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.


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.


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.



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


What’s your top battle-cruiser?


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

Best pubs of all time?





AFL Round 10- Adelaide v Carlton: The Pogues or Paul Kelly?


Our eldest son lost his front tooth yesterday. Already dangling, the other is now lurching across his gum. He is six.

Smiling, he is a little like Shane MacGowan, the lead singer of The Pogues. You know, the one who somehow maintains a pulse. Despite his sustained dedication to not, over these last four decades.

With the annual, happy promise of snow, a big Norwegian spruce in Trafalgar Square, and BBC Radio 2 being obliged to play “Fairytale of New York” every fourteen minutes across December, England does Christmas better than Australia.

It just works better in the dark and the cold.

“Fairytale of New York” is a superbly bleak song. Marrying misery with a rousing melody, the doomed couple bicker and snarl, and of course, it ends badly for them.

Which connects to both Carlton and Adelaide, except that it is only May. For much of the first half, the football goes back and forth, perversely suggesting the call and response form of the duet between Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl

I could have been someone

Well so could anyone

You took my dreams from me

When I first found you

I kept them with me babe

I put them with my own

Can’t make it all alone

I’ve built my dreams around you

While this festive ode is euphoric, Sunday’s MCG fixture was dour, and for much of it, lacking music. There would be grander joy within an afternoon spent shopping in Luton. At least there’d be the chance that your umbrella might be picked up in the sleety gale and speared into a Bedfordshire oak tree.

In their peculiar tribute to “Fairytale of New York”, The Crows continue to set their watches to Christmas Island time, well behind that in Melbourne, chronologically and in humanitarian/football supporter terms. And so they only have two goals at the major break. Adelaide’s pre-season strategy of starting in an excruciating way persists into a tenth week. John Farnham has enjoyed shorter retirements.

Norwood boy and Crows fan Paul Kelly’s “How To Make Gravy” is our finest seasonal song. Like The Pogues’ tune, it is jubilant in its despair. Both are anchored in familial misfortune. Each begins with a gentle, welcoming melody, and then erupts into a torrent of regret.

Living in St Albans, just north of London, Paul Kelly’s tour de force was my umbilical cord to Australia. Its evocative power, and fraught, jailed brother were overwhelming. On many a Friday evening I played this song in our tiny townhouse, after beers at The Bunch of Cherries, The Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, or The Goat.

When Peter Luscombe’s drums kick in at

I guess the brothers are driving down

From Queensland and Stella’s flying in from the coast

They say it’s gonna be a hundred degrees

Even more maybe, but that won’t stop the roast

I’d be a goner. The heat, the ritual, the anguish. There I’d be, on our couch, blubbing away, wondering what the feck we were doing half a world from home, having, in a sense, voluntarily imprisoned ourselves. Both songs signify Christmas and the end of the year. Although winter has not begun, 2014 is already finished for The Blues and The Crows.

Yarran and Betts have some electric moments, while Thomas for Carlton and Laird for the vanquished, contribute meaningfully. Kade Simpson appears to roam about unchecked and collects a mammon of disposals. There are more clangers than a Chinese gong workshop, and Adelaide’s sixteen behinds is telling.

I’d like to say that the second half was artistic and masterful like Paul Kelly and The Pogues, but I can’t. The error and turnover rates fell. Each team kicked eight goals. It was close.

Within a few weeks, our son will have a new front tooth, and his smile will again be complete.

Adelaide needs to stop its decay, and stop it urgently.



St Albans and her pubs: a love story




The blacksmiths arms

bold & jetlagged after Heathrow

your lunch arrived with scampi, chip and beans (baked not green)

The goat

in its tiny garden during those terrifying, thrilling weeks

we designed our new life.

The subsequent summer; Monopoly with Jayne and Karina and actually finishing!

The lower red lion

Cheese Club in quaint progress; we watch like anthropologists.

drinking in the lush, bustling beer festival

with Emma and George late that May

The six bells

Roxy’s first pub drink (bowl of water; mostly ignored)

after she dashed across Verulamium Park

in the icy, Six Nations Rugby afternoon

The rose and crown

the sandwich pub & her tranquil fire.

we muse over our hopes and remote home, at a squat table

Ye olde fighting cocks

On a bench by the gushing, gargling Ver.

Astonishing, on every visit, at its impossibly low ceiling.

The spotted bull

A jubilant call from Classic Sovereign- The Brambles was ours-

so we were moving from Mrs. Thomas’ B&B

& Damo & his awesome weetbix teeth.

Suddenly caring for that sport on rugby world cup morning

& our last lunch in England; Christmas day.

The king harry

Fruli for you on Fridays and over Hoegarden

Father Manus spitting about Nicholas Breakspear, England’s only Pope, da bleedin’ fooker

The white hart tap

in hazy September sunshine, both wide-eyed over cheese steaks

The vintry

Once proud home of the nine sausage lunch, assembled on a mashy gravy pillow (what a country)

The bunch of cherries

chattering, after school ales (just another half for Fiona) then

cycling home, into the weekend, along the ghostly Alban Way

The white hart

One Friday as we sip, an ambulance crashes on Holywell Hill (second that week!)

& our unsettling and wonderful, last few nights & freak-out days

The hare and hounds

a pint with my cricket-mad father-in-law and cricket-mad Matt,

a 20/20 match on Sky TV and the Ashes agony begins…

The three hammers

after a brisk autumnal ramble out to Chiswell Green

we and Sunday roast and Yorkshire pudding and just the two of us.

The cross keys

curry and naan on metal plates and my mixed grill surprise.

Kathleen, Paddy and Louise-

snowy Hertfordshire schools: shut that bright and crisp afternoon.

The white lion

the petanqued beer garden

& how, vanishing summers ago, on their first day, mum and dad

recounted stories of our life in that other world; far, far away.