Growing up in the 70s … The following are a series of vignettes and cameos of where and with whom I grew up with in the 1970s 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 …
He was a study in tragedy … because of what he had become from what he once was. In the early days, you’d see Steve sitting in a tatty, stuffed lounge chair in one of the many dives and squats he frequented down ‘The Bay’ (Glenelg), his acoustic guitar cradled in his lap, a wide smile on his fragile delicate featured face, and he would be engaged in an enthusiastic esoteric analysis of the meaning of life with any young lass nearby … these young women were usually itinerants passing through the squat and were themselves in search of that elusive “me” … most of them were in reality middle-class hippies escaping from stultifying pre-war generation parents who wanted to see them betrothed and off their hands and into a ‘good marriage’ w/kids before they were 25 yrs old … So they were out for a bit of adventure armed with bright eyes, an experimental nature and a regular supply of the pill.
Steve was keen to assist in all facets of their education.
And so he cultivated this air of the ‘wandering minstrel I’ with a repertoire of light, airy conversation, a mix of rote-learned poetry, a permanent smile and keenly agreeable nodding head with a rising crest of wavy hair brushed so it resembled the southerly break of surf at Boomer Beach … and a regular supply of nefarious substances he was willing to share to these ‘soul mates’.
Steve always had that guitar handy and now and then he would pluck … not a complete tune … but bits and pieces of chords … he’d place that rolly-ciggy in between his lips, squint his eye from the trickle of smoke and concentrate on striking up a bar or two from a known song … but that’s all he’d do … a bit of a recognisable chord or a bar or two … and then he’d interrupt his “playing” to extract the cigarette and place one palm over the strings and extrapolate on the musicology of the unplayed piece.
He really was impressive in his knowledge of the deeper meanings of those songs.
He drove from squat to pub to dive to party in an old Austin A40 convertible … and it suited him … the paint was faded, the bumptious shape contrasted against his willowy youthful form, and the fact that it was a convertible meant that he could place that guitar in a conveniently visible place in the back seat … just in case it was needed.
This lifestyle continued for some years, right up until the mid-seventies, when both grotty squats and free-wheeling hippy girls started to be hard to come by, and Steve now a tad older and showing his age, never being the most employable type of person, was reduced to couch surfing on friends benevolence and trying to chat up the girls who frequented the bars in the Seacliff Hotel … His fortune in both categories was soon exhausted and he started to take more drugs and in consequence look more seedy.
His once-brushed wavy hair grew more lank and he substituted brush for Welsh-combing … His once boyish laughter now became more a hardened shrill and that wide smile a cruel grimace … the end game was approaching.
One of the last times I ever saw him, was at the front bar of the Seacliff Hotel … he’d been living in a distant suburb so had not frequented this side of town for a while … Now here he was sitting on a bar-stool in that girly cross-legged manner he always had, the rolly in hand and the other arm pressing down on a slim leather satchel on the bar top … I said my greetings and passed the usual idle chatter with him, but the leather folder drew my attention ..
“What’s in the satchel … sheet music?” I pointed.
“This … ” he said in a secretive whisper, “is my evidence.” He smiled his ‘new smile’.
“For what?” I persisted.
“For a claim I intend to bring against my ex-landlord … ” and he gently tapped the folder. “It’s all recorded in here … every leaking tap or faulty door lock … I’ve got them all listed down … oh yes … he won’t get me that easy … ”
And he proceeded to relate to me the ongoing conflict he had with his last landlord and why he was thrown out of the old shack he was renting … It was a sad tale of the obvious … and Steve ticked off on his grubby hand, every perceived insult, every incriminating action, every bit of “evidence” that he was sure would secure him a hefty compensated win in any court of law … of which it was only a matter of time before he would “consult his lawyer” and …
Steve had almost lost his mind … and that guitar he would always have by his side was nowhere to be seen … I remarked upon this anomaly later to Mark …
“Nah … he pawned it to buy some ‘gear’ … ”
“That’s bad luck, he must miss the playing,” I whimsically observed.
“What playing? … ” Mark snorted. “He was lucky he could put those chords together that he did! … I was there when he first bought it from the pawn shop … he never could play a full song, it was just an image he projected for the girls … ”
I nodded a disappointed face and went back to my beer … it’s never good to see anyone fall from grace.
Jasper was a ‘Balt’ … ie; he was of those states centred around the Baltic Sea … perhaps he could have been Estonian … he was a tall ponderous sort of chap … with a long serious gaze, with one of those what are called “lantern jawed” faces. He always spoke in a slow, carefully chosen word way … I don’t wonder many philosophers came from the Baltic States … Jasper appeared to put a lot of thought into what he said before he said it … but then he didn’t ever say much of great import.
“You gotta watch those ‘Balts’“ Jack Mitchell warned … ’Ooo … they’re trouble … those bloody Balts.”
He always wore shorts in the Summer … not short shorts like a footballer, but loose baggy ones to the knee. He would sit at the bar pint in hand with legs crossed in a peculiar effeminate way … that is; with his legs entwined like women do … and he would stare incessantly at one person or spot before delivering some profound statement.
“Michael” … he announced out of the blue one day “Michael … would you tell your girlfriend to stop staring at my legs … I know I haff good, manly legs … but could she please not to stare at them so ?”
Of course, Mick was astonished and choked on his beer … Tracey, Mick’s girlfriend, was outraged and put on one hell of a show … Jasper was nonplussed by the whole affair and just commenced to roll a cigarette with his slow ponderous methodology.
Jasper had huge hands … big fingers more suited to blacksmithing or a farrier for draught horses than what he did do … but no-one knew quite what that was as he was an awful liar. Jasper’s toil at rolling a cigarette was something to watch … he was so clumsy with those big hands that it was quite a chore that exasperated him at times.
One day a ‘airy’ young lady sitting next to him at the bar took out of her dilly-bag one of those automatic cigarette rollers where you place the paper then the tobacco, then lift or flip the lid and a perfectly formed ’rolly’ appears to greet you. Jasper, ciggy-paper stuck to his bottom lip watched this magic with deep concentration, his big paw all the while shoved deep into the pouch of tobacco … as he watched, the ciggy-paper fluttered with his breath on his lip … he detached it and addressed the young lady.
“That is a cleffer machine … a vonderful machine … where did you obtain it?” he asked in his slow deep voice.
“Well I didn’t steal it if that’s what you mean?’ The young woman replied.
“ Ivas not accusing you, madam … you look like a honest young lady … an honest AND attractive young lady … perhaps later I would like to get to know you in a more familiar way … I like you … and I like your machine … I am asking where you haff purchased it” …
The following week, Jasper was seen to have one of those machines … it would sit at his elbow on the bar next to his pouch of Drum tobacco … Jasper now had a contented look on his face, and he would gladly demonstrate the marvels of that machine to anyone who asked … and many would take advantage of his hospitality of the proffered resulting cigarette until he woke up to the fact that he was being taken for a ride … philosophers are like that, they learn fast!
Jasper disappeared out of our lives as quickly as he appeared … Late one night he asked Mick for a lift home on the back of his 1000cc Suzuki motor-cycle … Mick delighted in putting the fear of god in anyone silly enough to ride pillion with him … Jasper had no sooner settled himself on the trembling machine and informed Mick to drive carefully as he, Jasper, was … and that was the last we heard of Jasper as Mick took off full-throttle and it was impossible to tell if it was the roar of the motor, the squeal of the tyre, or the Joe. E. Brown howl of despair from Jasper as they disappeared down Yakka Road toward Sth. Brighton.
But he never came back.
Erroll’s Prawn Night
The pub gathering was interesting, if for all the other things, the Hotel where it was held. I have “history” with that establishment … lesser so than my old ‘alma puttana’; The Seacliff Hotel … it was there that I forged an alliance (however accidental) with Beelzebub! … ahh! … the demon drink did for all us youth in THAT den of iniquity!
But beside that, the three hotels that formed a triangle in the suburbs there (nick-named; “The Pollywaffle Triangle” (as a foil to “The Iron Triangle” of Spencer Gulf); The Esplanade, The Brighton and The Seacliff, had thriving membership to their respective “Sports and Social Clubs” … mind you, speaking for the members of the Seacliff Club (of which I was not a member ref; Groucho Marx and ‘clubs HE would not join!’) … but I was quite familiar with those said members), while I would not for a moment doubt their capacity to “socialise” with hard liquour, their capacity for sport of any kind was limited to “elbow bending” and channel surfing with the remote …. and I am reminded of a Nelson Algren story (“The Captain is a Card”) where the Captain of police asks a suspect why he was running a house of ill repute:
“It wasn’t a brothel, it was a sports and social club” the reprobate defended …
“So who were the scantily dressed women?” the Capt’ asks …
“They were the social part,” the man replies …
“Oh that’s good,” the Capt’ says. “For a moment I thought you were going to tell me they were lady wrestlers!”
But besides that, the three hotels thought it good fellowship to join in a joint-hosting program where they would take turns, once a month, to host the other’s social club for dining at their premises. This went on for a while till a small mishap involving Errol “the drunk” and member of the Seacliff club. I heard it from Mark, a fellow imbiber at that hallowed trough ….
“So how come the event was cancelled?” I asked.
“It wasn’t cancelled, it’s just the Seacliff has been banned for the near future from participating.”
“Why … what’s the dirt?”
“Errol!” … Mark’s eyes lowered and his top lip curled.
Errol was one of those homosexuals of the seventies who seemed to slip under the “Aussie Poofter Radar”; acceptable because they were amusing even though high camp! … as a matter of fact, I remember the owner of the pub in those days, a retired footballer (of course!) addressing the crowded front bar thus:
“Listen youse blokes … I don’t want anybody picking on Errol or Steve (Errol’s occasional partner) …. They’re good blokes … not like you an’ me … p’rhaps … but they’re alright … ALRIGHT!?”
Truth be known, Errol and Steve drank enough to lift the pub’s profit margin above “respectable” on a good night! … Errol was in his mid-fifties, corpulent, red-faced w/comb-over and was a quite disreputable person regardless of ANY sexual proclivities!
I recall a moment when I was next to them along the bar and I distinctly heard Erroll addressing a petulant, Stevie:
”Jeesus … Steve, you’re really up-tight tonight … you should try farting … it’ll loosen you up a little.”
I took the accompanying moment of silence to slip away from that location at the bar.
Anyway … this night it was the turn of the Brighton Hotel to be Mine Host … Errol had been tossing a few down at “the cliff” before he went to the dinner … At The Brighton, in the dining room, quite full of family diners, it being Fri’ night, Errol took a shine to the bay-marie bowl full of big, fat prawns … he gouged himself … GOUGED himself! … and drank another couple of pints … then he decided he’d go for seconds … (you just know where this is heading, don’t you?) … eyewitness accounts state that Errol unsteadily approached the bay-marie side-table … a miniature, mock wagonette in the Oklahoma Musical style, replete with the “fringe on top” … plate out-stretched … he stood in front of the prawn container momentarily … he swayed a tad, his eyes widened somewhat and he then delivered what has been described as a Guinness Book of Records quality “technicolour yawn” … all over the prawns, all over the chopped carrots and the three-bean mix and the sweet corn (off the cob) … finishing in a dead faint flop onto the lot, then sliding, slipping, unconscious to the ceramic floor dragging the entire bay-marie potpourri and waggonette down with him … one witness remarked that his inert body slipped over the tiles like a dead fish would on a fluid baised tray.
Of course, such action did not go un-noticed and the consequences were felt right up to the highest echelon of The Seacliff Hotel Sports and Social Club management, ie; Col Penny and Joe Phistus!
The “night to remember” has gone down in the annals of Seacliff front-bar mythology … along with other memorable moments … of which, if you like, more later!
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