Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Coca-Cola Pipeline

We're sat under the canopy in the back yard as dusk blurs the sky over Adelaide. The sweet smell of barbeque and beer hang in the warm air. Tammy and Aunty Joan busily clear the table and end up in the kitchen, talking over something.

I stretch my legs out, lean back in the plastic chair and look on as the kids show off for Uncle Ron. Ellie's bouncing on the spot, eager to make an impression. Ron smiles at her and asks in his quiet voice, 'So, you're superheroes are you?'

Ellie laughs out loud. 'Yeah, Daddy calls us his superheroes,' she says, 'And I'm Whirlwind 'cause I'm good at dancing and I can spin round really fast.' She takes a step forward, legs akimbo, and pushes her right arm in Uncle Ron's direction, palm pushed flat against an invisible barrier. She moves her arm across the line of her body, pursing her lips to make the sound of a raging wind. 'I'm Whirlwind!' she shouts.

Archie's quickly on the scene. 'And I'm Lightning, Uncle Ron,' he says. 'I can run really fast. Like lightning, Dad says. I always beat him when we have a race.' He performs his signature move - Ralph Macchio's crane-position kick from the last scene of The Karate Kid - and then flops down onto the patio.

Uncle Ron's laughing. 'That's amazing,' he says. He looks across at me and winks. 'I'll tell you something else that's amazing, and it's only found here, in Adelaide.' He pauses. The kids are hanging on his every word. 'Have you heard of The Coca-Cola Pipeline?' They both shake their heads. 'Well, do you like coca-cola?'

'Mum and Dad let us have some on Saturday nights while we're watching Doctor Who,' Archie informs him.

'We have Maltesers too,' Ellie says, determined to have the last word.

'Oh right,' Uncle Ron goes on, 'Well, keep looking carefully in the next few days. You might see a big pipe running right through the hills. Goes on for miles it does, and runs right into the city. And do you know what's inside it?'

'Water?' says Archie.

Uncle Ron shakes his head.

'Coca-cola?' says Ellie.

Uncle Ron smiles. 'Yes, coca-cola.' Ellie looks over to me, raised eyebrows, making her eyes wide.

'We're very lucky in Adelaide to have a Coca-Cola Pipeline. The only one in the world. The coca-cola's made in a huge factory over the other side of the hills and it's piped right into the city. Every cafe and every shop has a special tap. Turn it on and what comes out?'

'Coca-cola!' shout the superheroes together. There's quiet for a moment, and then Ellie goes, 'Wow!'

Aunty Joan emerges from the kitchen. 'Another beer Chris? Ron - what have you been telling them?'

'Oh, nothing,' Ron says, and we both chuckle.

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

A couple of days later, we're on the way back to Ron and Joan's house after an afternoon at the Cuddley Creek Nature Reserve. It's been a great day, but it's hot and the kids are tired. They're quiet in the back of the hire car. As we pass the sign for Tea Tree Gulley, Ellie shatters the silence.

'Mum! Dad! It's The Coca-Cola Pipeline! Look! Look!' She points over to the hills, and now Archie has seen it and all hell's breaking loose. 'Whoaa!' they're both shouting.

Tam pulls over and we get out the car and look over to the hillside. A huge concrete pipe lumbers inelegantly across its contours.

'Is that what we're looking at?' Tam says and shrugs her shoulders.

'Mum! Archie tells her, 'That's The Coca-Cola Pipeline! Uncle Ron told us. Do you know what it's got inside?'

'Water?' she says.

'No! Coca-cola!' Ellie yells.

'And it's the only one in the world,' Archie continues, 'It comes from a factory on the other side of the hills and it goes all the way to the city. And all the shops and cafes have a special tap and when you turn it on, coca-cola comes out!'

'Oh right,' says Tam and stares at me with that look - who's been winding them up?

'What?' I reply, 'Uncle Ron told us.'

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

Towards the end of the week, Archie and myself are squeezing through a gap in the fence by a roadside to enter the Anstey Hill Recreation Park. 'Here we are,' I say, 'but take it easy - the first bit's really steep.'

In our week long stay in  the Adelaide suburbs, it hadn't been long before I discovered the Park. A few minutes jog from Ron and Joan's house, it featured a trail that climbed steeply to the 1,217 ft summit of Anstey Hill, before descending equally steeply to the road. I'd gotten into a routine of getting up early and doing 2 or 3 laps of the 4-mile circuit, before jogging back for breakfast. It was a great little run, and as I'd enthused over it one tea-time, Archie had asked if he could come with me before we flew back to the UK. I'd promised we'd do a lap on our last day while Mum and Ellie did some last minute souvenir shopping.

The sun's fierce - our last full day in Australia - the end of a glorious stay. The two of us jog and walk up the trail towards the summit. I think back to our runs on the beach over the last month - special times.

After posing for photos at the sign on the top, we're soon rattling down the trail on the other side. Suddenly Archie stops dead. Pointing to the left, he's caught up in excitement. 'The Coca-Cola Pipeline!' he repeats a few times. Following the direction of his gaze, I see the Adelaide-Mannum Pipeline running across the bottom of the adjoining valley towards a large water-filtration plant on the southern boundary of the Park.

'Wow, Dad! I can't wait to tell Miss Sheldon when I get back to school! It's a good idea int it Dad? Why don't other places have coca-cola pipelines?' He's going on and on, his face lit up, and I wait to get a word in when he pauses.

'Archie,' I say, 'It's not got coca-cola in it. There isn't a Coca-Cola Pipeline.'

Archie looks at me, silent suddenly, crest-fallen. And the silence seems to last forever. Eventually, his voice small, he says, 'I know that Dad. I was just tricking you. What's it got inside then?'

'Water,' I tell him.

'Oh, right,' he says and walks on by himself in front for a while.

I've a guilt inside me. I watch him walking alone and think of the excitement and innocence with which he approaches each day. Days where Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are still real. Where new things lie to be discovered at every turn. Days of wonder and magic, in a big world filled with friends still to be made and pipelines full of coca-cola. And, as I watch him, I feel a sadness and a pride - my little boy's growing up, and soon the world maybe might not seem so kind.

He turns round suddenly and asks, 'Dad, do you think we should tell Mum and Ellie?'

I think a moment and reply, 'What would you rather have mate? A pipeline filled with water, or one that carries coca-cola? Takes coca-cola to all of those special taps in all of those shops in that big city over there?'

He doesn't answer my question, but I know the answer. We continue our walk down the track, side by side, and then he turns to me and says, 'Maybe we'll tell Ellie the truth when she's a bit bigger.'         


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