As I've said before, the Great Ocean Road is a driver's joy. Hundreds of kilometres of sinuous and beautifully realised roadway afford the motorist every pleasure, such as coming up behind a sluggard mobile home and overtaking it with the mighty power of the Volvo's 2.5 litre, turbo-charged engine, and narrowly avoiding the Audi doing exactly the same thing from the opposite direction. A rough calculation of vectors alerted me to the fact that a combined impact speed of about 300 kph would have probably set off the Volvo's air-bags.
"Jesus, Loz!" ejaculated Leigh - "I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my Grandad - not screaming in horror like his passengers!"
We were in a rather more subdued frame of mind as we rolled into Apollo Bay, a combined fishing village and red-hot tourist mecca for cashed-up Melburnians, many of whom were to be seen promenading their pomeranians along the main drag as we dawdled through town. To be fair, Apollo Bay is paradise on a stick; a long, curving beach winds its way up to a boat harbour where the fishing fleet rests, and the ocean front is admirably bedecked with wide, rambling parkland. We pulled up outside (guess where) the Apollo Bay Hotel, and decided that drink was, for the moment, the better part of valour. After all, we were still shaking from a close encounter of the luxury German vehicle kind.
"Thought I was about to become an historical Australian figure, back there, Loz," mumbled Leigh as he poured schooner number three into himself.
"Get a grip, you big girl's blouse," I responded, "after all of your shenanigans in the Hawkesbury, you'd be lucky to have a statue erected of a size that just one pigeon would have the room to shit on."
It was time to find a camping ground, and, without any trouble at all, we drove into a neat little area that had several tent sites by a creek that fed into the ocean just a couple of hundred yards away. Having set our camp, and it being about 6 p.m., the call of food was unmistakeable, so we ambled back into the hotel to see what was on offer. (And, I must say, southern ocean lobsters are delectable, but please don't tell my wife.)
By about eight o'clock the place was getting jam-packed. Leigh and I decided that a game of pool was in order, and it wasn't long before two local fishos and we were having a rather merry time buying each other beer as we won and lost, and having a very fulfilling conversation about the vicissitudes of the fishing industry. Leigh had opted for the red wine option, and, when he didn't have a pool cue in his hands, was presented with the stimulating dilemma of a very large glass of red in his right, and an even bigger one of beer in his left. Naturally, he chose to be ambidextrous, and, after a couple of hours, became somewhat verbillaceous as well.
"Loz," he intoned rather conspiratorially, "I want to live here for the rest of my life."
"You keep pluggin' away at that lot," I pointed to the two glasses he held in his hands, "and that could be all of about four hours, pal."
At that point the doors of the pub burst open, and in marched three young women of the Vietnamese persuasion, followed by an older bloke who may as well have had the word "Pimp" tattoed on his forehead. The girls were wearing extremely short mini-skirts and equally extreme low-cut singlets; so extreme, in fact, that one had to wonder how those acres of exposed epidermis could actually be contained within the outside of a human body, if you get my meaning.
They turned out to be a trio of working girls down from Melbourne with their boss for a spot of R&R. They were, I have to say, for all their dainty charm, just about the toughest bunch of women I've ever encountered. They immediately commandered the pool table, and looked over the four of us, no doubt determining which would be the easiest to beat. Fortunately, I was overlooked by the selection committee, and retreated to the safety of the bar. The oldest, and toughest, of the three picked Leigh.
"Rack 'em up, sunshine," she commanded Leigh, who, by this stage of the evening, was starting to become unfamiliar with the English language, let alone that variety of it spoken by a tiny Vietnamese woman with a prepossessing snake tattoed across her sumptuous and extensive decolletage. Nevertheless, he valiantly attempted to assemble the balls in the little wooden triangle, overlooking the fact that the white ball didn't belong there. Having one ball, the black, left over from his assemblage, he bemusedly rolled it up to the cue line. The girls looked at each other with looks that said "How good is this?", and the snake lady strutted along the length of the table, pushed Leigh out of the way, and with a dismissive shrug, rearranged the balls correctly. She decided to break, and said to Leigh "You know about 'Pants down run around'?" - referring to an intriguing custom whereby the loser of a game is obliged, if he has sunk no balls in his defeat, to remove his lower garments and parade around the pool table.
Thus potentially relieved of what would be the last vestiges of his dignity, Leigh propped himself on a pool cue while the snake lady leant over the table, revealing a pair of red satin knickers under her mini-skirt with a black bull's-eye strategically embroidered, and belted the fuck out of the break. After a considerable time, the balls stopped careening off the cushions, and, to my amazement, and in seeming defiance of the laws of physics or probability, not one of them had found its way into a pocket.
When Leigh's eyes stopped rolling after he'd vainly attempted to follow the balls around the velvet, and finally appraising that it was his turn, he turned to the snake woman, smiled broadly and said "Tough break, darlin'."
Now, conventional medical science has it that alcohol inhibits various brain functions, including motor skills, calculation, and reasoning. The game of pool requires a tremendous degree of control over all of these faculties, and Leigh had had enough of the stuff to theoretically make it rather difficult for him to stick his pool cue in a bath-tub, let alone bring it close enough to a two-inch pool ball to actually make contact with it.
Leigh decided to throw caution to the wind, and lined up the most difficult long-shot on the table. The girls were tittering with scorn, when Leigh cracked the thirteen ball straight into the corner pocket, leaving the cue ball motionless, and perfectly positioned for an easy pot of the eleven into the side. "Lucky shot," exclaimed the snake lady.
Leigh ignored the easy pot, and lined up a ball that was resting on the cushion at the other end of the table. Gently, delicately, he rolled the cue ball onto the twelve, causing it to run faultlessly into the bottom pocket. The looks of scorn began to dissipate on the ladies' faces, to be replaced with an evident and rising anxiety. The snake lady looked cautiously at the hundred dollar bill that - with the confidence of the consumnate punter - she had previously lain on the end of the table.
Meanwhile, Leigh had smashed another ball cleanly into the side pocket, and was calmly assessing the angle of a particularly tough double into the bottom corner. The ball slid into the pocket without a murmur of complaint. Jack, one of the fishos standing beside me, spat half a schooner onto his mate, and started doing a little jig on the spot. "Fuck me - I don't believe this!" he exclaimed.
By this stage a sizeable crowd had assembled around the table, no doubt attracted by the combination of Leigh's effortless prowess and the ridiculous impersonation of an Irish kick-dancer he affected between shots. Dancing around the table, giggling for all he was worth, he smacked two more balls into their pockets with the sound of a whip-crack. Only the black ball was left. Leigh addressed it. It hit the back of the pocket and rolled down the tube with a sound like hollow laughter.
The crowd erupted. Leigh nonchalantly picked the hundred off the end of the table and walked over to the snake lady. "I can't take your money off you, darlin'," he said as he pressed the note into her hand, "but I believe it's your turn." I have to say this for the snake lady - she was a good sport, and dutifully and deftly removed the mini-skirt and bull's-eye knickers and jogged around the table two or three times. But in her profession, I suppose, such behaviour was fairly run-of-the-mill.
Of course, Leigh's sensational win was the occasion for another several rounds of drinks, and Leigh and I chatted for a while with the girls from Melbourne and a few locals. Or I should say I chatted - Leigh was somewhat more voluble, and mixed a loud discourse on the beneficial effects of red wine on the neurological apparatus with several triple forte choruses of "Proud Mary".
Eventually, the miracle of modern medical science and I staggered drunkenly back to our camp-site, where Leigh got half way inside his tent, and was still on his knees with his head and shoulders on the ground, before he went into a perfect, dreamless sleep. As a parting shot, I got a texta out of the glove box of the Volvo and drew three concentric circles on his backside, which was conveniently protruding from the tent.
"Bull's eye, indeed, old mate," I whispered.