Blessed to be a witness

Thursday, 4th August

A beef with this capital

So I thought Hervey Bay was a bit of a quiet place. That was because we hadn't yet got to Rockhampton.

After a day's driving, the landscape at first hilly and then giving way to flat grassy plains with tall, dusty-green alien looking trees and then huge fields of sugar cane, together with the little small-gauge trains that carry the sugar cane around the place, we came to Australia's Beef Capital.

One of the problems with this campervan malarkey is having to park in the suburbs - usually the insalubrious parts thereof - and being out of the action. At Rockhampton, or "Rocky" as the locals say, we were less than half an hour's walk from the city centre, so we set up camp amidst the trailer people - not retirees this time - some of whom enhanced the whole illusion of being in America by sporting American-sized arses, and took a stroll past the strip-malls into town in search of a pint and a game of pool. And there, by a street along which ran the rails of a sugar cane railway, was an Irish pub.

I'm not a great one for visiting Irish or English pubs when away. On Phi Phi, JJ's Pub was one of the limited selection of places on offer, and they did have Branston Pickle, and we were there for two months, so I forgive myself, but ususally I am dead set against it: what's the point of being somewhere exotic only to go and huddle in the dark, pretending you're at home? However, Rocky was so damn quiet that we thought that if there was one place we could have a bit of craic, it would be at an Irish bar.

Wrong. We ordered a couple of beers and then ventured into the pool hall. A bunch of people who would give North Carolina a run for its money on the genetic uniformity stakes, one of whom was sporting two baseball caps, were playing on one of the two tables. We politely enquired if we could avail of the free table. "No worries," we were told, so we began to play. After a few minutes one of the locals came up and told us that there was a "comp" on, so we weren't to disturb the other players. No worries, however, and we played a game. Then we went to get money out of an ATM (something that we seem to be doing way too frequently here), and returned for another game, now that the comp had finished.

The pool area was in darkness. The glasses were being cleaned. The tills were being cashed up. It was 8.30 pm. I asked if we could possibly have one more game, and the owner grudgingly agreed. We played it swiftly, then went to see if we could get a cab. While chatting to the owner he revealed he had a license until 2 am, "but I can't really be bothered". He also told us that the Irish theme was just a marketing gimmick that he'd hired someone else to do - "apparently it's really authentic". It wasn't.

So by nine we were in a cab travelling through the deserted streets of a large university town, that had would have had tumbleweed blowing down Main Street were it in the country that it resembled. Dear God, we said to each other, it has to get better than this.

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