An Australian girl walked into a bar.
I know. It sounds like the start of a joke. Perhaps it is. But it didn’t feel like it at the time.
The Australian girl was me. Shirley Goldsmith. Originally proud citizen of Adelaide, South Australia. But now of the world. I go where the fancy take me. Or as far as the swag in my purse pays for. And that was the trouble.
I was stranded in Brighton with nothing but a sweaty rucksack and seven pence between me and a night on a park bench.
I was hungry. And as thirsty as a kookaburra at a dried out billabong.
So I swaggered up to the bar like the last of the big spenders. I slapped all the coins I had down on the counter and said to the barman: “What can I get for that?”
He uncoiled himself from the stool he was sitting on and brushed a grimy hand across a bristly chin. He was wearing a grey shirt with a frayed collar and couple of missing buttons. There was a stain on his trousers. I hoped it was spilt beer.
He glanced at the money on the bar and said: “Well, it certainly won’t be a night at the Grand hotel.”
The last thing I needed right now was a wiseacre. Especially one who looked like he hadn’t changed his clothes since Hitler invaded Poland.
So I said: “Listen up, Bozo, I didn’t ask what I couldn’t have. I want as much food and drink as that cash will buy.”
The Bozo sucked on his teeth and thought about that. He rolled his bloodshot eyes. Made up his mind about something.
He gestured to a glass cabinet on the bar. “As it happens I’ve got one cheese sandwich left. You can have it for four pence. And I’ll give you a half of shandy for three pence. As long as you don’t mind drinking it out of a chipped glass”
A voice behind me said: “I wouldn’t have the sandwich.”
I turned round. A young guy had materialised from nowhere. I hadn’t spotted him when I walked in. (In fact, I could’ve sworn the place was deserted, now I come to think about it.)
He was tall, slim and reasonable looking. Okay, on the dinkum side of reasonable, if I’m honest with myself. He had brown hair and the kind of look on his face which could make a girl sorry she’d put a padlock on her panties.
But a girl from the meaner streets of Adelaide is no push-over. So I said: “What’s it to you?”
Then the Bozo behind the bar chimed in. “Yes, Colin interfering Crampton, what’s it got to do with you? That’s cheddar in that sandwich. Best cheese. Mature.”
Colin sauntered over and looked at the cheese. Lowered his head and gave a long soft sniff. His head snapped back like an elastic band had just tightened in his neck.
He pointed at the cheese and said: “Mature! It’s drawing a pension.”
I said: “Right now I’d tuck into a sandwich stuffed with Ned Kelly’s daks.”
Colin said: “You’re from Oz.”
“And that’s some kind of crime?”
“No, but Brits and Aussies share something we like doing together,” he said.
“I geddit. The Ashes. Right? Donald Bradman. Denis Compton.”
He winked. “I wasn’t thinking of cricket.”
Cheeky whacker. If I’d been in a bar in Adelaide, I’d have kneed him in the nuts and then laughed as he dribbled Fosters down his shirt.
I was about to tell him that he couldn’t bowl this maiden over so easily.
But I remembered just in time that I only had seven pence. And that look on his face was doing something to me.
So I said: “Can I buy you a drink? It’ll be half of shandy in a chipped glass.”
He said: “Only if it comes with two straws.”
The Bozo – I later discovered his name was Jeff – poured the drink and we took it to a corner table at the back of the bar.
I said: “Have you heard the one about the Australian girl who walked into a bar?”
“No,” he said. “How does it end?”
“I’m waiting to find out,” I said.
And you know what? Even though neither of us could think of a punch line, we both started laughing.