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A brisk lunchtime in the Cathedral Hotel

hoggy

The satirical polemicist Voltaire once asked, “Is there anything better than a brisk lunchtime session in the Cathedral Hotel, on the first morning of an Ashes Test?”

In all matters philosophical and cricketing our French friend is accurate so I presented myself at the revitalised old boozer. It’s a Keith Stackpole jaunt from Adelaide Oval; our tremendous, alluring oval.

Friday night at the Adelaide Lutheran Christmas function (Catholics now admitted) Harmsey said, “Meet you at the Cathedral pub. 11.15.” I was enthralled and curious that the declared time wasn’t 11 or 11.30, but 11.15. This promised things exciting or dimly dangerous or both.

Whilst grateful I cling to a heady dream in which my ear is bent by this thrilling invitation: Meet you tomorrow in the _____ Hotel. Front lounge. 4.37 pm.

4.37. How good would this be? Who could resist such an exotic offer?

Strolling in from the misty wet the ancient Barossan adage swirled overhead, as it must for those with a connection to its verdant valley: One at eleven, or eleven at one. The Cathedral was bellowing; part matinée circus, part West End production. The Barmy Army merchandise card-table in situ, its custodians in throaty, summery cheer. Only 11.15? It was as if the pub had been throttling along for hours. Perhaps it had.

For me, an unsurpassed way to invest an energetic hour or two is to stand about a tavern’s table, by an open window, with a loose knot of like-mindeds, and trade cricket yarns: personal, public and apocryphal.

And so we did.

 

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Outside, a curiously impotent army of Warwick Capper number 39’s had mobilised, while inside, PJ Flynn and company attacked their fare (2016 Burgers of the Year, no less. No word yet on the 2017 winners- I’ll keep you posted) and the stories impatiently assembled.

Of course, after the obligatory SK Warne and IM Chappell anecdotes, we migrated to RM Hogg. When he played for Australia I was a kid who loved his ferocious bowling, and the hostility with which he steamed to the wicket; all Serengeti chesting, and scowl. He presented as one you’d have on your side, in a fight (Do cricketers have scraps and footballers have barneys?). Even his blonde locks flounced with anger.

Flynnie’s story went thus:

After his international career concluded Rodney played in Willowfest: the Australian amateur cricket championships, up in Mildura and Wentworth. Hoggy remained properly livid and fast. One afternoon his captain threw him the ball.

As he paced out his run-up a mischievous scorer, grasping the demon quick’s permanent volatility, yelled out towards the 123 Test-wicket veteran with faux ignorance, “Bowler’s name?”

From over my Coopers Session Ale in the Cathedral I could envision Hoggy’s lips tightening in a snarl. He didn’t bother to respond. But his captain did. “Hogg” came the reply.

Not done yet, the scorer chirped again, “One ‘g’ or two?”

As the yarns volleyed across our ales, a film-crew strode in and captured one of the Barmy Army, in staccato, bursting voice. By now the Wiz and his post-modern disciples had either departed, or been moved on by management. Perhaps Dr G Edelsten had invoked an injunction.

The Don DeLillo of cricket authors, Gideon Haigh, shared some probing insights on Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and the outlandish turf wickets he’d encountered recently in Melbourne. As lunchtime pub entertainment and education, it was unparalleled.

I was asked of my earliest Adelaide oval cricket memory. It was the 1974/75 Ashes with Dad. On the scoreboard hill among fractured foam esky lids like Canadian ice-floe, and floppy towelling hats reminiscent of those draped upon Arthur Dunger, I recalled an over each from DK Lillee and JR Thompson. This closed the day’s play.

To my eight-year old ears the noise was a pyroclastic event. I was exhilarated by the vivid and escalating possibilities as they splashed across my bow.

My next Adelaide Oval experience, I recounted to Flynny, was one Sunday during a match against Tasmania in the 1982 Sheffield Shield season. Some Kapunda contemporaries and I had wandered in and taken our seats in the former Sir Edwin Smith stand. The crowd was dotted about like inmates in a TB sanatorium.

 

MH
I only recollect the spell of Michael Holding.

As accepted fast bowlers are athletes until they reach the crease, and Holding was supreme in his gliding beauty. Pace men such as Craig McDermott and Mitchell Johnson are menace and violence as they tear in. But the West Indian was noiseless and painterly.

With the Taswegian keeper back halfway to the Cathedral End fence, it seemed that at the moment of release the ball, instantly forty yards away, was being scooped across to second slip.

Neither the batsman, nor I, were optically able to track the fig. I became aware of a remarkable connection between mechanics and biology. This became metaphysical majesty. I was slack-jawed. We all were. I don’t know if Holding took a wicket during our short sojourn. And, in many ways, an edge or explosion at the castle would have spoiled this most bewitching of sporting vistas.

Time had passed, and all by that window had an engagement, so we left the pub. Across the road, an Ashes Test was waiting.

 

Wiz

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Fritz and fog: Twitter tales

 

My beloved Footy Almanac is running a series of writing competitions in which entries must be no more than Twitter’s new 280-character limit. There’s been some rippers. This week’s topic is Adelaide. More here

http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/almanac-writing-competition-almanac280-adelaide/

and on twitter using this hashtag

#Almanac280

 

fritz

 

The MCG has hosted happiness and towering achievement, and also catastrophe like 1997’s Iran match and 1982’s nearly last wicket heroics. But, 2011 saw unforgivable horror as Craig Willis said, “Ladies and gentlemen…Meatloaf.”

*

 -This morning we’re finding Adelaide’s best fritz. Alan from Alberton’s on line 3.

– Hello. It’s Alan from Alberton here. John the butcher does a very tasty bung. Top quality sawdust. Nice.

– How does it fry?

– Good. But that late free against Port on the weekend!

*

Having luncheoned on a pie-floater and butcher of West End draught at the Chappell brothers’ Leg Trap Hotel the HQ Kingswood now barges down Tapleys Hill Road with KG and static spitting on 5DN. Happy Proclamation Day!

*

fog

 

Anaesthetized Blundstones on the torpid terrace. North London football under Dickensian fog. Throaty shouts and roast beef. Wembley arch from the homeward train. An afternoon.

*

This unbounded sky is a cathedral. Low, promiseless hills guard the plains, and there’s the idyllic drone of the cricket as we move through an empty afternoon. Screen-doors flail. Home, with our Coopers and chops and distinctive vowels.

*

Ghosts phantom about the curved stands: the Ricciuto, the Chappell, the Bradman. Echoes of roaring; grainy footage; men in hats. Frozen champions orbit the oval. Past and present embrace, but wounds can’t heal without rubbing: the chicken salt hoarding is gone.

 

 

radio

 

 

 

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To Alex, our cricketer

alex 1

Dearest Alex

You wander back besides the pitch, and pass the stumps. I like that you’re relaxed, although now and then, you break into a little jog as if you’re keen to get on with it. You arrive at the top of your mark, and I bend forward as if being closer to you will help. It’s a symbolic hug, or a pat on your shoulder.

Your mum and I are on our chairs in the Sunday shade. There’s other parents and grandparents sprinkled about beside the school gym. Max is either hurling himself about at the playground, or having a snack. While he shows fleeting interest in the on-field action, we know he wants you to do well when he asks, “How many runs did you make?” or “Did you win, Alex?”

In our frantic and unavoidably scrappy lives, this time in our week is when Mum and I can sit under the immaculate pre-lunch sky, and chat about school and work, you two boys and our Christmas holidays. Without your knowing it you’ve yet again given us a gift, and this Sunday morning sacrament cloaks us in monastic calm.

In each game, you’ve bowled either twelve or eighteen deliveries with tremendous success. And having flipped the ball from one hand to the other with that instinctive confidence, that emerging ease with the red leather, you now clasp it in your fingers and palm, and pick out a point on the pitch.

Here we go.

Turning towards the batsman, your run-up begins, and Mum and I concentrate all our love onto you. Our hope and our pride are funnelled to the demanding biomechanics of what you’ll do in the next seconds. The expectation makes me squirm and spasm. It’s anguish and delight. What will happen? C’mon, Alex!

From beyond the boundary we gaze at you, leaning forward as you accelerate, and your long frame foreshadows the fast bowler’s menace. I remember someone saying, “Until they hit their delivery stride all fast bowlers are athletes.” How true this is! All at once I can see you in this moment, but also the wide-eyed boy you were and the remarkable man who’s coming too quickly.

Other boys display the poise of a collapsing water-buffalo, but there’s a singularity in your action, especially for a nine-year old. In cricket, as in so much of life, the best techniques are often those with an elegant simplicity; a marriage of aesthetics to mechanical minimalism. The ultimate example of this is Glen McGrath although your blonde hair is more Nick Riewoldt than Brett Lee!

Your Mum and I have long invested in cricket, and subscribed to its broad community, its teachings and its charismatic company. It speaks to us as it preaches to your grandparents, and we love how you also hear its sweet call.

Now coiled in your delivery stride, you release the Kookaburra at impressive pace and it travels the twenty-two yards to its fate. This crimson orb carries our aspirations. You’re making your way in the world, by cultivating your skills, making connections and embracing the offers and the challenges that fly in your direction.

Congratulations, for you’re a cricketer, as well as a loyal friend, a protective brother and a gorgeous son. It’s early in the innings, but it’s begun brightly.

Love

Mum and Dad

alex 2

 

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Road Trip- Kapunda cars and boys

 

Once upon a time we took photos by cars. Were vehicles more important when we were young? I suspect they were, and now we’re defined by other things: family, houses, work.

Here’s some old photos. Each tells a story.

 

Some friends- Chris, Stephen, Rodney and I bonded while at Kapunda High over a shared ownership, and then, love of the iconic Adidas shoe, the Rome. We became the Romers. There were four of us, and in this snap we’re heading off on a trip in Stephen’s Holden Gemini, but for reasons I can’t recall, Rod is absent.

Of course, we’re all blubbing and bellowing into our hankies, wondering how we’ll cope without Rod.

Yes, well spotted. I’m wearing a Kapunda Cricket Club cap.

Why did they stop painting cars in that particular green?

In 1988 Paul, Mikey, Chrisso and I ventured to Melbourne in Paul’s VK SS Commodore. It accelerated, as they say, like the clappers. We went to the MCG and saw Dean Jones up close, hitting a few in the net. I was keen to see the Australian captain, Alan Border, bat. After some refreshments I wandered down in the bowels of the stadium to use the facilities.

Coming out into daylight and blinking, I looked at the scoreboard. AB had made a duck. It was the last time full-strength beer would be served at the MCG for many a year.

Yes, well spotted. I’m wearing hideous, fluoro-coloured, hyper-coloured board shorts. No, I don’t know why.

In January of 1985 Woodsy, Chrisso, Trev and I drove to Sydney to stay with Stephen and Brendan in Drummoyne.

Yes, Woodsy and I are wearing Adidas Mexicos shorts, which for humanitarian and visual arts reasons are now banned.

On the way we stopped in West Wylong and met some local girls who, apparently because of our accents, thought we were British. In Sydney we played cricket, and went to the SCG and saw Simon O’Donnell make his debut while sitting on the Hill. We swam at Curl-Curl, Bondi and Manly. It was innocent fun. Then we went to Kings Cross where our country boys’ eyes were widened.

We also went to the Basement to take in some jazz. One afternoon in The Rocks we saw Kamahl and his Rolls Royce.

Ah, the days of the Road Trip!

19

Philip Road, Elizabeth- Holden cars and me

HR

There was still a post-Coronation glow across the Commonwealth when Holden started making cars in Elizabeth, just north of Adelaide. Indeed, our Queen had only been in Buckingham Palace for a few years, and with this respectfully in mind, those mapping the satellite city instead decided that the thoroughfare next to the car manufacturing plant should be named Philip Highway, Elizabeth. I guess Philip Road, Elizabeth was a bit horizontal in tone, especially in the 1950’s.

I’m not a petrol-head, but as a country boy, I was always going to buy a Holden for my first car. Purchased from solid farming folk near Greenock, it was a pale blue HR Holden complete with two-speed Powerglide. It had razor-blade thin tyres, which had the unfortunate habit of prolonged squealing as I gently rounded a corner, or accidently drove in circles at the intersection just up from the Kapunda Pizza Bar. Prior to buying an FM radio, for my driving pleasure I had a portable cassette player and a kazoo. The HR’s registration was REM-097.

Part way through my degree I upgraded to the model I’m confident was made in greater numbers than any other at the Elizabeth plant: a HQ Kingswood (white). In our little country town, there must’ve been twenty of these, and they were mostly driven by us young fellas. Sometimes there’d be three or more of these in a diagonal row, outside Nugget’s Clare Castle Hotel*, late on a Sunday. Owning one seemed almost compulsory, and it functioned as a type of vehicular uniform for our silly army. Its rego was UXA-100.

CCH

For a few months, my friends commuted to uni and back with me. Claire and Trish* were Abba fans and musical theatre devotees, and I now confess that I took fiendish, even megalomaniacal delight in controlling our musical accompaniment. They’d holler, “Put on the radio” and “We want SA-FM.”

Deaf to their words, I’d then lean over and pump up the volume on a ten-minute blues song like, “Key to the Highway.” Somehow, we’re still friends.

Nineteen. There may well be an age at which Australian males are more stupid, but I doubt it. With sudden and inexplicable urgency one Friday night, when I was barely nineteen, three friends and I decided that we needed to race down to one of the Kapunda main street’s four pubs (or possibly, all of them).


So, we left the home of the mate that for legal reasons I’ll refer to as Woodsy* and failing entirely to navigate the dirt road behind Kapunda High School, my left fender prised open about twenty feet of the corrugated fence like it was a tin of Whiskers*. The car came to an immediate halt. Our friend was studying electronic engineering at Adelaide uni, so I said, “Chris*, you’re smart, fix it!” He couldn’t.

Subsequent crash analysis revealed a major cause being the HQ Holden’s front bench seat on which, for now obscure reasons, all four of us were, for want of an ergonomically accurate term, sitting. Apparently, this lack of physical space made it difficult for the driver (me) to successfully operate the steering wheel.

Later, another mate, Crackshot* remarked that despite it being only eighteen months since I’d somehow won Kapunda High’s Paul Giles Memorial Prize for Character and Leadership, I still clearly wanted to make a lasting mark on my former school. Under the cold light of Saturday morning, in grim conversation and looking at my Adidas Rome-d feet, neither the headmaster nor the town’s police officer, saw my yearning for scholastic legacy as a legally relevant issue.

The final Holden I owned was the most expensive of the three, and certainly the least likable. Heading off to the West Coast to teach I bought a VK Commodore from Hage’s in Tanunda. It drove well, if thirstily, but the stereo was terrible and the front speaker rattled like buggery whenever I’d turned up a tape, like Billy Joel*. Billy deserves better.

One evening after a prolonged cricket fixture and raffle-ticket selling duties in the Wudinna Club, the VK batted last and was dismissed, run-out by a Ford at a railway line on the road back to my farmhouse accommodation (I wasn’t driving). After extensive rehabilitation, during which I drove Jock* and Snook’s dune buggy, I sold it.

I didn’t know it, but my relationship with Holden’s was finished. I’m unsure whether I’m yet to have my mid-life crisis, or if I’ve been having one all my life, but I often think that one day, I’ll buy myself an EH Holden.

I might even take it on Sunday drives, and do a lap of Kapunda High.

Thanks, Holdens.

 

*names not changed

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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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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