5

Three Little Bops

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These phone calls only happened between 5 and 5.30pm, and when they did the excitement was unequalled.

Childhood friendships are hatched over countless connections, both pure and mischievous: footy, pinball, pinching cars, but for Trev and me, our lifelong pact came through 6 minutes and 41 seconds of televisual delight.

The Bugs Bunny Show aired on weeknights and for us its highlight was even better than Happy Days when Pinky Tuscadero was injured and out of the demolition derby thanks to the Mallachi Crunch, but Fonz still wanted to marry her; was even better than Blankety Blanks and Ugly Dave Gray’s jokes about Dick (Did Dick? Dick did.) and was even better than Lizzie Birdsworth’s daggy Wentworth antics on Prisoner.

We’d a simple code, the equivalent of “London Bridge is down,” and because of our urgency the conversations were spy-thriller brief:

-Hello?

-It’s on!

-Yep.

(Rotary-dial phones simultaneously slam down, and two teenage boys, in country-town houses about a kilometre apart, rush at their boxy Pye TVs)

The first impressive aspect of Three Little Bops was that I’d hear the Bill Haley-like jauntiness of the intro before I’d see those distinctive title cards (Director: Friz Freleng), and then with electric anticipation I’d shriek out to Mum or my sister Jill or whoever was in earshot as I tucked into a plate of Saladas with their vegemite worms slithering out in their salty, alien blackness.

title card bops

With a rollicking melody penned by the celebrated trumpeter Shorty Rogers who’d later offer musical direction on The Monkees, The Partridge Family and that supremely orchestrated buddy-cop series, Starsky & Hutch, it’s a song with rich resonance.

Released in 1957 within the broad context of Beat culture, the score is prototypical rock ‘n’ roll rather than jazz, and shares little with that year’s seminal album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. Like so many memorable tunes its simplicity of purpose is genius while its execution is comic and engaging.

*

Beyond decades of personal bliss this cartoon once secured us (minor) fiscal reward. Late last millennium some mates launched a Schnitzel Club which met at a different pub every Wednesday, and among other vital mid-week pursuits, we ate schnitzel.

Once we descended upon the Arab Steed hotel in Adelaide’s east, and post-crumbed veal, lingered for the weekly quiz. Coincidently, this is my favourite question: Apart from AB who’s the only Australian Test cricketer to play in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? Answer: Peter Sleep.

Our laddish dining collective was an eclectic ensemble, but scoring modestly until this Round 8 challenge: How many keys on a piano? Although we were music fans none had technical insight.

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And then as we murmured and frowned about our table, suddenly emerging into my frontal lobe from a Coopers fog, these lyrics from Three Little Bops appeared as neuronic sign-writing

Well, the piano-playing pig was swinging like a gate
Doing Liberace on the eighty-eights.

Who says there’s no gain in an (occasionally) idle life of miscellany? With this ebony and ivory insight, we came second, by a schnitzel crumb. Sometimes the jetsam of youth washes up on your adult beach, and it’s grand.
*

Of course, I maintain a persistent, entirely ridiculous fantasy during which I take up the rooster-like position behind a charismatic pub bar as mine host. Among my first landlord chores is to rename my boozer the Dew Drop Inn, because there is no better label in all hostelry

The Dew Drop Inn did drop down!
The three little pigs crawled out of the rubble
This big bad wolf gives us nothing but trouble
So, we won’t be bothered by his windy tricks
The next place we play must be made of bricks

*

In this masterpiece what are my treasured moments? There’s so many! The galaxy of my youth was brightened by these comets

Be very quiet. I’m hunting wabbit.
and
I knew I should have made a left toin at Albukoykee”

But the following is unsurpassed in its goldenness, although I didn’t then connect it to Liberace. When you’re a kid, drenched in cartoonish fun, context is sometimes nothing.

I wish my brother George was here.

The script and the vocals were by cult comedian Stan Freberg who’s credited on this, the only Warner Brothers film to not feature Mel Blanc doing voice characterisations.

Sixty years on, his remains a magnetic vocal performance ringing with muscularity and irresistible confidence. In that post-war cultural repositioning, his phrasing and delivery heralds American brashness and Rat-Pack cool.

A transformed fable, its essential familiarity lends it much charm. With the power migrating from the recast outsider wolf to the pigs, our trio goes from victims to smug porcine hipsters. Universally, we’re barracking for the wolf as he’s turned from predator to loopily-grinning fanboy, and villain to tragic hero. This narrative inversion generates much of the comic energy, and as our aficionado blows his sleek horn while broiling in a Satanic pot the final lyrics provide a catharsis

The Big Bad Wolf, he learned the rule:
you gotta get hot to play real cool!

wolf hot

As a ubiquitous pebble, this cartoon rippled into so many of my childhood spaces: the arithmetically-unresponsive back row of Year 9 Maths; the cold Mid-North showers of under-age footy; the endless roasting sun of Kapunda swimming pool summers. Our affection for it has flowed down the decades, and I promise myself to again locate it on YouTube, and show our boys. I reckon it’ll grab them too.

And soon, on a languid afternoon just after 5pm, I’m going to ring Trev and shout, “It’s on!”

 

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2

First Day of School

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Today is the first day of the new school year for our boys.

At about ten to eight Max asked, “Can we go now?” And then about half an hour later his brother urged, “Let’s go so we can see everyone.”

With teeth brushed and hair styled- Alex’s sticking up, not unlike Tin Tin’s, and Max’s smoothed flat onto his head- just as I did for a while in the way which maddened my Mum. And just like me he was impervious to suggestions that it looked a bit, well, gooby.

I took some photos out the back as the boys posed on the lawn. Often siblings have to be welded together to construct an appearance of closeness, have to be moved like pieces of Lego, but I felt a hot tear when, without prompting, Max flopped a loose arm about his brother’s elevated shoulder.

They smiled willingly. Alex with his boyish radiance, all hope and joy and beauty. Max; restrained but with a cheeky knowingness that shares a confidence and a wink with the camera.

In the playground they both scarpered to friends and spent some boisterous minutes before the bell.

I watched, grateful and happy and sad, and all the things a parent feels on the first day. Both boys enjoyed those carefree moments of movement and interpersonal exchange, when time is endless, and unburdened.

I felt another tear of thankfulness when I reflected upon that other parental nightmare: to happen across your child, sitting alone in a busy playground.
*

Later I remember another first day of school. I walked from home, and soon caught up with a mum and her kids, making the same journey, in the dust and descending West Coast heat. I said hello and the mum, the wife of a bank manager replied, “First day?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Are you looking forward to it?”

I nodded. “I am, although I’m a bit nervous.”

“You’ll be right,” she reassured me. “The kids here are pretty friendly. So, what year are you in?”

“Err,” I looked down at my Roman sandals (yes, I’m still a style icon) and said, “I’m actually teaching.”

*

I arranged with Alex and Max to meet me by a tree so I could walk them to their new classes. On the bell, I farewelled one of the other dads and made my way there. After a minute or two with the playground emptying I smiled to myself, strolled inside and joined the bustling corridor, all new bags and shiny uniforms and shepherding parents.

Alex was in his class and at a table, with old friends. As the adults swarmed about all keen to invest a minute or so with the new teacher I gave Alex a pat on the shoulder, ruffled his product-ed hair and said, “Have a good day mate.” But my voice broke a little at the end, and he glanced up, not concerned for himself, but me.

Next door Max and his class were already on the mat with Mr Smith gently giving instructions. I caught Max’s eye and gave a wave. He looked happy and comfortable, and the world was bright and sunny and spinning silently on its axis.

The first day had begun, and would soon be over, and replaced by another. I hoped they would continue like this, and flow all year like rain.

first day

 

0

The Catch

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Scorecards sometimes disguise the truth. 

Lillee c Willey b Dilley is among cricket’s most famous scorebook entries yet it’s a wholly unremarkable wicket, a mere 1970’s transaction at the WACA.

In the same group as the Indian spelling bee-worthy Chamundeshwarnath c Balasubramaniam b Ananthapadmanabhan at Visakhapatnam, perhaps.

Match 35 of BBL07 was likely to be remembered, if at all, for the Strikers’ import Colin Ingram swatting a handful of crisp sixes at the Docklands stadium in front of a languid Monday night crowd, the spectator numbers down like a late season MBL assignment with the Arizona Diamondbacks hosting the San Diego Padres on an airless August evening.  

This scorecard is essentially innocuous:

Bravo c Weatherald b Khan

Cricket might be a team game played by individuals but Bravo’s dismissal was a masterpiece of collaboration, a triumph of imagination that reminds us of sport’s capacity to thrill and surprise.

Among the Bucketheads and the Bruno Mars song grabs and the confected entertainment this catch, although probably insignificant in the broader context of the night’s result and the lengthened summer, was a moment to rival John Dyson on the SCG boundary and Glen McGrath at horizontal stretch in front of the members at Adelaide Oval.  

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Dwayne Bravo, the Trinidadian cricketer, lofted a Khan delivery high towards the Docklands’ angular roofing architecture and it began its descent at extra cover with journeyman carpenter Ben Laughlin cleverly netting the ball close to the rope, too close as is often the way, and as cruel momentum pulled him like iron filings at a magnet he somehow saw the blue flash of a team mate.

Jake Weatherald was inboard, but at a full pitch distance from the immediacy of the heroics. With Laughlin airborne and scorching at the line he flicked the Kookaburra towards his bluish colleague with the authority of a Federer backhand before diving into the turf, the first act of this drama complete.

Weatherald has had a modest campaign which has threatened, but not fired. He now became the Jagger to Laughlin’s Keef, producing an equally athletic manoeuvre to take the catch with a diving effort that, in this often-singular enterprise, demanded cooperation of balletic beauty as well as Zen-presence and advanced physical literacy.

It was a remarkable relay catch that even the most visionary fans of the last century could have scarcely conceived.

Football and cricket continue to evolve, and watching old grand final and Ashes footage are sometimes acts of almost ridiculous nostalgia so as to make these games often seem beyond the child-like in their structure and execution.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

catch

  

 

 

 

0

Thoughts from my Caloundra Balcony

FM radio is illegal in Op Shops

Going to the late Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo is a waste of money for in Queensland dangerous and toxicologically startling fauna comes to you, for free, every minute of the godless day

By 2020 “GPS signal lost” will be the biggest killer of over-fifties in this country

I love our boys, but to teach them about privilege and perspective I’m writing a series of books with titles such as, “The Boy Who Died Because He Had To Listen To Triple J In The Hire Car” and “The Boy Who Died Because He Ate His Pavlova Slowly”

What does it mean that the small town of Murgon boasts ten churches of different denominations?

Bundaburg has the nation’s best Target, I think

How do I process the grief of buying my family a pepperoni pizza that achieved the astonishing, postmodern feat of being entirely free of pepperoni?

Country radio provides two truisms: David Bowie was boiled shite in the 1980’s and Neil Diamond was always great

Cricket conversations are fantastic: Is Peter Siddle one of your favourites? and, Dad, was it Lillee caught Dilley, bowled Willy?

At least every six months we should camp somewhere free of light-pollution, and sit about a fire, and stare up at the remarkable blanket of stars, and remind ourselves to live well, and to love fiercely

7

NYE in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 135

ZD

I’m calling it.

My fellow lovers of confected cricket, we need a national conversation. I ask this plainly: why has the Zooper Dooper been banished? In case you’ve not heard, it’s been replaced by a chewing gum brand for the BBL wicket celebrations. Won’t someone think of the kiddies?

-Dad, it’s really hot here in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 135 for this important NYE fixture. Can we have a sugary iced treat?
-No, have a stick of chewing gum.
-But I’m dehydrated.
-Chew faster.

I’m also reminded of my favourite graffiti, seen on a condom-vending machine: This is the worst chewing gum I’ve ever tasted.

*

So, we’re underway in the traditional NYE 6.40pm time slot. Despite his early-tournament successes, former GWS Giant Alex Carey misses a straight one from Lalor. Shortly after fellow opener Weatherald also plays around one and travels back to the sheds.

Unlike Trump’s twitter-feed the Strikers are circumspect. When everyone’s favourite Colin, he of the tribe Ingram, comes out, all four batters have been non-right-handers. Thus far not a great evening for the sinistrophobics, and I wonder what’s the collective noun for left handers. A Hooksey, I decide.

Jono “Orson” Welles comes in, fresh from swiping a monstrous six at the SCG a night or two back, but he pops one to extra cover in a feeble dismissal which reminds me of PJ Keating’s description of John Hewson’s parliamentary performance: being flogged with a warm lettuce.

Lehmann the Younger contrasts with his dad who, despite his finesse, particularly against spin, always looked high-vis and Old Bushman Hotel front bar. With an ironic moustache upon his peculiar dial Jake is foppish and dandy; part Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, part Adam Ant, part Caddyshack gopher. Metrosexuality aside, he is dropped first ball and then twice more in collecting a useful twenty-odd. Brisbane’s inability to hold catches would prove to be a significant difference.

*

Of course, the BBL isn’t only a cricket contest. It’s an ethnomusicological event with the between balls stabs central to the entertainment, but the playlist is now tired. I suggest themed evenings.

Sinatra

In the games leading up to Christmas let’s have only Yuletide tunes by the Rat Pack. What could be better than acknowledging a Bradley Hogg wicket than with an immaculately-phrased grab from a Frank Sinatra song? After all, they’re from the same generation.

Imagine the excitement of the punters gushing into the Gabba knowing that play will be punctuated with excerpts from Ripper ’76. Going from Supernaut to Sherbet to Split Enz. And to complete the experience why not get Molly to do the ground announcing?

But let’s also go beyond the rock and pop staples, to broaden the auditory appeal.

-Dad is it true? Is tonight Miles Davis night at Bellerive?
-Yes, it is son.
-The second great quintet featuring Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter?
-Of course! How could the Melbourne Stars now not win?

MIles

*

Michael Neser bats with intelligent aggression in assembling forty, including a lusty blow which lands in an adjacent bay. Impressive Afghan youngster Rashid Khan arrives with mere deliveries remaining, hits a six (I’ll never use maximum: oops, too late), but then holes out in what is surely the most eventful two-ball innings conceivable.

In our final over Neser skies one, and a volcano of Heat fielders converge, but with home-town luck running nicely, its lands, splat, right in the crater.

As is now tradition with the Strikers batting first, they’re about thirty runs short.

*

Returning to the Eastern Stand as desultory half-time rituals take place across the turf our eldest asks:

-Dad, it’s hot, can we have a Buckethead?
-But these offer no protection. As hats they fail.
-Please!
-No. Every time one is worn, somewhere a koala gets an unpronounceable disease.

bucket

*

Brisbane Heat has a menacing batting line-up: think Goodfellas with Kookaburra Kahunas, but tonight they’re the ones getting wacked. Within the opening over Brisbane loses a wicket.

Lynn in, carn Khan. Gorn! The Heat’s most exhilarating bat is dismissed for a Mr Blutarsky: Zero…point…zero to the quickish leggie who, three games in, has the competition spooked.

The violet sky then hosts fireworks from across the river/lake in Elder Park and the booms and bangs echo and shake the Gavin Wanganeen Stand, and I wonder if the batters notice these seismic blasts. When former Striker Alex Ross is bowled the scorecard reads as a distinctly Under 9’s-like 4/15.

It’s still light and there’s a chance the game could finish early. I hope not for Adelaide Oval’s fireworks during daylight would lack spectacle and pizzazz, like bringing out a brussel sprout birthday cake at a Macca’s party.

Curiously, Heat allrounder Ben Cutting is out cutting (caught at gully) in what must represent a major disappointment to his family. Still his is a bright innings while those about him fall meekly.

Jake Lehmann takes his second smart catch out by the rope to remove Brendon ‘Baz’ (I prefer Mungo) McCullum for an atypically sheepish tally.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province’s finest  strides out and playing the first ball Yasir Shah’s agonised leaping at the crease convinces me that he’s stepped on a piece of Lego.

Soon, it’s a numerically-attractive 9/90 and then all out. Tellingly, the Heat has not registered a single six. The Strikers head (sorry) to 2018 top of the table.

We enjoy the 1970’s disco funk medley and pyrotechnics and then drive carefully, west along Hindley Street.

alex poster

10

Holiday!

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There is no question.

This is the best photo I’ve ever taken. Nothing in Iceland. Forget the Grand Canyon. Rule out Iron Knob.

Every compositional element is within. Summer in that magical time between Christmas and New Year. Holiday park. Our boys. Big screen Test cricket. If you move the camera slightly to the right. There, that’s it. Yes, that’s a cup of crisp pale ale. Perfect.

We’ve been on a short getaway. A holiday. A self-contained location with all the amenities. It’s brilliant, and after three separate visits in 2017 it’s a favourite. We’re getting to really know the terrain.

When I was a young, numpty/teenaged type, with all the attendant boof-headedness this implies I found considerable mirth in someone I know once knocking on the door of a school-mate, saying, “Is Billy home?” His mum gave a sincere, nodding reply, announcing, “No. He’s gone on holiday, to Greenock.”

From this, the closed ancestral home of Kapunda to Greenock was a steady ten minutes in the family Valiant. Roar! How we laughed! How could this be a holiday? I’d ridden my (sister’s) bike there and back!

But, tonight, to you, with sincerity and delayed wisdom I confess that we’ve spent our Yuletide break about eight kilometres down the road. Not nearly as far as Greenock.

Why? Because it’s terrific, we can slip home and feed the dogs, and pick up some essentials like eggs, a torch and some extra-cold Sparkling Ale.

I also reckon it’s because I now know that a holiday is not about the distance travelled, but locating a fitting headset, and finding a place that works.

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Here’s the other key attraction. Our boys, Alex and Max stay there in the compact camper-trailer with one of us, while the other, eases into the car, and DRIVES HOME TO AN EMPTY HOUSE (APART FROM THE DOGS) FOR THE EVENING.

For those of you who’ve forgotten, this means the non-holiday park parent gets, in the morning, with its luxurious new light, to wake up without provocation, and avoid the existential horror of being WOKEN UP.

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Developing a functioning relationship with a holiday park includes locating a barbeque who’ll love you back. One who’ll respect you, and also not give you any nonsense.

This one is gentle on a sausage, appropriately robust with a chicken patty, and massages a steak like it should. It’s also by a creek and some friendly trees. I like it.

But this bugger, yeah, this one here-

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It looks sleek and cooperative, but it’s benign appearance is deceptive. It doesn’t cook, which, if my dictionary serves, is the job of a barbeque. It’s Yorkshire on Boxing Day. I may give it a kicking.

You may as well line up six of the park’s dopey yet kindly ducks, point their arses at your chops, and light their farts.

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A modern holiday park offers entertainment for the kiddies and this one has a huge games room, complete with multiple distractions, including Space Invaders and its crazy derivatives, and shoot ’em up adventures. In a symbol that captures the regard with which we hold this fantastic space there’s also a Skill Tester/ Grabber.

And for the first two days it was free!

This morning after a tremendous sleep-in Max stumbled out of our tent, nodded vaguely at me, and marched straight to the games room, such is the hypnotic power of the Grabber. I yelled “Fried fritz?” at him but he shuffled onward.

When a boy refuses fried fritz, we all know life is a-changin’. I’m not sure of how many chocolates our boys extracted from this contraption, but it was, as my old boss would say, a goodly number.

Since we visited in March a beer garden has been added. How can this space get any better, I hear you ask? Next to the pool, there’s a giant TV screen, grassed (fake) expanse, assorted beanbags, under-cover booths and agreeable bar and kitchen.

Yes, it is one of our tiny world’s best spaces. If I were a ghost you wouldn’t see me here, on a chair.

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I’m happy to say the Marion Holiday Park is great value and provides a wonderful, surprising escape.

Find it here-

https://marionhp.com.au/

 

4

Jesus was born at Christmas, and died at Easter: what’s the odds?

hugh

Of course, you’re all a-blubbin’ watching festive favourite Love Actually, and by the film’s finish in Heathrow with “God Only Knows” on an endless loop, and all the happy folk hugging and crying you’re a cheerfully sodden mess.

Me too.

My first story is also set in Heathrow and features not one but two, sodden messes.

Many hate it, but for me, London’s biggest airport’s a place of excitement and marvel, forever connected to the thrill of exploring Europe. 700,000 people fly out during the holiday week.

Christmas Day, 2005 was our final day living in England, and having visited the Cathedral in the morning to hear the carols, and taken our last lunch at The Spotted Bull we speared down the M25.

In one of many airport queues they presented themselves quickly. Two women: stinking of smoke, shitty wine and undying stupidity, attracting the attention of Terminal 2 with their selfish behaviour. Let’s nod to Dr Seuss in calling them, with appropriate affection, Slapper 1 and Slapper 2.

While they unknowingly auditioned for Heathrow’s Most Horrific Harpies (coming soon to Channel 9) I whispered to the wife, “Gee, I wouldn’t want to be on the same flight as those two.”

sign

Boarding our overnight plane to Bangkok we left S1 and S2 to their unholy squawking and drunken flailing. I anticipated a meal and a beer, a film, and a long sleep as we slipped across Eastern Europe, Turkmenistan, and India.

I heard, and then smelt them before I saw them. Not only were they on our flight, but they were in the seats directly behind us, now an aeronautical Ground Zero, and dumping their fetid carcasses the trouble, as the English say, kicked off, when S1 thought it within her Lutonian rights to not only bang our chairs, but having detached her grog-soaked shoes, she plonked her gangrenous feet on top of the wife’s seat, right by her ear, and asked to remove these hoofs, both S1 and S2 made some throaty, threatening remarks infused with toxic spittle, tooth decay and, at least to my mind, a lingering, unconscious displeasure at their own massively moronic selves.

This continued for several horrendous hours.

Flying over the Black Sea, after BA belatedly moved us for our own safety, the flight attendants mentioned potential police action so I can only hope both were booked into a Thai prison with cockroaches for festive company. Cheers!

gift

*

At 4am we’re all awake. Our Singaporean body clocks reckon it’s midmorning. The room in Munich is tiny and we’ve enjoyed more space on a Tiger flight, despite it being a well-known chain I won’t mention, but I’ll give you a hint- it rhymes with Novotel.

To sedate the boys, we try TV and of course flick past innumerable soft-porn channels so beloved in the Fatherland. I take them to the hotel playroom, but their noise and energy are seismic. Continental Europe seems too small for us.

After a Bavarian week, it happens. Is anything better than falling snow? On Christmas night, after an unusually warm spell, it cascades down, and bedspreads the city and us. It’s bliss.

Rushing down to the carpark there’s dancing flurries, and these swirling, silent flakes form a carpet across the pavers. All is now magic. The boys shape a snowman. We heave some snow about, and at each other beneath the tumbling sky.

airport scene

We’re a long way from baking and dusty Australia, and getting here has been significant, but for this enchanted hour, in the dark of a Munich Christmas, it’s simple, joyous fun. I hope the boys remember this. I will.

Later, with Alex and Max asleep, Kerry opens a window, thrusts her paw at the ledge, and makes a vodka and fresh snow! You can’t buy one of these from a Peel Street mixologist. Our snowy pilgrimage is complete. It’s the perfect coda to our week in Munich.

*

Christmas across the globe can be memorable, but back in Australia I’m especially looking forward to this one. Stretched, languid days; too much ham; staccato splashing from swimming pools; a good book; backyard cricket with a fuzzy tennis ball; kindly blue sky; and afternoon naps as the Boxing Day Test wanders along.

love actually