“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





23 June 2016


Simpler days ... having a quiet one with the gang on the way to school

We're all batty now but we gotta get through this together without denial ... gentle, gentle, gentle

At an impossibly short age, Michael Dransfield, whom I reckon to be Australia's greatest poet, published a volume called The Inspector Of Tides. 

From the moment I first heard its title, I knew my young (1948-1973) guru referred to a commitment to that vigilant watching, watching, watching routine that only scarce poets know. Driven mystics with Karl Zeiss window glass, an obsession with tasty mouthsful of language and a very risky tendency to honesty. Folks who live exacerbated in a constant swing between exhaustion and ecstacy, as Hart Crane described. Humans with forensic memories.

We thought the planet was messy then. At risk of somebody blowing it up at any minute. Like all of it at once.

Michael died real early so I can't expect him to explain it in his beautiful naked simplicity but I reckon it's got much worse. There's too much terrible out there now.

Saturn Devouring His Son, Francisco Goya, Musea Nacional Del Prado
Try pondering the meaning of a world in which everybody must now suffer from (a) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or (b) denial of same, which is even more dangerous behaviour than attempting to winter it out knowingly.

All these kids will grow up. Into what?

Daily reminders of the rhythms of destruction lead to nasty volumes of stuff like ethanol being pumped through the community kidney filters with really obscene deliberation. Or, as above, (b) denial of same.

Even as a little boy in the Strezlecki Ranges in the 'fifties, I knew the whiff of it. Every household had a skinny bloke in it somewhere, sitting with a smoke glowing and a smelly drink in the blinds-down dark, trying to forget The War. Kids had to be real quiet in houses in case Uncle So-and-so chucked a funny turn.

One had especially to tip-toe round those who could sleep only on the veranda. You could hear them yellin' out suddenly in the night.

As if the recollection of that cherophobic epoch wasn't enough, some sort of slime mould from Hell moved into the vittles of my upper body yesterday, adding some colourful biochemical blues to the normal electrical problems, so I've been wallowing round the royal cot listening to BBC with the curtains drawn, remembering all these things while I drink lots of water and lemon juice and honey and whatnot.

Remembering Michael and those dark 'fifties rooms we came from led me to think about my first breakaway drinks. Couldn't resist going straight back into there. Like discovering the Devil's Brew from a household run by a savage Bible-bashing teetotalling father? A tricky game to play with any measure.

Like Sarsaparilla. What a powerful trigger of melancholic history is that aroma! Even as a kid I felt this was a cordial essence drink with something vinous about it. I learnt early that I could sleep in a bit and miss the bus so I could hitch-hike from Kanmantoo to High School at Mount Barker. It was so much quicker hitching that I had the time to call in at the Great Eastern in Littlehampton for a quiet one or two before opening and then on to school on the other bus with the Littlehampton kids.

I liked a pint glass filled with Smirnoff vodka, Johnston's Oakbank Sarsaparilla Cordial and soda on ice. Even after my younger brother, the beloved Stephen (above) sat me down in the Stirling hotel with a mixed grill and a bottle of red and advised me "here, you can't go wrong with a Seaview claret," resulting in an instant addiction to the fruit of the vine. Even after that, all these damn years, I still like playing with sars, vodka and soda.

You can make it short or long. You can add a dash of pomegranate and/or blood orange juice. I probly didn't but I always felt like I invented it. Stewart probably invented it. When only the best will do. Whitey's first kiddylikker.

As far as mixing alcohol and caffeine goes, that was the go long before anybody thought of Red Bull. I always make a pot of four cups of coffee for breakfast and drink two. I leave the rest of the coffee to grow cold in the pot in case in the afternoon I feel like black coffee with vodka and soda bone dry instead of gumming the olfactory up with Shiraz jam. A splash of sars goes well in this too. And a splash is suffice: it's very sweet, but it sure beats a teaspoon of straight sugar.

The Shiraz can wait.

The first sars cordial I found on this lap is the F. C. Grubb Old Style Traditional Cordial Sarsaparilla made by Trend Drinks at Gladstone. It calls itself 'gourmet flavoured syrup' and admits to be made with 'sarsaparilla flavour' and there's a bucket of cane sugar in it so what it has to do with the old Johnno's stuff from the high school years beats me.

You can make it more like real old-fashioned sars by adding a sprinkle of Angostura.

It's always good fun playing around with all these flavours, and astonishing how close you find yourself to emulating wine at different points in the play. Or Coke. L-O-L-A cola. Pity we can't readily get a drier syrup made from the real fruit of the Smilax ornata brambly vine, which is what sars is sposed to be made from. Like a thorny grape vine if you squint real hard.

I soon had casual bar work in the Great Eastern, which provided a crash course in the tinctures of the time. There were a lot of blokes who drank only Coopers Sparkling Ale. Pale Ale was still called Light Dinner Ale. It was Coopers Sparkling Ale bottled with some water in it, for the ladies to have with their oysters. We poured a lot of porter gaff, all from bottles. We drank Corio, Milnes or Gilt Edge whiskey. Goddard's Golden Braid Rum. June Smith drank schooners of cherry brandy with Advocaat egg liqueur and dry, a bloody dangerous fizzy complosion if ever there was one. I recall another lass who lived on port and lemonade on the rocks.

Jack Carroll, a Coopers Sparkling "little bottle" man, would bring his dog into the pub and leave the wife outside in the ute, staring at the wall with a pony of barmaid's blush. 

In the summer it was pints of hock, lime and lemon for the thinking drinker; more soda less lemonade for the true genius. Only professors drank Pimms.

Gradually the World War II vets were replaced at the other end of the bar by the Korea War vets and then the Vietnam lads and I remember learning with visceral hurt their PTSD symptoms. Of course in those more wholesome times things had names rather than meaningless acronyms and those blokes had what everybody called 'shell shock'. Or the lasses would say 'had a bad war, poor dear, oooh it's such a shaaaame ... like, he used to be sooo ...'

Apart from the pub, those blokes went round the RSL Club to drink and deal with their horrors together. Generations nowdays have their own clubs and bars of all sorts for like souls to wind out and dissolve the terror of outside or next door or the skies above or whatever the source of fresh evil may be.

And what does some nutbag do? He'll blow their dance bar away too. And all who sailed in her.

This is related by someone who's been looking, looking, looking since those grey post war times and knows with enough clarity to guarantee you it's getting worse now.

Shellshock, see? More people with it today than ever before. Be very careful when that vodka bottle winks at you when you're suss. Drink drier; drink less ethanol; more water.

And expect strange actions and utterances from your psychologically exhausted neighbours and friends and from those who flee to our arms for safety immediately before we lock them up indefinitely in gulags and Guantanamos. Or (b), expect even stranger behaviour from those who deny occurrence of same.

It's not terrorism. It's the results of that. Being in it, watching it incessantly. Playing games with it for money or pleasure. We lose if we don't learn.

Nope. We're all batty now. If we're gonna winter it out knowingly, we'd best do it together. 

Gentle, gentle, gentle.


Anonymous said...

you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

Anonymous said...

Have you been walking with The King, Philip? Zimmo