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Sports Day

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The past month in our quiet corner of this blue planet has been Sports Day season, and last Thursday it was the turn of St Leonards Primary School.

Striding past the playground equipment, all the swings and ropes stationary above their crimped carpet of pine chips, the principal, I hear Mr HS is making his opening remarks. There’s the compulsory coffee van, heaving cake stall, curved sweep of parents and grandparents, school staff and finally the kids all sitting on the edge of the oval, in their houses, splashed and smeared in colour: Patawalonga (green), Buffalo (yellow), Holdfast (blue) and the boys’ team, Saints (red).

It’s a painterly scene with the waving gum trees and grey but innocuous clouds down south and to the east, over those low-slung hills. Mr HS also mentions that for the first time there’ll be a Spirit Shield. I like this as it places value on fairness, humility and being a good sport, whatever this means in 2018. I reckon the kids will be able to show us through their innocent investment and unbroken quest to have fun. There’ll be no ball tampering today.

The healthy sense of theatre continues. Some of the students are bursting to move, to get up and tumble about with their mates like Labrador pups, but they remain in place. This, of course, is rehearsal for adult life and its various endurance tests such as waiting in a doctor’s surgery when you’ve exhausted the grotty stack of magazines and you glimpse the rising dark outside beyond the car park.

Advance Australia Fair begins and I’m pleased that it’s the modern, inclusive version complete with didgeridoo and clapsticks. Everyone stands, staring into the middle distance, the kids singing while the adults mouth the words in a way that would challenge the most skilled of lip-readers.

Having reminded ourselves that we’re in the most curious and amusing of arcane states: girt by sea, we then move to the second, difficult verse. I know I’m outing myself as an incurable bogan but just as The William Tell Overture instantly connotates The Lone Ranger I hear our anthem and it’s instantly the AFL grand final.

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The final act in this preamble is each house performing their chant, in turn. There’s vigorous competition, community and connection in this. I look over at Alex who shouts the cutely warmongering words to the warm sky while Max is reserved in his recitation. He’s probably thinking of funny, alternate lyrics.

It’s been an excellent fifteen minutes in which the shared venture has contributed to the endless series of signals that is school tone. Having sat in many assemblies and public gatherings I’m warmed and proud that the climate here is eager and respectful. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

There’s a strong sense of inclusion to the athletic program too. Egg and spoon races, lawn bowls, tug of war, and a STEM challenge as well as the traditional pursuits. Alex first heads to the sprints, a track of about sixty metres. He lopes like a baby giraffe but covers the patchy grass surprisingly well. He wins.

This is a good opening but there’s an entire timeslot available so he strolls back to the start and a few minutes later he races again. And again. I can feel the parents’ collective approval as they scan ahead to the post-dinner, post-bath evening and the likelihood of exhausted kids, fully cooked, and in bed early.

I then watch Max tackle an obstacle course that brilliantly combines sack race, hurdles, running and crawling, commando-style, beneath a large tarp which has been pegged to the ground, deep in the forward pocket. Bear Grylls time. Jumping into his sack, Max is characteristically unhurried in getting comfortable and balanced before bounding off, a blonde joey in the distant scrub.

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The tarp has had a long and productive life but now features a couple of long tears across its middle. Some kids exit at the first hole, others at the second. None seem to crawl the intended stretch, and I wonder if there’s a secretive psychologist on campus, taking notes for a longitudinal study on how these choices might predict future moral lives.

But, I doubt it. They’re just kids, having fun on a bright autumnal morning, and learning more about each other and themselves, while their loved ones enjoy these fleeting, fragile moments.

Suddenly, my time has vanished. Still immersed in a proud glow, I drive away, towards the city.

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Birthday petanque and tropical tremors

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I hung over the side of my bed, and peered underneath. I expected to see a pair of blood-shot eyes and another pair of yellowing tusks, threatening to pierce my person. No, as near as I could tell, there was no razorback in my room.

More sudden movement as if something large was scurrying about on the tiled floor. It seemed to be trapped and decidedly unhappy. I thought briefly of the film, The Exorcist when young Regan’s bed starts bouncing about in downtown Washington. I wondered if Fathers Merrin and Karras could help me. Twenty-three stories up in a Darwin motel on a Monday, just before dawn, is as good a place as any for some demonic possession. Afterall, it was Holy Week.

Just as I was about to shout, “The power of Christ compels you!” I leapt from bed and rushed to the window to peer out across the harbour. It had only been a week since Darwin had somehow endured Cyclone Marcus, its worst storm since Tracy, in 1974. The palm fronds were still and the water was flat. What was happening?

I then did that most 2018 of things, I googled it. Earthquake. 6.6 on the Richter Scale and several hundred kilometers north in the Banda Sea adjacent to Indonesia. By now the clattering commotion had stopped. I’d been more curious than frightened. It lasted maybe fifteen seconds and had been unlike the Hollywood, Spielberg versions with swaying walls and rolling floors like an oceanic wave was pounding through.

It did seem more like a deranged beast than a seismic event, more satanic explosion than sudden release of stored energy from deep in the earth’s interior. Later I texted Kerry down in Adelaide and told her the earthquake had reminded me of the cult 1984 Australian film Razorback. Her reply pinged, Wakey wakey, hands off snakey!!

While the week begun with sudden violence upon the good earth it finished with a gentle afternoon of petanque on our own patch of the planet, the comforting rectangle of backyard lawn.

Yesterday our Max, our bright, challenging, playful Max turned eight and we had a family barbeque. He received some cash, a nerf gun and some Captain Underpants books which, of course, are all you need as you start moving through your ninth year.

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Late afternoon in the warming sun and from a dark corner of the shed we dragged out the petanque set I’d been given by Sylvie, the French exchange teacher I’d worked with many years ago.

Fresh off a week during which he’d won two Division 1 bowls grand finals up in the Barossa Dad was all over the kitty early. In one of these finals they’d beaten the affectionately described Tanunda Boxheads, and this is always a treat. He’s now played in nearly thirty bowls grand finals. I think this is remarkable.

I then subbed myself out, and handed my silver balls (sic) to Alex so I could tend the barbecuing over at Beefmaster Central. As I seared, flipped and poked I’d hear the occasional crack as the metal orbs clashed on the lawn and there’d be a burst of commentary from Dad or Barry or Mitchell.

It took me back to our Mediterranean travels and watching loose knots of older men playing similar games in parks or on the dirt in Italian seaside cities, and for me the past and the present came together for a happy moment.

Mum and my sister Jill took some photos, and this one is brilliant as it captures the scene so perfectly, it could’ve been constructed by a film director. There’s a singularity of focus and a shared application. It’s self-contained, and even Max, especially Max, the birthday boy, is a participant. He’s there, surrounded by his wider family, luxuriating in his petite gang, as they move up and down the lawn.

The mise-en-scène, the storytelling of this picture is grand, and personally compelling. It’s already a favourite photo.

After the destructive movement of Monday morning up in the tropics, back here on Good Friday, this photo freezes time and earth as it offers up a gift of stillness.

Motion and stillness. Motion and stillness.

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A Day on the Green: Getting Shirty

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If the great Australian play, Don’s Party, and the often-maligned film, The Big Chill, both concern themselves with university graduates a decade or so into their careers and juggling work, family, and reconciling fading student idealism and with their tarnished realities, then the Day on the Green music festival is also populated by a specific demographic.

These are about us Gen X types. For many of us, music in the 1980’s was unspeakably horrific, and post-2000, a little spasmodic if not disappointing.

The 1990’s were it.

So yesterday on the outskirts of McLaren Vale, as American grunge outfit Veruca Salt worked through their excellent set, we were sitting back on our chairs and watching all the punters and all their different band shirts. It seemed to be an unspoken uniform.

Anyhow, the wife suggested I make a list of the band shirts I saw.

Midnight Oil – Head Injuries and Great Circle tour edition
Bad/Dreems – making expertise use of the West End design
Fat Boy Slim
Rise Against
Cold Chisel- Adelaide 500 edition; sadly no East album shirts

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Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes
The Living End – is it cool or even appropriate to wear a band shirt to their concert? Is it done ironically?
Ed Sheeran – this poor kid had obviously been dragged along by her parents!
Some band called Bintang – I think they’re big in Bali, specialising in Khe Sahn covers
AC/DC – For Those About To Rock
The Hard Ons – given the demographic, at future concerts they’ll be supported by rising punk stars, The Viagras
Tool – see above

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Motorhead
The Clash – London Calling shirts; impossibly cool
My Bloody Valentine
ZZ Top
Nirvana – the smiley face version
Joy Division
Pink Floyd
Guns ‘n’ Roses
Cosmic Psychos – nice day for some beetroot

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Adam Ant – What do we make of this?
DZ Deathrays
Boony Army – great band out of Tasmania, lead singer a stout moustachioed cult hero
Green Day
Screaming Jets
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

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Pennywise
INXS
NOFX
Foo Fighters
The Audreys
The Smith Street Band

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Old Day On The Green shirts – again is this cool, or sad? How would I know!
Sturt Football Club – I think they play the, wait for it, blues
Rage Against the Machine – male, middle-class and white
Pantera
Dropkick Murphys
Dandy Warhols
Metallica – not the Speed of Sound tour, as roadied by The Dude
Red Hot Chilli Peppers
The Darkness
Fred Pants and the Footy Pies – this one intrigued you didn’t it? I just made it up. But I’m going to get it printed before my next concert. I’ll be the coolest guy there.

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Quite a list.

Of course, I was sat there in a checked shirt, looking like an accountant searching for a water cooler. Maybe I could’ve worn my c. Marsh b. Lillee shirt.

Later, in the rain wandering through the crowd I had on a plastic poncho. A bloke yelled at me, “Nice poncho. You’ll never catch me wearing a condom!”

“Fair enough.” I replied, “But I’m trying to keep the stuff out, not the stuff in.”

Heading along the Southern Expressway (to home, not Yr Skull) I glanced at the dashboard clock, and said, “It seems like midnight! At this rate we’ll have to go to a Lunchtime on the Green in future.”

It was just after 9pm. “Or maybe Brunch on the Green,” replied the wife.

Meanwhile, let me know if you spot a Fred Pants and the Footy Pies shirt.

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Finally, a pub review: The Broadway

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I write today with shame in my heart.

As this modest blog moves into its fifth year I apologise to my small and disturbed audience.

I’m yet to pen a pub review.

In the heart of Singapore is a historic convent called Chijmes, largely because it began its impressive architectural life as Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Middle Education School. It’s now a maze of restaurants and grog-shops, and the wife and I liked going there occasionally, of an evening. It had a Hog’s Breath Café. We celebrated our anniversary there once; Chijmes, not Hoggy’s.

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Among Chijmes’ attractions was a bar in a sunken courtyard that has a name rhyming with Harry’s. One night this happened.

“Sir, the beer is now cheaper because it’s happy hour.”

“Great. How much is it?”

“Thirteen dollars.”

“But aren’t these normally fourteen?”

“Yes.”

I instantaneously vowed to never go to Harry’s during its utterly fecking miserable hour, which I think I’m suggesting is each of its fecking opening hours. You’d have more fun chasing John Howard and his track-suited self about Kirribilli through some July sleet whilst personally enduring a particularly vigorous bout of diarrhoea.

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No such problems at The Broadway in Glenelg South. Despite being a resident of the area on and off over the last couple decades I’m a recent convert to the collected charms of The Broadway enclave.

It’s parallel to the more celebrated Jetty Road, but superior in myriad ways. Named for the small town in Worcestershire in the Cotswolds- we ate lunch in one of its pubs one autumn Sunday, it may surprise you to read- it presents and functions as an English village but with generally better weather.

It has Glenelg’s best butchers, fish ‘n’ chips, book shop/café, dental surgery, pizza – Pizza on Broadway although it’s actually on Partridge Street; I guess Pizza on Partridge may have led the munchers to think they were getting roasted spoggy on their Italian takeaway, and I’ll admit this is a niche category, the best restaurant/dry cleaners in a former petrol station/ garage.

The Broadway pub is great. Most Fridays I wheel in there around 4.27, depending on traffic and invest an energetic hour. I get there then because I have a medical condition which renders me physically (psychologically, spiritually, mentally etc) unable to remain at work beyond 4pm at week’s end. After this time it’s also not possible for me to guarantee the safety of my colleagues, and I’d rather not end up on A Current Affair.

For a brief, deluded period I frequented a boozer much closer to home, near the Buffalo, but it was also frequented by clots (I employ this metaphor advisedly) of high-vis chaps, who seemed to have been in the pub since mid-morning, as they were bleary-eyed and looking like they might thump some strangers. This idea has decreasing appeal for me so I decamped to the Broady.

The bar staff, led by Gavin, is attentive and anticipatory. There’s a flock of TV screens showing lots of sport, but these are turned down low and a Triple J- type playlist drifts across the pub-o-sphere. Last night I heard The Smiths and Queens of the Stoneage. I’ve never heard P!nk. On Saturdays there’s a warmer bursting with snags, and a loaf of bread nearby to keep the punters happy.

The house next door was recently bought and its front yard; turned into a beer garden (how good would this really be? A garden that grew beer!) from which you can watch folks exiting the neighbouring dentists; one hand nursing their numb jaw, the other nursing their bruised wallet.

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A while back I made a solemn promise to my old mate Bazz. I said I’d ring him every time I went to the pub. Not out of any deep human concern; I just thought it would be funny. And now, about a year in, when I ring every single Friday at 4.45pm I seem to go through to Bazz’s voicemail. It’s a mystery.

Yesterday old mucker Trev* joined me and we had a terrific hour. As old school mates we moved between the sunny nostalgia of old friends and old music and old times. We laughed, as Les Norton used to say, like drains. We dissected and discussed and were merrily diverted. Of course he immediately referenced this line from The Blues Brothers when Jake is talking with Bob from Bob’s Country Bunker

I’d better check up, see how he’s doing, see I have to sign it too. I usually sit in the car and write it out on the glove compartment lid.

And, courtesy of the Broadway’s excellent happy hour, we did it over six dollar beers which, of course, starts the weekend in an appropriately brisk and lively style. If a pub’s optimal function is to replicate your lounge room then this pub succeeds, easily.

Next time you’re in Glenelg South, give me a shout, and I’ll sneak in there with you, and let you buy me a beer.

*his real name

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The Ragged and Clumsy Beauty of Cricket Clubs

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Psst. Come over here. Lend me your shell-like ear for I’ve a confession.

I learnt more at cricket clubs than I did when undertaking my degree.

Now, this isn’t a criticism of my alma mater, or untoward praise of the gents with whom I shared a summery oval and a clammy protector, just a reflection from my current viewpoint.

And why shouldn’t it be?

Yesterday, the Plympton Bulldogs Cricket Club had its Under 12’s Presentation Night (Presso), and after twenty-odd years it was great to again be in a cricket community.

The wood-panelling was festooned with premiership pennants, and the dates on these were sufficiently regular and recent to confirm that we’d made a wise choice for our boys.

If their last flag had been in, say, 1953, it might have spoken of the club’s resilience and bright optimism in slogging away over fruitless decades, but as any mug punter will tell you, if I can mix speculative and seafaring metaphors, it’s necessary to have an earn or two along the journey, to keep the scurvy at bay.

Happy in their undisputed real estate at the corner of the bar were a couple chaps in red and black Bulldogs polo shirts. On the back, triumphantly listed, were their team-mates: Dogga, Perky, Kev, BK etc. In the roster were universal names, and a few quirky inclusions that also suggest a healthy and robust culture.

Glancing up at the TV to check the score from South Africa I see that everyone’s fourth favourite Test-playing, West Australian Marsh: the elongated Mitch (behind Rod, Geoff and Shaun) was assembling a tidy innings. He seems in danger of becoming a useful cricketer.

The family in front of me struggles to finalise their meal order as the kids are compulsorily indecisive. “But you said you wanted gravy. Are you sure? Once it’s on the schnitzel we can’t take it off. Lemonade or squash? You might just have to have water.”

If this was a pub there could be an impatient urgency, born of a commercial subtext, but this is a community, and the matronly manager runs both her till and club with the reassuring and unhurried calm of a pilot’s pre-flight announcement.

Each coach presents a trophy to all his players, and makes a considered, careful, encouraging, inclusive speech. The words are promises and handshakes. Most refer to their stapled pages, and these hand-scrawled notes are emblems of investment, beacons forward for a modest, suburban cricket club.

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About an hour in, Alex’s coach cycles around to the bowling trophy. The audience has been respectful and attentive, only occasionally requiring a shrill whistle from an elder to refocus the boisterous pups by the bar.

The coach continued. “This lad’s only just turned ten. And after playing the first game in the Under 10’s he came up to our team.” I speculated silently on the recipient. “He always bowled a really good line and length, and across the season had over a hundred dot balls (each player only gets two or three overs a game).”

“The winner is Alex Randall.” And up from his plastic chair in the fifth row he went, boyish and shyly pleased, as his Mum and I both got a bit of dust in our eyes, simultaneously. We found each other’s hand, and after an exhausting week had a moment that suddenly reminded us again of the worth in those often hideous Sunday starts, the washing of grassy whites, and the nagging to pack away the sprawling cricket coffin.

Wandering back to the car along the balmy, twilight oval past assorted kids running and hollering and launching balls skyward I thought, not for the first time these past weeks, about the trajectory from childhood across the adult decades.

Situated along this arc there’s many gorgeous people competing for our loyalty and love – wives; husbands; kids; parents; friends. But in trying to best shape ourselves I’ve decided there’s another who I’ve forgotten, and who I now really want to impress: a golden-haired, perfectly-conceived boy who sees you exactly as you want to be seen.

My ten year-old self.

Meanwhile go and hug a cricket club, in all its ragged, clumsy beauty.

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Southwark Mugs

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The monstrously-thirsty actor Robert Shaw, spitting feathers after his iconic performance in Jaws’ Indianapolis speech, barked across the set to a young Spielberg, “Stevie, for Chrissakes, get me a longneck of Southwark!”

Now the fine detail of this may not be entirely accurate, but I’d like to think that the man who played the great shark-hunter, Quint, would’ve been a Southwark slurper. It sits well against his gruff, world-weary until a colossal shark devoured my character when I slid down a sinking boat into its mouth, image.

Of course Jaws was already a classic, and Robert Shaw had long been shark food in 1992 when I made the purchases, and claimed my complimentary glassware. How ancient does this now seem? Indeed, it was half a lifetime ago.

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The Adelaide Crows had only just been hatched, and their first flag was half a decade away; Nirvana’s Nevermind was still newish and novel; mobile phones were rare and about as smart as Channel 9’s evening programming.

I remember Southwark beer as something Dad occasionally drank. The distinctive green label. Hot summers and kikuyu grass and World Series cricket. My ten year-old self, riding a blue dragster along the tired streets of Kapunda, with cardboard strips pegged to the spokes.

In 1992 I was in Kimba and bought, over a few months, four cartons of the then recently re-badged beer. Green death was, well, dead. The label was now a stylish dark blue, no doubt a marketing strategy to seduce the wide-eyed kids.

Coopers was but a niche refreshment, and a few hipster laneways behind main street. I think the glasses and not the beer was my key motivation. Like buying a crappy car because the clunking model you test-drove was in your favourite colour.

Among my memories of 1992 are the high rainfall of that summer. It started pouring late in the year, continued across harvest and beyond Boxing Day. Typically, the West Coast is a hot and dusty place around then; a parched and baked land, but it was awash, biblically. Parts of the farming country were sullen seas, and reaping was impossible.

Driving home to Kapunda for Christmas I had to go via Whyalla (that’s a disappointing phrase) because Highway One was blocked. Iron Knob was more Soggy Knob, and as we all know, this is never good.

Despite being amorphous solids, such is their resilience that I still have all four of these Southwark mugs twenty-six years on. Since then we’ve lived in ten houses across three countries and both hemispheres. These mugs have housed cordial, milk, water, Coopers Sparkling Ale, and assorted European lager- beers my old mate Bazz affectionately describes as “kooky stuff.” Even Bitburger, Germany’s eighteenth best lager. The mugs are indestructible. They’ve become nostalgic symbols.

They speak of country football; losing cricket grand finals; punting syndicates featuring forgotten horses with energetic mates; VHS versions of Pulp Fiction; Sunday barbeques that stretch into the muggy dark; Chad Morgan cassettes; buying my now wife a Happy Hour beer in the then great front bar of the Kimba pub; a midnight quiet only broken by a lone long-haul truck.

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With last Saturday’s sun setting we were mustered about our patio, and it became medically urgent for Mozz and I to upturn a robust ale into glass. As Dr Hook ministered above the effervescent evening (only sentimental songs from irrecoverable ages will do with ancient friends), out came the old mates, the old muckers, those Southwark mugs: silent servants, patiently working as they have since Mark Waugh had an unironic mullet.

Musically, it wasn’t going well for Sylvia, her mother, or Sylvia’s former and anguished flame, but well into their third decade of faithful companionship, the mugs again came good, and the ale danced in the glass. Now, in a curious first, I toast the brilliance of the Southwark mug by raising the Southwark mug! Meta-toasting!

As IA Healy would nasally suggest, ” ‘Bowling Southwark!”

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Qantas Schmantas: customer care feedback

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Dear Sir/Madam

I’ve played by the rules, but you haven’t, Qantas. Five weeks’ ago, I filled in one of your so-called customer care feedback forms. You suggested I’d get a reply quickly. I haven’t.

It’s almost as if you don’t, well, care. So I thought I’d try this.

We booked our recent flights to and from Brisbane with Qantas as we wanted a full-service experience. We were happy to pay extra as we travel with our sons who are seven and nine. Our experience was poor. It was, at best, a decidedly budget experience.

On our first flights, we had rear seat screens, which were great. On the return flights, we did not. It is a grim lottery with the winning ticket a personal screen and the losing ticket the offer of an entertainment app. We do not each have an iPad, and if an app is deemed a service then it’s one for which I’d rather not pay. I can load films, music and games on our devices if required. Yeah, crazy, I know! But, I’d like to know in advance.

It was a long and uncomfortable flight home.

The inflight meal was a bag of about six split chick-peas and some horrible eggplant dipping sauce. Of course, our boys love eggplant, as I’m sure you know, as do all young boys. Just kidding! This was rubbish, and in no way justified the extra money we had spent.

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To then be offered a beer or wine for six dollars was an additional insult. Seriously? Given the money we paid I reckon a free (not really) beer is the minimum offering. Even a crappy XXXX Gold. Full service? Not on my planet.

On this flight one of the rear, economy class toilets was not working so we sent our boys to the toilets at the front of the plane. The one working toilet at the rear was occupied. The male flight attendant immediately and ungraciously sent them back from the business class facility as if they were rabid dogs.

As we’re toiling proletariat this I can partly understand, but less than a minute later an adult passenger, also from economy, made his way to the business class toilets. He was not sent back, and this, quite frankly, pisses me off. If we’re having total segregation, then do it properly, please. In 2018, ageism is such an ugly look.

I must say that the female flight attendants were excellent in that they were friendly and helpful. My wife and I really appreciated their efforts.

However, this did not convince me that we should fly Qantas again.

I’d rather save my money and go with Virgin or Tiger. With these you get what you pay for. With Qantas, you pay extra and receive a very budget, very disappointing service.

This continues a rather poor run of experiences with your company.  One Christmas when we lived in Singapore we flew home to Adelaide. We were very excited. But we were sat by the toilets, on the overnight flight, which I can only suggest, quickly reminded me of a poorly-maintained abattoir during a heatwave.

But that is a story for another time.

Regards

 

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