When we eventually rose from our alcoholic slumber, we staggered into the daylight to find ourselves in a very beautiful, but very sleepy port. With its Victorian facades, wide empty streets and manicured lawns and gardens, Port Fairy had a look and feel of a time gone bye. It reminded me of the safe and ordered suburbs of 1970’s Northern England I had grown up in. As we strolled down the clean quiet streets, I could imagine my old next door neighbour, Mrs Cooper, leaning over the wall to protest at the football that had just beheaded her prize bloom, or Mr Pearson, polishing his prized Austin Rover on one of the pristine driveways.
We wandered down to the main street and took breakfast in a quaint, almost bustling cafe. By day, the population of Port Fairy, appeared to be entirely transient and unlike the previous evening in the pub, almost everyone in the cafe was, like us, a tourist. Afterwards, we headed for the Tourist Information Office, as although we only had a limited time, we were keen to see everything Port Fairy had to offer. Inside we found an old lady with blue hair who appeared slightly flustered by our arrival. We waited, while she explained to the gentleman in front of us that the only boat tour had already gone, two days earlier! As the gentleman left, disappointed, we approached the desk. I was struck by our assistants age, she must have been ninety plus, but although her skin was close to transparent and her rheumatic hands were beginning to hinder, she was still going strong and very keen to help. However, when we asked what she recommended we see during our visit, she appeared genuinely flummoxed. She paused for what felt like an eternity. I considered calling a doctor! Then, pulling out a map of the town and pointing to the biggest road on the map, she replied, “Ah…. Erm…. Well, lets see, you can take a walk down the main street. Have you seen the pub”? She paused before adding in an almost excited tone, “Oh, and it’s the Port Fairy Fair today, up at the show-ground. There’ll be lots of animals and they have a very big raffle”. “Ah, the truck of wood”, I replied. She stared at me blankly.
We spent the next hour or so wandering around the beautiful port, harbour and pretty streets of Port Fairy, before heading up to the show ground to try our luck with the show and it’s increasingly famous truck of wood raffle. Carol was especially keen as, being American, she expected to see tractor pulling, hog roasting, eating competitions and of course, beer. I tried to explain that the Port Fairy Fete, wouldn’t be quite the same as the New Jersey State Fair. Sure enough, as we arrived at the small show ground her disappointment was palpable. Pony jumping and sheep sheering didn’t seem to compare with monster trucks, popcorn and pig racing. She didn’t even crack a smile when we came to the creative vegetables. I tried to raise her spirits by taking her to see the prize Cocks, but nothing worked. Finally, when the ‘most unusual dog’ competition failed to amuse, we took our ‘truck of wood’ raffle tickets and retired to the hostel pondering what on earth we would do if we won.
That evening we returned to the Caledonian Pub to meet up with Michael, a local lad from a nearby village. We had met him the previous night and agreed to meet up again should we still be in town (as there was still the chance of the wood, we were). Michael was incredibly friendly, bordering on imbalanced, but his enthusiasm and his humour were infectious. He spent most of his weekends in Port Fairy as his village wasn’t as much fun and most of that time was spent in The Caledonian pub. As the evening wore on we kicked back and enjoyed both Michael’s hospitality and his stories. He regaled us with anecdotes about family and friends. He also explained how he was an artist, a spot wielder in fact, and how he had always been driven to be creative! Late in the evening Michael rose and making his excuses explained that he had to go and pick up his girlfriend. ” Give us your number and me and my girlfriend will come and see you both in Melbourne”, he said. “Are you not going to bring her to meet us”, I enquired, as I obediently wrote down my mobile number. “Oh, sure, would you like to meet her”? Michael asked, sounding a little surprised. “Of course”, I said. He jumped up and disappeared out of the bar without another word.
When Michael eventually returned, he burst into the bar with his girlfriend following sheepishly behind. It suddenly struck me how out of place they appeared in an Australian outback pub. He was dressed in a plaid jacket with crisp white open neck shirt and some very fancy Italian shoes and she was somewhat conspicuous in a full length sparkling blue chiffon ball gown. Their outfits were jarringly at odds with the regulation khaki, black leather, t-shirts and baseball caps worn by everyone else in the bar. “This is Emily”, Michael said proudly as he resumed his position at the bar. “It’s such a shame we couldn’t have met you sooner”, Carol said. “How come you weren’t with Michael last night”, she enquired. “I was studying the scriptures”, Emily replied, as if merely stating the obvious. I could see Carol struggling for an answer, her face contorted as she searched for something to say. Emily, however, wasn’t waiting for a reply. “God came to me in a dream one night and told me to dedicate my life to him” she continued without blinking. “I’ve been studying the scriptures ever since in the hope of making myself a better Christian. Christianity is my life and god keeps me company”. Michael tugged the number from my clenched hand and leaning in whispered, “Don’t worry mate, I don’t believe a bladdy word of it. All I know is this Christianity stuff is crucifying me”! Even so, I thought, I still want that bloody number back!
It has to be said, Emily was very gracious and didn’t object to my relentless questioning. She even appeared to accept my atheism with good grace. Well, in a, he even loves you lost soul none believers. All will be forgiven come the day of judgement, kind of way.
As we stood outside the pub waving good-bye to Michael and the virgin Emily, I turned to Carol. “I need another drink after that”! I said. “Amen to that”, she replied laughing. “You need another drink! Somebody shouted from behind us. I felt a hand on my shoulder, it was a bloke I had been talking to in the pub earlier. “Well, ya better come back to ours as we’ve just bought a shit load of beer and we’re having a paaarty”! I looked at Carol, she shrugged her shoulders. “Well, I don’t think the night could get any madder” I ventured. “Oh, I think it could”, she said. And with that, off we went.