The adventures of
TALES OF HORATIO BITEMARK (c) copyright 2013 Michael McDonald INTRODUCTION Bon vivant, multimillionaire, roué, dandy, Horatio Bitemark described the activities of The Club in the food pages of The Byron Shire Echo newspaper (www.echo.net.au) from August 2003 until August 2010. Everything he has written must be taken with a grain of salt, or three, accompanied by a nice glass of red or the appropriate entheogen. He records the usual adventures of the idle rich – parties, bondage and discipline, rides to the countryside in a fleet of Bentleys, and encounters with enraged plebeians. 1. Tosser Digby sauntered into the Club with a metre and a half of grey nurse shark over one shoulder and we had the butler Sanders, once he had overcome his disgust at the pools of seawater on the vintage Turkish rug, get the chef to grill it with rosemary and stuff the carcass with new potatoes and a purée of purple kale. ‘What goes with shark?’ I asked the table. It was going on three, damn high time for lunch. ‘Definitely a dry white,’ said Abbotsleigh, who had served as a catamite in the Liberian merchant navy and knew his way around marine life. ‘Perhaps a Hunter Valley Semillon.’ We ordered up two dozen of Dagrift’s 2002 Heavily Wooded Semillon. Most of the morning we’d been practising on a cheeky little absinthe called Spinal Tap (Lautrec 1998) and a crate of poached pears in whisky aspic. Armitage was caught out by an aneurism and twitched feebly at the end of the table until Sanders had him removed disguised as a chaise longue. Doesn’t do to let the help see one’s weaknesses. Abbotsleigh proved spot on with his suggestion, the Semillon complementing nicely the great collops of Carcharias taurus served on bronzed pitchfork heads with a garnish of Wakame. Outside, through the window cantilevered over a bedrock of peasants, the waves crashed brilliantly on to the expensive sands of Watego’s. The shark subdued, we moved on to a pallet of Bismarck’s Extra Crusty Port, some ferociously aged Stilton and a cylinder of nitrous oxide. 2. Bizzy Lizzy, the Club’s dominatrix-on-call, sat weeping uncontrollably upon the edge of the dining table. In the midst of her distress Bosworth, unrepentant roué, was staring down Lizzy’s tram conductress costume in the hope of a glimpse of nipple. For his part Club manager Achmed Edfed jumped nervously from foot to foot, as it was a strict rule that women were not allowed within a pheromone’s shot of the building, and members in the billiards room were already going into anaphylactic shock. Patting her knee in my best avuncular fashion, I asked the Lizter the cause of her problems. Her neighbour had Baygoned the wrens in her garden, she cried, and the poor little things had died cruelly among the roses. We resolved by majority vote, Abbotsleigh abstaining because he was too intoxicated to understand the motion, to take out a contract on Byron Bay’s best whiphand’s neighbour, buy the property at a reduced rate from the distraught relatives and turn it into an upmarket B&B. Mandrill immediately called Watego’s Gottago, bespoke assassins to the gentry, and the deed was as good as done. Having consoled the young lady, we had the butler Sanders remove her by way of the laundry chute, a wad of notes in her not insubstantial décolletage, and returned to the issue at hand: lunch. Some members felt too upset to eat and wanted to push on directly to the barrel of Frosty’s Extra Sweet Gewurztraminer 1982, but a bolt of corrective electricity through the chairs soon fixed that. We settled our nerves with a pipe of opium and ordered up a Cape goat kid roasted with bitou bush and a macadamia sauce accompanied by a very pleasant Hirsute Brothers 1994 Merlot, redolent of berries and badly burnt toast.
We were about to move on to the pyramid of trifle in cointreau jelly ordered in from Dish when Digby pointed out that some government wallahs were trying to establish sanctuary zones for swimming food in a marine park right outside the Club’s front door. Two motions in one day was a bit rich but we managed to resolve to hire a team of scientific consultants to prove that fish have no feelings or lifestyle aspirations. Abbotsleigh, by now so jangled his eyeballs were entirely white, misunderstood what we meant by passing a motion and we had to get Sanders to fetch a mop and a chap to wield it. 3. The hint of a fetish ball coming up in October had Club members scurrying to their lockers to, ahem, refresh their interests. I imagined that Randy Mandrill was already knee-deep in red stilettos, sniffing for all he was worth. I, however, had been cut loose from the safety of the Watego’s clubhouse and was a gentleman at large. Unwisely, perhaps, I had joined Tosser Digby’s expedition into the leech-infested rainforest atop the Border Ranges west of Mount Warning, lured by the promise of a gourmet Olympia to make up for the surfeit of fresh air. Digby, who had made a large fortune in drum reconditioning at Petersham before it became fashionable, hired the renowned Gaston Le Boeuf to whip up the meals and brought two Landcruisers full of reds from his cellar. His faithful retainers set up the tents an inebriate’s safe distance from The Pinnacle and cordoned off the area with an electric fence to discourage the tourists. A sniper was positioned in a tall hoop pine to pick off any National Parks officers who might stray too close. Comfortably ensconced, we began proceedings with a brace of vodka martinis, the Club having provided some of its excellent green olives liberated in the Gulf by the Commonwealth’s navy catering service. There is nothing like a crisp, chill martini to set the synapses singing like a choir of castratos on crack. Le Boeuf, who had once brought Philip Ruddock to tears with the beauty of his crème brulée, was noted for his improvisation and bush skills. By evening he had pan-roasted an echidna he had found in the nearby undergrowth and presented it with coloured cocktail onions on each of its spines. A tad gauche, but the meat inside was worth it, confirming the chef ’s genius - paradise indeed, the houris of gastric desire dancing within, their bodies oiled with Santalum album and their lips inviting. As the sun set behind us and Wollumbin became a rosy mountain of meringue, we opened a crate of McPherson’s Cruel Shiraz 1984 and set to. The hint of a granite Scottish stoicness on the forepalate offset nicely the bouquet of aged tartan, and the 16% alcohol ensured one caught the undertones of mad highland bastard skewering a Sassenach. ‘What’s it all about, hey, Bitemark, hey?’ mumbled Digby. ‘Buggered if I know, Digby,’ I replied. ‘Shut up and drink your wine.’ The night came in around us like a cloak of kindness, and Le Boeuf was already off in the bush, hunting bandicoot for tomorrow’s breakfast. 4. For a member to be found in the Clubhouse foyer in a negligee was inexcusable. That it was puce - of a hue known in the trade as ‘mulberry’ - only added to the offence. Club manager Achmed Edfed, an excitable gentleman of Western Australian appearance, was furious. He demanded that members take strong action against this flagrant breach and expulsion was definitely on the books. The miscreant in question, Abbotsleigh, was at a loss to explain how he came to be so attired in such a hallowed place, and smelling of patchouli oil to boot. Flecks of anchovy paste in his hair gave no real clue and he could only surmise his drink had been spiked in one of Byron Bay’s hostelries or visiting schoolies had fed him horse tranquillisers as a holiday lark.
‘Did you lose your wallet?’ asked Tosser Digby. ‘Never carry one, old boy, always run a tab,’ replied Abbotsleigh, touching a finger to his nose in a failed attempt at street wisdom. It was a serious matter before us and, bar the culprit, we all adjourned to the dining room to consider our position. Watson the relief butler - Sanders was in the Kimberley, consoling a relative over an unfortunate incident with a wallaby and a rubber bumper bar - wheeled in the beakers of Amanita muscaria which always accompany important decision-making. We teamed our adventure into the godworld of the Clubhouse spirits with a roulade of marinated potaroo and a crate of Tyagarah Fortified Port 1987, rich in paperbark tannins and a textured overlay of microlight fuel and gun club ennui. We felt that we should preserve the Club’s and Edfed’s honour; he was an excellent manager and had rescued several members from compromising positions over the years. On the other hand Abbotsleigh, though routinely in the state of confusion usually exhibited by Hollywood starlets, was an enthusiastic chap. Several members recalled fondly his import connections with the Kazakhstan School of Dentistry, which netted a fabulous haul of nitrous oxide and implements perfect for cleaning a seven iron. In the end we voted for a six months’ suspension. It was heartbreaking to see Abbotsleigh to the front door, tears streaming down his face, one hand feebly tearing at the Elle Macpherson nightwear that was the cause of his problems. However, during the member’s sojourn in the outer darkness, good news came via a chauffeur at the Belongil Limousine Service. We learnt that Abbotsleigh’s partial denture had been returned to him inside a note which read, ‘Snookums, you were wonderful - I never knew an inflatable penguin could be so much fun!’ It was signed with a kiss in Max Factor Hyper Full Voluptuous - red to the uninitiated. Abbotsleigh was floating for days afterwards, and shouted the entire Myocum Retired Stockbrokers Association to a round of Bollinger. 5. It is almost unheard of for members to meet outside the Watego’s clubhouse, but the chance to try out Randy Mandrill’s Floating Emporium proved too tempting. Mandrill had anchored the emporium just off Watego’s to the chagrin of a few ancient malibu riders, who were easily dispersed with a round of grapeshot. The emporium was four storeys high, painted white, and looked all the world like a floating sugar cube. Mandrill had picked it up in an estate sale by the Hang Seng Bank of Hong Kong, which had cleaned up the failings of yet another Australian entrepreneur, and given it to his Polish mistress, who felt that a Lamborghini was more appropriate reward for her services. Undeterred, Mandrill had converted most of the emporium to a private apartment and kept on the Armani and Versace franchises to cover overheads. We fought our way through a scrum of anorexic and sun-wizened Double Bay matrons who were hissing over an expensive scrap of monogrammed gauze and fell into the dining room, tastefully decorated in the beachside theme with a few Brett Whiteley bums. Mandrill had laid on the best of silver plate, won in a bet with Eddie Fitzalan-Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, and decorated the table with glorious red waratahs acquired under suspicious circumstances from the Royal Botanic Gardens. ‘Splendid, Mandrill,’ said Camberwell, who was sporting an absurd boater from his days at boarding school. ‘My pleasure, chaps,’ replied Mandrill, ‘and I’m sure you’ll enjoy this.’ He clapped his hands, and a phalanx of Thai temple dancers in red bellboy costumes gracefully entered bearing silver phials of Iboga root bark. Once we had ingested the ibogaine, we proceeded to the roast feral pig stuffed with blue wrens in a lemon myrtle sauce to counter the side effects, accompanied by a Main Arm Uppermost Verdelho 1998, which spoke to us of spring rains and sweaty paranoia. Unfortunately the highly suggestible Camberwell, who had recently been to some teenagers’ film about the Caribbean, was affected by the gentle rocking of the emporium and persuaded himself he was a pirate and the heartily shopping matrons outside the door a band of the undead. Equipped with a silver spoon he launched himself upon one of the famished women, whose head indeed displayed ‘the skull beneath the skin’, as Tosser
S Eliot once had it, and attempted to render her into bite-size chunks. The elite temple dancers were summoned and rendered Camberwell immobile with martial arts manoeuvres taught only to the inner circle at Wat Aruhn. The unfortunate woman, whose $300 Joh Bailey hairdo was entirely mussed, had to be compensated by an evening with Mandrill’s handsome manservant Chalmers, who had sodomised for Melbourne Grammar. The rest of the afternoon proved delightfully languid and the other advantage was that Camberwell remained rigid for a week. We took him back to the club and used him as a standard lamp, and occasionally for quoits. 6. After a desultory debate, during which Club members showed greater interest in the fashion shoot on Watego’s Beach, we voted to refuse George W Bush’s request to dine with us during his Australian visit. It was not so much his politics as the odious cut of Secret Service suits which would offend. In any case we doubted Mr Bush’s ability, despite his history of avid cocaine use, to keep up with the entheogenic rituals required by Clubhouse rules. A similar enquiry from Chinese president Hu Jintao also met with refusal. Cholmondeley Camberwell, who had significant interests in Beijing space technology and synthesised aphrodisiacs, argued strongly in favour but the majority felt that the president’s little known interest in trainspotting militated against an acceptance. Instead we opted to invite Brian Mikkelsen, the erudite Danish minister for culture, who had been dragooned into visiting Dreamworld with his children on holidays. In deference to Danish culture we served roast antechinus garnished with Rødkål and followed by Rødgrød topped with a Broken Head macadamia ice cream. This was accompanied by a Bangalow Heritage Bordeaux 1994, offering a rich bouquet of fretsawed timber cornice shavings and an undercurrent of newly minted rural money. The minister was particularly taken by Sanders the butler, a remarkable polymath who discoursed fluently in Danish on Mr Mikkelsen’s 1986 study of Nicaragua and knew the secret to avoiding regurgitation on The Giant Drop. The occasion was somewhat marred when the minister politely declined to join us in a post-prandial spot of psilocybin on the pretext he had to return to his whining family. However one of the minister’s minders, Godfred Klak, was given leave to pursue his cultural interest in mushrooms, which in his country had led to the state known as ‘berserk’, literally ‘bear shirt’. Sanders hastily removed all cutlasses and broad axes from the walls but Klak proved to be a model participant. There was some damage to the crystal whisky decanters when Tosser Digby fell upon them in despair after a particularly horrid vision of Hu Jintao reeling off the numbers of all the rolling stock on the Beijing-Chengdu branch line. Overall, though, the afternoon was yet another splendid example of what makes Byron Bay such a paradise for the stupendously wealthy. 7. ‘Aren’t we just pandering to the Melbourne Club push?’ asked Camberwell from the depths of a Club armchair. We were having morning tea in the Dredge Room, named after Septimus Dredge, club member from 1923 to 1987, champion spy and wing half for Oxford who had died tragically in the Ocean Shores treacle mine disaster. ‘Hardly, old boy,’ I replied, ‘it’s an Australian tradition.’ ‘Damned forking infernal invention of Tory sodomites to weaken the sinews,’ shot back Camberwell, who was immediately fined $200 by Sanders the butler for unseemly language. Clubhouse fines went to the Institute for Destitute Chartered Accountants, many of whom had risked their reputations in protecting our offshore holdings. We were talking, of course, of the Melbourne Cup, the cultural icon which sets punters’ hearts aflurry and engenders stirring in trouser pants of Bollinger-enhanced observers at the concomitant fashion parade, where
Toorak chatelaines drip libido made potent by diamonds and cocaine. Despite Camberwell’s objections, we voted to stage our own celebratory race as a prelude to the November 4 event. We hired the southern portion of Belongil Fields and laid out an oval track of 200 metres surfaced with a composite of neoprene and green silk. Upon this the club staff poured an even coating of Eliki’s best extra virgin olive oil. Members rigged up in their black tie and got down on all fours at the starting line. Bizzy Lizzy, the Club’s dominatrix-at-call, had assembled a crack team of jockeys who quickly saddled up, whip in hand. What a picture the young lasses looked in their multicoloured silks, like a field of flowers, their thighs keenly gripping their mounts. Sanders fired the Club’s 16th century serpentine cannon acquired from the Junípero Serra Museum and we were off. The field was tightly bunched until the first turn, when Bosworth lost his grip on the track and slid sideways into Smith and Saxon, hindering the back runners and causing two jockeys’ brassieres to tangle. From that point on the unfortunately named Leon Trotsky, a retired merchant banker, set a dazzling pace. He did not possess the requisite staying power, however, and was gathered in in the final straight by Mandrill and Digby. Tosser Digby, who was known to frequent a gymnasium, was always the favourite in the betting and, egged on by Madam Frottage’s fervid whipping, crossed the line three lengths ahead of Mandrill. By dint of dogged application and Mistress Rumpy’s unusually erotic pressure to the kidney, I was happy to cross third. Naturally a substantial number of members had succumbed to the euphoria of discipline, and were collapsed along the track in a pleasant state of liquefaction. Once recovered, we fell joyfully upon a table of barbecued rainforest pigeons and toasted in Henkell Brut the beginnings, we felt, of an annual tribute to the king of sports. 8. When the recent solar flare played havoc with the chip in Bosworth’s brain, stranding him on a strange neuronal path that had him dancing the Lindy Hop in ever-decreasing circles, we adjourned to the Club’s leadlined basement. The basement was built in 1961 when then club manager Chuck Dusty, a former CIA operative, got news of the coming 62 Cuban missile crisis. Its main purpose was to protect Club members in case prevailing winds sent the fallout Watego’s-wise but it also served as a handy repository for wine. A little searching among the dust-covered racks uncovered a stash of Sheltering Palms Nouveau Resort Merlot, which Tosser Digby’s father salvaged from the 1974 wreckage of North Beach. The wine had aged well, offering the imbiber a chewy texture reminiscent of brandy marzipan and a lingering finish similar in intensity to a post-coital cigarette. Chef teamed it expertly with rack of platypus aged in tea leaves and brushed with a jus courgette. We had just settled into a soup of ololiuqui, the morning glory seeds gathered from an infestation at Myocum, when Camberwell leaned carelessly into one of the racks. There was the grinding of hidden gears, and Cambers disappeared from view. Those of us fit to perambulate blinked down into the hitherto hidden stairwell behind the rack, at the foot of which lay Camberwell, quietly humming to himself. By now in a polymorphous state we poured down the descent and over Camberwell into a chamber lit by blue art deco lights shaped like torches villagers might take to the evil lord’s castle. ‘Frimmers,’ said Bosworth, who believed himself to be speaking Aztec, ‘tronzz gelm hakla befurb mehha telzitz.’ And he was right of course. Windows did look out on to the submarine life off Watego’s; a ray glided by, misplaced Volvo keys sunk into the ooze, and we took bets on whom the small group of jelly fish would next envenom - the momentarily relaxed stockbroker from Newport or the supermodel struggling to keep her g-
string from a determined grouper. So the afternoon was dreamily spent until Sanders the butler advised us the worst of the solar interference had passed and called us up for coffee. Had our schedule allowed we might have opened a further chamber, the door of which was decorated with the skull-and-bones - Digby’s family crest - and the motto ‘Bibere venenum in auro’: drink poison from a cup of gold, or as Bosowrth had it, ‘Genurfle lamji hazzletot.’ And who could argue with that? 9. We evacuated the Clubhouse as the paint fumes began to constrict members’ throats. Bosworth, however, had to be dragged from a corner, where he was crouched inhaling Dulux Driftwood from a plastic bag. Club manager Achmed Edfed had insisted, with a stamp of his foot, that the Clubhouse be repainted, even though the last coat only dated back to 1957. Flakes were dropping into meals, he claimed, and some members had been found sleeping in their armchairs, totally covered by a fine dusting of old paint. We grumbled, of course, and railed against modernisation in general. ‘Taupe is not the name of a colour,’ huffed Morrisett, ‘and no gentleman should have to put up with it.’ Tosser Digby’s Uncle Montmorency kindly lent us the use of his estate at Broken Head. He visited only in the pheasant coucal shooting season and otherwise was too busy with his coca plantations and white slavery franchise in South America. The house was an enormous Gothic pile surrounded by groves dominated by leering Pan statues, so the members felt right at home. With the aid of a small barrel of Seven Mile Beach Severely Coagulated Trockenbeerenauslese 1994 and a tray of sugar cubes we detoxified from the paint poisoning and settled down for lunch around Montmorency’s enormous Bolivian bloodwood table and its centrepiece candelabra constructed from shrunken heads surmounted by brass images of the angel of Death holding a wax taper in the shape of a sword. Chef had done exceptionally well under the impromptu conditions, producing a diprotodon from the Club’s private supply, barbecued on the antique wrought iron rack in the dungeon and served with rocket, cress and fillets of porpoise. This we washed down with a Natural Lane EcoFriendly Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, its bouquet awash with semitones of lillipilli and subdivision regrowth. Following afters - a rather fine bombe alaska smothered in kiwi fruit brandy and set alight with Montmorency’s souvenir flamethrower - Digby suggested a game of croquet, the sport of bastardry much favoured by lawyers and deregistered cosmetic surgeons. The lawn was in fine shape and we set to with a vengeance, Sanders the butler standing by with an oxygen cylinder just in case. Randy Mandrill was voted off after headbutting Bosworth who, still affected by paint-sniffing, was trying to engage in sexual congress with his mallet. The game ended precipitously when a brahminy kite swooped upon Morrisett’s hairpiece and took it off to his fastness in a giant fig tree hung about with fruit bats. A general hilarity descended, aided by the contents of Montmorency’s heritage-registered hookah once owned by Hasan bin Sabbah - whose slogan ‘Nothing is true, everything is permissible’ had brought solace to members in many a dark night of the soul - and we were left sprawled upon the lawn clutching our aching sides, Morrisett the only forlorn figure standing, blood dripping onto his puzzled brow from the runnels on his pate. 10. Who would have thought we would have spent Christmas Eve at the Clubhouse re-animating Santa Claus? It began innocently enough with Bosworth and the valet Sauron on the flat terrace on the Clubhouse roof. Sauron was pulling clay pigeons and Bosworth shooting them out of a perfect cerulean sky with his double bore Andre Masson pearl inlaid shottie left to him in Isadora Duncan’s nephew Randolph’s will. Traces of pigeon fell in graceful arcs into the Watego’s waters, causing ancient and myopic Malibu riders to gaze upwards in search of rain. The fatal moment came when Bosworth winged Santa and he fell from his sled like a hirsute, obese Icarus onto the rooftop, making a sound on impact not unlike a side of beef shot from a circus cannon into the path of a speeding diesel train. (I can vouch for the accuracy of this simile having been involved in such an incident in my youth - but that’s another story.)
The effect of Santa lying there, his life juices adding to the incarnadine mystery of his fur-trimmed jacket, was surreal to say the least. One expected Marcello Mastroianni to stroll existentially into view, directed by an all-knowing Fellini. Club manager Achmed Edfed had the foresight to take the post-jolly gentleman’s pulse, pronounce him dead and had him quickly moved to the cellar. Once there, Chef took charge of proceedings; not only was he famed for his angelic ways with profiterole and crème de menthe, he was something of an amateur scientist. He had the late Mr Claus lowered by pulley into an empty, large glass fish tank. ‘What we need is a conducting fluid,’ said Chef, ‘capable of taking an electric current to all his parts.’ ‘Gin,’ volunteered Abbotsleigh, ‘worked horribly when I accidentally dropped a radiator into a bathtub of it occupied by Dolores Unguent in 1926.’ ‘But it must be the best gin,’ added Bosworth. ‘I won’t have one of my childhood icons electrocuted in inferior stuff.’ So it was that Edfed had fetched two dozen barrels of Mrs Wallis Simpson’s 1935 BedBiter Gin, and we all set to, filling the tank, though Abbotsleigh seemed to spill a good portion of his share into his own mouth. Chef then attached electrodes to the great man’s extremities and pulled a lever on the cellar wall. Super-heated juniper steam hissed, bolts of blue light shot through the tank’s depths and hey presto, Santa rose writhing and convulsing and splendidly alive to the surface of the gin. Christmas was saved, but the remains of the gin was barely drinkable. 11. New Year’s Day was spent high above the Antarctic, feasting on strawberries and a six-pack of Kylie Minogue’s Buttock Tightener Absinthe 2001. As polar storms swirled in a white frenzy far beneath us, Captain Indira Ganguly-Morris and I enjoyed the luxury of her high altitude hot air balloon. I had fled the Watego’s Clubhouse (Bosworth sent message by express condor that the beach was littered with adolescents, condoms, beer cans and desperate middle-aged men under the illusion they were Michael Caine in Rio) in search of somewhere quieter, more redolent of Yeats’s fabled glade, if you will. The good captain and I followed ‘The Hobart’ down the coastline, taking turns with the hypersynchroclastic spyglass to spot crew members in full swear. We tallied on a chalkboard as we went and, by the time the leading yachts had nestled beneath the bosom of Mount Wellington, forks were ahead of beggars by a factor of two. From there we sailed on over Macquarie Island, dropping off a packet of woollen sweaters and bespoke butt plugs for Porky Pashdale, a young nephew of Tosser Digby’s who was studying the ear linings of penguins for a cosmetics company. When the majestic bulk of the southern ice floes - each capable of stopping a dozen Titanics, let alone Kerry Packer’s redoubtable polo pony Grunter - glided beneath us, we threw out the sky anchor and hove to in the ineffable silence of the uninhabited. Time passed and the balloon’s chronometer indicated it was, indeed, the last eve of a remarkable year. ‘If you don’t mind me taking a certain liberty, Mr Bitemark,’ said Cpn Ganguly-Morris, ‘I’d like to introduce to you a comestible from my home village.’ ‘Fire away,’ I said languidly, expecting some form of chutney or another. To my amazement she manifested a pipe well-tamped with hashish, the famous novice-strangler from the subcontinent’s north, known as Darbhanga Death. Two puffs and my brain took a sabbatical from all reason, with no intention of clocking in for work at any future date. ‘If you don’t mind me taking a certain familiarity, sir,’ now said the captain, ‘Would you care to sample one of the quaint customs of my humble township?’ ‘Captain me old fruit and veg,’ I replied, my grasp of language somewhat impaired, ‘The last offering from your noble birthplace was such a success I feel bound to respond in the affirmative.’ Whereupon the young lady introduced me to the two missing chapters of the Kama Sutra, which rocketed
one utterly to the Olympian heights of bliss and involved an inordinate amount of perfumed ghee. I had not enjoyed myself so much since the 1964 production of St Margaret’s Home For The Incurably Lascivious Underwater Pantomime, in which I had a minor role as a mischievous clown fish. A substantial tip was in order. 12. ‘I was involved in a Mars probe once,’ said Abbotsleigh, reaching for the decanter of Macbeth’s Weird Sisters 1987 Port. ‘You’d be happy for any sort of probe, I should think,’ said Digby, rousing a few sniggers from around the table. We had just finished celebrating Hiatus, our own invention to fill in the appalling gap between the western New Year and Chinese New Year. Chef had exceeded himself with roast ringtail possum wrapped tightly in seared python, accompanied by new potatoes and button mushrooms in lemon myrtle sauce. The cheerful libation was a Brunswick Roundabout Traffic Snarl Severely Irritated Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, followed by the aforementioned port and a side dish of Peruvian Torch. Abbotsleigh pressed on. ‘It was in the Spring of 1967, and it was all very hush-hush, you know, as the Russians and the Americans were aching for the technology. ‘We launched from the Duke of Somerset’s estate. Percy, who was born in Australia, bless his soul, had a fine cache of Russian vodka liberated by his family in the troubles of 1912 and it proved the ideal accelerant , both for the vehicle and the participants. The voyage was uneventful, though we ran rather short of camembert on the return leg, and the landing was very smooth, thanks to a protective pad of deceased corgis provided by Her Majesty.’ ‘And what was it like there?’ asked Bosworth. ‘Any unusual lifeforms, Pamela Anderson, that sort of thing?’ ‘Nothing remarkable to report,’ replied Abbotsleigh, ‘hardly worth the effort. Looked pretty much like the pictures the NASA thingy is now sending back - vast expanse of red dirt with grey rocks in it. Got in a few holes of golf. Martian gravity did wonders for my chip shot.’ ‘Can’t understand this fascination with space, more to explore in a good cheese,’ muttered Bosworth, prodding a nearby Stilton. At this stage the effects of the Trichocereus peruvianus kicked in and rendered further conversation impossible. We watched in awe as a side table turned into a gigantic entity made of cactus and rock, with asparagus tongs for hands. We followed in amazement as it crashed through the wall adjoining the billiards room and took up a cue. It then proceeded to play the game faultlessly with a panache and dexterity known only at the highest levels of competition. Once the applause subsided, it turned into a seagull and flew out a window and on to Watego’s Beach. ‘Did I miss anything?’ asked Randy Mandrill, sauntering in from the bathroom. No, we signalled, and refrained from noticing the purple llama standing beside him. 13. In the reading room of the Watego’s clubhouse, beneath the marble bust of Flann O’Brien inscribed with the words, ‘He died of a broken heart’, Tosser Digby’s ailing nephew Dexter sat writing his treatise on Australian wines. Outside, the sky was as grey as an economist’s imagination, and the rain beat against a few hardy Malibu riders whose testicles were huddling chilled inside their bodies. Like O’Brien’s, Dexter’s ailment was more an affair of the heart than trouble with the lights and liver. He had been jilted by one Naomi Wendlebury, who appreciated more the scintillations of Dolly magazine, and its sealed section on tonguing Britney Spears or any number of interchangeable, navelly-enhanced chanteuses,
than Dexter’s learned prose. ‘There, there,’ said Digby, draping a clumsy paw across the young man’s shoulder. ‘There will be others. Ocean full of fishes.’ ‘And there are the consolations of literature,’ ventured Bosworth, pointing to the lad’s latest chapter, Adjusting Sugar Levels And Phenolic Maturity On The Vine Via Artificial Intervention: A Rumination. ‘Literature be buggered,’ snorted Abbotsleigh. ‘What the boy needs is half an hour in a rubber costume with Bizzy Lizzy, a massage from Olaf, and a seven per cent injection of nootropyl.’ ‘Wh-Wh-What I really need,’ said Dexter, ‘and what I have r-r-r-repeatedly told you, is to be left alone.’ It was barely imaginable that anyone would not appreciate our company at any time but we acceded to the lad’s request and left him alone in his self-inflicted gloom. We adjourned to the dining room, where Chef ’s latest display of angelic virtuosity was placed before us - wombat flambé with gratin dauphinois, teamed with Huonbrook Drenched Paddock Merlot 1987 and a side dish of Salvia divinorum. ‘The boy will be fine in a while,’ said Digby, a round of potato on his fork and sparks of light seemingly emerging from his ears. ‘His mother was a bolter and I think the incident has set off some old memories, especially as the mother took the family duck as well.’ ‘Took the duck!’ roared Abbotsleigh. ‘Criminal!’ ‘I’m sure you’re right, Digby,’ I said, staving off momentarily the catatonia which often accompanies the diviner’s sage, ‘once he becomes immersed in the joys of viniculture the lost love of a lip-pierced vixen will seem naught to him.’ Once I had extruded those words, like coloured slime from a bent trumpet, a silence as thick as a politician’s hide descended upon the room. We sensed in the distance, palpable and portentous, a frantic scribbling. 14. ‘How shall we greet Green Wooden Monkey Year?’ asked Bosworth. ‘With ritual,’ replied Abbotsleigh, drawing on an opium pipe. ‘Ritual is to us like sunlight to the amoeba reaction is instinctive, whether it be an offering to the gods or the obsessive washing of hands. Although we like to distinguish ourselves as intellectual animals, we are bound by the unconscious compulsion.’ ‘If I might interpose,’ said the butler Sanders, who was exquisitely dressed in a silk mousseline Courageous Blessings jacket, ‘Chef and the valets have prepared something for the occasion.’ We were ushered into the dining room, done out from style notes by the Jade Emperor, and seated upon mock thrones. Before us was a feast of Peiching kao ya accompanied by chiao-tzu. The wine was a fortified Main Arm Monkey Magic 1998 suan mei tang, the stimulant Erowid’s patented Ipomoea violacea mix, presented in small jade bowls. As we dined a stunning tableau unfolded before us on a raised stage: Bizzy Lizzy, the Club’s dominatrixon-call, has assembled a troupe of her fellow artistes all clad as Sky Goddesses. They rose and fell through the air on invisible wires amid colour-enhanced smoke, acrobatically reaching into the synapses of their audience and playing merry havoc. Combined with the effect of the Ipomoea, one’s mind was forced to venture forth on paths mysteriously unknown to normal cognisance and frolic uncontrollably in the pastures of metapoesy. Camberwell had to be restrained from removing his garments and leaping onto the stage and given a little something to help him lie down. By this stage there was little consensual reality among Club members, in fact little reality at all. For my own part, once the dancing and tumult had died, the merry prankster himself, Monkey, appeared before me clad in a green monk’s robe and a Tianjin Lions baseball cap, worn backwards, unfortunately.
He stepped forward and slammed the butt of his paw into my forehead. As an inner sky lit up with mauve stars and spinning icons of Donald Duck, I heard the great trickster say, ‘May you and all sentient beings have a fruitful year, free of care and rich with nonsense. May you laugh like a drain and the efflorescence of memory explode like a thing which explodes.’ The last phrase sounded a tad cryptic but one must take blessings where one can find them. 15. Our timing was impeccable. We arrived at the Rod Laver Arena just in time for the Agassi/Safin match and were treated to a blissful marathon of tennis. The Clubhouse’s box had just been refurbished and the players’ rackets fitted - at great expense thanks to Bosworth’s American connections - with small cameras which transmitted the image back to our headsets for the VR devices. It was like being the tennis ball, being propelled sometimes at 200kmh, and one occasionally had to take breaks between the vertigo, especially when the strawberries and cream were served. ‘It was never like this when we were hunting rhinos on the veldt,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘I didn’t know you were a great white hunter,’ said Tosser Digby. ‘You don’t quite have the figure for it.’ ‘Don’t be so impertinent,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘Not Africa, another VR thingo at Prince Charles’s holiday cottage at Throckmorton. Chap had a collection of hunting programs and a fairly primitive cricket game. ‘Poor sod also had a VR made from Goon Show tapes and videos of Milligan. Fancied himself as Eccles, though could never carry it off. I think it was the silly voices which put Diana off in the end.’ ‘Do you think he had her offed?’ asked Bosworth, popping a strawberry into his Moet as Safin disputed a dodgy line call after swearing heartily in Russian. Our translator Svetlana suggested coyly it was something to do with a complex relationship between the line umpire and barnyard animals. ‘Not according to MI7,’ replied Abbotsleigh. ‘More likely the driver had dropped a goofball with his drink. What has never been revealed is that a collection of Andy Warhol memorabilia was found in the boot. Apparently the princess had a thing about Pop Art, which did not accord with the image the Spencers wanted as a legacy.’ ‘The Sloane Ranger in the Velvet Underground,’ mused Digby. ‘It fits. And this MI7 you mentioned?’ ‘Sorry, old boy,’ said Abbotsleigh, casting a worried gaze over the arena, ‘best you forget it, for both our sakes.’ ‘Every life probably holds a fetish,’ said Bosworth. As if on cue, Bizzy Lizzy, the Club’s dominatrix-on-call, arrived in a little white tennis dress. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead and obviously she had been giving her racket a bit of a swing in the Club dungeon beneath the stands. The VR devices were forgotten and one could hear Club members’ jaws dropping in unison. It was as if Venus had risen from the sea on half a shell. ‘Next,’ said Bizzy Lizzy, and there was a mad rush for the door. 16. The news that Rene Rivkin, patron saint of expensive rosaries, had to go to jail after all cast a pall over many of the Club members, especially those with friends in the stock trading community. ‘Man can’t benefit from informed contacts,’ grumbled Bosworth, ‘What’s the world coming to?’ ‘In my day,’ offered Abbotsleigh, drawing on a cigar given to him by Rivkin himself, ‘we’d have blackmailed the judges with a picture of their honours shacked up with a naked doxy and a piebald goat. Chaps have no initiative.’
The Club was split, however, on a vote to send Rivkin a Daimler as a gesture of sympathy and the motion was lost 7-6, with Camberwell abstaining because he had temporarily lost his memory after a fight with a cab driver. We consoled ourselves with lunch - a casserole of sugar-glider ears accompanied by Kakadu plum sauce and a confit of yabbies. The wine was a Watego’s Toilet Block Whiteley Spontaneous Sketch Lubricious Grenache 1990, rich in seaweed overtones and a after-palate of burnt ego, followed by a warm infusion of myristicine which, unfortunately, had the already bewildered Camberwell crawling across the floor, barking like a seal. As for the rest of us, we were motivated by the news of Rivkin’s shame to act decisively in another arena. Having heard that same morning that Council had declined to erect billboards on Lawson Street pointing out that persons unknown had despoiled the view by poisoning trees, we bought up all the properties east of Restaurant Wild and had them summarily demolished in the dead of night by Slats Rummery, who also sold Humvees liberated from the US Army to interesting recluses in the Outback. On the cleared sites we planted out dense rainforest protected by radioactive Rottweilers and as well established the Rene Rivkin Children’s Playground, where children might go to frolic in the sandpit and learn from Uncle Abbotsleigh the joys of the commodities market. There was some shock in the local development community to learn that actual buildings had been replaced with native habitat. Several condominium speculators fainted and had to be revived with a shot of adrenaline to the hip pocket. The Council compliance officers interrogated the Club’s lawyers about unauthorised biodiversity, who in turn threatened to sell the officers into slavery in the Republic of Yemen, and produced the documents to prove they could do it. 17. Camberwell entered the dining room solemnly, with him a young bearded man clad in a loose mauve shirt and white drawstring trousers. ‘This is Anandabodhabundi,’ announced Camberwell, ‘he will be our rehabilitation therapist for today.’ The room echoed with the noise of grown men choking on their Chivas Regal. ‘Rehab is for quitters,’ spluttered Abbotsleigh. ‘Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs,’ coughed Bosworth. ‘Camberwell, what on Earth possessed you to think that we might be in any way disposed in favour of the services of this fine young man with the multisyllabic name?’ I asked. ‘We can’t live in denial all our lives, trotting out slogans to protect our substance abuse,’ intoned Camberwell. ‘Works perfectly well for me,’ said Tosser Digby. ‘With The Buttery Dinner approaching on February 28 and the theme of rehabilitation in the air, so to speak, it seemed an ideal time for us to mend our ways,’ said Camberwell. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ muttered Abbotsleigh. ‘The sensible course of action is to send the good folk at The Buttery a Van Gogh or some other modern painting to auction and be done with it,’ I said. ‘There is something distasteful in the notion that the character of a rich man over fifty with a club to retire to may in any way be reconstructed by any means less than a triple bypass or a kidnapping by Shining Path guerrillas.’ ‘There is no reason any of you should see me as a threat,’ said Anandabodhabundi, standing legs apart in the way which is meant to indicate strength but is more of an affront to dress sense and public decency. ‘If you reframe this moment as an opportunity to enlarge upon the possibilities of entering into an agreement with a reality which engages your perception in a totally holistic fashion and embrace it in its entirety then any given modality has the potential to yield an enlightening dividend.’
We sat stunned in her chairs. Apart from the word ‘dividend’ there was nothing in his address easily recognisable as meaning something, and we feared he might be having a seizure. Fortunately, like a deus ex machina, Sanders the butler entered the room and saved our bacon. ‘Might I remind you, gentlemen, that the Constitution of the Club specifically prevents the non-ingestion of psychoactives.’ If Camberwell respected anything, it was the Constitution crafted by earlier generations of noble reprobates, so he sadly escorted the therapist to the front door. We breathed a collective sigh of relief and returned to the bluetongue roulade and the Ewingsdale Roundabout Misdirectional Frenzy Stonehenge Cabernet Sauvignon 2001. When Camberwell returned, Sanders pointedly drew his attention to the words carved in cedar above the dining room doorway - ‘Beyond Redemption’. 18. I was not always a debonair man of the world. As a callow youth of 13 I had aspirations to spin bowl for New South Wales and enlarge my Hungarian stamp collection. Fortunately at that time I encountered Mrs Eugenia Glossthrottle, who happened to visit while my parents were out and brought with her a bottle of olive oil and her performing seal. What followed is not suitable for recounting in a family publication but suffice it to say that from that day on my tastes turned distinctly toward slippery women and hearty claret, and I am plagued by uninvited erections near the Arctocephalus enclosure at the zoo. Thoughts of becoming the next Sonny Ramadhin strayed from my mind, though I understand Mr Warne has an appetite for lubricity and has some trouble keeping his mobile phone in his trousers. I make this point not simply to present the readership with another unseemly anecdote but also to suggest eroticism is induced, not a genetic disposition. There are people at large in the world, for example, who assume that food is merely food rather than a kaleidoscopic orgy of tastes and sensations. That drink is merely drink, not a beneficent nectar which stimulates the organs and bulldozes a highway of pleasure along the spinal cord. Likewise these simple souls have not heard of entheogens, those substances, organic or otherwise, which propel the brain into the temple of the transcendent. For them the asparagus spear is just another piece of greenery and the split fig simply fruit. To correct this deficiency in the general public the Club published a little book called The ABC of Debauchery, nicely bound in gold-embossed dolphin leather, and sent Abbotsleigh out onto the thronging streets of Byron Bay to peddle it. Rather than be caught up in the hurly burly of night club touts, Greenpeace hawkers and Krishna spielers, he set up stall next to the CWA outside the post office. There was a friendly exchange of pamphlets and Abbotsleigh returned to the Club with a rather fine recipe for marmalade. One CWA member, a certain Mrs Mavis Frogswallow, was found the next night draped naked bar for white socks over the Rotary Club clock, so she had obviously taken her reading to heart. The venture was judged a success and we celebrated with Crepes Fly Agaric and a 2002 Humid Brothers Palmwoods Banana Shed Chardonnay. A combined delegation from the Tantric Sex Masseuse Society and the Vatican took out an injunction to stop a second printing but once the judge availed himself of the evidence we were free in the space of two days to once again pollute the unsullied and titillate the tarnished. 19. ‘Dashed Macquarie Street,’ said Bosworth, scooping another spoonful of caviar from the Clubhouse barrel, ‘has ditched the passenger train from Casino to Murwillumbah in the latest budget round.’ ‘Shameful, shameful,’ agreed Abbotsleigh, who had never travelled by train in his life. ‘What will the poor people do?’ While the news was solemn and sobering, certain minds at the Club narrowed in on the commercial impli-
cations in short time, like ferrets on the trail of an injured budgerigar. A few phone calls later, we had secured the use rights to the Bangalow to Mullumbimby section of track and acquired some fine rolling stock from the Sultan of Brunei’s nephew. Inspired by the example of the Sushi Wave restaurant, we created the Gourmet Train, literally a moveable feast in carriages delineated by different cuisines, Japanese next to French, Thai followed by Mediterranean, and so on. We charged through the nose of course and anybody who wanted to be anybody, and a few people who were actually somebody, signed up for the inaugural trip. We had to repel angry property developers thwarted in their desire to have the strip of land rezoned for townhouses but a few rounds of buckshot and Mrs Dotty Buckminster’s Superior Chemical Mace did the trick. The Club had its own carriage fitted out with a gold-plated spa and Tosser Digby’s chef Gaston Le Boeuf was engaged to supply the repast. Thanks to the Sultan’s nephew, Her Royal Highness Princess Hajah Majeedah Nuurul Bolkiah cut the blue ribbon at Bangalow to launch the venture and the train set off to the strains of ‘Food, Glorious Food’ performed by the Rosebank Dour Scots Pipers. We broached a case of Piper Heidsieck’s Diamant Bleu and settled down to enjoy the ride. At Byron Bay the inimitable Le Boeuf brought out lunch - grilled Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail soaked in an insouciant sauce of mustard and native rosemary, accompanied by a Billinudgel Post Election Ennui Cabernet Merlot. Apart from losing Abbotsleigh into a horse paddock at a bend at Tyagarah the trip went swimmingly and the shooting contest bagged Digby three rainforest pigeon and an assortment of university students searching for mushrooms. By the time afters - chocolate crepes with a raspberry ice cream - rolled around, we had pulled up at Mullumbimby station. Council staffers pressed their faces to the western windows of their enormous tin shed, drooling uncontrollably at the sight before them. Digby took pity, and sent Le Boeuf off with a bunch of hampers. ‘Spoil the buggers,’ scoffed Bosworth. ‘Give them a taste for the finer things and the Municipal Officers Association will be demanding a gourmet allowance.’ 20. ‘Good news on Telstra shares since Mansfield buggered off,’ said Abbotsleigh, browsing the Herald and quaffing a red. ‘Up one point eight bill.’ ‘Might be able to afford a few technicians for the bush,’ huffed Bosworth. ‘Never cared much for telcos,’ offered Digby. ‘A chap is always better off in property, assuming there’s not a military coup.’ ‘In which case hedge your bets in the arms trade,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘There’s a decent earner in bloodshed and mayhem, if you can find middle men who won’t fleece you or sell your agents into slavery.’ ‘Sexual appetites is another reliable field,’ said Bosworth. ‘The Macquarie Spanking Index is up 532 points this year, and I’ve made a killing in leather chaps, chaps.’ ‘Can’t stand those penis enlargement emails they send round,’ said Abbotsleigh, somewhat off the topic. ‘The old fella would loop the block if I’d taken up all those offers. Why, in the old days one would just take a length of twine and a half gallon of baby oil... ‘ At this point Sanders the butler entered the reading room and coughed discreetly. ‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘would you care to select a wine to accompany lunch? Chef is offering Peppercorn Quoll Steaks with Bitou Salsa.’ ‘Red,’ we murmured in unison. Faced with a blood-red gobbet of seared flesh, the true gourmet will always choose thus. ‘The quoll has a unique pungency which requires us to select the Durrumbul Engorged Shellback Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, which will cut through the lingering after-palate of aggrieved marsupial,’ I suggested.
There were no voices raised in dissent, so Sanders departed happily to the cellars via the 19th century wrought iron lift embellished with Degas cherubs we had purloined from the trading and catering division of the Paris Metro. ‘Speaking of spanking,’ said the relentless Bosworth, ‘where is Busy Lizzy?’ Devoted readers will recall that Ms Lizzy is the Club’s dominatrix-on-call. ‘Gone to Southport,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘Has an appointment all day re-educating the Australian men’s hockey team.’ ‘Pope Joan in a bucket,’ swore Bosworth. ‘Shame. Chap can always do with a good session of buttock invigoration after a feast of quoll.’ 21. It was unfortunate I was detained in Byron Bay local court last Friday. For some reason the constabulary failed to accept that I was minding the 200,000 tabs of lysergic acid diethylamide for my Uncle Rupert, and in any case the strength of each square of paper, imprinted with a purple image of Gypsy Rose Lee’s left nipple, was hardly sufficient to set the walls melting, let alone have the imbiber’s head explode into a million roseate crystalline fragments, inscribed with the word ‘Entheogenesis’ and accompanied by doves in electric blue lycra shorts. I took my place among the many casually-clad locals and dark-suited lawyers on the courthouse foyer. The charge list on the court wall was long: If the defendant was not up for possess prohibited drug, then it was drink driving, or drink driving followed by assault officer. In some cases it was possess drug, drink drive and assault officer; in one case all three charges plus detain penguin with intent to defraud. My barrister and polo colleague Lance Boyle convinced the magistrate, with whom he shared a directorship on the Board of the NSW Philately Association, to allow bail on the grounds that I was not a dangerous character, would not flee and was far too rich to be imprisoned. The police prosecutor was particularly annoyed because my younger brother Rossco had dakked his brother at Scots College in 1967. I was late for the Club luncheon at Watego’s and the incident was so distressing I suffered an acid flashback on Lighthouse Road. James pulled the Bentley into the Captain Cook Lookout carpark as I sat on the back seat with my head in my hands. My mind, aided and abetted by an all-too-willing memory, catapulted me to 1963, where I found myself sitting at a green table in a primrose café in Woollahra/Arles with Brett Whiteley, Jesus el Pifco and Salvador Dali’s cat. The waiter brought out a perfectly horrible bottle of Rosella 1959 Chocolate Sauce, which proceeded to fall through the tablecloth, leaving the taste of magnesium in my mouth. I looked down at my hands and on the palms saw moving images of Mae West being fed through a sewing machine. Not one of my best days. 22. I had just got off the phone to Alan Jones, advising him on what tie David Flint should wear during his next public appearance, when one of the PM’s minders knocked on the door of my beachhouse. His dark suit looked entirely out of place at Broken Head and culture shock clouded his face as he emptied the sand from his Florsheims. ‘Mr Bitemark, if I might have a moment...’ he began. ‘Ah, Julian, do come in,’ I said. I clapped my hands and a bevy of Swedish au pairs brought in a selection of marsupial hors d’ouevres and a carafe of rosé. Julian settled himself tentatively into a weathered hessian deck chair. ‘The Prime Minister is concerned he may be losing touch with the electorate,’ began Julian. My response
could have involved snorting wine through my nose but I managed to retain my equanimity. ‘You’re a pleasant enough chap, Julian,’ I said. ‘and I have fond memories of times on the polo paddock together, but you must remember that my proclivities preclude advising PMs. Had you a coup in a small South American country in mind, I might be your man...’ ‘Nothing seems to be working,’ said Julian, a hint of a snivel in his voice. ‘I come to you as our last best hope.’ I was momentarily flattered of course but directed Julian’s attention to the small bowl Helga had just placed before him. ‘We will talk in a moment,’ I assured him,’but first drink this.’ Eager to please, Julian drained the contents of the bowl in an instant. It was incautious of him. The bowl, a fond souvenir of my erotic encounter with Edith Piaf ’s grand-niece on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, contained my experimental mixture of a 1994 Goonengerry Bushfire Arson Surprise Merlot, ergotamine and Lophophora williamsii. To date, Julian had encountered nothing more psychoactive than a discussion of cardigans with Mr Howard. His twitching body was removed from the sandy floor by two of the au pairs, one carrying a bottle of rosewater, the other a leather device used widely for removing conservatism. Tomorrow morning the career bureaucrat would be found, clad only in a torn sarong, babbling beatifically on White’s Beach. His life of compromise would be over. My bowl drained, I settled into a chair with a glass of mineral water and a thin slice of Jarlsburg, striking up a conversation with what might have been a potted cactus in the corner of the room, a frying pan, or the spirit of Carlos Castaneda, who seemed to regret all that nonsense he had written about lizards. 23. It is the best time of the year. The sun comes up like a pink blancmange as white vapours drift between hills. Dolphins leap gracefully from waves, and the stock portfolio of the wise investor increases in value. To celebrate the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, we took out a flotilla of lilos from the Watego’s clubhouse, towed onto the sparkling sea by Sanders the butler in a cigarette boat which did service for the Mafia off the Florida Keys in the 1950s. Chef prepared a gourmet food-and-wine raft which could be reached by a little judicious paddling. ‘This is the life, eh, Bitemark?’ ventured Abbotsleigh. ‘Reminds me of a little yacht I had off Santorini. Maria Callas visited often to forget her sad and secret love for Charles de Gaulle’s chauffeur.’ ‘The curative power of the ocean is not to be underestimated,’ I agreed. ‘It is strange to think that most of the visitors to town are sitting in some dark café in Jonson Street, swapping tales of artistic projects that will never be completed.’ ‘Portrait of the artist as a dilettante,’ said Digby. ‘Most would be better off strapping on a snorkel and staring at fish.’ ‘Let’s not be too hard on the dilettante,’ said Bosworth, opening another bottle of Julian Rocks Enraged Turtle Chardonnay. ‘Remember that some of us here have fortunes purely by inheritance rather than hard graft.’ He stared pointedly at Chapperwell, who was poking a rubber duck with a swizzle stick and making quacking noises. ‘Art,’ I said, cutting a slice of Mrs Frutiger’s Nimbin Gold San Pedro Brie, ‘is an expedition into the dark interior of the unconscious, not a Jeff Koons puppy or a New Age dolphin surrounded by friggin’ rainbows.’ ‘Steady on, Bitemark,’ huffed Abbotsleigh. ‘Next thing you know you’ll be smoking Gauloises. Like a good picture of a dolphin, don’t you know, especially if the young lass peddling it is inclined to wear a species of
diaphanous cheesecloth... ‘ Abbotsleigh’s lascivious rumination was interrupted by a freak wave which overturned all our lilos and washed Digby ashore onto a Toorak anorexic who squealed with undiluted pleasure at the shame of it all. Sanders rode the cigarette boat cleverly across the wave’s face and pointed to a formidable set on the horizon. ‘Time to retire to the clubhouse for coffee and a snifter of ether,’ I said, and we did. 24. ‘I see the federal budget includes raising the 29 per cent Wine Equalisation Tax rebate ceiling from $300,000 to a wholesale sales value of $1 million,’ said Abbotsleigh, pouring himself another glass of Kirribilli House Cat’s Bum Face Cabernet Sauvignon 1989. ‘Well, they would do that, wouldn’t they?’ said Digby. ‘Who do you think owns or invests in most of the small wineries?’ ‘I would have thought it was us,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘The Club itself owns 43 per cent of the boutique wineries in Mudgee,’ interposed Sanders the butler. ‘A check of share registries for the district suggests a 27 per cent interest by various Liberal Party members.’ ‘You are a mine of information, Sanders... ‘ began Digby. ‘Ah, Mudgee, Mudgee, Mudgee... ‘ interrupted Camberwell, suddenly rousing himself from an opium reverie on the chaise longue once owned by Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother. ‘The chilly evenings by the open fire, the drystone walls bordering the serried ranks of vines bursting with plump fruit, Mrs Edith Sumpter’s padded chamber of pain... ‘ ‘Be that as it may,’ I said, silencing Camberwell with a sudden blow of the Club’s pearl-inlaid apple corer, ‘the government’s decision, whether one of altruism, greed or plain dementia, will help foster the viticultural arts and that can be only a good thing.’ It was our annual postprandial review of the budget in the drawing room, following on from a rather fine meal of western red kangaroo fillets in bilby sauce - Tosser Digby had shot the kangaroos himself on one of his properties while making final preparations for the visit of the local chapter of the Equities and Bondage Association. Once our review was over, Sanders the butler would fax the précis to Horace Blathersnipe, the PM’s Secretary For Sucking Up To The Very Rich. One would expect some changes to the legislation, especially in the matter of tax concessions for the insultingly wealthy. ‘Can’t understand this bracket creep, mmmh,’ said Grinspoon. ‘Is it something to do with door hinges?’ ‘Nothing for us to worry about, old boy,’ replied Abbotsleigh. ‘We are beyond all brackets. It need only concern those who work for a living.’ For a moment the word ‘work’ hung in the drawing room like a cold preternatural emanation. ‘Be that as it may, having one’s accountant deal with the tax man can be bothersome,’ I said. ‘To that end I have been engaged in fruitful negotiations with the government of Nauru. They look very favourably towards having their nation used as a safety deposit box.’ ‘Well done, that man,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘Pass me another ampoule of 5-Methoxy-N N-Dimethyltryptamine, would you, Sanders?’ 25. The Club had high hopes for its entry in the Bangalow Billycart Derby which makes it all the more strange we entrusted it to Abbbotsleigh.
The cart, in the shape of a large cigar with flames spurting from the lit end, was constructed in Lamborghini’s workshop in Italy. The company, now owned by Audi, was in debt to the Club for its part in delicate negotiations with Malaysian shareholder Mycom. Abbotsleigh had one of the chaps from his engineering interests truck the cart, named Spirit Of Excess at a christening ceremony involving 27 bottles of Bollinger, to Bangalow. Unfortunately the chap, who was from Sydney, dropped it off in the wrong street. Abbotsleigh, tired and emotional after a night on the tiles with the former girlfriend of a disgraced footballer, failed to notice there were no other competitors in the vicinity and set off on a course of his own making. ‘I did find it strange at the time,’ Abbotsleigh told us later in the Clubhouse, ‘that some parts of the course meandered uphill. It took a good deal of pushing on my part, aided and abetted by some street urchins who souvenired the bull badge, to get it to the top of a rather steep hill.’ From there it was all downhill, so to speak. Designed as sleekly as the Italian craftsmen, assisted by German engineers, could ever design a cigar, the Spirit of Excess took off at great speed with Abbotsleigh clinging wanly to the wheel. The subsequent collision with the Mr Flummery ice cream van was the talk of Bangalow for days. The aforementioned urchins scrapped over a sudden fountain of Paddle Pops and the unfortunate van driver found a double cone inserted roughly into a delicate part of his anatomy. The Club had to be pretty free with the petty cash tin to make amends, buying out the ice cream franchise and sending the driver on an all-expenses paid trip to Port Macquarie, apparently his favourite holiday destination after he spurned our offer of the Cote d’Azur. For his part Abbotsleigh was taken in by an amorous hausfrau, who tended to his wounds and held him prisoner in her love nest for three days. He emerged with a distinct bow to his legs and a horror of chenille bedspreads. ‘Served you right for ruining our chances of taking out the professional section of the derby,’ harrumphed Camberwell while dealing liberally with a bottle of Rifle Range Road Exploding Cornetto Cabernet Sauvignon 1996. ‘There’s always next year,’ consoled Tosser Digby, ‘I have some splendid plans for a propelling pencil...’ 26. It came as a surprise that such a philistine as Abbotsleigh would want to plant out an organic vegetable garden on the roof of the Watego’s clubhouse. It seems he had watched Gardening Australia under the influence of some hypnotic concoction and was smitten with Peter Cundall’s charismatic delivery. ‘But what about the helipad?’ asked Camberwell. ‘Buy the B&B next door and put it there,’ replied Abbotsleigh. It seemed a reasonable suggestion and, despite a few mutterings of dissent from those members who ate only protein salvaged from dead herbivores, we did just that. And not wishing to disturb B&B guests with the regular arrival of our Bell 427, we converted the building into a vault for our Pre-Raphaelite painting collection, which included a particularly fine Narcissus Removes A Leech After Falling In the Pool by John Waterhouse. The chopper proved useful in delivering soil, worm farm and organic mulch to the clubhouse roof. Sanders the butler had the valets set up the garden bed and most of the seedlings and handed Abbotsleigh a gold-plated watering can. ‘Shouldn’t be too much trouble from here on in, sir,’ said Sanders. Tosser Digby took the opportunity to set up his collection of psychoactive cacti sent out by curandera Maria Sabina’s great grand-niece from Oaxaca, Mexico. Their ingestion while dabbling about with a trowel made gardening even more pleasurable, though Camberwell had a severe fright when he mistakenly believed the choko
vine was trying to engage him in sexual congress. Abbotsleigh’s efforts were greeted with approbation as we relished his courgettes and button squash with Chef ’s dish of echidna au gratin, accompanied by an excellent Brunswick Heads Banner Park Parochial Squall Merlot 1999. ‘Never knew you had a green thumb, Abbotsleigh,’ remarked Triton, ‘apart of course from that distressing incident with the absinthe barrel.’ ‘Neither did I, old boy,’ replied a rather self-satisfied Abbotsleigh. ‘It has given me a new appreciation of the denizens of the vegetable kingdom and their many interesting stratagems for survival. One can never overestimate the cunning of the humble broad bean.’ Later in the year Abbotsleigh’s efforts resulted in a glut of Brandywine tomatoes. Once we had shipped several kilos off to the Club’s bespoke tailor Alfredo Domingo to incorporate into his superb home-made sauces, we amused ourselves by launching the rest from our 16th century catapult onto sunbathers at Watego’s Beach. The resultant lawsuits kept our solicitors busy for some months but it was well worth the fun. 27. It was with some alarm that we learnt one of the Club’s kitchenhands with access to sharp knives had been re-creating scenes from Shakespeare throughout our fair and pleasant Shire. As the Bard of Avon was wont to litter the boards with acts of bloody butchery, we shuddered at what one of our employees might have done. ‘Will his hands e’er be clean?’ asked Abbotsleigh. ‘Not until he gets rid of that damn Spot,’ huffed Camberwell, referring to the kitchenhand’s fox terrier which had the unfortunate habit of urinating copiously on the most inappropriate occasions. Becksniff, for that was the kitchenhand’s name, had been caught by the police near Federal, dumping a barrel of gelatine onto the roadside from his Peugeot 403. ‘Out, vile jelly!’ proclaimed the young man at the time, according to the police report, and the senior constable at the scene immediately recognised that Becksniff was suffering from bardophilia. (The constabulary are especially trained to spot literary references and a member of an advanced tactical response group might also pick up the connection with the Tibetan Book of the Dead.) Further investigations failed to uncover any heinous crimes, though a patch of clumping bamboo bearing the cardboard label of ‘Dunsinane’ had been shifted closer to a farmhouse at Myocum. Becksniff was convicted only of littering and consorting with literature and, after receiving a psychiatric report, the magistrate ordered the young man to undertake a course of counselling on the dangers of 16th century prose with a special watchout for the double negative. Fearing this might not be strong enough medicine, Club manager Achmed Edfed assigned a valet to administer mescalin from our private reserve at regular intervals. During one such treatment Becksniff escaped to a doof at Goonengerry, where he was kidnapped by fairies. Anecdotal evidence from our IT specialist suggests Becksniff now lives in a fluorescent Kombi under the delusion he is Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream and his kidnappers have done nothing to disabuse him of this notion. Given the kinds of obsessions which plague many of the Shire’s residents, it is a reasonable outcome. Heaven forfend that Becksniff should imagine himself to be Titus Andronicus or Caliban. ‘Good kitchenhands are hard to come by, though,’ remarked Tosser Digby over a snifter of North Ocean Shores Disputed Sportsfields Burning Pique Tawny And Slightly Ruffled Port 1964. ‘All’s well that ends well,’ said Camberwell, and was immediately subject to a fusillade of bread rolls. 28. Camberwell somehow managed to dupe a Nigerian scam letter writer, a chap based in India and going by the name of Mrs Jomo Mbeke, widowed wife of the former president of the lost continent of Atlantis, out of
$23 million and kindly donated some of it to a re-fit of the Club gymnasium. Club manager Achmed Edfed made use of his close connection with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Californian governor shipped out his personal trainer, former world champion shot putter Lina von Hornblossom, to put the Club members through their paces. There were grumbles, of course, as most of us hadn’t lifted anything heavier than a cheroot in years, but we all put in an effort of some sorts. Tosser Digby, a country boy and former game hunter, excelled in ab-ripping while Abbotsleigh became so smitten with Fraulein von Hornblossom, her glistening muscles and her peculiar Teutonic lisp that he vowed to give up drugs and walk ten kilometres on the beach every morning. His vow fell by the wayside when Sanders the butler had valets wheel in the week’s supply of nitrous oxide. We were exhausted by lunchtime and while our trainer went off in pursuit of a celery stick and a swim from Watego’s to the north wall at Brunswick Heads we sat down to a splendid feast of grilled Leadbetter’s Possum in a cream of chanterelles garnished with lemon myrtle, accompanied by a charming South Golden Beach AllIn Sportsfield Invective Pinot Noir 1993, and followed on by raspberry mousse, the raspberries flown in fresh by Chuck Yeager’s air force buddy Sam ‘Loon’ Nelson from Camberwell’s tax dodge, er, farm, near Cygnet in Tasmania. ‘Exercise is a wonderful thing,’ said Portsmouth, throwing another dollop of King Island cream atop his second helping of mousse. ‘Renews a chap’s vigour as a trencherman.’ ‘Couldn’t agree more,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘especially when one is severely instructed by a fraulein with a penchant for leather fragrances in a cologne.’ ‘One lives for endorphins,’ I offered, ‘whether via exercise, food, or the other thing.’ ‘The other thing?’ puzzled Camberwell. ‘You mean philately?’ ‘No, I do not.’ ‘It sounds like philately,’ sniggered Abbotsleigh. Fortunately von Hornblossom returned at this stage and lifted the tone of the afternoon by bullying us into a set of star jumps. Portsmouth forfeited his mousse in a loud and spectacular fashion, but one remarked on how clear his skin looked afterwards. 29. Inspired by the fine efforts of civilian test pilot Mike Melvill, who looks old enough to be a Club member, we decided it was time to have our own presence in outer space. While our pockets were not quite as deep as SpaceshipOne’s patron, Microsoft founder Paul Allen, we had enough petty cash to establish a permanent presence 100 kilometres above what’s left of the Earth. The thought of winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize barely crossed our minds, as it would hardly soak up the caviar bill. Rather than endure the tedious G-forces of a rocket flight, we sent up a high altitude balloon with a steel cable attached. There was some mutterings from Council about planning compliance but we pointed out that Watego’s was a compliance-free zone if you took into account the precedents set by toolsheds, driveways and major buildings. Around the cable we constructed an elevator, the walls lined with a plush red velvet courtesy of a bespoke factory in Florence, and sent up our builders to create a revolving dining room at its summit. Our view from the top was spectacular and slightly closer to Mother Earth than that obtained from one of the many satellites spinning above us. Those not in possession of an elevator or a spaceship may get some idea of the view online at www.fourmilab.ch/earthview/satellite.html. ‘Some rather interesting manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf,’ said Abbotsleigh, after peering through the telescope. ‘Looks like an Australia frigate in hot pursuit of a beer tanker.’
‘Spot of bother in the Maldives,’ said Tosser Digby from the other telescope. ‘Chap’s had a rather unpleasant run-in with a turtle.’ Once our somewhat schoolboyish enthusiasm had subsided, we sat down to one of Chef ’s finest meals: Venusian wortlebeast dusted with Nimbin Natural cheese with a side dish of asparagus lightly grilled by reentry. The wine was a rather insouciant Becton Last Hurdle Buggerup Cabernet Idiot Savant 2001, acidic on the forepalate with a hint of roast tern. The general lightheadedness and strange shifts in perception - Camberwell swore a lobster was climbing the outer wall - caused by the extreme altitude militated against introducing psychotropics into the mix. Nevertheless we pressed ahead with a cheeky little Dr Hofmann’s Serotonin Enhancer 1949 and enjoyed the visual effects associated with elements of the US advanced missile defence system shooting by in pursuit of a four storey high Alexander Downer in rainbow pyjamas. 30. Bizzy Lizzy, the Club’s dominatrix-on-call, held a weekend soirée at Tosser Digby’s Goonengerry estate, hidden in a fold of the hills where nought but Club members and the pixies might find it. At least that’s what we thought. Lizzy’s friends, however, had a nose for debauchery and the event was descended upon by a visiting chapter of the Death’s Head Mothers, a biker gang which specialised in charity drives and random acts of wanton violence. Being fellow members of a club of sorts we got on awfully well with most of the chaps until Abbotsleigh, his senses powerfully affected by Mrs Ethel Furlough’s Special Cough Medicine, drove his 1959 Bentley over a Harley Davidson belonging to one of the Death’s Head Mothers’ confreres known as Homicidal Dave. This said David was some six foot seven tall in the old money and built like a jeraboam of Bollinger liberally decorated with muscles and tattoos inspired by Albrecht Durer’s etchings of Armageddon. Lizzy’s practised hand with her whip, made with leather souvenired from the carcass of a 1930s Longreach stockman, held Dave’s homicidal tendencies at bay for a while until he souvenired the horns from a garden Pan by Berlusconi, or was that Bellini? Abbotsleigh was insensible to the fuss, at that point engaged in amorous advances on a statue of the Nymph of Avarice, one of the Club’s familiars. Being a third order puce belt in wimp chi – the ancient and inscrutable art of running away – I had already familiarised myself with the possible escape routes horizontal, vertical and interdimensional. All hell, or a reasonable simulcrum thereof, might have broken loose were it not for the soothing powers of Miss Petal Kane, a visiting marketing executive for Jim Beam. The power of her tongue, combined with a cowgirl outfit in a fetching hue of green suede, convinced David an outing in her pink Porsche was preferable to slicing and dicing Abbotsleigh into convenient party chunks. We cheered their departure and celebrated with a deucedly fine crate of Saddam Hussein Whiff Of Hellfire Cabernet Merlot 1999 donated by one of the gang members. We decided we had a lot in common with this bunch of colourful anarchists and invited them to our fourteenth annual Immersing Of The Socialites to be held in August at Watego’s. For her part Miss Kane was granted a special dispensation to visit the Club and all the rights and privileges accorded to Bizzy Lizzy. Abbotsleigh remained oblivious, as usual. 31. Even the best of things pales on occasion, including the Clubhouse at Watego’s. The need to take a vacation overwhelmed me, like a wave of grizzly bears in armour, so I bade a tearful farewell to Sanders (unlike most of our federal MPs, we chaps know when to blub) and hired a butler called Bonham-Carter from Mrs Veronica Loosestay’s Superior Domestics for my foray into the wilds of New Mexico. My destination was an Aztec ruin laden with the vine of the chortleberry deep within the the San Juan Mountains, a site vouchsafed to me in the dying words of a famous transvestite merchant banker. By the unruly banks of the Animas River Bonham-Carter discovered a branch on a tree which looked like any other branch but was not. We tugged upon it and a rock face opened with a grinding sound, not unlike Abbotsleigh’s teeth mid erotic dream of Bizzy Lizzy’s garter belt, and we found ourselves in a secret valley known only to the de-
scendants of the Anasazi and a guild of cross-dressing money lenders. In its heart a magnificent stone temple rose from the ground. In that temple a wall was covered in a grand bas-relief of a stunning princess clad in cougar skins and ornaments of turquoise. Whole tribes had been sacrificed to her and the 16th century monk/explorer Hernandez el Pifco described her as ‘leonine’ in manner, bearing and ferocity, with a great capacity to dance debauchedly after ingesting the sacred succulent known to initiates as ‘The Demon of Great Heat and Jaw Clenching’. El Pifco’s use of the word ‘leonine’ confused generations of conspiracy theorists and populist science book writers into believing a lost African tribe had colonised New Mexico when in fact the monk was referring to the cougar or it was merely a mistranslation of the local dialect for ‘babe’. Having feasted our eyes on the image of the gorgeous princess, we laid out a grand repast on the sacrifical altar. From a modest canvas rucksack Bonham-Carter produced shank of potoroo in an apricot relish, accompanied by Upper Upper Main Arm Reclusive Yowie Cabernet Merlot 1988. The man was not Sanders – no-one is – but he could have buttled proudly for any inbred royal family in Europe. It was as we settled for our post-prandial nap that the fever came upon us. I fell into a troubled dream of scenes from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of ‘Educating Rita’ while Bonham-Carter relentlessly wove Easter bonnets from the chortleberry vine. Were it not for a party of bankers, who took us to their camp and fed us restorative soup – we were obliged to don gingham frocks – we might never have escaped the princess’s thrall. It was certainly a holiday of note and I am thankful to my young nephew Brad, visiting from Los Angeles, who lent me the mobile phone that held the images which constitute my memory. 32. The Butler Report – compiled by Sanders, Bonham-Carter and Gracefork – exonerated Abbotsleigh of any wrongdoing in the invasion of the Earwigs’ house on Brownell Drive, Watego’s Beach. ‘As far as I can tell from reading this politely-written document,’ remarked Tosser Digby, ‘Abbotsleigh was totally mistaken in believing there were Wines of Mature Distinction to be found in the Earwigs’.’ ‘Told the daft chap that before he embarked on his ill-conceived invasion,’ huffed Camberwell, sticking his head out momentarily from his virtual reality headset immersion in ‘Halle Berry Explains the Existential Dilemma of Catwoman’. ‘One could hardly expect a cadre of butlers to find fault in a Club member’s actions.’ I said. ‘The outcome was dismally predictable from the start. ‘It will now be up to all of us to wear the expense of replacing the Earwigs’ carpet. To say nothing of the psychotherapy for their Pomeranian.’ ‘What amazes me is that Abbotsleigh imagined his tactics of “shock and awe” would work,’ said Digby. ‘Throwing a drunk goat into the loungeroom is poor form – it would have made better sense to quietly jemmy open the cellar door.’ ‘Where he would have found only Mr Earwig’s model train set,’ I said. ‘A rare Hornby 1962 carriage and the Geneva rail system done accurately to scale, but hardly the serried ranks of 1945 Mouton Rothschild that an ex-valet for the CIA director had led him to believe were there.’ At this juncture the devil of whom we were speaking sauntered jauntily into the dining room. The smirk on his face was insufferable and Camberwell had to be restrained from inserting a large Lalique ornament into one of Abbotsleigh’s more delicate orifices. ‘Told you, chaps,’ grinned Abbotsleigh. ‘Had nothing to do with me.’ Further possibilities of mayhem were avoided by the arrival of Sanders bearing a feast of braised rock wallaby and green lipped mussels, accompanied by the 2002 Huonbrook Burst Eardrum Doof Grenache, redolent of fluorescent sneaker rubber and teen spirit.
While we might not agree with the Butler Report, we all knew too well that a gentleman’s gentleman of Sanders’s standing was nigh impossible to find. Why, there is a younger generation of domestic staff out there who can hardly distinguish asparagus tongs from a fish knife. 33. Nothing could deter Camberwell from believing his rightful place was at the Splendour On The Grass festival for the entire weekend. He had decked himself out in black leather jeans and wraparound sunglasses, combed his hair over his bald spot and stood before us in the gymnasium, a picture of unaware desperation. ‘Sir might find this useful,’ said Sanders the butler, holding out, with a long pair of tongs, a black t-shirt. It was decorated with a wreath of red roses from which protruded a 1953 Fender Telecaster and inscribed with the slogan, ‘Wild Child – Pursuit Of Pleasure’. Camberwell donned the t-shirt and some black winklepicker boots, and the outfit was complete. Abbotsleigh, already the colour of spiced beetroot after a session on the parallel bars, almost had an apoplectic paroxysm at the sight of his begrunged confrere. ‘Chap looks like a demented licorice stick,’ huffed Aldershot, trying to execute star jumps and finish his Chivas Regal at the same time. Our sensible objections only made Camberwell more determined to go. ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young babe in possession of a devastating body must be in want of an ageing rich curmudgeon,’ I remarked, paraphrasing Austen. ‘I fear that both the universality and the truth will be sorely tested in Camberwell’s case.’ My prognostication proved correct. It began swimmingly enough when his black limousine pulled into Belongil Fields. Young things painted with glitter and wearing little more than handkerchieves swarmed to its windows in the hope of spotting a star. When Camberwell emerged, however, they retreated like the sea pulled by a hungry moon. Things only got worse from there. Camberwell was separated from his valet by the crush and careered into the mosh pit among the mindlessly gyrating and frenzied, who were fuelled by fermented grains from the degenerate backwoods of America. He was hoist carelessly skyward by rough arms and found himself surfing atop the crowd like a cumbersome black dirigible. The momentum drove him out and over the boundary fence, to land unconscious somewhere at the back of Belongil Fields among knee-deep mud. Before Camberwell’s valet could find him, a pack of rogue bandicoots stole his boots and a raven made off with the fob watch presented to him by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa in 1963 at the final meeting of the Rothschild Occult Club. Back at the Club, it took half a bottle of Glenfiddich and a session on Mrs Marjorie Flugelsmith’s Patented Electrotherapiser to revive the dejected Camberwell. ‘I have made a dashed fool of myself,’ sighed Camberwell. We could only concur but jollied him along until lunch arrived. Camberwell might not be a rock god in the matters of the heart but he could always rely on Chef to fulfil the sacred needs of the stomach. 34. No matter his capacity, it was always unwise of Abbotsleigh to get involved in a drinking session at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Experienced writers stay the course, like old diggers found quaffing whiskies at seven in the morning on Anzac Day and still able to play two-up that night. Abbotsleigh was fine until four in the morning when the pace, set by three hardened crime novelists, began to take its toll. It might have been the number of worms from the seven bottles of Gusano Rojo Mezcal which
he insisted on swallowing which led to the unfortunate incident with the sacred ibis and the sand wedge on the fourth hole of the beach resort golf course. Tom Chandler, a distant cousin of the famous Raymond and author of The Dame In Lamé, kindly alerted us to Abbotsleigh’s presence at the hospital, where police were waiting to pursue their enquiries. After the surgeon had extracted the club head and Abbotsleigh had been charged with drunk in possession of a fowl, we took the unfortunate inebriate to the Clubhouse where Chef soothed his jangled nerves with a salmon sandwich au mogadon and he slept for two days solid. For the rest of us, however, the festival was a safe and pleasant affair. On the Sunday we hosted a luncheon for a brace of revelatory diarists, and were amazed at the amount of personal but inconsequential information they divulged in the course of the afternoon. They scribbled furiously into journals, determined not to miss the quintessential flavour of the occasion, as Chef sent up a splendid Dingo Breast Roulade Florentine and new potatoes. We opened a crate of Baywood Chase Escarpment Envy Shiraz 1997, which only added to the diarists’ volubility. Following their departure, we settled into the drawing room with a hookah newly adapted for 4MTA in a blend of hashish, specifically designed to quell the spirit after an onset of heightened socialising. The chaises longue welcomed us like the arms of mermaids welcome the weary sailor done struggling. ‘Nice chaps and chapettes,’ sighed Camberwell, ‘but they do go on at length with material that a body has no need to be in possession of, unless you’re a father confessor.’ ‘Plague of the new century,’ said Tosser Digby. ‘In my father’s day a nod was as good as a wink and a grunt would serve equally well for both.’ As the 4MTA took hold, Sanders the butler quietly drew the velvet curtains closed. The special reverie vouchsafed to the opulent washed over us in waves and downstairs, in a cool corner of the merlot cellar, Snug the Club’s other cat licked her paws before curling up into a contented ball. 35. ‘Can’t understand all this fuss about the pharmaceutical benefits scheme,’ said Abbotsleigh, downing a tablet of alpha-methyltryptamine. ‘Don’t seem to have much trouble getting pharmaceuticals.’ ‘It’s intended for the poor people,’ I said, ‘so they don’t have to pay too much for medicines. It is meant to be a basic tenet of a civilised secular society that its government looks after the welfare of the less fortunate.’ ‘Can’t see why,’ huffed Camberwell. ‘It’s not like the poor make political party donations, or even buy enough goods and services to keep the economy ticking over. What ever happened to the old principle of enlightened self-interest?’ ‘A chap could always pass on one’s excess medicines to the poor, I suppose,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘I have a couple of kilos of peyote superfluous to requirements.’ Politics is usually ignored in the Clubhouse, but the novel notion of assisting the downtrodden circulated around the reading room for at least seven minutes. In the end we voted in favour – Camberwell arguing to the contrary, preferring to see the poor sold off to another country – of accumulating a medicine chest to pass on to those on less than $2 million a year. It might not solve their severe ongoing social problems but at least they would be off their tits for a few hours. That issue dealt with, we moved into the dining room for another of Chef ’s splendid repasts. Set out on the mahogany table, upon which Marie Antoinette’s nymphomaniac cousin was once tupped by the king’s royal tennis team, was a magnificent display of roast peacocks still sporting their tail feathers. Tosser Digby had shot the birds, which were infesting a nearby backyard, from the Club’s terrace with his .410 bolt action Mossberg. Unfortunately one of the birds of very little brain had staggered onto Watego’s Beach, where it succumbed noisily in its death throes in front of sunbathers astonished to find out where food really comes from.
In addition, Sanders the butler had fetched up from the cellars one of the Club’s treasures: a crate of 1963 Wreckers Corner Flooded Crankcase Chardonnay. We drank it from wineglasses reputedly modelled from Madame Bovary’s breasts shortly before she ingested a handful of arsenic in 1857. At the time her dear friend Gustave Flaubert had declared that champagne was a magic elixir but nothing so magical as the sight of the unfortunate lady in a well-fitted bodice. ‘See what the poor are missing out on because of their lack of gumption!’ cried Camberwell, lighting up a licorice-flavoured cheroot to accompany his chardonnay. ‘Rather than giving them medicines, we should be teaching them to invest!’ 36. It came as somewhat of a surprise when Sanders the butler requested a session on Club premises with Bizzy Lizzy, the Club’s dominatrix-on-call. It was not within the usual award provisions for a gentleman’s gentleman but one is inclined to pamper a rare jewel such as Sanders, who knows how to make a chap feel at home like Mother without the obligatory guilt. Even more surprising was Sanders’s suggestion that Club members might like to observe proceedings in the theatrette connected by a one-way mirror to Bizzy Lizzy’s padded chamber of pain next to the merlot cellar. One can never tell with these chaps of remarkable self-restraint and propriety - beneath the refined exterior lurks a florid jungle of exotic urges which might propel the less balanced chap to a padded room of a different kind, especially in a nation where the prime minister’s idea of a wild night is a spontaneous change of cardigans. The moon is a harsh mistress, as the author Robert A Heinlein once remarked, but Bizzy Lizzy is even harsher. In her ordinary life – doing the shopping, that sort of thing – Lizzy is a dear, sweet creature, who cries at the thought of an abandoned kitten and crochets throw rugs for pensioned train guards. Once she dons the dominatrix kit, however, a character of different proportions takes over, one guaranteed to chill the toughest chap. At six foot two in the old money Lizzy towered over the demure Sanders. Her black leather costume with its studded brassiere, through which glinted nipple rings like the fabled light of paradise, was in stark contrast to the butler’s natty grey suit. With one sweep of her stilettoed foot she sent him sprawling to the floor, eliciting a collective gasp from the theatrette as Ponsonby the substitute butler served the champagne, a cheeky little vintage from Ardennes, where George Sand had first introduced Chopin to the pleasures of frottage. Of course the usual slave routines would not work. Being submissive and calling out ‘Yes, Mistress’ is all in a day’s work for a chap like Sanders. An expert in her profession, Lizzy had had laid a dining table with a badly crumpled damask cloth and commanded Sanders, who was by now trembling at the chaos before him, to set out the fish knives on the wrong side of the plate. ‘Steady on,’ breathed Abbotsleigh, turning a violent hue of puce and covering his groin with a plate of hors d’oeuvres to prevent embarrassment. An hour of such atrocities followed, increasing in horror and sensual complexity to a degree which prevents me describing them in a family journal. Suffice it to say Sanders emerged a spent man, beaded with sweat, the creases in his trousers less than perfect. Abbotsleigh was foolish enough to approach Lizzy before she had shed her character and was met with a guttural ‘Get back, you miserable worm!’, causing him to swoon on the spot. Once Lizzy had safely donned her Laura Ashley dress and gone off to her ikebana class, we headed off to the dining room for lunch. In his usual impeccable and mysterious manner, Sanders managed to disappear to his quarters, clean up, remove the silverware marks from his person, and arrive in time in a flawless suit in order to supervise the serving staff with perfect sangfroid. ‘Chap’s extraordinary,’ whispered Camberwell to Abbotsleigh in tones of awe before we forbade any further mention of the episode which was forever burnt indelibly in the secret chambers of the Club member’s hearts. 37. The time had come to investigate behind the door marked with Tosser Digby’s family crest of skull-and-
bones and the motto ‘Bibere venenum in auro’: drink poison from a cup of gold. You might recall that in October 2003 we had found a stairwell, attached to the Club basement built in 1961, which led down to a submarine chamber looking out into the waters of Watego’s. The so-called ‘Digby door’ was at the far end of that chamber. Bosworth, in whose brain a chip had been affected by a solar flare at the time, was keen to continue our explorations. He had returned refreshed from a ten month stay in a little-known sanatorium on the Masai Mara, where an ex game hunter turned therapist had massaged his frontal lobes with an oil made from the sweat glands of Grevy’s waterhole mouse and completely cured him of migraine. Digby himself, although an initiate into several secret societies, knew nothing about the door or what was behind it. ‘It must have been set up by Uncle Ginger,’ said Digby, ‘who came from the Celtic side of the family and was inclined to be saturnine and secretive in the extreme. I wager it is an interesting mystery though.’ Camberwell, somewhat overcome by the crystal meth paté he had injudiciously smeared on a cracker, suggested nervously it might be only the sea behind the door and opening it might see us inundated with the waters of the new marine park, suddenly entombed in the sepulchral light beneath a relocated reef or a brace of boaties in garishly inappropriate shorts. We girded up our loins with Mrs Shrewsbury’s Patented Loin Girder and a few snifters of 1987 Rifle Range Road Invigorated Brandy, which spoke to us of smoked plum and leather armchairs. Appropriately, the honour of breaking the seal - a strip of lead in the shape of a spreadeagled ferret – fell to Tosser Digby. As it opened the door sighed like an expectant mother trapped in the frozen food aisle of a supermarket. The sea did not smother us. In fact, the room revealed was lined with plush red velvet. Along the far wall was an elaborate series of racks which held glass vials filled with coloured liquids, mostly in hues of pink, violet and purple, and some resembling puce. Alongside the racks was a large handle of ivory decorated with a band of gold. Before the racks sat a throne-like chair surmounted with a complicated headset. ‘Sloane’s Empathy Device,’ said Abbotsleigh. We looked at him in astonishment as it was the first thing he had said in many months which actually contained information. ‘It was whispered about in the Liberian merchant navy when I served there as a catamite,’ continued Abbotsleigh, ‘but no-one thought it was true. According to legend the device enables you to feel complete oneness with the feelings of others.’ A collective shudder ran through the Club members. ‘Can’t have that,’ said Digby, and we all agreed to immediately reseal the chamber and adjourn to the dining room. There Chef saved us from the dangers of empathy with Raft of Duck Surprise on a bed on distressed bergamot flowers, accompanied by a side dish of salvia divinorum. 38. ‘Ever tried a spot of lucid dreaming?’ asked Camberwell out of the blue, momentarily putting aside the mask from the nitrous oxide cylinder. ‘One would be happy if you introduced lucidity to your everyday conversations,’ I remarked, ‘let alone your dreams.’ ‘Steady on, this is interesting,’ continued Camberwell, ‘when a chap has the opportunity to wake up in his dreams and manipulate events.’ ‘The proposition is contradictory,’ I argued. ‘A dream by definition cannot involve wakefulness.’ ‘Nevertheless, that is what I have done,’ Camberwell pushed on, removing a piece of crumpled paper from a pocket. ‘I visited this website thingy - www.xs4all.nl/~pasquale/TTM/1/ - and got basic techniques for waking up in a dream, things like alarms, recorded music, visualisation and so on.’
‘Visited that site meself once,’ mumbled Abbotsleigh, who was recovering from a badly corked bottle of Cemetery Road Aslant Gravestone Cabernet Shiraz 1993. ‘Tried drinking a glass of water before going to sleep. Disastrous results.’ ‘Chap can’t be too careful with water,’ began Wotherspoon, ‘I remember a time up the Zambezi –’ There was a loud bout of coughing from Club members to distract Wotherspoon and Camberwell resumed his story. ‘The eye mask was a help to begin with and before long I found myself dreaming I was in a kitchen, which was where I wished to be, and hey presto, I remembered to look down at my hands and found that I was “awake”. I began manifesting cheeses…’ ‘Pardon me?’ I said. ‘Well. in the spirit of the Club, I wanted to engage in a culinary experiment, so I said to myself, “Bring me the best cheeses of the world –’ ‘What a friend we have in cheeses,’ offered Abbotsleigh to a chorus of groans. ‘ – and before my eyes appeared an Asiago d’Allevo, a Boschetto al Tartufo Bianchetto, and a Coupelle Saint Felicien.’ ‘Splendid,’ said Tosser Digby. ‘Excellent choice. What happened next?’ ‘I was about to manifest a cheese knife when from some dank corner of my subconscious appeared a naked woman. She threw me upon the table, completely squashing the gourmet comestibles, and loudly and roughly had her wanton way with me.’ ‘Can be distracting,’ muttered Abbotsleigh. ‘That would be a lass of the order succuba, sir,’ said Sanders the butler, who had arrived with a tray of hashish pralines. ‘What do you make of all this lucid dreaming twaddle, Sanders?’ I asked. ‘I have always regarded this as a more-or-less lucid dream, sir,’ he replied, rapping his knuckles discreetly on the table, ‘from which one may one day have the privilege of waking.’ 39. Chef dazzled us with the brilliance of his sugar glider roulade swimming in a sea of Patagonian spinach purée. The only possible accompaniment was of course the 1993 Jonson Street Convulsed Roundabout Macadamised Cabernet Shiraz, followed on by Frangelico and lime on a bed of crushed ice in a brandy balloon, the fumes which greeted one’s nose not unlike the heady aroma of a harem at bath time. As the remains of the fray were being cleared, they revealed, at one margin of the table, a dark blue plastic spoon of the kind one might use at a picnic buffet if all the silverware had been stolen the night before. Club members froze in horror. One of the valets almost fainted. ‘Ah, that will be mine,’ said Tosser Digby, blushing profusely as he retrieved the offending implement. ‘Good heavens, old man,’ I said, ‘what need would you have of a piece of cutlery extruded like industrial dog shit from the dark satanic mills of low grade commerce?’ ‘It is a souvenir of a chance encounter with a remarkably dangerous woman,’ Digby replied. ‘Do tell,’ said Abbotsleigh, adjusting his wig slightly as he inserted an ampoule of nitrous tetrahydrochlorate into his left ear. ‘One always likes a yarn about the fairer sex.’
‘It was in the Latin quarter of Le Havre,’ began Digby, ‘in the Discotheque Plastique, which specialises in a decor of all things ersatz and artificial.’ Sanders the butler visibly winced. ‘Before I knew it,’ continued Digby, ‘a young woman was at my side, drumming with this same plastic spoon a complicated rhythm on my left shoulder. It had a hypnotic quality but not so hypnotic as the rather fine tattoo of a pentagram on her forehead, into which one’s vision fairly swam.’ ‘Ah, the pentagram,’ interrupted Wotherspoon. ‘Dangerous beast. I remember a time up the Zambesi –’ Camberwell reached over and deftly cut off his air supply with a brocaded cushion. ‘What with the pentagram and her gold nose ring decorated with a string of small, round amethysts, I was dashed well entranced. She continued to drum and speak in a low murmur, like a stream running over pebbles, on all manner of esoteric and learned matters until my senses became thoroughly confused. Before I knew it we were on her gypsy barge on the Fever Canal, leaning on brightly coloured bolsters in her boudoir.’ ‘I say, do go on,’ said a bright-eyed Camberwell. ‘It’s not what you think,’ said Digby. ‘She handed me a purple pill, which I rather foolishly took as she swallowed one herself. I don’t know how much time had passed when she began to move her mouth in a chewing fashion. To my utter astonishment she ate a hole through her own cheek and one could see inside her mouth another collection of jewellery piercing her tongue.’ ‘Steady on,’ said Camberwell, reaching for the tawny port. ‘It didn’t end there,’ said Digby. ‘In a matter of moments she had eaten the rest of her head and went on to swallow her whole body. All that was left by her bolster was a little cloud of purple smoke and the plastic spoon, which continued for a while to drum under its own volition. ‘I grabbed the spoon in the hope it might vouchsafe of some stable reality and in an instant found myself standing alone in the Discotheque Plastique, the DJ playing a remix of “Rocky Mountain High” and the selfgourmandising woman nowhere to be seen.’ ‘Dashed shame,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘Didn’t even get her telephone number. Better luck next time.’ 40. ‘Shiva and Shakti will be arriving soon,’ announced Camberwell. ‘I thought they were symbols of primal gender forces rather than actual entities,’ I said. ‘In this case they are a couple I met at a workshop on the Sunshine Coast,’ replied Camberwell. ‘Dashed silly names,’ said Aloysius Granary-Worthenstone, who was visiting from an exclusive club in Kaikoura, New Zealand, home of one of the best pubs in the known universe. ‘A chap would be embarrassed to go by a moniker like that.’ We had been hoping for a quiet weekend among ourselves. We had abandoned the Watego’s clubhouse, besieged as it was by Queensland families on holidays and members of a Bitemark cult known as the Brownell Drive Irregulars, and retreated to Camberwell’s estate at Myocum. The morning had been spent pleasantly enough picking at the remains of Chef ’s Bilby Surprise, which was always more of a surprise for the bilby than the diner, and taking pot shots from the eastern deck at microlights which strayed too close to the ridgeline. We refrained from asking Camberwell what sort of workshop he had gotten himself involved in this time but it was obvious enough when his new chums arrived. Both were dressed in identical tops of aqua and emerald lycra and loosely-fitting purple drawstring pants of the species cheesecloth. As they unpacked their motley collection of bags decorated with feathers and crystals, Shiva (he) and Shakti (she) chanted under their breath
‘Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin, Ouuuuuuut’, which was later explained to us as some sort of breathing ritual favourable to raising the kundalini, supposedly a spiritual snake energy which Wotherspoon utterly failed to convince us he had once hunted up the Zambezi. Their arrival seemed a recipe for disaster, until Shiva produced a large Tupperware container stuffed with a particularly fine example of black microdots bearing Dr Hofmann’s problem child, lysergic acid diethylamide. A novice valet mistakenly mixing some in with a dish of caviar did nothing to spoil the increasingly cheerful mood. As it was, Shiva and Shakti kept fairly much to themselves throughout the duration of their psychedelic experience, while Club members indulged in a long-running game of snooker in which several of the balls took it upon themselves to perform circus tricks. Outside, the colourful couple found a secluded niche in the garden, surrounded themselves with tea lights, and contemplated a ceramic dragon Camberwell had brought back from his aphrodisiac-gathering expedition to Qinghai Province. As the splendid evening wound to a close, Shiva and Shakti took it upon themselves to liberally decorate Club members with gold glitter, which hung about our persons for weeks afterwards, the local magistrate even noting its presence at Tosser Digby’s DUI hearing the following month. We responded to their kindness by opening a crate of Mme Minogue’s Coeur d’Amour Absinthe and the weekend fairly flew off on the quivering wings of delight. 41. The Club members were so repelled by the mediocrity of the parties which offered themselves up for election that we voted to secede from the Commonwealth before October 9. Tosser Digby called in a few favours from the United Nations - he had in his possession damning evidence regarding an ambassador, a giraffe and one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting – and before long we were sovereign and independent, which is how most of the chaps regarded themselves anyway. We called ourselves the Principality of Gourmandy and our state emblem was a round of brie embraced by olive branches. Any decent nation needs access to the sea, so we also annexed Watego’s Beach; any confusion among local, state and federal government regulations was immediately removed. Befitting the spirit of Byron Bay, we had erected at the beach a double-lifesize bronze statue of the great god Pan, staring down at the sands with a villainous and seductive gaze which had some of the sunbathers squirming involuntarily. Some of the more conservative patrons of our principality objected to the pagan influence, so we had the valets politely redirect them to Whites Beach. In time the statue’s substantial priapic extremity was so rubbed by eager votaries in search of luck or carnal pleasures that the glare from it would blind windsurfers. We had no border guards for Gourmandy but we issued visitors a colourful visa, a bottle of coconut oil and a free massage from Mrs Gladys Nutworthy’s Palace of Joy. The discerning visitor would notice that each visa stamp was impregnated with a devastating cocktail of psychotropics and licking it would inspire new and unusual uses for the coconut oil. We were a happy nation, the only trouble spots solved by valets with kayak paddles prying apart couples and groups lock-limbed by concupiscence. Before the gloss and novelty wore off and we returned to the simple demands of being a club for wealthy gentlemen and cads, we staged several notable banquets free of charge to visitors. Life in Gourmandy was so much better than in Australia that the crush to get in became ridiculous; we should have listened to Sanders’s subtle lecture on the value of exclusivity. The visitors seen off and the beach returned with civic improvements to a grateful Australia, we settled down to marinated bush rat with parmesan and rocket, accompanied by Broken Head Road Traffic Light Exploding Artery Extra Louche Shiraz 1999. ‘Being a country is not all that it’s cracked up to be,’ noted Abbotsleigh. ‘One is better off being an independent individual.’
Thus saying, he toppled backwards from his chair, propelled by gravity and a surfeit of shiraz. Two valets rushed immediately to restore what we laughingly call his dignity. 42. One of the constant dangers confronting a gentleman of leisure is the morning after. I am not referring so much to the shock of waking up in a yurt next to a Bavarian contortionist, an empty cream dispenser and a badly-damaged accordian and wondering what it all means, but to the common-or-garden hangover. One might shake off the mild headache caused by a nitrous oxide binge or the residual disassociation from talking to a giant pair of secateurs on ayahuasca, but alcohol will disable a chap for an entire day. It became the hot talking point at the Watego’s clubhouse the morning after the morning after we had consumed a particularly lethal crate of Colonel Blatherskite’s Dregs of the Raj Fan Wallah Unwooded Gin. ‘Stickler for greasy food myself,’ offered Camberwell, ‘a big plate of fried bread, fatty sausages, rashers of bacon and lashings of butter will do the trick.’ ‘Coffee and paracetamol,’ said Tosser Digby, ‘ and a good liedown with a face mask.’ ‘Moderation in all things,’ said Abbotsleigh, who was once trapped half way up a cliff near Dharamsala with a sieve stuck on his head and a mongoose down his trousers. After we reminded Abbotsleigh the notion of moderation was contrary to Club rules, we consulted Sanders the butler, who was an inexhaustible fount of knowledge on all topics which might pertain to a gentleman’s welfare, and also the care of hamsters. After exhaling a barely audible sigh, like that of a Parisian existentialist who has found his last Gauloise stolen and his beret soiled by pigeon shit, Sanders remarked, ‘May I remind you, gentlemen, that in the cupboard directly behind you there is an ample supply of Mrs Hattie Penwiper’s Patented Hangover Cure and Bureau Polish, which is efficacious in 99% of cases. It is made from a secret blend of Tibetan spices liberally infused in tonic water lightly flavoured with lime.’ That said, Sanders then left to oversee the 11am cushion-plumping in the billiards room. To say that we were shamefaced by our forgetfulness is an understatement of the magnitude of Canon Fulbert’s men saying to Peter Abelard, ‘This might hurt a bit.’ Nevertheless we pressed on with our discussion of cures. Among the favourites were ‘lots of fresh home made orange juice (usually three oranges and one lemon) then a nice long shower and then lots of sex’, which might not be accessible to all gentlemen, and drinking lots of water before going to bed, which does in fact require an act of memory. The reader might care to find more at www.hungover.net or send in his/her own to email@example.com. 43. I write to you from Kaikoura, New Zealand, on the South Island north of Christchurch, on the seal-embraced coast lapped by a cooler Pacific. The hinterland behind this lovely little town, in fact a good portion of the hinterland, is now home to the Clubhouse, a rather Gothic mansion imported by a mad Bavarian in the late 1800s. Yes, the Club has moved on from Watego’s. We sold the clubhouse there for $2.5 million, giving half of it to the Anxious Stockbrokers Benevolent Fund. And I, too, gentle and intoxicated reader, have moved on. I had promised to myself, on completion of my fiftieth column for The Echo, I would lay down my quill pen indirectly inherited from the Marquis de Sade. That moment has come.
Our departure from the Bay was not without sadness. The farewells with Bizzy Lizzy, the Club’s dominatrixon-call, were exceedingly wrought with emotion. We pleaded with her to come with us across the ditch but she insisted her spiritual home was in the Shire, along with her crochet class. We hope Echo readers will remember her invaluable services, especially in the dark night of the soul when a little more humiliation is just the ticket. We said goodbye to the Bay with a little gathering at sunset on the clubhouse roof. We toasted with a particularly fine 2004 Larry Anthony Embrace Of Bitterness Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied by a simple platypus barbecue and followed by soupcon of ayahuasca. Abbotsleigh swore the lighthouse imitated a couple of Fred Astaire’s more extraordinary dance steps. ‘It’s the end of an era, Sanders,’ I said to our gentleman’s gentleman, harbouring in my mind the shred of a possibility of resting a kind hand on his shoulder before discarding the idea as too familiar. ‘Indeed, sir,’ replied Sanders. ‘I hope sirs will feel less set upon by the general public in New Zealand, and less subject to scrutiny by her Majesty’s constabulary.’ ‘One hopes we will be more careful with our reputation,’ said Tosser Digby, ‘at least until Abbotsleigh runs naked through Kaikoura with a soup spoon strapped to his parts.’ ‘I have warned the mayor of the eventuality, sir,’ said Sanders, ‘and he has kindly agreed to have a functionary standing by with a blanket.’ ‘While a chap will miss the subtropical warmth,’ I said, ‘a chap is more than compensated by the quality of the New Zealand wines.’ ‘And of course, the rather unique cactus which grows on our property,’added Camberwell. We exchanged a few more pleasantries before the fleet of helicopters arrived to take us to Digby’s private jet, won in a poker game with a Colombian drug lord, which whisked us off to new beginnings. Dear readers, I wish you moderation in all things, apart from those things which deserve more than moderation. Salud. 44. I sat peacefully on my Aunt Bertha’s verandah, sipping on a vodka infused with cocaine and just a touch of bitters. Dear aunt, who must be touching 107, was still able to write stinging letters to editors with one hand while balancing a Veuve Cliquot in the other. I had returned to Byron Bay for the holiday period at her entreaty alone. You might recall, gentle reader, that the Club had relocated to the hinterland of Kaikoura, a delightful coastal village on the south island of New Zealand. Aunt’s mansion dominated the hill looking down to Tyagarah Beach. It was the lurid goings-on at the beach which had engendered the good aunt’s entreaty: her grand-niece Cicely, a sensitive woman noted for her bicycle clip collection, had been accosted in the sand dunes by scantily-clad men overly keen on genital display. The problem was easily solved. I equipped the young lass with a belt of grenades surplus to the requirements of the Tory-financed minor coup Tosser Digby was conducting in central Africa. Cicely’s ad hoc, random, one might even say mad, manner of tossing same about the bitou bush soon discouraged cads from bothering her. It also uncovered a treasure buried in the 1940s but that is another story. That done, I was of course on the aforementioned verandah, making my way staunchly through the contents of a grateful aunt’s psychotropics cabinet, a rather fine if overripe piece of French joinery equipped with more secret panels than the Pentagon’s inner sanctum. Sometime in the course of the afternoon I wagered I saw the forlorn figure of the impecunious reporter Edward Herring trudging along the strand, his hands buried in the pockets of his frayed, ill-made jacket. Moved by such human misery, I sent Fothergill the valet down to the beach with a half kilo of Mrs Bubbles Perky’s Patented Disco Biscuit to cheer Mr Herring. The resolute Fothergill returned half an hour later with the news he had been unable to find the man and ventured I might have
glimpsed a spectre from a parallel universe or might be suffering a momentary outbreak of fiction. It was a pleasant visit altogether. I caught up with Bizzy Lizzy, the Club’s former dominatrix-on-call. It was a tearful reunion. She showed me some of her recent needlework and gave me a thorough therapeutic paddling of the like the good lady paddlers of Kaikoura, alas, have yet to master – or should that be mistress? The evening was rounded off nicely by a supper prepared by Aunt Bertha’s chef of pademelon croquettes in a lemon myrtle sauce washed down by a 2004 Byron At Byron Quicksand Surprise Cabernet Merlot. I salute you with a glass of it now, gentle reader, and wish you a pleasant season, whatever your old school, neo-pagan or simply debauched proclivities. 45. I spent an extra week in your pleasant Shire, gentle reader. My return to the chilly delights of Kaikoura was postponed when my Lear jet had a malfunction in the shape of two skydiving backpackers sucked into an engine intake. While that was being fixed at Mrs Dotty Godpacket’s Aeronautical Engineering To The Gentry, I resolved to make the best of New Years Eve. My dear sainted aunt Bertha could not be coaxed from the comfort of her psychotropics cabinet but her grandniece Cicely, a different woman since she learned to throw a hand grenade, forced me into her aquamarine Cortina and set off for Durrumbul, an outpost of civilisation to the west of Byron Bay. Young Cicely had become an aficionado of the modern dance party and insisted I join her on the floor where a gentleman by the name of DJ Sweaty Buddha, who seemed neither overly enlightened nor perspiring, was laying down some wicked beats – I believe that’s the term – to the general appreciation of the audience, all of whom seemed to have majored in chemical appreciation of one kind or another. I was delighted to see that Australian illustrator Tony Edwards’s animated cartoon of Ralph the Rhino, who served as an inspiration to many members of the Club, was among the images projected onto a mudbrick wall. It was not long before some fluoro-clad young Romeo interposed his person between me and the gyrating, or possibly pumping, Cicely and I was able to make my escape to the comparative serenity of the chillout area, complete with chai tent and goddess flags inscribed with wishes for greater fecundity, wisdom or shiny hair or some such. There I had the good fortune to run into Rudderspoon, a former colleague in the school rowing fours. (We always insisted on collapsing exhausted before the end of an important race, long before it became fashionable, if only to annoy the headmaster.) The chap had likewise been importuned by a young relative to acquaint himself with the 21st century but had had the good sense to back his Roller up to a nearby barbed wire fence. From the boot thereof he drew a fine hamper of provisions, enabling us to toast the New Year with an excellent 1988 Dunne’s Thoroughly Buggered Planning Instrument Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by a brace of lightly seared fruit bats in olive oil and some MDMA of the old school. I was having a pleasant chat with Rudderspoon, or possibly with his chair, when one of the flag goddesses appeared before me. She was clad all in white, sparkly bijou on each arm, the unusual appurtenance of a purple orchid to her bustle. I thought she was telling me a secret of great cosmic import until I realised it was the hostess for the evening offering me a grape. I accepted eagerly, understanding that a smidgeon of fruit sugar might be necessary if I were to ever find the return ticket to reality in the trousers of my psyche. 46. I might have mentioned before, gentle reader, the uses of lucid dreaming as an adjunct or enhancement to psychotropics, or even to a nice cheese. My mind has faulty recall of the topic, which suggests that neither lucid dreaming nor psychotropics enhances the memory, and not much can be said in favour of approaching old age, either. But in the spirit of that fictional brujo, Don Juan, we press on, overcoming at least temporarily the obstacles of fear, power, clarity and the prospect of incontinence trousers. The discerning reader can investigate the phenomenon of lucid dreaming at ld4all.com, where learned re-
searchers swap notes with 14 year old computer geeks, boys whose main aim in learning the art of LD is to blast away phantasmagorical armies of the undead, rather than, say, explore the nature of brain function, seduce Helen of Troy or sample a hypnagogic cabernet sauvignon. Certain foods play a part in stimulating the lucid dream state and it was with their aid I last visited Byron Bay on the astral plane (which has a good deal wider seat than the conventional modern aircraft, though the flight attendants are more ethereal in their cabin service). The Club’s gentleman’s gentleman Sanders is, not surprisingly, an adept in the nocturnal arts and sent me on my way with a bowl of popcorn soaked in absinthe. Apart from an initial disconcerting hallucination of multiple Kylie Minogues in hamburger buns, the flight was smooth. I steered myself into the cellars of the old Watego’s clubhouse in search of a hessian bag of buttons from a particularly fine patch of lophophora williamsii which I had misplaced, but found the once-elegant building had been converted into a Pig’s Nose franchise, takeaway truffles for the indolently wealthy, complete with spotty-faced teenagers asking if patrons would like frites with that. The scene was so incongruous that I lost control of the dream and found myself as a hapless Leda beneath the powerful wings of Leonard Cohen as Zeus as swan, experiencing firsthand my ‘terrified vague fingers’ try to push ‘the feathered glory’ from my loosening thighs, as the Irish poet W B Yeats so vividly put it. Fortunately the ever-reliable Sanders yanked me back to Kaikoura with the aid of a shaman’s rattle and soothed my disturbed psyche with a plate of black olives and Mersey cheese, both renowned for soul retrieval. It was no good to proclaim, along with generations of school age essayists, that ‘it was only a dream’, because for weeks afterwards I had an unnatural fear of large birds, suicidal lyrics, and down pillows. I vowed thenceforth to take with me always the recommended prophylactic for lucid nightmares – the lipstick kiss of a hedonist torn from the flyleaf of a favourite book. 47. Love is a torn rag doll abandoned in the gutter of dreams. At least this was the impression Abbotsleigh was giving me as he snuffled into his scrambled eggs. We were having a late breakfast at the Tyagarah Entertainment Centre Wetland Restaurant, only a croissant’s throw from the scene of Abbotsleigh’s disappointment of the night before. While he consoled himself with a massive plate of eggs I toyed with rack of platypus in a gotu kola garnish and we were both attempting to drown my companion’s sorrows in a bottle of Gerry Harvey Compressed Bile Chardonnay, perhaps a touch too edgy on the afterpalate for the occasion. ‘It was a fabulously dumb proposition to begin with,’ moaned Abbotsleigh. ‘I am a roué and she an opera singer.’ ‘An opera singer?’ I asked, and suddenly the penny dropped. ‘You don’t mean the utterly gorgeous Isabella Roma?’ If Abbotsleigh had looked any more crestfallen I would have have called for a twelve gauge and put him down. The divine Ms Roma had wowed the crowd at the new Michael Chugg Tyagarah Meat Pool Opera House, which had the original timber building suspended from its grand ceiling. Flower farms within a 50 kilometre radius had been stripped of their stock by smitten admirers seeking to impress the radiant prima donna. ‘Bit of a long bow, what, old chap?’ I asked Abbotsleigh. ‘The prime of the male species is oozing vital juices in pursuit of the young lady and you expect to get a look-in? Disappointment was inevitable, if that is some consolation. You are a hopeless romantic!’ ‘Well, she did once look at me, and her eyes sparkled.’ ‘Her eyes are trained to sparkle, dear fellow.’ ‘I saw her from the carpark last night,’ Abbotsleigh continued. ‘It was like an impenetrable glass wall had arisen between us. Worse still, when I entered the hall, in the section cordoned off for her suitors, there were the Butterfly Brothers.’ Ah. The four Butterfly Brothers were an extremely talented and dangerous family of saltinbanques who also
specialised in knife throwing. Abbotsleigh had had a hair-raising run-in with them before over the matter of a gerbil farm in the Bahamas in which he had induced them to purchase shares. ‘As you can see, the situation is hopeless,’ sobbed Abbotsleigh, ‘What am I to do?’ ‘I should stick to altered states, if I were you,’ I counselled, emptying an acacia capsule into my flat white. ‘The likes of Ms Roma fall for dangerous men, not plodders, and her sixth sense would have told her you do not have horns enough to be entirely wicked.’ The morning was not a complete write-off, however, as the saucy Gypsy fortune teller Rosa entered the restaurant and gave old Abbotsleigh a cheeky wink. You could fairly see his loins gird up. Hope springs eternal, don’t you know, and even the rag doll of love can be mended. 48. Given the man’s dedication to debauchery, we felt it only fitting to hold a commemorative night for the late journalist Dr Hunter S Thompson. We chose from 6pm on till morning as it was the hours the Doctor himself kept. First on the menu was list of restoratives gleaned from Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas: ‘two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.’ A rather uneven list but one must strive for authenticity. ‘Sirs would be well advised to stay away from the ether,’ said Sanders the butler. ‘My grandfather Artemis heard the philosopher William James’s lecture on Varieties Of Religious Experience in 1901 and was unimpressed with his argument in favour of the diabolical substance.’ We made a mental note to keep Abbotsleigh way from the stuff, lest his desire for plushy toys, particularly giraffes, be unleashed in public. We began on Watego’s Beach with a typical Hunter ‘breakfast’ of coffee, Chivas Regal and orange juice before embarking on Tosser Digby’s yacht for the seaward side of Julian Rocks. There was some consternation as we ploughed through a kayak tour but we silenced dissent with a couple of warning shots from the cannon and a few sticks of dynamite, expertly lobbed by Hardacre, who had been a grenade-thrower in the briefly-lived People’s Liberation Mercenary Army of Xinjiang Province. Once out to sea the valets set up a line of rafts bearing five metre high heads of the US presidents from Richard Milhous Nixon on to the incumbent. Dr Thompson’s prescient remark on the initial election of Mr Nixon to high office was: ‘Jesus, where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to become president?’ Digby, a dedicated hunter, had wanted to go out loaded for shark but some of us were fond of the endangered Grey Nurse and did not want to push it closer to extinction. We chose 200 metres as a fair enough distance for the rocket launchers kindly supplied by Westinghouse’s Counter-Insurgency And Small Refrigerator Unit. Rough seas made aiming a little chancy but Hardacre hit target first, removing William Jefferson Clinton with a rocket specially coated in Club Monaco sheer-glaze lipstick. Most of the action was to the eastern side as Club members whacked away at George W Bush but, by the time Abbotsleigh’s informant in the ADF let us know a helicopter gunship was coming to investigate, all the presidents had sunk to the bottom, apart from Mr Nixon, who as usual remained afloat, his paranoid grin slightly ripped by shrapnel. We scuttled the yacht and made our escape in mini-submarines before Australia’s finest tactical response squad could serve an infringement notice for inappropriate treatment of plywood effigies. As the final act of the night, we hacked into Rupert Murdoch’s personal bank account and logged journalist’s expenses of $US2.2 billion. That we toasted with Veuve Cliquot.
49. A black Bentley, one of those new three quarter million dollar jobs, hurtled into Old Bangalow Road, nearly collecting a mother and three children in a clapped-out Volvo station wagon. ‘Does he always drive like that?’ I asked Tosser Digby. ‘Apparently so,’ was the reply. ‘Even though he is a grown man and has a family of his own, he sees no benefit in travelling at less than 100 kilometres an hour in a 60 zone. Occasionally I think it’s worth digging out that belt of spikes I appropriated from the Zimbabwe police force and laying a trap one dark night. Shame to damage a Bentley, though.’ We were looking out the window of the revolting, I mean revolving, restaurant atop the Red Devils Casino and Philately Centre. When the Blues Festival had moved on, having received an offer it couldn’t refuse from the music-starved shire of Kyogle, the football club had struck oil while repairing the playing field and wisely invested the new-found wealth in consumer-addictive businesses. The players now operated out of a new clubhouse in Lennox Head. The oil rig on the erstwhile pitch could be sometimes heard through the three-inch thick restaurant glass; its vibrations caused out-of-body experiences in the schoolchildren across the road, not entirely a bad thing during maths class. We had just finished a none-too-impressive plate of Wallum froglet’s legs in an overly congealed mustard sauce and were seeking to rectify the culinary damage with a couple of bottles of sternly dry white. We had chosen a Fred Nile Evangelical Opprobrium Sauvignon Blanc and it was doing the job splendidly, cutting through the lingering grease like Anna Nicole Smith would the fragile barrier of good taste. ‘It is always disappointing to take the time to kit up and go out for a meal, only to discover that one’s own Club’s chef would have provided far superior fare,’ I said, wiping my hands on a linen napkin which might have escaped from a locker room after a particularly muddy match. ‘Worse still is when one suspects a better option would have been a slice of bread heated over a radiator bar and spread with a little marmalade.’ ‘Disappointment is inevitable,’ said Digby in an infuriatingly Buddhist fashion. ‘Now my plan for community wealth through tourism…’ We had been discussing Professor Robert Waldersee’s astonishing view that the local council should coordinate a tourism-led community recovery and concluded the venture would be safer in the hands of a couple of lads or lasses with a lemonade stand. ‘What I propose is to legalise marijuana in Byron Shire,’ continued Digby. ‘The local growers would supply a centralised tasting centre, probably at Tyagarah, as the only place the tourists could pick up supplies. Most of the profits would be ploughed back into community infrastructure. It has the added benefit of so wasting the visitors that they are unable to be a nuisance in the streets.’ ‘The abstemious Carr would never agree,’ I said. ‘Not a problem,’ replied Digby. ‘There’s an emeritus professorship in Civil War studies at the University of Louisiana the fellow is lusting after. I can arrange it for him.’ At this juncture the aforesaid Bentley hurtled back towards town and failed to take the corner into Broken Head Road. After an impressive skid it landed upside down in the parking lot between the two schools. ‘A seven out of ten, wouldn’t you say?’ remarked Digby. 50. ‘Brain’s not working,’ mused Abbotsleigh over a slice of toast and cocaine. ‘Gone into thingamy.’ ‘Overload?’ I offered. ‘Something like that. Young lass I met in the street – peculiar thing – suggested I need a brain tonic, to stave
off the whosiwhatsit.’ ‘Alzheimer’s?’ I suggested. ‘Could be. Whatever shall I do, Bitemark?’ I patted his forlorn shoulder. ‘I have just the ticket,’ I said, throwing down my napkin and urging Abbotsleigh to his feet. ‘Follow me.’ We left the faux Mexican restaurant in which we had been attacking breakfast at Kingscliff, and headed inland in Abbotsleigh’s stately Roller to the mysterious hamlet of Tumbulgum with its glorious outlook onto the river Tweed and its floundering houseboat renters. I led my perplexed companion down a narrow lane until we came to the Herbal Emporium discreetly nestled among jasmine vine. A small bell announced our entry into the store, which had the pleasant air of dusty books and undisturbed cobwebs. ‘Ah Horatio, always a pleasure to see you,’ a husky voice greeted me from behind the counter. It was accompanied by the rest of the proprietor, a young lass by the name of Veronica, who wore, among other things, her hair in the cascading style of the notorious Veronica Lake, a brocaded navy blue dress in 1940s style embroidered with a frieze of butterflies, and a blue leather apron. Her eyes sparkled with a certain vim which would warm the vitals of the frostiest curmudgeon. ‘The pleasure is all mine, Veronica,’ I replied. ‘Would you direct my friend to the brain tonic?’ Veronica took the arm of the entranced Abbotsleigh and led him to the third aisle of shelves and placed the requisite tonic in his trembling hand. At the moment a shapely redheaded woman turned to Veronica and said, ‘I can’t find the love potion.’ ‘You won’t need it for the moment,’ said Veronica, throwing a wink to me as she glided to her counter on blue stilettos which beat a cruel tattoo upon my heart. The proprietor was right. Abbotsleigh and the redhead were staring at each other with a passion which would lead a younger generation than mine to suggest they get a room. My companion forgot his aching brain and launched into a charm offensive. The two were quite blissful in their own little atmosphere which to the outsider took on a hue of nauseating pink. At this stage Abbotsleigh leaned back against a colour poster of Toulouse Lautrec’s The Misanthropes Learn The Can-Can. Unfortunately for my lovestruck friend the poster concealed a secret panel which gave way to his not inconsiderable weight. I was hoping this accidental discovery might lead us on to Miss Veronica’s boudoir but alas it merely concealed a chute to a skip bin full of odds and sods, one of which was now Abbotsleigh. The redhead rushed to his aid. ‘Shall we leave them to it – a glass of chardonnay by the river?’ suggested Veronica. There are moments, gentle reader, when an old rogue’s heart soars beyond the bounds of delight, and that was one of them. 51. Gentle reader, in the vast pharmacopeia designed to uplift, quell or titillate the savage mind, there is none so efficacious as peppermint tea for a case of insomnia. Soporifics, like a shoe applied to a cockroach, might squash the problem altogether but if one is prepared to wrestle alone with the angel of wakefulness, then peppermint tea is your only man. It is only peppermint tea which at two at the morning will unravel the knot of care in the delicate stomach, which in my case was exacerbated by an enchilada purchased five hours earlier from an inferior establishment in a momentary but ill-fated departure from good taste. It sat in my gut like like a malevolent gargoyle squatting on a white marble baptismal font. Only time would move it, and only peppermint tea soothe it.
Insomnia, and peppermint tea. Mentha piperita will sit beside you in the dark watches, metaphorically patting your hand from time to time and whispering, ‘There, there.’ In those dark watches, gentle reader, when the overheated brain is externalised as a carousel of shadows twirling about you like images in a zoetrope. When your other selves – and all your selves seem other – gather around in some ghoulish cocktail party, chattering bright ideas, grand plans and demented visions, all of which appear reasonable or easily accomplished at the time. In the dark watches when the ringtail possums on the tin roof, normally regarded as interesting clowns, transform into demons sent to murder sleep. When some strange fever born of insomnia suggests, as experienced by both the great lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov and by Max, King of the Wild Things, the walls might become jungle and the steamer trunk full of doilies left behind by a visiting Aunt Maud a ticking crocodile. Or one’s fever vision is like that portrayed by the Polish artist Jacek Yerka, a colleague of the subconscious one turns to for affirmation at such hours, when the unrest becomes gathering stormclouds against the backdrop of an ordinary wall turned to a sepia landscape. His surreal, cultured touch is born of tragedy, as is often the case with insomniacs, separated by the witching hours from mortals who regularly rest in the arms of Hypnos, or at least on a fluffy pillow, undisturbed by phantoms. When spiders come out to wrap up other spiders, the deadliest of all the daddy longlegs. The best work is done after midnight. So attested Timothy Leary and was supported in that view by Hunter S Thompson. Those who walk the battlements after midnight not only greet the king of Denmark’s ghost but also discuss the weather with him, play a hand of canasta, and, yes, share a cup of peppermint tea. ‘I saw sir’s light on,’ says Sanders the butler, hovering at the door like an angel of mercy. ‘Might I be of some assistance?’ ‘No thank you, Sanders, I have my peppermint tea.’ ‘Very good, sir.’ The man withdraws, understanding writ large on his gentle face. 52. We were having lunch at the Roma Whistlestop Café - the first place we could find outside the impact zone of Easter weekend in Byron Bay – when Abbotsleigh announced he intended to take up martial arts. I paused mid-plate of Redneck Gristle ’n’ Grits, almost spilled my Oil Field Bent Drill Moselle, and looked at him in astonishment. ‘Can’t be too hard,’ said Abbotsleigh. ‘That chappie in Hero has no trouble leaping about large portions of the landscape.’ ‘Dear boy,’ I sighed, ‘that is because that chappie was a martial arts athlete and Chinese champion from the age of five. He was also ably assisted by hidden wires.’ ‘No!’ Abbotsleigh looked hurt. ‘You are wrong, surely, Bitemark. The good folk in the film business would not resort to such subterfuge.’ It would have been too cruel to disillusion the sensitive chap, like telling Kylie Minogue her bottom had no real meaning in the grander scheme of things. I merely patted his hand and agreed to take him in search of the appropriate martial arts academy. The fact that Abbotsleigh’s only exercise since the age of five was unscrewing the cap of his fountain pen in order to write a cheque had no bearing on his determination. I paid our bill of $22.75 – the usual surcharge for a cup of coffee on the seachange coast over Easter – and tipped the waitress a lobster for her troubles in wandering too close to Abbotsleigh while serving. We hopped into my soylent green Porsche Cayman S, so fresh from the factory you could smell the fragrance of conspicuous consumption on the dashboard. I punched the details of Abbotsleigh’s physiology and his desire for an appropriate martial arts establishment into the onboard computer and asked for a navigational
fix. There was a moment when it seemed even the renowned German technology might not be up to the task but the voice of the digital hostess finally announced in silken Teutonic tones that our route was available for viewing. It was a messy route, through byways and switchbacks and cow paddocks, but the turbo-compressed series V3.III flangemeister would conquer all obstacles. In less time than it takes to start a Holden Monaro, we found ourselves in the pleasant hamlet of Mudgereeba, and at the door of a dojo or somesuch. A large illustration of a dragonfly sat above some Chinese characters which the Cayman computer unfortunately translated as ‘Hand Job Of Furious Grace’. Nevertheless we entered and Abbotsleigh was immediately smitten by the young woman in charge, dressed as she was in a crimson gown which would put the glorious reds of Hero to shame, and sporting lacquered fingernails as sharp as sin. Once the appropriate bowing was out of the way, she suggested that Abbotsleigh take the initial test to see if he were worthy of entrance to the academy. It simply involved kneeling on a mat and blowing out a candle on the floor. I thought for a moment Abbotsleigh would fail at the kneeling stage but his kevlar joint replacement saved the day. Try as he might, though, the candle remained unextinguishable. The young woman offered me the chance, a sparkling look poised between the carnal and the divine in her eye, but I declined, realising that preternatural forces beyond my ken were at work. We withdrew, and repaired to the Tamborine Mountain Distillery to salve Abbotsleigh’s wounded ego. Failure is the first step towards wisdom, I told him in my best ninja voice, while liberally plying him with the butterscotch schnapps. 53. ‘Have you ever died in battle?’ asked Abbotsleigh, savouring the fumes from his brandy balloon. ‘One would have to say no,’ said Tosser Digby, a mercenary at several international skirmishes, polishing the barrel of his Sturmgewehr assault rifle. ‘The only evidence of this I can offer is that I am still alive.’ Abbotsleigh, impervious to irony as is kevlar to the airgun, pressed on. ‘Only reason, I ask, old chap, is that I was reading something, don’t you know, about the Aztec butterfly goddesss of death Xochiquetzal. Seems, and a chap recounts this second hand, that she followed young warriors into battle and, at their moment of death, coupled with them, clutching a butterfly between her lips. Worse ways a chap could pass on.’ ‘It is a common thread in warrior stories,’ replied Digby, ‘the Valkyries of Norse legend of course, and Cambodian warriors, too, believe that death appears to them, as a woman. There is little comfort in the heat of battle unless one gives oneself hope of a transformative death and as most warriors are men, the transformer is usually a woman. ‘The butterfly is a powerful symbol,’ I added. ‘The great Russian exile novelist Vladimir Nabokov was also a lepidopterist and discovered the genus of Cyclárgus Nabokov in 1945. ‘And according to a tattoist of my acquaintance, Mrs Cynthia Needlebrace, a butterfly tattoo on the shoulder blade represents the dreamer, while on the lower back it symbolises stability, survival, self-preservation, and trust, among other things. And of course on the chest the butterfly signifies unconditional love for all living things. ‘Death and woman might also imply la petite morte, in which one dies to this world in the height of orgasm.’ ‘Steady on, old chap,’ said Abbotsleigh, flushing a violent vermillion, ‘one need not get too carried away.’ ‘When sirs have finished discussing death and sex,’ said Sanders the butler, entering the room on shoes of silence, ‘luncheon awaits you in the dining room.’ Death, women and sex are important topics of course, but nothing must stand in the way of luncheon. In an extraordinary stroke of coincidence Chef had prepared breast of moorhen adorned with tempura butterflies, in this case Papilio anactus or the Dingy Swallowtail. The sensation was exquisite as one broke through the fragile batter and tasted the delicate wings, washed down with Yelgun Truck Stop Gun Emplacement Cabernet Merlot.
‘A case of butterflies in the stomach, hey what,’ said Abbotsleigh, attempting the obvious pun. ‘Just what a chap would get when staring death in the face.’ Those club members not privy to our earlier conversation shook their heads at Abbotsleigh and waited knowingly for his next strange utterance. Digby, looking a bit like Hamlet with dyspepsia, stared forlornly at the beautiful insect impaled upon his fork. Perhaps he was contemplating some close encounter on a bomb-ravaged plain. 54. Bosworth had finished cutting his toast and marmalade into 44 equal squares and was proceeding to eat them carefully with the aid of asparagus tongs before a thought struck him. ‘I say,’ he said to the crew at the breakfast table, most of whom were engrossed in a newspaper and a strong cup of coffee or nursing a hangover with the assistance of Mrs Constance Newtgarden’s Patented Neurone Stretcher, ‘the winter solstice is upon us.’ ‘Quite so,’ said Tosser Digby, throwing the club panther another kipper. ‘We must celebrate it in an appropriate manner.’ ‘Strange, don’t you think,’ said Abbotsleigh, ‘that the region’s legions of cheeseclothed new agents have not beset the public mind with news of their various meditation circles, holistic bonfires and drum botherings to mark the death of the old sun?’ ‘Not like the old days,’ said Dillpuddle, ‘when a chap could set fire to another chap surplus to requirements inside a largish wicker man while virgins danced about sky-clad humming ditties to the wild god of the forest, what?’ ‘The solstices are uneven,’ I said. ‘The Earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June, but what’s three million miles among friends? ‘While the covens and the Druids like to think their vivid rituals are the bee’s knees in solstice celebration, one can go back to the ancient Mesopotamians with their twelve day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.’ ‘Bit of an ask, taming chaos?’ noted Digby. ‘Might as well try to catch the wind, as Mr Leitch remarked.’ ‘Nevertheless,’ I continued, ‘we could at least make a paper replica of Marduk’s dragon and set fire to it.’ There was general approbation for this idea. By ‘we’ I meant some chaps who specialised in the paper dragon-making ouevre and would deliver it to the door, or haunted grove wherever appropriate, post-haste. When the night of the solstice arrived, we proceeded in limousine convoy to Digby’s adobe castle at Main Arm Upper Upper Outer In Extremis, set upon a rock ledge looking down upon Hell’s Hole. The paper dragon proved to be a magnificent reproduction of Marduk’s familiar, and flamed into the night sky like the fiery tears of Lucifer impotent in the face of an uncaring god. Chef provided the perfect accompaniment to our celebration – Gecko Hollandaise and Warrigal Greens. We toasted Marduk’s uncertain prophylactic against Chaos with an excellent drop of Monsanto Mutant Pleasures Twisted Gene Chardonnay, followed by absinthe slammers. Against all objections Abbotsleigh insisted upon removing his apparel and dancing naked around the log fire we had burning in the castle bailey. Digby’s pet goanna, Sybil, objected to this behaviour and ran up the poor chap, decorating his ample paunch in a vivid crimson cross-hatching. A quick application of nitrous oxide and ketamine rendered Abbotsleigh insensitive to the pain, and we noted solemnly how chaos so easily intrudes upon the best-planned ritual.
55. Abbotsleigh had just returned from an outing to Cape Byron, where he had been body-painted to resemble a tufty hillock as part of the artsCape exhibition. The only thing which encouraged him to remain still for so long was the ‘bevy of young lasses’ at work on him with soft brushes. It was hard to say if his living artwork was a success with the public as most of them failed to see him, so well blended into the landscape was he. There was an unfortunate moment when a bandicoot had tried to nest in an inappropriate crevice and Abbotsleigh rose yelling in pain, more whale-like than hillocky, causing sudden cardiac arrest in a nearby grandmother and the general soiling of garments among her daughter’s infant progeny. Most onlookers took it in good fun, however, supposing it was an ‘art happening’ of some kind, and Abbotsleigh was awarded with a general round of applause and some vouchers from a nightclub tout. Despite the bandicoot’s excavations, Abbotsleigh was full of praise for his adventure and the exhibition in general. ‘Chaps have made flowers out of plastic bottles and whales out of metal, and goodness knows what, what?’ he enthused. ‘You chaps should get out of the club and take a gander!’ We were at that moment sitting in the club’s darkened cinema, engrossed in Dillpuddle’s efforts at animation, specifically the Japanese form known as anime. The chap had bought a production studio in Kyoto and with his artistic partner created Aggro Medusa, naturally enough about a 50 metre high woman with serpents for hair terrorising a city of the future whose heroes were capable of changing into planes and bulldozers and whatnot, only to be literally petrified by the medusa’s stare. Aggresso was modelled on a rather fetching geisha of Dillpuddle’s acquaintance and tended to make the audience’s hearts melt rather than turn them to stone, a slight problem in the sci-fi horror genre. Once we had wearied of the anime, especially the overly operatic announcements of its doll-eyed characters, we fell in with Abbotsleigh’s exhortations and mounted an expedition to the Cape via the pathway from Watego’s Beach. The valets doubled as bearers and Chef sent us off with some excellent provender. The climb to the first base camp saw us lose only Bosworth, who fell in love with a passing aerobics instructor and headed off in the opposite direction, trailing breathily behind her. We set up our linen tablecloths next to Daniel Clemmett’s steel ‘Shell Form’ which served equally well as a bottle opener. We hoed into the echidna, mustard and cress sandwiches and toasted the arts and the great outdoors with a couple of dozen Mick Costa Magnificent Yet Vacuous Obsessions Cabernet Merlot, the capsicum afterpalate overlaid with a hint of tollway token. Some passersby suspected we might be a living tableau of ‘Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe’ and digital cameras clicked away at a great rate. We posed appropriately and even gave out autographs. By midnight, with the aid of miner’s lamps Tosser Digby had acquired from a Welsh retirement home, we reached the summit, huffing and puffing but unbeaten. Our arrival was to the benefit of a young body-painted lass who had been overlooked in the clean-up and remained stuck, resembling perfectly block and mortar, to the lighthouse walls. Art has its price. 56. Early morning. We sat on the deck of the Myocum hilltop clubhouse and stared down at the floodwaters only ten metres below us. Red-bodied dragonflies skimmed above sunlit ripples. The water was brown and murky and seemed ever so deep, so deep one could imagine mermaids had washed in from the boiling sea, frolicking in over the expensive Belongil real estate which, along with all of Byron’s coastal towns, was now a subterranean kingdom. Abbotsleigh, who had sprinkled lysergic acid diethylamide on his cornflakes, did in fact see a mermaid, sporting an abalone shell bra for some reason, and, smitten, dived in after her. Fortunately Tosser Digby was at hand with his dhow, the grateful gift of an Egyptian princess he had saved from slavery, and prevented Abbotsleigh from pursuing what was in reality the submerged carcass of a cow into the watery depths from which no sailor or demented roué returns. Almost as rich as Alexander Onassis and twice as handsome, Digby could afford all manner of mansions but was in his own whimsical manner out claiming flotsam for the folly he was building in his backyard. He raked a grappling iron behind the dhow and picked up all sorts of things – a piece of driftwood shaped like a
chicken, a tractor inner tube, green glass bottles, the burnt-out neon sign from a flooded B&B on Shirley Street. All would be cunningly melded in his construction and no doubt it would earn Digby a double-page spread in a lifestyle magazine. ‘Do you think it will ever go down?’ asked Abbotsleigh, perching sopping wet in a cane chair as Sanders the butler applied the club’s steam-powered drier to the chap’s pyjamas. Abbotsleigh had overcome his grief at the loss of the mermaid when he suddenly noticed that the nearby clouds, in his mind anyway, were shaped like Delores del Rio. ‘I think it should all be gone in a day or two,’ I said. ‘The black cockatoos were going south as they passed overhead and the mu-mu beetles are crawling down from the tips of the gums.’ ‘Very reliable signs,’ said Bosworth, a chap who knew his beetles. ‘Life as we know it should return to normal by Saturday, though I dare say a few of the local kite surfers will just be coming down at the Seychelles by now.’ Chef had risen to the occasion for brunch and produced Deluge Portmanteau, the ingredients of which included distressed liver of koala dragged backwards over a bed of seaweed and pureé of white beans cascading over a surprised wood duck, surprised to the extent that it was, in fact, dead. And roasted. We toasted the diluvian adventures with an Ocean Shores Golf Club Underwater Stableford Chenin Blanc. All of us apart from Abbotsleigh, who insisted on talking to the white beans. Digby was so thorough in his trawling we had little to watch floating by until the floodwaters subsided, apart from a Marie Osmond inflatable toy he refused to touch. When the paddocks were visible again, however, we had the pleasure of finding a black Lexus stuck high in a brushbox, blazed in 1873 by a drunken surveyor trying to indicate the direction to Rome. Hours were happily spent watching the aggrieved owner trying to persuade the crane driver to lower the car gently, even though its interior was bedecked with putrifying mullet. 57. Tosser Digby had been whiling away the afternoon potting feral chihuahuas with a blowpipe acquired from an Amazonian tribe better known for their vertical lovemaking technique, His aim was deadly accurate. From the club deck we watched as chihuahua after chihuahua fell silently beneath the poison darts in the base of their skulls. At appropriate intervals, as Digby whet his whistle, the club’s Afghan hound would pick up the limp bundles by the neck and deposit them in a pile for later immolation. ‘That’s for Cynthia, Megan, and Rose,’ said Digby, a grim, almost Eastwoodish, look in his hunter’s eye. These were the names he had given to the brush turkeys which frequented a wooded area in the clubhouse grounds. Unfortunately the chihuahua pack had hunted them down and Digby must have his revenge. Somewhere a stout matron, in Watego’s perhaps, was lamenting the loss of her little Fwuffy, turned vicious killer with bloodstained fangs, now merely a lump with veins quickly congealing from the poison’s effect. After the entire chihuahua population of Myocum had been slaughtered, and after the second G&T had done its work, Digby put aside his blowpipe and relaxed. ‘There, there, old chap,’ consoled Abbotsleigh, patting Digby clumsily on the arm. ‘We’ll get in another batch of the blessed birds.’ ‘Not the same,’ replied Digby. ‘They each have a different personality. Cynthia in particular was a fully formed character.’ ‘I say,’ said Fotherblossom, trying to distract Digby from his sad memories. ‘What was the name of the blowdart wallahs again?’ ‘The Enyotcha,’ said Digby, ‘splendid people. Once saved me from drowning in a particularly nasty patch of rapids.’ ‘And I hear they are particularly fine in the arts of rumpy-pumpy,’ continued Fotherblossom. ‘Perhaps you’d care to elaborate.’
‘Can’t do, old boy,’ said Digby. ‘While some anthropologists might bruit abroad outlines of the knotted vine scrotum technique, I am sworn to secrecy. You might care to undertake the sacred initiation which involves scarification of the private parts with a thorny vine.’ Fotherblossom winced. ‘Knew there’d be a catch,’ he said. ‘Don’t know what the fuss is about,’ joined in Abbotsleigh. ‘All a chap needs is a judicious application of the lash and a pot of yoghurt by Bizzy Lizzy and his jollies are well and truly satiated.’ New readers might not be aware that Miss Lizzy is the club’s dominatrix-on-call. Grown men have cried for mercy beneath her hearty ministrations, and been given none. ‘If sirs have had enough of copulation for the morning, luncheon is served,’ intoned Sanders the butler, who had miraculously and silently appeared like an angel on oiled teflon wings. Chef had whipped up flagellate of moorhen in a sedge grass cream, accompanied by sweet potato dumplings and bruised peas. ‘To absent friends,’ said Digby, tossing back a Byron Bay Interminable Roadworks Ennui Shiraz Cabernet ‘To dead dogs,’ said Abbotsleigh, following suit. 58. ‘I say, the Satanists seem to have found the north coast,’ said Abbotsleigh, thoughtfully – or as much as he could muster the act of thought – turning over a slim volume in his hand. ‘What leads you to this conclusion?’ I asked. ‘Found this here devil’s notebook in the gutter in Jonson Street,’ Abbotsleigh replied. ‘Couldn’t make head nor tail of most of the words in it but made the mistake of muttering a few of ‘em aloud and manifested a small green imp, don’t you know, which made off with a rather fine bottle of port.’ ‘Dashed impudence,’ remarked Bosworth, himself onto his third glass of Mrs Louise Rumen’s Liver Cleansing Tonic. ‘Did you know that Santa is an anagram of Satan?’ ‘Yes, very helpful, Bosworth,’ said Tosser Digby, ‘very relevant information. Once bagged a Satanist, with an old twelve gauge.’ ‘I say!’ said Abbotsleigh, frightfully impressed. ‘Yes,’ Digby continued. ‘Was doing security as a favour for my blessed Aunt Gladys, a parishioner at St Boris’s on the Wold in Upper Nether in the English countryside, as they’d had an outbreak of thievery. Caught a chap red-handed making off with a pair of rather average pewter candlesticks. ‘Winged him in the forelock. Chap, who turned out to be a noted local philatelist – ‘Filthy habit!’ interrupted Bosworth. ‘– be that as it may,’ said Digby, giving Bosworth the benefit of a hunter’s withering glare, ‘he was also an acolyte of the Upper Nether Black Arts Society, which needed something consecrated for its rituals. Rather pathetic lot, really – couldn’t bring themselves to go sky-clad because of reticence and the weather, so got about their lair in brown mackintoshes.’ ‘Well, this looks more the real deal,’ said Abbotsleigh, waving his little book. ‘Shame that Satan is now amongst us.’ ‘Satan has been amongst us for some while,’ I remarked, ‘judging by the number of heroin deals transacted over a number of years from the boots of BMWs visiting from points north. But the dear old Satanists have been trying to revive their rather flagging libidos locally since at least 1956, when Mrs Audrey Fassbinder of the
Torakina Hellraisers was caught out bothering a goat in Fingal Street, Brunswick Heads, at two in the morning.’ ‘I say!’ exclaimed Abbotsleigh, who was not known for a singularity of expression. ‘Pass the book over, there’s a chap,’ I said. Abbotsleigh reluctantly did so, and I examined the rather neat writing without intoning any of it either mentally or vocally. What at first glance appeared to be a spot of blood on page 23 was in fact some old raspberry jam. ‘Ah, here on the flyleaf is the rather fetching logo, a cloven hoof in a thong, of the Bondi College of Satanist Surfers,’ I said, ‘a group more devoted to tearing the scab off a cold one, as the vernacular has it, than any real mischief. Apart from the odd port-thieving imp, I suggest there will be little to trouble us.’ ‘Can’t have too much truck with the devil nevertheless,’ offered Bosworth. ‘Nevertheless most Satanists have much in common with the Club, though we are far more lenient on idiots,’ I noted rather pointedly. ‘There is usually an emphasis on indulgence and the demonstrable notion that, as Anton LaVey used to remark, Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years.’ At this juncture Chef arrived with wombat flambé in tabasco sauce on a bed of mustard greens, accompanied by St Helena Hellfire Pass Peppered Engineer Cabernet Sauvignon. ‘I had a premonition sirs would be wanting this,’ said Chef, before scurrying back to the kitchen, surrounded by a whiff of brimstone. 59. As you will recall, gentle reader, the words carved in cedar above the dining room doorway of our clubhouse are ‘Beyond Redemption’. Next to them is the beautifully carven image of a butterfly which has been there for so long that none, not even the peerless Sanders the butler can remember its meaning. It hints at ephemerality or the wayward soul, but none can be sure. The point though is our insistence on avoiding the redemptive moment, just as a hula dancer in a grass skirt shies away from a naked flame. Camberwell had once strayed from the path with a notion revolving around enlightenment, but the club members and Sanders had pulled him firmly into line. ‘What’s a chap got to do with enlightenment when he has a perfectly fine claret in front of him, what?’ said Abbotsleigh at the time, which was the most sense we had ever had from him. The more serious threat to our psychic instability, however, occurred last week when Bosworth took up crochet. Nothing wrong with a chap having a hobby – members’ interests range from underwater darts to cheeses of the 16th century – but Bosworth found a peculiar clarity in the activity. It was as if his synapses stopped working and his mind drained of all thoughts of debauchery and filled instead with, well, a perfect nothing. ‘Repetitive activity’s shut him down,’ said Sliprail, ‘dashed shame. A chap could cross over to nirvana before he knows what’s going on, what?’ ‘Might have to have him put down,’ said Tosser Digby, who was always one for the direct approach. ‘I have a Beretta in the car.’ Bosworth was oblivious to our concern. He sat in a severely stuffed armchair and concentrated absolutely on his crochet hook. He may have been creating a woollen scarf or a Birmingham train timetable cover – it was all the same to him. ‘Gives the club a bad name,’ offered Abbotsleigh, ‘goin’ all serene like that. Will be talked about in some of
the more disreputable dives.’ ‘If sirs would allow me,’ said Sanders, manifesting in the room like vapour on a bathroom window. ‘There is a little trick I learnt from a stage ventriloquist…’ Before we could offer an opinion one way or another, Sanders snatched the shade from a particularly fine Edwardian standard lamp and plunged the bare bulb into Bosworth’s solar plexus. As shards of glass flew skywards, some lodging themselves in the plaster lizard decorating the ceiling, Bosworth groaned in a peculiar manner, as if in receipt of a ball-bearing enema. ‘I say,’ he then said, ‘has anyone got any cocaine?’ A sigh of relief ran throughout the clubhouse. We marvelled at the knowledge Sanders had at its disposal. A polymath of the first water. Chef arrived to crown the moment with possum fricasee in a melange of tessellated spinach. We toasted Bosworth’s return from a tedious paradise in a Belongil Fields Sodden Camper Cabernet Merlot. ‘Time for a spot of Bolivian marching powder, hey, Bosworth?,’ I smiled, glad to see the sheep momentarily struck by the absolute returned to the fold. The chap had no idea of his recent peril, but so it is with all of us. 60. Nothing finer than food, sunshine and drink, not necessarily in that order. It is the glorious sunny days of late winter accompanied by a good meal which make one think a chap’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world, if a chap believes in an over-arching chap instead of Pan or some other pagan celebrity. A firm stiletto heel in the small of the back might do it for some but give me lunch any day. It was last Sunday this truth came home to me, like an epiphany on greased roller blades, when we were all arrayed on the clubhouse deck, soaking in the tender ministrations of Old Sol as he bathed the Myocum hillsides in his warm beneficence. The night had been spent in an MDMA binge of the first water, chaps sitting for hours in front of a patchouli-scented candle or quietly ‘doofing’ – I believe that is the current lingo – to Bach’s sublime ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ played by chamber musicians we had shipped in from Hamburg for the occasion. The appetite-suppressing qualities of the drug were wearing off and we were stimulating our tastebuds with vodka, lemon and ginseng spritzers. It was at that moment, like an angel at the annunciation of Gina Lollobrigida’s decolletage, that Chef arrived with lunch. He had prepared a roast of currawong in a badinage of peppered new potatoes, arranged delicately on a calculus of New Zealand greens. We moved on from the spritzers to the perfect accompaniment, a 1997 Byron Club Bust Overexcited Sauvignon Blanc, with just a hint of capsicum and an afterpalate of raspberry coulis, which distends the nostrils like those of a racehorse on cocaine. Halfway through my meal, a mere two sips of wine down my throat, I experienced a timeless moment, like the ones that chappie Aldous Huxley was always rabbiting on about. The world was a wordless poem, the leaves of the trees prayer flags for answered prayers and the very air exhilarating as a sweet daemon’s perfumed breath. One could put it down to any number of things but chief among them were food, sunshine and drink. When the quotidian began to move again, like a beetle through molasses, I asked Tosser Digby if he would be partaking of the writers festival on the coming weekend. ‘Too right,’ he said, staring intently at the sunlight through his fork tines. ‘I shall be off to that memoirwriting workshop with Dexter Premanand. Stuck halfway through mine, can’t quite make the transition from the Upper Zambezi to Mrs Mavis Lobpocket’s Nude Tennis Squad.’ ‘Read a book once,’ said Abbotsleigh, and toppled forward into his currawong. Sanders the butler deftly had a couple of valets prevent Abbotsleigh suffocating – though the man once
spent a night in a vat of Bavarian custard, but that is a long story – and arrange him in a nearby hammock where he peacefully snored the afternoon away. The rest of us, satiated by just the right amount of a good thing, stared silently out to sea, enjoined in the happy communion of the very rich and well-fed. 61. It was unlike Bosworth to go entirely astray, even in his most intoxicated moments. But astray he went, and at the Byron Bay writers festival. We suspect it had something to do with the ingredients in the punch served at the launch of Between Duck And Duck, the memoir of Dexter Premanand, noted poultry chef, go master, and entheogenist. Even Malcolm ‘Skullgate’ Turpin, a man who had imbibed so many substances he often went rollerblading on the tenth bardo with Tibetan lamas, was found on his knees on the golf course, talking animatedly to a divot. Premanand himself spent much of the afternoon explaining ontology to a bonds trader, which seemed a waste of time. I cannot vouchsafe entirely for Bosworth’s story but he is not known for fabrication and it is certain he was seen wandering north from the beach resort golf course. Beyond the course and the access road to the beach, set among paperbark trees hiding the seaward boundary of the sewage treatment plant, there is a little-known grove, complete with marble folly on classic Grecian lines, built in 1889 by gold magnate Septimus P Volesieve as a memorial to his wife Vivienne, who was unexpectedly attacked by plovers in a lightning storm. Bosworth swears, though no evidence was found, there is near the folly a statue of Pan, the god of the forest much maligned by the johnny-come-lately Christophiles. It is this statue, he says, which came down from its plinth in a fluid movement like water flowing over rocks, accompanied by the sound of a breeze among silk drums. While our chap stood amazed at the cloven hooves, the smells of asafoetida and frankincense melded in the air and the god spoke to him in a voice not unlike distant thunder on a summer’s day. ‘Bosworth,’ said Pan, ‘all the wealth and sophistication and beauty of your world is but a pale shadow compared to mine.’ Whereupon the god swept round his arm, like a planet moving on its axis round a golden sun, to the line of trees behind him, out of which emerged wood nymphs of voluptuous form, clad only in their silky green skin, silver sap visibly running in their veins. ‘Steady on!’ gasped Abbotsleigh at this point in the story’s telling and toppled from his chair onto the club’s mascot tortoise, which is still recovering to this day. As Bosworth tells it, the nymphs then fell upon him and drew him into frenzied congress despite his protests, which one would believe were not particularly forcible. ‘It was like making love to a forest,’ said Bosworth, a faraway look in his eye, ‘if one can imagine such a thing.’ Dellmint essayed a vivid analogy involving branches and knotholes in violent motion but we told him he was right out of line. It is true that Bosworth did not return to the clubhouse till four in the morning. As some chaps’ hair turns white overnight from trauma, so from revelation our chap sported a vivid green streak on his bonce, His limbs moved seemingly without joints and a wide grin threatened to split his head in twain. ‘The novelist E M Forster told me of something like this when I was a child,’ offered Sanders the butler as he poured Bosworth a restorative glass of absinthe. ‘He said it was not a proper matter to mention to the ladies of the house lest they be forced to reach for their fans in order to disperse a sudden flush of heat about their, ahem, persons.’ Somewhere, among the hills and shadowed dales of Myocum, we fancied we heard the breeze carry the first bars of ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’.
62. We were sitting on the deck of the Myocum clubhouse, soaking in the sun and recovering from the recent cold snap. The valets had spent a good part of the morning gently prying Abbotsleigh’s tongue – and the rest of him – away from a metal sculpture in the garden. Apparently he had tried to lick the artwork – a passable likeness of Georgia O’Keefe’s left nipple – in the middle of the night for reasons unknown to common sense. The incident had rendered him speechless, which was not a bad thing. ‘Look here,’ said Tosser Digby, indicating a story in the Skinners Shoot Gazette & Pig Fancier. ‘It seems that Doctor Brendan Nelson, the federal Minister for Education, Gas Masks and Plastic Raincoats, has indicated that he wouldn’t be adverse to the theory of “intelligent design” being taught in schools.’ ‘What’s that when it’s at home?’ asked Spleendrift. ‘The latest term for creationism,’ said Digby. ‘You know, the Christian Right’s belief that a chap called God whipped up the universe in seven days from some plans he had in his shed.’ ‘Tried to create a universe once,’ said Bosworth, plunging his spoon into a lemon sorbet. His morning had begun with two phials of salvia divinorum. ‘Terrible mess. Demi-urges got out of control, trees starting growing kneecaps, all sorts of bother. Not a game for young players, specially not a bunch of naive Christophiles.’ ‘It says here,’ reported Digby, ‘that the group promoting intelligent design, Campus Crusade For Christ, claims that it is not advocating the teaching of religion. Well, you wouldn’t with a name like that, would you?’ ‘Let ten thousand flowers bloom,’ I said, quoting that congenial mass murderer and flower-strangler Mao Zedong. ‘Leave science, standing on the shoulders of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton and whatever chappie the Newtster was standing on, to explore and report back on the preposterous nature of the natural world, and throw the creationists into the ring with every other religion and the more interesting isms like shamanism and let them contradict each other into exhaustion. Should tire a lot of high school children to the point where they are unable to drive their turbo-charged cars faster than fifty kilometres an hour.’ ‘Mmmmmph!’ exclaimed Abbotsleigh, banging on a table with a meaty hand. ‘Well, you would say that,’ sniffed Spleendrift. ‘Entheogens do more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to Man, to paraphrase A E Housman,’ I continued. ‘The only suitable vehicle for exploring the nature of reality is a faster-than-light craft careening deliriously through the central nervous system. How much evidence you find of intelligent design depends on how much you need that evidence. Proponents of spontaneous chaos have clues all about them.’ ‘I’ll drink to that,’ said Digby, drawing the cork from a particularly fine Myocum Wind Turbine Planning Vortex Cabernet Sauvignon, redolent of dysfunctional rainforest pigeons with an afterpalate of disgruntled neighbours (and just a hint of capsicum). 63. Spring, and a whiff of fetish ball in the air. Local fetish balls have become harder to get into than Cliff Richard’s trousers, which is a bit of a disappointment when the crowd is mostly chaps in chaps – very unimaginative – and the most successful, ahem, entry last year was the PVC-clad Mrs Mavis Dogwhistle’s imitation of an alpaca on quaaludes. But one lives in hope that paraphilia will be explored to its outer limits this coming October or November. Spring gets the juices flowing through the veins and kidneys a bit faster and we were discussing the subject of fetishes on the deck of the Myocum clubhouse while admiring two echidnas cavorting like demented pincushions on the lawn.
‘I suppose their tryst,’ noted Tosser Digby of the interlocked monotremes, ‘would fall into the category of algolagnia, the derivation of sexual pleasure from pain.’ All thoughts immediately turned to Bizzy Lizzy, the club’s dominatrix-on-call, and chaps made mental notes to schedule an appointment in the near future. ‘And while we are all happy to be known as oenophiles,’ I said, ‘it is a shame that no similar word exists for the deep appreciation of leather.’ ‘A good set of leather gear is a great aid in the practice of frotteurism,’ said Bosworth, as members warmed to the topic. ‘Just as binoculars are in long distance troilism,’ said Shelvedge, a chap who found propinquity a bore. ‘Similar effects may be found through telephone scatalogia,’ said Abbotsleigh, ‘at least before calls could be traced, what?’ ‘And klismaphilia is the fetish which dare not speak its name,’ added Digby, ‘and dare not sit down afterwards.’ ‘When precisely does a fondness become a fetish?’ asked Spleendrift, delicately licking the stigma of a puce orchid. ‘I would say it revolves around set and setting, as Dr Timothy Leary might have had it,’ I ventured. ‘An outwardly passionless society like ours still exhibits a fetishistic streak towards sport, though none would see it so. ‘I say outwardly because still, some might say torpid, waters run deep. Why only last week at the hardware store I bought a motley collection of chain, steel clips, bamboo skewers and twine and the lady sales assistant blushed after remarking how interesting my purchases looked. I have no idea what she was thinking of.’ ‘Sirs might care to indulge their sotophilia,’ offered Sanders the butler. ‘Chef has prepared a particularly fine priapus of carrot on a vulva of oysters, accompanied by an Uncle Tom’s Corner Totem Pole Freudian Significance Cabernet Sauvignon.’ No further urging was needed. We rushed to the dining room like Benny Hill on the trail of a new double entendre. 64. Spontaneity is not a virtue of the sophisticated or what the younger chaps call ‘cool’. For the sophisticate, life is measured out in languid spoonfuls rather than dolloped messily in unpredictable lumps upon the table, obliterating cutlery, place mats, common sense and all. Sophistication is an illusory state, however, easily broken through by disaster, a pretty face, or an unexpected claret. ‘Such as the Brunswick River Piledriver Psychic Intrusion Claret,’ noted Abbotsleigh, drawing upon an antique hookah he had recently acquired at the ‘Looted From The Cradle Of Civilisation Halliburton Bargain Basement Fire Sale Fair’, held in a slightly seedy Howard Johnson’s in Chicago. ‘Quite so,’ said Tosser Digby. ‘A good wine is almost as powerful an intoxicant as the natural, if unholy, chemicals in the bloodstream greeting the arrival of Spring.’ Those chemicals, gentle reader, are the very ones which plagued my veins the afternoon I perambulated a block of one of the Shire’s charming villages and chanced upon Miss Cynthia Dragonseed. A perfect afternoon, trees filigreed by sunshine, the fragrance of port wine magnolia saturating the air – warning signs indeed. Since Veronica had taken herself off to the mountain fastnesses of the Himalayas in service to a devoted herbalist my heart, let alone my loins, had not stirred from dry dock. Now, however, I found Miss Dragonseed attracting my attention like the phosphorescent lure of a deep sea angler fish does its unwitting victim.
One entire life is a walk around the block and a walk around the block the mystery of a lifetime. Impulsively, outside an unprepossessing weatherboard house, Miss Dragonseed drew from her purse two vials. Upon my left hand she smeared a trace of marzipan skin cream, upon the right tangerine. It was a moment as charged with significance as Proust’s remembrance of the dunked madeline. ‘Ah, no fool like an old fool, hey Bitemark,’ said Digby, momentarily pausing to peg the neighbour’s pig dog, which had been chasing a scrub turkey, with his CZ 527 Varmint Kevlar sniper rifle. The brute’s brain took a few seconds to realise it was dead. ‘I suppose you’re right, Digby,’ I said reluctantly. ‘There is so much time, complication and a chasm of other promises between us. And yet, if one could just lure her away to a wizard’s lair or something…’ ‘Dear me, old chap,’ replied Digby, ‘you are indeed infected with a virus far more deadly than avian flu, one can see its toxicity in your eyes. You cannot tame the untameable, that is the chief part of its charm. Time for a prophylactic.’ Digby snapped his fingers and the valets glided onto the clubhouse deck with a tray of bluetongue tongue appetisers and a carafe of, poignantly enough, Dragon’s Mouth, the drink for the daring and demented – one part pernod, two parts absinthe and a dash of liquid datura. Very few people can drink it with their eyes open. ‘To sophistication!’ said Digby, staring at me meaningfully. It was all I could do to raise my glass for the toast. 65. The world is a busy place, don’t you know, and too often we neglect to escape the busyness, to savour the simple and quiet things. True friendship, which burns like an unwavering beacon in the heart, is often lost in busyness. As the chinese poet Li Po or Ti Fu – or was it To Fu? – once wrote to a friend, ‘The busy world rises up between us.’ But those chaps among us who are filthy rich can afford to ignore the busyness. And so it was, gentle reader, we were all insouciantly arrayed along the deck of the Myocum clubhouse one morning, enjoying the complete absence of activity. We had prevailed upon Tosser Digby to cease potting off the neighbourhood canines, who had made their last predation on the native wildlife, even though he had bagged seven already, from a mangy Pomeranian to a muscular Great Dane. One hour previously Sanders the butler, who has connections in the most extraordinary places, not least among them the little-known underground tribe of London’s East End, had taken round a silver tray laden with vials of powdered MDMA for our enjoyment. As usual, Abbotsleigh had over-indulged and was supine on the lawn, doing his best imitation of a round of cheese, parmesan I think. The rest of us sat still, enjoying the preternatural symphony of sounds which nature offers up non-stop to the discerning listener. Water dropped from the eaves onto a daisy, shaking it like a yellow tambourine. Birds played their voices like a chamber orchestra, some notes harsh, some sweet, filling the ears in a contrapuntal senssuround. A ladybug tapdanced across a blade of grass. The very air rustled with possibility and our skin was the osmotic membrane for the secretion of the surreal. ‘I say,’ said Bosworth, his voice suddenly breaking the quiet like a Norwegian icebreaker colliding with a pyramid of baked bean tins. ‘Shouldn’t we be up dancing frantically to hyper-active music produced by digital synthesisers or somesuch?’ ‘Not necessarily so,’ said Ruthvenwood, who was something of a metaamphetamines boffin. ‘It is a common myth that activity is required. It is true that strenuous movement may enhance the effect, but so might sitting absolutely still. A sweat need not be raised nor need one engage in pulsating copulation for several hours at a stretch.’ ‘Terrible nuisance that pulsating copulation,’ remarked Backdraft-Wyffen. ‘Wears off a chap’s skin in the most awkward places.’
By now we were entering the state so close to love that it is too much of a bother to tell them apart. There was no border protection, no immigration controls, no security checks, the sniffer beagles - in all their imaginary glory – were happily playing petanque on the luminescent lawn of immanence. Camberwell had become so enamoured of himself we would have found it embarrassing under other circumstances. He sat on the ground, arms wrapped around himself, gently cooing like a pigeon. It was the start of a great love affair. The drug was flushing out the roseate corridors of emotional memory and I suppose each of us conjured up visions of those we loved, and looked upon them adoringly. Strangely, I recalled Angela Merivale, with whom I made plasticine bouquets in kindergarten. She went on to become a camel inspector in the Gobi and our paths never crossed again. Chef, ever discerning of our gastronomical needs, arrived with bowls of a simple chive and lemon grass soup, almost a flavoured water designed to not cut across the enchantment. ‘Good chap,’ said Bosworth, patting Chef fondly upon the shoulder in an unexpected breach of protocol. Chef bowed his head slightly, gave a faint smile, and withdrew to his vast kitchens, where, it is said, he worships a terra cotta gargoyle of Pan, its mouth constantly pouring out a fruity pinot noir, before chancing his hand with the stove. 66. Cheese-rolling has a rich sporting history on the hills of England but has failed to transplant to Australia. Undeterred, we decided to start our own annual derby on the Myocum clubhouse slopes, inspired no doubt by a morning imbibing mint-and-cheddar daiquiris. The right sort of cheese is essential to the task. Abbotsleigh soon found that a round of camembert is not up to Australian conditions. After some experimentation we settled on a particularly hard parmesan made by the Adamantine Friars of Coonabarabran, who are also noted for their monthly circuit of the monastery on their knees and self-flagellation with echidna floggers salvaged from road kill. In the English game, keen fromagers chase their cheese down the hillside in order to keep it rolling to the very bottom. This is fraught with peril: firstly, one gets exercise and, secondly, a chap could lose his footing in a rabbithole. We opted for other rules. Chaps were to stand at the edge of the clubhouse deck and hurl their cheeses downwards towards plywood effigies of Celine Dion. Removal of an arm was worth one point, a leg two points, and the inanely grinning head, three. Chaps had three cheeses each and thus could reach a total of nine points. Valets kitted out in wicket-keeper’s gear were positioned beyond the targets to retrieve the cheeses, which were to be recycled as doorstops at the Joan Crawford Memorial Home for the Insanely Jealous. In the great tradition of Highlander, we concluded ‘there can be only one’. No second or third but a grand first prize of four hours with Bizzy Lizzy, the club’s dominatrix-on-call, in the House of Waxing Pain, with a choice of seven specialties including the electrified nipple cripple, scarification with kittens, and the Green Shower, which of course involves heated creme de menthe. The game proved deucedly difficult and had a score rate rivalled only by English first division football. Our aim was not helped by the pre-match heart starter of Byron Bay Holiday Letting All-In Early Morning Metallica Fest Cabernet Merlot with its afterpalate of fried schoolie. Cheeses unexpectedly bounced and lodged themselves in shrubs. One splintered fantastically against a granite boulder, the shrapnel bringing down three passing egrets. Tosser Digby’s flattened a trespassing chihuahua. Two valets were treated for concussion. In the end Camberwell took out the prize with a left arm, right leg and a decapitation for a total of six points. One could see the chap go weak at the knees at the vision of the blissful night of abject humiliation ahead of him. (Little did Camberwell know that Bizzy Lizzy had also been given leave to command the winner to enter the Chincogan Hotel wearing only an orange g-string and carrying a zucchini.)
67. ‘I say,’ said Abbotsleigh, staring intently at the local paper run by a bunch of pinko baby boomers, ‘says here the rozzers invaded the local hostelries with dogs. Rather poor form when a chap’s trying to have a drink, don’t you know. Netted enough drugs for a 15 minute sampler at the David Jones entheogen counter, I would judge. Hardly seems worth the effort.’ ‘Most peculiar indeed,’ said Tosser Digby, oiling the grip of his bullwhip. ‘Any serious dealer would hardly go into a pub with a load of drugs. Some chap must’ve felt the dogs needed exercise or just has a dislike of folk who have opinions slightly left of fascism.’ ‘Would’ve found more in our medicine cabinet,’ noted Abbotsleigh. ‘What shall we do it about it?’ asked Camberwell. ‘Can’t have the citizenry being terrorised by men in silly outfits. I’m good friends with the Commissioner’s great aunt Madge…’ ‘No bother,’ said Digby, ‘I have already devised a plan.’ He strode resolutely from the room. Digby’s a puzzling chap at times. Man of action, even though he is wealthy enough to buy several small Pacific island nations and need never lift a finger again. One suspects he has a bit of a Robin Hood complex, or a Che Guevara obsession. He did after all sit through Motorcycle Diaries 27 times and even wrote a review for a small publication which disappeared without a trace, Digby’s deathless prose confined to the crypt of his computer. While Digby would not talk of the drug raids again, chiefly on the principle that if his friends knew nothing they could not be successfully interrogated, we heard later he had dressed in black and taken his speciallymodified Hummer into that peculiar little shire to the north, Tweed Pty Ltd or somesuch. He understood covert action was needed against well-armed men with overly bulging muscles and not a neck to speak of among the lot. At two in the morning he slipped silently into the police station and adulterated the water coolers with large doses of liquid DMT. More amazingly, he managed to spike each bottle in the VB fridge without removing the caps. Apparently the Pentagon has written to him, applying for a patent for the technology. The result is that the Tactless Response Group, or whatever the chaps are called, had to be disbanded, most of the officers rendered incapable of ever expressing pointless aggression again and two of them starting a cult which worships dung beetles. All the police dogs on the premises took up wearing pink booties. There was an attempt by ASIO to question Digby but those spooks which were not eaten by Gloria, his pet hippopotamus, disappeared into the electrified moat. When the matter had died down, we threw a celebration dinner in Digby’s honour. Chef concocted a splendid Stressed Ibis in a Melange of Glowworm, accompanied by a deregulation of lightly steamed butter beans. Its flavours were piquantly complemented by a Byron Industrial Estate Sex Shop Mystery Item Pinot Noir, decidedly fruity on the nose with more than a hint of latex. The grateful pub regulars took round the hat and purchased Digby a Main Arm Upper Upper Outer Outer Vintage Bud, which he proceeded to smoke and share at the junction of Burringbar and Stuart Streets. I do believe I saw a tear form in the hard man’s eye out of gratitude that his efforts were appreciated. He was later awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Contributions to Altered Realities and the Queen invited him to partake of her stash of peyote buttons found secreted in her collection of Da Vinci sketches. 68. Almost strangled in morning glory in the clubhouse garden in what we designated as ‘the wild patch’, where the gardeners may not touch the undisciplined profusion, was an iron chair. Strangely enough, it was found by Abbotsleigh, the most unobservant of men. The delicate curlicues of the wrought iron had not rusted and still bore a rich coat of black lacquer. Its seat was a webbing of luxurious gold thread surmounted by a crimson silk cushion embroidered with gold Chinese characters representing the Star Trek greeting, ‘Live long and prosper.’
As we looked on – having been torn reluctantly from our croquet game – Abbotsleigh sat on the chair and promptly disappeared along with the chair itself. ‘Ah, an interdimensional transportation device,’ said Camberwell knowingly, as if he were used to encountering vanishing furniture each day before breakfast. When Abbotsleigh eventually returned, the mists of evening were drawing a translucent veil across the setting sun and we were on the western deck appreciating the splendour with the aid of gin and tonic. There is little so glorious as staring at nature in an intoxicated state, unless one counts a birdie executed with a seven iron on the fourth hole of the Mullum golf course. The chap’s clothes were dishevelled, his hair in disarray and eyes glazed. This was not necessarily remarkable in Abbotsleigh’s case but he did seem more deconstructed than usual. ‘Marvellous adventure,’ said Abbotsleigh, flinging himself onto a plump chaise longue and accepting a G&T from a valet. ‘Bit confusing at first as one was propelled through time and space and other complicated thingies of that nature but finally arrived in a vast hall carven from living stone and lit by thousands of white candles. About the roof of this vault ran a wistaria vine, its mauve flowers falling like a coloured rain. And then, chaps, gorgeous vision – a queenlike woman in in a fragile sheath of crimson, dimmed and veiled ineffably by the flame-shaken gloom wherein she sat, smiled at me. Ah, such a smile!’ ‘Chap’s well and truly struck,’ said Bosworth. ‘She rose slowly on her little feet,’ continued Abbotsleigh, ‘and looked up at me in a whirl of mirth and wonder, as in childhood she had gazed wide-eyed on royal mountebanks who made so brief a shift of the impossible that kings and queens would laugh and shake themselves…’ ‘This sounds vaguely familiar,’ I ventured aloud. ‘Hush, Bitemark,’ said Digby, ‘let him finish. It’s the only poetic utterance we’ve ever had from him.’ An enraptured look in his eyes, Abbotsleigh said, ‘The queenly lass then said, “Pray do a lonely woman the large honour of sharing with her a small kind of supper.” I bowed my head and kissed her ten small fingers calmly, although my heart was leaping and my eyes had sight for nothing save a swimming crimson between two glimmering arms. To me, she was the wayward fragrance of a rose made woman by delirious alchemy…’ ‘I have it now!’ I yelled. ‘Honestly, Bitemark,’ reproached Camberwell. ‘It’s a poem by about Merlin and Vivian by Edward Arlington Robinson,’ I insisted. ‘I say, Bitemark,’ said a sorely affronted Abbotsleigh, ‘I didn’t make this up.’ ‘Not saying you did, old chap,’ I replied, ‘but it seems you have been living a poem, don’t you know. That wondrous chair takes the sitter into the world of literature made real.’ ‘Good thing he didn’t end up in The Heart Of Darkness,’ observed Digby drily. We leapt to our feet as one, all apart from Abbotsleigh, who remained entranced, and the canny Digby. ‘If sirs are thinking of engaging with that wrought iron conveyance,’ said Sanders the butler, ‘I regret to inform you that William Shatner has reclaimed it from the garden.’ Groans all round. There was naught we could do but return to our G&Ts. 69. ‘Dialing O on the pink telephone,’ said Abbotsleigh in a puzzled voice. ‘Whatever can it mean, Bitemark?’ He handed me a slim volume which, he said, a young lass had mistakenly left in a nightclub he had visited
for the purposes of cocktail research. ‘Ah,’ I said, flipping through the pages. ‘I believe it is an instruction manual on the art of talking to the canoe driver.’ ‘What on earth are you on about, man?’ said Abbotsleigh, more puzzled than ever. ‘Ah,’ said Tosser Digby, ‘it is a rich mine for metaphors. My niece Lavinia, who plays for the home team as it were, has advised me there is also dining at the Y, growling at the badger, and whistling in the weeds, among many others.’ ‘Dash it, will you chaps please tell me what this book is about!’ exclaimed a frustrated Abbotsleigh. ‘Well, dear chap,’ I replied, ‘it’s a DIY opus on arousing what the Kama Sutra might call the archway of the love-god’s dwelling or what your mother, bless her lavender sachets, would describe as a lady’s “down there”.’ Abbotsleigh blushed the excited hue of a pink telephone. ‘Oh my goodness. Who would’ve thought such an activity would have a whole volume devoted to it! I never guessed that such a degree of skill was called for...’ ‘The world has moved on since you learnt to make a trowel in woodwork in the Upper Fourth,’ interposed Digby. ‘The modern miss, I am told, expects nothing less than silver service, and many a chap is found wanting, if not lost in the woods, as it were.’ ‘But when I was at Eton,’ whimpered Abottsleigh, ‘Mr Fossington-Dewlap gave us a detailed overview of the, ahem, act of procreation.’ ‘That, my dear Abbotsleigh,’ I said, ‘is like sitting on the blueprint of a plane and expecting to fly.’ ‘A blueprint lacking in several important details, I would wager,’ said Digby. ‘Most notably the joystick.’ ‘If I might offer a suggestion,’ said Sanders the butler with a discreet cough, ‘Sir might care to consult Miss Lizzy [Bizzy Lizzy, the club’s dominatrix-on-call], who I am sure would be able to offer Sir some stern instruction on the subject matter.’ By this stage, gentle reader, other club members were harrumphing annoyedly. A gentleman’s club, after all, is dedicated to oral stimulation of a different kind, namely gustatorial. It was therefore timely that the valets entered at that moment with a pleasurable spread of clams in white sauce, split figs, pearl oysters and quivering mango pulp in a perturbation of gelati. This was accompanied by a refreshing Rosebank Crura Pinot Noir with just a hint of muskiness on the tongue. There was general distaste for discussing the topic of worshipping the many-petalled temple of roseate delight, so we left it alone. Later on in the day, however, after cigars. port and naps, I observed a few of the more unreconstructed members surreptitiously dipping into the pages of Abbotsleigh’s manual, which he had left upon a Louis XIV side table. Perhaps you can indeed teach old dogs new tricks, at least when it comes to enjoying a box lunch. 70. Those readers who have faithfully if not fanatically followed the epicurean chronicles on these pages will recall my brief assignation at Tumbulgum with the ravishing alchemist Veronica, she of the cascading hair and mesmeric eyes. It will come as no surprise then that my heart skipped a beat when a valet delivered on a silver tray a letter postmarked Tibet. It was there that Veronica had flown six months, two days and 17 hours ago to join the work of her (male) herbalist friend and I had not heard from her since. Getting communications out of that country can be notoriously difficult but it was still a deuce of a time to be held in snail-pace silence from the one at whose fragrant shrine the mendicant devotee would burn the candle of desire both day and night. Usually my hands are as steady as Giacomo Agostini in the hurtling saddle of a 500cc Moto Guzzi but I must admit, gentle reader, they shook somewhat as I opened the crumpled and stained envelope with an obsidian
knife presented to me by an astigmatic shaman of the Bwiti cult of Gabon after I survived a forty hour inner journey under the influence of iboga, reporting back miracles and wonders and the presence of a sentient jellybean. ‘My dear Bitemark,’ began the perfumed letter in Veronica’s usual flamboyant script, written on vellum made from an ancient yak. ‘I must apologise for not getting word to you sooner. Our work here has been set about by frustrating spells, finally broken by the Chinese government completing its railway into Tibet over precipitous mountain passes. Apparently the dark magician who had held us incommunicado from the larger world forgot to purchase a return ticket when visiting Chengdu and a functionary on the train had him assigned to a Nike labour camp in Nanchong. It is remarkable how the evil arts may be defeated by bureaucratic procedure. ‘I have learnt much from Roger [the herbalist chappy]. We provide cure and assistance to many villagers in this isolated region and in return are rewarded with their unstinting gratitude and cheerfulness in the face of vicissitudes which would fell the average Gold Coast nail technician unused to hunger, cold and capricious avalanches. ‘Despite the richness of my life I must admit, Bitemark, I do sometimes yearn for your company. [Here my heart danced a feverish fandango.] I miss the microscopic attention you give to the seemingly trivial and how you derive from this universal nostrums for my own life. I miss the way you look at me from out of some dark unfathomable space behind your kindly eyes. I miss the magical spark which passes between us in timeless interludes. I dearly miss the secrecy, the privacy, the solace…’ Modesty forbids me for revealing further but you may gauge I was well pleased that Veronica addressed our rapport in such affectionate and open terms. As Dr Frankenstein said in less amorous circumstances, ‘It lives!’ The tyranny of distance and her unrelenting devotion to a higher cause might not see us meet again for some years – but at least now I know I am still held dear and there are few realisations more thrilling than that. So inspired was I by my new understanding I ordered the broaching of enough St Helena Road Tunnel Rude Gesture Cabernet Sauvignon for the entire club and was roundly toasted for my gesture. 71. The phone call came in the early hours to the Myocum clubhouse. It was taken by Tosser Digby, who was up polishing the club’s collection of Ketland blunderbusses. ‘I say, old chap,’ said an unusually subdued Abbotsleigh, ‘just rang to say I’m all right.’ He immediately hung up. ‘Chap’s been disappeared by the Ruddock Goon Squad,’ said Digby at breakfast. ‘I could hear the flexing of Liberal Party rubber truncheons in the background.’ ‘Whatever could possess them to imagine that a plonker such as Abbotsleigh was a terrorist?’ mused Camberwell, stopping mid-spread of marmalade and cocaine conserve on his toast. ‘He did say something rude about the Queen’s corgis downtown the other day,’ said Boswell. ‘There was a chap in a dark suit nearby but I just thought it was a solicitor waiting to represent one of the Shire’s many drink drivers.’ ‘Hanging offence,’ said Digby, thumbing through a 300 page booklet called ‘Interpreting the Finer and More Malicious Points of the Laws of Sedition’. ‘Lucky he didn’t cast aspersions on Janette Howard’s choice of floral deodorant spray for the bathroom,’ remarked Cattlegrid-Lantana, who had retained an eminent QC to advise on the laws for his dinner party guests. ‘I understand a chap can be hung, sliced open and have his gizzards drawn out with red hot asparagus tongs for that offence.’ We knew we were safe in the clubhouse from Australia’s own version of the Ceaucescus. Noone would have the nerve to place bugs or attempt a commando raid, especially since we had filed the teeth on our phalanx of
robot crocodiles. ‘Could we find him, Digby, and break the poor chap out?’ asked Camberwell. ‘No need to,’ said Digby, finishing off his second cup of Newrybar Alternate Route Wicked Blend Espresso. ‘I predict Abbotsleigh will be returned to the bosom of his chums within the hour.’ And so it was. A modified Hummer with black tinted windows drew up at the wrought iron gates – salvaged from Antoni Gaudi’s last mushroom trip – at the bottom of the drive. A burly gentleman in black kevlar apparel raced to the passenger door and escorted Abbotsleigh to the entranceway. He then returned to his vehicle and took off at high speed, the fragrance of complex hydrocarbons competing momentarily with that of a native frangipani. Abbotsleigh plonked himself down in an armchair donated to the club by the grateful third Earl of Sedgewick who we had protected in 1752 from a charge of bestiality with a marine mammal. It had been unintentional, anyway. ‘Dashed unusual night,’ said Abbotsleigh, drawing greedily on the canister of nitrous oxide Sanders the butler had provided as a pick-me-up. ‘Well done, old chap,’ said Bosworth, ‘glad you were able to convince them of your innocence.’ ‘Don’t believe I did,’ replied Abbotsleigh. ‘Just chatted in my usual fashion.’ Ah. The penny dropped for all the club members. There are many cruel and unusual means of torture, gentle reader – the bastinado, the iron maiden, the Celine Dion album – but few may stand up to the incoherent ramblings of a perpetually intoxicated Abbotsleigh. The ASIO operatives were not made of such stern stuff. One could imagine the Australian Federal Police’s elite squad falling to their knees, begging for mercy or at least a swift bullet to the head. We toasted Abbotsleigh’s return in a piquant Alexander Downer Fishnet Stocking Diplomatic Debacle Pinot Noir, with its palate of overwhelming fruitiness and just a hint of frustrated cabaret performer. Chef whipped up a casserole of Toorak Matron Poodle in Depression-style potato peelings. lightly singed by ennui and stale Bollinger. 72. ‘I understand that the artist formerly known as Peter King is having an exhibition at the Hang Ups gallery in Billinudgel in December,’ said Bosworth, teeing off with a mashie niblick from the clubhouse deck. His ball ricocheted off a prostrate schoolie in the truffle paddock but failed to rouse the sleeping/unconscious/deceased form. ‘I think he is still known as Peter King,’ I said. ‘Jolly good,’ said Bosworth, ‘ but that doesn’t disturb the fact he was also formerly known as Peter King. One can only thank the pagan gods of lasciviousness that he has not changed his name to a series of symbols, as that would be too tiresome for words, or become an apostle for Mormonism.’ ‘That’s the chap who puts ducks in his drawings and photographs?’ asked Abbotsleigh, fumbling with his tumbler of rum. ‘Do you think that’s an unhealthy obsession?’ ‘As a chap who was once found at the Lawson Street roundabout semi-naked with an ostrich feather butt plug and chained to a guinea pig you are hardly in a position to judge,’ said Bosworth. ‘I think it is more a matter of whimsy, in the manner of the great seditionist Leunig. The toucans though are a bit of a worry.’ ‘You all seem to be overlooking King’s main subject matter - naked women protected from the icy blasts by only insufficient lengths of leather and rope,’ said Tosser Digby. ‘In some circles it would be regarded as voyeurism but in Mr King’s milieu it is de rigueur.’
Digby immediately threw a lobster into the fines box for using more than one precious French expression in the same sentence. Mr King’s eccentric orbit sometimes intersects with that of the club, the chief reference in common being Miss Bizzy Lizzy, the club’s dominatrix-on-call, who has provided strict instruction – and punishment and deep, lasting scratches where required – to many circles of the BDSM underground which is the true face of Byron Shire, hidden from metropolitan reporters who seek only to find a specimen of feral buried among the rampant nouveau riche. We cannot claim even six degrees of separation among this seething demi-monde – more likely three degrees of rope burn. ‘It is pleasing that Mr King is providing us with fresh images just as his limited edition calendar comes to an end,’ I said, ‘though I understand many of his earlier intricate illustrations will be reproduced for our edification. I still have on my kitchen wall a puzzling work entitled “Something Had To Be Done… So I Wound Up Both Sides And Had A Long Meaningful Discussion With Myself.” It includes the Pyramids, a sugar glider, an owl in a vase and two heads on mechanical spindles – and a handsome mallard. The calendar however is much more straightforward with, for example, a young lass in an elegant pair of black pumps taking a cucumber for a walk.’ ‘Once had a pet cucumber,’ mused Bosworth. ‘Much easier to keep alive than the barramundi. There is also to be parodies of some of the greater works of art including Botticelli’s Birth Of Venus – a rich source for the parodist.’ ‘Is that Venus from the Toucan Club?’ inquired Abbotsleigh. ‘I once saw her on stage in a rich sauce – butterscotch or some such. Another lass was trying to remove it with a black neoprene squeegee, to great, ahem, effect.’ Abbotsleigh squirmed reflexively in his armchair but fortunately lunch arrived before what passes as his brain could be stimulated to further recollection. 73. On a Sunday morning, deadline looming, it is sometimes difficult for the aging roué to slip loose the bonds of languor. One must rise, like a slightly seedy phoenix, from the still warm ashes of the previous night’s debauchery and perform feats of mental prowess, all the while in the back of one’s head an image of the irascible editor tapping his steel-toed boot and waving about the black suede tentacles of his whip, when what one really wants to do is to sprawl lazily upon a comfortable lounge, demi-tasse of espresso at hand, rather than wrestle uncooperative and overlong sentences with several subordinate clauses into submission. It is not just the effects of alcohol poisoning or ayahuasca intoxication one must overcome, gentle reader. Once one has reached a certain age – say 53 or over – one’s body just refuses to cooperate with a new morning. The muscles ache, the bones cry their lament to the uncaring sky, the major organs decline to recognise it is time to clock on. The very nerves themselves decide to induce pin-sharp twinges at random points in the flesh. At this point one’s thoughts turn to a radicalised lifestyle, to insane visions of fresh vegetable juices, while the primitive limbic brain rightly roars against such profanity – especially the word ‘lifestyle’ – and hungers after more wanton excess. Likewise the part of the brain which engenders literature – and the imaginative fancy which enables one to conjure up a frisson of the actual excitement involved in say, slowly lowering Miss December into a vat of mango syrup – dreams of fudging it and instead of reaching for the stars (while poignantly grasping for a moment only a passing butterfly) considers plonking out a drear catalogue of red wine prices or a recipe for boiled eggs. But even a dilettante must have standards. Imprisoned in the gulag of time, one nevertheless rises each dawn and shaves, so the guards and the commandant understand that a chap will not be beaten down until one refuses the blindfold and final cigarette and the fateful volley shatters the morning’s peace. The follies which prompted these musings – which have enabled me to venture three substantial paragraphs into the lush thicket of provincial columnising – took place last night in one of my European pieds-a-terre, a white-washed studio eyrie atop a cliff-face on Santorini. I had invited the troupe from Plato’s Tantric Circus, whose lavish performances involve psychic copulation with the minds of the audience members, who leave thoroughly satiated but somewhat confused, knowing that something has happened but what, precisely? We
began proceedings with several crates of Grays Lane Pebbledash Fractured Windscreen Cabernet Merlot 1998 which I had brought over with me. Plato then produced from the folds of his voluminous purple cape the makings of an ayahuasca brew, which his troupe routinely uses to induce the right state for the subliminal if not demonic rogering of the paying punters. We all piled into the jacuzzi, which I had had filled with carbonated lime-flavoured mineral water, and passed around the bowl. As I slipped out of my body I wondered if I had left the Ferrari running in the driveway but then all rational thought deserted me and I entered a startling world in which several Terence McKennas, their heads grafted onto the bodies of mechanical preying mantises, explained to me in nasal tones the inner meaning of Barbara Cartland’s romance novels. At the same time, or so I am led to believe, the entire circus troupe engaged me in wanton congress on the tenth bardo, where a bunch of Tibetan monks looked on in between listening for the cricket score in the Akashic Record. Whatever the case, I awoke this morning clad only in a novelty teatowel and smothered from head to foot in yak butter, the troupe nowhere to be seen. By the plodding dint of mental application and the firing only once of the percolator, one has made it thus far - 650 words and the release of the damaged aesthete. 74. Last Saturday saw the festival of Saturnalia. At the Myocum clubhouse we saw it as good training in the leadup to New Years Eve, when we will be avoiding the polka dances in the streets of Byron Bay and heading off to Baker’s Gap in Queensland for the annual Feast of the Underworld, in which a powerful sorceress dressed as Persephone sets fire to the beards of hog-tied shamans to welcome the new year, among other things one cares not to mention in a family newspaper. We had a builder chappy whip up a temple of Saturn in the truffle paddock after Tosser Digby had cleared it of lurking pomeranians. The statue of Saturn had passed down through the maternal side of Bosworth’s family and was regarded as the real thing. The hollowed-out insides were indeed stained with the residue of ancient olive oil (extra extra heritage) as is the custom, though we decided to use Grange Hermitage instead and bung in a tap near the base of the left foot. As the club has no chairman as such, and no Senators were present – Stott-Despoja has given away the more lubricious pastimes now she’s a married woman – it fell upon Sanders the butler to cry ‘Io, Saturnalia!’ to launch the festivities, which he did with his usual panache, not to mention sangfroid and elan. We passed among ourselves the ritual gifts of wax tapers and little dolls, which Abbotsleigh had unfortunately ordered in in bulk from Romania, and they bore a striking resemblance to Vlad the Impaler rather than an agricultural god. We decorated the various trees in the paddock in the usual manner: miniature suns and stars – including Tosser Digby’s working model of a neutron star, which threw off the Earth’s gravitational field a tad – and faces of the god Janus. (For what is celebration if not two-faced? It recognises that the passage of time is not always jolly.) A currawong took a fancy to Bosworth’s ornament and he almost lost an eye before he was forced to surrender the bauble to the determined bird. For ourselves, we brought out all the heirloom gold the club members possessed, roughly equivalent to three times the gross domestic product of New Zealand. We fairly glittered with chains and pendants and bracelets and bangles and rings and breastplates and, in Pridesnuff ’s case, 24 carat hand-beaten crutchless pantaloons embossed with ducks. The merrymaking followed and in the usual role reversal Sanders was given the whip hand, so to speak. (Though in any case one suspects the man exerts paranormal powers over his nominal employers.) He had the valets pass around glasses of Byron Industrial Estate Brothel Perturbation Pinot Noir and sachets of 5-methoxy-alpha-methyltryptamine. Once the effects had been fully realised, Sanders brought on Bizzy Lizzy, the club’s dominatrix-on-call, and a troupe of tabletop dancers armed with cats-o-nine-tails studded with small amethysts. Each of us was flogged into a state of insensiblity. Mind you, we didn’t have far to go. On the way to unconsciousness, club members had a shared telepathic vision of amethyst penguins performing ‘Putting
On The Ritz’ as Audrey Hepburn in a golden tutu twisted party balloons into 11-dimensional hypercreatures. Perhaps not as fine as Aristotle Onassis’s 1957 Saturnalia on a private island in the Adriatic – at which Maria Callas sang the heart-rending bits from La Boheme while juggling four bananas – but well done all round, I thought. 75. The new year is another country. As hinted upon last year, the members of the Myocum clubhouse headed north into the wilds of Queensland – its flat landscape dotted with salt bush and biker gang amphetamine factories – to help kill off 2005 and give birth to 2006 at the annual Feast of the Underworld, presided over by an appointed Persephone. Baker’s Gap is not well known to the general public. It is reached through a secret staircase in the floor of the amphitheatre at Carnarvon Gorge. Sunlight filters down vast columns of stone and illuminates the phosphorescent sigils of necromancy on the Gap floor. ‘I say,’ said Abbotsleigh as a valet extracted him from the wicker basket which had lowered him to the cavern floor, ‘that sort of thing puts the wind up a chap’s vitals.’ Which was exactly the point. Immersion in the preternatural is not for the faint-hearted or those who prefer a cup of cocoa to an absinthe slammer. The witch chosen this year to be Persephone was Cynthia Worsted-Grippetalon, born into an impeccable Double Bay family and turned to the dark side by an itinerant Gypsy called Boboko with a remarkable talent for scrying and patisserie. His cocaine-and-chocolate torte was known to reduce strong merchant bankers to tears, women to unexpected orgasm and chrysalids to instant butterfly state. Cynthia and Boboko regularly held seances at their Red Hill mansion, seducing all with their smouldering looks and the quality of their ectoplasm. Cynthia’s shout of triumph as she set fire to the beards of the hog-tied shamans was an act of virtuosity, ringing off the walls of the cavern like the judgement call of Ragnarok. All but Trevor The Unsteady managed to extinguish their hairy blazes by force of will, and he had to be rescued by members of the local bushfire brigade, several of whom were given to lucid dreaming as well as sausage sizzles. The common myth surrounding Persephone is that she was a sweet thing cruelly abducted by Hades. The truth is she grew weary of her vanilla youth and sought strange attractions in the Underworld. So too at each new year do we seek to shuck off the shell of our old life and begin again as new magical creatures or, in Abbotsleigh’s confused case, as an umbrella stand. It took all of Sanders the butler’s persuasive powers to convince the deluded chap that life as an inanimate object was not viable and, further, would put his club membership in jeopardy. If I told you, gentle reader, of all the secret rituals that occurred at the Feast of the Underworld, I would have to kill you, and with a circulation of 23,000 that would put an unconscionable dent in the club’s assassination budget for 2006/07. Suffice it to say that it gave me new resolve to bring you further glowing accounts of the life of debauchery and excess as practised at the clubhouse – not to mention the occasional recipe – and earned me a crate of Bollinger for my skilful manifestation of Paracelsus’s pet parrot while dancing backward through a field of whirling dervishes. 76. The rain came just in time; the last of our iceberg had run out and we needed some other form of relief from the summer heat. The Myocum clubhouse, as you know, sits atop an imposing hill. We relaxed on the deck as the rain beat down and watched with interest as, far below us, the Myocum Road went under water in several places. Kombis floated gently into paddocks and the stunned occupants fell under the gaze of curious cows. Abbotsleigh, who had been partying on the Gold Coast, attempted to reach the clubhouse at 3am in the height
of the storm and found himself flushed into a drain off the highway at Tyagarah and into the labyrinthine depths of Mullumbimby’s stormwater system, discovering a lost Viking longboat on his way to being sluiced into the Brunswick near Federation Bridge. There were some fears that the club helicopter might not be able to get through with supplies – these proved unfounded – so Chef made sure that the alcoholic beverages were extended in case of an emergency. This was done simply by infusing vodka into a sugar syrup. The Myocum Inundation Infusion, based on instructions from the online Miss Cocktail, is made thus: take fresh fruit and cut it into manageable pieces. Fill a jar about halfway full of fruit then fill remainder with vodka, leaving some space at the top for breathing. Let it sit at room temperature for about a week. The sugar syrup to accompany it is made by by mixing half a cup of water and one cup of sugar over heat and stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Mix the syrup and the vodka infusion together. Go wild if you like – that is the club spirit after all – and experiment with also mixing in herbs, vanilla extract or citrus fruit for a sweet and sour. The daring might also include hot peppers. For a jolly decent Bloody Mary, rim a glass with garlic and salt and top it with a sprig of basil. This was the suggestion of the divine Miss Cosford, who often visits Chef to swap recipes over a bottle or two of Salitage. Chef also invented the Myocum Chaps Delight to pass time in the deluge: one part vodka infusion, one part tequila, and a good dash of soda water poured over crushed ice, all garnished with a mint leaf and a little shredded chocolate, reminiscent of the chocolate martini introduced to the Shire by dish restaurant. ‘This is vastly superior to our encampment among floodwaters near the Limpopo in 1989,’ noted Tosser Digby, pausing to remove a mosquito from his hunter’s vest. ‘There we had to purify groundwater with sulphur, add a tiny dash of Gilbeys Gin and a slither of the local mushroom which, fortunately, proved to be entheogenic. Sadly we lost Sally Tangerine-Dreme when she imagined herself to be a canoe and plunged into the great green greasy river. Croc got her.’ ‘Speaking of entheogens, Dr Albert Hofmann turned 100 the other week,’ I said, ‘proving that the judicious use of mind-expanding substances is no barrier to longevity.’ ‘Ah,’ replied Bosworth, ‘one could hardly accuse us of being experts in judicious use. But seeing that many among us are in their fifties and sixties, the damage cannot be too bad. Witness also that Mr Keith Richards is still alive, if carefully embalmed.’ ‘Surely it is the quality rather than the quantity,’ noted Digby. ‘Better to burn out than rust out.’ At this stage the skies parted and our Sikorsky S-92 landed on the helipad next to the truffle paddock and the valets collected a dozen boxes of Pacific Tollway Collective Spleen Cabernet Sauvignon. Far below us, a herd of Kombi drivers began to forage prematurely among the cowpats for the district’s famous Copelandia cyanescens. 77. Bosworth, intent on celebrating Australia Day in the best possible manner, put through a call to a highranking friend at the American embassy to see in what way relations with our good and powerful friend could be strengthened. He was advised, after some reminiscing with his chum about a game of hand grenade golf they had played in Laos in 1968, of an Adopt-A-CIA-Agent program which had been instituted especially for the occasion. Before we knew it, Bosworth had arranged for one of the spook chaps to drop round to the Myocum clubhouse for a spot of glad-handing and imbibing. We had feared the arrival of some buzz-cut beefcake oozing machismo and steely intent of the lowest order but our alloted agent turned out to be a man of considerable charm who chiefly used said charm to woo information from the wives of embassy officials while in his spare time constructing an uncrackable code based on the poetry of Hafiz of Shiraz: thus ‘Open my grave when I am dead, and thou shalt see a cloud of smoke rising out from it; then shalt thou know that the fire still burns in my dead heart – yea, it has set my very winding-
sheet alight’ would become ‘The tanks are gathering in numbers at the Kazakhstan border’. Agent Mike Throttleby had graduated from Harvard with a degree in particle physics. He spoke seven languages fluently, could get by in another six, and was regarded as an international authority on Middle-Eastern mystical poetry. In his late thirties, he had a handsome, boyish face and a sweep of blond hair across his forehead guaranteed to part suggestible and/or bored women from their undergarments. He brought to the club by way of introduction a sports bag full of LSD-25, left over from the Company’s infamous dosings of the late sixties. As we partook on the deck that night – the stars seeming to fill the entire sky, ready to embrace us in their diamond light – the valets handed round bowls of lychees and pistachio nuts, accompanied by glasses of soda water garnished with a slice of lemon. ‘It’s very good of you – whaddyacallit – chaps to invite me to your place,’ said Throttleby. ‘It can get kinda lonely out in the field where you’re always engaged in, you know, role play.’ ‘Think nothing of it, dear chap,’ I said, ‘though one might regard all of our interactions as role play.’ There was a long silence as several intoxicated men tried to fathom if this was a deep and meaningful pronouncement. It probably wasn’t, and we soon moved on to throwing grapes through a ceiling fan amid much giggling. Throttleby was made of more driven stuff than the rest of us, who would have been happy with the fan experiment for several hours, and he began running up and down three flights of stairs in the clubhouse. We wandered over to a railing purloined from the Vatican in 1879 and looked on. ‘You know, it’s kinda like the three worlds of shamanism,’ said Throttleby, barely puffing from his exertions. ‘That billiards room is the underworld, the reading room the middle world and this here deck the upper world, the abode of sky gods.’ ‘Steady on,’ said Abbotsleigh, ‘I don’t want any gods after my lychees.’ He had by this stage decorated his forearm in lychee skin, imagining that he was some kind of fruity reptile. ‘Kinda the Chaos, Gaia and Eros of Myocum, as the poet Ovid might have it,’ said Throttleby. ‘The interrogation rooms at Langley were never like this.’ Indeed, I thought to myself, not wishing to offend a guest, and the CIA and its machinations cannot hold a candle to the stealth with which Mother Nature infiltrates the human heart and will one day bring down all the tarnished edifices of power. 78. ‘I’ve turned over a new leaf,’ said Abbotsleigh rather sheepishly. We did not suspect that he was capable of using a metaphor and presumed he had been face down on the lawn from the effects of datura or somesuch and merely inspecting a piece of vegetation. It turned out, however, his news was startling. ‘I have given up alcohol and drugs,’ Abbotsleigh continued. Once the general merriment subsided, Abbotsleigh pressed on, grasping the lapel of his rather crumpled suit to steady his nerves. ‘No, chaps, it’s true. From this day on the strongest stimulant to pass my lips will be a cup of Earl Grey.’ Sanders the butler coughed discreetly and said, ‘Of course Sir realises he has a three month period of probation in which to contend with his abstemiousness before, as the club rules state, Sir must be expelled.’ It is the raison d’etre of the club to boldly explore the frontiers of debauchery and it just so happens that drugs and alcohol provide necessary fuel in that endeavour. On occasion the gentle hills of Myocum have shook as the chaps have launched headlong into a decadent adventure driven by absinthe, peyote and the sting
of Bizzy Lizzy’s all-too-accurate whip, or some other powerful admixture of catalysts. To seal your mind against them is to not be a club member at all. Indeed, at the moment Abbotsleigh made his troubling announcement, a number of us, under the influence of hashish, were lying trussed in the Japanese fashion in fine black cotton on the deck, under the club’s dominatrix’s threat of dire punishment should we accidentally break our bonds, while valets with horsehair whisks kept insects away from our helpless persons, a part of our brains conscious of the 1979 incident in which Aloysius Gravytrain suffered an attack by a burrowing beetle in a rather unfortunate crevice. ‘So old chap,’ said Bosworth through lips contorted by cotton thread, ‘What on earth has led you to this sorry decision?’ ‘I have met a lady who does not partake.’ Ah, romance. It can even drive chaps to behaving themselves. The lady in question was Miss Emily Racquetpress, a leading light in the Tyagarah Petitpoint and Pekin Knot Club, who was given to rising at six in the morning, splashing her face with ice water and skipping five miles backwards along the beach. One did not usually associate Abbotsleigh with such refined company – the lasses he met in nightclubs usually knew more about erotic lubricants than needlework. Nevertheless, love exercised its hypnotic charms and one of our more athletic valets reported Abbotsleigh puffing backwards along the seashore at an ungodly hour. Naturally we took bets as to how long Abbotsleigh’s temperance would last. Tosser Digby came closest to the mark with 42 days. A tearful Abbotsleigh relayed that Miss Racquetpress had broken off the affair when he accidentally called out the name of some nightclub doxy in a moment of passion. ‘Chap has trouble remembering who’s who, let alone what’s what,’ sighed the crestfallen suitor. We consoled him with a fine beaker of Kellogg Brown & Root Armageddon Shiraz 2002 and after the third bottle Abbotsleigh concluded, along with the rest of us, that sobriety has its place but that place is not in the clubhouse. 79. We were ‘mucking about in boats’, as Kenneth Grahame would have it. More specifically, we had the restored African Queen, from the 1951 moving picture of the same name, out in the Bay near Middle Reef and we were dangling lines languorously. Tosser Digby had salvaged the remains of the tramp steamer from five fathoms off the Florida keys and had it lovingly restored to its former squalor. Likewise in the tradition of the steamer’s captain Charlie Allnut, played by Humphrey Bogart, we were putting away gin at a solid rate, though combined with tonic water in elegant glasses. There was noone to play Katherine Hepburn’s morally uplifting evangelical role, but we imagined in the distance a parish priest urging his flock on to greater effort for the lamington drive. Abbotsleigh, the duffer, had a 12 pound line attached to his big toe, and almost lost said toe overboard and the rest of the anatomy attached when a mighty tug came upon it from a piscatorial personage. It took four of us to prevent Abbotsleigh’s dunking and to haul back. It was a wonder the line held at all when we saw the catch we landed. It was a coelacanth, terribly unseasonable for these waters, to the point of being unknown. As you will recall, the coelacanth is a mighty fish, overendowed with fins, which left its autograph in the fossil record from around 360 million to 80 million years ago, when it did a bunk, much to the confusion of fossil chappies. It was believed extinct until 1938 when Hendrik Goosen, captain of the Nerine, trawled one aboard off the mouth of the Chalumna River near the port of East London, South Africa. The captain presented the specimen to Miss Marjorie Courtenay Latimer of the local museum. Eventually the fish was named (Latimeria chalumnae) in honour of Miss Courtney-Latimer who, incidentally, lived to the embalmable age of 97, finally expiring in 2004 after a long and saucy correspondence with our chap Bosworth, who had courted her in the 1950s.
It was later that a population of the ‘living fossil’ was discovered off the Comoros Islands, between Africa and Madagascar. Our fossil was no longer living and in any case would have been pining for its confreres if it had drifted all the way from the Indian Ocean. We found safe harbour at Brunswick Heads and threw the brute onto the back of a Bentley truck. Back at the Myocum Clubhouse Chef, inspired by an inebriated discussion of cooking with wine with the divine Miss Cosford, created Steamed Coelacanth Au Chardonnay. You will need olive oil, onions, basil, crushed tomatoes, garlic, fish stock, zucchini, coelacanth fillets and a decent slug of Belongil Solid Gold Sand Lobe Chardonnay. If you don’t have a coelacanth hanging about the house, any other firm white steamable fish will do. Warm up a sauté pan over medium heat, add oil, chuck in chopped onion and garlic and allow to go clear. Add the chardonnay and allow to boil for about one minute to burn off the alcohol (dashed shame, what, but that’s cuisine for you). Add the fish stock and tomatoes and return to a boil. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips and add to the boiling sauce. Season fillets with salt and pepper. Lay on top of sauce and cover. Steam for five to seven minutes depending on thickness of fish. Place fillets in shallow bowl, dividing the sauce between the bowls. Decorate with whatever green vegetation strikes your fancy and your taste. You might also care to serve this over rice and definitely with large lashings of unneutralised chardonnay. ‘Who’da thought a chap’s big toe could be so useful?’ said Abbotsleigh between mouthfuls of coelacanth. We could do naught but agree and toasted his prowess at ‘toeing the line’ but doubted it was about to become a practice with the local fishing club. 80. Chef had had his ingenious way with a phalanx of echidna, roasted and laid on a bed of sequestered couscous and accompanied by a side dish of asparagus and fennel lightly drizzled with a secret hollandaise his grandmother had winkled out of the great chef Gaston Fromage, who had been Mata Hari’s childhood sweetheart. Fromage had passed the secret recipe to said grandmother on his deathbed, along with the collection of antique nipple clamps from which they had derived so much pleasure. Once the valets had issued the spine forceps so necessary for the more difficult parts of the monotreme, they poured each of us a glass of the 1974 Cyclone Havoc Cabernet Viognier, particularly pleasing for its afterpalate of disturbed sand and shattered mansions. ‘To Mr Packer,’ said Bosworth, raising a glass to the barely departed gambling magnate. For a loan of ten million, Bosworth once had the pleasure of cleaning Mr Packer’s polo footwear with the bottled spittle of Kings College choirboys. This was before the Bosworth ship came in, as it were, and he made a killing in selling bribery techniques and small arms to the Australian Wheat Board. We all joined in the toast, some more enthusiastically than others, some grudgingly admitting to themselves that if it weren’t for Mr Packer’s celebrated negotiation skills – which did not involve the rack and the bastinado as often as commonly supposed – they would not have been fully blooded in the ways of rampant capitalism, or known how to acquire a television network for a song from the fiscally confused. ‘It was fitting the people paid for his memorial service,’ said Abbotsleigh, dropping a spine painfully into his lap. ‘The family was distressed enough as it was without having to deal with such matters. Every time I see the common chaps arrayed in front of poker machines, their eyes gleaming from the reflected light of digitally spinning fruit, I remember how much joy Mr Packer brought into the world.’ ‘Yes,’ said Tosser Digby, insouciantly pegging with his 9mm Beretta a dachshund 200 metres away in the truffle paddock, ‘one must not also forget the joy of being able to watch highly paid sportspeople with foul mouths and unhealthy mobile phone habits niggle the unfortunate from other continents in a game which I believe was once known as cricket.’ By this time the absinthe ice cream, garnished with Kylie Minoque’s Moulin Rouge Shredded Chocolate and novelty mints moulded from Condoleeza Rice’s left nipple, had arrived. The valets also set to stoking up the hookahs.
‘It was wonderful to see Russell Crowe there,’ said Bosworth, ‘and that other great Australian, Tom Cruise.’ ‘There is nothing like the presence of great actors to lend dignity to a service,’ said Frogmorton, who trod the boards as a youth but regretfully never played the Dane. ‘Mr Crowe epitomises the common Aussie millionaire who likes to play the gladiator now and then and Mr Cruise’s connection with Scientology, which brought the manipulation of tin cans to new heights, resonates with the seeker of truth in all of us.’ ‘Went looking for truth once,’ mumbled Abbotsleigh, the contents of his hookah beginning to take effect, ‘found instead Mrs Lascivia Throttleneck’s Palace of Water Sports. Close enough, I thought.’ ‘Do you think it is all dark after death, as Mr Packer proposed?’ Frogmorton inquired of the assembled company. ‘Not at all,’ said Tosser Digby. ‘I was once hired by a Tanzanian shaman to help hunt down a particularly vexatious demon in the afterlife and I can assure you it is a world rich in colour and activity, and best of all – ‘ ‘Yes?’ interrupted an anxious Frogmorton. ‘ – there is food.’ 81. Exercise can be a fabulous stimulant to appetite, as long as one does not overdo it. It also dictates what kind of food one can bear afterwards: the rich and fatty would be too overwhelming if one actually has blood pumping through one’s arteries. One day last week exercise hove into view, like a strange pirate ship on a wavering horizon. The plinths in the reading room of the Myocum clubhouse were being replated with 22 carat gold, and the fuss was too much to bear. Besides, the company of chaps can grow stale on the odd occasion and a chap needs to seek out pastures new. With this in mind I had a telephonic exchange with Miss Cynthia Dragonseed, the local organiser of the Desperate and Dateless Ball, and she kindly agreed to reacquaint me with the ancient and venerable art of bushwalking. ‘You will be required to stride out and breathe vigorously, Bitemark old dear,’ said Miss Dragonseed. ‘Of course, dear lass,’ I replied, secretly choking back a hard lump of fear. I took one of the Mercedes from the clubhouse garage and picked up Miss Dragonseed from her weekly poker game at the Filthy Rich Bitch Witch Covenant, a sort of female equivalent of the clubhouse, with a good deal more raucous laughter added. We motored up Coolamon Scenic Drive, pausing momentarily while Council re-engineered a landslip to withstand several bunker busters at once, and thence cruised into the hinterland and its superabundance of trees. The byroads became more corrugated as we headed to Minyon Falls. We passed a brass plaque indicating where a Kombi had disappeared into a pothole for several days and was only found by the Rosebank Speleology Club’s perseverance. At last we parked in the Whian Whian Conservation Area and began our descent from the falls’ top to its base. It was not long before Miss Dragonseed, who once took second place in the Lamington National Park Trudgers Cup, began to disappear from view in front of me, as I ambled along, hoping to recreate the contemplative state of Wordsworth among the Lakes or, better still, Coleridge’s opium-inspired dream before being so rudely interrupted by the man from Porlock. I kept my bearings during the descent by spotting glimpses of Miss Dragonseed’s red Versace dress dashing like a dragonfly between giant eucalypts. I realised with some trepidation that the descent would be the easy part. By this stage a chap was perspiring – Miss Dragonseed remained resolutely radiant – and finding breath at a premium. The scramble over giant boulders to the falls’ base was a sore test for a chap’s ancient joints but the young lady seemed to float over them like that martial arts lass in Crouching Banknote, Hidden Offshore Cur-
rency, or whatever it was called. The view was worth it of course – a delicate veil of water falling from a distant sky, its mist refreshing our upturned faces. We noted the vast stretches of time involved in said water wearing away the rocks at the falls’ base, and marvelled at the pool receiving like begging hands the benediction of the cold spray. The upshot of all this, gentle reader, was a forced march uphill to Minyon Grass and thence back to the carpark, Miss Dragonseed on nimble feet gone from view altogether, my heart beating in my ears like a drum while leeches relieved me of excess blood in my feet. The reward, in the end, was a visit to Club Fed at the Federal general store, a superior establishment by anyone’s standards. Miss Dragonseed ordered the BLT, I the wombat burger, and we toasted our good work with bottles of Coopers Pale Ale. ‘See how good food can taste when you’ve earned it, Bitemark?’ said Miss Dragonseed with a charming twitch of an eyebrow. I could but agree, and made a mental note to organise some more exercise in another year’s time. 82. ‘How do you make extra extra virgin olive oil?’ ‘You use extra extra ugly olives.’ It’s an old joke but it illustrates humankind’s fascination with the cult of beauty and the cult of virginity – or more precisely, the cult of no longer being a virgin. We all succumb to beauty now and then, caught in its bright stare like that of the preying mantis about to devour some hapless bug. Moonlight painting dark trees, a shapely ankle decorated with beads, the small of a back emboldened by a fetishistic tattoo, a wine’s bouquet redolent of capsicum and young lovers rolling in hay, the sweet sound of a croquet mallet whacking a lawyer’s ball into a hopeless position. Then it is in beauty’s definition we become caught, hemmed in by peer opinion and relentless advertising, rather than seeking out the secret radiance which suffuses beauty’s face and finds her hiding in both charnel house and bordello, more so than in the vanilla curves of TV’s Californian nymphets. But that is a topic requiring space far greater than in this little weekly chronicle of debauchery – and incidentally, cuisine. A vast article stuffed with footnotes, studded with enough rhetorical flourishes to make Oscar Wilde puke green vomit in an aesthetically pleasing hue. The matter arose in my mind after watching with the other chaps The Forty Year Old Virgin, a scatological romp laced with sweet insight, in the clubhouse cinema, reconstructed in all its faux rococo glory from Jacque Lempriere’s original 1927 Palais de Lumiere which nestled among the plane trees of the Rue Des Loutres Rouge. Naturally enough after the showing and some palatecleansing tincture of ibogaine, our conversation turned to our own initial carnal exploits. ‘So how did you pop your metaphorical cherry, Abbotsleigh?’ began Bosworth. On the stereotypical scale of beauty Abbotsleigh is about as attractive as a sink strainer but still manages to have Gold Coast nightclub doxies hanging off his neck like slightly tarnished bling. It is not the power of his brain – the organ Dr Gabrielle Morrissey avers is the sexiest in the body – but likewise it is hard to blame it on the Bosa Nova. ‘Well, dear chap,’ replied Abbotsleigh, ‘Pater was a stickler for a formal rather than spontaneous education in these matters, so at 13 I was sent off in the Roller to Mrs Violet Femme’s Academy For Deflowering Young Gentlemen – Douches Extra. I look back on that occasion with great fondness and have been partial to dairy products ever since.’ Of course Tosser Digby’s account was the most colourful: ‘It was a dark night in the underground labyrinth of the Pyramid of Cheops. I was 15 and intent on hunting the fabled satin-winged scarab and failed to notice that the Leopard Woman of Dahshur had lowered herself into the chamber via a secret passage. She fell upon me ravenously, her eyes like red coals. In her wicked ferocity she seemed a hybrid of succubus and my fencing
instructor, which helped.’ At this juncture lunch arrived – Perturbation of Rock Lobster on a rumpled bed of kale, lightly sozzled with sauce paon, accompanied by the 1997 Yelgun Pointless Road Embankment Chardonnay. We toasted to rites of passage and to the empresses of the erotic who had enticed us across the threshold. As for me, gentle reader? It was on Patonga Beach to Miss Donatella Whiteclyffe in a circus tent erected by the local chapter of the Bohemian Existentialists Society. I was a late bloomer at 19 and I still have a search party out looking for my innocence. 83. One of the more unfortunate provisions we accidentally packed for our picnic was the Not Happy Jam, a preserve which seemed constituted chiefly of sour grapes. It had been issued in limited quantities by the Byron Bay Marmalade and Rent Gouging Society, whose aim other than the culinary seemed to be the application of crow bars and coconut oil in order to cram as many paying bodies as possible into the already bulging town. The jam proved inedible and we later consigned it to the munitions cellar for possible inclusion in explosives at the next fireworks night when we cleansed the neighbourhood of chihuahuas - more combustible than comestible. Yes, gentle reader, we left the elegantly comfortable comfort zone of the Myocum clubhouse and ventured out into the wilds for a picnic. Our convoy of black Bentleys took us up into the Mt Jerusalem National Park along the gravel road at the back of Main Arm Upper Upper In Extremis and onto the sleepy little hamlet of Uki, its hostelry marked chiefly by the line of high-powered motorcycles – elegant Ducatis rubbing shoulders with sociopathic Harleys – occupying most of the nearby kerb, and thence to the Border Ranges and the Bar Mountain Picnic Area. Legend has it that the loop walk in the vicinity takes one to panoramic vistas of valleys and underneath moss-bedecked trees of extraordinary proportions but one would need a decent pair of lungs and the calves of Achilles, or at least Brad Pitt, to undertake such a venture. Instead, we had the more muscular Tongan valets clear the picnic ground of riffraff and spread out our damask tablecloths – one particularly fine example was acquired from a descendant of emperor Louis Bonaparte III’s concubine, who used to sleep naked under it inside a gold-plated pyramid – and set to like devoted trenchermen, which indeed we are. Chef had prepared Rack of Dingo with Attenuated Coulis of Feral Apricot, nestled alongside Highly Gingered Tree Frog in a bed of Anxious Spinach, followed by an amusing Aniseed Sorbet lightly dusted with Cocaine. We toasted the great outdoors and its fondness for more oxygen than is strictly necessary with an excellent 1987 Frank Sartor Planning Takeover Cabernet Merlot, its bouquet simply stuffed with grace notes – or is that banknotes? – of hubris, the afterpalate a lingering testament to speculative subdivision cleared block weed fragrances. Among us was Cholmondley Nethergas, who was on secondment from the Moree Mad Toffs Club. He had been wearing a fragile look all morning, like a kitten with its paw stuck in a jar of Vegemite, and finally broached the subject which had been occupying his thoughts. ‘I say, chaps, now that one has reached the tender age of 54, how does one tell if one is prey to - whatchacallit – a midlife crisis?’ ‘Why do you ask, Chummers?’ said Bosworth, who was busy picking dingo from his teeth. ‘It’s just that I’ve started dating a lass nine years younger than me and I wonder if that is a sort of symptom of chronological anxiety, don’t you know. To top it all, I own a red Jaguar XK-120.’ ‘Who doesn’t own a red Jaguar XK-120?’ replied Bosworth. ‘One’s companion needs to be at least 30 years younger, or preferably embryonic, before one is approaching a psychological crisis. That’s according to the Byron Shire Hopeless Old Lechers Tantric Pickup Manual, which is emblazoned with the motto, “You’re only as old as the woman you feel.”’ The conversation degenerated from there, and I wandered off to one side to privately toast lost youth. Time’s
winged chariot hurries near, as the eminent politician Andrew Marvell once noted, and nothing will stay it from leaving deep wheel marks across one’s back. In the brief moment of existential grace which is the only glory life gives to us, I wrestled with a grass tick for possession of my forearm, and won out by drowning it in a wicked bead of absinthe. 84. Given the time of the year we were musing post-prandially over a crate of Cantaluppi Transubtantiation Pinot Noir sent on to us with the compliments of the manager of Pope Benedict’s summer estate. It was the colour of a cardinal’s robe and very fruity on the nose. ‘It is amazing that one man’s pronouncements should have caused such a furore over the centuries,’ remarked Bosworth, swilling enthusiastically. ‘Not so much his pronouncements but the rabid interpretations thereof, I would have thought,’ I said. ‘A chap fails to see how the Crusades or the Inquisition were a reasonable application of “love your neighbour”.’ ‘Most important question though, Bitemark,’ muttered Abbotsleigh, accidentally stubbing out his cheroot on the Clubhouse ocelot, ‘is what the chaps were eating at the Last Supper. Chap can’t really claim his corporeal state has a metaphysical reality without a good meal under the belt or at least a peyote snifter.’ ‘Been doing a bit of research on this,’ offered Wiltloof, who was also regarded as an expert on the lesser incarnations of Vishnu, including Eknath the Unready. ‘We cannot claim with certainty what the thirteen chaps were hoeing into but one would expect unleavened bread, a nice pitcher of wine – certainly not the nonalcoholic grape juice pushed by the revisionists – and given the time of the year, fresh fruit, green almonds and walnuts, and fresh herbs such as rosemary and thyme. ‘Each of the trenchermen would have brought their own knife to cut up the roast lamb offered to the homeowner’s highly valued guest. There were no napkins or forks – which were not generally used in the region until the seventh century AD – and servants would have offered bowls of water to clean fingers. One would guess the meal started with a vegetable soup.’ ‘Pretty simple stuff, what?’ said Abbotsleigh, who had recovered from the mauling given him by the aggrieved ocelot. ‘Not a cheese in sight.’ ‘Do you think the chaps got sloshed?’ asked Bosworth. ‘Undoubtedly, given the political tensions of the time,’ I ventured. ‘A chap would have good cause to throw back three glasses during the course of that meal. The Nazarene was not abstemious, I’d wager.’ ‘Shame the Beatitudes didn’t include a testimonial for cuisine,’ said Tosser Digby, who had just returned from ridding the truffle paddock of pomeranians. ‘One would expect a “Blessed are the pizzamakers” at least.’ Sanders the butler glided into the room. ‘Sirs should be advised that the valets have scattered the pagan symbols of fertility among the shrubbery in the Courtyard of Eostre.’ We leapt to our feet like schoolboys on the trail of a new Gameboy. The handmaidens of Eostre had also assembled in the courtyard, clad in the ritual leather garments and each bearing a scourge of willow, ready to assist us in the transcendental pursuit of the egg and the dark goddess of rebirth. New gods come along at regular intervals to dizzy the minds of the masses, don’t you know, but the seasons hold their secrets from the beginning of time and whisper their arcane knowledge to the blood and brain of the initiate. 85. Feltmallard, the chauffeur and a keen amateur mechanic, had been loitering in one of the clubhouse garages of an evening. From it came an odd assortment of noises varying from the whine of a power drill to the sound
of ballpeen hammer on metal. We had had to have the valets insulate the walls of the building with Armani mattresses acquired from a Double Bay deceased estate so we could hallucinate in our float tanks in perfect silence. ‘What the deuce is that fellow doing in there?’ asked Bosworth of Sanders the butler one evening as we settled with our snifters of brandy in the Hunter S Thompson Memorial Quoits Room. ‘Sounds like he’s building one of Heath Robinson’s infernal contraptions.’ ‘I can explain all,’ said Tosser Digby. He had spent most of the day devising cunning rope traps in the truffle paddock for a particularly persistent Dalmatian which so far had escaped the bullet. ‘One afternoon, under the influence of a hashish cheroot, I was pondering the phrase “transports of delight”. Of course it refers to transports of a sensual or metaphysical nature but I wondered if one could construct a vehicle which would have the same effect. More so than a Bugatti, that is. And thanks to Feltmallard’s good offices, working most devotedly from my highly detailed plans, said transport will be ready to try out tomorrow.’ Digby was as good as his word. He had bribed the RTA to close off the St Helena hill and divert the highway traffic through Byron Bay, which seemed to make little difference to the town’s ambience. We assembled at the top of the hill, looking down on the magnificent view which immediately engenders a sense of homecoming in the ardent Shire resident. A grease-streaked Feltmallard beamed proudly at his creation, which resembled a bronze lipstick container on wire-spoked rubber wheels, and which Digby had christened Eros. A filigreed silver dolphin fin protruded for effect from behind the driver’s seat. ‘There is no motor,’ explained Digby, ‘which is why we need this hill. Gravity drives not only the wheels but the various devices which make Eros special and exhilarating. A system of flywheels and levers ensures the correct insertion of the cranial and orificial probes, along with the application of the body-length rubber massage mallets. A further arrangement of hydraulic gears ensures both the vehicle and the driver are regularly lubricated with canola oil. A parachute will open when it hits the tripwire near the Myocum overpass.’ ‘But is it safe?’ asked Postmarker. ‘Nothing is safe,’ replied Digby. ‘Your toaster could kill you.’ ‘I remember a particularly nasty toaster on the Zambezi… ‘ began Bosworth, but we managed to get the hypodermic in before he could go further. We took a ballot and Abbotsleigh was selected as the test pilot, bribed into acquiescence by the promise of a night with Miss Trixie Shovelbliss of Gold Coast nightclub fame. The naked pilot inserted, Feltmallard had the honour of shoving Eros into motion. By the time Abbotsleigh hit the 60 zone, the LCD counter by the roadside was reading 83. To the outside observer his trip was relatively uneventful, apart from bouncing off the wire restrainers once or twice and swerving to avoid a duck. Once the journey had ended, to the cheering of hitchhikers stranded on the overpass, we carefully extricated Abbotsleigh from the vehicle. Digby’s hypothesis had proven correct: our pilot was the consistency and colour of oiled blanched asparagus, and his eyes were filled with transcendental visions of delight. We wrapped him in lavender-scented cheesecloth and left him in the infirmary, where he took a week to recover with the assistance of Nurse’s tender ministrations. We resolved to use Eros only on important ritual occasions and rewarded Feltmallard with a small island in the Caribbean. ‘Well done, Digby,’ said Bosworth, who by then had recovered from the ibogaine. We were sitting in the study celebrating with the Hayters Hill Goatcrusher Merlot. Feltmallard was once again back in the garage, lovingly polishing the already gleaming metal of Eros. 86. On a pleasant Sunday I borrowed Tosser Digby’s Bugatti T41 Royale, with its modest eight cylinder, 12.8 litre engine, and took it for a leisurely spin in the countryside. Turning into Wilsons Creek Road from the golf course end, I happened upon a gaunt gentleman of about 60 with white hair flowing over his yellow cheesecloth
shirt. His spindly legs were encased in a pair of blue 1972 Amco bell bottoms, embroidered with dragonflies and butterflies and the knees darkened by what looked like crankcase oil stains. He held out a thin arm in one of the acceptable variations on the universal signal of the hitchhiker. I hesitated to stop, fearing I would be in the grip of some Ancient Mariner who would waffle on at length on a topic completely devoid of interest, but the remaining shard of my sense of compassion won out. ‘Thanks man, nice car,’ he said as he climbed into the front passenger seat, bringing with him the pungent aroma of cannabis sativa mingled with nicotinia rustica, beer and stale sweat. ‘My pleasure, dear chap,’ I said. ‘Where may I take you?’ ‘Tenth crossing would be far out. Name’s Artemis.’ ‘Bitemark. Returning home?’ ‘Yeah, caught a band at the Bruns. Cool, but miss the bush.’ ‘You are involved in one of the agrarian pursuits then?’ ‘Huh? Philosophy’s my bag, you dig, getting back to enlightenment and stuff.’ ‘And what would be the exact nature of the stuff?’ ‘You know, being one with, like, nature, and experiencing universal love.’ ‘Which part of nature, precisely, the red in tooth and claw or the infinite void of space?’ Artemis looked at me quizzically, as if I might be a scorpion which had crawled uninvited into his sleeping bag. I declined to tease him further and allowed him to tell his story in peace. He was a member of the Returned Stoners League, and had survived the Lebanese Hashish of Strathfield in 1969, the Aquarius Festival of 1973 and the Main Arm Raids of 1983. His life and thought processes had pretty much stood still since then but he had a gentle nature and after we reached the tenth crossing I surprised myself by accepting an invitation to his home. Home was reached via a dirt track overarched by a profusion of flowering lantana, its coarse branches decorated here and there with faded Tibetan prayer flags. At the end of said track we came upon a faded canvas tipi with an incongruous annexure of a tin and weatherboard humpy. The interior decor was sparse, to say the least, consisting mostly of Artemis’s sagging camp stretcher and a rickety table. ‘Um, man, I’ve got a bottle of beer somewhere and some chokos out the back we can boil up, and we can always roll a number,’ offered Artemis. It was not quite the haute cuisine I was used to. I assured Artemis that, as grateful for his kindness as I was, his efforts were not necessary and I fetched from the Bugatti a picnic basket Chef had made up in case I became peckish. Artemis’s eyes lit up like a schoolboy’s in a chocolate shop as I unpacked the provender. We began with spring rolls and a chili salsa and moved on to the roast duck sandwiches accompanied by Lot 107 Contretemps Chablis with its rich afterpalate of smacked leather. It is safe to say that lunch was a part of nature that Artemis enjoyed merging with – if his cries of ‘Wow!’ were anything to go by – and may have led to a further step on the steep incline to ‘enlightenment and stuff ’. 87. ‘Sanders, are we right to attribute the sandwich to the 18th century earl John Montagu?’ asked Bosworth, himself inserting another slice of ham into his bread-and-meat concoction. ‘Hardly, sir,’ replied the knowledgeable butler. ‘It is merely the predominance of the British empire then and in subsequent centuries which gave his name such prominence in relation to this popular comestible. We
could go as far back as the first century BC rabbi Hillel the Elder, who reputedly began the Passover custom of sandwiching ingredients between two matzohs. The filling had greater religious than culinary significance.’ ‘Ancestor of mine knew Montagu,’ chipped in Toggleneck. ‘The earl was well known for his corruption when in charge of the navy but family reports suggest he also had a dungeon full of badgers bred for unseemly purposes.’ ‘The sandwich was around before Sandwich,’ I said. ‘It was generally known as bread and meat or bread and cheese. ‘The first written record of the word “sandwich” comes in the work of the distinguished Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He comments on the wealthy dining on sandwiches in the Cocoa Tree, a coffee room in St James’s Street. ‘Sandwich himself dined on salt beef between two slices of toasted bread while playing cards. Not as appetising as something Chef might serve up.’ ‘Sir may also recall that the original attribution of the invention of the sandwich to the earl was in Grosley’s Tour to London,’ said Sanders. Here the butler quoted verbatim: ‘”A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London: it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.”’ ‘Gossip by a travel writer,’ said Bosworth. ‘Hardly credible, I suppose.’ As every schoolchild knows, the sandwich was introduced to America by Englishwoman Elizabeth Leslie in 1840. In her cookbook, Directions for Cookery, she has a recipe for ham sandwiches as a main dish. It was in the 1900s, with the invention of pre-sliced bread, that the sandwich took on its inevitable popularity, especially with harried mothers. ‘Tried an absinthe sandwich once,’ said Abbotsleigh, arousing himself from slumber. ‘Fortunately the thick bread retained the liquid. Fell into a trance, don’t you know, and had visions of Josephine Baker playing lawn bowls with Frida Kahlo. Most disturbing.’ It was a logical conclusion to the discussion, so we moved into the Charles Bukowski Memorial Cellar for a round of Byron Bay Stormworks Troubling Inundation Pinot Noir, peppered by a hint of capsicum and salty blocked drain. 88. ‘I say, Abbotsleigh,’ asked Bosworth while stoking up the bronze hookah handed down from Hassan ibn Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, ‘have the tax cuts in the budget made much difference to you?’ ‘Tax?’ ‘It’s the part of your income you give to the government each year.’ ‘Can’t say I’ve ever paid it, old boy. My accountant in the Bahamas doesn’t believe in it.’ It was the Mothers Day Sunday, and we were sitting on the deck at the Myocum clubhouse, resting after a splendid repast prepared by Chef. We looked down to the Tyagarah airfield, where a trio of young lovers, in true D H Lawrence style, was copulating in the grass alongside the runway, no doubt enjoying the frisson of possible discovery or squashing. Above in the clear sky, parachutes opened like silken bubbles seemingly suspended in the ether as the enthusiasts hanging from them gave forth with old-fashioned rebel yells or paler New Age ejaculations. Out to sea a yacht skipped among dancing whitecaps, and for a moment one might believe that Mother Nature, the mother of all mothers, was entirely benevolent rather than a callous recycler of sentient beings.
Chef had taken a French theme for lunch, adapting dishes from the renowned chefs of that nation. We began with a coconut and cream soup, the sweetness tempered by onions and leeks, its consistency thickened with potatoes. This was followed by an entrée of asparagus in a hollandaise sauce; marlin with thyme and tomatoes drenched in a white wine; a Bloggers Valley cheddar with raspberries; and thence to a praline ice cream drenched in Grand Marnier. Each dish was accompanied by an appropriate wine from the J Pierpont Morgan Memorial Cellar, and the dessert brought with it a cloyingly sweet Mata Hari Decolletage Spatlese Lexia, a bouquet of crushed innocence and an afterpalate of brimstone. As the contents of the hookah took effect and we nursed our snifters of cognac, we exchanged tales of our mothers, most of whom had departed for the elysian fields – or at least an opulent marble sarcophagus in a family crypt. A nostalgic atmosphere pervaded the deck and a tear or two gathered in some chaps’ eyes, especially when Haberdash told how his stepmother had rescued him from the Montmartre Existentialist Detention Centre, where he had been held as a small child for failing to wear his black beret at the correct rakish angle and for allowing his face to break into a smile instead of maintaining the regulation world-weary sneer. And as the afternoon wore on further still, the effects of the 500 micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide I had ingested at breakfast began to kick in. I conceded to myself it might have been a mistake to have lunch but I managed to weather the sudden shock of my stomach rumblings sounding like a trumpeting herd of elephants. That past, the magnificent strangler fig below the truffle paddock uprooted itself from the ground and strolled insouciantly to the deck, the passage of its limbs marked by an iridescent blue afterglow. It looked down upon me – of course the other chaps were oblivious to this phenomenon – and the beaming face of Aldous Huxley loomed out from each of its purple leaves. I waited for an oracular pronouncement. ‘I say,’ said one of the vegetablised Huxleys, ‘pass me that digestive biscuit, would you?’ When Huxley took the proffered Gentleman’s Favourite Ginger Digestive, it transformed in his hand into a golden tablet decorated with the sigil of the Sorceress of Stokers Siding, an echidna surmounted by a raven’s feather. Huxley ate it, and in an explosion which was more subatomically metaphysical than part of one’s quotidian his face burst open with a thwump! like a parachute, which, of course, was what I was actually observing. 89. I had forebodings about my trip to Santorini with Abbotsleigh and unfortunately they proved correct. We climbed the ladder to the Club’s mauve and black dirigible, moored above Myocum, without incident but I should have been forewarned by the manner in which Abbotsleigh screamed at the passing currawongs. He had been up all night on an ether binge and ether is an unrelenting mistress at the best of times. The only reason I had agreed to the expedition in the first place was that Abbotsleigh’s great aunt Mavis was financing the whole thing and the poor chap wanted moral support. His great aunt loved him dearly and was keen to see him again but she was a formidable woman, making the 1948 London Olympics in a number of small bore rifle events, and Abbotsleigh was sure he would wilt absolutely beneath her stern gaze. There was some peace as Abbotsleigh passed out once boarded. I enjoyed the stunning view over the Pacific as we headed north, savouring a freshly ground coffee made from the butler Sanders’s own small plantation. However trouble hit above Egypt. Abbotsleigh awoke from unconsciousness in a foul and disorientated mood. Before the valets could restrain him he lunged at me and punched me on the arm, apparently under the delusion I was an assassin from MI5. It took several ampoules of ketamine to put him under and it had spoiled the tone of the day utterly. Once moored above Santorini, we plunged a needle of adrenaline into Abbotsleigh’s heart and tided him up for his great aunt’s inspection. We learnt then that ether, ketamine and adrenaline are not the best neighbours in the bloodstream for they reduced Abbotsleigh to a simpering fool – not that it was easy to tell the difference, once must admit. Despite her obvious stern will, Mavis proved charming, greeting us warmly as she picked us up in her red and gold Ermini. Abbotsleigh was nauseatingly sycophantic to his relative, hanging off her every word and
flattering her shamelessly. It made me want to smash plates immediately. Mavis took us for lunch at Ampelos with its gorgeous views from its terrace interlaced with bougainvillea. We began with tomato keftades and fava followed by grilled orata with capers. We toasted each other’s health with a few bottles of Paterson Hill Writers Ghetto Chablis which Mavis had flown in especially to make us feel at home. Yes, I should have known: ether, ketamine, adrenaline and chablis was a troubling combination for Abbotsleigh. He began to dance with one of the waitresses, a striking raven-haired beauty of Amazon proportions, who towered over our chap. ‘He’s hanging off her shoulders as if they were lovers,’ sniffed Mavis, ‘a faux pas to the nth degree.’ The waitress freed herself gracefully and effortlessly from Abbotsleigh’s grasp and he fell to the terrace floor like a sack of potatoes, spilling out his mobile phone, gold watch, gold pen and emergency hypnotist’s pendulum from his person. The maitre d’ raced to Mavis’s side to console her but great aunt would have nothing of his solicitations, knowing the fault was entirely her great nephew’s. She tipped the waitress $200 for her inconvenience, threw Abbotsleigh over her shoulder in a fireman’s hold and thence deposited him unceremoniously in the back of her Ermini. She drove at breakneck pace to her villa, me clinging desperately to the door handle. Her valets bundled our chap out of the sports car and conveyed him to a deep bath, decorated with a mosaic of Neptune in congress with a mermaid. Mavis had it filled to the brim with a mixture of water, epsom salts and rosemary, while a special restraining device fitted under Abbotsleigh’s chin prevented him from drowning. ‘My apologies for Abby’s behaviour, Mr Bitemark,’ the great aunt said as we settled in the drawing room with a glass of vinsanto. ‘I had intended for your excursion to be pleasurable.’ ‘Not at all, dear lady,’ I replied, ‘the fault is mine. I should have had the ether extracted from his system before we embarked.’ 90. It was our great pleasure to provide the wherewithal for The Echo’s after-party following their modest little affair at the Bangalow A&I Hall. We held it in the games room in the southern wing of the Myocum clubhouse, usually the site of the indoor polo field complete with robot ponies - the real ones would play havoc with the huon pine sprung floor. We had the valets bring in the dining tables salvaged from the Titanic and load them liberally with bowls of the best Beluga, magnums of Krug Grand Cuvée and wompoo pigeon on a stick. The eyes of the Echo staffers widened in delight as they saw provisions more exotic than their usual lettuce sandwich and $4.95 bottle of Drudge’s Claret. In addition, we provided each staffer with a gift pack of entheogens – which they had to retrieve from the decolletage of an inverted saltinbanque hanging from a black leather crescent moon – as they entered the games room. Noted shire artist and ropeologist Peter King had also rigged up within thick hemp bonds a small neutron star from the ceiling, and it proved considerably more illuminating than the usual disco ball, but unfortunately set off a seizure in the third violin for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, which we had hired for the night. Mr King would not divulge his means of obtaining the stellar object but would only say a significant deal was struck between an Afghanistan war lord, a toucan and a representative of a nearby galaxy. One end of the room had been lined with purple neoprene which the valets had coated liberally with La Romita olive oil. Several of the Echo male principals agreed to Miss Bizzy Lizzy, the club’s dominatrix-on-call, chaining them to metal rings fitted into the wall. She had bought a new five-strand walrus leather flogger especially for the occasion and applied it with a dexterity not seen since Shane Warne exhibited his in-swinger to a bevy of flight attendants while simultaneously texting the Bolton Twins and balancing a VB on his quadriceps. Several of the journalist chappies, after being revived, noted that the humiliation and consequent inrush of endorphins was almost as much fun as writing an obituary for a senior Liberal. For the staffers of the female persuasion we had set up a discreet rendezvous with the brooding, doe-eyed male tumblers of Cirque de Soleil.
Of course we also catered for same sex, transgender and indifferent tastes. In the end it was the entheogens which garnered the most cries of approbation, several staffers enjoying a simultaneous telepathic vision of the Wild God of the Billinudgel Train Tunnel accompanied by the Wombat of Desire. We were greatly impressed with the Echo staffers’ behaviour, if not the bad cut of their hired dress suits. Abbotsleigh noted he had not seen such animated debauchery since Rita Hayworth had performed a mime version of ‘120 Days of Sodom’ for Orson Welles on his private yacht off the coast of Thessaloniki. ‘I’d like to thank you all for your splendid hospitality,’ said Mr Lovejoy, the newspaper’s publisher, as the sun breached the curtain of night and he reclined languorously on a living sofa of compositors. ‘It is nice to occasionally visit the sphere of the filthy rich, while of course maintaining one’s socialist principles. We do share, I think you would agree, a certain libertarian philosophy which is apt to cross over to libertinism.’ ‘Think nothing of it, dear chap,’ said Tosser Digby, bagging a stray shi tzu in the truffle paddock while sighting backwards in a shaving mirror. ‘We’re always happy to entertain the Fourth Estate, as long as it’s not that dreadful Murdoch chap.’ 91. ‘Dragged Down By A Mermaid To The Bottom Of The Sea’ was the theme of Chef ’s lunch for Iceland’s national day, which we celebrated last Saturday in tribute to the nation’s high levels of literacy and spas. The main dish was a grilled eastern cod drowned under a bowl of blue aspic, accompanied by Sailor’s Lament Sea Siren Semillon, which Chef had found in an obscure little market on the Cornish coast. It was of some concern that Chef had started to give themes to his meals. As all gourmands know, chefs are highly strung artistes (‘should be highly strung,’ muttered Bosworth) or just plain emotionally unstable, but our Chef had been a pillar of reliability for many years. We thought at first he might have been annoyed that we had never bothered to learn his name but Sanders the butler, who was counselling the poor chap, assured us it was something to do with the fairer sex. ‘What, Swedes?’ asked Abbotsleigh, shifting another half litre of semillon to the back of this throat. His question duly ignored, we went on to learn in a letter of apology from Chef for the standard of his béchamel that day (which we thought superb) that: ‘A young lady has smote my heart and then broken it most cruelly. In all aspects wicked mermaidlike, she dragged my poor bleeding organ to the bottom of the sea of despair, where it now lies abandoned among depressed periwinkles and suicidal lobsters.’ It was probably more information than we needed, especially in such an archaic style. The only bleeding organs we were interested in were the ones of recently deceased mammals about to be thrown on an open grill. ‘Met a mermaid once,’ said Bosworth. ‘Not up the Zambesi, I hope,’ said Tosser Digby, reaching for a stun gun he kept in his corduroys for such occasions. ‘No, it was in Cornwall as a matter of fact,’ continued Bosworth, ‘near the little village of Zennor. She was sitting upon a rock, watching her beautiful reflection in the sea and combing her long auburn hair. I thought she would swim away upon my arrival but instead calmly turned to greet me. ‘”Who are you?” she said, gazing at me with eyes which told of a thousand wild storms and the full moon on a night sea dark with the romance of poetry – ‘ ‘Steady on,’ said Abbotsleigh, falling into a swoon. ‘”I am Bosworth,” I said, inducing in her a silvery laugh at my expense. She then told me she was Morveren, the breaker of hearts and the wrecker of ships. Needless to say she broke my heart, too, in ways which would be too emotionally evocative to go into here, so I had some sympathy for our Chef chappy, though one suspects his condition is brought about by an all-too-human lass.’
‘Not all mermaids are heartless,’ said Digby reflectively. ‘The Mermaid of Brunswick Heads used to rescue trawlermen from the rocks and handed out pretty shells to children by the seaside. It was a shame she swam away to the Sargasso Sea in search of a seaweed chemise.’ 92. Inspired by Harry Kewell saving Australia’s bacon against Croatia after some rubbish goalkeeping by our chap, we took to the truffle paddock in a scratch game of Billionaires v Servants. Sanders the butler, the servant side’s captain, graciously allowed us unlimited substitution, knowing full well that some of the club members had the aerobic capacity of an emphysemic vole. Chef handed round dry vodka martinis five minutes before kickoff and then took to the field as the servants’ goalkeeper. His height and huge hands made him the ideal choice and flipping kippers in a pan had been good for his motor skills. At our end we propped up Bosworth on a hunting stick and equipped him with a butterfly net, which may not be strictly legal but worse things are done in the name of a little tax evasion. Unless chinless wonders with all their wealth inherited from entrepreneurial forebears, billionaires do not become billionaires without exercising a fair amount of guile and ruthlessness. This was to our advantage. What militated against us was a complete lack of match fitness, not to mention health in general, and only the resident adventurer Tosser Digby was likely to last out the ninety minutes. The servants knew this of course and for the first fifteen minutes played a two-two-six combination, the six in the back, in order to hold us out until we ran out of puff, or amphetamines, or both. Even promises of two weeks in the Bahamas failed to persuade Maradona the gardener, who we believe had played for some South American country, to throw the match. Abbotsleigh insisted on being a striker so that he did not have to take the ball up the field. He set up a wicker chair just outside the penalty box and sat resolutely in it, downing a snifter of brandy and thumbing through a copy of Field And Stream. He ignored our protests as he was caught offside on the two occasions we pushed past halfway. Then on the third time, mirabile dictu - a pass by Hamstring-Worthington bounced off Abbotsleigh’s foot (onside this time) as he stretched and caught Chef off guard. The chap dived to save too late and the ball dribbled into the back of the net. Seventeen minutes had passed, and we were ahead one nil! For the rest of the half we tripped and blocked with walking sticks and grabbed hold of guernseys like our lives depended on it, and held out the determined servants, despite Bosworth abandoning the goalmouth for ten minutes to admire a particularly fetching specimen of Nabokovia ada with prominent lunules. At half time we had exhausted more than half of the available substitutes but still exalted in our narrow lead. We fell to luncheon with enthusiasm, especially enjoying the pan-fried bilby in riberry jus, accompanied by the Suffolk Park Illegal Beach Access Semillon Blanc with its hint of hubris and overstuffed wallet. We were a little unnerved to learn that there would be no afternoon nap following luncheon and that we had to return to the paddock only two hours after coming off. When the whistle blew to restart the game, we realised we had run out of puff. We changed to an eight-oneone formation, Abbotsleigh the lone figure refusing to budge from his comfortable chair. A clearance from Bosworth bounced off Abbotsleigh’s head and we thought for a moment it might put us two in front but Chef was onto it. And then the floodgates opened. By knocking down and winding our backline like a bunch of superannuated skittles with hard balls, the servants’ midfielders carved out a space for their strikers, who hammered home twenty-seven goals in short order. It was a fearful loss. ‘Sirs will excuse us for winning,’ said Sanders, almost failing to suppress a jubilant smile. We forgave the chaps for their impertinence of course and gave them the rest of the week off, calling in substitutes from Mrs Nancy Martinet’s College Of Faithful Retainers. 93. I was in bed with my catamite on my 65th birthday when Sanders announced - no, not, really, just a tip of the lid to Anthony Burgess.
I sat on the clubhouse deck on my 65th birthday, nursing my third breakfast absinthe, and stared down to the airport at Tyagarah. The poem written by Judith Wright on her fiftieth birthday sprang effortlessly to mind: dark, bitter, neutral, clean, sober as morning – to all I’ve seen and known – to this new sun. She was raising a cup of coffee to the day, otherwise it might have been ‘green, mysterious, milky, biting/ sharp as glass – ‘ etcetera. Cattle egrets – they might well have been Judith Wright’s ‘lovely past believing’ – wheeled round a paperbark. The neighbour’s dog barked at its shadow. Valets cleared away the cobwebs of the night and swept the morning leaves from the deck. A masked fantail picked bugs from the air and chattered. From a head stuffed full of literary references I might have plucked any clever line to support a chap in his perception of the passing of time and the insights it is sometimes purported to bring. Liberation from literary references might be one of them – to see an egret as solely a shining bird without any nod of the head to Wright, or heaven in a wild flower, to quote Blake. Damn! ‘Sir will forgive me for remembering your birthday,’ said Sanders the butler, gently depositing a tray of food on the table beside me. ‘Chef sends this little offering with his heartiest felicitations.’ ‘Most kind, Sanders, most kind.’ It was what I would have ordered for such a day. Scrambled eggs with parmesan mixed into them and a garnish of chopped shallots, grilled tomatoes, grilled mushrooms (food of the gods!) and a single slice of olive bread crisply toasted and smeared with a little butter. Beside this plate sat a white porcelain cup filled with extra strong black coffee – dark, bitter, neutral, clean, of course. Sanders worked his magic with a pepper grinder and withdrew. The food and the coffee cut across the absinthe’s heady effects, bringing me to the right vantage point for reviewing one’s life, as one does as the hours tick away to the inevitable darkness. It was a life which had begun most spectacularly. Descending over Africa in a wicker basket supported by parachute as my parent’s plane left a burning arc of wreckage through the air. Brought up by the Kalahari bushmen, a people both ineffably kind and harsh, until the age of 12, when a friend of my original family thought I should be sent off for an education when nature red in tooth and claw had given me the most useful education of all. Learning about English literature, its vagaries, delights, and terrors, at Cambridge and a splendid season as outside centre for the Second XV, before being thrown out for setting fire to the bursar’s wig during the annual egg-ducking ceremony. The vast wealth accumulated through intelligent manipulation of the stock market. The fond, but in the end disastrous, adventures with members of the opposite sex, leading to an almost monkish life. The sensitivities of an aesthete, preserved from the harsh world by an outer armour of wit… ‘I say, Bitemark, staring into the distance again?’ said Abbotsleigh as he shambled onto the deck. ‘That looks good,’ he continued, pointing at my plate. ‘Fetch me one, would you, Sanders, topped with a few rashers of bacon.’ The butler snapped his fingers and a valet glided off to do Abbotsleigh’s bidding. ‘Watcha doing, old chap?’ asked Abbotsleigh, plonking himself noisily into a nearby chair. ‘Having deep thoughts, I wager. Tried it once myself, never quite got there.’ ‘Something along those lines,’ I replied. ‘Musing on the passage of time, and so on.’ ‘Chap could go mad doing that, Bitemark, be careful if I were you,’ said Abbotsleigh, and sneezed loudly into
his handkerchief. Thus was the spell of the morning broken. 94. There are few things finer than an old-fashioned funeral. By ‘old-fashioned’ I mean the pomp and circumstance of the Victorian era rather than, say, the keening of ancient Celts around a cairn of stones. So it was with the going hence of Sanders the butler’s mother, Mrs Eugenie Throttlenape Sanders, at the grand age of 113. She was a lady of the old school, who believed that the niceties of etiquette took precedence over affection and raised her son accordingly, so he would be able to tell a salver from a cruet and merely cough disapprovingly at the Massacre of the Innocents. Mrs Sanders lived in modest circumstances, holiday letting her three bedroom house at Belongil to jaded suburbanites while inhabiting the potting shed in the most genteel manner possible. Rather than dint Sanders’s earnings, we all agreed to fund the old dear’s send-off in an appropriate manner. Her bier on an antique wagon, decorated with a thousand dark red roses, was pulled by seven black horses, the lead horse prancing excitedly with the aid of an ostrich feather buttplug. Sanders walked solemnly behind the wagon, his mourning suit entirely free of wrinkles, his visage set like the stone face of the Sphinx. The young lasses of Miss Bizzy Lizzy’s College of Pain walked in front, clad decorously (for a change) in black leather gowns emblazoned with the Sanders family heraldry, a sparrowhawk on an azure field. beneath it the motto, ‘A Sharp Eye Oversees All’. The dominatrixes threw out tiger lilies to those who gawped at the passing procession, occasionally whipping into line one or two who ventured too close. We arrived at the High Church of England of St Nesbit the Surly on the Wold – a breakaway group which refused to recognise the new anglicanism as anything other than tawdry worldliness – which sat upon a wave flecked clifftop buffeted by icy winds even on the warmest days. The valets took Mrs Sanders’s coffin from the wagon and laid her in state at the foot of the altar, behind her the stained glass image of John the Baptist Chastising The Asses, a parable which had inspired her son on the path of service. Altar boys swung richly fragrant censers as if in training for the hammer throw and Mrs Oleander Doilypelmet wrestled with a wheezing organ for a tune as the Reverend Methuselah Stone read prayers, hymns and homilies in a regal voice without once lifting his face to the congregation. Sanders himself intoned the eulogy to his mother, not a hint of emotion troubling his smooth delivery. Once Mrs Sanders had been interred in the hard ground and a white marble angel, courtesy of a quick whiparound in the Macquarie Bank boardroom, raised above her, we adjoined to the Myocum clubhouse for the wake. Sanders inherited from his mother the family owl, Grymthorne, who was believed to be almost as old as the old dame herself. The butler handed it over to Tosser Digby to train and, despite its arthritic wings, it had a grand time harrying stray dogs in the truffle paddock and despatching unlucky mice to the nether world with an insolent toss of its head. Chef had prepared a fine feast of blue wren roulade in a deshabille of crisp fried maidenhair fern, each plate decorated with a fringe of black crepe. We toasted the ancient dame with a Byron Planning Vacuum Cabernet Shiraz, rich in abandoned precedent, whiffs of elderberry and hints of prolonged court case. The valet Hereward MacAdam played a mournful dirge upon the bagpipes. Sanders stood a little apart from the banquet, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings as always. I walked over to him and said, ‘Commiserations, old chap’, and almost laid a consoling hand upon his shoulder. ‘Sir is too kind,’ said Sanders, ‘I must see to the polishing of the silverware’, and quickly left the room. 95. There are few mornings more glorious than a July morning when the sun comes up out of the ocean at Tyagarah and hangs like a Jaffa in the sky while the crows assemble in the highest tree and caw, and among the
bushes the little birds sound like random bells. At the Myocum clubhouse the fragrance of sizzling bacon and hot coffee arises from the kitchen and permeates the upper deck and a chap feels that Pan is in his forest and all’s right with the world. Such is the life of privilege. It was on such a morning a bunch of we chaps tucked ourselves into two stretch Bentleys and tootled up the coast to Tombola’s at Dune, the latest Tweed mega-development to take full advantage of the natural environment by removing it. That aside, we had come for the lunch recommended by Chef, who looked on Tombola’s chief kitchen chap, Francois Buffon Anise, as something of a god. None of that nouvelle flavoured foam muck for him – more your muscular shank of beast given the treatment over a hot flame and splashed with enough spices and chilli to inflame the culinary passions. On the occasion of our visit Monsieur Anise had the waiters drag out Grilled Water Buffalo and Buttered Feral Parsnip surrounded by an Insouciance of Paprika. The meat was so rich and fresh one would could imagine the beast’s eyes had glazed over only moments ago after being shot in the wilds of Kakadu. We sat with our backs to the denuded coastline – having commandeered the deck from the riffraff – and gazed out at the sparkling ocean, where Sanders the butler had parked a sixty foot ketch in case we wanted to go for a bit of a sail later on. Normally we might pick a hearty red to go with the gamey meat but on Tosser Digby’s suggestion we ordered up a dozen bottles of the Brunswick Heads Hubris Caravan Park Takeover Chablis. Its initial presence on the palate was something of a shock, like being slapped in the face with a frozen haddock, but we warmed to its passionfruit overtones, bouquet of trampled asparagus and lingering aftertaste of Gina Lollobrigida’s perfumed silk camisole. The warmth of the day, the strength of the meat and the seductiveness of the chablis conspired to make us a bit silly, and before long Abbotsleigh was throwing bread rolls like a man possessed. It degenerated into a food fight – our Armani jackets were smeared with soft brie, our hair entangled with lemon tabbouli, and a passing seagull almost lost a leg owing to Digby’s accuracy with a breadroll, his aim acquired in Afghanistan with stale unleavened bread in the 1960s, before it was truly fashionable to invade the country. The maitre d’ objected to our hooliganism and Bosworth suggested he might like to sod off and die. It turned out the estate’s developer was on the premises – his eyes exhibiting less goodwill than the deceased buffalo’s – and he remonstrated with us in the truculent schoolboy manner of those with too much money and not enough learning. It was such a beautiful day we didn’t care to be turfed out, so we bought the entire subdivision and continued to imbibe into the early evening, when Sanders had the valets pour us into the vehicles and the chauffeurs transport us happily to chez nous, where Chef was gearing up for the evening feed. As a consequence of our purchase, we decided to convert Dune to littoral rainforest and changed the name of Tombola’s to Sodoff ’s, making it our own private restaurant until Monsier Anise could stand no more of the food fights and departed for Brittany. 96. Chaps thought of heading out to the writers festival but the cyclonic conditions led us instead to hunker down in the drawing room with a roaring fire. Outside the rain beat a violent tattoo on the roof while the eucalypts twisted like demented dervishes in the wind, which itself carried the chilling cry of banshees. Chef fortified our spirits with a splendid lunch of Potoroo Flambé on a bed of Reinforced Ricotta, accompanied by the Carmen Lawrence Fortified Dissenting Opinion Last Gasp Labor Cabernet Sauvignon, with its afterpalate of ennui. ‘No decent writers after Dickens anyway,’ said Abbotsleigh, seeking to justify our decision. We had after all sponsored the much-used Writers And Sycophants Bar and it was considered good form for us to show up. Lemonbureau was totally smitten with the terminally gorgeous Dewi Lestari Simangunsong and had broken ranks to go see her wax lyrical on ‘Women’s fiction: is it about them or for them?’ though he had not read a woman author in his life, other than Enid Blyton in the nursery. ‘Beg to differ,’ I said, spooning up the raspberry sorbet which followed the potoroo. ‘Lots of ‘em. Greene,
Drewe, Armstrong, Nabokov…’ ‘Was once fag to Nabokov’s reserve at Cambridge,’ interrupted Bosworth. ‘Your main chap defended the goal like a demon, which was unexpected in a chap so fond of butterflies and dependent clauses. Young Vlad once nutted the Oxford striker something terrible and made $5,000 from it in a short story for Playboy some 30 years later.’ ‘Can’t go past Rider Haggard,’ said Tosser Digby, the resolute adventurer who had once arm wrestled Hemingway into unconsciousness. ‘Nothing like mucking about with Quartermaine in King Solomon’s Mines.’ ‘Drewe’s all right,’ said Billposter, ‘though he has an unhealthy obsession with water. If he’d wrapped himself around a few more glasses of whisky, odds on his protagonists would have had less psychological problems. Who’s this Armstrong?’ ‘Local lass. Has an obsession for water, too.’ ‘All tish after Dockens,’ insisted Abbotsleigh, who had made a severe dent in the cab sav and his brain cells. ‘Can’t go past Mr Crook catching fire. Best scene ever written.’ ‘Must admit Guppy is a winner,’ chimed in Bosworth. For half an hour the chaps offered up their favourite Dickens eccentrics for general delectation while I mused on Sanders the butler’s little secret – he was also Roger Miles, the highly successful author of the Dirk Riddleme detective series. Sanders wrote in a first person style almost as hard-boiled as Raymond Chandler’s and in distinct contrast to his real personality. Chaps being coshed from behind was not Sanders’s way when a withering stare would do the job just as well. And he’d never dated a dame in fishnet stockings with a seam up the back as far as I knew. After that we began to play a game of Delectable Corpse, based on a Surrealist thingummy, where one writes part of a sentence and hides all of it bar the last word, from whence the next chap must follow on. Most of the resultant story is drivel but one also has brief illuminations, hilarious moments and pleasing anomalies to read. Thus we passed a wet afternoon without resorting to cards, though the spectre of Charades haunted us for a moment. For that we would have invited in Miss Bizzy Lizzy, the club’s dominatrix-on-call, who is a dab hand at mime in black leather. 97. The weekend the Myocum clubhouse was having its crypt drained by noisy pumps – we had burrowed too deep and met the Tyagarah swamp water table – a chap travelled into the countryside for another chap’s birthday. I fired up the Bugatti and my charming consort Lavinia and I headed into the wilds of Mullumbimby Rivulet Upper, where William Wordsworth III, an old school chum, and his good lady wife Lillian, also known as the Princess of Darkness, put on a splendid brunch at their country estate of Necromanica. The Wordsworths were enamoured of the dark arts and their interest manifested in the form of ritualistic hand-thrown pottery and occasionally an odd poltergeist or two in their neighbour’s banana plantation. It should be said that William is no relation to the tepid poet of the Lakes District, which is only to his advantage. After the ritual sacrifice of an eggplant with a sharp sword on a granite altar, we toasted our chap’s good health with a few cases of Krug Brut and orange juice squeezed fresh by Lavinia’s valets from her extensive orchard. By lazy degrees the rest of the revellers arrived – sumi-e artists, senior counsels and gourd wranglers – and we took to the croquet pitch before attacking the food. Under some perverse urge the Wordsworths had set their pitch in a raked white pebble Zen garden studded with boulders and bonzai trees. Progress was difficult, the pebbles checking any momentum with unrelenting severity. Several powerful hits shattered balls against the unyielding rocks, sending shrapnel dangerously close to eyes and wine glasses, and the ultimate act of bastardry, the unfriendly roquet, was rendered useless by the opponent’s mistreated ball travelling a metre away at the most. After an hour of failing to get past the third hoop we agreed to abandon the game, Ditzy Minx
injudiciously kicking the terra cotta image of an ancient gardener in her frustration, releasing a hayfever sprite which plagued her sinuses for the rest of the day. That ordeal done with, we returned to table on the marble terrace overlooking the lake where, it is said, a plesioaur trawls the bottom among the ruins of a drowned monastery. To the strains of the Palmwoods Spliffmeister Chamber Quartet, we tucked into a feast of scrambled eggs au parmesan on grilled olive and thyme bread, sausages made from the Wordsworths’ own pampered porkers, bacon rashers, grilled mushrooms and croissants with cherry jam, accompanied by the Main Arm Village Planning Debacle Cabernet Sauvignon, its bouquet redolent of legal challenges and just a hint of tangelo. The Scandinavian surrealist Thelma Thorsdottir then brought out individual butterfly cakes filled with mescalin-laced macadamia cream and topped with a candle. Most of us successfully lit the candle and sang the requisite ditty to our host but Milo Frankfurt, the import agent, set fire to his silk jacket and had to be hastily extinguished with a magnum of Krug. ‘Joy and survival’ were the themes of the conversation and most of us fell down, some literally, on the side of joy, though it is hard to separate these conjoined twins who so much depend on each other. In asides the senior counsel lamented the difficulty of getting staff to properly detail a Porsche, the hotelier confessed her addiction to daytime TV, and Lillian revealed she had been channelling the spirits of deceased Japanese empresses. ‘Unfortunately,’ she said cryptically, ‘the B-29 is a splendid plane.’ 98. One would hardly think that lemon myrtle leaves, chilli and cream would make a decent sauce, but somehow Chef worked his magic with it and spread it liberally over bow tie pasta. With the addition of mountains of black pepper ground to perfection by well-dressed valets, luncheon was under way and the dreary hiatus after elevenses forgotten. We toasted our good luck and vast wealth with a crate of St Helena Lookout Crippling Vertigo Unwooded Semillon, blessed with a promise of hurtling cranberries and overtones of pumice. It was another splendid day despite the lack of rain. We chaps disported ourselves on the deck of the Myocum clubhouse, watching the Tyagarah glider grind up slowly to the realm of silence and then soar on laughtersilvered wings, as that poem by the fighter pilot chappy has it. Closer to the ground real birds had less trouble with flight: a blue wren chased an unyielding jenny among eucalypt leaves; silvereyes sped like feathered darts; a spangled drongo showed off his shining plumage. Closer still to the ground a stray brown-and-white chicken scratched about and made reassuring clucking noises while pecking half-strangled insects from cobwebs. Tosser Digby had adopted the creature, feeding it scraps of bread from time to time and protecting it from feral cats with accurate throws of his bowie knife. Gladys, he called it, and one had not seen him bestow so much affection on a creature since the death of his rhinoceros Bertrand, named after the co-author of Principia Mathematica rather than the disco music chappy. ‘I say, terrible news about Pluto,’ remarked Bosworth. ‘What, the dear dog died?!’ exclaimed Abbotsleigh, pasta sauce already discolouring the bulging expanse of his white shirt. ‘Don’t the years go by? I suppose we’ll be seeing the last of Mickey soon.’ ‘No, you idiot,’ snarled Bosworth, almost spilling his semillon in frustration, ‘some boffins in white lab coats with biro stains have downgraded the planet Pluto to a “dwarf planet”, whatever that is. The nerve!’ ‘Not all that dwarfish, I would’ve thought,’ said Digby, bringing down a passing Indian Mynah with a bread roll. ‘Big enough to have Charon as its satellite. What’s always intrigued me is how sometimes its perihelion is closer to the sun than Neptune’s – orbits don’t come much more eccentric than that, except perhaps for Abbotsleigh circling a Gold Coast doxy, hoping for attention.’ There was a general chuckle at that, but chaps were still visibly upset that a favourite schoolboy mnemonic would no longer be useful: My Very Elderly Mother Just Sits Up Near Pa. How often had we used that in our adult lives, especially negotiating the vagaries of the futures market? I was perturbed; Pluto seemed to fit precisely the dictionary definition of ‘a celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star’.
‘It is a bit smaller than our moon, about 2,250 kilometres in diameter,’ said Cheesebucket, ‘but one should not trifle so with heavenly bodies named for the god of the underworld. Perhaps these astronomers wish to deny the deep and dark unconscious of their being – that way lies madness, or at least dyspepsia.’ As if on cue, the heavens opened and a smattering of rain drove us indoors, where we broke out the carpet bowls and a kilo of the finest Biskra hashish, smuggled out of Algeria by the remnant Islamic Salvation Postal Service, along with some A grade baklava from Mrs Doris Pestlestop’s Exotic Pastry Factory. As usual, Digby was consistently closest to the jack, while Abbotsleigh, after a few rather overenthusiastic puffs on the hookah, was deep in conversation with a bromeliad in the corner of the games room. 99. Tosser Digby had just gone through his morning wake-up routine of two hours of Japanese water bucket martial arts, leaving three of the valets winded and sweating profusely in their padded jackets. Having completed my workout of a stretch, a yawn and a cup of coffee, I suggested we swan up the coast to see his pater for Fathers Day. ‘Well, Bitemark,’ replied Digby, removing the protective bamboo mask. ‘Two factors militate against it. Firstly, the day is a commercial invention of the damn Yanks, and secondly, it is a dashed sentimental thing to do.’ ‘I would have thought the latter was reason for doing so,’ I said. ‘And you must admit, the old boy keeps a fine cellar.’ Digby was persuaded and I think, too, by the opportunity to ride in my new Audi TT, which I bought chiefly for the fact it beats the Maserati on nought to one hundred by point two of a second, and it came in a rather fetching teal, which is the name of the colour approved by the fashion police when blue-green simply will not do. Having turned off the highway at Sextons Hill we motored into the hinterland until we came to Digby Estate, some 200 hectares landscaped in the old English fashion and bristling with follies, shrines to Greek muses, lakes and demented peacocks. We were shown into the study by Frensham the butler, whose sangfroid almost rivals that of Sanders. Digby senior rose excitedly from his chair and rushed over to his only son, who protected himself with a large bouquet of red carnations. ‘Threw these together for you,’ mumbled Digby junior almost imperceptibly. This was the man who had walked a tightrope across the Abyss of Doom outside of Nairobi while shaving with a cutthroat razor for a varsity bet without a shred of fear. ‘I say, Aloysius, they’re gorgeous!’ exclaimed Mr Digby, a tear forming in his ancient eye. ‘Steady on, no need to blub,’ said a worried son. There is a rebellion from one generation to the next, they say, unless one is completely squashed under the thumb of a ruthless patriarch or matriarch or, in Bosworth’s case, by a child-rearing robot invented by his eccentric uncle. The child of the angel-headed hipster becomes an actuary, the progeny of the business tycoon assembles expressionist canvases in a seedy loft in Berlin. One could surmise that the roguish adventurer Digby fils is the equal and opposite reaction to Digby pere, a cultivated violinist and orchid breeder who would weep profusely at the sight of a ladybird struggling into a stiff breeze. Mr Digby greeted me warmly as possessing a soul more kindred to his own than was his son’s. He had in fact named a species of a rather florid orchid after me. Greetings done with, we sauntered into the dining room and Mr Digby ordered up from the cellar a 1982 Rive Gauche Risqué Wildean Epigram Pinot Noir. It hovered on the brink of greatness in the mouth, speaking of raspberry and pot-pourri, hinting at a destination beyond the ken of the human palate, where angels sup on dew shaken from butterflies’ legs. Waiters brought out Rapprochement of Trout Avec Oeufs Poché et Canard Surprise in support of the pinot noir and a fine time was had, quaffing, eating and conversing animatedly.
After port and cheese we bade goodbye to a tearful Mr Digby and tootled south towards the beckoning Myocum clubhouse. ‘I say, Digby, that wasn’t too bad, what?’ I suggested, shifting the Audi into fifth. ‘I do believe you enjoyed catching up with your dear old dad.’ ‘Um yes,’ admitted Digby rather sheepishly. ‘Do you think you could pass that Porsche dawdling up ahead?’ 100. We were too excited to wait until the Tuesday to celebrate the annual Talk Like A Pirate Day. Instead on the Sunday we took the Lamborghinis in convoy down to Byron Bay, climbed into the Louis Vuitton rubber duckies and boarded our detailed replica of 18th century black pirate ship The Hasty Wench, sailed throughout the Caribbean by Glass Eyes McGorky, who made walking the plank even more perilous by greasing it with hog fat. We raised the Jolly Roger with a rousing gargly cheer, and the skull and crossbones grinned menacingly into the teeth of a light shower blowing in from the cape. ‘Arrrrrr, me scurvy bilge rats, there be cutlasses aplenty on the main poop,’ said Sanders the butler, who found the whole proposal distasteful but maintained his sense of duty to the Club. ‘Sirs might find, I mean, ye maggoty seadogs’ll take a likin’ to the costumes on the main deck, too.’ We kitted ourselves out as old salts, though Abbotsleigh looked more like Billy Bunter at a costume party. Tosser Digby was realistically frightening in his black headscarf and prosthetic pegleg, having once run a pirating operation near the mouth of the Amazon, and cut down Pestilent Pete in his prime in a cannon duel at dawn. ‘Well splinter me shivakers,’ growled Bosworth, ‘I’m in a mood to keelhaul some barnacle-arsed palpeens afore high tide and feed their kidneys to the porpoises.’ ‘Arrrrrr!’ yelled Kettledrum, waving his cutlass in an alarming manner. ‘Bring on the motley doxies and a double keg of your finest rum!’ The sun was almost as high as the yardarm when a menacing sight hove into view out of the east. It was a perfect recreation of the Red Dragon, the 16th century flagship of the notorious pirate empress Li Li Han, who had terrorised the Spice Islands and hung from coconut trees the numnuts of countless South East Java Company functionaries. We knew it was owned by some real pirates, the Macquarie Bank, and our hearts beat faster in our mangy chests. The figurehead was a red lacquered merchant banker in pinstriped suit being fellated by a one-armed mermaid. Their captain stood near the mizzenmast, tapping on his calculator with a sterling silver hook. ‘Arrrrrr, there be a whole mess o’ trouble we be staring down the barrel of,’ muttered Ethelred The Scabrous, fiddling nervously with his furled bleezers. Before we could utter further epithets of the piratey kind, a commanding voice issued forth from a goldplated tannoy aboard the Red Dragon, ‘Throw down yer weapons and surrender, ye lily-livered scupper hamsters, this be our ocean and we mean to keep it that way!’ This was followed by a shower of catapulted stale bread rolls which tore pieces from our sails, poleaxed the ship’s cat, Fluffy, and almost dislodged Abbotsleigh’s right eye. We were outraged and replied with a barrage of mustard-coated baguettes from the small cannon which had their first mate, who had an allergy to condiments, hopping and scratching. The day might have continued with exchanges of dangerous foodstuffs had not Digby had sterner intentions. From a secret hatch at the waterline he launched a motorised ticking steel crocodile, modelled on the monster in Peter Pan. It skipped across the water at astonishing speed, piercing the hull of the Red Dragon and setting alight the bankers’ cognac store, which exploded violently, tearing holes in the hull and the main deck. Cursing fruitily in bad English county dialect, the bankers escaped in sleek cigarette boats and returned to the
relative safety of the Sydney CBD. From the innermost gizzards of their ship a wooden effigy of Bill Gates, engraved with occult symbols, floated to the surface and to a man we made the Club sign to ward off evil. A rousing cheer went up for Digby’s ingenuity and Chef sent up from the galley a feast of Chillied Nautiloids au Gratin, accompanied by the Main Arm Repel All Boarders Shiraz, bristling with complex bouquets of dander, wild strawberries and creek water. ‘Arrrrrr!,’ said Abbotsleigh, ‘It be a jolly murgelwanzel of a high confitty, me hearties!’, and we could only agree with that.
Published on Dec 9, 2013