An evening of gentlemanly storytelling and debauchery #3

Every now and again, my friend Eran holds an evening where men can get together and be men. It’s called An Evening of Gentlemanly Storytelling & Debauchery, but it’s less about debauchery and more about enjoying the company of other men, telling stories, eating and drinking without counting calories, and leaving any worries at the door. It’s what a real men’s club should be. The invited are always creative people – photographers, producers, directors, writers. Men with curious minds and complex histories.

The premise of the evening is quite simple, bring three things: an amazing bottle of something, an amazing real and personal story, and an amazing appetite.

On a warm winter’s evening I made my way to my second favourite of Sydney’s eastern beaches, Tamarama (Bronte is my first love). I had the skinny on what was being served for dinner, so I decided that the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban was an appropriate gift for the table. It’s a dark, unfiltered single malt that’s finished in Port casks, giving it a dense, almost chocolatey finish.

Sitting on the train, the setting sun flickered through the windows like an old film projector, splashing a series of golden beams across the carriage. A young guy gets on at Central Station, he’s wearing a baseball cap backwards and tries to engage me in conversation.

He eyes the bottle.

I glare him down.

Not this time punk.

He tells me that he's only recently started to drink ‘proper whisky’ and that he tried the Ardbeg 10 and thought it was really smoky, but wasn't sure if it was the whisky or him, because he's a heavy smoker. "Anyway", he says, I'"m sure I'll get the hang of it eventually."

I love being surprised by people.

I get off the train at Bondi Junction as the sun is edging closer to the horizon, and start walking to Tamarama. The sea breeze gets stronger the closer I get to the beach. As long as the wind is in my face, I know I’m walking in the right direction. As I near the house, the sun is turning every piece of glass into glowing amber. All around me is a golden chandelier of windows, doors and windscreens. I can see that the sea is now a dark steel grey as I climb the stairs to Eran’s door. The waves are now more urgent, punching the rocks rather than simply falling upon them.

We greet with hugs, not with handshakes. Always have. We say goodbye the same way. Standard operating procedure.

I drop the whiskey on the bench and walk the hallway, past the curios and artwork, to the back yard, where I’m greeted by Henry and another hug.

“Hey mate. Who’s your lady friend there? I thought it was men only tonight” I say. The ‘lady friend’ is in fact, dinner. A whole female suckling pig who is well salted and turning over a bed of flaming wood. (Tip: It’s always better to eat the female – they taste much better and lack the hormonal odour of the males.) We’re calling her ‘What-What’ because due to the slip of a sharp knife, one of her ears is attached by the thinnest of sinews.

Poor dear.

There we stood, dousing flames as they sprung up underneath the slowly turning beast, until we had a bed of white embers. The sun now well and truly set, we were lit by the glow of the spit, the heat acting more like a beacon than a deterrent, drawing us all in. Little by little, more men arrived, finding their place in the circle.

As the evening breeze slowly drifted about, the smoke that rose up traced the motion of the air and spun a grey cloud around us all, pulling us closer still, like an etherial hand.

Every now and again What-What spits up at us in defiance, but we hold our ground. Her hide growing golden and crispy as our conversations got wider, and our circle tighter.

Slowly, our primal natures revealed themselves as we risked burns to peel pieces of crackling right off the turning hide, and argue about who got to eat the crunchy ear that still hung there by the thinnest of tendons. We commented on the colour of her skin, the curve of her leg, the salt on her skin. Every man in the place wanted a piece of her.

While we waited with thinly-veiled impatience, we told each other stories. Not about sports or politics, but rather about ourselves. The most important part of these nights was that we could all just be ourselves. Unguarded. No fear. Just men. Frail. Vulnerable. Strong. Supportive. Hungry.

3 sheets to the wind drunk.

Eventually we grew tired of waiting. A few of us sustained minor burns from where we had tried to tear pieces of crispy skin off What-What while she was turning. Cries of “She’s close enough to done” and “I just gotta eat” led to me holding a knife. What–What’s hot skin gave way to the cold steel of the blade and I rendered her piece by piece into the feast we would all share.

There’s something extremely humbling about holding a burning hot leg in your bare hand as you drive the knife into the joint and separate it from its host. Yes, it burns your hand as penance for your intrusion. But you continue on, fueled by whiskey and courage. Sliding the knife along the bones in What–What’s flank, I removed the meat. The belly was a lot more relenting, and by the time I had made it up to her left shoulder my eyes were filled with salt, smoke and a sense of accomplishment. My sweat hissed back at me as it fell into the embers. Every now and again both hands are needed to twist the bones and negotiate the separation from the body.

There is a primal sense of accomplishment that comes from cooking a whole animal, then sharing it with mates over wine, whiskey, stories and Eran’s (in)famous Mac ’n Cheese.

As we lose ourselves in the snap of the crackling, the warm texture of the meat and the cheesy softness of the macaroni, I see conversations raging around the table, like spot fires. Now it’s time for each of us in turn to share our story for the evening. A respectful hush comes over the table. The candles flicker excitedly. An occasional clink of a wine or whiskey bottle sailing too close to a glass is all that breaks the silence.

We begin to share our tales, all of which are real, raw, amazing.

None of which you’ll ever hear.

Unless of course you happen to be fortunate enough to be invited to attend the next Evening of Gentlemanly Storytelling & Debauchery.