There's something about this publican history that passes with the amniotic fluid in our family. While I am decidedly of Librarian Stadium Status, I often think my library will be the most perfect place on earth on that day where I can pull you a mean pint as I loan you a copy of At Swim Two Birds. Or, if you're that way inclined, mix you up a Mint Julep to go with your Great Gatsby. I can pour you a delicate liqueur to go with your Poirot (sirop de cassis, ou creme de menthe?). If you're borrowing anything by Bukowski, however, I might duck after I heave the four jugs of of vinegar-masquerading-as-red-wine over the counter.
I'm in a very small country town, sitting in the front bar of the pub my grandfather used to run. It's a local bar, for local people, and I'm wearing way too much black (actually, only my socks are black; it's still too much). But I have special dispensation to sit here at ease, as the blood of this pub runs in my veins.
There's a lot of yellow pine paneling and the ceiling feels lower than it actually is. It's 1pm, and the regulars lean against the bar like old tree trunks, curved over their beer mats and occasional exchange of words. There's a comforting smell of stale ale and stubbed-out hot chips. A wishing-well's worth of foreign currency is blu-tacked to the wall next to the register, and beside that is a small picture of a kitten hanging onto a tree branch, captioned: "Lord, help me to hang in there!"
I recall that one of the previous barmen here refused to serve anything except beer, regardless of what you asked for.
"What can I get you?"
"White wine, please."
You get lager.
"What'll it be?"
"Scotch and coke."
You get lager.
"Another round, boys?"
"Yep. 6 tequila shots mate."
You get lager.
"And for the lady?"
"Where are the toilets, please?"
You get lager.
"What's your poison?"
"A single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man's hat."
You get thrown out.
There are limits.
Zero tolerance for Simpsons references round these here parts.
The weekly Tinna Shit raffle will come around later. These are so-named because the prize may as well be a tin of shit, that's not the point. You don't weigh up whether you really want a meat-tray or free entry to the footy-tipping, you just buy the bloody ticket. If you're stupid enough to actually ask what the prize is, the reply will come swiftly from the Greek chorus: "Tinna shit."
I'm perched on the cracked leather of a bar stool, attempting not to knock back my beer in one giant mouthful. These days, I only seem to venture into country towns for funerals, and the pub becomes vital because apparently it is a universal law that only chardonnay may be served at wakes. For me, chardonnay has a tang of corpses.
In between 'sensible' sips, for I glance upwards. I'm not sure why. Probably because ever since I got here I've had the distinct impression that the distance between my head and the ceiling is ever-so-gradually diminishing.
Directly above me, fiercely secured with yellow stick-pins, is the biggest bra I have ever seen.
It's tacked to the pine boards in four places. It's very, very beige. The cups hang low: plumped, pendulous, emptily sensuous. There's a kind of drag against the elastic that isn't the result of polyester and gravity alone. The straps have torn a little against the rusted spikes that trap them against the ceiling.
There's something in that bra. I really, really hope it's not a pair of boobs.
The barwoman places an elbow conversationally next to my own. "Punch girl?" she asks. It's not really a question. We Punch girls look alike.
"Yep," I reply. "Mick's grand-daughter." I glace upward at the bra again. The barwoman smiles and her eyes crease into fans at the edges. Her lipstick is immaculate.
"Lady left it behind upstairs in the rooms. It's a double G-cup. The fellas been throwing coins up in it."
I look up at the bra again, and can just make out half-moon edges of coins pressing against the cups. It must be pretty filled out.
The barwoman nods and her verandah of hair bobs stiffly. "Brings them in, of a weekend," she says. "Their bloody aim gets worse as the night goes on of course. Number of times I've had dollar coins bounce off my nut."
I look back at the ceiling, and the men at the bar tilt their heads to match my upward gaze. Does the elastic tear a little further against the stick-pins, or is that the sensible sips of beer talking?
The barwoman speaks again. Her voice is firm and confident. She is in charge here, proud and comfortable.
"When it comes down, all that money's going to the Children's Hospital."
Every pair of eyes is fixed upon the Trojan Bra. Necks crane and chins tilt.
The leather men at the bar lean sideways and fumble in their pockets for change.