It would be about 10 o’clock in the morning and there was nothing to look forward to all the live long day. It wasn’t a Sunday because every Sunday morning at 8.30 am brother Jack and I had to fetch the Sunday papers and make hot-buttered toast and tea (Goldenia) served on a tray with serviette to Mum who was earning a Sabbath rest and chewing the cud about the terrible post-mortem over who mucked the six no-trumps the night before. Of course, some weekends she’d be on top of the world when she’d sent Emmy Johnson down for three and to collect 1/6 into the bargain. But still, Brer John and I had to front up with the hot-buttered and tea, no matter what.
Seems like I’ve gone off orbit again, because it obviously wasn’t Sunday I was complaining about: certainly couldn’t have been Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday or Friday for on those days I was nailed to an ancient, stained yet well carved desk, now an antique piece at the Darlo Public School where I learnt the three Rs and lots of buried wrongs. I had graduated from Glenmore Road Public School, mostly to bask in the penumbra of my brother’s brilliant pass in the Q.C. (In those days there was no confusion as to what a Q.C. meant. You had earned by sweat and corporal punishment the distinction of a Qualifying Certificate and no one for a moment would have considered you as a Queens Counsel (a legal upper-crustiness known in those days as a King’s Counsel)).
As I have said I was always at school on week days, toasting on Sundays, so it must have been on a beautiful Saturday morning that the bottom of the world was right there in the back yard of 290.
There it was, right bang against the ficus and the droopy cosmos growing out of the cracks in the back wall.
The ficus hadn’t been trimmed since Grandpa had lopped it six months before. All its trailing tendrils had branched out in one fierce endeavour to repossess what was left of our backyard. We had to grope our way through the oozing sap and he figs to find our way to the old dunny even in the high noon.
It just so happened that Big Chappie had to go to the semi-detached about 10 a.m. this Saturday morning just after the first World War. This is not to impute that Big Chappie had never been there since the Archduke Ferdinand had been assassinated at Sarajevo – or that she had never been there on a Saturday morning at all. It was just that a conjunction of astral bodies had brought us together in our respective backyards on that particularly august day when she had felt a fundamental need.
In a superfluity of easement and goodwill she had asked me to join her and Little Chappie in the preparation of their witches’ Sabbath brew.
The Chappies homemade hopbeer was renowned, even held in a sort of numinous awe by the more holy of the fraternity around the corner of Hoddle St. and Glenmore Rd. Of course, I knew the brew was on; I could smell the ficus and asparagus ferns, the pungent aroma of those hops boiling madly in their huge cast iron boiler, big enough to stew Jack and his beanstalk and the giant too. Three of us sat in sanctified convocation before the warm and fiery salamander of a stove, the cauldron bubbling and wheezing over the flames like Stephenson’s Rocket. Big Chappie’s spectacles misted and glinted in the hoppy steam. Bubble, bubble, boil and bubble. Little Chappie heaping sugar on the encrusted and blackened spoon which I held timourously over the flames, the sugar boiling like treacle and poured splutteringly into the depths of Chapman’s Easter Special. And a toast with a bottle of the last vintage to celebrate the birth of the new. The Kind is dead, long live the King!
In all fairness to Chappies, they weren’t out to defraud our Customs. It was just that some brews had the edge on others – some were pretty innocuous and rather like Good Friday Showtime stuff, alright for polio victims or the Deaconess. Others had something of a wild Bachanalianism in their forthrightness – a quality which unleashed the springs of effusiveness and loving-kindness. A week later there would be shrieks and giggles when consumption began and bottles and plates of hot dinner passed back and forth over our fence interminably on the Day of Rest. Ah, those dear Old Dears!
Footnote. It is not denied that time and memory lend enchantment to one’s recollections; nevertheless, apart from the remembrance of a memorable occasion of the absorption of some litres of Munich Oktoberfest beer, I have yet to recall so favourably a brew which was all things to all men (and women). CHAPPIES’ could be drunk, supped like pea soup or served sliced – but in any presentation was always unforgettable. I regret to say that the recipe and its creators have long since passed away.
Emma Johnson, 52 Glenview Street, domestic duties, 1913 Electoral Roll. Also Nils Edward Johnson, Labourer and Lee Howard Johnson, Traveller (a ten minute walk from 290 Glenmore Road)
Mary Emma Johnson, 463 Oxford Street, Saleswoman (a 16 minute walk from 290 Glenmore Road)