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The Killers in The Taminga

party pies

AFL Grand Final morning is fantastic. Buzzing expectations, glancing yet again at your watch, and finding stuff to distract the racing mind. At this point my cousin would apply Sparkling Ale, but today we choose modest exercise.

It’s cool in the Clare Valley, and the sun’s out, and the trees and the fairways of the golf course burst with warm promise and stratospheric, if fragile, hope. We only play nine holes, so we don’t need a lunchtime Zimmer or gopher. I take it as a minor omen that I don’t lose my ball.

The town has three pubs and these are, of course, the Top, the Middle and the Bottom pubs. Australians really do enjoy a rare and efficient grasp of geography. With an alluring alliterative splash, the Bottom is also the Bentley’s, and the Top is, yes, you guessed it, the Taminga.

Our tables were by the open windows overlooking the street, and as the breeze dashed in and out, we could see trucks and utes, lazily circling the roundabout. Opposite was Pink’s Mitre 10 Hardware, and I was fearful that this sleepy winery village had been invaded by that dreadful wailing popster. Imagine my relief upon learning that the Pink family has run their store for six generations, and never released a hideously overwrought album of faux-feminist tosh.

pinks

In order to set the afternoon’s rules of play I said, “What do you reckon? Every time Bruce (the match commentator) says, ‘clever’ Mozz has to woof down his beer.”

All agreed, except for Mozz.

In truth, drinking games are best left in our juvenile past, and we quickly recognised that no earthly good could come of my idea. Plus, there was the after-dark, safely back in our room, Karaoke to follow, and we had Ol ’55, Glen Campbell and the enormously patient Neil Diamond to cheerfully demolish.

Is there anything that generates such excessive expectation as complimentary party pies? No, of course not. And there were also wedges put out by the bar staff, but these conglomerates of oil and mistreated potato put me in mind of a semi-mythical fat-berg, easing along a London sewer in a decidedly sinister fashion.

Don’t you love suddenly remembering a great song? One you’ve not heard in a while? The pre-match entertainment was American band The Killers who I’ve always admired. Their fifteen-minute set was a treat, in contrast to Meatloaf, universally known as the evil mastermind responsible for the “Massacre at the MCG.”

But it’s only at the post-game concert that they played their finest song, “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Included on their 2004 debut Hot Fuss, it’s a classic of heartland rock. For days now, I’ve had it on repeat at home, in the car, and for personal health reasons, at work.

It reminds me of U2 from their Joshua Tree era, when they were the mightiest band on the planet. There’s a rousing intro which is reminiscent of “Where The Streets Have No Name,” as the pounding drums and catchy guitar conjure an anthemic boldness, and a soaring gospel quality.

Like so much of Bono and band’s output, it’s about the seeking of redemption.

I want to stand up, I want to let go

You know, you know; no, you don’t, you don’t

I wanna shine on in the hearts of man

I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand

Now, Bono is largely a git wearing glasses around the clock, but for two decades the Dubliners were remarkable. They combined words and music with singular mastery.

As the Sweet Inspirations choir bursts to joyous life on the refrain- “I’m got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” I’d love to be at a huge, summery football stadium when the crowd sings along, with front man Brandon Flowers waving his microphone at the bouncing masses. A sign of modern esteem is parody, and the British comic Bill Bailey once pronounced in response to The Killers, “I’ve got ham, but I’m not a hamster.”

“Mr Brightside” may be more popular, and a track on which Richmond Tigers star Jack Riewoldt guests, but “All These Things That I’ve Done” is a stirring song that takes me to splendid places.

Places offering party pies, for free!

Taminga

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My best pubs

 

Love a list. Love a pub. Don’t you?

This week the Footy Almanac sought opinion on our favourite pubs. I instantly penned a digital love letter to some cracking watering holes. How could I refuse?

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks- St Albans, Hertfordshire

England’s oldest and most charismatic boozer. Ceiling so low it made me feel like a centre half-forward when I walked in, and most certainly as I left. We lived about a Par 4 away, and invested some time there on weekends. When we returned in 2014 it was the only pub in town we visited twice with Alex and Max.

cocks

The Magpie and Stump- Mintaro, Clare Valley

Gum trees and vineyards; idyllic beer garden. No aural pollution from within or without, just birdsong. Happily by its bar on a rainy Sunday morning before the SANFL grand final I first heard a publican say, “Another cup of tea, Vicar?” which amuses me more than it should.

Prince of Wales- Kapunda, South Australia

Hometown favourite. Colossal former mine host. When I lived five hours away in Kimba, and would visit, he’d greet me with, “Hello, West Coast smack-head.” I knew then that he missed me. Also home of spoofy.

The Kings Inn- Mousehole, Cornwall

Redolent of pirates and rum, romance and treasure. Of course, it’s pronounced Moz-all.

kings

The Exeter- Rundle Street, Adelaide

Eclectic perfection. Once, this happened: Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remain, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. We met in school. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

ex

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Honourable mentions

The Goat- St Albans, Hertfordshire

The Taminga- Clare

All Nations- Richmond (frequently home to Mick Molloy and Bill Hunter, drinking in concert)

Greenock Tavern- Barossa Valley (mine host Norton, and then Mick)

Lemon Tree- Carlton (sadly now gone; snuck in there when in Melbourne during my mulleted 1980’s)

Seacliff Hotel- Adelaide

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What’s your top battle-cruiser?

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The original Footy Almanac post is worth a look and you can find it, and other great stuff here-

Best pubs of all time?

 

 

 

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Grand Final 2016: Country Pubs and Club Sandwiches

magpie

A meandering drive north from Adelaide, the Clare Valley is among my favourite places on the planet. Lush hills host rows of Riesling and cabernet vines, and settlements are sprinkled about, appearing as English villages.

But allow me to be precise. The valley’s best town is Mintaro and in its centre is the superb Magpie and Stump Hotel (est.1851). I’ve minor affection for its architecture although leaning against its bar I first heard a publican say, “Another cup of tea, Vicar?” which amuses me more than it should.

Its beer garden is perfect: generous lawn, tables and chairs, swaying gum trees. Luxuriating in the Magpie and Stump’s faultlessness my lunch arrived: a club sandwich. Of all the cultural contributions of New York state, this, I’d argue, is its finest. How can one not love a club sandwich?

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Following a voluntary diaspora during which our group lived variously in Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Gilgandra, we’re back in Clare for the long weekend. I love tradition, and am thrilled that this one’s returned after too many years.

The old world tone of our visit is enhanced by the medieval floods and tempests. Notwithstanding the problematic marvel of electricity Clare suffers continuing phone and internet outages, meaning we must pay cash for everything. It’s like 1974. My sideburns seem fluffier.

The footy’s approaching so I veer into a winery to collect some sparkling cabernet-shiraz. Despite his splendid location, and gentle days crafting gorgeous things, in our lengthy experience the vigneron remains the grumpiest man within a light-year. I creep in.

“G’day mate. How’s things?”

“Yeah, well, you know we haven’t had internet for three days. Can’t use EFTPOS. What do ya want?”

But there’s something endearing in his longitudinal consistency, and I wonder if it’s a performance, a learned expectation. With two bottles of Anastasia (90+points) under my arm, I retreat.

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With the wife away for work in Noumea (yeah, I know!) wrangling the boys during the grand final is a challenge, but there’s a pub, the Taminga, just down the street from our digs. On the footpath we’re welcomed by a bouncing troika of red, white and blue balloons while the red and white pair flutters too. Inside is bright and the floorboards and exposed brickwork are stylish. There’s a kids’ playroom. The boys bolt. Sorted. We claim some barstools.

The match is underway. Flagging the impending tension, minutes and minutes pass without the opening score. Old mate Mozz and I watch and chat, exchanging news over our crisp ales. The Bulldogs hurl themselves into the contest, but we know Sydney is undeniably classy.

A footytrip of lads bursts into the Taminga. They’re all wearing nametags. My collective noun is wrong- it’s a buckshow. I ask the groom’s brother, “So, what’s the plan?”

He replies, “The top pub, the middle pub, the bottom pub.”

Brilliant. On this afternoon his exact words are repeated by other buckshow participants, in country towns across this wide, brown, occasionally soggy land.

The second quarter is colossal with lead changes and surging, ruthless football. After a week of apocalyptic storms, the sunlight bends through the windows like liquid straw. Three farmers are anchored at the bar, and I don’t think they lift their backsides all afternoon. Josh Kennedy rampages across the MCG like a pirate, like a Wall Street wolf.

As it’s grand final day (and Mum’s in the Pacific) I get the boys a lemonade and bag of chips. If it was 1974 and I’d a HQ ute parked out the front, they’d be in it with the AM radio on.

With the groom having enjoyed a costume change from Freddie Mercury to nondescript showgirl the buckshow invades the middle pub. Thanks to mine host half time also heralds happy hour, and like Black Caviar on the turn, Mozz starts to accelerate.

The final hour of the season is astonishing. During other deciders I’ve been neutral, but today demands that like the rest of the galaxy my red, white and blue scarf is on, at least metaphorically. The Bulldogs are tremendous, and now the Taminga becomes seismic.

And at the siren there’s Boyd and Johanissen and Picken and Beveridge and Murphy. The boys watched the last quarter with us, and they’re excited too. How could they not be? I’ve appreciated this grand final more than any since last century. 2016 will forever be talked about with wide smiles and damp eyes.

It’s a weekend of rebirth both in Footscray and up here in this patchwork valley of vineyards and fetching hamlets. I can’t wait for next year.

 

sandwich