Tamworth

Tamworth, Australia’s home of Country Music.  And what a nice place it turned out to be.  The tree lined main street was comfortably busy, coffee shops doing a roaring trade in the dusk.  Several shops were still open, and I ambled through them at leisure.  One music store had several well made guitars on display, and I was sorely tempted to stop inside and have a ‘twang’… so to speak. 

There were a couple of  pubs nearby, they looked fairly old but very well kept and I earmarked one as the place I would have tea.  I strolled the length of the street, the weather was perfect, not too cool, or warm.  It felt good to stretch my legs.  There was a small board holding pamphlets near a newsagent and I grabbed a few, eager to see what attractions awaited the casual tourist in Tamworth. 

The Country Hands of Fame, yep.  The Country Hall of Fame, yep.  The Lookout, ok yep.  And a swag of other Country or Music related activities.  The Country Hands of Fame was nearby according to the map, but as the night was closing in I thought I’d check it out in the morning. 

Strolling back to the motel I saw a large map of the town near the council building.  Stopping in front of it I tried locating where the attractions were in relation to where I was standing.  I’m normally pretty good at this, but for some reason I was struggling with the directions.  I put my glasses on, but this didn’t help too much.  They wouldn’t, as they’re for focussing on distant objects…

A young lady approached me and asked, “Can I help you mate?” and I immediately gave Tamworth another 20 points on my Towns and City Ratings Guide (which put it near the top of the ‘Definitely Worth Bringing the Family Here for a Look’ scale).  I smiled at her and said, “Yeah, where’s the Hands of Fame exhibit?”

Her smile widened, “About two blocks away.  See, we’re standing here,” at this point a smell wafted over me, a very bad smell, but I pretended not to notice it, “and the Hands of Fame is over here.  See?”  I nodded at her as tears filled my eyes.  I quickly scanned the map, was there a meat works or a sewerage outlet near here perhaps? 

She reached higher on the map with one hand and pointed down the road with her other hand, “All you have to do is follow this street down to that cream building, turn left, and you can’t miss it.”  I nodded at her and smiled.  Well, I grimaced anyway.  I moved a little closer to her to get away from the smell, and it dawned on me like a tonne of bricks to the head, that the smell was coming from her.  This nice helpful lady had sneakily  ‘ripped one out’ when she reached up to point on the map.  Being a gentleman, I pretended not to notice, but I swear I could hear birds dropping out of the sky above us. 

I thanked her, and her smile was genuine, so I decided not to deduct the 10 points for her ‘little slip’ because she was so enthusiastic and helpful.  I waved as she jumped into her car and drove off, then taking a few deep breaths of fresh air, continued ambling up the street, chuckling to myself at the thought of what she’d say to her hubby when she got home, “You’ll never believe what just happened to me in main street darls…”    

Half an hour later, freshly showered, and glowing from the two stiff ports I had downed while sitting outside my room, I found myself yakking to the blokes next door who had just ridden their BMW’s into town.  We got talking about the roads in the area, and when they heard I had just come up from Port MacQuarrie they were all ears as that was where they were headed tomorrow… the lucky bastards.  I gave the road a huge wrap, and their eyes misted over, I bet they hardly slept that night.  One of them asked me why I wasn’t on my bike, and when I told them I had sooked out because of the cold weather forecast, they got a bit snippy, thinking I was a Sunshine Rider, a mere Wannabe.  I wanted to tell them that I had ridden in some of the most horrendous conditions known in Queensland, heat, cold, torrential rain, lightening storms, winds that had nearly ripped me off the seat, and dirt roads so bad that some of my teeth are still loose, but it would have been futile.  I wasn’t a real bikie in their eyes.  I normally wouldn’t take this from BMW riders, I mean this is a group of people who have heated hand grips,  but as I was bikeless, I had to wear the snub.  

Feeling a bit sorry for myself I headed off for tea.  The pub I walked into was a classic.  Lovely timber work everywhere, well laid out dinner room, and bar area.  I found a table, ordered tea from another smiling and very helpful lass (add another 20 points) and made my way into the bar.  The place was crowded but the bar area had a lot of vacant spots.  Making my way to the bar a young barman lifted his eyebrows at me and I was about to order when a bloke behind me said, “Gimme two News.”  I turned, and a hard eyed bastard was glaring daggers at me.  He stood a little smaller than me, in jeans, and a short sleeved cotton shirt with the top three buttons undone, revealing a variety of tattoos across his chest.  

He looked at me as if to say, “Yeah?!”  I shook my head turned away, thinking “Where?  Where do these arseholes come from?  Is there a bus load of them following me around?” 

The barman returned with the beers and I was about to order when Mr. Arsehole butts in again, “I want some ciggies too.”  I turn to him again and find he’s standing a lot closer, his breath reeks of stale beer and cigarette smoke, and he’s looking at me now in an unmistakable way.  I feel my blood pressure rising and think, ‘Yep, we’re going to town here.’  Then behind me I hear a girls voice, “You right mate?”  It was the barmaid, so turning my back on Mr. Arsehole I ask for a Toohey’s Old, in a schooner, a rare treat for a Queenslander.  I turn back to Mr. Arsehole, but he’s busy talking to a young fella dressed as a cowboy.  The young bloke looks like Trouble in a Bucket as well.  Good thing I didn’t start anything.  They light cigarettes and walk outside to the street to finish their smokes without a second glance at me.  Obviously just rude pricks, I deduct 5 points from Tamworths score as they should have shot at least one of these dead breaths before now.  

Deciding to give the public bar a miss, I slip back into the dining room, sip my beer and open my novel.  It’s a good read this book, Jack Whyte’s ‘Lancelot’, the latest instalment of the Camulod series, and I’m keen to catch up on the hero’s latest drama.   Ten minutes later, tea arrives, and I look up to thank the waitress, and bugger me, who’s sitting at the table directly opposite and giving me the evil eye?  Yep, Mr. Arsehole, and his deputy sidekick, Trouble in a Bucket.  They must have been sitting there watching me the whole time! 

They didn’t say anything when I flicked my head at them, in the universal sign language for “What the ‘F’ are you looking at?”  So I ate my tea in peace and continued reading my book.  It was a good meal too, lots of it, all of it covered in a thick layer of gravy, and I found myself back at the bar for a re-fill of beer to wash it all down.  Mr A and the side kick were too busy eating to care about me anymore.  So I drank my beer, finished the chapter I’d been reading, packed my canvas bag up and made my way back onto the street.  I was in high spirits again.  

Tamworth at night, I decided, is very pretty, there were strings of lights, and some cafes’ had decoraions up as well, so I added another 10 points to the total.  I strolled up and down the main drag again, checking out the shops I missed.  Had another beer in another pub, no aggro, but a good band though, before wandering off again into the night.  On the way back to my room I found a pay phone and called home.  My wife filled me in on the family’s comings and goings, and I told her a little bit about the trip so far.  She told me that my mate in Brisbane had been frantically trying to get hold of me since I left his place the other day.  Why?  As I’d driven off, he’d had a change of heart and wanted to come with me!  Instead, after ringing everyone in my family trying to get hold of me he went to work and resigned.  So it turned out pretty good in the end I suppose.  Now he’s on a permanent holiday as a retiree 🙂 

My youngest daughter came on the phone, excited and happy.  She told me what her sisters had been up to, and what she had been doing at school,  I felt a lump in my throat as she spoke, and it set rock hard when she said quietly, “I miss you daddy.”   

I told her I missed her too, and that I would be home soon.  Hell, I wanted to go home NOW!  My wife came back on and asked me where I was headed tomorrow, I said I was thinking of heading back to Queensland and catching up with some mates near Toowoomba, but nothing was set in stone at this stage.  My money ran out, and the line went dead.  I turned and discovered that I was standing in front of a bottle shop.  Two minutes later I was back on the street, my bag weighed down with a couple of cold bottles of beer. 

The night wore on as I sat on my chair in the unit reading brochures about Tamworth and the surrounding districts.  It all looked pretty good even through the haze of alcohol and a stomach full of dead cow and a bucket of gravy.   

I could hardly wait til morning.  As I drifted off I wondered if one those riders next door would be happy to lend me his bike and he could follow in my car…

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