At around a quarter past two in the afternoon, I receive a text message asking me, with no small amount of incredulity, why I’m not at the pub. I’m hunkered down attending to a difficult piece of writing, one which has had my number for a month or so and no matter how hard I try, the words fail to fall where I think they should. Or they do, and then I realise they shouldn’t be there. As such, the text message is welcome respite, and so I down tools and jump on my bike.
It’s Melbourne Cup day, the first Tuesday in November, and so most of the country is at the pub. To be honest, I’d forgotten about ‘the race which stops a nation’, retiring as usual to my cluttered desk out in the garage in the morning with no thought other than to finish this beast of an article before eating dinner early and going to bed.
As it happens though, I’m chaining my bike to a post in the middle of town and walking in the front beer garden gate, past two men cheerfully threatening the manager who’s just ejected them for being too drunk. A police cruiser pulls up in the carpark and so the scene seems ugly before it’s even begun. Inside though, it’s cheerful and the hooch is flowing and I find Matt and Marty at a table over in the corner nursing schooners, not saying much.
I join in their lack of conversation and we have a few, there’s a brief fashion parade over on the stage by the front bar, I get another Vic stubbie and we talk about this and that. Then the race starts, with almost no fanfare – I can’t even see a screen and have no idea who’s running. Matt’s laid down a few bets and so strains to see the television set on the wall at the back of the adjacent dining room.
In three and a half minutes, it’s over and I turn back to what’s left of my beer and Matt checks his phone to see if he’s won anything. His horse comes in second, so he collects $22, which is regarded as a mild success. The pub begins to empty almost immediately – for a day when all and sundry are wont to get their mid-week drink on, the pub will close earlier than almost any night of the year. People start early, finish early, everyone goes home and it’s all over bar a few fascinators lying under tables, empty champagne glasses scattered around, smart hats now sweat and bourbon stained, pushed back on heads at jaunty angles.
Now that the racing is done, the band fires up, their first words to the dwindling crowd being that they’re a bit rusty on this first song, they need to work it out so bear with them, which isn’t something you want to hear from any band. They confirm our worst fears mere seconds after the vocalist, a short woman in an even shorter dress who really shouldn’t, opens her mouth and we choke back what’s left in our glasses and beat a hasty retreat to Marty’s backyard where there are still two eskys full of ice and beer, left over from his birthday celebrations the Sunday just gone.
We pick up the kids from school on the way home and retire to Short Street where it’s calm and we can put decent music on the stereo, the beer’s already been paid for and it’s quiet. We continue our sporadic conversation and our wives arrive home from work and it becomes a mellow Tuesday afternoon drunk where chat flows nice and your rub your bare feet in the cool grass. Far better than any horse race, which I had forgotten was even on.
Samuel J. Fell