The double glass doors to the Rockdale’s Returned soldier’s Club were always obliging to anyone passing by. They would swing open regardless of the intention to enter or walk by. That electronic eye above those doors didn’t miss a beat or a person, and would even swing open for the occasional straying dog. Music was amplified as well to the outside world. That’s if it was music. Often it was the drone of football crowds, cricket or sport commentary being piped into the pedestrians ears.
For a while the Azzopardis had to subject them-selves to the ritual that all clubs have, the ‘signing in.’ Non members had to sign in and have proof of existence and show a driver’s license or other proof of being alive and in the here and all of Rockdale’s environs. It was always an area of confusion and bafflement which they finally solved by just joining. Non-members paid more for meals and drinks, so what was the ‘signing’ up for? The joining and becoming a member involved a photo imprinted on a card. From then on no one would ever check the card or the bone fide of the member. Members would go through those open doors and show the membership cards from a distance. The mere opening of a wallet sufficed and the nod of approval given. You were in with the rest of them and accepted.
Many of the clubs gave excellent value. Dinners of fish and chips for instance for pensioners still alive on a Thursday night would be treated to this delightful dish for just $ 5.-. Hzanna and her husband generally avoided the pensioner special night. The carefully built-up aura of ‘business acumen’ might get a bit of a knock if the proprietors of The Azzopardi’s Meat Solutions were seen to hob-knob with those whose sole achievements in live did now depended on the $5.- Fish & Chips special. Of course, the pious ‘Halal’ and ‘head scarf wearing facade’ as so subtly presented in the Azzopardi’s Meat Solutions Shop would need some caution when entering those hallowed gambling and drinking venues. Hzanna thought it rather devious when they had to walk by the club and around the block when a known and solidly financial customer was spotted whose preferences in the carnivorous world was known to include Halal obligations. Of course, once inside those concerns could be jettisoned. No believer of Islam would ever consider getting near those dens of alcohol beverages and gambling machinery.
Once through those glass doors and past the membership card desk, the Azzopardis would quicken their steps, relieved that their ethics (or their dodgy religious ardour) weren’t spotted by their devoted customers. The walk towards the dining table would be over a bright blue soft surface which had a mix of solid red British Commonwealth stars and green Royal bangles woven into the hard wearing and mainly acrylic floor covering. This walk would glide them past an area where most of the noise piped to the outside was coming from. A mixture of music, rattling of coins and TV sporting noise. A cacophony of noise of many an Australian club that would travel (tsunami-like) and repeat itself over the thousands of kilometres throughout the time zones of the Southern Hemisphere of Australia. To compliment the carpet there would be on many walls a happy mixture of framed and glassed hand-signed football heroes’ T-Shirts with a couple of youthful Queen Elizabeth’s, flanked by Phil, hung in between it all, just for good measure.
If anyone could be bothered to investigate the noises including of rattling coins a bit closer, he (or indeed a she) could do no better than to hone in on a room separated from the rest, somewhat clad in darkness but with a night-club glitter and sparkling lights. Indeed with some poetic license (and a couple of beers,) it almost resembled a sky lit-up by fireworks on a New Year’s Eve. The noise was not so much from the people inside the room but from loudspeakers and screens mounted around a (con)-agglomerate of flashing lights and spinning wheels, all encased within a cabinet in front of which would be seated a stubbornly silent club member in deep and serious concentration focussed on those rotating and spinning wheels. Every now and then, he or she would lift an arm quickly and push a button that would then result in a renewed and vigorous rotating of the wheels. Those wheels seemed to have playing cards on them. This was playing poker at its most convenient. Chairs were provided and you did not have to talk to others. All one did was feed coins or notes into it.
The Azzopardis remained deeply puzzled by this past time. They were still too much Maltese to understand getting together and then still not converse and talk. Why the silence? Why indeed. Things are just different, that’s why!