[NB: the following blog post has been rated M: for Mature Audiences. It contains Nudity, Gambling, and…Adult Themes.]
Go on. Admit it. You’ve been past there dozens of times. You’ve joked about it. You’ve used it as a landmark when giving directions between Leichhardt and Marrickville. You’ve admired the neon signs. You’ve “always wanted” to go in – to see what Jelly Wrestling at the Oxford is all about. But you just never quite got around to it, did you?
Well, last night, a brave contingent of locals and ring-ins alike finally breached the threshold of Petersham’s Oxford Tavern.
To be fair, some of us had been to the Oxford before. But on that occasion, the pub’s front room was closed off, and we perched uncomfortably in “Rita’s Late Nite Lounge” between the pokies and the door, feeling rather cheated (but also mildly relieved) at how tame the whole thing had turned out to be. The full Oxford Experience was yet to come.
Nobody and I were the first to arrive. I’d urged him not to be late – I didn’t want to miss a second of the jelly-slinging action. But we needn’t have worried. It was a fair while before anything even faintly resembling “action” was to be unleashed on the decidedly un-rowdy crowd of dour looking blokes. There was only a smattering of the fairer sex – their numbers, I’m proud to say, significantly boosted by the ladies in our party.
“The Waiting” was a big part of the night. Between acts there were long periods of sitting around at the bar. There is absolutely no doubt this was a deliberate ploy to get us to buy more drinks. And fair enough too, since at only seven dollars door charge, Jelly Wrestling is just about the cheapest entertainment your money can buy. Even a serving of the special meal of the night – Rissole and Chips (advertised in a sign blutacked to the wall) – cost more than to witness the wrestling.
But by now I’ve kept YOU waiting long enough, dear reader. On with the action…
Next to the main bar of the Oxford is an elevated platform surrounded by a small brass rail. The platform is mounted with the sign “PLEASE KEEP CLEAR”, and backed by a huge mirror. This is where the strip shows take place. The first was by “Lola G”. She wore long, long boots. Her various personas during the course of the evening included a pirate, a french maid, and an office worker. Her outfits were outrageously skimpy versions of what you’d expect a pirate, maid, or secretary to wear. For instance, the office worker’s outfit was only recognisable as such by the judicious use of pinstriped fabric on a “skirt” and “shirt” – these items hardly larger than the underwear they traditionally conceal.
The best way I can describe Lola’s performance is that she “went through the motions”: shimmying around the stage, writhing on her back, wrapping her long legs around a handy metal pole, discarding bits of clothing along the way. Lola was very flexible indeed. We all admired her controlled and muscular routine. It was a bit like seeing an excellent practitioner of Astanga Yoga at work. And perhaps that description isn’t too far off. Lola never quite seemed to be in the room with us – her gaze simultaneously distant, and internally focussed. This made her somewhat inert – somehow unaffected by the impassive groups of men huddled around their schooners. Athletically, Lola was a real pleasure to watch. But performatively? Her routine felt a little flat.
After a seemingly interminable break, the disembodied voice of an MC called “Robbie” urged us to move into the “back room” for the wrestling. The back room?! Well, things were certainly getting more interesting now…
The “back room” was like the den of a suburban house. Wood panelling and old carpet and a low ceiling. Two or three rows of stackable seats, the kind which you’d find at a wedding reception, were arranged in straight lines around the ring. The ring was inflatable. It looked like it’d been well constructed, but not recently. Every foot or so the rubbery surface was repaired with what appeared to be bicycle tyre patches. Over at one side, a hand pump was connected via a plastic umbilical tube. The ring was rectangular, perhaps three metres across, and mounted on staging blocks topped with cheap mattress foam. It was filled to about fifteen centimetres deep with red jelly blobs.
I’m trying to be fairly precise with this description, because it’s as close as you’ll get to feeling the atmosphere of the jelly den, without going there yourself. You see, photography is banned in the “back room.” As Robbie took pains to point out, in his abominable diction (my mother would be aghast at how badly he butchered the English language) blasted through the mike:
What to say about Robbie? He looked vaguely familiar. He had an air about him that suggested maybe he was a former contestant of Big Brother or something. You know, slightly famous for being slightly famous. But he only had one volume (loud) and one speed (fast). Poor Nobody. He’s gotta go for an inner-ear operation soon, and Robbie’s auditory explosion was almost more than he could handle. Lisa lent him her earplugs.
The first “wrestlers” (Madison and Rebecca) sauntered into the ring, wrapped in towels, which they quickly discarded to reveal skimpy bikinis. They were in their twenties I guess. Not particularly aggressive wrestlers. They would never survive the rough and tumble of the Marrickville Jelly Wrestling Federation. Here’s the routine: slide around a bit, sit on top of each other, throw a bit of jelly out into the crowd. Every so often one of them would pin the other down for the count of three. But there didn’t seem to be much real struggle going on out there. Each “round” (the match has three rounds) lasts as long as a suitably chosen song played over the PA system. The only one I can remember now is “I got the Power” – can anyone else in attendance recall other tunes?
The point of the first round is to build suspense for the second round. The second round, you see, is where the girls remove their bikini tops. Robbie yelled:
Of course, whether the “boys” make a lot of noise or not (and generally speaking, they don’t), the tops still come off, like clockwork.
Robbie’s constant use of “BOYS” – effectively ignoring the women present in the audience, irritated the highly evolved members of our party. We like to think we are conscious of the inextricable links between language-use and sexual inequity within our patriarchal society. So in a quiet moment, Lisa approached Robbie, reasoning with him. Perhaps he could acknowledge that the entire audience was not just made up of “BOYS”? She returned to her seat. Robbie had told her “YEPNOWORRIESLOVEI’LLTAKECAREOFYOUSE!!” When he took to the stage once more, he announced
At this, Nobody hollered “It’s YOU we want to see in a bikini, Robbie!” This brought on a fresh round of heckling from the crowd. Someone shouted “C’mon, Robbie, show us your tits!” to which he replied, sotto voce, “Aw, fuck off.”
The highlight of my night came during the third round, when I became involuntarily involved in the action. At a certain point, perhaps a brief pause in the unbearable intensity of the fight, Madison leaned over the side of the ring. I was sitting in the front row, between Nobody and Lisa. Madison pointed her finger at me. Me? Yes, you! She reached over, and took my glasses off. She put them on herself, then quickly took them off again, rubbed them over her nipples, slapped me on the face(!) and replaced my glasses. For one fleeting moment, I was the centre of attention at the Oxford Tavern – the object of envy of every man and lesbian in the joint. Never mind that my glasses were smudged with jelly grease for the rest of the night. I had been chosen by Madison. I was, somehow, special.
The rest flowed pretty much in this way. We would be trooped back out to the front bar so we could buy more drinks, there would be a strip show out there, then we’d be trooped back into the wrestling pit for another bout. Out in the front bar, we watched Claudia, an infinitely more engaging performer. Her most memorable act was a “wild west” cowgirl concept (to the tune of that “Wild Wild West” song from the movie). Claudia made eye contact with the audience – she teased us by almost removing a piece of clothing, and then demanding that we egg her on. She even pitted one side of the crowd against the other, to see who could cheer the loudest (and thus who would be treated to the first glimpses of her tanned and supple flesh as it emerged, almost wilfully, from her pvc outfits. Yes, Claudia was really in control. Our table thought she was great, and she knew it.
There’s one point of business I have to add. One by one, the performers would shed their dainty items and toss them casually to the rear corner of the stage for safekeeping. If, perchance, a panty or bra was poorly thrown (and thus in danger of tripping the stripper) a big bouncer fellow would lean down, pick up a wooden stick (like a sawn-off broom handle) and reach out with it, dragging the clothes closer to the edge (and thereby out of harms way). This seemed to constitute a “system.” The comic absurdity of the use of broom handle as a “tool,” crafted specifically for the purpose of dragging undies across the floor, did not escape our table. Such a crude and over-engineered solution could only have been invented by a man. Or, possibly a committee of them.
The night wound up with four wrestlers in the ring for an all-in battle, culminating in the fantasy-turned-reality of a punter being dragged into the fray. Our party was undecided as to whether this audience participation schtick was real or staged, spontaneous or scripted. Here are the arguments for and against:
- Real: the fellow was wearing a watch. If he had known he was going to get in the ring, he would have taken his watch off beforehand.
- Staged: when he was targeted, he took off his shirt straight away, without hesitation. If he were not a “plant”, he would have hesitated before removing his shirt.
- Real: the whole time the lucky man was in the ring with the girls, the pub’s big bouncer hovered nervously, as if unsure whether to intervene. If the “ring-in” were a set-up, the bouncer would have been more relaxed.
- Staged: in the process of writhing around with the babes, the male wrestler became completely saturated. His jeans and socks were soaked through. If he were a real punter, this could have caused problems for his health during the remainder of the evening. On the other hand, if it were a set-up, he could wrestle without fear, knowing that he had a clean set of clothes in the dressing room, right?
As the evening wound up, Robbie encouraged us:
We shuffled out the door. Besides the poker machines, which never sleep, the pub itself was closed. We stood on the sidewalk, shuffling in the cool air, laughing and reliving our favourite moments. After a while a few of the performers came out, fully dressed with their travel bags. They spotted us and said goodnight. Claudia recognised us. “Oh, you guys were the BEST!” she said.
[footnote: the wrestlers are from an organisation called SEX BOMB PROMOTIONS There are a few pictures of jelly wrestling on their site, to give you an idea… Oh, and here’s their excellently designed flier juxtaposed with my nipple-smudged glasses…]