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A brisk lunchtime in the Cathedral Hotel

hoggy

The satirical polemicist Voltaire once asked, “Is there anything better than a brisk lunchtime session in the Cathedral Hotel, on the first morning of an Ashes Test?”

In all matters philosophical and cricketing our French friend is accurate so I presented myself at the revitalised old boozer. It’s a Keith Stackpole jaunt from Adelaide Oval; our tremendous, alluring oval.

Friday night at the Adelaide Lutheran Christmas function (Catholics now admitted) Harmsey said, “Meet you at the Cathedral pub. 11.15.” I was enthralled and curious that the declared time wasn’t 11 or 11.30, but 11.15. This promised things exciting or dimly dangerous or both.

Whilst grateful I cling to a heady dream in which my ear is bent by this thrilling invitation: Meet you tomorrow in the _____ Hotel. Front lounge. 4.37 pm.

4.37. How good would this be? Who could resist such an exotic offer?

Strolling in from the misty wet the ancient Barossan adage swirled overhead, as it must for those with a connection to its verdant valley: One at eleven, or eleven at one. The Cathedral was bellowing; part matinée circus, part West End production. The Barmy Army merchandise card-table in situ, its custodians in throaty, summery cheer. Only 11.15? It was as if the pub had been throttling along for hours. Perhaps it had.

For me, an unsurpassed way to invest an energetic hour or two is to stand about a tavern’s table, by an open window, with a loose knot of like-mindeds, and trade cricket yarns: personal, public and apocryphal.

And so we did.

 

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Outside, a curiously impotent army of Warwick Capper number 39’s had mobilised, while inside, PJ Flynn and company attacked their fare (2016 Burgers of the Year, no less. No word yet on the 2017 winners- I’ll keep you posted) and the stories impatiently assembled.

Of course, after the obligatory SK Warne and IM Chappell anecdotes, we migrated to RM Hogg. When he played for Australia I was a kid who loved his ferocious bowling, and the hostility with which he steamed to the wicket; all Serengeti chesting, and scowl. He presented as one you’d have on your side, in a fight (Do cricketers have scraps and footballers have barneys?). Even his blonde locks flounced with anger.

Flynnie’s story went thus:

After his international career concluded Rodney played in Willowfest: the Australian amateur cricket championships, up in Mildura and Wentworth. Hoggy remained properly livid and fast. One afternoon his captain threw him the ball.

As he paced out his run-up a mischievous scorer, grasping the demon quick’s permanent volatility, yelled out towards the 123 Test-wicket veteran with faux ignorance, “Bowler’s name?”

From over my Coopers Session Ale in the Cathedral I could envision Hoggy’s lips tightening in a snarl. He didn’t bother to respond. But his captain did. “Hogg” came the reply.

Not done yet, the scorer chirped again, “One ‘g’ or two?”

As the yarns volleyed across our ales, a film-crew strode in and captured one of the Barmy Army, in staccato, bursting voice. By now the Wiz and his post-modern disciples had either departed, or been moved on by management. Perhaps Dr G Edelsten had invoked an injunction.

The Don DeLillo of cricket authors, Gideon Haigh, shared some probing insights on Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and the outlandish turf wickets he’d encountered recently in Melbourne. As lunchtime pub entertainment and education, it was unparalleled.

I was asked of my earliest Adelaide oval cricket memory. It was the 1974/75 Ashes with Dad. On the scoreboard hill among fractured foam esky lids like Canadian ice-floe, and floppy towelling hats reminiscent of those draped upon Arthur Dunger, I recalled an over each from DK Lillee and JR Thompson. This closed the day’s play.

To my eight-year old ears the noise was a pyroclastic event. I was exhilarated by the vivid and escalating possibilities as they splashed across my bow.

My next Adelaide Oval experience, I recounted to Flynny, was one Sunday during a match against Tasmania in the 1982 Sheffield Shield season. Some Kapunda contemporaries and I had wandered in and taken our seats in the former Sir Edwin Smith stand. The crowd was dotted about like inmates in a TB sanatorium.

 

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I only recollect the spell of Michael Holding.

As accepted fast bowlers are athletes until they reach the crease, and Holding was supreme in his gliding beauty. Pace men such as Craig McDermott and Mitchell Johnson are menace and violence as they tear in. But the West Indian was noiseless and painterly.

With the Taswegian keeper back halfway to the Cathedral End fence, it seemed that at the moment of release the ball, instantly forty yards away, was being scooped across to second slip.

Neither the batsman, nor I, were optically able to track the fig. I became aware of a remarkable connection between mechanics and biology. This became metaphysical majesty. I was slack-jawed. We all were. I don’t know if Holding took a wicket during our short sojourn. And, in many ways, an edge or explosion at the castle would have spoiled this most bewitching of sporting vistas.

Time had passed, and all by that window had an engagement, so we left the pub. Across the road, an Ashes Test was waiting.

 

Wiz

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Home on the Grange

weber

It’s like being down at the park, and finding yourself having a bit of kick to kick with Luke Hodge.

You’re not sure how, but here you are with the finest modern exponent of the drop punt. The elegance, the unforced style. The footy thuds into your chest, and you gasp. But, as great as it is, you don’t feel worthy. How did this happen? You’re enjoying the moment, while being aware of your inadequacy.

*

A Thursday evening, on the edge of the desert. Old Kapunda mate Chris, Eddie and I around my kitchen table.

1983 Penfolds Grange Hermitage. And not one bottle, but two.

The kitchen table cost me a Southwark six pack. I bought it from Bo, fanatical barbecuer, and my cricket captain. Completing the transaction, we then drank the beer. At the table.

In the untidy blur of a Wudinna footy club progressive dinner, we were outside, beneath the cold stars, working the tongs. It was 3am.

“Hey, Bo.”

“Yeah, Mickey?”

“The barbecue’s gone out.”

“I turned it off.”

“Oh. How come?”

“This way we can stand out here a bit longer. You know, have a few beers. Enjoy ourselves. There’s no rush.”

*

As a kid I played footy and cricket in the Barossa Valley’s main towns. Nuriootpa. Tanunda. Angaston. This was its only purpose.

Moving away was the key to appreciating it. To enjoy that it was probably the country’s premium wine-making region. Folks’d ask, “Where you from?” I’d tell them, Kapunda. Next door to the Barossa. Dad works at Penfolds.

And so living six hours away on the state’s West Coast, I began to value the place. It became more than just the soggy oval where as a senior colts footballer you’d hoped to roll the Tanunda Magpies. Or where Bob Blewett, father of Greg, would patiently humiliate you and your team mates on Angaston oval, crafting yet another century.

*

Ucontitchie Road. I loved living beside this sandy track as it seemed elemental, and more authentically Australian than distant Kapunda. About two kilometres from town, the massive stone farmhouse sat on a rise, and offered a view from the wide verandah.

With clothes, books and golf clubs in the boot of my VK Commodore I moved there. A day’s drive. Billy Joel in the cassette player. My interior design theme was Young Bloke Spartan. Bo’s table was the stylistic centrepiece.

During my first Wudinna winter I kept waiting for it to rain. Back home in Kapunda there was a constant twenty inches annually. Here a drought punished the land surrounding my house. A grain farming community, that year saw only seven inches, with two of those just before Christmas.

In the bush quiet I’d think about how big our country was, how far away I was. Our geography confronted me, and I knew if I walked north, I might see no-one before I flopped into the Timor Sea, three thousand kilometres distant. It was very Australian, it was very foreign.

*

Like viticultural blood brothers we vowed to prepare well. No beers from Sunday to Thursday, even if someone, like Bo, suggested a quick snort in the club after Tuesday’s cricket training. We wanted to be drink-fit. During the week I glanced at our Grange bottles on the rack. They were the most valuable things in my home.

What to eat with Grange? The BBQ kettle craze was at its zenith. A hunk of beef. Roasted vegetables. A jug of thick gravy. A heat haze shimmered across the stubble, while on my verandah, the Weber spat and popped.

Dad was allocated two bottles of Grange. We claimed both, and the dark receptacles cost us forty bucks each. As the afternoon sunlight bent through my kitchen, we pulled the corks.

“Good choice fella,” remarked Eddie as I slid in Rattle and Hum, U2’s exploration of America, pre Bono-with-welded-on-sunglasses-wanker-era. We also listened to the first CD I bought, the Beatles’ White Album. As Paul sang “Blackbird” we attacked the Grange, in our clumsy and brusque ways. Gee, youth is magnificent.

Later, with beers as crisp as the descending night air, the Seekers rang out over the paddocks. They were ancient even then, but we felt a happy, ironic duty.

Hey There! Georgy Girl
Swinging down the street so fancy free
Nobody you meet could ever see
the loneliness there inside you

*

We drank the Grange Hermitage in the year of the titanic grand final. The best one ever. If you believe, the one personally attended by about half a million fans. Dermie’s ribs, Gazza’s goals.

So what did we think of the wine? It was excellent, but I didn’t have the necessary vernacular. I still don’t. I was inescapably inarticulate, and without language, there’s only partial meaning in anything, especially shiraz. It was confronting, but I’m glad we had it.

Ultimately, its depths were as incomprehensible to me as watching Michael Holding bowling at Adelaide Oval. Playing for Tasmania in the season our Grange was made, he glided deathlessly to the wicket, released, and instantaneously the ball was 130 feet away. Up in the Edwin Smith Stand I could only see it after it arrived in the keepers’ gloves. Delivery after delivery.

It was metaphysical, beyond the boundary. I could only stare. On this planet much remains mysterious.

*

It’s a coarse deliberation, but I’ll ask anyhow. Would I now rather a solitary Grange Hermitage or, for the same outlay, a dozen bottles of d’Arenberg’s The Dead Arm Shiraz? Do you climb Everest once, or regularly ascend the Matterhorn’s pyramidal peak, and risk it becoming routine? What would you do?

*

You nod at Hodgy, and run into space. Spinning perfectly, it rushes at you.

All you have to do is catch it.

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