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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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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.