seems unimpressed by my digital espionage but honours the offer. There’s wine and cider for the others and raspberry for the young fellas so we sit in the sun and speak of many people and places.

It’s perfect.

Most opt for the Stump burger, a challenging treat with meaty patties the size of small, beefy UFOs. The chips are crisp and tasty- this isn’t always a given- and come in those miniature wire baskets that could’ve been hocked from a Lilliputian fish shop.

Kath has salt ‘n’ pepper squid but it needs additional NaCl dusting. Flopping about with their iPods and assorted devices our male progeny orders nuggets. These are breathed in, instantly.

table 2

Post-lunch, the entertainment’s on under the veranda: a guitar and keyboard duo. Looking like an older Jack White the vocalist announces, “I’m Paul and this is Andy. Together, we’re known as Paul and Andy.”

They provide an afternoon of agreeable covers including our request for “Sweet Caroline.” Given the comprehensive demographic of the audience they ignore our plea for Frank Zappa and his 25-minute magnus opus, “Billy the Mountain.”

The pub staff are also congenial, even when one of our crew, Bazz attempting to assist, drops five glasses onto the table’s unforgiving slate. Disappointingly, only four break but the employee with upturned trouser cuffs laughs throughout his dustpan deed.

table 1

As the sun dips in the western sky we each get out three coins to engage in a few rounds of spoofy- known by my old mate Whitey as, “the free beer game.” Your correspondent enjoys complimentary cups.

We leave with some newly-minted stubby holders. However, these look better on display behind the bar as rolling them about in our mits, they’re, as Ian Chappell used to say, a bit thin. The cover of an old National Geographic would provide similar beverage insulation.

But it’d been a terrific Sunday on this fetching lawn and despite intermittent outages over the decades, the Magpie and Stump again powers on.

I urge you to enjoy its lawn soon.

stubby holder

 

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Pub Review: The Crown, Victor Harbor

 

chernobyl ferris wheel

If petite bread rolls deliver doughy joy then the frisson when these are also hot from the oven is seismic. Surely a clear sign of a caring god, or at least, reliable electricity.

This unexpected bliss began our Friday night meal at the Crown Hotel. Driving into Victor Harbor as the wide bay swims into happy view I wondered how our boys hadn’t been here previously for an extended visit yet had holidayed to the Bavarian Alps, artistic Left Bank in Paris and Murray Bridge’s world-class Bunyip.

Having checked-in at our caravan park digs and positively appraised the bunk beds, bouncy pillow and decidedly unappealing pool we drove to Warland Reserve with its twin pubs standing sentinel over the foreshore.

Upon presenting our boisterous trio at the bistro, the pub staff now appraised us silently and then did what I’d do which is to quarantine us in a marginalised corner away from the quiet, undeserving diners. In hospitality circles I’m sure this is some form of pre-emptive damage control. There was an American college football game on TV, but disappointingly it didn’t feature Purdue. It was Boise, Idaho’s finest.

bouncy pillow

Our boys were drawn instantly and they assured me, ravenously, to the salad and vegetable bar. It would’ve been easier to stop an aspiring reality television star (read: talentless, vacuous twit) from taking a selfie.

Pleasingly, their lemonades were served in sturdy plastic cups. You know, the coloured models that you used at your cousins’ place for cordial after you’d been running about or chucking rocks at your footy, now stuck at the top of a eucalypt.  

As a fan of haute cuisine Max chose the Italian Hawaiian Irish fusion. Unfortunately, when his ham and pineapple pizza and chips arrived, despite his father’s sobbing implorations, he was chock-a-block with hot bread rolls. I had the pizza on Saturday, save for the solitary bite Max had taken.

Boise was constantly handing the ball back to their opponents as they couldn’t get their passing or running games to fire. Out the window, and across the reserve I could see the lights of the amusements and the Ferris wheel.

I trusted that the compulsory mangy dog would be there, wandering and weeing and roaming about in a vaguely menacing way when we visited in the morning and like a drunk bookie, I forked over wads of cash to a carnie.

dinosaur

As a ten-year-old Alex is on the cusp of moving from kid’s meals to adult portions, and this causes me emotional if not fiscal despair. But tonight, he’s happy to tackle the nuggets and chips.

When served they’re not the traditional ones shaped as rectangles or ovals: these are in the form of dinosaurs confirming what archaeologists having been telling us forever which is that if we visit Jurassic Park, take down a T-Rex, and cook it, it will, of course, taste like chicken. He inhales them as if he’ll soon need the energy to outrun a velociraptor.

Continuing our involuntary theme of transmogrified chicken my Kiev arrives. It’s been a while and my excitement had risen, like that of a rooster when sunrise is imminent over the henhouse.

chernboyl

While the Ukrainian geography of my chook was nebulously accurate I think its origins were not in Kiev but more precisely 142 kilometres to the north of the capital in Chernobyl.

I suspect the meal may have come directly from reactor number 4 itself. How else to explain the impossibly dry and disastrously crunchy properties, other than thermonuclear accident?

I felt especially sorry for the cold garlic butter that had presumably been once trapped in this poor poultry, all trace now gone, doubtless a victim of irradiation’s cruel physics. I may have been better off with the amusement park hound.

Luckily, I hadn’t downloaded a Geiger counter app to my phone or it would’ve now been clicking away like a barn full of tap-dancers, attempting a world record.  

Still, we all survived and retired to our cabin. The footy was about to start and the weekend was upon us. We were in front.

Afterall, we’d had hot bread rolls.

crown-hotel-victor-harbor-SA-5211

 

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Finally, some Japanese poetry honouring the beer fridge

BF 2

Haiku is a noble yet tiny poetic form. It combines natural imagery, brevity and ancient timelessness, and was made famous by the seventeenth-century master, Matsuo Bashō.

Here’s his finest-

Flower
Under harvest sun- stranger
To bird, butterfly

Blowing stones
Along the road to Mount Asama,
The autumn wind.

Moon-daubed bush-clover-
Ssh. In the next room
Snoring prostitutes.

nature

See. Gorgeous natural imagery including the flower, butterfly, autumn wind and snoring prostitutes.

*

We’re the same, you and me. While there’s lots to celebrate in this fine, bursting world, big gaps have opened up.

Time to plug these, for everyone’s sake.

As I see it a dangerous cultural chasm exists with the shameful lack of ancient Japanese poetry promoting the unreconstructed joy that is the humble beer fridge.

BF 1

Thanks to them internets old mate Greg and I ended this tragic chapter last night while in different parts of our nation, watching distinguished haiku inspiration, Animal House.

Thinking haiku: think toga party and Bluto Blutarsky.

I suggest you print the following and put ‘em up on your beer fridge, alongside the kids’ finger-paintings. The sense of peace and artistic bliss will be all yours.

And then crack open a Kirin lager and toast our old mate, Matsuo Bashō.

BF 3

Under moonlit night
Stubby holder on white shelf
Beer fridge

Beer fridge empty
Actually not so empty
Carlton Cold

Full fridge
Thirsty as buggery
All XXXX

Beer fridge dies
Ale warming
Within and without, light’s off.

MB

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Galveston and me

 

postcard

In New York City I thought about two novels. I was eager to explore Central Park and within its savannah we took in the summery games on Heckscher Ballfields and weaved around the picnickers sprawling in the sultry heat.

Of interest was The Pond given the fascination this held for Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. He was inquisitive as to where the ducks went during the frozen winter, and like many teenagers was troubled about his future and our shared vulnerabilities. I could picture Holden watching his sister Phoebe on a carousel, tears streaming at the happiness he’d finally found.

Nearby on 5th Avenue is The Plaza Hotel. Hosting the toxic quarrel between Gatsby and Tom in Scott Fitzgerald’s famous savaging of selfishness, The Plaza’s a grand building in this swirling city. Seeing it amplified the novel for me, and I could almost hear Daisy protest from up in one of the elegant suites, “You want too much!”

However, there’s an ignored American town in which I’d love to immerse myself while contemplating another significant work. My favourite intertextuality: locale and music.

Galveston.

The opening line is as euphoric as any sung. At, “Galveston, oh Galveston” we’re elevated by the combination of soaring string-section, guitar and Glen Campbell’s impossibly-honeyed voice. This proclamation is so joyous, so devout; it’s an irresistible invitation but also a prologue and an epilogue. Then, of course, there’s darkness to follow.

Galveston picture

Jimmy Webb’s genius presents as achingly exquisite simplicity. In three lines he engrosses us with evocative place, love and foreshadowed dread. And this is it: an entire story, captured haiku-like with all the fictive elements required for a comprehensive saga, or epic cinema.

I still hear your sea winds blowing
I still see her dark eyes glowing
She was twenty-one, when I left Galveston

The lyrics are almost deceptive with their innocent rhyme and sparse vocabulary. Here the repetition of the adverb still conveys the protagonist’s endless torture and hauntedness. We wonder if he’ll ever return. His torment is ours, too.

Galveston record

Debate centres on the historical context. Is Webb referencing the American Civil War, the Vietnam War, or the Spanish-American war?

while I watch the cannons flashin’

While of interest to those with a military bent, the superior reading is that it’s any war, and indeed, every war.

“Galveston” is an anti-war declaration, but there’s a deeper premise at play. Ultimately, it’s pro-love, pro-life and celebratory. Our main character is a soldier, so hopeful, so eager to re-embrace his former world’s vitality that this amplifies his terror. He misses his girl, home town and old life. As we all would. He wants to live well.

The sonic qualities intensify this triumph with strings by the Wrecking Crew that are majestic; stirring; elemental. These lift the song ever-skywards, investing it with golden light. Tellingly, they’re only silent in the instrumentation when Campbell sings, “I am so afraid of dying” and their omission here bequeaths the necessary desolation.

sea bird

Then there’s the remarkable vocal performance. With perfect phrasing it’s Sinatra-like, while displaying an enveloping, earthy warmth, and a weighty authenticity. Campbell is both the central figure and also each of us, and like a Sampras backhand, a Richard Ford sentence, or a Barossa Shiraz, there’s an outward effortlessness that leaves you sunny, but also gasping at the beauty within.

Along with “Wichita Lineman” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” Webb set these in decidedly unregarded parts of America, for he considered it best to lyrically escape the famed metropolises. The world agreed. While this particular tune uses an inconsequential resort town it speaks timelessly. The cycle’s other towns in Kansas and Arizona are now invested with an imaginative, cultural gravity. These owe Webb and Campbell.

Common across these is dislocation. They feature a man who’s someplace else; jettisoned and in disequilibrium. Briefly but profoundly, we’ve glimpsed the characters’ lives at a nexus. Do we dare guess at how they turned out? Did he get back to Galveston? Did he again experience those sea winds?

How is all this achieved in one hundred and eleven words? When the vocals are done in two minutes? It seems a bigger song: more Guernica than minimal art.

Our youngest, partly primed for his musical voyage by his Dad’s captaincy, has, in the bath and while getting dressed for school, started singing snippets of “Galveston.” In time, I reckon he’ll also want to come on our literary tour to this minor Texan town.

Locale and music.

We’ll stand on that windswept shore by the Gulf of Mexico and imagine lives other than our own.

Galveston music

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Our Christmas in Spain

 

olympics

Ringo World- Opening Soon

Season’s greetings to everyone. Can you believe it’s 2004?

Madrid has much to offer. It is located on a plateau some 800 metres above sea-level which results in great winter weather. The sky is blue, cloudless and sunny. No proud Queenslander would believe me but it could be Brisbane in June. It is gorgeously calm and whilst only about 10 degrees during the afternoon, is ideal for exploring the parks, plazas and handsome wide streets.

With its elevated position, central lake, and café, the Retiro is among the best of Spain’s parks. It is so well planned and relaxing that we visited twice including Christmas Day (along with a few thousand locals but not the Beckhams who, according to some girls I teach, were in Lapland). Kerry is adamant she had the best ever coffee there.

This glorious weather partly led to us avoiding Madrid’s famous museums in favour of the outdoors; no doubt also thinking of London’s grey sogginess. Near the palace we found a park hosting clusters of older men playing boules, sat on a bench and thoroughly enjoyed their banter (knowing no Catalyun isn’t a barrier), the vigorous competition and the small but powerful magnets dangling on string with which they picked up and carried their metal balls. A rustic and charming episode; which delayed our Sangria and Estrella beer whilst also proving the best entertainment is often free, local and random.

REtiro 2

We’re fans of hop-on, hop-off bus tours when orienting ourselves to new cities and can recommend these in Spain. Whilst undertaking the Madrid monument excursion I was a little surprised that the pre-recorded commentary was punctuated by music. Some flamenco maybe? Or tunes swarthy and Mediterranean to set one’s passion alight? As we drove past the Prado museum and then the 2,800 room Real Palace what were we listening to? My apologies if you willingly played this in the last month but I don’t think I can imagine a CD which contrasts more weirdly with Madrid’s architectural elegance and urban poise than the kitsch 70’s disco stink that is Boney M’s Christmas Album.

Our Spanish Christmas soundtrack reached its curious nadir in a café by the Plaza del Sol as we dined on Boxing Day. Maybe it’s just me but if you were going to record a version of everyone’s favourite, ‘Little Drummer Boy’, wouldn’t you ensure that the final edit featured, above everything else, a snare drum? Isn’t his drumming (pa-ra-pa-pum-pum) the gift he offers when he (poor little tyke) has nothing else to give? However the song we heard as we ate our pizza and salad totally lacked percussion. It was like hearing Duelling Banjos played solely on kazoos. Surely the banjo (hence the title!) is as connected to that song as the famous scene from Deliverance of gap-toothed Southerners licking their lips and eagerly loosening their trousers.

A cable-car journey across the Camp de Caso; one of Madrid’s biggest parks, was memorable. We’d avoided the park at night because our Lonely Planet told us it was quite seedy and possibly a little dangerous. So there we were Friday lunchtime when Kerry first spotted one down below. Toward one end of the park a thin road crawls through the hilly, scrubby wilderness. There they were. Long white boots, G-strings and skimpy tops. Dozens of hookers along the road making it a surreal, snaking, outdoorsy knocking shop.

guell

Many inquisitive cars quietly crept (do Goodyear make a tyre named the Brothel Creeper?) up the hill and some were parked near the trees; conceivably swaying, mid-transaction, Sandman Panel Van style. It was not many degrees above freezing and the girls were near naked so I just hoped their mums had included a thermos of hot soup in their packed lunches. Just to the north is a theme park complete with roller coasters and Tower of Terror so Camp de Caso caters for everyone’s entertainment needs. Amusement rides for the urchins and courtesy of the girls on the road, amusement rides for the office worker who has, as far as his colleagues are concerned, slipped out for a lonely lunch.

Our train ticket indicated that we would depart for Barcelona at 7:45 and in decidedly un-British fashion, that is exactly what it did. If I were to pass the rest of my days without drawing breath whilst on a bus I would be delighted. But train travel is an exciting, romantic affair. We had cosy, ample seats, headphones for the audio entertainment and a kindly attendant gave us sweets from his cane basket. TV monitors constantly updated our progress on a digital map and told the temperature and our speed which was a steady 200 k’s; quite leisurely for European trains but surprisingly quicker and smoother than a 1984 Nissan Exa. The ticket also suggested that we’d pull into the Barcelona Sants station at 1:05. We did. Splendid stuff.

Barcelona is a dynamic, invigorating city. From our motel room balcony we could see the Sagrada Familia; the astonishing church Anton Gaudi began building in the late 1800’s. He was still shaping his moderniste masterpiece in 1925 when he stepped under an accelerating tram. However the project continues with the temple’s 170-metre central steeple to be completed by 2020 (I wouldn’t book a room just yet). Therefore like much in Europe that we’ve wanted to enjoy, it is hidden behind scaffolding and green meshing. Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, Athens’ Pantheon, Budapest’s Heroes’ Square and the Watford KFC are just some iconic monuments that have annoyingly been under repair when we’ve visited.

Sagrada

Kerry and I rode the funicular (it sounds like a combination of fun and tubercular which is a fair description) up to Montjuic; the mountainous site of the 1992 Olympics where we walked around the main stadium. We also peered across the diving pool and towers that have Barcelona’s cityscape as a magnificent backdrop and offer a sporting vista only surpassed by the MCG scoreboard every time Collingwood is deservedly beaten.

Apart from Gaudi’s various organic sculptures, the highlight of Guell Park was a grungy Spanish busker. Her throaty interpretation of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ was a cracker despite our confidence that, whilst she was singing in English, like Yoko, she undoubtedly spoke none. But she certainly earnt the couple of Euros (coins not kangaroos) we dropped into her hat. Our Spanish Christmas holiday was wonderful.

bobby

 

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Melbourne Footy Trip- Cream of Cauliflower Soup and the No Repeat Workday

CG

My work colleague was aghast.

“You get up just after four to go to a lunch?”

I nodded. “It’s my favourite lunch of the year. There’s significant tradition attached. I look forward to it like a bear does a nap.”

The flight from Adelaide to Melbourne means we’re in the city early with a big day of ritual and rigour ahead. At the Princess Theatre’s Federici Bistro we have a coffee and hot breakfast to open proceedings. The table service is a treat and sets an amicable tone.

For the third year running the weather is bright and sunny although it’s Colorado crisp. We then set off on a much-loved walk past Carlton Gardens, and along Nicholson Street. We pause at a fetching terrace house whose for sale sign and engaging photos catch our eye.

“Righto. Let’s see who can guess the asking price,” suggests Trev.

“Eight hundred,” offers Andrew, a Port Lincoln resident where the real estate agents are often more aggressive than Boston Bay’s great white sharks.

“1.2,” I murmur without confidence.

“1.4,” Trev bids.

I check my phone. “1.6,” I announce. We walk on.

NFA

We swerve eastwards onto Rae Street. It’s technically afternoon when we push open the front door of the North Fitzroy Arms, but only just. Perce is sitting at his table with what appears to be a thimble of lager in his hand.

With a galaxy of stars on deck the Footy Almanac lunch is soon underway. Jack Hawkins is generous and humble. Gastronomically, three votes go to the Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Hazelnuts and Truffle Oil.

It’s a typically terrific afternoon of conversation and cups. Our old school mate and new recruit Andrew is related to half the planet. Of course, he and JTH are second cousins. As I’d expect for a footy community, I enjoy chatting over lunch and then in the bar about Tim Rogers, building schools in Uganda, Battery Point’s Prince of Wales hotel and Paul McCartney, among other topics.

*

Saturday, we take an Uber to Richmond’s All Nations pub. It’s the first in an endless stream of Toyota Camrys. I think it’s the law. Three votes go to the bangers and mash. It’s perfect pre-game tucker.

We then take my favourite annual bus journey in the All Nation’s slightly battered white van around the surrounding streets to the MCG. And before we can chorus, “complimentary shuttle” we’re on the 50-metre arc for Port and Carlton.

van

It’s a decent game with the conclusion in doubt until late in the narrative, but despite the affixed occasion of Kade Simpson’s 300th there’s a certitude about Port and their superior weaponry. Absent friend Chrisso’s nephew Justin Westhoff continues his evergreen form while Robbie Gray’s rubbery evasion allows the teal tribe to triumph. Ouch, it hurt my fingers to type this.

We’re then contractually obliged to adjourn to the Young and Jackson pub for the Crows and Eagles. It’s mostly a dispiriting affair and just as the season threatens to scarper to Bali on a cheap Jetstar flight we kick six goals to sneak home. We ring old friend and my cousin, Boogly for his birthday.

*

Sunday is yet another bright, wintry day and we venture by Uber’s ubiquitous Toyota Camry to Lygon Street for lunch. We get that it’s highly competitive and times are tough, but vow to walk past any restaurant touting for our custom. Complimentary garlic bread fails to win us over. Call us stubborn.

italian

We then find ourselves in the sun at a red-check tablecloth with a glass of Peroni. Our hosts are playing acid-jazz funk while the neighbouring diner has what sounds like Cannonball Adderley tinkling away. Somehow, this mash-up works and we munch our pizza and enjoy a languid hour.

Our weekend traditionally concludes at South Wharf’s General Assembly and in the Toyota Camry on the way there our Uber driver has the radio on Gold 104.3. He talks of its 10k No Repeat Workday as if it’s a triumph of modern marketing- “Just last week Narelle from Nunawading won the 10k!” Perhaps it is.

In the bar we’re sleepy and winding down like clocks. There’s an acoustic guitar duo playing in the corner and they have the rare skill of making every song, including some of rock’s finest tunes, sound like a Matchbox Twenty out-take. It seems sonically impossible.

Still, it’s been yet another fun weekend of footy and giggles, and we look forward to the 2019 edition.

guitar