Blessed to be a witness

Tuesday, 16th August

Two-pot screamer

There's a great Aussie phrase, introduced to us by the travel writer Peter Moore in his hugely entertaining backpacker anti-guidebook No Shitting in the Toilet (the title taken from a sign in a café in China that I had coincidentally visited ten years ago). This phrase is "two-pot screamer", and it means "someone intoxicated on very little alcohol".

The night we arrived in Canberra, bored by now of sitting shivering in caravan parks, we ordered a taxi to take us to the city's hottest nightspots. We were delivered to the city centre pedestrianised shopping zone, which was almost completely empty. We found one pub open, and thus again found ourselves with the Irish option in a warm, convivial place called King O'Malley's (who was an American-born Aussie senator, but he had an Irish name so what the hell).

Therein I tried to get a table from which the cricket was visible, as England looked like they were in with a chance of whacking Australia, but none were free; however, we were beckoned to join a chap who was on his own at a large table, and so we met Trev. I don't know if Trev was drunk when we arrived or what, but he was very enthusiastic. Melbourne, he says, is the best place ever, and the casino in Melbourne is the best place in Melbourne. Not that he gambles. But he does take his clients there.

We talked with Trev for about two hours. Or rather, Trev talked. We now know a lot about Trev. We know about his kids, the sports they play, his divorce, his businesses, the animated undersea children's movie he's allegedly making - about an axolotl (though he couldn't pronounce it) - from the sounds of it entirely derivative of Finding Nemo, though I remained sceptical about its existence, due to the rather amateurish business cards he handed us. Trev knows our names and that's it. Still, it passed the time.

As this in-parts entertaining raconteur gave his monologue, I commenced to order something I have become unused to over the past few months: a pint of beer, rather than the 'schooner' or 'pot', neither of which glass size I really understand, but they're smaller than pints anyway. And they had Beck's, one of my favourite beers, on tap, which was a total result. It was after two of these pints that I started to notice my pupils wandering around the room and my tongue not behaving properly when I spoke, and after consuming the third M unexpectedly bought me, I knew I was in trouble: I have become a two-pot screamer.

We said our goodbyes and left. As we walked round the block to a taxi rank, who should be coming the other way round the block but Trev? He saw us and looked away, which was odd, as we'd parted on good terms. (The next day when we were sitting in a café Trev passed us again, and again ignored us, but perhaps it was all for the best.)

Though incapable of remembering the taxi ride back to the caravan park, I was thankfully un-hungover the next day. My breakfast was enlivened by the entrance of two large magpie-like birds that were pretty fearless, and would take bits of muesli directly from my fingers. They were also really clever, smacking a cracker on the ground to break it up, then locating each little crumb that flew off the thing. But I digress.

We left the camp and drove into the city centre, where we'd found King O'Malley's the night before. "Where are all the people?" we asked. Was there a bomb scare? No, that was normal, we later found out. There are shops and shopping centres and department stores and everything, but almost nobody around.

We had lunch, then took a long stroll to the war memorial, but unfortunately the ceremony was over. Regardless, there was an exhibit of WWII vehicles, and a contemporary newsreel playing on a projection screen, on the soundtrack of which I heard the words "See these kamikaze suicide planes. They're venomous little things, just like the Japs who pilot them!" which makes sense contemporaneously, but perhaps doesn't strike quite the conciliatory note that Australia aims for these days.

The War Memorial itself was stunning. On a slight hill, the very wide ANZAC Avenue proceeds from it several kilometres, over a man-made lake, to the Parliament building. Behind a memorial stone, on which many wreaths had been laid that day, is a squat square building enclosing a courtyard with a reflecting pool and eternal flame, around which is a cloister containing brass plates with several hundred thousand names of those who fell in the 1914-1918 war. Red fabric flowers, resembling poppies, had been pushed between the plates in their hundreds. Behind this was a hushed dome, containing the tomb of the unknown soldier, and above it was the inside of the dome, stunningly decorated with Italian mosaic tiles. I found the place very moving indeed.

Thence to my cousin's house, where we met her husband and baby for the first time.

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