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Days of Beer and Weed …

Growing up in the 70s …

The following are a series of vignettes and cameos I would like to put up over the coming weeks of where and with whom I grew up with in the 1970’s as a young man in my late teens/early twenties … some of them you may see as pure delinquency, others as that clumsy, clunky half-innocence of the fumbling youth trying to get a grip on the disorder of those times … Times that were revolutionary in both freedom of movement from state to state and job to job … even a freedom from rational behaviour … we were remaking society even if we didn’t know it at the time. Gone were the ties that bound one socially and economically to home and hearth … there was adventure “out there” and being young and free with more than a hint of delinquency about us, by Christ, we were going to taste a bit of it before we all grew too old to remember what the thrill of life was about … Perhaps some of us never really grew old, but rather stayed in a state of suspended youth … a type of “forever young” … but then there are those I meet in these older times who seem to have been old pensioners from their earliest childhood!

But I’d like to kick off these vignettes of another age with what I feel is one of the great signature songs that reflect the attitude of those times: Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence.

“One must forgive the young their foolishness, for without them, there would not seem so much wisdom in old age.” … Socrates.

Mick … A character study

It never ceases to amaze me how some people can compress the whole spectrum of human emotions re. disgust, despair, weariness and futility into a short, sharp comment.

“Jesus wept!”

Bubblehead passed his hand wearily over his eyes. Mick had just that minute walked in through the bar-room doors. It had been nearly one year since Mick had crossed that same threshold, albeit at a different direction, pace and mood. Absent now was the fearful glance quickly over the shoulder and “duck!” look so memorable in Bubblehead’s mind. But that one year had done little to obliterate the memory of the insidious deed committed by Mick against his (Bubblehead’s) establishment … to wit; the negotiation ON PREMISES! to purchase the notorious “weed” in contrast to purchasing AND imbibing (copiously preferred) the amber fluid legally available over the front bar of said establishment … such insults were not to be tolerated!

It had been nearly a year since Mick had been “BANNED FOR LIFE!” (these sentences were occasionally inflicted on regulars for misdemeanours, varying from periods of one, two and three months, to “life” for the more extreme offenders. Mick’s insult fell solidly into the latter) and now, here he was in all his glory … indeed … never had the patrons of the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel seen Mick so well attired! Wolf whistles followed his every step toward where Bubblehead slouched on his bar-stool … both parties steeled themselves for the encounter.

“Mr. Francis … ” (Bubblehead’s real name), Mick began … and so ended that penitent time of denial for both parties (Bubblehead knew which side of the bar his money came from!) and Mick was welcomed back into the fold with the stern warning; “ … that if ever again … ”so the excuse for another booze-up was offered and accepted by all parties concerned … another Friday night at “The Cliff”.

Actually, Mick featured heavily in the adventures of our little group holed up there in the front bar … trouble and mishaps followed him like the faithful mutt his master. Mick fed disaster till it wouldn’t leave his side … but I’ll say this in his defence: He was never daunted by any set-backs … not even after twenty-eight car crashes in two years (“none of ‘em my fault!”) could depression be seen to enter his psyche … his old-man nearly went bananas … but Mick held steady to his merry way.

He was not a big youth … a tad on the shortish side, bandy legged, round, freckled, smiling face with a shock of dazzling red hair on a forever bobbing head when he talked … which he did more than listen and the eternal “reefer” dangling from his fingers or his lips, sending a curl of smoke up past a wincing eye. A pint glass of beer could always be found clutched in those same fingers, as tenderly fidgeted as the rosary beads in the hands of a nun …

At any rate, “Mick’s Glorious Return” was celebrated in a piece of doggerel and displayed in the men’s toilets for the patrons pleasure .. this verse was written “impromptu” (in the true ancient Greek tradition) by a cagey little character appropriately nick-named; “spatchcock” … so named because of his rolling into the campfire on the beach while drunk one night … ”Leave ‘im there” … Little Johnny, the SP Bookie said in disgust … ”He’ll cook up nicely … like a young spatchcock!” … I have a copy of that doggerel on hand and I’ll print it out just so you can “place” the sort of clientele that used to frequent that pub.

Mick’s Glorious Return

Realising that time had come to pass,
(notwithstanding the desire for the odd glass!)
I thought it best to broach “The Bubble”
And take him to task for all me troubles.
So doffing me best suit of clothes,
(I must say; these “Op-shops” have much to choose!)
And emptying the pocket of bong and hose.
I dressed myself “to the nines” and
Waited till dark to practice me lines.
“Now, Mr. Francis” I spoke to the mirror bold …
“We’re both grown men … (or so I’m told)
There’s a certain matter I would discuss,
Concerning you an’ me and all that “grass”
The truth of the matter, matters none,
Though I still maintain I’m the innocent one!
Betrayed by fate and addicted fools
Unable to abide to social rules.
But after it all, here I stand,
One year older … a changed man.
So I come to you on equal terms
To forgive and forget a man who’s learned!”
Then …
But as I fronted the barroom doors,
My courage failed me (as never before).
I got my mate to sneak me a glass,
To prime myself for this awesome task!
Then through the doors I stolidly bounded …
“Gor’ Blimey … What’s this!?” Jack Mitchell shouted.
Through laughs and whistles I was derided
But courage steeled me for the task decided.
“Mr. Francis … I spoke with quaking breath,
(like a man speaking to warmed-up death!)
“I come to empty me heart of its load,
And, pray, spend me money in your humble abode”
I dropped to my knees under his wrathful glare,
(a balloon, scorched and besieged with anguished hair!)
“I beg you forgive this wayward youth,
That wandered from your “elixir of truth”.
Please let me enter your bar once more,
An’ let me drink as I did before.
An’ let me prove I’m a changed man,
An’ let me for Chrissake have a can!”
“Arise, my son” his voice boomed out.
“Arise and sup with me a stout!
Then join your friends and have good cheer,
An get off the “grass” and onto the beer!”
And that was how one man learned,
That a “banned for life” can be turned.
It takes truth and courage and … and all that stuff …
And, oh! … I might suggest kneepads … (in case the floor is rough!).

I copied this tedious rhyme down to show you the sort of low wit that appealed to the patrons of that infamous hotel … But that memorable date would have soon been forgotten if not for another spectacular entertainment that occurred later that same evening … to wit: The torching of the notorious “Astoria Apartments” over the road (Wheatland St.) from the Seacliff Hotel …

The Astoria apartments started life, I believe, as the weekend residence of some well-heeled family. It moved from that idle occupation to the more congenial employment of guest house for holiday makers intent on inhaling the invigorating sea air. Once that clientele took its child-like laughter and kiddies with yellow plastic sand-buckets and spades away to more exotic locations, it fell back on to “taking in boarders” and from there to the inevitable breaking up into separate flats for long term rental.

The maintenance on the Astoria Apartments (as it was now so grandly named) gradually slipped till the outside paint peeled and fretted away, the gutters dipped and dropped rusting in places and seediness blotched its once grand facade. By now, the clientele residing within matched in description the appearance of the building outside. Both contributed to the final destruction of the once proud Astoria.

It seems the current owner, intent on evicting … a poor-paying tenant, went to pay a visit to the aforementioned tenant (a rather fierce man with a fiercer reputation), to keep himself company he took along two relatives with big fists and also a couple of shortish lengths of stout jarrah,(presumably to do a little long overdue maintenance on the premises!). However, pre-warned is pre-armed, and fierce men seem to keep company with birds of the same ilk, so the good landlord and his ex-relatives were “sent packing”, along with the pieces of jarrah whistling past their ears and expletives echoing in them!

That same evening however, the landlord snuck back to cut off the power to the offensive man’s flat, thinking this would drive him away. But he didn’t just remove the fuse, he fiddled with the wires thereby causing an overload on the circuit that those ancient, groaning wires couldn’t take. The result; fire! Some rooms, they say, burnt faster than others! such was the reputation the Astoria had by now achieved.

The landlord was contacted at his home where he had retired smugly satisfied hours before and he arrived in an anguished state, striding up and down the footpath over the road outside the pub rolling his hands over each other and lamenting his misfortune (and no doubt secretly aware that he had caused this misfortune!) when he bumped into a short, bandy-legged individual with a reefer in one hand and a pint of “Bubblehead’s Best” in the other and looking terribly overdressed in a garish op-shop suit. “A problem shared is a problem halved,” goes the old saying.

“Ah!” the contrite landlord began “a terrible mishap, a terrible mishap.”

“Yeah,” agreed Mick. ”I left me dad’s bike in the hallway.”

“You lived there?!”

“Nah!” Mick shrugged. ”But me mate Wayne does with his girlfriend.”

“But they are not there now, surely?” … The landlord’s eyes as big as saucers!

Mick glanced sideways and saw a chance to impress upon a stranger (Mick was unaware this was the landlord), his “nonchalance in the face of tragedy,” an act all pretentious people like to adopt.

“I wouldn’t be surprised, he was up there with her an hour ago,” he snorted and ‘tched’ his tongue, ”probably grilled like a snag on a barbie by now!” And he turned abruptly and went through the front bar doors leaving the distressed landlord trembling on the footpath (Mick, we hasten to add, was well aware both Wayne and his girlfriend were safely propped against the bar with Mick-paid celebratory drinks firmly grasped in their hands).

“Yeah!” Jeff Otto’s’ reedy falsetto sounded over the conversation, “dropped down dead as a doornail right outside there on the footpath while the fire was on, Yeah!, the landlord, seems he thought there was someone trapped in the flats … poor bugger! … er … two brandies, Noela.”

Jeff turned to his drinking mate and sighed …

“Oh well, more work for the office.” Jeff worked for the local undertaker.

The only person who profited from the fire was Matt Waters, who shimmied up a drainpipe to rescue “Puffy” the licensees’ wife’s overindulged pet cat! This heroic act was rewarded with generous libations from the besotted woman much to our envious disgust! But Matt’ would still “humbly” accept her gifts of ambrosia with sickly obsequiousness then throw us a wink across the bar! (Accusations of gross illegitimacy were mumbled amongst the serfs!).

Mick’s moment of glory, however, was yet to come and when it did it was short-lived but long remembered: That despotic clique known collectively as “Bikies”, seem to make a habit of “discovering” quiet watering-holes (pubs) then invading enmasse till the whole tribe, their machines and other potpourri and hangers-on turn even the most sedate establishment into a realistic collage of a desperate refugee camp, or rather; question time in the federal parliament! This goes on, with the accompanying brawls and shrieking till the police are called in to restore law-and-disorder.

Such an event was taking place one afternoon at the Seacliff Hotel.

Scene: Twenty or more bikies and their “molls” with assorted motorcycles lolling around in rebellious disdain toward the police there, outside the plate-glass window of the lounge-bar. Leather jackets, crash helmets and empty bottles lay about in no discernible order. Police officers moved methodically through the throng, defecting one machine after the other, thereby removing the cause of disturbance from the road (temporarily!). A gathering of young clientele watched this pantomime through the hotel lounge-bar window, a hum of sympathy for the bikies permeates the crowd.

Enter Mick: Pint of beer in one hand, reefer in the other. He pushes his way to the front of the clientele gathered there, then drags on his smoke. He is several years older than the majority of these spectators, (and he realises it) and enjoys a small degree of respect that is automatically bestowed upon those more experienced in obtaining (and distributing) those childish intoxicants so sought after by gullible youth.

He gazes steadily and disgustedly at the proceedings outside. He throws his cigarette butt on the carpet and grinds it slowly underfoot. He holds pint in one hand and places clenched fist of the other on his hip. He snorts:

“The f.#king bastards, those coppers can’t leave anyone alone we ought to sneak out and slash their tyres!”

Suddenly, a great hairy fist attached to a great hairy arm reaches over the heads of nearby youths and grasps Mick by the scruff of the neck, lifting him clear of the floor!

“Right,” a thunderous voice boomed out, “I’ll have you, me of china!!” and Mick was frog-marched unceremoniously away and thrown in the paddy-wagon.

Neither cries of misunderstanding nor innocence availed, Mick was “pinched!” on hearing of this disrespectful allusion to the constabulary, Bubblehead bestowed upon Mick the dreaded “BANNED FOR LIFE!” (again!).

There came the time about then when I moved interstate for work so lost touch with the local goings on. The last contact I had with anyone connected with the “crowd”, was Mick’s old man. I was driving out to go north and he was coming back toward the suburb and we crossed paths at the roundabout, he on one side me on the other. He had a car-trailer hooked on the back with the wreck of a familiar looking car lumped on it. He wearily lifted his hand that dangled outside the car window to acknowledge my questioning glance: ”Yeah! … bloody Mick … done it again!” And he drove away shaking his head.

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6 comments

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  1. Anne Byam

    Had me giggling – near choking at times with laughter – all the way through.

    Just glad I wasn’t drinking any coffee at the time.

    Wonderful story – and so true to those times, albeit written in a clever and fun way..

    Well done ….

  2. Joseph Carli

    Wild times, Anne…wild times…trust you enjoyed yourself when there?

  3. Christina Heath

    Thank you Joseph for a great read. Brings back lots of great memories of drinking ‘establishments’ in SA in the 70s. Wild times indeed!

  4. Joseph Carli

    Ta, Christina…yes, there were a few good ones..my regret was that I never did frequent the ones down The Port..or the Largs Pier Hotel…I believe there were some wild time to be had there!…but it was tad too far to travel there..get pissed and then have to make it back home to Marino Rocks….and there were so many watering holes in between!

    And at the end of a working week in the building trade, it was just as much one could do to have a shower, get changed…put on some trash!…and shimmy down to the closest pub…The Seacliff.

    In the next couple of weeks, I will be imploring Michael and the team to put up some cameos of the characters that frequented some of those places and my life…I hope you will find them interesting.

  5. Christina Heath

    My Dad and his doctor friend used to have a property in the Mallee, they called the Ponderosa. I don’t think they did much sheep work on their weekend sojourns but certainly had great stories about their nights at the Mt Mary pub and of the many characters in the district. Great memories, I hope to be able to read more of your stories. We need some relief from the despair of the current political nightmare!

  6. Joseph Carli

    Hello, Christina…the local joke about Mt Mary (you couldn’t get a much flatter plain!) is that it is more an instruction than a geographical anomaly….
    I hope to keep posting some more….after all, even if only the 1% of bloggers are interested…so effing what!? Let it be just that 1%, for that small number is powerful enough to move heaven and Earth to a better place in the heart of humanity even against the greater odds of the indolent 99% !

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