LA MAISON DU DÉLICE

PAUL HAWORTH



AUSTRALIA


Match day in Adelaide.

“Not any match, either,” says my driver. “This is the cup final, and it’s a local derby, and if the Blues win that’s the treble. You couldn’t have picked a better time to visit Adelaide, mate.”

We’ve barely left the airport before the taxi dawdles to a halt. People truly are dancing in the streets. Girls hang out of sunroofs, men spray tinnies, car horns honk. Ordinarily, I love a carnival - but not now. I don’t have time for this. The car’s barely moving!

That’s it, I’ve had enough: I pay the driver off and get out to walk.

Immediately, I miss the air-conditioned car. It is B-A-K-I-N-G. I stomp down the middle of the street, and oh my God, this heat, I’m raging, I can’t remember when I last slept, I’m not equipped to deal with... this.

I choose happy! I choose happy! Do what you want and do it well! I choose happy!

Those asinine words pound from a song booming out of a car in the gridlock. God, the heat. I’m used to warm climates, but this is insane. How do people function? There’s too much noise and traffic and crowds. You know those times when everyone is having a good time, and their positivity just makes you hate?

I choose happy! I choose happy!”

Again, I hear that absurd song. Can’t stand it. God, why is it like this? I want a tantrum.

I see a dustbin. It is full to the brim with water and tinnies, and ice cubes slosh around. I can’t stop myself: I duck my head, shoulders deep, inside the bin. Someone stick a snorkel in my mouth and leave me here.

Switch the narrative.

Submerged in the ice bath, that phrase of Jenna’s come back to me.

I slosh my head out of the waters and hear, “Do what you want and do it well! I choose happy!

Its words are true. We choose how we perceive events - I need to turn this frown upside down. I shan’t be the Miserable Brit. It’s my first time in Australia and Adelaide is glorious, the weather’s splendid, and, like the driver said, what luck to be here on ‘derby day’!

The New Improved Happy Patric progresses through standing traffic.

Topless men and scantily-clad women perch on hoods, necking beers. A group fries burgers on their engine. There’s a van operating as a soundsystem: its doors are open and two amps blast - you guessed...“I choose happy! I choose happy! Do what you want and do it well! I choose happy!

It’s a jaunty tune that marries ukelele with an EDM beat. You wouldn’t expect that to work but it’s a real toe-tapper that has everyone singing along. I find myself singing too.

Adelaide is homely. Buildings are low-rise, there’s plenty greenspace, everyone has a smile on their face. Street corners are marked by portaloos - portaloos in the seering Australian sun creating the most pungent odours - but these portaloos are evidently too much bother. Men and women piss freely everywhere I look. Each side street I pass has some chap lurching with his dick out or woman squatting over a puddle.

Proust.

Remember him? Creator of ‘madeleines’, that something evocative of a specific time and place. To be ‘madeleined’ is to be transported in your memory.

The bouquet of urine, beer, burgers and smoke, and the sweaty mill of inebriated bodies: this madeleines me right back - aged 16, 17, 18 - to somewhere that had the very same aroma and sense of revelry...

Leeds Festival.

Now I am who I am - someone sophisticated, cultured - it might be hard to picture me in a muddy rock festival. But these gatherings are a rite of passage for any youth. I was certainly no different. Especially as Leeds Festival fell during my spell in Jesuit School - a time when I was depressed, adrift, desperately in need of adventure.

Festivals are scenes of experimentation - in drink, drugs and music - that achieve the collectivism of being part of crowds united in celebration, whether it be a musical act playing an era-defining song, or the communion of collective inebriation.

There is a similar electricity in the streets of this town. It bristles. I wouldn’t describe the mood in Adelaide as threatening, but it’s a bit ‘pre-battle’: fans beat their chests, paint each other’s skin in team colours, crush tinnies on foreheads, and bawl out war cries.

“Gardyloo!”

A head dangles out of a car and voms on the street.

The whole town is blotto - and it’s not even 11. Which means, I’ve got some catching up to do. I buy a tinny from a street vender, and, as soon as I have that first sip, I become more at one with the surroundings. I nip inside a sports store to buy a shirt for...consult phone: Adelaide Stone FC is the club Sullivan Leitch owns. The shop proprietor kisses my shirt.

Most people in these streets wear the red of the Stone FC, so I pull the shirt over my top, slug my beer, and join in with a chant of some shambling men. The words are simple enough: “Stone, stone, big and hard!” followed by a clap echoing the syllables. “Stone, stone, big and hard!” Clap - clap - clap-clap-clap. One of the men slaps me on the back, “Mucker, what score you foresee?”

“Five-nothing?”

A gasp, then, turning to his compadres, he cries, “Five-nil!” clap - clap “Five-nil!” and the rest join, “Five-nil!” clap - clap “Five-nil!”

He has his arm around my back, I join their chanting line...we are men...a wall of football fan...dreaming of victory over...the Others.

A head emerges from a car sunroof. “Five-nil?” he shrieks. “Five-nil?” He has on a blue shirt. “Shoot me dead! Are you bosted?”

The blue man wriggles out of his sunroof. My man breaks off. They go head to head, toe to toe and do the pushy-pushy dance with each others’ chests.

“Who you callin’ bosted?”

“You, if you reckon on winning five-nil. More likely to lose nil-five.”

“Take that back!”

“Arse I will!”

Enter stage left: a man holding a dustbin over his head!

His intention, I am sure, to slam it over someone’s head, but rubbish pours out of the bin so he can’t see. He goes by the two warlords and runs straight into a different car. He drops the bin, it dents the bonnet. He’s still covered in assorted filth from the bin, as loads of other men swarm to get involved. There’s much horn honking. A scuffle breaks out. It’s not so much a proper fight as some men throwing punches while other men hold them back - it doesn’t look like anyone’s getting seriously injured - still, I get out of there.

Keep my head down, keep moving.

The streets get busier. There are reds. There are blues. Tinnies crunch underfoot. The crowds get drunker. BBQ smoke fills the air, making for a hazy morning sfumato. Whiffs of hot dog alternate with the smell of piss. Football chants mix with “I choose happy!” singalongs.

Eventually, I see it - through the haze, poking above the heads of the crowd - the football ground.

Patric Farmer has a plan

Part of the Sullivan Leitch Legend is that he never misses an Adelaide Stone FC home match. Therefore, squire, we shall convene on your home turf…

I buy a ticket off a scalper. On the approach to the ground, police part the red and blue seas. “Reds left, blues to the right. Blues to the right!” officers on horseback call out. “You heard, to the left, reddie.”

We pile through turnstiles.

Inside the concourse, chants of “Come on, boys, do your worst, score a goal!

It isn’t only men: it’s a diverse audience of mixed gender, race, and age. They roar and clap, clack rattles, blare air horns, blow vuvuzelas - vuvuzelas - truly a blast from the past. Hearing them again gives me chills. The baleful drone soundtracks everything I see, hear and smell: hot dogs and fried onions.

A smoke bomb pops off and I’m not even out of the concourse. Billowing red clouds make for a real pea-souper - I can barely see - so I do as I’ve done since arriving in Adelaide: go with the flow. The human traffic leads me up some stairs to where the red clouds thin and we find, at last...blue skies.

That moment when you are emitted into a stadium - when the arena of humans reveals itself - never fails to inspire. And terrify: it’s scary being surrounded by this many people. Artworld is popular and has its blockbuster exhibitions, but it could never summon these numbers.

I stop to take in the view from the terrace. At the centre is the pitch - an impeccable green rectangle - surrounded by a writhing, roiling, wrestling mass. How am I going to locate Sullivan in that?

When concocting this plan, I envisioned a hospitality lounge situation - say, a corporate block to blag/bribe my way inside - but a starchitect-spaceship-shaped Olympic stadium this is not. It’s a ground. Made of wood. The terraces are standing-room only with a steep rake that pushes the crowd close to a pitch where a phalanx of beefy guards hold the line.

I am pressed up against my fellow football fans. Bodies jostle. Carried on the swell of humans, I am once again madeleined back to Leeds Festival...moshing, pogoing, relinquishing oneself to the tide.

My festival phase fell during an aggressively masculine era: Limp Bizkit, Eminem, System of a Down, Marilyn Manson, Blink 182...a time of men screaming and breaking things.

It’s a similarly convulsive energy now. Bodies are smushed, eyes glazed, cheeks red. The chanting is primordial. This scene is fraught. I find myself wishing they’d play the “I choose happy” song over the PA system. Players run on to the pitch to stretch and warm-up.

“Oi, Wrigley, you tosser,” snarls a fan at one player who flips a V-sign back. More explosions. Even though we are all red in this part of the ground, there are flare-ups between fans - a few fists thrown before the fighters bear hug.

Beers cheersed, chugged, and chucked. Plastic beakers pelted non-stop. There is no avoiding the splatters. However, their cooling showers come as some relief.

Push along, in search of Sullivan. Where’s he at?

Sullivan has a head of bright yellow hair plumped ornately into a whipped-cream peak. It’s hair that can genuinely be described as a ‘bouffant’. It’s a distinctive look - he should stand out from the crowd. Also, having spent years avoiding Sullivan, darting out of his path, I have developed a second nature for tracking the man.

While this is not a corporate-box type of environment, he’ll surely be in an enclosure...some ima cavea for the upper echelons of Adelaide society? But no, this ground appears to be solely for local berserkers.

Such an environment might seem incongruous for an art collector. And this, sort of, is the point of Sullivan Leitch. He thrives off contradiction: being the crudest, most sophisticated man in the room. He orders Col Dis Elocet for the table and cracks open a Castlemaine XXXX for himself. He evicts artists from their studios to build luxury flats and buys a Franz West with the profits. Sullivan makes no attempt to justify or find logic in these contradictions: never apologise, never explain being his motto.

A flying bum nearly hits me in my face. I duck. It’s a crowdsurfer passing overhead - this gives me an idea...

“Excuse me,” I tap a neighbouring man’s shoulder. “Excuse me.”

“Stooooooooone!” he booms.

“Stooooooooone!” I boom back. “Can you give me a leggy?”

He’s a hefty fellow and easily hoists me up over his shoulder, sending me onto a canopy of football fan. There’s a waver and lurch as I get my bearings, and I nearly go down head first, but I roll over onto my back and extend my arms and legs to spread my weight and, steady now, that’s it...I am surfing.

Being up there, I am a teenager again. I haven’t done this since Leeds Festival, but it comes back naturally.

Crowdsurfing is powered by the instinct of the people below you not wanting a person on their head: they shove you away and, like a beachball, you bounce along with little say over direction. There is an ecstatic sensuality about the brutish massage of hands pressing and poking. Give it a go, once in your life: it’s not for the faint-hearted or those with physical-contact anxieties but there is a splendid release that comes with the acceptance that this is a journey outside of your volition.

On my back, chants and vuvuzelas blend, I stare at cloudless Adelaide heavens and I am centred. At peace. I could stay this way forever. But I have a job to do and from this vantage I am able to survey it all: where are you, Sullivan?

There are occasional shakes as I bob along the heads and shoulders but mostly my course is steady and it gives me ample opportunity to inspect the entire ground but no, no, no sign of that mop of yellow hair.

On the pitch, players line up - two lines, red and blue - at the centre half. The gentle glide of my crowdsurf enters choppy waters.

‘God Save the Queen’ plays on the PA system. From over yonder, I hear blue fans bawl out the words, while those around me boo. This battle plays out on the pitch: the blues stand singing in a line, hands on hearts, while reds ambivalently stretch and chat.

I am shoved more violently. Possibly the crowd is fed up with me. It’s probably time to come back to earth...

‘God Save the Queen’ grows louder.

My course veers to the edge of the terrace. I try to roll over so that I can climb down but every time I try to reposition myself I get pushed and thrown.

“Let me down!”

The crowd is jammed, there isn’t room to squeeze down.

“Please let me down!”

Bounce, bounce.

“Long to reign over us!”

I bounce to a border wall. A wire mesh fence separates red from blue - us from them - them: growling, gritted teeth, gripping the fence.

Bounce, bounce.

Bigger and bumpier bounces until...I am volleyed into the air - a human missile.

“God Save the Queen!”

Smash.

I strike the fence. Bounce back. The reds catch me, hands gather and the crowd swells to emit another volley.

(Remember my Nelly Furtado soundtracked flight? The grace and ease. Was that the same life?)

Again I crash into the fence.

I’m wailing. It’s not as if I’m scared or in pain. I’m numb, in shock, rushed with adrenaline and soaked by beer and sweat.

A blue woman part-scales the fence and, through the mesh, explodes, “Stoner bastards!” More and more hands press at my skin. I can sense it, this body of football fandom, gathering strength, recharging, readying itself to...heave ho, away we go...I fly - I’m like a bird - up and over the fence.

Peak Patric: there’s a moment to savour - suspended, mid-air, betwixt red and blue - I’m fully prepared for this to end badly, but let this be eternity.

I land on the blue woman climbing the fence. We collapse in a mêlée. Enormous roars. Boos. The National Anthem belting out. I sink into arms, legs, boots. Blackout. It might be decades since Leeds Festival, but I haven’t forgotten the most important rule of crowdsurfing: if you go under, get back up ASAP.

I elbow, pull, twist, clasp - anything to get on my feet. When I reappear, my shirt has somehow been eviscerated. This is fortunate: the red evidence is destroyed. The masses spit verses of ‘God Save the Queen’ I’ve never heard (stuff about ‘rebellious Scots’ and ‘knavish tricks’). I push through to find some breathing room. Suddenly ‘God Save the Queen’ stops. Now it’s the blues’ turn to boo.

“Wanker!”

“Rack off, hairy legs!”

“Sullivan, you knob!”

I scan the morass. There’s my man. Behind the dugout. Only problem is that between the dugout and me there lays a wide sea of green.

Whistle.

Kick-off. Literally.

The men on the pitch just run at each other and start kicking and punching. The ball gets booted, there follows a scrum. This isn’t football as I know it: admittedly I don’t know much about football - faint impressions of David Beckham and Eric Cantona doing elegant things leading to sexy dances at the corner flag - but Australian-rules football appears a combination of a cautionary print by William Hogarth and cage fighting.

With a match to watch, the crowd are, if not sedated, at least distracted, and I am more easily able to push through. But then I hit an actual wall. It’s too high to climb. I’m trapped. I hopelessly beat the bricks, suddenly coming over quite, quite tired and emotional.

“Meaties! Meaties!”

There is a young man carrying a tray of cones that contain something brown. I am lightheaded, I should probably eat. I purchase a cone and sit on a step to pick at the greasy meat with my fingers.

Mmm, salty and delicious.

How long has it been since I last ate? Fruits de la mer in Chongqing? Forever-ago.

I feel drops of warm water splash on the side of my arm. There is a man stood next to me. His penis is inside a rolled-up programme and he is pissing. The fountain of piss, largely runs upon the legs of a man in front of him - bare legs, the man is wearing shorts - but he seems oblivious to the pisshower he is receiving. I’m getting splashback. This is a lowpoint. No hindsight is necessary to identify this abject experience as one of life’s nadirs.

My appetite is ruined and I throw the meaties to the ground. The piss just keeps coming, there seems no end to its flow. I just sit there, being sprayed by piss and with a piss pool steadily approaching my feet, and I miss whatever happens next...

The crowd goes nuclear - something is unleashed - I don’t know what causes it - I nearly get trampled as I leap to my feet - only to be dragged away by a human tsunami.

It is wild and kinetic - a flurry of moving bodies - everyone is bonkers but there seems purpose to the mob - behold, joyous miracle - I see green - green! - there is green grass beneath my feet - PITCH INVASION.

Seek Signs: just as I am at my lowest ebb, speckled with piss and ready to give up, the cosmos opens a path to Sullivan Leitch! Now all I have to do is avoid becoming embroiled in high jinks: it’s a medieval battle scene out here.

Everybody is fighting.

Fans, players, referees.

Police horses.

Guards crack heads.

Fists fly.

Truncheons.

Smash.

I see two kiddies punching each other, sat on the shoulders of their dads who are also fighting.

Two blues perform a near-mortal wedgie on a red. The red reaches to me and pleads, “Save me!”

But I need to keep my eye on the prize. Sullivan is still behind the dugout.

“Down, Bessy! Down,” comes an announcement over the tannoy.

Smoke bombs.

Puffs of red and blue.

Can’t lose sight of Sullivan.

Staff hold corner flags like spears. “Get back!” they snap, stabbing at approaching fans.

“Sullivan!”

I’m close enough to see him wheel back and forth ordering police and guards. He has on sunglasses and a camel-skin coat. At his side is a blonde stunner: the future third Mrs Leitch. Shrouded in fur, lips painted throbbing red, she remains seated, impassive to the carnage.

“Mr Leitch!” I cry from the pitch, “Sullivan!”

No way he can hear.

Sirens wail.

Police cars race onto the pitch.

‘Jolene’ by Dolly Parton comes inexplicably over the tannoy.

“Sullivan Leitch!”

Policeman crowd around to escort him out through a door. He’s getting away.

“Sulleeeeeeeeeeeeevan!”

“You want to speak to the guv’nor,” says a man in red who is holding a man in blue in a headlock, “get yourself out back where he parks his Rolls.”

The blue man bites the red man’s privates. Red man releases blue from the headlock but blue keeps the Stoner’s stones between his teeth.

“Nutsack!”

I climb back into a terrace and run upstairs, then downstairs, enter the concourse - “Meaties!” calls the boy - ‘Jolene’ plays deafeningly - there’s a queue at the turnstile - comeoncomeoncomeon - don’t have time for this, I need to get out - finally, I exit, outside the brouhaha is ongoing - fights everywhere - but where’s this Rolls?

Bingo.

I spot a sand-coloured beast of an automobile. It’s in a fenced-off private car park, but it’s on the move. I make a run for it.

I’m topless, my skin is all scratched and I’m soaked in...let’s call it ‘fluid’ and leave it at that...so, admittedly, I am not looking my best as I sprint around the perimeter of the fence into their path.

Hooooooonk.

I stand my ground and manage to flag the car down. I rest a second, hands on the bonnet, to catch my breath. The driver keeps honking.

“Mr Leitch,” I pant, “could I have a minute of your time?”

The back door opens. First thing I hear:

“Stone the crows!”

Followed by the sight of Sullivan shooting out. He uses a wheelchair with speed and agility. He’s a big man who rides a small, light model. He wheels right up to me and onto my toes.

“We haven’t officially met, I’m—”

“I know who you are.”

I offer my hand - he slaps it away.

The driver lowers his window: “Shall I call the police, Mr Leitch?”

“No need, Hobbs, I got this.”

The fur-lined beauty gets out. Stunner. Glorious, old-fashioned glamour. She puts her hand on her man’s shoulder and - bear in mind I’ve never met this woman in my life - says, “Pop him, Sully.”

“Give me one minute!” I plead - “One minute to say my piece, that’s all I need,” - but right then I start coughing. I’m hacking and spluttering, bent over - it’s from all the smoke and the running, and the ebbing adrenaline. “Phew, I’m breathless,” I eventually manage.

“I’ll make you breathless.”

“I know I’m not your favourite person,” I pant, “but I come to you with an offer that will make you very, very rich.”

“I already am rich, prick.”

“Hear me out.”

“The only thing I want from you is for you to cark it.”

“You’re angry.”

“I’m fuming!”

“I get that, and I’m angry, too. I’m angry at me, at my past self. I don’t recognise that guy. He is a stranger to me now. What I did to you was wrong. Those were the actions of someone that was young, immature, someone who was a damned fool, who didn’t know the rules. Sir, I did not respect you and for that I am ashamed, deeply, and I beg your forgiveness.”

A pause. Is that it: my opening, the glimmer of hope?

“I suppose there is one thing you could do for me.”

“Name it.”

“I pop you. Square in the chops.”

No words, just…

???

“It will hurt, a lot. Shan’t lie. I don’t pull my punches. But you give me one pop, and I will listen to what you have to say.”

I’ve never been punched. Mugged, manhandled, shook down, yes. But punched? Never. And I’m not going to lie, ‘square in the chops’ sounds ß ghastly.

Could it ruin my boyish good looks?

A bald man with a boxer’s nose.

I’d be a monster...

But in every moment of weakness, I think only of that prize, the gift for all earthly suffering: The National Gallery of Freerland.

“Okay...”

“Attaboy! Becca, get your phone, I want this recorded for posterity.”

Becca takes out a phone from her handbag. She has long pink acrylic-nails. I watch them tap at the phone before she points it at me and then pans over to Sullivan.

He takes off his coat, folds it carefully and hangs it over the open car door.

“Okay, lad, on your knees. I can’t punch you from down here. You kneel in front of me.”

I do as I am told. I’m thinking, this is another new lowpoint: now I really am scraping the barrel.

Sullivan grins. He’s licks his lips, rolling his chair back so it rocks on two wheels. “That’s it. Good, good. Christ, I been wanting to do this years. You ready?”

“Just do it.”

“Don’t be nowty. That’s one thing that pisses me off about you. Your attitude. You act bulletproof. You and every young Turk who comes up thinks they call the shots. Is that right? Do you call the shots?”

“I made a mistake.”

“That was no mistake. What that was was a premeditated assault. You must have learned what a prick you were. You’re not so young no more. I get that. I do. But let me tell you this. When I get wronged, I get revenge. You bet. Because that is the only - only - way to stay on top. Bet the worst part of this is the anticipation. Not knowing when exactly I’m going to do it. I bet that’s torture. Waiting. Knowing at any second you’ll be in excruciating pain. How about this? Before I do it, you say after me: ‘I’m sorry, Mr Leitch’.”

Grimacing, eyes shut: “I’m sorry, Mr Leitch.”

“I’m sorry, Mr Leitch, that I was a shit, and that I lied and cheated and that I was and forever shall be a ratsnake.”

“I’m sorry, Mr Leitch, that I was a shit, and that I—”

Pop.

Square on the nose.

As advertised.

I keel backwards.

TKO.

...

What happened with Sullivan was this: early in my tenure at V+V, I lined up the sale to him of five paintings by Cy Twombly.

$$$erious $$$ale.

Leitch’s collection centred around the contemporary and twentieth century: therefore he had to own some Twomblys. Especially as Twombly was a master of epic scale, whose scribbles, smears, spills would hold special appeal to Sullivan, who had a penchant for the prodigious.

His taste was the elemental, unabashed, and vulgar - art about the body and fluids and consumption - such as fecal Paul McCarthy works or puerile Germans, like Jonathan Meese. In fact, the only previous business I’d had with Sullivan Leitch was the sale of a sculpture by Robert Arneson (a self-portrait of the artist’s head on the body of a dog beside a selection of ceramic excrements). That was a trivial transaction in comparison to this. These were very, very big Twomblys.

Word then reached me: the master was on his deathbed. Privately, silently, sinfully I thought...ker-ching. In no way am I proud of that but a). any dealer will relate and b). death increasing the value of art is a fact as immutable as death.

Leitch, however, had paid. The paintings were rightfully his, yet the contracts hadn’t been signed. In such a circumstance, what does ‘rightfully’ even mean?

I bounced the money.

I borrowed Roland’s expertise to transfer the transfer in such a way that it looked like it had snagged in some international money-wiring cock-up without reaching us. Soon enough he got in touch with our people, who were none the wiser, and informed Sullivan payment had not been received. Meanwhile I played hard to get - “I’m sorry, Mr Farmer isn’t in the office today, can I take a message?” - and next thing I know he is outside the gallery.

As I said, I had worked with Sullivan only once - one deal for a minor work. I wasn’t familiar with his ‘hands-on’ style. I was used to Artworld business handled by intermediaries, but here was the man himself, an actual billionaire, slapping the gallery windows, shouting, “Patric Farmer, come out, come out, you pommie bastard! Show your face!”

Security had to close up and put the gallery on lockdown. I watched him effing and jeffing out there, until the roller-shutter made him disappear.

It was this behaviour - “threatening staff” - that I used to quash the sale, and next week, Cy Twombly RIP, saw a quintupling in the value of those paintings. An extra half a billion dollars: I’d say that was worth ruffling one man’s feathers, no?

What I don’t think I fully grasped - and maybe should have realised it when I saw him ramming the gallery with his wheelchair - was that in Sullivan Leitch I had created more than a business rival. ‘Business isn’t personal’ goes the hoary adage, as if every billionaire isn’t driven by vendettas, grudges, wrongs and enemies. I was Sullivan Leitch’s enemy.

“Sorry not sorry!”

I come around to Becca’s peeling laughter, fuzzily return to focus.

Becca blows a kiss from the passenger side window. Sullivan leans out and drawls, “Now you know what it feels like when someone doesn’t keep their word.”

He gobs on me. A real greeny. It splats between my eyes with stunning accuracy. I wipe the slime from my face and watch the Rolls roll away. Taking with it my chance at redemption.

Damn.


*


My face throbs and I am covered in blood. Honestly though, most people look the same. The streets are filled with bruised, bleeding, and limping Aussies. We exchange smiles, we derby-day veterans, heroes, nursing our wounds.

There is a calm-after-the-storm atmosphere across Adelaide. It’s a mess - puke, piss, smashed glass, overflowing rubbish - yet none of this detracts from how nice a town it is. Especially now that the temperature has fallen. Its leafy languor charms me completely.

I amble down a creek, looking at the boats, gazing at the water, and at the evening sun, thinking to myself, wondering...is it time to cancel the reboot?

I should dismiss this Freerish misadventure as a failed spin-off, and just sign on for another season of V+V, accepting that I no longer have the lead role. I’m a ‘Guest Star’, a ‘Special Appearance’, still a regular cast member, just not Doctor Fergus Mac Donnell...

Words from my father return: ‘You can’t fart against thunder’.

A pub appears.

I peek through the window. On the lookout for brutes and Sullivan types. Looks cosy. Quiet enough. But looks can be deceiving when it comes to drinking establishments. A little something I’ve learned about pubs is that it’s the charming and old-fashioned ones that are inhabited by nutcase ‘locals’ desperate to terrorise outsiders. I’ve had enough hooliganism for one day, but could really use a drink.

I venture inside.

It’s dark. Soothingly reminiscent of Rudolphs. Behind the bar, a woman. With a wave of the arm, she beckons me into her hearth.

She is...she does...something stirs.

It is the strangest sensation.

I approach the bar. An Eighties music video plays on a television. A soulful ballad. Paul Young, I believe.

“Ey up, Leanne, here comes a cropper,” says a woman - fifties, wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap - on a stool at the bar.

“Sorry about my appearance,” I say as I prop myself next to her. “I don’t usually look this rough.”

The barmaid speaks: “Better to look rough yourself than be rough to others.”

She is even more beguiling up close than she was from afar.

“Get this one a C&C,” says the woman beside me.

“What’s that?”

“Castlemaine and Cointreau.”

“No thank you.”

“Trust us, nothing numbs pain like a C&C.”

I am in a lot of pain: “Go on then.”

“One C&C coming up,” says Leanne.

“Lime?” says the woman in a cap.

“Pardon?”

“Limey, a pom pom?”

“She wants to know if you’re a Brit.”

“That’s what it says on my passport.”

“Blue in the room! Blue in the room!”

“I am not a blue...or a red...I’m colour blind.”

“Ha ha! Pay no mind, I’m just yanking. Name’s Fliss.” She gives my hand a solid shake.

“Patric.”

“Pleased to meet you, Patric. We got Leanne behind bar and ignore this one,” she says of an approaching pensioner.

“Fightin’ over nuthin’,” he croaks as he hobbles over and rolls up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo - little more than a grey blur on his furry arm - which he pokes and says, “Now that is worth fightin’ over. That I would die for.”

Leanne puts a beer before me and pours a Cointreau top. “There you are, love.”

“Cheers,” I take a sip and, mmm, not bad.

“Kills the pain, it does,” says Fliss.

“Where you from?” says Leanne.

“London.”

“London’s a big place.”

“I live, or at least my stuff is in Islington.”

“Used to live in Hackney. Eight years. Moved back last Christmas.” She wraps a towel around some ice. “Here, put this on your nose.”

I push the icy towel on my face and - ooh - sweet relief.

“If my mammy told me to go to war, I’d’ve done it,” the pensioner says. “If she’d asked me to murder I would’ve.”

“Name’s Fliss,” says my neighbour, reintroducing herself. “What’s those?” She flicks the Virxion. (I’ve been a negligent steward of this rarest of technologies, but somehow, through everything, it has remained hanging around my neck.)

“I suppose it’s sort of a virtual reality.”

“Ay up, Lee,” says Fliss, “ain’t this what Kenny watches his pornos on?”

“It’s not like that,” (I don’t want Leanne to think of me carrying porno goggles around my neck.) “It’s a window into a different world.”

“What’s up with this world? Has that got beer in it?”

“Another dimension.”

“Pig’s arse.”

“Perhaps this one should spend more time in another dimension by look of his scars,” says Leanne.

You know when you’re falling for someone, everything about that person charms you: so it is with Leanne. The way she wipes down the bar, the bands and bracelets on her wrists, a tattoo of a few Chinese characters poking out from the sleeve of her T, her agility pulling pints, dexterity with the till - every action and image elicits only desire.

“Give us a go.”

Fliss pulls the Virxion over her head and I explain how to get started...

“What you talking about, Princip? Can’t see nothing.”

“There’s no purple?”

“Bloody gizmos do my nut.” She yanks it off and offers it to Leanne: “Here, you try.”

“I’ll give his blue movies a miss, thanks.” She winks to me. “This reality is plenty for me.”

This statement, matched with the wink, begs to be translated as an overture to romance.

My heart races. What is happening to me? I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME. But I didn’t sign up for this. I wasn’t looking for— No! Do not say, spell, even think those four letters.

For obvious reasons, I do not bandy the word ‘playboy’ around. In no way is that how I conduct myself.

Because of the travel, parties, late nights, Artworld is synonymous with carousing, infidelity, open relationships (of varying shades of ethics), but that never has been my style. I am a romantic - someone entirely susceptible to Cupid’s arrow. And when I fall, I fall hard.

Leanne, this siren, has me hooked. I’m smitten. This is textbook Patric Farmer, I recognise the pattern, but am I going to stop it? No. You can say no to drink, drugs, money - sometimes at least - but who can resist that which dare not speak its name? So I don’t even try. I submit completely to the forces at work.

As I sip my C&C, I begin to project...re-edit my life...shift priorities...imagining a future...for us.

Patric and Leanne.

Lee and Pat.

A new start in Oz. Like many Brits before me. Maybe open, not so much a gallery, but a resource, for local creatives...

“What brings you to town?”

“The match.”

“You don’t look like a togger fan?”

“He’s a wrestler, can’t you see, he came for the fighting.”

“I came to meet someone at the match. Do you know Sullivan Leitch?”

“Everyone knows that fella.”

“Total cock,” adds Fliss.

“Can’t disagree with you there.”

“He’s turned the port into freaking Disneyland.”

“What did you want to meet him for?”

“I had a business proposition.”

“How’d that work out for you?”

I point to the bloody nose.

“He did that?”

I nod and finish my C&C.

“Same again?” Leanne asks, as she removes my empty.

“You should sue,” says Fliss. “Seriously, that fella’s minted. Get some damages off the bastard.”

“It could very well be I deserved it.”

“It’s going to rob you of your good looks,” says mon amour, planting a fresh C&C before me.

“Don’t say that.”

I can’t be the beast to Leanne’s beauty.

Leanne.

How many more times will I say your name? Leanne, I look to you - dirty blonde, mid-30s amalgam of every Australian e’er I desired - and want you to want me for who I am: a handsome man. With a full head of hair.

‘Dancing in the Dark’ comes on the TV. Fliss hops off her stool and shouts, “Conga!” Leanne runs from behind the bar to join Fliss, hands on her hips, the two of them stepping in time. “Come on, pom,” says Fliss, “let’s be havin’ you!”

Leanne turns to me. Smiling. ‘You can’t start a fire, can’t start a fire without a spark.’ I slug my C&C. Dutch courage. Leave my stool and join the conga. This means...placing my hands...on Leanne’s hips…I didn’t ask for this...look away, Patric, look away...turn your gaze from the denim blue, the elastic of her underwear...the pensioner shakes his stick...the conga line moves in circles, cocking a leg every few steps, and I can’t not stare directly into the small of Leanne’s back...I am betraying the life I am building - which one? Freerland? Brixton? - aren’t they each fabrication and fantasy? But are fabrication and fantasy not the building blocks of love?

There, I said it.

Love! Love! Love!

What do you know about love?

I don’t know where this conga line leads, but I will follow it to the ends of the earth.

Lift this curse, nurse my fatal disease - one too many C&C’s - give me one good reason why not?

The song fades, the conga line breaks.

“Another round!” I cry.

Love’s ecstasy pumps through me, and I no longer care about Sullivan Leitch, Jenna Freer, or even Doctor Mac Donnell.

I am not high. I am drunk - drunk off beers and chasers - a topless fella after the match with an eye on a bird, macking like a champion, a man’s man, jack the laddy o’ lad. Blame Adelaide: this town is transforming me into one of its own, and rapidly.

Leanne lines up three C&C’s. She lifts her glass and toasts, “To the future!”

“To Adelaide!” says Fliss.

“To Leanne!” say I. Our glasses meet. I make sure to keep eye contact with the one. ‘Take My Breath Away’ by Berlin comes on the telly. Seek Signs, you say?

I associate Australians with High Romance: those moments when opportunity knocks and life opens up. Me and Australian lovers, we have history...

A tryst at Leeds Festival with a pierced and tattooed punk. It was a splendid affair for a teen. She was the first person I ever met with a septum ring. A few years later, during a summer interrailing, I enjoyed Bratislava-to-Budapest backpacking beatification with a Brisbane babe. Then shortly after my move to London, there was Ali. Ali from Battersea via Darwin. It was just a fling, a three-weeker, not that my body could have taken much more. During our passionate lovemaking, Ali played a one-hour mix of ‘Sex on Fire’. I never was the biggest Kings of Leon fan but, in the throes of passion, the music made total sense. To this day, whenever I hear that song, in a shop or on the radio, it madeleines me completely...

How apt if ‘Sex on Fire’ came on now! Instead, the TV plays a Travelling Wilburys video and that isn’t sexy at all.

“What do you do?”

“I’m an art dealer.”

“Amazing,” says Leanne. “Do you hear that, Fliss? What a fabulous job.”

“Not when it means you have to get packed in the bonce by a knobhead like Sullivan Leitch.”

“Unfortunately for me, Sullivan Leitch is a major collector.”

“Whaaaat? Figjam buys art? Get off.”

“He has a world-class collection of modern and contemporary art.”

“Bloody Nora.”

“I love art,” says Leanne, wiping down the bar. “I love to paint and draw.”

“She’s always at it.”

“We talk and write too much. There’s too much language these days. Sometimes I just need to get out my paints or a lump of clay and speak that way.”

“You should see her paintings, you should.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Could be a nice little earner, for the pair of you.”

“Leave it, Fliss.”

“What? I’m serious. She gave me a painting of hers for my fiftieth, any luck it could be worth a few bob.”

“It’s just a hobby.”

“Strewth, Leanne, if this fella’s selling art and you’re an artist, it’s the birds and the bees, ain’t it?”

What if her paintings are hidden masterpieces? Is it so preposterous? The market has moved towards the handmade, the spiritual, the feminine. Artists such as Anni Albers, Lee Krasner, Luchita Hurtado weren’t getting museum retrospectives even five years ago, but a change for the better has taken place, and who knows, maybe I have found an unknown talent. What a story: the barmaid genius...I her discoverer-dealer. And soulmate?

“I would love to see your work.”

“Well, maybe, no, oh, I don’t know.”

I recognise she’s uncomfortable, embarrassed, so change the subject. “What does that say? Jaff?” I point to a tattoo poking out from her upper arm.

“It’s the name of a boy I thought I loved for five minutes a hundred years ago. You have any tatts?”

“No way.”

“Why ‘no way’?”

“Well, for one thing, I suppose I’ve never felt strongly enough about anything, or anyone.”

“Babe, you’re breaking my heart.”

“How is it, though, having an ex’s name on you?”

“I like it. It’s a map of the people I’ve known, the people I have been. Having a dumb tatt keeps you humble.”

“I get that. I’m just not sure I would ever be able to settle on one.”

“Commitment issues?”

“I’ve seen too much.”

“You sounds like an Army vet.”

“I mean I’ve looked at too much. My entire life is visual. Images define me. To put something on my body, I would need to be convinced of its content, and in complete awe and trust of the artist.”

“Hot air!” yells Fliss.

“If I was Picasso, would you let me ink you?” says Leanne.

Considering Picasso, an artist who could whisk a masterpiece out of fire, sand, and water, I concede, “I would let Pablo Picasso tattoo me. Probably.”

“You know, people are having tattoos removed off their loved ones when they die.” Fliss comes out with that gem.

“What you on about?” says Leanne.

“They get the skin cut off and preserved. Human taxidermy.”

“Fliss!”

“What? He could flog dead people’s tattoos if they had a Picasso on ’em. Stretch it like animal hide, stick it in a frame. Right? Business opportunity.”

“Disgusting.”

“Pommie agrees, don’t you?”

“It’s not not an intriguing proposition. A drawing’s still a drawing, whether it’s on paper or a preserved piece of flesh. Sure, I’d sell it.”

“How about it?”

“What?”

“You let our resident Picasso stick and poke you?”

Fliss pulls down her collar to reveal a tattoo of a lotus flower. With a heavy hand-drawn line, it has a raw punk aesthetic.

“Why not get yourself one of your own?”

“I’ve got the ink and needles,” says Leanne.

Aghast.

Fleetingly.

Before deciding...what the hell? Already I know this is one of those nights I’ll never forget - I want to wake tomorrow and it to come back, replay it scene by scene, then note a stinging sensation, and see the ink...

“Let’s do it.”

“Nice! You get up on here and lie down.” Fliss sweeps her arm across the bar, brushing away beer mats and nuts.

I clamber onto the bar and stretch out, face down.

“That’s the spirit!” says Fliss.

“Where do you want it?”

“My back.”

“And what are you wanting?”

“The date.”

Channelling On Kawara, an artist whose practice was the painting of dates, his oeuvre gathered into a catalogue that memorialised time - ways to hold it, stop it, to mark existence. Allow me, then, this homage. And, when people ask the significance of the tattoo, I shall tell them: Best Night Ever.

“Ace!” says Leanne. “Let me get my things.”

She exits through a door behind the bar. I’m left lying on the bar, topless, with Fliss, who is chuckling, the pensioner, who is grumbling, a Bananarama video on the telly. If e’er there is a moment misgivings should arise - that the voice of reason should speak up - this is it. Before such doubts attack, Fliss cheekily leans over the bar and snatches the Cointreau. She pours a shot in my mouth then takes a swig herself.

“Oi, put that back!” says Leanne.

“Purely anaesthetic, doll.”

Leanne shakes a bottle of ink and carries a bowl of water with a flannel in it. “Tell me, honestly, are you sure? Because you don’t look sure.”

I am squirming.

“Course he is,” answers Fliss. “Just stick him.”

“Are you sure you’re sure?”

“Sure sure.”

“Then where shall I start?”

“Here.”

I twist my arm to my back.

“Tramp stamp!” hoots Fliss.

She wipes the cloth on the area and says, “So what exactly do you mean by date?”

“What do you think he means? Day, month and year.”

“What she said.”

She kneads the skin and stretches it apart. Tender but firm is my Leanne’s touch. I listen to the old man’s incoherent grumbles, Fliss’s gurgling laughter, and from the TV comes a honeyed sound.

I turn to the screen. It shows a young George Michael, beautiful, big-haired, in black and white. He sings a fragile ballad.

I’d say love was a magical thing, I’d say love would keep us from pain.

A deep and indiscriminate pain swells as she stabs me in the back.

I would promise you all of my life, but to lose you would cut like a knife.

Stab two.

Am I insane? I have invited this random to hack me with what might well be a knitting needle.

You are the only one to stop my tears.

Stab four.

I focus on the song’s mellifluous textures, on George’s aching vocals.

Stab four.

Gruesome caterwauls!

“If you want me to stop, just tell me.”

“Stop!”

“Oh, bloody hell!”

“What? What?”

“Quick, Fliss, chuck us the towel, he’s bleeding out.”

“You what?”

“You heard, give me the towel!”

The sound of glass shattering.

“What’s going on?”

“The booze, it’s thinned your blood.”

I roll over. There’s blood. Everywhere red. Loads of it. Shiny, goopy. Bejesus! I get off the bar and try to stand, but my legs give out.

“Woah there,” says Fliss, coming to my aid. But she’s drunk too, and she tumbles on top of me. Then the pensioner starts jabbing us with his walking stick.

“You’d be shot in my day.”

That’s as much as I remember.


*


Recurring dream.

There is a door. Thick, wooden, studded with iron. Is it a castle door? Quite possibly.

It opens on to a gentle rolling hill.

Sunshine, grass.

Ascension.

I move up, gently, I could be floating.

At the top of the hill is a church.

There are others approaching the church from all directions.

I’ve been having this dream since early teenhood and, while by no means a nightmare, its effect is haunting.

I’ve never entered the church. Over the years, I’ve gotten closer and closer, but this time I am closer than I have ever been.

I think it’s going to happen.

The door to the church is open. Just as I am about to enter, the dream grows fuzzy. Indistinct. I lose my grasp.

I am awake. I am in bed.

The duvets are thick. A clean-smelling cloud. Soft, safe.

The woman.

I remember.

Memories of a night’s impassioned love-making...do not come coursing back.

I lie there completely immoble for some time. I can’t bring myself to move. Not because I am hungover. I am not hungover.

“I am not hungover,” I say aloud.

This messaging emboldens me to move my head. I inspect the room for clues. To learn more about the love of my life...

E.g. her name.

Somehow it’s left me. I rack my alcohol-addled mind, but can’t quite dredge it up from the depths of the night.

There is a large photo-print of a train, crossing a high bridge. Along the bottom of the poster a tagline reads ‘If it matters to you, who cares if it matters to anyone else?

Pain.

Shooting, throbbing, burning. Where does it hurt? Across my head, face, tummy and back, exacerbated by, were I to believe in hangovers, what might be the worst hangover in recorded history. Why? This isn’t my first rodeo. Why am I so stricken?

C&C’s.

It all comes C&Cing back.

“You know what, this isn’t so bad.”

“One more C&C.”

“C&C me.”

“A round of C&Cs for you and you and me and me.”

Lager and liquor - what was I thinking?

The thought of my sweetheart pouring orange poison into those beers, brings me up bilious and stricken.

I am shivering and burning up.

These hangoverlike symptoms are nearly enough to defeat The Secret but no - the three most important words of the sacred text: ‘thoughts become feelings’.

“Patric, you feel great,” I grumble.

Shock cures hangovers: I must communicate to my body that I’m doing fine.

I creak out of bed. It takes all I’ve got to drag this pickled cadaver onto its feet, but I get there. Steady now.

I will do ten burpies!

Come on, Patric, get ready for it. Ten full ones. This will get the blood circulating. I lift my arms above my head. Bend. Touch my toes. I’m about to squat, when an immediate need to puke arrives...

Exit the room. Corridor. Try a door. Junk cupboard. Puke fills my mouth. Try another door. It’s the bathroom. Thank God!!! On my knees, head in toilet bowl, I expel pint after pint of beery citrus goo. Oh God, that’s good. That is tickety-boo. A bit more comes. So lovely. Stringy saliva drips into the bog. I lie, face on the rim, catching my breath.

I stay like that for a couple minutes. Only when I’m sure everything’s settled do I pad out of the bathroom into the unfamiliar corridor and through to a kitchen. It has that cosy kitchen warmth and the aroma of coffee.

“He is risen.”

The woman. She stands to pull out a chair for me and pours a coffee. Why is this stranger so kind? Is this Australian hospitality? Mateship? Are we nesting?

“I think I owe you an apology.”

“What for?”

“Last night?”

“First off, Aussies don’t apologise for what happens on a bender.” (A philosophy I can endorse.) “What’s more, there’s nothing to be sorry for. Make peace with your past. Though, looking at those bruises, you should maybe get yourself checked out.”

I take a sip of coffee. Nectar. My body instantly starts recovering at what is possibly the finest coffee I ever have tasted.

The side of my mug reads BE KIND TO YOURSELF TODAY. My betrothed’s mug reads Stay hopeful. You never know what this day might bring. (Two more philosophies I can get behind.)

As I drink my coffee, I find myself smiling at the nameless one. She smiles back. We don’t say anything. I notice something. A rumbling.

May this be love? Is it lightning? Does it boil or simmer? Is it duvet days, or do-or-die? A gas, or a liquid? Would it be enough: barbecues, bottomless brunch and the love of a good woman? And what of Freerland? Could I watch it from afar - my alternative life - consigned to the terminal decline of the Could Have Been.

Is a mid-life crisis not the lot of every person lucky enough to live long enough to approach that loaded hump? The do-over before it’s too late. ‘Crisis’ stigmatises the urge for change - before (fear of) embarrassment, or futile self-awareness, holds us back from making the move: from diving into lives with the abandon of our eighteen year old selves.

Note to self: you have a son.

I can’t just up and leave London. But what if I lose my boy? Ten, fifteen years down the line when he sees me become a Depressed Dad, or discovers I threw away his opportunity to be one of the first families of the Greatest Country on Earth, what then?

Why is time so compressed? Why must every decision be made right this second? Why can’t I lie in bed, read my Proust and allow myself (my soul) a minute to catch up with itself, and answer, naturally, the questions life is throwing at me?

Good God, I am overwhelmed.

Flashback: The Aughts.

In the weeks after graduation, when the partying started to curdle and summer drew to an end, my prospects gradually looked less encouraging. (I had only just purchased The Secret - it was yet to prove its secret power). The question - what are you going to do with your life? - became suddenly more pressing. A return to living at the Jesuit School even reared its head as a feasible possibility. Just when oblivion looked inevitable, an invite came from Sotheby’s to interview on their intern programme. Within two weeks I had moved to Paris. It was that easy. Easy, natural, light. And when you’re 21 there are no ties to bind: it is simple to up and move cities/countries/continents.

Today? I can smile at this cherub all I want, but once this cup of coffee is finished, I have not a single plan. I’m back where I started, once again ill-equipped to answer: what are you going to do with your life?

Who are my peers and mentors in matters of personal growth? Roland can advise on long-term financial planning and my parents have a wealth of knowledge concerning leisure cruises, but what about the other spheres of life - the majority of it? From whom can I receive counsel for my spiritual development?

I rub my back. It stings. I remember...

“Did we finish this?” I twist around to see.

“Afraid not.”

I see a patch of red skin on my back. The only thing I can make out is a comma-shape.

“I can finish up if you want, but it is a different date.”

“You think the moment’s passed?”

“Mayhaps.”

But you know what hasn’t passed? My feelings for...thingamajig.

The Morning After isn’t just about sobering up. It’s about facing the abyss, seeing the world through wiser eyes. Here I am, within the very heart of The Morning After and I still love you, you, whatever your name is...

I love her in new ways in this new light. Her skin looks fresh. She’s dressed differently. She wears a dress: she could almost be ready to go to church.

“Thanks for bringing me home. You really didn’t have to.”

“I felt responsible. Call it a duty of care. It wasn’t me who carried you up the stairs, mind. You’ve Fliss to thank for that.”

“Fliss? Oh yes. Was she okay?”

“She’s indestructible, that one. She’ll just be getting home. She’s a baker. Serious. She drinks through to the morning, goes to work, then sleeps it off.”

“Please, thank her for me. And thank you, too. I don’t usually pass out.”

This hangover. My God. Each time I think I am in recovery, a new wave assaults me. I lie my head down on the table. I know I’m representing myself terribly, but I have to - to let this inner turmoil pass...

“Hair of the dog.”

I open my eyes.

“Is this a joke?”

She has placed a can of Castlemaine next to my head. I push it away. “Absolutely not.”

“Who’s the bar professional here? You talk to me about art, and I’ll teach you hangovers. Everyone knows this is the only cure.”

She cracks it open. Its perfume enters my nostrils and I gag.

“Just a sip. One tiny sip. Do it for me.”

“For you.” I lift up my head and take this can of Castlemaine XXXX. “To you…” I force the medicine down. Resisting the urge to vom, I focus in on some paintings tacked to the wall. “Are those yours?”

“Yeah, playing around with water colours.”

Their bright colours bleed down the page. They remind me of Morris Louis. With some better-quality materials, she could be onto something.

Whenever I look at art, I find myself verbalising - in preparation for pitches and press releases - scouting for phrases that deliver me to the essence of whatever it is I’m looking at. It is often a first-thought word association - glamorous grotesque, imitation vintage, fraught interstellar planes, lo-fi comedy ruralism, time-travel painting - to help me pinpoint the abstract and ephemeral. Once I land on such a phrase, I can more easily pass on understanding to buyers. It’s the only way to sell: you can’t bluff a collector who’s potentially spending millions. I must know confidently what I’m talking about. This is another reason I so value dead artists: they don’t tell me I’ve got it wrong. Living artists are criminally officious about readings of their work.

As I study the abstracts, the phrase that comes to me is this: the failure of youth. They are reaching for a carefree happiness, but stop short and achieve only desperation. The summery colours and drips combine into something agonised. At least that’s what I perceive through my alcohol-frosted eyes...

“Fliss is always on at me to do more with my painting but, honestly, I just do it for myself. I mean, I’m happy for people to see them, don’t get me wrong, but I paint to exercise other parts of my consciousness. This is like me showing my yoga poses, you know? Do you paint?”

“Not since school.”

“But you must.”

“I love art too much.”

“Then get involved.”

“To debase it with my imitations? What would be the point?”

“You’re saying if you’re not Van Gogh, there’s no use trying?”

“Even if it’s delusional, I want to at least think that I could be Van Gogh. But I don’t want it enough.”

“There’s so much more to it than just wanting to impress other people. Next time you’re feeling jammed up or want to quiet your mind, you totally should paint.”

“Okay.”

“You promise?”

“Promise.”

I lie.

Not only would I be unable to pick up a brush - but I’d have to buy the most expensive horse-hair brush that I would then be unable to pick up. No, no - me and painting, never going to happen.

“You can paint now if you want?”

“I’m not currently feeling quite up to it.”

“What are your plans?”

“I have none,” I say. “No plans either today or for the rest of my life.”

“The drama, Jesus. Bloody hell, you look as if you’ve the weight of the world on your shoulders. You wanna share?”

“I’m just at a junction in my life…”

“Wondering which path to take?”

“Wondering if I should just stop.”

“You did not come this far just to come this far.”

“Say that again.”

“You did not come this far just to come this far.”

“You did not come this far just to come this far,” I repeat. “Where’s that from?”

“A great sage named Anonymous.”

You did not come this far just to come this far. It encourages me. My story isn’t over. Every ending is a new beginning and not only does my wife-to-be get me - she guides me.

Out of nowhere: “You got kids?”

“One. A son, Dougie.”

“How old?”

“Nine. For another...six days.”

“You still with the mum?” she ventures, negotiating the Terms and Conditions of whatever we may be building.

“We’ve never really been together. We had a, how to put it, four-night stand.”

“I hear you, mate. Been there.”

“Do you have kids?”

“Nah, not yet. Who knows, if it happens, it happens. There’s been plenty opportunities, but men, what can I say, you lot really are a barrel of pricks. Besides, my sister’s just had her fourth, so she’s got the grandkids covered. Speaking of which, it’s the Christening today and I need to make a move.”

“Right,” I say, completely unready to face the world. “I’ll collect my things and get out of your hair.”

“No rush, mate. You’re welcome to hang and chill. That’s if you want. Whatever works. But I’ll only be a couple hours. And, if you stick around, maybe we could grab a bite?”

“A bite?”

“Yeah, I mean, whatever, it’s up to you, but it could be nice, if, like you say, you’ve no plans for the rest of your life, dinner sounds like it’s open.”

“Yes. Yes please.”

“Alright, I better crack the whip.”

“Wait.”

“Yeah?”

Will you marry me? is what I ought to say but instead: “Could I use your wi-fi?”

“Password’s on the fridge, love.” (Love!) “Laters.”

“Laters.”

She leaves me there - a stranger, strange and hideous - entrusted with her home. There is a whiteboard magnet with her Internet details attached to the fridge. Next to it is a postcard: IF YOU CAN’T BE HAPPY ALONE YOU WON’T BE HAPPY TOGETHER

I connect my phone to her network.

Checking for mail…

Downloading 478 items

With which my bowels download the sudden urge to shit. I rush back to the toilet and do what needs to be done. There is a sign hanging on the wall facing the toilet:


WHEN YOU FOCUS ON YOU, YOU GROW

WHEN YOU FOCUS ON SHIT, SHIT GROWS


Shit dribbles, explodes, erupts from my arse. It’s an unholy and physics-defying explosion. Can you imagine how humiliating this would be if she were still here? It’s as if a magical intuition told her I needed some me time.

Noxious fumes bring on the heaves and off we go: I vomit again. I have to bend forward so it goes between my legs. In defiance of The Secret, I reluctantly concede, I am not in a good way. Mind over matter? When matter oozes out of both ends, it is hard to neglect.

I remain on the toilet some time. Not strong enough to move on. Not just yet. I need to let things settle. I bide my time and Google ‘best restaurants Adelaide’. I’m going to take my lady somewhere special. To say sorry, to say thank you, and to present my best self. She is still yet to see me wearing a shirt. I need to show this person there is more, much more to Patric Farmer than a drunken, topless wreck.

Emptied out, I flush and give the toilet bowl a thorough clean. Wash my hands, rinse my face. I can’t help but look in the mirror. What a mess. It’s the bruising - this is what really makes me an abomination.

Am I suffering a concussion? Is that why I can’t remember what’s-her-name’s name? Had Sullivan knocked the sense out of me? Is she really the one? So many questions. Fortunately for one whose maxim is Seek Signs, I am in a home full of them. Taped to the mirror is a hand-written affirmation:


>Everything comes to you at the right time

Be patient


Hmm, these two lines are open to two very different interpretations:


1. Everything comes to you at the right time. This can be read that fate and misfortune have contrived to bring me into the bar of the one who will rescue, complete, and remedy me.


2. Be patient. One little bump in the road and I’m ready to jack it in and move to Australia??????


Patric, snap out of this! Where is your instinct, your spontaneity, your decision-making prowess? Why are you crippled by doubt and the ominous sense that all is lost?

Because I am hungover!!!!

I am poisoned by alcohol: it’s left me depressed and depleted and not in control of my most basic faculties.

I carry my stinky body back to the bedroom and flop on the duvets. So comforting. Unlike the hotel beds upon which I usually lay my head, there is humanity and tenderness in these sheets. I snuggle into their pillowy softness.

Oh, that’s good. That’s lovely.

Drift, Patric, drift away.

Going to get me some shut eye. Then when she-who-has-no-name gets back I’ll ask her to marry me, then live happily ever after.

I enter the borderlands of sleep. Consciousness disintegrates there in such a way that you can’t tell what’s dream or reality. I think the brain must squirt out some hormone at this moment - you could almost be on psychedelics - it feels ever so good.

The answer is Virxion.

Is it an annunciation? A sign from beyond? Jenna reaching out? I don’t know where the nudge comes from, but at that moment the words return - the answer is Virxion - and my urge to sleep is replaced by the urgent need to act.

I pull the Virxion over my eyes, press my hand to my temple and wait. Purple? I’m still unsure if I’m doing it right but soon enough the Princip forms. That deep and encompassing shade. To the expanse I say the name: “Sullivan Leitch.”

Nothing.

“Sullivan Leitch,” I say again, louder.

The purple c

The purple c a

The purple cas

The purple casc

The purple casca

The purple cascad

The purple cascade

The purple cascades





pink ____ yellow

skin ____hair



frown brow __shout_________ pout

________man


face blurs

vibrates and merges

vibrates and merges


transforms through


______analogue

digital __ video ___ HD

___ lo-fi __ lark


_____ UHD



Sullivan through the ages

________________________ his hair

____ cheese curls




swizzle

dancing

wispish twist


________ immovable


_____ I am a moon orbiting


his hair is is the sole constant


_____ in Sullivan

________ through the ages


________ strings flop



W t skq

pd vl ____ v

P ___ a


w m

_ fl


ap e l ____ wjc


Sw__ a


k dk

forororo

swfj h

H g ____v

J

W _____ p __sx


headlines?


_______________ Art?


the 90s:


Ron Arad ____ Jeff Koons David Salle


Sullivan at openings



____ Chris Offili


CGI images of a port




Adelaide boy

______________________________ Fuzhou



Opening Soon


a large mixed-use complex in Newport Beach

LEITCH HOLDINGS


black and white


Adelaide boy


UPSTART WITH BIG PLANS FOR DOWNTOWN


developments

Adelaide ___ Melbourne

Singapore

Miami



_____ Sydney __ China ___ London


Sullivan Leitch is the go-to Olympic developer



In the midst of West Hollywood The Leitch has an urban village feel.


text and image fly and consume my thoughts


________ audio:


What if everyone starts declaring any plot of land a sacred site?



_______ Leitch relaxes by playing guitar and sailing a small yacht, which he describes as his ‘one extravagance’






Adelaide boy



Information ________ In Search Of

clues



knowledge


the hotel revolves around a tree-filled garden with a bronze sculptural centrepiece by Tony Cragg


I am directing and being directed, hunting that in, some crux to target in negotiations.


Oligarchs on Canvas


Oh God, no, not this one…


R

A

T

S

SN N

SNA A

SNAKK

SNAKE E

SNAKESS


Corrupting one of the last businesses practiced by gentlemen...


________“Who am I?”


This I yell. The very suggestion I am not a gentleman - it angers me still.

Once again, my journey through Virxion has soured, this time thanks to ‘Oligarchs on Canvas’. That hyperbolic, vindictive essay - ostensibly about international art fairs - was mostly a vehicle for Patric-bashing. Sullivan was afforded column after column of the New Yorker to vent about the Cy Twombly deal. He described me as a “ratsnake”. To this day, Google my name and predictive search offers “Patric Farmer Playboy” and “Patric Farmer Ratsnake”.

It will come therefore as no surprise then to learn this essay was penned by none other than TR James. My nemesis. Her career was established on the back of ‘The Playboy Dealer’ and her subsequent output has centred around similarly pithy essays dismissing Artworld.

I don’t pay attention to a word she writes (she is invested in my failure) but, alas, the brothers Verbeke were disappointed by ‘The Playboy Dealer’ and apoplectic about ‘Oligarchs on Canvas’. I didn’t get it. Still don’t. Critics are irrelevant...yet they maintain a peculiar grip over some people’s imagination. Especially old-timers like the brothers who hold print-media such as the New Yorker in high esteem. They allowed that interminable essay to wound their egos while somehow neglecting the MILLIONS earned by said ratsnake.

Arguably, however, ‘Oligarchs on Canvas’ was part of a perceived lessening of their influence. It represented the gallery as part of an old guard - unscrupulous, greedy, toxic - that was being replaced.

This bad press and bitter taste somehow mixed to create the impression I killed Cy Twombly - that he died at my hand for a fast buck…


Twombly must be spinning in his grave


I have to escape ‘Oligarchs on Canvas’ - there lies only frustration and dead ends - I sweep the words away and turn to…


Personal life


The Wives


_____Could there be an in in any of them?


No. 1 Cheryl Hilltop

No. 2 Sarah Cooper


separated last year


Unconfirmed engagement __ rumours of a new one…


who are you?



Rebecca Radley known professionally as Becca Radd, is an Australian actress, singer and model. Radd began her career as Vicky Marshall on the Australian soap opera Home and Away


________one episode of Ballers


n______othing from the last four years


an interview in Australian Hello!


“He is passionate about the environment and wildlife and knowledgeable about the world. I have always been attracted to shy guys and Sully is a really humble and kind soul. Of course, it helps that he’s a Stoner. We are just a local boy and girl getting together.”



no, no, there’s nothing here I haven’t tried...



back I swim

backstroke

____smaller in time

________early low-res


a mere handful of pixels


Adelaide boy ___ behind a desk


youth ____ a tough guy ____ that look: is it arrogant or just the expression of a winner


holds a football




a guitar _______ hangs on the wall



its body mottled gold


next to it is a framed picture


________bearded man


______holds the same guitar


zoom

zoomin


close _____ towards the face


search the image



Jerome John “Jerry” Garcia was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist, best known for his work as the lead guitarist and as a vocalist with the band Grateful Dead


(Well, hello there…)



Adelaide boy


who only travels out of the football season



___never misses a match of his beloved Adelaide Stone FC


spent July in the US following the psychedelic rock group the Grateful Dead on tour.


He’s a Deadhead!




I’ve seen them 28 times over the past two years


Through Virxion I enter Arty:Facts (the IMDb of Artworld) and go to a subsection I rarely frequent: Memorabilia.

Jerry Garcia guitars, Robert Hunter lyrics, Mickey Hart gongs - Sullivan has purchased them all. Photos of the very same objects posted to ‘Long Strange Thread’, a Deadhead forum, featuring posts from an ‘Adelaide Boy’.

There are thousands.

They create towers of text...


Hornsby’s use of accordion and grand piano altered the band’s sound as Myland relied much more on electric piano which was conducive to raucous “rock and roll” sound that distinguished Myland’s sound but with Hornsby they had a more mellow soulful sound more suited to a band who by now had (more than) a touch of grey.


...a Babelia of comments - words, opinions, lists - that reaches up, up, away into the distance...


I for one will not be attending the Fare Thee Well shows because IMO this is a folk music that belongs to the people and if any one member of this band of brothers can get on stage the music will live on and must be continuously evolving


I stroke my chin: what is ‘Fare Thee Well’?



Fare Thee Well ‘Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead’ marked the final time the surviving members would all perform together.


But there then soon came the announcement that the music would live on…


________ “Leanne!”



Her name! Her name is Leanne! Oh my gosh, the way it plops in my head: Virxion is truly incredible. It rewires the mind. Astonishing technology…

I follow this trail of clues...


Just as Sullivan desired...the Dead evolved into a new outfit


_____/span>Dead & Company


A band photo featuring my close personal friend…Mr John Mayer.




_____“Leanne! Leanne!”


Takes a few cries for her name to break on through to the other side but eventually a “Leanne!” enters my dimension. I pull off the visor.

Bang bang.

I’m dazed. It’s akin to coming around after surgery.

Bang bang.

“I know you’re in there!”

I venture out to the corridor.

Bang bang bang bang bang - this thumping at the front door doesn’t let up - “Let me in!” - bang bang - the bangs are hard enough to budge the door - bang - keep this up it’ll break off its hinges - bang bang bang - “Leanne!”

“She isn’t here.”

Banging stops.

“Who are you?” - he barges the door - “Tell me who you are!” - he barges again, there’s an almighty crack and the door breaks in half lengthways - a beardy head pokes through the gap, its expression one of horror and fury - he spits, “Leanne!”

“She’s not here!”

“I will not be cuckolded!”

Half the door holds up. It’s just enough to keep him out but when he starts kicking it in, I turn and I run.

Back to the bedroom. Scoop up my things - passport, shoes, can’t find trousers - I hear a smash and clatter outside so make a move.

I’m wearing only boxers and the Virxion around my neck. I pull open French windows and exit onto a balcony. Hear a roar - maniac is in the bedroom - I tug the French windows closed - he slams the glass.

“We didn’t do anything!”

“Arse you didn’t.”

“Leanne let me sleep over—”

“You a pommie? Bet you remind her of Rob. Bane of my existence, the Brits. I ’ate the lot of you.”

While keeping the windows shut, I turn to look over my shoulder: I’m on the first floor - one floor: surely jumpable?

Maniac punches the glass then grabs a chair. He flings it at the window. The window cracks. Next he picks up a tennis racket.

“How could you do this to me, Leanne?”

He beats the racket on the bed.

I climb over the balcony railing: if I dangle it won’t be too far.

“You think it’s cricket to root another fella’s missus?”

“I didn’t, I promise.”

“You’re covered in scratch marks and you’re in your kecks, it’s London-to-a-brick you’ve had it off with my other half.”

He cracks the racket into the window - smash - cacophony - glass everywhere - I kneel from the balcony edge and ease my legs off - he lurches over the railing, red-eyed, frothing at the mouth - points the racket in my face - “I am not a violent man! You’ve done this. When the cops come and ask did he jump or was he pushed I’ll say he jumped and they’ll believe me because you are a pommie bastard and if there’s one thing Adelaide men ’ate it’s pommie bastards.”

“We didn’t do a thing, I promise.”

“Liar!”

He whacks the railing - I don’t want to let go - even though I know (I think) the fall won’t kill me, I don’t know how to fall successfully (How to Fall Successfully could be the title of a self-realisation guide) and, as I dangle from the balcony, I can’t help but reflect that my time in Australia really has been marked by violence. But in spite of everything, I still have a deep appreciation for Adelaide. Something about this town connects.

“To love and honour. Till death us do us part. Leanne said it was a trial separation.” Desperately he roars her name, “Leanne!”

Mi amore appears!

Behind him.

Tip-toes through the door.

Approaches maniac.

“Bryan,” she purrs.

His features relax, he lowers the racket, he smiles, he turns to Leanne.

“Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgh!”

She sprays a gusher of mace - Bryan wails, covering his eyes - he drops the racket and tumbles, crashlanding into the pommie bastard.

“Patric!” she cries.

Patric falls.


*


“Next time I’m over, I could maybe swing by your gallery.”

“Sure.”

I consider telling her I won’t be there much longer but it’s simpler this way.

A pause - an ellipse of the unspoken unspeakable - until finally, “It’s a pity we never met when I lived over there.”

“That’s the thing about London. You can live next door to someone and be worlds apart.”

“Our paths must have crossed, because I’m telling you I dated every dirtbag there.”

“What will you do with Bryan?”

“I never let an old flame burn me twice.”

Say what you will about Leanne, she has a way with words. Her phrases really lodge themselves inside my imagination. I never let an old flame burn me twice. I think about this as I stare out the passenger-side window.

The sky is full of planes. New journeys and destinations. Stories beginning and coming to a close. I should tell Leanne stop the car, turn around and let’s give this a go, you and me, yes it’s crazy but how’s uncrazy been working out?


THE END


I wish it was that easy. I wish we could recognise those moments in life we have it: the perfect episode to pull the plug on the show and go out on a high…

“End of the road,” says Leanne as she pulls up outside the airport. It’s hectic with taxis, buses, luggage trolleys, harried travellers. Not the perfect setting for goodbye.

“Sorry again about Bryan.”

“Don’t mention it. It was a wake-up call.”

“How so?”

“As I was falling, I had an epiphany.”

“Did your life pass before your eyes?”

“Not quite. But I saw things clearly.”

“I hope you hold on to that. Clarity is precious.”

“Thank you.”

“I have a present I want you to have.”

She presses a purple envelope into my hand.

“What is it?”

“If you ever feel like giving up or you don’t see things clearly, you can open it, and I hope it will give you strength. And you might think of me.”

“I won’t forget you, Leanne.”

“Goodbye, Patric.”

I get out of the car and don’t look back as I walk away. Walk away. Limp away is more like it. It’s probably not a good look either, me dressed in her ex’s clothes, dragging a swollen ankle.



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