The food at the Venezuelan Pizza Restaurant has little to recommend it. It is instead famous for the fact that it uses nine exclamation points on the first page of its menu. As sub editors, Alphonso and i have a ration of one exclamation point each per year. Like scarce morsels in an understocked fridge, these must be deployed with great precision. Exclamation points should rarely punctuate news writing. Or blogs, for that matter. Like capers, jalapenos and anchovies, exclamation points lose their innate ability to surprise and delight when sprinkled about with gay abandon.
And speaking of gay abandon, the news is now official. Alphonso is leaving the Newspaper for the more fruitful climes of Sydney. To write for the progressive online political journal new matilda, no less. Which has put an end to his fears that he may be stuck in the sleepy hollow of Albany until the end of time. Or until later this year, which from a purely subjective and experiential point of view, amounts to much the same thing.
Not that Albany is a bad place, Alphonso explains. I agree. It is certainly very pretty. But there is an undercurrent of right-wing Christianity and the streets are filled with a swirling torrents of over-zealous cops. Alphonso nods. "And 60 per cent of people are over 60, which means that 70 per cent of people must be over 70," he says.
And bogans in hotted up cars are doing the same bog laps they have been doing for forty years, grumbling up and down Middleton Beach Road, following in their fathers' tyre tracks, i say.
Of course, my usual policy is to let bogans be bogans.
But when they start leaning out of their four-wheeled dinosaurs and yelling abuse at me, just because i want to walk on a footpath without a car trying to push me out the way, well, it gets personal. And when Murgatroyd and i went for a ride on our pushbikes, three people stopped us to explain that i should be wearing a helmet. Three separate people took it upon themselves to act as the fun police. One of them would not even talk to me, even though i was standing right next to Murgatroyd.
"Doesn't he know he should be wearing a helmet," said the elderly woman, with her puckered little mouth that looked like an anus. "Tell him the police will get him," she said, pointing to where i was standing, helmetless, all 500 millimetres away.
"It can be a nasty little town," agrees Sarah Toa, turning up at the restaurant in a fishing jumper with a gift of freshly caught King George whiting. (What a wholly intrepid creature she is. Did i tell you about the time she leapt off the boat onto a channel marker, knife between her teeth, to gather us a feed of mussels?) "When Greenpeace launched its campaign to close down the Cheynes Beach whaling station in 1977, it was the first and only time outlaw bikies stood alongside the Mayor in a protest action," she says.
To support the peace activists?
"Oh no, they were trying to crush them. The Mayor thought whaling was good for the town, and a lot the God's Garbage bikies worked as whalers. Quite a few greenies were assaulted in Albany after that protest. A number of them were American, and when they saw the bikies coming over the hill to their protest at Cheynes Beach, they thought, great, here comes the cavalry. Like in the 60s, when the hippies and the Hell's Angels stood side by side to fight the establishment. But no, the bikies took the greenies on."
The protest fell apart when one of the rainbow children spotted a pod of dolphins, and the committed activists all went "Oh wow! Dolphins!" dropped their placards, and ran off for a better look.
The whaling station was finally closed in 1978. One whaler even had an epiphany and converted, showing up at Save The Whales Day at Middleton Beach in 2007 to offer his support.
"An epiphany," mutters Alphonso. "If i had a dollar for every epiphany..." (Epiphanies are up there with exclamation marks for sub editors.) "I'm sure more columnists would have even more epiphanies even more often, if only they could remember how to spell it," he says.
Later, Martin and i put Alphonso on a plane to take his nitpickery to even greater heights. At the airport, Alphonso admits he will miss the place. Yeah, Albany is not all that bad, i prompt. The city is renowned for the warmth and hospitality it extends to its visitors.
"Who exactly is doing the renowning?" Alphonso asks.
But apart from being hounded by the police, being thrown out of storage units by zealous real estate agents, being abused by Albanian drivers for the sheer lunacy of riding a bicycle on their roads, and being set upon by its elderly citizens, i've still managed to make a lot of friends in Albany.
I'm now good friends with a huge and diverse circle of people here.
Well, would you believe a few people?
How about two bandicoots and a taxi driver?