Saturday, October 3, 2009
The Bicycle Sagas #4
Last week was time for an impromptu journey to Katanning on family business. For those not in the know, Katanning is a wheat and sheep town, way inland, where the only briny in existence rises up from the flat earth and eats whole trees and buildings. The day before, Old Salt had helped me lug two huge iceboxes full of that day's catch onto the back of the ute, so the fish had to come for a drive too.
"Whenever I go inland with fresh fish, I stop at the pub," he told me.
"Will they buy fish?"
"I dunno, never asked!"
So I was driving happily through shocking yellow fields of flowering rape. Someone told me recently that the rape flower is the closest yellow to the yellow in the spectrum of light. It's pretty hard not to feel emotionally moved, stunned even, by that vision of gold, punctuated with dots of emerald trees and a blue sky, when in reality, it is a hard-nosed agriculture with Monsanto at the helm. And, how do you market rape oil to those modern day gatherers, the mothers, wives and other females of the species? Better still, how do you market genetically modified rape oil? It's about as easy as marketing interpretive plaques to Aborigines. There must be a way ... ah yes, rename it Canola.
I stopped at one of those beautiful wheatbelt pubs, looming on the corner of a dying street, a grand old shady lady clad in peeling turquoise paint. Some yellow tape roped off the groaning veranda. "Do not cross. Party scene." I went into the bar. It was ten in the morning and the balloons were up, the pool table covered in a white sheet, Sky blaring. I forgot. It's Grand Final Day. The bar was packed.
"I was wondering," I asked the quintessential barmaid, "if the cook wants to buy some fresh King George Whiting fillets?" The bar went silent (except for Sky) and they all turned to stare at me. I felt like backing up, with my hands in front of my face - or perhaps going on the offensive - "I'm licenced to fish and insured to sell!" - whilst waving around a Pike.
She explained to me, gently, that the frozen fish van comes once a week to deliver them Basa, so thanks but no thanks. I drove on to the next town, to another pub much the same. A man was on the footpath at the front, doing something strange with one of those blower thingies. He was blowing dust out of its bag and into an icecream container, except that it was going everywhere and coating the walls. I didn't get it but I got out and asked him about the fish anyway.
He looked at me, as if I was the strange one, like I was from the moon, or maybe even a curly-headed hippy from the coast, trying to flog some fish. Something like that. It didn't go well. "Nah, I fink we're right, love," he told me, folding the words around his beard and two or three teeth.
After that, I gave up selling fish and concentrated on the more gratifying business of family affairs. On my way out of Katanning a few hours later though, I stopped in at a great little antique shop on the highway. The proprietor stood out in the sun, polishing something brass, with a little radio beside her broadcasting the footy. Whilst chatting, my attention was drawn to the bicycle beside her. Ooooh, a bicycle. And what a darling. A proper Australia Post posties bicycle straight from the 1970's. Back brakes! Red and white!
It turned out she just loved King George Whiting. She could do me a deal for a kilo of fillets.