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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

 

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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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1

To Alex, our cricketer

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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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A Week Before Our Wedding We Went To The Races

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Here at Mickeytales Towers November Nostalgia continues with much spectacle and sparkling ale. But, you somehow already knew this.

We decided to have a joint pre-wedding party at the now demolished Victoria Park racecourse on Caulfield Cup day way back in 2002. It was a glorious spring afternoon- still, sunny and the good earth itself was bursting with rude health and robust conversation. We set up afternoon camp on the sloping lawns that fell away from the old grandstand.

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Here’s the bride with her mum, Joan and grandparents who’d driven down from Queensland for a few weeks. Griff liked a punt, and for many a year after would talk about this day, especially the bewildering fact that we hadn’t invested nearly enough on the Cup winner, a handy horse named Northerly.

We’d be up in Gympie with the cricket wandering along on their boxy, old TV, when, in complete contrast to the topic at hand he’d announce wryly, “You know what? We should’ve had more money on that bloody Northerly.” He’d then cackle at his own belated wisdom, and drum his fingers in that special way he had.

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Ali Hennessy has ample respect for authority, and of course, there’s no greater authority in Australia than Major Les Hiddins (retired). No, that’s not him on the right as that’s Paul, a Kapunda boy. Les is a devotee of VB, and he used to say, “In the army we’ve a saying. Two cans, per man (or woman), per day. Perhaps.” See what I mean by respect? Of course, it’s possible that Ali’s holding the can for her husband, Hen, who may have ducked across to the betting ring to invest in Waikikamukau, only to be briskly told that the horse was retired, or that he was even less likely to run a place, as he was deceased.

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Here’s Dad. Loves a red wine, loves a chat. Loved a punt. I reckon he had a pretty good day out. I reckon we all did.

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Bronwyn and Jonesy. My dear old friends from Mount Gambier, or the Mount. Of course, when at the races if someone asks where you’re from, and you reply, “The Mount” they could glance towards a nearby gelding and wonder if there’s an equine connection, so be careful. Just sayin’. Social confusion is best avoided.

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Here’s my sister Jill and her husband Barry. They were married earlier in 2002 at Partridge House in Glenelg before the reception, which was at Ayers House. I was their MC (sadly no DVDs available for purchase at time of writing).

Back then people drank Crown Lager as it possessed a rarefied, almost posh image that meant it was an “occasion” beer. Now, it holds the charm of a solitary night in a deserted pokies tavern, complete with stale biscuits and cups of tepid tea.

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A bottle of water? Whose is it? Whew, nobody in our group! Had me worried for a minute.

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From left to right: my father-in-law Darryll, my grandmother-in-law, Jean and my mum, Lois. Note that Jean is holding an ancient parchment called a form guide. It’s not an app, or on a phone or even on the TV with some baritone idiot barking, “The Curse!” or “Happy Puntmas” every nine seconds. Kiddies, ask your elders.

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Dad’s chatting here with his brother John and his wife, Liz, who in a curious twist also happen to be my Uncle John and Aunt Liz. What a crazy life! The coincidences!

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I miss the Victoria Park races, located as they were on the edge of the city. I recall heading in there one July afternoon with Hen (far right) but leaving early to cab down to Adelaide Oval to watch the Dogs play a SANFL fixture. After the match we snuck into the CDFC rooms.

The next day we flew to Brisbane with fellow Kimba-folk, Bazz and Annie, on a mystery flight. While in Queensland, Bazz bought a child’s toy called a “cat in a bag.” With his own money. I often wonder about that cat.

*

This was the last time we went to the races there. It’s now an open park although the old, heritage grandstand maintains vigil over the sweeping grass and waving gum trees. Thanks to everyone who shared the afternoon. Now, and then, it reminds me of the many and varied things for which I should be thankful.

I do wish I’d stuck more coin on Northerly though.

 

4

21st birthdays- good old Eagle Rock’s here to stay

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How great was that procession of 21st parties? Footy clubs, town institutes, trotting tracks, backyards and in my case, a cosy golf club. It was a time of fuzzy optimism and innocence and skinny leather ties. It was the eighties.

*

One lunch-time in the Kapunda Golf Club when we were nineteen Davo and I learnt a key life skill. An elder statesman of both the club and the community Gus Higgins lined up some glasses and began.

“Now boys, you want to keep it tilted. That’s it. Don’t panic, but snap it off quickly.”

Gus was teaching us how to pour a beer. We were excellent students. We wanted to acquire this universally-admired expertise so we could take our place among the men of the world, or at least those of Kapunda. His gentle tuition continued.

“Don’t over-fill it. You want to leave a nice head on the glass.” As Davo eased the West End amber into a butcher, Gus uttered his final, terrifying command, “Make sure you don’t choke it.”

This was a rite of passage. Happily, we passed. My 21st was another.

For my party, I recorded four TDK cassettes of music. Six hours’ worth. Much like Rob Fleming making a mixtape in High Fidelity I saw myself as an artist who was curating an artefact of considerable beauty. If this is possible with The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

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The tapes are long gone, but I remember the Hoodoo Gurus featuring prominently, especially “Like Wow – Wipeout” with its urgent rhythms and connotations of Sydney beaches and oddball Australian off-spinner Greg Matthews. Johnny and June Carter’s “Jackson” was on there too, as I loved, “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.” When Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” played there’s a youthful, exaggerated drawl as we sang along- “How does it feeeel?” And we didn’t really know, for we were twenty-one.

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I was also a fan of sixties music, mostly British bands like the Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks, so this became the dress theme. My dear friend Trish designed the hand-drawn invitations. On the night, much paisley and purple swirled about the brown timbers of the club house. Wide ties flapped. Nick came as a blonde Mick Jagger, complete with Union Jack flag flowing behind him as he strutted about the bar and dance-floor, most notably when “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” blasted the room.

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Woodsy made a VHS video of the night including the speeches. Mick Dermody told a joke with the punch-line concerning train passengers pooping in each other’s shoes, but said some lovely, touching things too. I made exactly the speech an unworldly country boy would make.

Woodsy and CAae

In the photo album there’s happiness and smiles, but sadness too for some of these people are gone, and some have drifted away. I think of the Australian writer Tim Winton who views life as a series of corridors of time and space. And then we or they move through a door.

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But what a fun corridor this was. Not a school kid anymore, but not really yet an adult either. At uni and on the cusp (cups). A honeyed place in which you’re finding your way, and the world’s opening up, beyond the dusty town you call home.

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“Eagle Rock” was a preposterous badge of this confidence, this unarticulated need to separate ourselves from the generation that came before. There’s a belief that this tradition originated at the University of Queensland and migrated to South Australia. My first recollections of it were from 1985, at a St Anne’s College toga party with Rocket and Stolly and Harmesy and others.

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This Daddy Cool classic saw you instantly crowding in a circle, dropping your trousers and then swaying along to the song with your Levi’s bunched down over your Adidas Romes and dragging onto the brandy-sticky carpet.

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 Of course, it doesn’t stand up to modern scrutiny. It does, however, have an undeniable tribalism, even an evangelism that functions as a crude declaration of independence. But these broad churches held no salvation for some of the older adults who departed soon after, grim-faced and steering their Holdens north.

Around breakfast on Sunday the cold sun bent through the windows and the captain came in. Some of us had slept on the floor. I was near the honour board, as near as I would ever get, under one of those brown, laminated tables that’s compulsory in country golf clubs. Watto simply announced, “You’ve got an hour to clean up before the first group tees off.”

I stood up and adjusted my tan velour tie. I started picking up beer glasses.

6

Winx is no Waikikamukau

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So, Saturdays now settle into a lovely rhythm.

Alex, Max and I go for our weekly run, just after breakfast. Down past the Gum Tree Reserve, and across Tapleys Hill Road. Where exactly is this eponymous hill? The entire boulevard is as flat as the Adelaide Oval pitch.

Then along the Patawalonga River and to the beach. Some big old dogs gallop about like big old dogs. We pause at the Buffalo Park where the boys rotate enthusiastically through a few of those outdoor exercise machines while I pant on a bench. Then, we turn for home.

Along the way we chat. Max says, “Dad, would you rather play for Chelsea or Tottenham?”

Alex questions too. “What’s your favourite car for driving in the snow?”

I love it.

Tee-ball then beckons. As this season’s supercoach* I haul the black coffin of gear across multiple baseball diamonds, and meet the team who are jumping about on the grass like big old dogs.

We work our way through a couple of batting and fielding innings. This morning all eleven kids turned up. The complete roster. Placing them on the park as the opposition swung and struck was a challenge. It was, as old mate Chris Hayward once remarked, like putting ten pounds of spuds in a six-pound bag. I wanted to put some of them in a slips cordon.

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But this morning one of the girls came good after she snared the ball in her flopping glove. It was a moment. It was her trigger. Previously anchored to a spot and pouting with sass well beyond her years she was now diving upon ground balls and rushing first base. Excellent stuff.

The twin evils of gardening (rampant Buffalo runners) and Ikea (No, no Björnholmen today) dispensed I slipped down to the Broadway Hotel to catch the Australasian (I love that word more than I should) racing championship that is the (time-honoured) WS Cox Plate.

Because I care about the cultural and sporting educations of Alex and Max, I took them with me. Having said this Max and I probably have too many conversations about Black Caviar even though he was a toddler when she was on her way to twenty-five on the trot (or burst, in her case). His curiosity is magnificent.

We’re still learning about the noble nomenclature of racing so instead of asking which horse I’ve had a bet on, Alex says, “Which horse are your voting for Dad?”

Indeed, if this were a democratic action I’d be tempted to reply, “Not that hopeless gelding Barnaby Joyce,” but that would be brash and inappropriate. Kiwis are our friends.

With chips and lemonade and Coopers brand new Session Ale (8/10: flavoursome) we’re each on a stool in the front bar when I tell them about my favourite ever horse (although it owes me money, and having departed this planet can never square my ledger). I love that they giggle when I tell them the name. This is the same reaction I had in 1993 when he ran third to Mahogany in the Victoria Derby on that great day at Flemington. I recall watching the race in the Cowell pub. Don’t know why.

session ale

Waikikamukau.

Even now I feel a little frisson when I say it. Why-kick-a-moo-cow. More giggles. I say it again. Waikikamukau.

Last week with the boys in tow I backed Snitty Kitty, who won at Caulfield. The Heath, I tell them. Could she be our family’s 2017 Waikikamukau?

But today we witness Winx winning her third Cox Plate. It’s also her twenty-second successive victory. There’s a rich, explosive wall of sound in The Broady as she punches on to salute by a half-length.

It’s probably a hundred types of wrong, but I want to immerse our boys in it. Because it’ll be fun.

That’s it.

On our way home, we slide past Pizza on Broadway and get a large pepperoni.

Waikikamukau would’ve expected no less.

*possibly not based upon fact

pizza

 

19

Philip Road, Elizabeth- Holden cars and me

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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