When I was at school with Kanga she was as British as binge-drinking, but living in Australia the past 15 years has given her more than just a Queensland twang. Walking round Lewes with her is like stepping out with Crocodile Dundee. She really does say ‘G’day?’ to everyone, and she would doubtless raise her leather bush hat if she only had one. Luckily for me, and Lewes, she’s staying with mates in Brighton - see? ‘Mates’? It’s contagious? - and has popped over here for day trips, and decent pubs.
‘Ohmigard?’ she drawls, blowing the froth off a pint of Harveys. She never was a glass of white wine for the lady kind of person.
‘You seen the blasted hell-holes they call pubs over in Brighton?’
‘Rough, I expect’. I sip my white wine.
‘Hell no? Not rough like the watering holes in old Toowoomba?’ She laughs, a delicate sound that causes everyone in the Gardeners to whip round and fix her with a hard stare.
‘How ya going?’ she chirrups, and they turn quickly away, lest she engage them in conversation.
Born and Bred Boy sidles into the seat opposite us and stares askance at Kanga’s knee-length shorts. ‘What’s wrong with Brighton pubs then?’
‘They’re not pubs? They’re bars?’ Kanga gives his nose a playful flick with a beer-mat. ‘You know, I’ve been really looking forward to bending the elbow in some proper English pubs? Like the ones we went to at school?’
Boy regards me with respect.
‘At least this one’s dinky-di?’ She looks round the Gardeners approvingly.
‘Any idea?’ Boy mouths, and I shake my head.
Kanga drains her glass. ‘Let’s hit the turps, guys?’
Like the Queen interpreting the native lingo, I tell Boy, ‘She wants us to take her on a tour of authentic drinking establishments.’
‘Right ho’, says Boy, going all PG Wodehouse under the pressure.
There are roughly twenty pubs in Lewes, and as we walk, we discount those which Boy deems inauthentic (most of them), those which I deem too far (most of the rest), and those in which Kanga, in her shorts and rude t-shirt, might cause a stir (almost all). That leaves us with the Lewes Arms, although there is a slight contretemps caused by Kanga casually wandering into the front bar as though she were allowed there. However, we are soon sitting comfortably in the back room, watching a game of Toad in the Hole.
'Ah, this is great?’ she sighs, lovingly necking another pint. ‘This is what I dreamed of when I was sinking stubbies in old Fibber Magee’s?’
Boy, trying to turn the conversation away from Australia, begins to explain the rules of Toad. Kanga stands up, says, ‘I know? Was a dab hand at it when I visited the Harrietville Hotel Motel in Victoria? Only table in Oz? Who fancies another?’ and strides off to the bar.
‘What a woman?’, breathes Boy, and I don’t think he means it as a question.
Beth Miller, 26th January 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com