We loathe them. I’m sure these are highly functional and sensibly priced. But to my poisoned eye they (and their owners) carry with them a sense of entitlement and an accompanying superiority complex. Yes, it’s an irrational hatred, and I suspect it’s incurable. But a pub review is surely a place for honesty regarding issues sartorial.
At the bar there’s two middle-aged men. Trim. Clean shaven. Quietly spoken. Enjoying a Friday afternoon wine. And they’re wearing navy blue puffer jackets.
The Earl of Leicester is dark and snug. We take our seats by the fire. It’s blazing away and the effect is instantly comforting. Australian pubs suffer often from too much light and white space. Think modern suburban taverns with a bland sensibility and fatal lack of intimacy. No such troubles here this afternoon. The pub’s timbers are warm of hue and homely and this is especially enhanced as it’s decidedly Arctic outside. Winter is icumen in. We could be in the Cotswolds or by the Thames.
A table or two along a task-oriented couple is attacking their early pizza dinner (it’s before 5pm so they could be holidaying Queensland pensioners) and bottle of red. They’re sharing a comfortable, loud-munching silence. Eating here seems like a good choice for the dining area is big and visually charmless, as is sometimes the way. I pop my head into the beer garden and it’s more obligation than destination. Folks expect one and this one presents as a concrete afterthought. But the front of the pub is excellent.
It’s Claire’s turn to order and I opt for an XPA. Like the tomato and me, we share a complex relationship for I often find it disappointing in the application but continue to subscribe to the concept. Today the Balter XPA is sharp and spiky, and I approve. Claire has an Angove’s red and finds it agreeable. Late Friday afternoon is always an agreeable time, and The Earl of Leicester reminds me of what King Duncan said (ironically) of Macbeth’s home
This castle hath a pleasant seat. The air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.
On our way out to the dark car park I suggest to Claire, ‘For every puffer jacket I spot in the bar, I’ll buy myself a longneck of Sparkling Ale.’
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.
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.
Quick! There’s only 113 shopping days until Christmas. Let’s make a list. Let’s all watch Love Actually every day between now and then! Let’s eat some rambutans. Let’s write a letter to every winner of Eurovision. Let’s write a poem as if we were a cat. Let’s pretend P!nk is good.
Here’s some photos I took in August.
Happy with our city car park. Number 157 would’ve been a psychological and logistical nightmare.
How evocative to attend the Goodwood Theatre for a performance of Macbeth.
It’s a play I’ve been spellbound by since I was at school and studied it in Mrs Maloney’s class. When she was a teenager this small theatre is also where my wife Claire made her theatrical debut in Lola Montez but, Your Honour, to my continuing shame I have no recollection of this.
While I’d read and taught the Scottish play countless times, the recent realisation that I’d never seen it on stage startled me. The Goodwood stage was raked towards the audience at an alarming angle and was diamond-shaped. It made me concerned that the artistes might tumble onto the spectators and make us unwitting, additional victims of the supernatural bloodletting.
Our state premier Mr Steven Marshall took his seat just in front of us. Looking like a Kelvinator draped in shapeless black shade cloth, his personal security chap sat next to him. I decided to behave myself. Given the play is about civil mayhem and assassination it is surely tax deductible for all aspiring and upright politicians. I trust Mr Marshall kept his ticket stub. Regicide’s always in vogue.
The production was arresting and visceral and I since discovered an article which argued that in this most sinister of Shakespearean texts made notorious by words such as dagger, cauldron and weird the most unsettling word is the.
Best illustrated by this famous section as lady Macbeth urges her husband-
Your hand, your tongue. Look like th’ innocent flower,
But be the serpent under ’t.”
Academics argue that instead of using the generic a, the definite article the as in the serpent rather than a serpent implies an underlying idea, a lurking agency and invests it with greater menace and unknown symbolism.
Friday afternoon in the city and Claire led me by the hand along the harried streets as we evaded the suits and clots of yoof and e-scooters. I felt warm anticipation and the joy of unveiling surprise for it was the monthly moment of personally curated escape that is Mystery Pub.
Tucked away in an almost secreted nook The Historian is like a summery London boozer as the punters were a-throng outside and in. Squeezed in around a pillar on our stools there was pub clamour and buzzing bustle. I was reminded of Jordan in the Great Gatsby who remarked that she loved big parties because, “they’re so intimate.” Our conversation took on a conspiratorial quality and we could’ve been Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in isolated Dunsinane castle, save for the murderous scheming and horrific descent into lonely madness.
I took Alex and Max and their mates to the Glenelg v Centrals game Saturday and can report that the five of them saw upwards of five minutes of footy, collectively. This healthy apathy transported me back to Kapunda games as a kid when the match was often just a loose backdrop, a vague context that gave shape to the afternoon. What a marvellous fortune to be able to take in this beachside frivolity in the late winter. And kids under 18, are admitted free!
During the A grade when I was about ten I ran after my footy among the pine trees behind Freeling Oval and almost stepped on a snake catching some winter warmth. Heart a-pumpin’ I stopped and then like a lorry took a wide arc to snatch my Lyrebird footy. Again, Macbeth and its reptilian imagery comes to mind-
We have scotch’d the snake, not kill’d it.
She’ll close and be herself, whilst our poor malice
Remains in danger of her former tooth.
Our Sunday morning pattern is to take the dogs Buddy and Angel (Buddy and Angel does sound like a dreadful movie in which two unlikely LA cops solve a previously impenetrable crime and win grudging praise from the grumpy Chief of Police) down the beach for a scamper among other hounds and humans.
The winter storms have dumped giant mounds of seaweed over the sand. On the grey, swirling days I could almost sense the hideous witches from Macbeth huddled over a bubbling pot, described thus
By each at once her choppy finger laying
Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.
It’s an invigorating and elemental way to begin a Sunday and the brisk air does us good and Angel, such a timid, delicate puppy, yelps with delight and leaps like a hare. She’s a beach dog, more Enid Blyton than The Bard.
My old school friend Chris, now splitting his time between Angaston (Ango) and Adelaide texted asking me of my Wednesday night plans. I replied, “What have you in mind?”
My phone buzzed with his clear wish- “Meat and three veg.”
So we took our meat and (limited to potato) veg at the Duke of Brunswick. Unlike the charmless beer barns of the anonymous suburbs this pub’s an inner-city delight. Warm, snug and with glowing lighting it invites talk of hometown mates and ancient bonds.
In my week of diverse gratefulness, this is another luminous episode.
While the Duke of Brunswick is well-named there’s other British pubs like the Ape and Apple, The Cat and Custard Pot Inn and The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn (try the ploughman’s lunch).
But I’d opt for the title given Macbeth just before he slays King Duncan-
The Thane of Cawdor.
That’d be an apt boozer for a gloomy winter’s night.
“As we enter our autumn years, we’ll need other hobbies apart from going to the pub,” Claire said philosophically, if not medically.
“But we already do,” I replied, possibly a little sensitively, “We research pubs, talk about pubs, and I write about pubs,” I added self-consciously, if not metacognitively.
A well-being expert (not Tony Abbott) once said that there’s three ingredients for a good and happy life: something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to. Mystery Pub neatly meets all three once a month for an hour. What a psychologically robust concept it is. So affirming.
Our wedding photographers said the best photos of couples are not when they’re kissing, but the moment just before, when there’s the briefest space and time. It invites the photo’s audience to imagine what next happens and engages them more actively. It’s delicious. Maybe Friday afternoons in a dappled beer garden are like this too. All expectation and simmering bliss. Or maybe that’s a silly stretch or an inappropriate analogy.
But I love the pub for an hour on Friday afternoons.
No more than sixty minutes. Watching strangers arrive, all animated and bustling. I wonder about their lives and private joys and terrors. Then the gradual uplift of buzzing chat punctuated by ruptures of laughter. A chance for Claire to try a new shiraz. I sample a craft ale. The promise dangling in front of a weekend. The transition between work and play.
Our shared, joyous cusp.
Here’s a retrospective of our Mystery Pubs. Some have been triumphant (Mount Mary) while others a little underwhelming (Forth) but still worthy of a visit. The architecture, the history, the mise en scene. Some are female (Lady Burra, Mount Mary, Grace Emily) and others are male (Duke, Benjamin) while some are geographic with Inglewood connoting LA and West Oak evoking medieval England (Meet me at the West Oak, not the East Oak and we shall duel to the death with our jousting sticks).
Anyway, August is Claire’s pick, and I look forward to ambling in for that idyllic hour of escape and discovery.
3/6- Earl of Leicester
13/5- Harry’s Bar on Grenfell
No Mystery Pub in April as we were in Tassie and there were mystery pubs aplenty!
25/3- Brightstar Brewing
11/2- Brighton Metro (with special guests Mozz and Kath)
Once a month on a Friday we have Mystery Pub. Claire and I alternate researching a local cup-shop and with buzzing expectation and frisson swirling about the cabin drive the happily oblivious spouse to it.
Recently I took my wife to the Kentish in North Adelaide. Neither of us had been there for decades. Tucked in near Melbourne Street it enjoys a quiet, almost feudal location in a cul de sac and sitting out the front of the sandstone grog-dome on a mild afternoon we watched some locals strolling in after a tough day in commercial law or obstetrics.
With a staccato burst of click, click, click one of the zappy bar staff lit the gas heater which impressed Claire but didn’t concern me for I was in shorts (and a shirt too). August is normally the only shorts-free month for me.
It was then that a most dreadful event occurred. Claire asked for a second house red and it was decidedly acceptable, doubtless enhanced by the low chirping from the surrounding punters and our golden hour of honeyed light and gentle parachuting into the weekend.
But in a moment of retrospectively acknowledged delusion I heard myself say at the bar, “And I’ll try a Heineken 3.”
Returning to our table with the accompanying feeling of self-congratulatory triumph that one always experiences when successfully purchasing a round of drinks, I sat and took a sip.
The celebrated continental brewers describe their beer as being, “lower carb, lower calorie” but omit to say that it will also “lower” your sense of well-being, general life optimism, and faith in your otherwise excellent decision-making regarding refreshment choices.
It’s an unspeakably terrible beer. It’s as thin as a spider web and has less charisma than a bureaucrat’s corpse. The flavour seems made in a sterile European lab by faceless automatons who unblinkingly pour anonymous liquids from one test-tube to another, and I suspect I’m correct.
As many an old bloke in a quiet country pub has probably muttered to anyone and no-one, “I had two of those. My first and my last.”
Thursday was an excellent day and with late-afternoon cause to celebrate we swung by the Broady beer garden for a twinkling hour. At home with some gnocchi on the stove and our wedding playlist percolating about the kitchen (opening song- “Summer Love” by Sherbet) we extracted the cork from a bottle of red. Nowadays, of course, using a corkscrew is an event in itself and this too caused our epicurean hopes to simmer. We took out some special occasion wine glasses.
Friends and I had visited Greenock Creek wines in the nineties. It’s not in Greenock but on Seppeltsfield Road in Marananga. Their wines are delicious but hard to get so it’d been ages since I’d had one. The (Honorable) Paul J Keating was likely our Prime Minister when I last had this joy.
The 2016 Apricot Block Shiraz is remarkable. I’ve an unrefined palate and any initial slurp is sometimes like a slap on a cold morning to me before I settle into my work. This time it was velvety seduction. By candlelight the glass was all inky and dark and the plonk was complex and subtle and like a Bruce Dawe poem, I knew returning to it I’d locate fresh meaning and my world view would be buoyed.
Like Keef to Mick it made an elegant and synergistic partner to our pasta. As we eased through it our dining table conversation moved to the centre of our world and the wine, like all powerful forces acting for good, gently lowered herself silently into the background.