Twelve Caesars.

Twelve Caesars.

Book Two…”The Raconteur”.

Part Second.

There were the regulars there every boozy Friday night.. This haven of familiarity and drug-induced bonhomie was our community contact and our neighbourhood home every Friday night through to Sunday morning when we would crawl our way back to familiar beds and table to sober up. The hotel was the station of our own self-imposed cross which supplied that outpouring of relief from the labours of the week for the working men..Beery, boozy, sweaty cacophony of noise and drunken swearing that marked the intensity..like the rousting cries of birds and wild animals when one enters their territory..which marked the intensity of expectations of the night..the height on the decibel scale pumping the adrenaline through the system in expectation..and then there were the women “on hand” ..not for personal pleasure, but rather as “footsoldiers” or perhaps “backgrounding” to the drinking clientele whose demands upon the tirelessly serving barmaids elevated some to a kind of hagiographic status.

Aphrodite’s Handmaids..

So..ok..let’s talk about barmaids…When I think back on the subject, and I have to “think back” because I no longer inhabit the locales where barmaids are to be found!…age HAS wearied him..and I am no longer haunted by strange, unrealisable fantasies! But I have to admit, as a once keen drinking man, that the barmaid holds a special iconic position in the drinking male’s itinerary of desire. the perfect barmaid is a rare person..a species so valued that physical harm can befall those who abuse or debase such in public. They are not really “personality”…they are …: “elan” personified……vivacity….creating a hunger for something promised but never delivered..and indeed…never really needed to be delivered …no!..wisdom tells us the journey is most times better than the arriving…a desire wanting more fulfilling than the actual reality..this was Ulysses dream..the Sirens on the rocks, the musicality of their voices enough to spark conversation and a vainglory heroism in the wanting and drunken clientele.

I have known three perfect barmaids. : Shirley (at The Brighton Esplanade)…Diedre (the Postal Institute Club, Darwin) and Noela (The Seacliff Hotel)…

Ever the women..

Come the morning, come the play,
Ere the sun comes upon the day,
Ere the first shots begin to stray,
Here are the women with a cry to say,
Ever are there women..at the break o’ day!

Shirley was quite mature when I met her by accident, dropping in for a cool beer to the saloon bar on the corner of Jetty Rd. and The Esplanade there by the Brighton jetty. She had that sharp, dry wit of an experienced woman that could cheer highly or cut deeply depending on the occasion or the person…I used to go to the TAB., drop a few bets and then listen to the races there on a quiet day when work wasn’t busy or just to break the day up a tad…I remember I was there at the bar one day…while Shirley was wiping the bottles in the fridge and this too obvious “high-camp” chap in full gay regalia rushes in and buys several cans of UDL. pre-mix and then just as quickly rushed out, a trail of fragrant scent wafting in his wake…

“What do you make of THAT?” I casually commented. Shirley just leant on the bartop staring blankly out at the chap crossing the road.

“What’s TO make of it? …these days, what with the surgery they do, a couple of clips and snips and bango!..Bob’s your aunty”….she swished the cleaning cloth at an idle fly and went back to work. I could imagine her getting home and her old man asking her how the day went.. “Oh..the usual…five drunks, three proposals, two-on-a-promise and too few tips!” But she was sensitive to the dark soul…I.ve seen a bloke come in to the bar..a local…not looking good (and you’d bet Shirley’d know the problem), order a first beer, put some coins on the mat and Shirley put her finger on the coin and pushed it back into the pile with a knowing wink…it doesn’t take a grand gesture to prop a fellah up…a good soul was Shirley.

Ladies…

There is this little secret that ,

I’ll not share with other men.

It’s deep, it’s dark , it’s truth rather stark.

Though the wording mostly unseen.

You may know it or at least sense it,

For it was whispered you at birth.

You wear it as a heritage,

You shed it at your death.

Though you may not explain it fully,

There are times , I think you know..

When the call of men and children,

Must need your attention most of all.

I promise I will never reveal it,

Because that secret is held you see..

In a knowing look , a furtive wink,

exchanged in passing,

Just between you and me.

Diedre was a different woman entirely…buxom, bubbly, sharp as a tack redhead..in her early thirties and real womanly….you could say one thing to her and she’d twist it about like a cryptic clue and leave you open-mouthed working it out…never to be trapped or cornered, but always smiling…She was the bar-manager of the Postal Institute Club there on the hill over-looking the Botanic Gardens in Darwin…a prime position…I would go there Friday nights for a meal…Earle, the cook there in a side kitchen next to the bar would serve the best Barra’ and chips in Darwin on a Friday night…I would front the counter there and call to him..

“Fancy a beer Earle?”…”

“G’day, “Chris’”..one for me and one for (he had a woman friend there helping out, I forget her name now!)…” and he’d serve the best Barra’ that melted in your mouth..and you’d take your plate straight to the bar and Diedre would serve you a handle of the amber fluid with a smile and a bit of coquettish cheek so that you thought you had joined the angels and they were ringing the Angelus just for you. She was a shorty, but wore those platform shoes that were the fashion in those days (I’m talking the early seventies)…and when she came out from behind the bar to collect glasses, she would swish about the tables like a dancing girl..like a diminutive Isadora Duncan!…god she was beautiful!..I swear, any number of blokes would’ve thrown themselves under Vishnu’s Juggernaut just at her command….and I do believe I may have joined them!

If you were one of the last there at closing..and I confess that I sometimes was!…she’d call out with the voice of Mary Magdalene..”I’m clearing the lines…anyone want a beer?”…..

The Siren’s Song.

The Siren sang her song.

Irresistible in her comeliness.

And yes..I answered..

Along with others,

But oh..;

The clues were numerous,

The seduction of her face,

The perils of her warm embrace.

Small things ; gifts and trinkets

To secure her exclusiveness.

Along with mine..

Shipwrecked upon her palliasses.

Now, behind cold glass,

I touch her face,

My fingers hesitate on lacq’d plate

Of  the silvered frame.

She smiles out at me.

Again the Siren song my heart fills.

She is calling…!

She is calling…!

I cannot resist..does she love me still ?

I am falling…

I am falling…

I am falling…

Noela…The barmaid at “The Cliff”…It’s a crying shame that medals of valour are only struck for war combatants…otherwise Noela’s shirtfront would be heavy with ribbons and polished brass! But she was not a striking person in any memorable way…she was what mean-spirited people in those days called “plain”…no great witticisms passed her lips…droll was her humour..as a matter of fact one couldn’t be sure if the humour was not an accident of language…for instance, I once fronted the bar on a quiet Monday night, got my beer and when Noela returned with the change I asked her if anything interesting happened over the weekend while I was away….She placed the change there and while looking to someone fiddling with the drawer at the cigarette machine quite casually noted that : ” Oh..Zero’s beer went flat while he was making a rolly.”….and walked away…that was it…droll, very droll. Of course, you’d have to know “Zero” and to have witnessed him rolling a cigarette…He had the nickname “Zero” because it was considered by those who knew that it was the measure of his IQ…..he was a heavy drinker and had the eternal shakes, so that to watch him fashion a rolly was a temptation of patience…he once bragged he could get 90 rollies from one 2oz.packet of Champion Ruby…but the damn things were so skimp on tobacco, and so loose rolled, he’d light it up, then choke on the first drawback to spit to the floor the loose bits of baccy that came with the inhale. I do recall once seeing Noela, in a quiet moment, elbows on bar, face in her cupped hands, staring intently at a completely unaware Zero, head down in concentration, busy rolling one of his cigarettes…was it satire on her part or just bored interest?…that was it with Noela..you couldn’t tell. But one thing she was…reliable..unflappable..and a patient ear for the lonely drinker….and believe me..there can be no lonelier place than sitting by oneself with a heart full of hurt and a skinfull of booze and an empty hotel bar.

No…give the woman a medal, I say.

A shaft of sun through the Parthenon glows,

Upon a wild, white Athens rose.

The blossom of that tender bush,

Is tinged at heart with a gentle blush,

When held, ‘tis said, ‘tween lovers fingers twined,

Would, with age-old chant, their voices bind;

“Oh Sun who gives the blush to thee,

Grant her cheeks may blush for me,

And with the passing of this day,

Grant the wish I wish I may.”

On that extraordinary musical delight by Santana..: “Abraxas”, there is a poem from Hermann Hesse’s book, Demian, quoted on the album’s back cover:..the painting on the front is : “Annunciation”…

“We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion.

We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it:

We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas….”

I cannot think of a better dedication to the mysterious relationship males have to such an extraordinary institution…: the barmaid.

There was our little gathering of compatriots and there were the “others”..there was us..: Mark, Peter, Mick, Steve, Christopher, Mick’s girlfriend, Tracy, Jim the bullshit artist ( I’ll tell you about him later) Bruce, Jeff and Lindsay…and several hangers on who drifted between the front bar and the “Lifesaver’s Saloon Bar” and The Lounge..and there was the older generation still clinging on by the skin of their livers..There was Jack Mitchel too..a buyer for one of the biggest department stores in the state..he was there every Friday night, dressed in suit and tie with polished shoes…old school..sipping on a “pony glass” of beer…as so many of the more “genteel aspirants” did in those days..never to be seen swilling a pint of beer down with gusto to the egging of their mates…THAT was much too much “working-class”..

Many young men “came of age” in this environment..the seedy example of other drunken young men giving spectacular example of the bad direction to go in if one continued down that track…and then too was the finished product of several of the older men who DID go down that track and were now irreconcilable to a straight life..the demon drink being the pillar of support propping up their lives…….something went wrong..

Jack Mitchell shared the family home with his two sisters after the parents passed away..none of them ever married. Not that there were ever any suggestion of  dubious behaviour amongst them one way or the other, it’s just that they never married..though I was told by a person who knew him,years later that “Joking Jack” was a very lonely man.

Jack was full of jokes..he would drop one every few minutes in any conversation there in the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel..He was never stuck for a word either..He used to work as a buyer for one of the biggest department stores in the city..:

“I just started as a youngster there with socks and stockings in lingerie and worked my way up!”..was his usual gag if any one asked about his employment. He was always snappily dressed in smart suit and tie, no matter what the night…which was nearly every night at the hotel. Whenever Jack told a joke, you could see he was dying to laugh at his own joke..this would be bad form, so he pinched his lips together as tight as he could..but that was rarely enough and a slight splutter and a bit of foamy spittle would cover his lips after.

One month, Jack, with a couple of other older blokes from the hotel, took a trip to Bangkok. Now, the only reason many men went to Bangkok in those days was for sex..sex in any shape or form..Bangkok was notorious for it..so when Jack returned to the front bar after the “holiday’ a couple of younger men there started to take the piss..:

“Jack!” one called out across the other side of the U-shaped bar. “Tell us Jack..; How was the hol-i-day in BANG-KOK!?”..and then followed a spot of laughter..

‘Well boys” Jack began after sipping the foam off the top of his beer “ Well, boys..you know there’s an old saying that if a balding man..much like myself..was to rub his pate against that most tender and private part of a young lady’s body..then his hair would grow back..”..and here Jack took a slow draught of his beer, wiped his lips with the back of his hand and with wide-eyed surprise announced in a loud voice to the lads: “Well it’s a lie!!”

This admission brought laughter all ‘round.

But Jack was always a conservative voter and a ‘boss’s man..he could be seen on some occasions in deep conference with the manager of the hotel, looking about with suspicious eyes…we believed he was the management’s watching eyes to detect and report on the young dope users and sellers in the hotel..we never trusted him..

He has passed away many years now, and according to the one young man who did have his confidence, Jack Mitchell was a very lonely man..and I had to tell you about that person..he had to be recorded in name and location..also ; situation, for the continuity of my lived experience demands that I put in sequence, as best as I am able, those characters that stick in my mind..it is the basic NEED for my storytelling as a raconteur..it is my basic argument for writing..; to show my disappointment at the dearth of  apparent interest in the posting of working-class stories and tales on certain “left-wing” blog sites pages specifically reserved for stories and tales. I based this on the sad lack of follow-up commentary and others contributions to that page. Eventually, the page was shut down due to this lack of interest. A disappointing end to a good social direction and a sad reflection on the state of imagination from the “Left” side of politics.. So much promise, so little delivery…in those days I wrote this..: “I am going to put another story up on “The Lounge Bar” page  ( on a blog site named “The Pub” that I used to contribute to..sadly incorrectly labelled as : “The Depository of Ideas” page, a smart-arse slight by the owner toward my writings, slightingly referring to a notorious comment by a politician who blurted ; “A suppository of ideas” instead of the above word)…I have to concede that it is somewhat of a disappointment that it has not yet attracted a greater variety of posters all keen to tell those little bits and pieces that make up ours and others lives.

Sure..we are all busy or are more distracted with the politics of  the moment to bother with what may be seen as “distractions from the main game”.. or maybe we shy away from exposing our lack of confidence with grammatical correctness or expression…for I believe everyone has a story to tell and within even the most innocent of tales, there is the germ of conviction of the teller’s integrity , ”…as we gaze into the abyss “ and all that..What I failed to realise in those days..on THAT blog and subsequent so-called “left-wing blogs” I came to know, was that the blog was run and moderated by middle-class people for their own middle-class sensitivities and those others..even some working-class folk who aspired to be a part of the middle-classes…a hopeless situation.

If there is one difference (amongst a legion of political differences) between us of the “left” and those of the “right”, it is that sense of awareness , of sensitivity toward the trials and tribulations of what we witness in the joy or the sufferings of our fellows. Not that ; “blind to shades of black and white judgement” , nor that braggadocio of sneering “success” in status or wealth. With the socially aware, there comes a learned experience of cause and effect.

This state of awareness , translated to a sympathetic “there but for the grace of Fate go I ” understanding comes, I believe from a well-read background into classic and contemporary literature as much if not more than that from the well-informed news sources. For it is from the nuances of interpretive writing, the “fiction” if you like, of the retold story of contemporary events and peoples that give us the deeper insight into the story behind the story…without which, we would be reduced to that black and white interpretation so favoured by the less informed on the ‘right’ side of politics.

After all, surely it is less from the “histories” of Herodotus and more from the plays of Euripides that we understand the psyche of the ancient world. It is more from Shakespeare and less from Whitcombe and Tombs ( publishers of school history books) that we understand the mind-set of medieval English history. It is the colour on the canvas that captures the eye and it should be noted by those too shy or too concerned for how their writing would strike the critical eye of their readers.; it is not angular perfection that is always the most attractive, but rather we often turn to gaze at the flaw in the glass…for it is always the “weakness” of a person’s character that attracts the most comment, so it can be that the innocent frailty of one’s writing can be the sweetest joy to the reader.

So let it be marked as a modern maxim..; “ The flaw in the portrait most attracts the curiosity of the watcher”.

Now go forth to “The Lounge Bar” and partake of life’s banquet!…(and bring a small plate of something literary with you).”

And THAT was the end of that thing!

November 3, 2018 at 6.30. pm.

(To the owner of “The Pub” ).

“Ah, well, Joe…I have to give you credit for the ownership of the site..but as you and many, many others are aware who also have access to “WordPress”, it is of little effort to kick a site off…and it has to be admitted that ownership of a site is in no way the credit of how much a site is regarded..and if memory serves, it was from the good and excitable nature of many posters, bloggers and commentators that gave “your site” a certain amount of Blogging Kudos which light you obviously bask in!…and good luck to you!..The credibility of a site has to have good management..and while I would not, I suspect be giving any secrets away, and long experience of your political astuteness has shown that while you hold sympathy to the centre-left dogma, your whole written political philosophy could be contained in the one sentence : ‘I don’t know much about historical political ideology, but I know what I like!”

Joe…admit it..you’re a yob.

And as for the site being “fine just the way it is”..I can see from a quick archival search that if we go back a couple of years there was at least double the number or more of posters and commentators would use and give views on the site..NOW it has become the play-thing of the cognoscenti and aficionados of the half-dozen or so regulars..Yes..it is fine now…like a knitting club is fine…like a small cluster of boozers at the local front bar talking about the hey-days of the Fitzroy football club is fine…
Well…good luck to you and yours..go suck your beer..but DON’T dare call this zombie site a relevant discussion site for left-wing politics..you have to be prepared for innovation and progress for THAT, AND have more than half a dozen or so regulars..this site will have to sober up first!
Goodbye, goodnight and good luck!”

And with that cheerio, they kicked me off the blog-site for good!…So let us change the subject!

But say! Did I ever tell you about Mrs. Wright and Glenn?..no?..Well, they were two “locals” down at the Seacliff Hotel…back in the old days, 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 spinster, retired teacher..who was always called “Mrs.” ( out of deference to that sometimes unearned but bestowed respect given to a married woman and denied to older un-married / “barren” women)…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 chauffered 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 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 complection..and more melanomas cut off his face so he looked like a clay-stick scupture..though it was a rumour that it was not at 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 listen 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 increased the 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 increased 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 oclock, 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 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 Olympic 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-ablebodied man in the front bar ; Glenn 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..Glenn, waving goodbye to all his mates, set sail in his restored clinker-built fishing boat to “chug-along” to the island…In days gone by, you would see several of these boats chugging out on the sea past the hotel, trawling the grounds between Brighton and Kingston Park, their owners standing aft of the boat, the tiller controller by their legs while their arm did that back and forth sweeping motion with the lure for snook..

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 Fleurieu Peninsula, approx 100 miles long facing the mainland…You can’t miss it.

It DID get chilly out on the water….Glenn DID consume the entire flagon, fell asleep in the bottom of the boat, was swept through Backstairs Passage which flows like a river with the tides…and missed Kangaroo Island, to end up on “The Pages”..last stop between Sth Aust’ and Antarctica…but that’s another story.

Wild weekends of partying, gambling, mad, car or motorbike rides from party to party, pub to pub sometimes carting a partly consumed keg of beer in the back seat of the car..these were the great days of a bachelor’s life…the endless delights of hedonistic living..a marvellous decadent existence…while it lasted..This one character, Mick..was in the middle of it.

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 etc. into a short, sharp comment.

“Jesus wept!”

Bubblehead passed his hand wearily over his eyes. Mick had just that minute walked through the bar-room doors. It had been nearly one year since Mick had crossed that same threshold, albeit at a difference 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 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, 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 patron’s 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”…old 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; those “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 whose 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, childish 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 fierce 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 “Bubbleheads’ 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 misshap, a terrible misshap.”

“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 tounge, ”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 Lindsay, 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” (known within the bar clientele as “Poofy”) the licensees’ wife’s 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 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 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 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 fucking 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.

It was the mechanics of the thing, you see..the lifestyle oscillated around the practicalities of living a working life…what cars we had, what reliability those cars had and what were the other mechanics of our lives..the physical necessities that shaped the esoterica of a suburban life..and our suburban culture grew and flowered out of such fertile soil.

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