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Days of wine and lost horizons …

Days of beer and weed …

Growing up in the 70’s … The following are a series of vignettes and cameos of where and with whom I grew up with in the 1970’s as a young man … 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. 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 …

To the Lighthouse

Ah! … Friday nights, didn’t we look forward to them. But we were young and carefree in those days. A group of us young bucks would meet after work at the Seacliff Hotel on Fridays and imbibe of the amber fluid and see what came of the evening. We were mostly working lads, so our thirsts were dry and encouraging.

I happened to be the first there that night, so I’d only taken my first draught of beer and settled back one-arm-on-the-bar surveying the scene, when in walks Mark. Mark was a big stocky fellow then, before the years and a beer-gut increased accordingly. I did the decent thing and shouted him his first beer on myself.

“Another schooner please, Noela.” I said to the barmaid before Mark reached me.

“G’day mark … How’s the land lie?” I greeted him.

‘Hrmph! … not much better than yesterday … ta, Noela.”

“Why the long face? … Say! … I heard you bought yourself a car!”

“HAD, you mean … past tense … an’ I only had it three days!”

“Righto then,” I turned and put both my forearms on the bartop … “out with it … what’s the dirt?”

“Bloody Mick!” Mark spat the words out.

“More!” I demanded.

“Last night we were in here having a drink,” he started … ( I motioned to Noela for a beer for myself and nudged the coins on the bar and gave her the wink and a sign to keep refilling them). “You know then that car I got from one of Mick’s mates who was going back to Sydney or somewhere and it had a “yellow canary” on it for bald back tyres? … Well, Mick suggested I buy the car ’cause I could get it for a song.” Mark paused for a drink and a sigh, then continued …

“But I haven’t even got a licence .. I said to him .. ‘You’ll get one one day,’ said Mick ‘and until then I can drive you around, since I don’t have a car.” … Mark rolled his eyes … “Say! … have you heard about Mick’s car?”

“I have not,” I replied.

“Ah! … it’s another story … I’ll tell you later .. he smashed it anyhow … again!” Mark waved his hand as if to erase the thought from his mind.

“Well,” he continued, “I’d had enough beer by then to be a little bit foolish, so between one thing and another, I bought the car … ‘ 64 Falcon … green … I think!”

Mark sighed and plonked his hand down on a packet of smokes which he flung the lid off in an angry gesture and lit one up ecstatically.

“A man’s a fool!” he philosophised.

“Well, we were in here last night, me, Mick and Jim … You know Jim … the bullshit-artist? … yeah, that’s him! … me and Jim and Mick, just where we’re sitting now … and the car’s there outside the window in the street and I was feeling a little proud, I admit it, I’d never owned a car before, you see? … ”

“Anyway … (yes thanks, Noela) … we’re sitting here an’ Mick leans over to Jim and me and whispers like it was a national secret: ‘I know where I can get a good “deal” tonight’ … ”

“Oh yeah!” I said “Where; The Brighton?”

“Yeah … good heads … good price too!” … Mick was keen. Suddenly, there was “Brain’s” face hanging over my shoulder … “How much?” Brain asks.

I tell you, if there’s even a sniff of dope within half a mile of Brain, he’s on to it. And God! … doesn’t it look like he’s full of it ! If it can be smoked, drank chewed or injected … but then I ‘spose that’s why he’s called “Brain” …. oh God! … his eyes!!”

“How much?” Brain repeats himself .. he’s standing there trembling like a distempered dog … anyway, between the long and short of it, we scrape our money together … I lent Brain his share … and we send Mick to buy a bag.”

“He gets back about an hour later lookin’ like he’s smoked half of it away. He gave us the nod from the door and we all finished our beers and went out to the car. He showed us the “deal”.

“And the rest, Mick!”, Jim said … He knew mick like he knows himself, eh? … After a good deal of threatening from us he handed over some more he’d kept ‘ for commission’ he said.”

“Well, we decided to got up to the lighthouse and have a couple of joints. Mick’s driving like he usually does, so he does a few ‘ring-a-rounds’ on the grass and we park and smoke away … When we decided to go, Mick does another bunch of 360s just to make an idiot of himself and then goes and slides the car into a ditch on the slope and gets stuck … of course, you know Mick; plants his foot till smoke’s pouring off the tyres!”

” ‘Hold on dickhead!’ … I shouted,’ we’re not going anywhere like this … we’ll have to get out and push’ … we were standing at the boot, all off our faces as it was … ‘ No, Mick … YOU .. stay in the car and steer …. OK? … yeah, right ‘ … Well, there we were, an the stars were shinin’ … shinin’ an’ the lighthouse light is goin’ … blink .. blink … FLASH!! … jeez, y’know … it was a beautiful night …. so it took us a little while to notice the grass had caught on fire under the car .. probably off the muffler .. up it went! … WHOOSH! … ‘ Mick, Mick’, we yelled (shoulda’ kept our mouths shut!) an he got out just in time. Man … we were panicking. Brain was freaking out, he just stood there moaning, ‘ Oh man, oh man’ … and staring.”

“I’ll go to a house’, I shouted, ‘and call the fire brigade’. I tell you I went to four houses over the other side of that gully before someone would listen to me. I don’t blame them on reflection, I dunno what I was sayin’ … and the people in the fourth house could see the problem without me babbling a word.. He just looked over my shoulder and the grass on the whole side of the hill was on fire. I heard the sirens then and it was all over bar the shouting … When I got back to the fenceline, Jim, Mick and Brain were standing there silhouetted against the flames. Jim went into bullshit mode and started to detail about how it reminded him of “when he used to burn the sugar-cane crops up in Bundaberg … ” … I told him to ‘shuddup, Jim … just shuddup!’.

“Well, that was last night. This morning, I wasn’t feeling too good, but around comes Mick to pick me up me an’ Jim an’ we drive up to the lighthouse to see the damage. The car’s a writeoff, gutted except the rear-end and the boot … you know those new tyres I put on to get the coppers to wipe off the “yellow canary”? … well, someone stole both wheels … must’av been the only thing on the whole car worth saving … and to add insult to injury, I’m standing there, really depressed an’ thinkin’; ‘well .. at least I owned a car for three days! ‘ … suddenly Mick makes this gasping sound, like a sharp intake of breath, leaps to the passenger-side door, throws it open and flips open what remained of the glovebox.”

“Oh SHIT!” … Mick cried painfully … “There was a whole “deal” in that glove-box!!”

“Man … I coulda’ wept.” … Mark shook his head disbelievingly. His hand plopped down again on his smokes.

“Two pints this time thanks, Noela”. He sighed.

“Sos.”

You had to feel for Sos … He was one of those people raised in an institution from a very young child … ” Minda Home” … that what it was called once, but the name was changed to ‘Minda Incorporated” … there was a personal slur in this state by using that original name … ie; to call someone a ”minda” was to imply that they were simple-minded … Minda Home being an institution for the intellectually disabled.

The first time I “met” Sos, was when he was coming out of the double doors at the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel one night … I was crossing the esplanade with a couple of friends, headed to the pub for a beer or two. Sos had just pushed the door open rather roughly … he was a bloody big bloke, so he filled the entire door-space up … and his shadow stretched in a jagged elongation out onto the expanse of Wheatland Street. He suddenly turned and yelled back into the bar:

“ I can dream! … ” he stabbed his finger into that space and repeated: “I can dream!” … he let the door slam shut and turned down the verandah when he spotted us and he repeated the fact that he yelled into the bar; “I can dream” … though this time not as forcefully … he then took a push-bike from where it leant against the wall and awkwardly mounting it, pushed off clumsily onto The Esplanade heading toward Brighton jetty … we could hear him repeat the “I can dream” mantra a couple more times as he rode away.

I remember I said the obvious to Mark (I think it was him); ”I wonder what that was about?” …

”Dunno” he shrugged. “But I’d hate to know of Sos’s dreams … be a nightmare more likely.” …

It turned out Sos was standing near some group of blokes and one had told another in the course of the conversation that; “You’re dreemin’ mate … you’re dreemin’ !” … but that was Sos … he could get the wrong end of the stick anytime … it was his mental state … you had to feel for him … but he never got into any trouble that I can remember, though he could have a “dark scowl” look after a few too many.

But boy! … Could he eat! … Talk about a trencherman! … I remember once seeing him sitting at the front bar, drinking pints of Coopers Ale … now, I’m talking about that old Coopers Ale … back in the days when it was real ale … with twigs ‘n stuff in it, as they would say … but cloudy … then the cook brought out this huge roast-platter … you know those big oval platters they’d serve up the Christmas turkey on … one of those big platters with three complete “T-bone” steak meals on it, replete w/ roast pratties, carrots, onions and sweet-potatoes … the salad was in a side dish, it wouldn’t fit on the main dish … and about half a loaf of bread to mop up the gravy! … AND all the while he was eating, he was tossing back those pints of Coopers Ale … THEN! … after he had finished that platter, he got stuck into his own packed lunch he had there with him! … Mark once told me that Sos had challenged him to an eating contest … Mark declined the offer.

There was a reckless side to Sos … Once, when I came down the road that led from Minda Home, toward Brighton Road (Brighton Road is a main road carrying most of the traffic from the southern sea-side suburbs), a very busy road. I was on my motor-bike and had stopped at the intersection waiting for a break in the traffic … when suddenly, this “crazy” on a push-bike swept right past me straight out into Brighton Road … his bike bell tinkling like Christmas chimes and he laughing his head off … cars were going every which way! … braking and sliding all over the place … Sos (yes … it was he) … just roared with laughter and crossed lanes and peddled away like mad! … bloody crazy!

Oh yeah … that push-bike he rode off on that night I first saw him? … it wasn’t his, he stole it as it was just there … the owner … a bit of a misery-guts who had won some money in a minor prize in the lottery came wandering wide-eyed into the bar later that same night calling out in surprise: “ Me bike … me bike! … someone’s stole me bike! … ” of course, no-one ever told him it was Sos … it looked like a heap of shit anyway!

The last time I saw Sos was about ten years ago, in Goodwood … he was still riding a pushbike … I called out to him, but he was heading in a different direction to me and he didn’t hear … gosh! … He was old then … I suppose he’d be “gone” by now.

I like the Australian cultural habit of telling yarns … and general bullshitting … There is a certain skill in attitude, demeanour and voice-timing to get a good story across … Of course, the oral tradition is the best way for such a personality to tell a yarn … but with the loss of the front-bar culture, where working people would gather and the bullshit would fly, those days of the casual yarn are over. But I would like to share a couple of those characters with you if I may … just for the fun of it.

Glen and Mrs Wright

Did I ever tell you about Mrs Wright and Glen? … No? … Well, they were two “locals” down at the Seacliff Hotel … back in the old days of the seventies, some of the last of that “war generation” that were retired or on the point of when we younger folk came along and taught them how to drink!

Mrs Wright was a widow, a retired teacher who drove what I reckon was one of the last registered Humber Super Snipes … A big black beast she parked in her “reserved ” spot just out the front of “the “Cliff” when she went for a quiet drink at night … almost every night … Looking back on it, and her being a local, I wonder if she bought that Humber off the deceased estate of Mrs Herreen … now THERE was a tartar … a wealthy widow who lived opposite the Primary school I went to … I know she was a widow because she always wore black and wealthy because she was chauffeured around in a big black Humber Snipe … She donated large sums to the convent school I attended and in return, she was sometimes given “control” of a class for an afternoon … she would stalk up and down the aisles of us fifty-odd kids (that’s “odd” in number, not personality!) swishing a cane into her cupped hand and looking threatening … she had the physique of Hatty Jaques and the eyes of Myra Hindley … but I’m getting off the subject …

Glenn was a council employee, whose job for the last years of his working life was seated on the council’s ride-on lawnmower … all day every day … out in the sun, which is why he got such a ruddy complexion .. and more melanomas cut off his face so he looked like a pottery paste-up sculpture … though there was a rumour that the colour was all to do with his affection for “poor-man’s port” … he was a very tall bloke who developed a kind of stoop which some tall people get from leaning down to people and perhaps a self-conscious compensation to not look too obvious …

Now, you wouldn’t think two such diverse characters would meet and become a “unit”, but they did … it happened like this:

There came to pass that Don Dunstan put a tax on beer which raised the price of a ‘pony’ glass beyond what Mrs Wright (we’ll call her Betty) could budget in her retirement … BUT! … there was salvation .. Ron, the barman, informed her that there was no extra tax on wine, therefore the price of a “hock, lime and lemon” was now cheaper than the “pony” of beer she was used to having …

“Righto”, she decided “I’ll give it a try” … the first drink was “on the house” said Ron … a kindly chap … and she liked it and would have another thank you very muchly!

Of course, wine is a very different alcoholic beast than beer, and so by the twitching hour of ten o’clock, Betty was seen sitting, glazed eyed on the bar-stool, a cheroot-cigar stub hanging loose in her fingers … eye-witness accounts state that the cheroot first slipped from her fingers, did several somersaults to the bar-step in a spray of sparks … a close acquaintance stooped to pick it up, but was immediately stopped in his action by a “teacher’s command” to “LEAVE-IT!” … which were the last words she spoke that evening as she then slid ever so gracefully off the stool, gathering her heavy skirts modestly around herself and sunk to the floor …

Ron (the barman witnessing this), to him so familiar; “float to oblivion”, leapt across the bar in what must be termed “the Barman’s Flop” for it was equal to an Olympian effort and calling for assistance carried her “wheelbarrow style” out to place her on the back seat of her Humber to sleep it off … it must be mentioned that Ron took her arms while the only other sober-able bodied man in the front bar; Glen took her legs … “In a kindly and gentlemanly way” as Betty later assured all who would doubt otherwise.

When Glenn retired, they sold up their respective houses and moved to Kangaroo Island … Betty drove with the Humber and a huge trailer of their possessions to take the ferry across … Glen, waving goodbye to all his mates, set sail in his restored clinker-built fishing boat to “chug-along” to the island … it was a long afternoon in the front-bar while he said his farewells … it was a long “goodbye” drinking toasts to all the good times … and it was noticed that one particular old mate … Little Johnny, the SP bookie, in a teary moment, slipped a ruddy flagon of Rovalley Rich (poor-man’s) Port into the prow of the boat before he set off … “in case it gets a tad chilly in ‘the passage’ (Backstair’s Passage)” he comforted … then Glenn set off for Kangaroo Island … a delightful island just off the coast of Flerieu Peninsula, approx 90 miles long facing the mainland.  You can’t miss it …

It DID get chilly out on the water … Glenn DID consume the entire flagon of port and fell asleep on the bottom of the boat in a drunken stupor and was swept through Backstairs Passage, where the tide goes out like a river … and missed Kangaroo Island, to end up on The Pages … a couple of rocks outcropped on the vast ocean, last stop between Sth Aust’ and Antarctica … I believe he was rescued by the Sea Patrol sent out by Betty’s distress at Glen not turning up … it appears he gained the patrol’s attention by using the now empty “Poor-man’s Port” flagon to flash heliograph signals to the passing patrol boat … but that’s another story.

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2 comments

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  1. Anne Byam

    Quite a read – long, but worth every moment. The usual laughter erupting.

    I am part the way through reading the narrative etc. about the Ukulele. I have a couple of thoughts ( you asked for them ) and will get back to you another time ( when I have finished ).

    Another good one here Joseph ….

    Cheers ~

  2. Joseph Carli

    Hello, Anne….yes…good..looking forward to it…

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