If there's one thing you need in a pub, it's to be left alone while you doom scroll your phone. That's a dream harder in the pokies dens with an obligatory bar tacked on that dominate Sydney's sprawling suburbia.
Living in Granville, you have a choice of three such places and last Wednesday evening I hit the Granville Hotel for a beer before doing some shopping. In the small box that serves as a smoking area, my in-depth investigation of the multitude of views on offer on the matter of Russia's on Ukraine in my algorithm-driven Facebook feed was interrupted by an old heavily tattooed bloke who wanted to talk about his various pokies wins and losses.
He was quite sanguine about some eye-watering highs and lows, and appreciative that after winning big and shouting an entire pub in Fairfield one time, the next time he saw anyone there, they shouted him back.
Human solidarity is a wonderful thing, but I really just wanted to solve the Ukraine crisis in my head before picking up some cat food from the supermarket, so I finished my beer and left. Not before world-famous filmmaker Zeb messaged that he was coming back from work and did I want a beer.
So after shopping, I headed across the rail lines (noting the train timetable screens, which were showing no trains and no times, as is now the Sydney norm) to the Royal Hotel.
Attempts to not engage with anyone immediately hit a rock when the enthusiastic athletic looking bloke who poured my beer declared, after seeing my details when I swiped my members card, said "oh you're the guy whose signed up for the footy tipping!"
This was unfortunately true. I'd even paid $20 to do it. This came about due to a misunderstanding a week earlier when I wanted to become a member for the cheaper beer. But as I was using Zeb's membership card, the bartender thought as I was already a member and was asking to join the tipping comp. Being too awkward to stop what was happening, I just paid the $20 then had to ask to become a member anyway as you need your members number to take part in the comp.
I grew up in Perth and follow AFL. NRL barely enters my conciousnes. But the bar tender who'd just discovered I'd signed up was extremely keen and made sure I swipe my card on the thing you have to do you can enter your tips. Anyway, I got 7 our of 8 tips right in round 1, denied the full sweep only by the West Tigers upset over Melbourne Storm. (We'll not discuss round 2.)
Having swiped the magic thing that let me enter tips, we retreated to what they call their beeer garden, a narrow enclosed strip about twice the size of the Granville Hotel's smoking area without any of the plant life that usually goes along with things with "garden" in their name.
And there we minded out own business, probably did what anyone whose spent too long on the left does and complained about the left while solving the Ukraine situation (not that we'll get any credit).
Until we were interrupted by a young bloke asking to borrow a light who was clearly affected by more than the beer in his hand. He was all "hepped up", as the kids say, on unsteady but hyper and throwing a few punches in the air like oxygen offended him. An older guy he was drinking with came up too. Lex, as he found out his name was, was a retired truckie filled with unnerving stories about all the speed he snorted so he could drive a semitrailer from Sydney to Darwin in 60 hours straight.
Lex, hopefully, was only on beer. seeing as he was turning 70 the next day and had survived three heart attacks. The only shocking thing, listening to his stories, was that he'd survived at all. Lex went off to get him and his young friend another beer and the young guy wandered off looking semi-steady.
The young guy came back before long totell us he thought something was gonna kick off and what would we do if it did? I suggested we'd probably stay right here in our corner and he gave a laugh in a "fair enough" kinda way.
Now I should point out that this young guy, Lex, myself and Zeb are all white. Granville, however, is not a very white place. The last census, for instance, found one on in five households spoke English at home. Most people who drink at the Royal are not white but from the subcontinent.
And nothing was said that night to make it explicit there was any racial element to what followed but ...well nothing was said to say it wasn't either. You spend enough time in pubs in largely non-wtie areas as white guy and you soon learn from other white guys exact what they think about the racial composition of the particular locality. Not. of course. all white guys (don't send me death threats).
Before long, a group of 7 or 8 men of subcontinent bsckground came out to the "beer garden" and this guy went straight up them, joined their group and at first seemed to be cracking mutually appreciated jokes. It looked jovial, they were laughing and he was smiling and then, out of nowhere, they went for him.
Siddenly, bodies were flying across the "beer garden". The brawl was brutally one-sided asthree or four of these guys just pummeled the instigator. They got him up against a wall as he desperately tried to fight his corner, then onto the ground as they whacked and kicked. Whatever he said to trigger the fight definitely did the trick.
The bouncer came out to break it up, while the guy lay there getting hit with this grin on his face like he'd got what he wanted and was enjoying it. The bouncer looked down at him wearily, as if to say "again? why are you like this?" He was picked up and ejected, while the group who were hammering him went inside -- the bouncer didn't seem to bothered by them but I'm not sure if they had to leave too.
As this was happening, Lex had re-emerged with a schooner in each hand, and stooed watching the scene with a bemused look. As the guy were taken out, Lex came up to ask what the fuck just happened? I said we didn't really know but, pointing to one ofhis two schooners, said at least he'd got another beer to drink.
Lex look forlornly at the extra schooner and said: "But I don't drink New!"
Well to cut the story short, Lex told more horror stories about his days as a trucker, like the time he nearly died when he rolled his semitrailer while off his face. Then finishing his beer, he reluctantly picked up the schooner of New, took a sip, grimaced but decided he could stomach it after all.
Then we went left and I went home -- a place where the threat of violence comes from the cat and at least he doesn't talk much.
The source of backyard violence.