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Ladies Day at the Ashbourne Cricket Club

Beneath the trees I see a rickety wooden stand, and a row of old couches.

Pumping music floods across the lush outfield. It’s jazz/techno/funk/fusion with an accompanying saxophonist. He’s slight, sporting a pork pie hat and dwarfed by black speakers on tall tripods. Previously living next door, he returns annually to provide the soundtrack. It’s the strangest broadcast I’ve heard at a cricket match.

After a while my ears and eyes accept these peculiarly arranged nuptials and welcome the enhanced festivity.

Ladies Day at the Ashbourne Cricket Club is underway.

Thirty-odd women (the hyphen’s crucial here) are at six long tables on the long off boundary, affably ignoring the sporting action. Now, does Ladies Day carry a possessive apostrophe? Do they own it or is this adjectival? Which better illustrates their experience? My fear is that the women do most of the work for their own day, but then I’m assured the males began preparations in the kitchen around dawn.

Along with its pocket-sized community the oval’s nestled in an attractive valley at the confluence of Bull Creek and Finniss River. It’s just up from the church and the Greenman Inn. We’re between Strathalbyn and Willunga, and the Mount Lofty Ranges sits right there to our immediate west.

At the 2016 census this hamlet recorded a population of 261 yet fields two senior teams and a junior side. Adelaide Oval’s soil was originally sourced in Ashbourne, and further elevates the celebrated status of the club.

The cricket itself is almost apologetic with looping deliveries, batting which prods towards the cherry rather than bludgeons it and fielding that’s a tragi-comic mix of purposeful and accidental. The infield appears impenetrably spongy. It’s like underwater cricket. The scoring shots seem to be sixes and lofted fours but even these are like fluky pitching wedges from high handicappers. Instead of a Kookaburra they could be using foam bats and a nerf ball.

Just up from the lone saxophonist there’s an outdoor bar so I ask the chap in charge, ‘What’s the score?’

Fishing about in an esky he replies, ‘Langhorne Creek is 7/70 after 35 overs.’

‘40 overs a side? You shouldn’t have many to chase down.’

He laughs. ‘It’s B grade cricket. No guarantees.’

Indeed. I was in a Kapunda side that was rolled for about 35 against Riverton. But they only got the runs with nine down. Fonz, a team-mate in Kimba, played in a country carnival team that was knocked over for two.

By contrast I later learn that in October 1954 Ashbourne icon H.R. Meyer took 6/65 against Langhorne Creek.

He was 69 years old.

A late-innings six is skied into the foxy mid-wicket scrub and melancholy minutes follow. The musician continues, as U2 sang, to ‘breathe’ into his saxophone. Brows are furrowed and the fielders stomp about in the undergrowth. At the Ladies Day tables much wine is downed, obliviously, before the ball is hoiked back at the wicket, finally.

Lunch is then served with a handful of deliveries remaining in the visitors’ innings and the amassed ladies begin to file towards the clubrooms. I hope they enjoy their chicken and (tossed) salad.

Suddenly, a midwicket slog at us under the trees. The barman (and likely OHS&W officer) yells, ‘Watch out!’ But I can’t see for the canopy. The ladies remaining put their hands over their glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and not their heads in an impulsive display of their true personal priorities. On the rope a fielder snatches at the ball. He turfs it. Blokes behind the bar shake their capped bonces, with one suggesting he has the ‘best hands in the club.’ The ball dribbles over the boundary.

Ladies Day and the resident saxophonist continue. I know none of the players, spectators, or officials but there’s been rejuvenation in seeing their shared enterprise, even for twenty wistful and nostalgic minutes.

We hop in the car. We’ve a winery appointment.

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Pub Review: Greenman Inn, Ashbourne

Often seen as a carved ornamentation on churches, the Green Man motif originated in Sumerian, Mesopotamian, and Byzantine cultures. Nowadays, there are countless British boozers named for The Green Man, and it’s the name of a tranquil Fleurieu pub snuggled between Willunga and Strathalbyn.

We’d never been, and lunch is at noon. Claire’s arranged this, as part of a magnificent day’s excursion.

A roomy bar. It drinks in the golden afternoon light. A moment passes but then the absences announce themselves: no screens, no music, no pokies a-janglin’, no incessant bed of horse-racing babble.

It’s the front bar as traditionally experienced: a place to talk and imbibe and be among others, and this communal quiet can be a rarity. The bombardment upon our ears now equals the manufactured and sustained assault on our eyes.

Outdoors is a verdant municipal park with lawns both broad and uncluttered. There are front, side, and rear verandas, then out the back a paved patio, and finally an elevated expanse next to the remaining wall of a ruin. We could claim any of these painterly places but find our table beneath a tree. At once it’s a private room and offering a panorama of the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges.

The Greenman’s an acoustic haven.

Pub lunch menu. Lovely. Here we go. Order burger. Easy. But it comes with both pineapple and beetroot.

And here’s my reaction to this.

In recent years I’ve increasing affection for beetroot and decreasing tolerance for pineapple. I think these are connected. Although, the latter is cultural not epicurean with a possible factor being the PM absconding to Hawaii that summer as his country burnt. Beetroot and pineapple can’t cohabitate, so I ask for the omission of Golden Circle’s finest (alleged) fruit ring.

Of course, everything’s a political determination, especially the purposeful denial of pineapple.

Behind us is a soccer pitch-sized carpark. In a triumph of gravelly multi-tasking, it’s shared by the pub and Eastern Fleurieu School (enrolment: 26 pupils). This utilitarian concept continues to the north where pine trees guard the community church. Nearby is a table tennis club (meeting most Tuesdays). Leather clad and genderless motorcyclists stop by the road-side stall which with quiet trust offers:

Roses- $5

Flowers- $2

Plants- $2.

Our lunch is unhurried, as all lunches should be. Other diners drift by and smear our green palette with denim and cheesecloth. The fire truck roars past like a throaty, lumbering quadruped. A quarter hour later it returns. I wonder about the causative combustion, once errant, now extinguished.

While neither Claire nor I love our meals the context compensates. For me lunch is only ever vaguely concerned with food; it’s simply a pretext to conversation. A plate of high-end grub (read: microscopic morsels with daubed jus) reveals me as akin to a Eurovision-enthusiast studying musicology at Oxbridge.

With the necessity of a second beer, I move from birdsong to bar and the auditory momentum is unbroken. A component of any lunching encounter, today’s musical score is sublime, a marriage of nature and sympathetic human murmuring. Walking back to Claire and our table, I take in the garden scenery, pleased that my footfalls are silent upon the compliant grass.

A wealth of compulsions can take us to the pub and once there, assorted attractions might bewitch and keep us. At the Greenman Inn in Ashbourne it’s the aural sanctuary.

Treat your ears soon.

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Dawn in Dubai Airport

Early morning.

My favourite time of day as it’s when I’m best aware of my enormous fortune and the garden of wonder that’s you. But I’ve not had one like this before.

Generically, Dubai airport is familiar, and the air is warm and cocooned. There’s buzz and privilege as well as some thrilling strangeness. Just as there should be when travelling.

We saunter about this recognisable and vaguely indecipherable place before claiming a table in Costa Coffee. I feel the delirium of little sleep, and the gentle euphoria of life blissfully interrupted, blended with the expectation of what’s ahead in our week. It’s like when you stay up all night the first time as a teenager and see in the dawn.

There’re people everywhere and I love the secret intimacy of being with you in a crowded place.

As we waited for our coffee – I’m unsure if we ordered food; possibly a small cake – I remember feeling safe. I’m sure it was because of you and the psychological and emotional comfort you bring. I also felt distinctly still, despite hurtling 11,000 kilometres.

These were our first overseas moments together and they’d been an infinity coming. Having fled Australia, we now caught our breath.

It was a key scene in our movie and the camera was rolling.

I recall speaking low and conspiratorially with you. We shared confidences. As you spoke, I had a moment, born of responsibility and devotion. These moments are unexpected and seismic; I think they rush out of our long past and wash over me with a warmth and a love and a relief to which I can only surrender.

It was an episode that to a stranger might have seemed ordinary but was a sublime, quietly joyous hour. It continues to possess deep and subtle symbolic power for me.

Airports are hubs of promise where life can be amplified to magical dimensions. In that otherwise forgettable coffeeshop we were halfway to Europe and our fête, for two.

It was both prologue and epilogue.

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February

February arrives and the dust of our hot holidays settles upon us with its foul, torturing wake. Ahead is but misery and crushing grind as winter looms with its barren hardness.

No, not really!

The year’s rhythm becomes fluid. We lift our eyes and find joy and healthy distraction. February goes very well for us, as Sherbet sang on an unreleased, or maybe even unwritten, anthem.

For decades I promised myself that I’d see Neil Diamond when he toured. I was ready to make good on this when he promptly retired from performing! For $7 this used vinyl captures him rather nicely. Dig!
The annual Fringe Festival commenced and I took the boys to Gluttony where, in keeping with the gastronomic theme, they enjoyed an overpriced can of pop courtesy of my enduring generosity. Their excitement, as the photo attests, was enormous.
Claire, or as she’s known at Ashbourne’s Greenman Inn, Clare, took me on a wonderful outing to many great places. Here we sat beneath a tree and enjoyed lunch and leisurely conversation. Which, they tell me, is the point of lunch.
Being late February we then took in a cricket match. The ACC Bulls is a great country club. In October 1954 one of their finest H.R. Meyer took 6/65 against Langhorne Creek. He was 69 years old. Our best, I wish to believe, remains in front of us. Oh, and congratulations, H.R.
The month’s final sunset was comforting; joyous; an offering of deep warmth.
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ONJ and me

During Saturday’s breakfast on the patio, I popped the needle on Olivia Newton-John’s Greatest Hits.

Instantly, I was six years old and back home in Kapunda. Mum and Dad’s lounge room is again wallpapered, the TV’s black and white and the carpet is burnt orange. It’s winter, and I’ve got on my footy boots. They’ll be on all day.

When Mum and Dad downsized, all the family vinyl came to me and since taking delivery of a retro record player at Christmas I’ve been happily swimming in nostalgia. Some of the albums had been untouched since 1988.

ONJ features prominently on the soundtrack of my childhood.

*

The second song on side 1 is, ‘Banks of Ohio’ and this transports me to a still, musty room on Hill Street in Kapunda. I’m still six and strumming a guitar during my weekly lesson, while the massively patient teacher, Deborah, helps my fingers to stretch across the chords. I love the idea of a guitar and singing, but the latter is galaxies beyond me and my gruesome tone deafness.

ONJ does the definitive version of this nineteenth century standard. Her voice and the melody are bouncy, and I always loved the basso backup of celebrated singer Mike Sammes who subterraneously echoes Livvy’s, ‘where the water flowed.’ Sammes also contributes on, ’Let Me Be There’ and ‘If You Love Me (Let Me Know).’

Trying to sing along with Deborah, I’m a little anxious about the lyrics. The narrator declaring that she, ‘held a knife against his breast’ is squirmingly grown-up and I vow to avoid this so-called Ohio River. Bad stuff happens on its distant, murky banks.

Nowadays the tune would come with attendant humourless warnings: adult themes, graphic violence, and persistent mention of a river that enjoys confluence with the Mississippi in Illinois.

The song’s a murder ballad.

*

Sipping coffee out the back and then emerges gently from our turntable the 1975 Grammy winner for Record of the Year. As it plays across the garden we discuss ‘I Honestly Love You’ with Claire suggesting it’s ‘depressing’. I counter that it is certainly pretty although I’d always viewed it as a disposable love song.

On it Livvy’s voice is beautifully warm and pure, but not drenched in palpable sadness. It bathes the listener in sunlight. But as with much music there’s a disconnect between the medium and the message.

Hearing it as Mum played it at home and on the car AM radio, my generation’s all logged many hours in its company. But following breakfast last Saturday we were moved by repeated listens and became profoundly aware of its narrative intensity.

As we learn both characters in the song are trapped by marriage, and unable to be together. The lyrics are by Peter Allen, who at the time of composition, was married to Liza Minelli but had fallen in love with a man who was similarly stuck.

I’m hesitant to see all texts as autobiographical because sometimes stories are just fictional. Not everything is inspired by real life. But there’s a good case here.

The opening verse is disarming: tender, vulnerable, brave. I imagine our main character talking in a café or a park. 

Maybe I hang around here

A little more than I should

With this we’re instantly eavesdropping on a private confessional and there’s tension as ONJ sings, ‘I got somewhere else to go’.

While the chorus of, ‘I love you, I honestly love you’ is necessary, the verses and the bridge are superior because these are where she reveals the story. The characters remain ageless, genderless, and timeless.

In the second verse we hear, ‘Maybe it was better left unsaid’ and this second ‘maybe’ confirms our narrator’s nervousness. Her vulnerability is crushing, and we all know a bit about this. The repetition of ‘chance’ in the third verse shows how powerless they both are in this sometimes-cruel universe.

How can I have been unaware of all of this since I was a child?

The way the strings soar in the final verse is stirring while a harp is used sparingly but to great effect. It lifts a tender song to an enhanced fragility. The eternally imponderable is here too in

If we both were born in another place and time

This moment might be ending in a kiss

But there you are with yours and here I am with mine

So, I guess we’ll just be leaving it at this.

The last line is only superficially dismissive of their plight and given the emotional stakes of the story is also deeply ironic. If we view the song as a monologue, it’s dramatic and affecting.

I love rediscovering old music and reaching a new, heightened appreciation.

*

Of course, many of ONJ’s songs feature women who’ve relinquished or make no claim on their rightful power. These are females for whom life appears to happen rather than be controlled. ‘Sam’ and ‘Please Mr. Please’ are key examples. Claire suggested that maybe ‘Physical’ was in part ONJ actively promoting a feminist perspective.

Students of ‘I Honestly Love You’ will know that it features in Jaws just prior to Amityville’s second shark attack but I prefer to reference the 90’s indie singer Juliana Hatfield who, in 2018, produced an album of ONJ covers. She remarked that

‘I have never not loved Olivia Newton-John. Her music has bought me so much pure joy throughout my life.’

And I agree when she goes on to say, ‘Listening to her is an escape into a beautiful place.’

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Walking each other home

It’d been a forgettable November afternoon at work.

But, one click led to another and I legitimately found myself watching a TED talk by the American writer Anne Lamont. It’s called, ’12 truths I learned from life and writing.’ She is funny and wise and worth hearing on many topics. However, the idea that’s made an impact on me isn’t even one of her declared truths. She was mid-point and as an aside remarked that

We’re all just walking each other home.

I paused the video and sat at my desk for a while, looking at nothing in particular. Like all great poetry this simple arrangement of words held a profound notion. Later I shared the idea with Claire.

It’s about beauty and hope. It suggests joyful partnership and unalterable love. It’s uncluttered. It encapsulates so much.

The twin and universal images of walking and home marry so elegantly.

*

Following Nazeem Hussain’s stand-up comedy gig at the Rhino Room for which Claire was an Auslan interpreter (she did a great job and was funny too) it remained a warm, buzzing evening so we ascended the 2KW bar for a snack and nightcap. The Fringe Festival was well underway. There was much to celebrate.

The streetlights twinkled and if a hens’ night brood hadn’t claimed the deck for a private function then we would’ve drank in the vista over the Festival Centre and Adelaide Oval. Instead, we were happy to sit in a booth.

We returned to the idea of walking each other home.

It is the loveliest thought.

Over her shiraz Claire observed that, ‘It’s an idea that can only really work later in life.’

I agreed that it’d be somewhat ‘previous’ to promise it in one’s twenties, the metaphor of home perhaps being a mood-killer on a first date.

It appears to be an idea that is attributed to nobody in particular and is timeless. Some could see it as a little grim, but for me it speaks of serenity and dignity. It suggests the beach in winter; winery fireplaces and dawn’s first light when the dark is eased back down into the earth.

I’m grateful that I discovered it on a listless afternoon at work.

Although it’s not from a poem, it’s the noblest poetry.

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Semaphore on a Saturday

Leaping into the car we drove straight to Semaphore. It’s a great location to wander and discover. It was mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Having rediscovered vinyl albums Mr V Music is our first stop and it bursts with a huge and broad range. In recent weeks there I’ve found the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! and Beggars Banquet (why no possessive apostrophe?) and Claire left me to it and moseyed next door.

I grabbed Jackson Brown’s masterpiece, Late for the Sky and anticipated getting home and popping it on the retro record player, recently relocated to the patio. My listening pleasure would likely enjoy a beer as its own sunset soundtrack.

Suddenly my wife rushed back into Mr V’s emporium and said, “When you’re done, come next door. They’ve got records too. Even ELO.”

Trashville is tremendous fun.

It’s a retro boutique but does offer other 60’s and 70’s ephemera and yes, they have old vinyl too. Imagine my delight at buying a Best of Glen Campbell for only $5! The cover had been loved with clear enthusiasm, but the record plays perfectly. How excellent to have ‘Galveston’ and the soaring existentialism of ‘Wichita Lineman’ spinning under our veranda as the piping shrikes hop about on our lawn.

Our afternoon in Semaphore was unfolding with simple, sunny joy. Time seemed to be both languid and accelerating.

Trekking east shop-by-shop saw us next venture through the door of Semaphore Pets and Garden. This is a vivid space, and out the back it stretches enchantingly like a jade and lime cave. It’s vegetative and intriguing; warm and lush; engaging and sensory. One could get lost like Bear Grylls.

We especially liked the intimate outdoor dining of Sarah’s Sister’s Sustainable Café, jutting out among the ferns. How great that these adjoining businesses share a fetching aspect.

We left with a rustic birdfeeder that now stands by our pond.

After all this indoor action we decided upon a late-afternoon jetty saunter.

Yet again I was reminded of the elevated ideal that a jetty is an umbilical cord to our better, more mindful selves. Ambling out on the ancient timbers- how awful if these were built only from steel and iron- we yakked about cruise ships and those times the Queen Mary swam past the shoreline like a horizontal skyscraper.

We then moved onto crabbing and also how we casually describe our oceanic activity as ‘swimming.’ Rarely do you see anyone thrashing about in the shallows with a spot of butterfly or backstroke. Standing in knee deep water is generally the extent of our swimming.

Our car was lurking in the shadows next to the Semaphore pub and neither of us had sampled their beer garden, so as courtesy dictates, we swung by. We located a high table and stools and luxuriated with my (quite good) Big Shed Pale Ale at 3.5% and Claire with a friendly glass of white.  

If a story can be defined as a routine interrupted, then an investigation of Semaphore is a splendid weekend narrative.

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Mystery Pub: Brighton Metro

The sixteenth edition of Mystery Pub was underway.

Claire was this month’s pilot and we flew down Tapleys Hill Road and as always neither Tapley nor his/her hill were anywhere in sight. Still, the hill was alive with the sound of Friday afternoon. As always I had no idea where we might be destined. It’s an intoxicating concept.

Being within a particular demographic Escape to the Country holds a curious appeal and we’re often flopped on the couch on a Saturday evening taking in this perennial property porn. In each episode the couple are shown three houses in their county of choice (rarely Shropshire) and the final one is always described by the smug host as the ‘mystery house.’ And most weeks, I’m sure to Claire’s silent dismay, I holler at the screen, ‘Great. The mystery house. Aren’t they all mystery fecking houses?’

For the first time we welcomed guests to accompany us. Old friends and former Kimba residents, Mozz and Kath were in town and had long expressed an interest in the MP notion so we popped them in the back of the motor and before we knew it Claire had skidded to a balletic stop at the Brighton Metro alongside an old Jaguar.

Once we had conquered the maze involving the pokies room, Charlie’s diner, the Sports Bar, Tutankhamen’s tomb, and various other antechambers we burst out, blinking and bordering on dehydration, into the delicious sunlight of Adelaide’s latest beer garden. That it sits on what was once the northern part of the carpark matters not for it’s a big and inviting space and there was a thrilling hub-bub as we claimed a table. It was reserved at 6pm for Bev/Jody/Sue/Matilda or some such as the laminated sign on the table announced.

We had forty minutes. We set to work.

We chatted of folk we knew and as Mozz and Kath have been to the US of A a few times and spectated at pro-golf tournaments they shared stories of encounters with the sport’s elite such as Stuart Appleby and concluded that most were generous and receptive. As you’d hope.

This contrasted sharply with my experience of a former Australian cricket captain who I crossed paths with one morning at Adelaide Oval. It was only he and I and I simply nodded acknowledgement, as decency demands, when he ambled past. I only expected a nod or a quick smile in return. I asked not for an autograph or a tip in Dapto Dogs. Instead, he glared at me as if I’d just done something unspeakable in his shoe. I was aghast. His nickname may have rhymed with ‘Tubby.’

With Mozz sporting a more free-flowing, Woodstock-inspired hairdo and goatee-beard combo talk then moved to who his fashion inspiration might be. I confess it appeared a little unruly and foppish and Kath declared that she calls her husband, ‘Boris.’ Both enjoy a party. Subsequent suggestions included Billy Connelly and a superannuated Dude from The Big Lebowski.

The Happy Hour included beers and wines at $6 and assorted cocktails at reasonable prices. We noted with pleasure that dogs are welcome too and spotted a couple canines perched by the tables. This is emblematic of a pub keen to impress and if I had a choice of buying a Pale Ale for a Golden Retriever or our 39th Test captain, the beer would be poured into a bowl.

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January is here, with eyes that keenly glow

With New Year’s Eve out the road (bed early, eyes shut, ears blocking out the staccato soundtracks of various fireworks displays both legal and otherwise) we move to the serious business of holidays and relaxation or as my friend Nick calls it, relack.

Lake Bonney is our annual setting for this and we now have a bursting itinerary of traditional activities that commence when the teenaged boys race out of bed at the crack of 9.45am and, I suspect, continue to well after I’m safely a-slumber.

No carp were harmed (much) during the taking of this photo as I stylishly alighted Barmera’s jetty into the fresh depths of Lake Bonney.
The Hilton Hotel on South Road (the address is always given as a differentiator from the other Hilton) hosted (probably unknowingly) January’s Mystery Pub. Neither Claire nor I were responsible for the demise of this chip, but during its darkest moments did offer it thoughts and prayers. It would be unfair to say that this chip is the most exciting feature of the pub, so I won’t.
We had our annual late lunch at the Seafaring Fools café on the Broadway. Here’s Claire enjoying a hot Milo.
There’s a $4.50 voucher at the Oodnadatta Roadhouse coming your way if you can guess which boy is currently learning at home.
Since confessing that, for the first time ever, I (in the fetching company of Claire) left Highway One and visited the historic town of Port Wakefield I have been flooded with stories from people who’ve actually been there too. Thanks to both of you. Let’s get some t-shirts made.
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Pub Review: The Rising Sun, Port Wakefield

For the first time ever we left Highway One and went into Port Wakefield.

I must’ve been through the town hundreds of times on the way to the West Coast or Yorke Peninsula over the decades. Very rarely had I thought to go and have a squizz for there was always somewhere else to be, someone else to see.

Port Wakefield’s like the forgotten Beatle or the Turkish Delight in the box of chocolates. Rarely mentioned and rarely loved.

I know nobody from there or anyone who’s even visited. I wonder if a newly-wedded couple has ever gone there for their honeymoon? Did they go crabbing to pass the time? Did they pop in the servo and grab a steak sandwich?

With a handsome town oval, enticing cafés and proud homes it was a pleasant surprise. The streets were ordered and wide and I’m sure Edward Gibbon Wakefield the driver of the European colonisation of South Australia for whom the town is named would’ve been proud.

Claire demanded we visit the Rising Sun pub. I acquiesced.

At the bar Claire inquired about white wine and the barkeep offered something from a cask. She declined and I feared the sun might set on The Rising Sun before the dawn of Happy Hour had even arrived. The barkeep located a glass bottle and glugged a splash into a tumbler. We picked our way past the Friday afternoon punters and the vesty dabs of dirty orange and as is my want in the warmer months headed outside. 

The beer garden was wide and attractive with an outdoor bar and playground. A lush lawn pushed at the distant fences. Pine trees kept guard. Claire spotted a cat sneaking about. On a big screen The Strikers were batting in their BBL final. There was also an outdoor stage. I wondered if the Zep Boys had played there on a long-ago New Year’s Eve. I could imagine a black and yellow sea of crushed Bundy cans on the grass in front of the speakers.

A huge fireplace dominated the space and I reckoned it might be worthy on a cold August night. There were gnarls of locals grinning into their end of week cups.

If it had been winter I would’ve sought out the footy tipping chart that’s compulsory in country pubs. These are a curious but dependable metric of the social health of these little towns. Blue, Barney and Buckets would be right among the tipping leaders come September. One of these would claim the slab of beer and mega meat tray.

My Pale Ale was rancid but otherwise it was worth a visit. I said to myself, ‘Self, we must take the time to visit these places more often.’ Self wasn’t listening and I felt disappointed in my rudeness.

Heading back through the bar Blue had just missed his trifecta on the fourth at Esperance.

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Saturday morning, on the Glenelg North esplanade

The beach was a pale gold and wide.

A few lone swimmers bobbed in the shallows. It was well after 10am, the hour deemed as cut-off for unleashed hounds, but a few dogs bounded along the sand ahead of their owners unbothered by any petty council bylaws. A boat or two scattered atop the shimmering gulf.

Heading north the first one was an elderly woman on a bench. She was alone. She was immersed and had a coffee beside her. She was reading a romance novel. I was instantly buoyed and felt the associated glow of life lived well by the beach.

Nearly a kilometre later I reached the esplanade shelter we call the Mormon Hut. We know it as such because occasionally on the weekend it hosts a group from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who set up displays and stands of pamphlets. I’m unsure if their honeyed ways have netted many flies, but I do admire their optimism and enterprise in setting up churchly shop right by the sea where there’s plenty of pedestrian traffic. If not theological interest.

As I arrived at the MH this morning on the near bench was an aged man also by himself, deep in a book about Greece. It may have been in Greek. He seemed relaxed and at profound peace and was enjoying his Saturday morning of leisure.

With my hands on my hips I puffed and sweated and drew in some air and looked at the other bench. There’s only two tables in the MH. On the northern side was an elderly woman with an iced tea by her elbow. She was reading a large novel. In the minute I was there she didn’t look up.

Opposite her was a man who seemed to be well into his eighties. A walking stick leaned against his seat, diagonally. He had a white beard and was hunched over an equally huge novel. By his elbow was another iced tea. Like his wife he didn’t look up nor speak.

I was pleased to be in their company, momentarily.

Continuing to huff I gazed at the elderly readers, there by the calming ocean, on a mid-summer morning, living exquisitely and with singular application.

Four people by the beach on benches. All engaged by the written word. It was poetically simple. It was as if I, too, had spent a languid hour with a book. It gave me hope and reassurance.

When I got home all drenched and ridiculous I said to Claire, “I’ve just got another idea for our retirement…”

2

On the patio with old friends, listening to Ripper 76

Is there much better than a simple lunch on the patio with old friends, and a retro record player?

Claire and I went to Kapunda High with Stephen who’s lived by the river in Brisbane for decades. He and his wife Eleni were in town having visited family and Kangaroo Island.

With an unforced and graceful joy our conversation moved across our extensive history.

Over at the record player I cue up Side 2 of mid- 1970’s compilation Whopper which is glitter-ball, flared-pants glee. It’s irresistible while Side 1 is mostly turgid country ballads. We all giggle at both the name and wild-haired evocations of Disco Tex and his Sex-O-Lettes and their hit, ‘Get Dancin’.

But this is mere entrée for we then play Ripper 76. Everyone has a story about Ripper 76. It’s the finest compilation album in the catalogue of compilation albums.

Eleni tells us how as a young girl she won a copy in a Brisbane radio station phone-in and this persists as immeasurably superior to winning an icy cold can of Coke from a Black Thunder. She talks of the excitement of her mum driving her into the city to collect her vinyl.

*

Our focus shifted to the global marriage of music and geography. Stephen spoke. “I had ‘Autobahn’ by Kraftwerk ready to go as soon as we hit the autobahn. Next thing a BMW went past us like we were standing still. Must have been doing 200k.”

I then offered. “When I was in California in 1992, we hired a convertible and driving around Santa Monica, heard The Doors’ ‘LA Woman.’ The sun was shining, and it was such a moment.”

Stephen continued the American theme. “As Eleni and I drove into Nevada we played, ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and now, whenever I hear that song I’m immediately back there. We’ve done similar things in the Black Forest and New York.”

Claire asked a question. “Can you do this in Australia?”

My first memory was instant. “Walking through Treasury Gardens to the MCG I was listening to Triple R and Paul Kelly’s ‘Leaps and Bounds’ came on just as the stadium swam into view. It was early in the footy season so the “clock on the silo” said more than eleven degrees but it was still fantastic.”

Our lively topic concluded in Europe when I mentioned Claire and I driving across Sweden and hearing the radio announcer say something like, “Just nu är det riktigt kallt här på landsbygden i Sverige och jag hoppas att du har tätt upp Volvos rutor för det kan komma snö. Hur som helst, det var Billy Joel.”

As lovers of both song and travel what wonderful, remindful privilege we shared. How amazing to enjoy those synchronised soundtracks?

People, place, and musical portraiture.

*

Stephen and I also reminisce on collecting albums together as teenagers. We didn’t buy ones we knew like 10, 9, 8 by Midnight Oil for these were already in circulation but instead sought records that represented new, slightly dangerous terrain.

With Layla and Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominoes and a Yardbirds double album (on transparent vinyl) we edged into the world of blues. However, we also bought the Animal House soundtrack featuring ‘Shout!’ by Otis Day and the Knights, from surely one of the finest toga party scenes in modern cinematography. Before we were adults (clearly) many of us saw this film dozens of times.

As adolescents we also frequently mocked Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and then one night in someone’s wintry loungeroom as we finally listened to it properly, we came slowly to a realisation. Van’s jazz, blues, folk mysticism was brilliant. This was a humbling moment and I think we were all too embarrassed to confess. For many of us this album’s remained an intriguing, lovable companion.

Back on the summery patio I eased myself out of my chair and put on The Best of the Bee Gees- Volume 1 and pondering my wife and our dear old friends I thought of the divergent yet entangled paths we’d taken since leaving Kapunda.

Much had changed, and in some delightful, fundamental ways, nothing had.

5

Spinning Records on our Patio

A while back Mum and Dad gave me all of their vinyl records including a couple Beatles’ singles from the early sixties. I tweeted this photo and explained that I’d inherited these because they’d downsized in the Barossa.

A mate replied saying, “Gee, it must be a small house.”

*

Following the year’s first edition of Mystery Pub which was at the Hilton (on South Road) and returned this verdict: spacious; bland; utilitarian; expensive Claire and I decamped to the patio and cranked up the new (retro) record player and enjoyed a dozen or so albums. Here’s our evening’s top three as voted by me alone (hmmm- selfish):

3. Shilo by Neil Diamond.

This is a magnificent compilation and the cover featured a “connect the dots” which Mum completed at the kitchen table. There were 200 dots and such is my still shaky numeracy that I remember being relieved I wasn’t entrusted with the black pen to bring Neil and his guitar neck to life.

Spence Berland of Record World supplied the cover notes and he wrote that Neil’s voice, “is filled with love, beauty and the type of human pain that everyone can identify with.” Yes, but mercifully for Claire I chose not to sing along for her auditory pain would’ve been profound and possibly, incurable. “Kentucky Woman”, “Cherry, Cherry” and “I’m A Believer” are magnificent and while it has a sublime melody the lyrics of “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” remain just a little bit creepy.

2. Blow Your Cool by the Hoodoo Gurus

I’m fairly confident that this was bought for my 21st by old school friend Chrisso. He couldn’t confirm this but did share that Woodsy and I gifted him Astral Weeks by Van Morrison for his birthday that year. Of course. I’m quite sure that Woodsy is yet to hear this album.

Many of us curated the music for our own coming-of-age parties and I made four C-90 minute cassettes which were each played twice at the Kapunda Golf Club on that distant June night. I recall Chrisso saying that he sequenced “Good Times” from Blow Your Cool to finish his Kapunda Trotting Club event so people would hear it and agree that, yes, they had had a good time at his party. I’m sure we did. Most of The Bangles, including Susanna Hoffs, provided backup vocals on this track, having just returned from a pedestrian crossing in Cairo.

The hit single, “What’s My Scene” features these fantastic opening lines which take us straight into the middle of a lovers’ tiff-

And another thing I’ve been wondering lately / Oh, baby, tell me, where have you been? 

The evening raced by and Claire and I’d drained many cups of tea when we popped on what would be the night’s top selection.

1. Best of The Bee Gees

Another old school friend, Stephen, visited during the week and told us that there’s a statue of the brothers Gibb in Redcliffe, Brisbane where the young Mancunians found themselves in the 1950’s. The unveiling was a mighty affair and Stephen suggested the statue could well rank in the top ten attractions in Redcliffe.

Sadly, the Bee Gees are now The Bee Gee but the album is tremendous with soaring harmonies and superb pop sensibilities. “Massachusetts” might be difficult to spell but is probably a better title for the song than “Punxsutawney.” Other gems are, “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” and one of my all time favourites, “To Love Somebody” which I have mercilessly destroyed with shiraz-driven warblings across the decades.

All are excellent examples of pop music, but excuse me for I’m about to drop the needle on Ripper 76.

5

Three European Beers

Mowed the lawns and bought the boys a new cricket bat so thought it only fair to shout myself a Norwegian lager.

So, I did.

The paragraph on the can includes some stereotypical gibberish asserting that Trost, “brings together ancient Norse philosophy and modern brewing techniques to deliver an impossibly smooth and sublimely refreshing premium lager.”

No, Trost lager is probably best taken in a Norwegian wood during the depths of a snowy winter with one’s taste buds frozen shut while a reindeer pokes one in the snout. Watch that antler! Ouch!

In a conclusion sure to anger the Norse gods I found the beer uncannily reminiscent of Great Northern lager, from that other famous Nordic outpost, Cairns. Do your worst Baldur, Borr and Bragi for I found it muted and lacking fatally in charisma.

Using the Pitchfork alternative music metric I give it 2.0. Avoid.

My late Saturday excursion then took me about 900 kilometres south to Dargun, Germany for the approximately homophonic Bear Beer. It was a considerable improvement on my previous ale but that’s akin to declaring a screeching cat better than, well, anything in Pink’s back catalogue.

Bear Beer. Is this beer made from a bear? Or is it beer that might be drunk by a bear? I’ll have to jump the Adelaide Zoo fence after midnight and pop by Wang Wang and Funi’s enclosure with a six pack and see what they reckon.

In a confusing development the label now reveals that the beer is approved by the Royal Danish Court. Does this mean that Princess Mary chugs a few back Sunday night while watching the Magpies and GWS? No, I think not.

While the refreshment was inoffensive this was also precisely the problem for it had been stripped of robust taste. Beer without taste becomes merely functional, like a Soviet-era apartment block on the outskirts of Prague.

Don’t avoid as quickly as the Trost, but still avoid. 4.7 on the Pitchfork scale, you edgy kids.

The final leg of my hoppy world tour saw me touchdown in Holland which, if I can believe this label, is home to a beverage cunningly called Hollandia. The can suggests the beer was first manufactured in 1758.

Now, I love that European beer has a proud history with Stella Artois dating back to 1366. It’s a remarkable beer, befitting its 700 year legacy. While Hollandia is only 250 years old, I think it should be much, much better. Thomas Cooper first brewed Sparkling Ale in 1862 and as an upstart, it’s streets in front.

Hollandia’s not a disaster. It’s approachable, but then again, a beer shouldn’t punch you on the beak when you first meet. It possesses a zing that’s a little Amsterdam and canals and bicycles to the Rijksmuseum.

If a mate brings some to a barbie at your house, don’t kick them out before they can enjoy a neck chop. 6.1 on the scale.

0

New Year’s Eve, 2021

New Year’s Eve’s a funny old day. During daylight it’s one of my favourite days but once the sun’s down I lose interest.

As a teenager in Kapunda I remember regularly waking early on the last day of the year- often before anyone else at home- and in the still dawn riding my bike around town and evaluating everything through my decidedly adolescent eyes. The Main Street was quiet- there was not a HQ Holden to be seen or heard- and I’d feel something probably akin to gratitude for the place- my place- and wonder about the year ahead, due to get underway in a few, brief hours.

It was always a solitary exercise but I’d experience connectedness to my hot, dusty hometown.

Claire and I and the dogs have just returned from the beach where the loose streams of walkers along the wide, flat sand suggest many others have resisted a sleep-in and are also extracting what they can from 2021 before it’s too late.

Happy new year to you!

Early January the boys and I (and later Claire too) headed to Barmera on our traditional trip. Here’s the last known photograph of our yabby nets prior to them being hooked by some miserable Collingwood supporting sod.
With Alex turning thirteen he and I spent a night up in Hahndorf to mark his official ascent (or is it descent) into teenagerhood. It would be churlish to mention that I narrowly won the mini-golf, so I won’t.
Max had his birthday at the Beach House (it remains an effort not to call it Magic Mountain). It was a fun morning and my hearing, the audiologist tells me, will soon have recovered.
Late afternoon at the Kapunda Mine Chimney on our wedding day this selfie captured our photographers too. How often is a photo taken of the photographers? Not often enough so thank you both.
Here we are, mid-April, on our honeymoon in the Flinders having just had a picnic lunch. If you listen carefully to this photo you can hear the lonesome call of the crows.
At the annual Footy Almanac lunch at Australia’s best soup pub, the North Fitzroy Arms, the spicy pumpkin was, as Rick Stein himself might’ve enthusiastically said, tasty.
We e-cycled the Riesling Trail one June Saturday and Claire enlisted a stick to correct our host town’s spelling.
In early spring I spent two days writing while overlooking the beach at Port Elliot before Claire joined me and we went for a dawn walk to begin our weekend.
Alex received a retro record player for Christmas. In between him dropping the needle on some hippity-hop vinyl I ushered him into the sacred world of Ripper 76.