Summing up Eleanor and I's experiences at the Southern Sports Bar & Grill proved to be too much for just one person, so this post is a special edition with a guest commentary by Ellie, followed by my own experiences. First, Eleanor's write-up:
We enter and I wonder if it is bingo night – will the prize be a meat pack? We are a good 40 years younger than the average patrons, but find their eyes curious, rather than suspicious, when they turn our way. We order some malty Speight’s and as we take a seat three platters of food appear before us: buttered white bread, fries, samosas and spring rolls.
“Get into it girls,” says one of the grey nomads, dressed in a coarse woollen sweater and sensible trousers.
“It’s for everyone”
We demure; we are new, inexperienced, young.
“Have a chip sandwich while they’re hot” says another, with a smile and a kind nod. We have died and gone to Milton heaven.
Free food, friendly locals and cheap pints? We call in reinforcements.
“Lem!” I say breathlessly down the phone to my poor friend, still stuck at NHNZ HQ. “ You have to come. We suspect we have found our local”.
Within minutes Lem appears, as does Quinn, and like old hands they order a jug - each. It’s Happy Hour now and jugs are $8.50, Radiohead is playing and our tummies are lined with grease. My hair is wild, my shoes are dirty and my face is bare. But the Southern doesn’t care. It embraces you just as you are.
I have several friends who have had cause to hear something I said, or to just look at me, and exclaim that I was a spoilt princess. Indeed, I do often demand a perfectly poured gin and tonic at inopportune moments, and I will complain about incompetent help. They're supposed to be helping after all.
Keeping this in mind, Ellie and I had held off going to 'the Southern' until now and instead attended fairly upmarket versions of what 'a local' can mean. From outside, this local looks like the kind of place frequented by depressed, old alcoholics, their long suffering spouses and gambling addicts. I was ready to find it fairly grim.
Beforehand, Ellie and I made derisive jokes and braced ourselves. Looking at my windswept hair (beach walk), old woolen top and swandri jacket, Ellie noticed, with perhaps a touch of envy, "you look more working class than me today, you'll have a better time fitting in."
The truth was, neither of us 'fitted in', but it wasn't our bratty, bougie ways which drew attention, but rather the fact we are not gold-card holding members of the retired community or bus drivers from across the road, having an after-work (we hope) pint.
More importantly, it didn't matter one bit.
A group of bus drivers and their buddies were heckling us and our obvious tourist status: "what's with your camera?" one man questioned me, leaning in with a suspicious look on his face. I told him we were documenting the place, since we're on the search for our new local. "Well, you've found it now haven't you?" he said gruffly and then laughed with his friends, and us.
When that same group left at the 1967 appropriate time of six pm, the heckler turned to us and shouted across the bar: "here next Friday night?"
He left without waiting for a reply.