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Ashes Moments- January 2003: Steve Waugh’s Sydney Century

lake

The scorebook would make for unremarkable reading given that this particular box contains neither of cricket’s contrasting exclamation marks: 6 or W. But, the final over at the SCG on Friday January 3, 2003 was astonishing. I know precisely where I was, and am sure that many of you do too.

We’re up at Barmera with friends from Kimba, and filled the windless, stretching days with golf and barbeques. Gentle, unhurried rhythms. Late afternoons, we’d sit on the lawns slopping away from our hotel rooms, and gaze out across our drinks and Lake Bonney. Up early for a swim before eighteen holes, the brisk pool’s a reminder that save for a mighty river, this is a desert.

The fifth Ashes Test was a transition with neither Warne nor McGrath playing due to injury. If relief from longitudinal torment comes before hope, then, for England, a jackboot might’ve been lifted off their writhing throat.

Paul, Klingy and I made our way round Waikerie’s lush layout, and now it almost seems unknowable that despite having mobile phones mine permitted merely texts and calls. As we zigzagged the fairways and beyond, we’d no idea of the cricket score, and were only updated by Skull and company as we motored back up the Sturt Highway to our wives and families, poolside and relishing the blonde warmth.

waikerie

The motel bar advertised a happy hour, so Klingy and I moseyed in for a post-golf beer, and to catch the last few overs. Stephen Waugh, who’d given so much for so many years, but was nearing the conclusion of his tenacious, decorated career, had a century within unexpected grasp.

All summer, he’d suffered an indefensible lack of runs, and the near-shouting for his head was intensifying. During this session, questions were being asked of him by the visitors, and after a lifetime in the dungeon, England’s skipper, Nasser Hussain, sensed an opening. Waugh later suggested that these challenges, “galvanised my spirit.”

In this Test, he’d equalled AB’s record of 156 matches in the baggy green, and had also gone past 10,000 runs. His career stretched back almost mythologically: he’d seen players pass through this English side like it were Oxford Circus tube station.

With the owner of the greatest sporting nickname courtesy of the Warwickshire CCC souvenir shop, Ashley “The King of Spain” Giles, also out wounded, Richard Dawson bowled the day’s last over. He’d play seven Tests for his country, and take eleven wickets.

Such was their innocuity, the Australian captain patted the first three balls back down the pitch.

In this nation, cricket telecasting is more dissected than parliamentary decisions. We largely choose the family and friends we invite into our living rooms, but have no control over commentary teams. At this point, with his sense of drama and boyish excitement, Bill is handed the microphone. As it’s been for decades, his exhilaration becomes ours.

Dawson’s fourth ball is in the slot, and Waugh drives it for three. There’s a sense of rumbling, rapidly-gathering occasion.

Hussain attempts to then assemble doubt in the batsmen, with elongated brooding over his field placings. It’s an obvious stratagem, but for his ceaselessly down-trodden troops, a late wicket could yield both actual and symbolic value.

BBQ area

An unparalleled master of mental combat, Waugh responds by gesturing for Gilchrist to join him mid-pitch. All at the SCG in the Brewongle and those watching elsewhere know this is confected theatre, but we don’t care.

“It’s getting interesting, Michael,” Klingy proposes, “He might get his ton. Do ya want another beer?”

The TV screen is both irresistible and repellent. I take a sip. The January sun steams in across the glittering lake.

Finally, our wicketkeeper, whose ball-striking was already in robust evidence, took guard. He records a single off the penultimate fig, but could’ve run two. This would’ve given him fifty, however he might’ve attracted a continental condemnation of Harold Larwood proportions. Upon England’s return in four years, Gilly would secure a folkloric place with his WACA explosives.

By the day’s ultimate delivery, this over has endured for nearly ten minutes. My father-in-law, ever alert to a broader narrative, still insists the bowler was under instruction to serve up something hittable. Waugh is on 98. The ball is wide, and outside off-stump. He slashes it to ground, and it punches towards cover.

The Kookaburra sped through the infield. It broke to the left of screen.

Bill cried, “There it is!”

Occasionally, sport attains transcendentalism, and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said of this philosophy, it allows us to locate, “an original relation to the universe.” I love these moments; these blissful intervals when we’re at the happy mercy of others; these strangers we know intimately, and upon whom our holiday joys can depend.

In the bar, by Lake Bonney, in the fading Friday sunlight, back closer to the beginning of this millennium, we brushed away a few hot tears.

Klingy spoke, “I’m a bit emotional.”

With broken words, I gasped. “Yeah. Me too.”

Stephen Waugh had just registered his 29th century, and had equalled the Don. For the immediate future, he’d remain the Australian captain.

We walked to our rooms. We’d had an afternoon.

SW AG

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The Killers in The Taminga

party pies

AFL Grand Final morning is fantastic. Buzzing expectations, glancing yet again at your watch, and finding stuff to distract the racing mind. At this point my cousin would apply Sparkling Ale, but today we choose modest exercise.

It’s cool in the Clare Valley, and the sun’s out, and the trees and the fairways of the golf course burst with warm promise and stratospheric, if fragile, hope. We only play nine holes, so we don’t need a lunchtime Zimmer or gopher. I take it as a minor omen that I don’t lose my ball.

The town has three pubs and these are, of course, the Top, the Middle and the Bottom pubs. Australians really do enjoy a rare and efficient grasp of geography. With an alluring alliterative splash, the Bottom is also the Bentley’s, and the Top is, yes, you guessed it, the Taminga.

Our tables were by the open windows overlooking the street, and as the breeze dashed in and out, we could see trucks and utes, lazily circling the roundabout. Opposite was Pink’s Mitre 10 Hardware, and I was fearful that this sleepy winery village had been invaded by that dreadful wailing popster. Imagine my relief upon learning that the Pink family has run their store for six generations, and never released a hideously overwrought album of faux-feminist tosh.

pinks

In order to set the afternoon’s rules of play I said, “What do you reckon? Every time Bruce (the match commentator) says, ‘clever’ Mozz has to woof down his beer.”

All agreed, except for Mozz.

In truth, drinking games are best left in our juvenile past, and we quickly recognised that no earthly good could come of my idea. Plus, there was the after-dark, safely back in our room, Karaoke to follow, and we had Ol ’55, Glen Campbell and the enormously patient Neil Diamond to cheerfully demolish.

Is there anything that generates such excessive expectation as complimentary party pies? No, of course not. And there were also wedges put out by the bar staff, but these conglomerates of oil and mistreated potato put me in mind of a semi-mythical fat-berg, easing along a London sewer in a decidedly sinister fashion.

Don’t you love suddenly remembering a great song? One you’ve not heard in a while? The pre-match entertainment was American band The Killers who I’ve always admired. Their fifteen-minute set was a treat, in contrast to Meatloaf, universally known as the evil mastermind responsible for the “Massacre at the MCG.”

But it’s only at the post-game concert that they played their finest song, “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Included on their 2004 debut Hot Fuss, it’s a classic of heartland rock. For days now, I’ve had it on repeat at home, in the car, and for personal health reasons, at work.

It reminds me of U2 from their Joshua Tree era, when they were the mightiest band on the planet. There’s a rousing intro which is reminiscent of “Where The Streets Have No Name,” as the pounding drums and catchy guitar conjure an anthemic boldness, and a soaring gospel quality.

Like so much of Bono and band’s output, it’s about the seeking of redemption.

I want to stand up, I want to let go

You know, you know; no, you don’t, you don’t

I wanna shine on in the hearts of man

I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand

Now, Bono is largely a git wearing glasses around the clock, but for two decades the Dubliners were remarkable. They combined words and music with singular mastery.

As the Sweet Inspirations choir bursts to joyous life on the refrain- “I’m got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” I’d love to be at a huge, summery football stadium when the crowd sings along, with front man Brandon Flowers waving his microphone at the bouncing masses. A sign of modern esteem is parody, and the British comic Bill Bailey once pronounced in response to The Killers, “I’ve got ham, but I’m not a hamster.”

“Mr Brightside” may be more popular, and a track on which Richmond Tigers star Jack Riewoldt guests, but “All These Things That I’ve Done” is a stirring song that takes me to splendid places.

Places offering party pies, for free!

Taminga

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Meatloaf: Horrific Fun at the 2011 Grand Final

meat

I dare you to watch it.

Appropriately, the execution opened with “Hot Patootie” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, a title more representative than commonly possible, as the following quarter hour is hide behind the couch, can I come out now Mum dreadfulness.

Meatloaf presented early, and sitting in front of the mercifully miniscule 42-inch screen, I wondered if John Farnham might’ve been lured from his retirement tent for the aural health of our nation.

“You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” was next, with a terrifyingly extended outchorus during which Meat alternately surged ahead as if gasping for the Kool-ade, and then inexplicably dropped back a length behind his band. By its conclusion all in earshot wished they could, somehow, insert those mangled words right back into the rotund Texan’s mouth.

Tellingly, the band all had their sunglasses on, as if wishing for anonymity, and to escape this netherworld, courtesy of a Star Trek teleporter.

I must point out that I reckon Bat Out of Hell is a remarkable rock album. For many it’s the music by which they first stole a kiss, or turned the key in their own set of Holden wheels. That something like one in every dozen Australian homes owed a copy isn’t a surprise.

But, to suggest that a gap exists between that exhilarating vinyl and this afternoon at the MCG is like noting how John Howard’s bowling action doesn’t quite offer the elegance of Glen McGrath’s.

Flanking the stage were two giant Carlton Draught inflatables. How must those CUB executives have felt watching that? The music was more Death Valley-aged Budweiser than passable domestic brew.

meat 2

I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) then polluted that grim, little stage. What do we make of its central theme which speculates on the very limits of human endurance? Happily, there was no Kiss-Cam that day. Scream at an Elderly Relative-Cam might’ve had the broadcast director paralysed for choice.

Our vocalist seemed to be playing a perverse game of anti-bingo in which he was determined to not sing in the correct musical key. Mr Loaf clutched a Magpie scarf as if this would help, and from this moment, a Cats’ victory was certain.

In the corner of the screen the Channel 10 logo featured proudly throughout, and anthropologists and financial analysts have since traced the network’s woes back to this thirteen-minute microcosm of existential pain.

On the Classic Albums documentary series, the composer Jim Steinman explained how, “Bat Out of Hell” was conceived as the ultimate car crash song, following in the tradition of “Leader of the Pack” and “Dead Man’s Curve.” Watching that afternoon, I wondered about life imitating art, or was it life imitating life, or art imitating an open sewer?

By the stage you could see a throng of spectators all wearing orange caps. In Buddhism, orange is connected to vitality and illumination, but I suspect if actual monks had been at the G, even they may have erupted into sudden and colossal violence.

How jealous must the crowd have been when the Harley motorcyclists, musically and thematically, so central to this song, rumbled off down the players’ race? They were paid to speed from the arena, and the sonic strife warbling about its unhappy bowl!

Towards the end Meatloaf received an oversized prop, and squinting at the screen, it appeared to be an enthusiastically circumcised penis. On it is a trigger of sorts. He handled this briefly, as it were, but then abandoned it, perhaps realising, along with the rest of the audience, both immediate and televisual, that today, there’d be no climactic finish. Indeed, if you listen carefully to veteran AFL announcer, Craig Willis, you can detect the tiniest irony, in his stentorian thanking of the Wagnerian rocker.

As Channel 10’s Stephen Quartermain then cuts to a universally welcome block of vacuous advertising, he comments that Meatloaf was, “Extraordinary.”

Aside from “Leo Barry. You star!” this is his finest moment.

Go on, I dare you to watch it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZdiaFXW2U8

 

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Finals Week 3- Adelaide v Geelong: River Dancing in the Riverbank Stand

 river dance

With spring’s warmth kissing our little city on this exquisite Friday evening, where else to meet for this Crows and Cats preliminary final clash, but at the Malcolm Blight statue?  

Yes, the man who fostered enduring belief in Corio Bay by taking Geelong to three grand finals, and then with a magical swiftness, scurried in and out of Adelaide, but gifted them successive flags.

I shake Citrus Bob’s hand. We chat, and I ask after his dogs, “How’s Freddie Flintoff and Chloe on Flinders?” I wonder if the real Mr Flintoff has ever ascended the stairs at Young and Jackson to admire the eponymous bar’s nude portrait. No, I decide. That’d distract Fred from his singular, ferocious work on the ground floor.

Standing by Blighty with Bob must be like flopping down on a Trafalgar Square bench with Mick Jagger. Celebrities, past presidents, parents of players, media identities: Bob knows them all. As Patrick Dangerfield’s grandfather, this is no surprise, but Bob’s a star himself. Olympians, octogenarians, off-spinners: all say howdy to Citrus. And we’re not inside the ground yet.

Our seats are in Bay 130 of the Riverbank Stand, next to the Geelong players’ race. Finishing his warm-up Paddy runs down the tunnel. His grandfather waves a hot chip at him. “No thanks,” Paddy nods. He was always respectful.

After the curious theatre of the national anthem and the Crows’ warrior stance we’re away. Torrents of sound drown us, like a mallet banging the inside of a 44-gallon drum. Betts and Cameron establish their key theme early with a pair of conjured scores inside two minutes.

It’s hot at Adelaide Oval and the giant ceiling fans are twirling in the Riverbank Stand like the helicopter rotors of Captain Willard’s nightmares, but the Crows fashion a dream start. Cricket Australia would welcome a balmy (barmy) evening such as this for the inaugural Day/Night Ashes Test.

Paddy begins forward and completes a contested grab, to the roaring delight of the Cats who surround me, like a TS Eliot creation. But he pushes the drop-punt to the right, as if he, too, is puzzled by the haunting, inexcusable absence of the Chicken Salt hoarding.

It’s Flemington fast footy. However, the locals are quick by hand and foot, and run to space in ominous formation, while the Cats seem hesitant and lack precision when travelling goalward. Betts registers his second and I ask Citrus, “Has there been a more fun footballer to watch?” Bob has witnessed many decades of this game, and smiles an instant no.

Adelaide dominates the stanza and a message blinks through, not from my man in Amsterdam, but a lad in Largs. It’s raining. What might this mean? There’s not much in it, and I think of my wife’s late grandfather, who would’ve described it as, “three squirts of nanny-goat piss.”

Despite its habitual, incurable dropping, Joel Selwood’s neck continues to play well, and enjoys gushing admiration from the umpires, who offer Secret-Service-murmuring-into-their-lapels levels of protection to the Cats captain’s décolletage.

The third quarter sees the Cats produce some fleeting patches in which they look poised to snatch a canary or two, but the Crows respond and counterattack, if not accurately, at least with psychological potency. The Crouch industrial/ military complex again dominates and as we steadily build a lead, the record crowd begins to sense something special, two decades in the making.

When big Cat Hawkins is caught juggling the ball, like it’s the opening hour of Circus School, I ease into the moment. Then, a mostly subdued Tex Walker curls one through from just inside the boundary immediately in front of our bay, and our collective ecstasy finally commences. The Cats fans are gracious, if resigned. A Mexican wave does a few rippling circuits and once the demons of 1993 have vaporised, throaty baritones belt though the Crows song.

With the siren, I feel a couple of hot tears, and wonder at the berserk week ahead. My phone pings a message from Louisville, Kentucky, and then one from Harrow in London. I thank Citrus Bob for a great night. He’s going down to the Geelong rooms to see his grandson.

The world’s a shadowy, sometimes unknowable place, but right now Adelaide’s golden.

AO

 

 

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Friday’s for funerals, Saturday’s for brides: Tex, Don and Charlie

tex

As an unreconstructed country boy, I love a stubby holder. So, last night at Adelaide’s premier live music pub, the Gov, my pace accelerated as I approached the merchandise table.

T-shirts. CDs. Vinyl. Yes, yes. What’s this? Coffee mugs. Fair enough, but where’s the stubby holders? Then I saw it. A linen rectangle. A Tex, Don and Charlie tea towel. Ah, my first ironic tea towel. I considered. I could, I guess, use it to dry my Wagga Wagga souvenir spoon (ironically purchased too).

Tex Perkins has a massive voice, an instrument of booming sonics and attack. Doubtless, others could tell me if it’s a baritone or bass, but I do know the timbre is entrancing. If human voices can possess a narrative then this one plots panther danger, underworld trickery and tropical heat. It reminds me of Captain Beefheart, and those monochrome images of Bikini Atoll or Maralinga nuclear blasts. When singing, he doesn’t adopt the central personas so much as become possessed by them.

Fittingly, we’re in a pub for these are pub tales, and my only regret is we’re not suspended on stools, in a wobbly circle, and nodding over beers at our sage raconteurs. The songs of Tex, Don and Charlie have incontestable gravity and lonely geographies. The music slinks through inner-city grime, but mostly slouches in the dust and dusk north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and owes a debt to the 1950’s and our cheerful beginnings of despair.

Don Walker sits at his keyboard, his silver mane flopping in time, while his voice is a diverse instrument. At its most intimate it absorbs and pacifies, but in the upper register, it can fall into Willie Nelson parody. His gifts are his words and his stories, and in these rests an unrushed economy, and a vernacular deep with hot tears, smiles and snug hearts. Beyond “Flame Trees” he wrote “Harry Was A Bad Bugger.” Don’s an icon.

Phantasms drift about the Gov, and I think of Tom Waits and his tunes, all swarthy menace and ragged swagger. I think of Bruce Dawe and his depictions of rural lives, wrecked. Spinifex and scrub. Lyrical and parched places; ferocious light, sky. There’s landscapes in the soundscape. I think of romping observation, but also agedness and its introspection, prowling upon me.

Into this evening, I imagined Charlie Owen’s guitars. Plaintive acoustic, spiralling lap steel, his elegiac electric. Barely speaking, but with boyish enthusiasm, he paints our stage. With splashes of surf, we move along his removed beach. As if to counter these sparse yarns, and our collective flouting down at the dread, his strings urge the joy of the quiet minutes.

I come away into the windy midnight troubled and exhilarated by cold grey Saturdays; brokenness; Tex’s denim jacket bouncing like a St Kilda uniform; the black and white tableau of a double bassist; mosquito nets; sharks at funerals; Elvis; deliciously tired and unfussy drumming; eulogies; paychecks and gratitude.

spinifex

 

 

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Crows v Giants- Row G’s phalanx of tepid thermoses

thermos

I cross Victor Richardson Road; bow at the Barrie Robran statue; undergo a cheerfully non-invasive security check, beep my ticket and click through the turnstile; sniff a whiff from the Neil Kerley Bar whose patrons are plainly devouring some Walker Flat yabbies doubtless netted (legally) by Knuckles himself; amble past the Chappell Stand that’s next to the Bradman Pavilion so Ian and the Don can symbolically continue their fiscal disagreements in perpetuity; glance sideways at the Favell/Dansie Indoor Training Centre; consider a swift beer at the David Hookes Terrace Bar, or possibly the Phil Ridings Bar; catch some uncharacteristic clatter coming from the Ian McLachan Room, and finally climb the stairs to the Sir Edwin Smith grandstand, where I breathe in the elegant sweep of the Clarrie Grimmett Gate, the Bob Quinn Gate, and the heritage-listed, yet soothingly nameless scoreboard. 

Misty rain is falling as the match begins, and bobbing about us are crocheted tri-colour beanies and tartan thermoses by the bagpipe-full. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll get invited into a shout of bundies with the strangers in Row G.

The GWS-ers start brightly and move the ball forward frequently, but without any significant threat until the man-bunned Harrison Himmelberg opens the affair.

There’s certain footballers who execute specific skills with rare exquisiteness. Brodie Smith is a glorious kick, and invests the ball with joyous flight and astonishing physics. I pay to see him launch a scorching drop punt. He does, and goals at the Riverbank end. Minutes later he slips when tackling, and appears to wreck his ACL. This is cruel. Knees are the most robust of our moving parts, but also the most delicate.

Ex-Collingwood racer Paul Seedsman is in our best side, but again takes the field attired with Andrew Newton Jarman-style three-quarter length sleeves. I’m unsure of the function, and speculate if the inaugural Crow himself knocks these up in the shed on his Singer, as a tribute to himself. It’s not impossible. Still, Seed provides telling run and carry, and is a penetrating kick. He goals to give the home side a small, but ultimately permanent lead.

With appendectomy Wikipedia entrant Rory Sloane spectating, giant Giant Rory Lobb jumps up one place to claim the title of this game’s third best Rory, behind Laird and Atkins. His point is the last score of the first term. Pleasingly, the Crows have not made their customary slow start.

Tonight, it’s not the third quarter that defines the contest, but the second, and on a soggy evening Eddie Betts again shows why he is among our code’s most effervescent players. He generates joy where none should exist. He goals from spatial situations beyond human contemplation. Like McCartney singing over a lonely guitar, or Black Caviar lengthening her stride and lowering her back, his contributions are rare and breathtaking. I’m privileged.

Mercifully, our tidy lead means we’ve heard little from the supporter in Row A who provides coaching and umpiring recommendations from her seat. Her vocal stylings seem to echo mid-career Tom Waits, Bobcat Goldthwait and a distressed, if not deceasing, dugong. For many reasons, we’re all relieved the footy’s not close.

The GWS mob get three speedy majors after the long break, and there’s some momentary tension. Waits/ Goldthwait/ dugong screeches. With a single first-half goal, the visitors have registered the lowest score in VFL/AFL finals footy since 1960.

However, a Richard Douglas intercept mark and conversion ensures that we relax, and not kick over any checkered soldiers in Row G’s phalanx of tepid thermoses. He then collects another in what has been an emblematic season, and at the siren the opposition has crept forward but a single point.

During the huddle, a nearby couple gathers up their goods and squeezes past us saying, “If we go now we can get home to watch the last quarter.” This is bewildering and I wonder why they bother coming at all, and how these Port supporters stole a pair of tickets. Curious.

At the ten-minute juncture of a fizz-less final stanza Coniglio achieves the game’s concluding goal, and at 10pm the Crows have advanced to their second only home preliminary final.

As we cross the Torrens foot bridge, even the mediocre busker warbling an Oasis cover is thrilling.

It’s getting exciting.

eddie

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Cricket, tennis and Father’s Day brunch

 

FD

The chorizo is ferociously tasty, and just short of generating physical pain. It’s as hot as the Henley Beach weather is not. Outside, Alex and Max are leaping over some wooden benches. Storm surges roll past the jetty in thunderous grey and white. Even the seagulls shelter under the eaves. We’re starting Father’s Day at a café.

*

Alex went to his first cricket training last Sunday. Worried he wouldn’t be good enough, he had told me repeatedly that, “Ty can bowl at 55 kilometres an hour, Dad.” Indeed, his mum confirmed that he had bowled at a Jason Gillespie cricket centre with a speed gun measuring the pace of his looping delivery. Statistics can haunt us early in sport, and life.

Max batted first, and as the family expert, then showed Alex how to insert the box or protector as it’s now disappointingly known. What a curious sight, to see the boys bonding over a triangular plastic prism. Still brotherhood is a surprising beast and this shared skill is a most Australian thing. Not for the first time I considered a cricket box, and wiped a tear from my eye, although this was a parental observation, and not the wincing experience of an inadequate lower-order batsman on a dusty West Coast pitch.

Alex galloped in to bowl from an excessive run-up, all limbs and heart-breaking innocence. Max was back a pitch length as well, and reminded me of the Yorkshire fellow who once commented that a bowler ran too much before delivering the ball. “I don’t go that far for me holiday,” he noted.

He nodded as the coach advised on his action, listening well and taking it in. He’s made an investment in this sport, and already values his emerging place in this most Australian of pursuits. Too soon, his summers appear to be stretching out, in their endless, languid joy. He’s on his way.

*

Max and I went on his first school camp Monday, down to Narnu Farm on Hindmarsh Island. As a former teacher who gorged himself on camps early in his career, I reckon everyone has a lifetime quota. Although I reached mine years ago, I was excited. I was a volunteer.

I had some benevolent community-mindedness in jumping on that bus, but like many, a major motivation was to watch and learn, to see Max in action. Of course, I was going to spy on him.

As leader of Group 3 and its eight kids, we cycled through a set of activities including horseriding- the old gelding Pudding a class favourite; animal feeding- an escapee goat providing a highlight, as goats generally do, and finally; half-court tennis.

I played with Max and two of his friends. Between fetching balls from the neigh-bouring (sorry!) horse paddocks I discovered much. Dispensing with the medieval French scoring system we played first to twenty points. It was close throughout. If Max and his partner lost a point, there was no disappointment, just the fizzing joy of a close contest; an opportunity to go again, to share the action with his friends.

Self-appointed scorer, he’d jump up and down, proclaiming, 16- 15, and so on. He preferred it tight, to enhance the social connection. He had no wish to surge ahead, and claim an easy victory.

Great or errant shots with balls lurching about in exotic trigonometry offered little for Max. He simply wanted us: his mates, his Dad, himself, to zip about together on a tiny court in communal enterprise. He was entirely in the moment. That was his universe. I loved it. I’ve rarely been happier.

*

Later, in the bunkhouse, Max took himself off to bed around ten. Of the fifty kids, he was the first asleep, and I suspect, the first awake. One of his friends told me that in the morning, “Max told them funny stories” as they squirmed in their bunk beds with the sun struggling through.

The deputy principal was unsurprised that Max was done in moments. “He runs pretty hard.” I nodded, “He’s just the same at home.” Over his coffee the deputy continued, “He gives every minute a flogging, does our Max.”

I considered. Giving every minute a flogging. Beyond report cards, or NAPLAN results, this, I reflected, is exactly how I want them to tackle life.

Henry