Mild at heart

The column When it comes to a choice between a beer in a topless bar and a carpet of Australian wild flowers, Howard Jacobson plumps for the scarlet banksia

The wild flowers are out in Western Australia.

So much is that not a sentence I ever expected to find myself writing, I am going to write it again.

I've never really had a handle on flowers, wild or tame. I get taken round a garden centre opposite Wandsworth Prison periodically, where I am put through my catechism - "What's that?" "A climbing rose." "And what does it do?" "Climb" - but my heart isn't in it. I'm told that that's because I don't have a heart, but I doubt if that's the reason. What I don't like about flowers is that they come out of the soil. It's a feeling for soil I don't have. Soil depresses me. Especially the soil you find opposite Wandsworth Prison.

But Western Australia's another ball game. In Western Australia you have earth, not soil, and the earth is blood red. Which means that there's blood in the flowers, too. In Western Australia, wild means wild. They can tear your heart out, these wild flowers; there are "ouch bushes" here that will scratch you to pieces; there are armoured grevilleas that will make you wish you'd never been born.

And when I say they are flowers I mean they flower. Forget the solitary shy English buttercup of slithery June. Forget the Sunday daisy or dandelion which you have to get out of your car and search for on your hands and knees with a magnifying glass in the hedgerows of the M25. I'm talking profusion! Pokers, spider orchids, pixie mops, scarlet banksia, everlastings, running postmen, things hairy, spiky, crawling, pawing, carpet of the most extravagant colour, bouquets for all the world's brides, natural rockeries as ornamentally laid out as any country house estate, extending for distances that make a mockery of the speck of soil we call Great Britain. Gran Bretagna will fit into Western Australia 16 times. Though why Western Australia would want it there even once I cannot imagine. Too wonderful the way it is. The earth blood red. The rains falling on the inland ranges 500 miles away, flooding the coastal roads, jolting the ancient humus into another violent birth. The cockatoos screeching. The jabirus fishing in the swollen creeks. And the wild flowers out.

The other thing that's out in Western Australia is the skimpy. A skimpy - for those of you uncertain of its etymology - is a noun derived from an adjective, and refers not to a wild flower with blood in its pistil but to a pale tart in her underclothes who pulls you a beer. A bar person skimpily attired would be the strict definition, but not one likely to bring in the blokes. So the chalk boards outside the pubs simply say, "Skimpy today - between 1 and 2", and the meaning is pretty well universally taken.

Or at least you would think the meaning is pretty well universally taken, but in fact the issue of just how skimpy a skimpy is allowed to be has just been raised in the hell-raising gold town of Kalgoorlie, as a consequence of a police raid on a popular hotel and the detention of its favourite skimpy on the charge of exposing her breasts. It would seem that so long as a skimpy only intimates her breasts through her skimp she is within the law, but the moment she liberates the same she is in contravention of the Western Australian liquor licensing provisions.

What this puts paid to, among other things, is the much loved miners' gambling game of "head and tails", in which a drinker tosses a coin and the barmaid whips out a "nork" if he calls correctly. Since there was an international miners' conference on at the time, it's not difficult to understand the measured dismay expressed by the owner of the offending hotel after his No 1 skimpy was put out of commission - "About 800 people from all over the world were here experiencing Kalgoorlie culture and they loved it ... the police are morons."

I experienced Kalgoorlie culture myself a few years back, before the word skimpy was common parlance, in the days of the simple topless barmaid. I was writing a travel book, so it behoved me professionally to take a pootle down Hannan Street and see if the beer tasted better when a topless barmaid pulled it. What I remember was an unaccustomed reticence around the bar, a sort of collective melancholy which was certainly the consequence of the barmaid in question having the saddest, greyest, most un-outgoing little tits any of us had ever seen, but which also had something to do with the utterly wrong-headed concept of mixing beer, which is convivial, with toplessness, which, look at it from any angle you like, is solitary and reflective for all parties.

The skimpy may be an attempt to meet the melancholy half way. Though it didn't work for me the time I inadvertently found myself with one in a pub in Fremantle. She was undernourished, wore an off-white slip and a pair of flip-flops, bit her nails to the quick, and looked as though she had just run away from a remand home. All at once I wanted to be a little boy again, safe on my mother's knee, listening to Larry the Lamb on the wireless.

But then I'm not a miner.

It's a question of general pertinence, however, why anyone would make a special effort to drink in a place where there's a wasted chit in a slip and flip-flops when every woman in Western Australia routinely gets around in a slip and flip-flops?

Myself, I'm a wild flower man now. Call it maturity. The putting away of childish things. Why gape after a skimpy's meagre norks when you can marvel at the extravagance of a Verticordia grandis?

Mind you, that "head and tails" game sounds like fun

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee