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Max and His Most Magnificent Apostrophe

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Already, at six, our youngest, Max has mastered something which, even at their towering heights Mick, Keith and the other Rolling Stones couldn’t get right.

He knows how to use the apostrophe of possession.

Last night doing homework at the dining table Max shows me a picture- a vague, blobby creature fashioned from newspaper. “I have to write a story about this person.”

And so we invented some of the creature’s backstory. Max decided that, like all good creatures, this one would play basketball. He named him Bob. With the character established I explained to Max that his story needed some action, some conflict and then, without any prompting from me, he opened his second paragraph just like this

Bob’s team

Sensational.

“Well done Max. This is one of Dad’s best days ever! Who taught you to put in the apostrophe?”

“Nobody. I just know it.”

Apostrophes suffer enormously in our world. Often cruelly forgotten. Sometimes put to work when they shouldn’t be. Abused by café-owners and green-grocers alike. How many pub menu boards advertise these?

Sausage’s and mash- $12

I love apostrophes, but Mick and Keith, in the midst of their astonishing run of form over a decade from the late sixties which included Let It Bleed and Exile on Main St omitted these. Twice. Their albums Beggars Banquet and Goats Head Soup, depending on the number of beggars and goats (that’d be a great party), should probably be Beggars’ Banquet and Goat’s Head Soup. This seems an odd mistake to make, given that Mick is happy conversing in French about noted seventeenth-century philosopher François Poullain de la Barre.

Of course as part of my concerns for your grammatical health, I should now remind you about the importance of using capital letters as evidenced sharply in this sentence

I helped my Uncle Jack off his horse.

But, last night at our wooden table, with a simple flick of his Bic, Max made my week with a punctuation mark.

Go on, hug an apostrophe!

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Ten Years is a Long Time

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It’s a scene to make you smile. Two girls and a brown kelpie pup jumping and running, laughing and barking as the late afternoon sun bends through the eucalyptus trees. Their hot perfume hangs in the blue air. All across Australia families like this one are enjoying their Sunday afternoons, as this exceedingly hot summer stretches out.

While these children appear happy in the golden light, the shadows are lengthening, for they and their mother live in a state of apprehension. At the insistence of their father, they are drifters.

Tom Smith meets me in the front bar of Cobar’s Railway Hotel. I offer to buy him a beer, and he says, “Fair enough too. With your fancy city job, you can afford it.” I decline to explain that as a cadet journalist I’m probably earning less than he is, and ask, “How long have you been in Cobar?”

He looks me in the eye, takes a long draught from his beer, and wipes the foam from his lip. “Let’s see. I reckon it’ll be four weeks next Tuesday. Time to go,” he clips. There’s defensiveness in his voice, a challenge, as if he’s daring me to argue. I imagine he’s exchanged fisticuffs in a Friday front bar before. “Why are you leaving?”

As the clock ticks towards six, the pace of drinking accelerates. It’s hot, smoky and the men yelling at each other is a slow-motion explosion of noise. I lean in towards Tom to better hear him. “Shearing’s nearly finished. Job’s done. We’ll head south towards the Murray. Grapes’ll soon be ripe. Plenty of work pickin’ ‘em. I know a bloke in Mildura. We were there four or five years ago. Not long after Susie had her accident.” Tom glances up at the clock. Quarter to six. Impossibly, it becomes louder in Cobar’s biggest hotel.

“Can I ask what happened?” Susie’s the youngest daughter of Tom and his wife Mary. To make ends meet, Mary gets what work she can too. Cooking for the shearers, helping out in the homestead. Both work long hours. Hard, physical labour. “Fell off a fence. Cut her leg badly on a rock, and ripped her calf muscle. Still walks with a bit of a limp. I’d told them girls to stay away from the fence- some of the timbers were loose.”

I study Tom again. His face is weathered brown from years of vicious outback sun, and his eyes are set in an endless squint- even here in the pub. There’s honesty in our conversation, but also a reticence to tell a city stranger too much.

Later as she cooks dinner for her family I talk to Mary, while Tom sits outside. Susie and her sister Jane are throwing a ball to the dog. Dusk descends from the sky. The meal is mutton chops, carrots, peas and mashed potatoes. Resting my elbows upon its laminated top, I sit at the table. “Are you looking forward to Mildura?” I ask. The chops sizzle and spit in the pan. Mary’s eyes scurry across to me. “Is that where we’re headed?’ Her question doesn’t surprise me. Outside in the dusty heat, I hear Tom cough.

“Yes, Tom told me at the pub. Does he…” I pause, worried about marching into their marriage. I’m not sure I’d like what I might hear. “…you know, does he usually ask you about where you’d like to go?” Mary wipes her hands on her apron, and turns to me. “Can I tell you something?” I lean forward. “Please.”

I see tears at the corners of her eyes. “I’m tired. We’ve been drifting for over ten years. Never been anywhere longer than a couple months. We met in Kingaroy. Queensland. Got married. Back then, Tom had plans. Wanted to be a fisherman, you know, get his own boat.” I take a sip from my cup of tea. “What happened?”

Mary pours milk in with the potatoes and starts rhythmically, but cheerlessly working her fork into the boiled vegetable. “A few months after we we’re married Tom’s best man Jim drowned. He was on a prawn boat off of Cairns. Huge storm swept in. They got caught in it. That was the storm of ‘53. Six boats went down. Twenty-three men lost. Tom vowed he’d never set foot on a trawler. We decided to head south and follow the work.”

I offer, “Ten years is a long time.” Mary wipes her eyes with the apron, and whispers, “The girls need friends. School. They could play tennis….” She stops, as if her words are forbidden, an unutterable prayer. Tom’s boots blunder up the corridor. He kisses Mary on the head. “What’s for dinner, love?”

On the following Friday Tom and Mary, their daughters and the dog leave Cobar, the ute’s exhaust coughing out bluish smoke as it bumps down the driveway. Tom flicks the turning indicator and steers south.

In Mildura, seven hours away, there are red and white grapes, ready for picking.

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A birthday in Budapest

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Friday 15 June 2001- Michael

Early start to go to the Hungarian Embassy. Twenty people also waiting to use their services. $350 later we had our visas.

Those present had a loose grasp of queueing. Stand roughly in line, but sneak up and let your friends in when possible.

Then wandered through the city centre. Bought a new Minolta camera- very snazzy and easy to use (pre-digital too- Editor). The museums, galleries, churches are all grand and attractive. We took lots of photos.

Now Kerry-

Got lost for the first time when meeting our group after lunch. Got there just in the nick of time.

Went for a tour of Schönbrunn (beautiful spring) the summer palace of the Hapsburgs. Very grand, very beautiful, very big: in total over 1,400 rooms. We saw just a few. The ball rooms and the room of mirrors were the best (as attested by Roy Slaven- Editor).

After we stopped at the Prater for a while. This big amusement park had lots of attractions, the main one being the wheel, an older version of the London Eye.

Time for some domestic chores upon our return to the motel- washing. Found a laundromat after asking reception then at the police station (Detergent Detectives- Editor) on the way. Figuring out how to use it was interesting but we got there in the end. We wasted 30 schillings on the way- the total cost was 160 schillings or $23.

By this time we were fairly hungry having missed breakfast and lunching at 11 so we decided to stop for some traditional fare on the way back to the motel. Schnitzel and Cordon Bleu and Salat. All of them were lovely but of course they were pork (the wife has since converted to all forms of pig- Editor) and washed down with a few beers and a red. YUM.

Saturday 16/6 Michael’s Birthday

Up early on our way to Budapest. Got a couple apricot-filled buns as Michael’s cake. Our first border crossing- thank god for those visas. There were ten other buses lined up but we got through in about an hour. We also had to get our receipt for our new camera stamped at customs so we can claim our tax back.

Drove through the country to the hills on the way to Lake Balaton. Was interested to hear that they intend to start an archaeological dig on the high plateau soon as they expect to find old Roman remains.

Lake Balaton is beautiful. We had to wait twice for a big procession of motorbikes to pass- some big international meet.

We stopped for lunch in a little town called Tihany on a small peninsula in the lake- itself featuring two volcanic lakes. Our meal at a hotel in the main street was superb! Michael had paprika chicken and potato coquettes and we shared a salad. Michael also had a big birthday beer- locally brewed and served in a big stein. He wanted another- several in fact but decided to have just a small one (my famous restraint- Editor).

Another interesting restaurant just up the road- Paprikahaus had zillions of dried chillies hanging from it. The lake area is a popular holiday spot and there were lots of people sailing, swimming and fishing. Curious tit bits- the water looks milky green and it is about three miles down in the deepest part. Next stop Budapest- with our regular afternoon bus snooze.

We were excited when we saw our motel and room- very nice compared to the one in Vienna! Dinner was included- another real treat- pork, mushrooms, peas, capsicum and to top it all off- LIVER! Apart from this I think Michael had an enjoyable 35th birthday.

Back to Michael-

Yes, he did. The Danube boat cruise was good although we couldn’t hear our tour guide: no microphone. The Danube is about as wide as the Murray but flows quickly. We saw some impressive historical and public buildings like castles, statues, parliament houses that I’m sure will be on tomorrow’s itinerary.

Finished off the day in fine style. It was a day when I was spoilt, ate great food, split the time between two countries, had some tender moments with the girl and gained some precious memories.

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Galloping about Greenwich and Abba Adventures

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June 7- Kerry

Up and at ‘em early today. Down the road to Piccadilly Circus where we had the place to ourselves and it was so quiet.

We walked along Regent Street to Waterloo Place and down onto The Mall. Followed this along to Buckingham Palace and was impressed by the Victoria Monument but less by the palace. What you can see is big and grey with big black and gold gates. Mmm…

The best bit was it was so quiet- there was hardly anyone else around- a dozen at the most. We did a lap around the palace- ‘tis big- and saw Wellington’s monument and gate at Hyde Park Corner. Once around we went through St James’ Park to the Horse Guards’ ground. The park is lovely and we had a bit of a chat with a nice, chummy guy about the birds.

Went to have a look through Westminster Abbey but it was shut (hope to go back) so went up the road to the Portrait Gallery instead. After this we went to the tourist info and had a huge Pizza Pig-out before sprinting back to the hostel for a cat nap (all hail the restorative powers of pizza- editor).

A couple of hours later we were up and at ‘em again although our body clocks still not caught up and we headed off to the British Museum. Lots of Greek and Roman- too many and we had overload. A few highlights include the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies and the Sutton Hoo, an ancient burial ship from East Anglia, which was very cool. Next stop was the Easy Everything internet shop to catch up with everyone at home.

June 8 (a Friday)- Kerry

A few domestic chores in the morning (No, I didn’t paint the roof of our hostel- Editor) and we set off about ten. Interestingly, the fire alarm went off in the hostel earlier so we grabbed our valuable and went down stairs only to find it was a false alarm. Thank God- I was still in my PJ’s with no undies as they were all in the wash- not a good look in the middle of London (less so in Dubai-Editor).

Hoped on a ferry at Westminster Pier for a trip to Greenwich and the flood barriers. The bar maid was late (Tardy, not deceased- Editor), the driver come guide was informative and funny, the sights were interesting. The bridges good, the Millennium Dome ugly, the flood barriers strange.

Stopped off at Greenwich and hopped straight about the Cutty Sark for a look- interesting. Up the street to a pub for lunch and a beer/shandy and a rest. Then up the hill to Greenwich Park. Didn’t go to the observatory- too expensive and queue too long so we missed out standing astride the Meridian Line.

Up the hill found the 2,500-year-old Roman remains- disappointing to say the least. Further up the way we saw our first squirrel- fleetingly as it was chased up a tree by a dog. Back down the hill past the Queens House and Naval College- more impressive old buildings before going under the Thames through the Greenwich foot-tunnel which was cool. Popped up the other side and caught the DLR back to the city- goodbye Greenwich, we ‘joyed you.

Emerged out from the underground by chance at the Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fires of London- interesting tit bit: if the monument was laid on its side to the east its top would be in Pudding Lane where the fire was supposed to have started in the Royal Bakers Kitchen (who’d have thought so much destruction could be connected with a pudding? – Editor).

Walked home past St. Paul’s- very impressive- hope to go back and have a look inside.

On our very long walk back we decided to go via Leicester Square to get cheap tickets to see the Graduate. As it turns out we couldn’t see it that night so we got tickets for Mamma Mia instead. It rocked me, give me (sic- Editor) that feeling, rolled me…

 

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Our first ever day in London

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June 5- Michael

Thankfully the London flight was only just over half full so we had a spare seat next to us which made the journey better. My initial seat decided to break during take-off and lurched back onto the poor sod behind. The trolley-dolly and my travelling companion both denied any problem, but ultimately understood.

We watched All the Pretty Horses, Sweet November and Anti-Trust. Our arrival at Heathrow was exciting until the poxy, mongrel bastard ATM ate my card. Had coffee and coopa-tea.

June 5 (continued)- Kerry

The bus was ye goode olde fashioned red double decker. The trip was really enjoyable- we got off early to see a bit of greater London. The bus dropped us off at the end of Oxford Street, near Marble Arch- at the corner of Hyde Park and we walked the rest of the way.

This turned into a major feat- no map and only a vague idea (This became a major theme in our travels over the next fifteen years- Editor). Eventually we made it after asking for directions several times and then ringing the hostel.

The room is interesting. Small, a bunk, a cupboard and a sink. It overlooks a construction site. The kitchen and lounge are clean and comfy. There is internet access, a laundry and lots of tit-bits for sale at reception.

After a shower to freshen up we hit the streets- very tired, but needing to stay awake as it was the middle of the day. Four hours sleep in over 24 is not enough.

First stop; lunch at Benji’s on Oxford Street- then a quick trip home for a jumper and umbrella then we were off. Bought a map at a local stall and there was no stopping us. We zig-zagged through the streets of Soho down to St Martins-in-the-Fields church.

Across the road, Trafalgar Square is very impressive. Down Whitehall, past Admiralty Arch, the old war offices in Downing Street, onto the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and across the way to Westminster Abbey- back to this another day for a look inside too.

Next down to the river just near Westminster Bridge and pier- there’s a good view across the river to the London Eye and the county hall. Walked along the Victoria Embankment up to Cleopatra’s Needle. Very impressive because of its age, but also because of the bog holes and missing chunks from bombing during the war. Also, interested to read that the embankment is only fairly new in the big scheme of things and the river’s edge was in fact about 150 metres from its current position.

Took a photo here of the gate that was once the river’s edge- of course I can’t think of its name at the moment! (Google it, kids- Editor). Made our way to Leicester Square and through Chinatown in Soho to a pub called the White Horse. Looked like a good old English pub- turns out three Aussies and a Kiwi work there. Anyway, the beer and shandies were great.

Walked past a theatre on the corner playing The Graduate- hope to come back and catch it one night. On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket to get a few supplies- things were reasonably priced, then up Berwick Street past the markets which were just packing up.

Back at out hostel we stored our stuff and had a drink before going to bed. Walked around a bit trying to find a good pub and ended up in the Blue Posts for a quick one, then hysterically tired, headed home to bed- still daylight, but four hours sleep in over 36 is just not enough.

In bed at 8pm and not many minutes with the head on the pillow before drifting off into a well-earned long sleep.

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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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My Favourite Thing

earth

On this planet here’s my favourite thing.

Monday evenings, after dinner and baths Max and I sit around the big, rustic table and he does his homework. Following our reading we move to the week’s list of words. You know the antique drill. Look. Cover. Write. Check.

I love watching our boys write.

Mostly, I sit in silence. Like his mum Max’s nose wrinkles when he’s connecting a new idea to an established one. Each squiggly letter is crafted with quiet industry. It’s a magnificent, affirming sight. Our universe tightens to this page, and his cognitive load is massive. It’s exciting, but as nerve-wracking as a footy final.

At their age it’s a tough activity. What could be more demanding for a six-year-old? But they bring such blameless engagement to the task. Vacuuming language inside and not sending their words skywards, this is an unnatural ask, the reverse of speech, but they work hard, and I’m proud.

Forming the words, Alex bursts into his future, and as our globe spins from post-industrial to digital, this learning, this language will be their elevator. I’m delighted that both boys seem to value it. Not as much as dinosaurs or spies or ice-cream, but it ranks.

I keep watching.

Why is it so mesmerizing? It’s the transparency of their concentration. All our formulated hopes are projected onto the transit of that blue ink. Max comments between words, revealing the wisdom of his interrogations. “This is hard to spell.” Or, “Bed and bread rhyme.” Or, “Cake is simple to write, isn’t it Dad?”

We invest these moments with calm. The dining table’s a still beach at dawn. These are triumphs, but I mourn my slippery seconds.

Each simple term is a thrilling performance. I pause. Instants ago, these boys were babies. Now they’re holding pens, fashioning words, making meaning, interacting with their widening worlds.

I keep watching.

boy writing