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At 4pm on my birthday I remembered something remarkable

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Having fled work, I was scurrying along Greenhill Road towards its most westerly origin where it is neither green nor hilly. I was thinking ahead to the hour or so of Friday sunshine left in the week and how it’d be happily spent. Park, dogs, boys, a few dobs of the footy in the closing dark.

As birthdays go it’d been fine. Not quite up there with the birthday I had years ago, by Lake Balaton in western Hungary when we had a lovely lunch of pilsner beer and goulash overlooking the water in the glorious European summer, but pleasant enough.

Then I remembered.

Like a car’s agitated navigator trying to really concentrate on a crucial part of the journey, I turned down the radio as the thought formed fully in my mind.

A decade. It was now a decade.

I swung down Anzac Highway and commenced the vaguely downhill run to home. A few tears then formed hotly. I was having a moment.

It was ten years to the day that we learned Alex was on his way.

*

I recall much of Saturday June 16, 2007. My dear old mate Chris was down from Brisbane, and he had stayed with us the previous night.

It was a sunny day and early in the morning Kerry thought we should definitely go to the doctor. She’d done a test at home. It was positive.

From then on, the day, my birthday assumes a nimble quality as though we’re in a floating cocoon and the world is spinning but without our interest or participation. This most physical, most real of events is confirmed, and all about me has now assumed a gentler quality; a welcoming, smiling face. The simplest household items are invested with magic and wonder.

While hanging out the washing I rang Mum and Dad on the cordless phone. Pegging the socks and jocks we had a brief excited chat. The future, especially early 2008 swirled and leapt about me.

That evening we dined with friends at a now long-closed Polish restaurant just off Henley Square. The Adelaide Crows played the Kangaroos on the Gold Coast and in those pre-smart phone days my mate Bob was texted the score at the end of every quarter. We won. The food was good, but I mostly remember the sense of our brilliant warm secret, the fuzzy binary code and a feeling that we were in a happy, symmetrical orbit.

*

Like every decade, it has been full and fast. Everything has changed. Much is as it was.

Alex was born a week after his mum’s birthday. Two years after his little brother Max came along. We left Australia for Singapore, and then returned. Now there’s karate and dogs, guitars and school.

And so, every year I remember that birthday, now a decade back, when the anniversary of my birth was also the day we learned that Alex was on his beautiful, astonishing way.

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Round 10 – Adelaide v Fremantle: The 2013 Wolf Blass Brown Label Classic Shiraz Is Dramatically Better Than The Dockers

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Fire, footy and friends.

Of course, my wife’s right. She bought it about six weeks ago, from the sausage sizzle hardware emporium. It’s been a great addition to our patio and we’ve had many nights around it. As autumn descends to winter there’ll be many more.

It’s a fire bucket.

Once aflame, a chair, a cup and some company’s all that’s needed.

Among our party tonight are some of my favourite folks, including three girls with whom I shared house when at uni. As you know, there’s a lifelong attachment made when sitting cross-legged on stained carpet, in a daggy rented house in a then pre-gentrified suburb, glugging cask wine by candlelight.

Surprisingly, Josh Jenkins is better in the wet. Our warm, still autumn has not been kind to him. Tonight, the harder the Dylanesque rain falls the nimbler the monstrously-built forward plays. Maybe he’s more whale than herbivore dinosaur. Light on his feet, he finds space, and like Lennon in the Dakota Building seems happier in this dissimilar environment. I was bewildered by his sudden recall, but he does well.

Among our friends is a junior footballer. Jed’s nine. He and our boys burst about the house like joyous thunderclaps. Bedroom, backyard and back. Repeat. About four games into their 2017 season Jed’s team’s been utterly scoreless so far. Not a lonely, lazily rushed behind. Nothing. Happily, no-one’s keeping score and their competition has no cruel premiership ladder. A Sunday afternoon text tells me they scrambled four behinds today. Despite another loss, they’re on the board.

The Honourable Edward A. Betts snaps a goal square major that must be barely satisfactory for him, such is the unchallenging simplicity. Indeed, each of Betts’ majors is registered from the square, away from the boundary lines with which he enjoys a preternatural, endless affinity. Another lashing rain shower jangles on our roof and we’re unable to hear special commenter Mark Ricciuto and his monotone monosyllables.

During his thousand-day absence from the Crows, dual knee reconstruction survivor Andy Otten came to our island home one weekend as a guest of the Singapore Sharks footy club, and provided much curious excitement for the ex-pat urchins. Now back in the Adelaide tri-colours and sporting an Oregonian lumberjack’s beard, he’s enjoying an attractive stretch as an enigmatic forward. Four goals courtesy of his considerable footy smarts is a luminous return.

Again, the brutal rains lash our city, oval and house with a ferocity that reminds me of The Deadliest Catch, save for the Alaskan King Crabs. Instead, we’ve party pies, garlic bread and various processed Germanic meats. It’s comfort food, and I feel decidedly comfortable. Our patio blaze crackles and exerts a happy gravity onto our loose circle of friends.

Wayne Milera’s been hovering on the cusp, and presents well in this Indigenous Round match. I hope his growth continues. With Chas and Eddie, they’re a vivacious triumvirate. They’re huge fun.

At halftime, we bring out a chocolate cake with a solitary candle to acknowledge the recent major birthday of one of our guests, RS Bowden, and we share a 2013 Wolf Blass Brown Label Classic Shiraz, and we nod at our good fortune. Indeed, Wolfgang Blass, AM, is also a dedicated Rolls Royce driver and Norwood fan. I wonder if he and Garry McIntosh have met. As always, his plonk goes terrifically. It’s luscious and at once, atomic and universal, while whispering of our tremendous providence, in a lifted fruit and gorgeously brick dust and ironmongery scented way.

The fire roars on into the wintry dark. Our visitors drive off into the suburban night. The Dockers, now doubtless suffering the troubled sleep of footballers tormented by a coach with more unfathomable psychobabble than constructive game plan.

On an inhospitable night where they somehow registered forty-three scoring shots, the Crows remain top. I have leftover chocolate cake for Sunday breakfast.

wolf blass

 

 

 

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Round 7- Adelaide v North Melbourne: Four quarters, four pubs, four points (pints)

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Inspired by seminal film-noir offering Animal House and the road trip taken by Otter, Boon, Flounder, and Pinto I realise I need a robust plan. How was I going to watch the footy on Saturday?

With Bass Strait likely to be beyond our modest 4WD, a road trip wasn’t possible, so I contemplated my options, and late one night the answer burst upon me like the Gospel chorus of “Shout” as performed mid-toga party by Otis Day and the Knights. I could hear Eric “Otter” Stratton saying, “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture.”

Pub crawl.

And so, a Glenelg walking and refreshment tour happened.

First quarter: Holdfast Hotel

The Holdy reinvents itself often. It was once a brew-pub and now it’s trying to get down with the kids, as its website has an Instagram gallery. A couple months’ ago, I took our boys there for a bite to eat. Despite thousands of punters going through the inn in the interim, Lucy, the young bar server, remembered our boys. Probably because having brought a footy, they enjoyed some spirited end-to-end kicking in the bar. No, an outside bar. Yes, during an engagement party.

The game’s dominant themes emerge early: North first to the ball and constructive, and Adelaide’s chasing Roos like some misfits in Wake in Fright. The early goals then became regular scores and worry changes to disbelief and ultimately laughter at the absurdity of the events unfolding. I was reminded of Macbeth who remarks upon seeing the seemingly endless dynasty begat by Banquo: What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?

Our first quarter score matches exactly Bluto’s grade point average in Animal House as declared by Dean Wurmer: Zero POINT zero.

Second quarter: Broadway Hotel

The Broady is high-vis and TAB tickets, but it’s been renovated; the side wall’s been knocked through, and now there’s a cheerful beer garden. How great would this actually be? A garden which grows beer. But, I do wonder if the new hole was deliberate and not caused by an energetic brawl, all whirls of orange and flying Blundstones*, or a stolen WW2 tank.

Eddie Betts registers his 500th goal and then courtesy of ill-discipline, his 501st. But Jarrad Waite dominates for the Roos, while for the Crows Tex Walker may as well have sat in the Ricky Ponting Stand and had a few jars, given his uncustomary invisibility.

Third quarter: The Jetty Bar

Attractively located on Moseley Square, the Jetty is a fantastic boozer for nursing a beer and people-watching, but I’ve always thought it was a pub. And an exotic, earthy one at that. It formerly advertised “Half-price Brandavino” at Happy Hour. Apparently, it’s now a bar and is sometimes known as the “J Bar.” Stop it, you man-bunned assistant manager, you’re fooling no-one. It’s a pub. Apparently, it opens at 8am for those mornings when tea and toast just won’t cut it.

It’s a grim afternoon when among the second half highlights is a patch when North kicks the ball out on the full three times as the comically blustery wind blows across Belerive and the bay. Adelaide surges occasionally, but the Roos are easily able to withstand and then counter these attacks.

I note that just up the road from the arena is The Lost Sock Laundrette, and wonder if the afternoon may have been more productively spent in there, watching a stranger’s second hand sheets tumbling and tumbling while outside in the murk and swirl an uncaring football universe rushes by.

Fourth quarter: The Grand Hotel

The Internets say that the Grand Bar is “smartly casual” and welcomes hotel guests and Adelaidians alike. All true, but I’d argue it’s actually “casually smart” which means your thongs must roughly match, or they won’t let you in. Their website (it could be an Instagram gallery, I’m unsure) includes photos of a surprisingly inert metal bucket with Corona beers (sic) and a jaunty yoof sporting a backwards cap.

Standing by the bar my Volleys are instantly glued to the floor. Ahh, The Grand, where the tiles are eternally sticky, and the beer’s not pouring well. This is the first thing all new staff are taught. “Repeat after me. That tap’s not pouring well. Can I interest you in a rare Japanese ice beer? They’re only $15.”

The last quarter plods away to its sure conclusion. Not many Crows players will want a DVD of this match for their CV while the Roos are led by Waite and Cunnington. We’ve been flogged at the ruck contests and North gets the ball inside their fifty nearly 80 times! The mathematical weight of this alone ensures that we were in trouble.

Still, we remain top, and it’s been a fun afternoon out and about in Glenelg. Next time I’ll also invite Otter, Boon, Flounder, and Pinto.

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Footy Traditions

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I love traditions, and footy rituals are special.

Tomorrow afternoon, an hour or so after lunch, the boys and I will walk down to Glenelg Oval. Backpacks, footy, coats. Alison Street, dash over Anzac Highway, cross the tram line, and then stroll along leafy Malcolm Street before entering the ground at the Rugless Street end.

We’ll then secure a spot on the sloping grassy mound in front of the scoreboard. Seconds later one of the boys, probably Max, needs a snack. From their backpacks these will be administered, drip-like across the day. Alex and Max only eat one meal a day. It starts around dawn and goes until after they’re in bed.

At half time, I get them a pie each from the stall adjacent to the Snout’s Louts bar. Sitting on the grass, these are eaten with joyous messiness. Sauce adds to the theatre and the washing machine.

During the third quarter at the Good Friday game they wanted to kick the footy so I sent them behind the southern goals- the Fred Phillis End (869 goals in 275 games from 1966-81 and the Magarey Medallist in 1969).

Coming back some time later they told me what had happened. Quickly abandoning their game Alex and Max completed a vital rite of passage. One that pleased me and their mum. They joined the unruly, scrambling throng of kids who race after the match ball when it sails over the fence after a goal or a behind. A tradition which dates back to the beginnings of the game itself. An instructive, robust custom.

“Dad, Dad. I touched the footy three times.” Alex declared.

“I nearly had the footy,” Max shouted. “But a big kid grabbed it from me. Then he dropped it. We were both on the ground, so I swam past him and got it.”

How cool I thought. What innocent fun. Get in there with a bunch of kids and try to touch a footy. Scramble about on a dusty hill to grab the Burley ball (probably the worst footy in the universe) and then attempt (often unsuccessfully) to heave it back over the tall mesh fence.

Resilience. Enterprise. Confidence.

It’s remarkable what can be got from impromptu games. Even against the Dogs.

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Round 3 – Port Adelaide v Adelaide: A Moment

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In contrast to the previous torrid energy it was an uncontested mark with nothing in the way of opposition pressure, such as a spoil, or a sudden, secretive fist to the ribs.

Resulting from a David MacKay disposal it was an unhurried and simple catch; the kind associated with circle work at a country oval’s Tuesday night training, while inside the glowing clubrooms volunteers squeezed pies and pasties into warmers.

In January 2015, many were surprised that Patrick Dangerfield wasn’t appointed captain of the Crows. However, with a likely acceptance that their star player would soon wish to return to Moggs Creek, there was a quiet nodding of sage heads at the news that the role had been assigned to Taylor Walker.

A key component of the Phil Walsh legacy, he was about to demonstrate the wisdom of this decision.

Having taken the grab Walker wheeled around like a rattling cattle truck and assessed his options. He made a quick, barely perceptible scan of the landscape and decided.

Despite his Barry White/ Stephen Kernahan/ Dad joke baritone possibly suggesting otherwise Tex is an astute footballer who knows intimately the ecosystem of Adelaide Oval. With the Riverbank Stand towering taller than the MCG he knew that its surrounding microclimate, largely windless and advantageous on this autumnal evening, would assist his endeavours.

Watch now as into that rare real estate, sufficient space, he strides, not as a gut-busting midfielder, but as sizable, agile forward. Yes, he thinks, the time is right. The fifty-metre arc slides into distant view.

He balances and connects.

Despite the infantile and myopic scrabblings of the game’s rules committee and cash-drunk administrators and the carnivorous stadium vendors and the grasping media outlets and the petty trivia of the footy news-cycle, it’s these moments that’ll endure, that’ll guarantee the endless charisma of our game.

For lesser footballers, this spot on this long, lean ground might be no man’s land, an uncomfortable location where the options are crippling. Do I pass to a leading forward? Centre the ball? Aim for the top of the square? Handball to team mate on the burst? However, at this spot, seventy metres from goal there’s another possibility, but it’s only available for an elite few.

Tex Walker has a kicking technique that’s akin to a David Warner pull shot. Elegant in its simplicity, it marries outback power, untainted physics and Mick Jagger arrogance.

Now launched, the ball spins in a somewhat ungainly fashion, lurching through the air, slinging itself goalward with hungry velocity, rather than with the pure, fizzing momentum of, say, a Luke Hodge pass.

It travels through the roaring night and there’s now a sudden, muted quality to the stadium soundtrack that’s universal disbelief, Port Power horror and Adelaide Crow awe. The ball travels and travels and continues to travel. The pregnant seconds stretch onward, invested with everything we love about our mighty, Indigenous code.

Unlike a Malcolm Blight torpedo, it traces a low parabola across my screen as the crowd rushes past in the background, a smeared Monet. Walker’s drop-punt is at once sublime, but also gigantic. It taunts the line between possibility and impossibility.

It’s a goal.

As the Sherrin thuds into the turf midway between the goal line and the fence, leaving a crater in the Santa Ana, the clock announces that four minutes remain. Adelaide is three goals up.

Now, for all present at the ground, or at home or in a pub across Australia, or peering at a screen in midday London or Auckland or Albuquerque, all is denouement.

The necessarily curved narrative of football is concluded. We’ve had a moment.

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http://www.afc.com.au/video/2017-04-08/highlights-r3-tex-seals-it

 

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“And see which one of us can tell the biggest lies”

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I’m not sure why it was chosen. Maybe, because it’s convenient and the tram runs outside the front door. The Kings Head on King William Street prides itself on offering only local beers and wine and its food is also sourced entirely within the state. Brilliant.

So, last night about a dozen old mates congregated in the pub. Congregate’s a good verb for we function as a congregation which, of course, means people attending worship. We exchange the important details. Home. Kids. Schools. Work. And then we get to the evening’s real agenda: the past. The stories tumble like a waterfall.

*

There’s the footy grand finals, and Lukey’s screamer at Angaston oval. There’s Bongo’s unlikely major from inside the goal square. There’s the boys all getting a hat like Rexy Ryan’s.

There’s the cricket grand finals. Where is Jeff Charity?

There’s schooner schools and the afternoon when Stef dropped four and owed 28 beers and had to drive back to She-Oak Log to get more money.

And then there’s Tarlee discos with Tony Clarke spinning the records and the lads still in their cricket whites.

There’s the boys at Adelaide Oval late in the day after lots of niggle with some rough-nuts further up the hill and someone retorting, “If I want shit from you I’ll squeeze ya head” and then it was on, and as the toll climbed there’s Lukey advising, “If you just lie there, then they won’t hit you” and then with our Spidey senses tingling, knowing to all meet up in a pub an hour or so after scattering.

There’s Chris on the boundary at Angaston and “Gilesy, you dropped an expletive lemon” and the rest of that ragged evening doing laps of Quodlings’ farmhouse with his Dad hobbling after him.

There’s Sundays at the Railway and opening the blinds around mid-morning with Uncle Mick Dermody and raspberry in our butchers.

There’s Mikey’s T-18 and Woodsy’s 180B and Crackshot’s ute and Lukey’s Alfa.

There’s Cathy Coppin’s sympathy when we didn’t have enough for a ‘goon ($2.20) and she said, “Here. Just take the bloody thing.”

There’s spoofy at Puffa’s and Whitey saying, “Good call.” And then he lost and had to shout anyhow. Again. But you already knew this.

There’s the Pines and the Duck Pond and Gundry’s Hill.

There’s Kapunda High and a HQ Holden opening up a rear gate and a Torana having strife out the front one Saturday after a cricket club show.

There’s a woolly-faced monkey (Puggy/Slide/Greg) buying more than one of us our first beer in the Clare Castle Hotel. When he was fifteen.

There’s the Kapunda Pizza Bar and Johnny Guzzo and getting kicked out from tilting his pinball machine. “Fungul! Out! Out!”

There’s Lumpy Nixon and Dobby and black duffel coats and black ripples.

There’s a bus trip to Coolangatta and all falling asleep in a nightclub watching Boom Crash Opera and missing “Onion Skin” after fifty cent Bundy’s.

There’s New Year’s Eve at Lukey’s and Dad saying, “You young lads won’t drink a keg” and replying “We’re already on our second.”

There’s Puffa saying, “Here you yo-yo’s take my radar detector. Buy me a beer when you get back!” And we drove all the way to Brisbane and returned.

There’s Whitey and the Lienert brothers and Beetle Teagle and Wally Moyle and Nugget Coppin and many others.

*

It’s a ripping night. There’s giggling and tears of laughter and stories. Just stories. No politics or work or superannuation. Just stories.

Christmas is off to a flier.

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Grand Final 2016: Country Pubs and Club Sandwiches

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A meandering drive north from Adelaide, the Clare Valley is among my favourite places on the planet. Lush hills host rows of Riesling and cabernet vines, and settlements are sprinkled about, appearing as English villages.

But allow me to be precise. The valley’s best town is Mintaro and in its centre is the superb Magpie and Stump Hotel (est.1851). I’ve minor affection for its architecture although leaning against its bar I first heard a publican say, “Another cup of tea, Vicar?” which amuses me more than it should.

Its beer garden is perfect: generous lawn, tables and chairs, swaying gum trees. Luxuriating in the Magpie and Stump’s faultlessness my lunch arrived: a club sandwich. Of all the cultural contributions of New York state, this, I’d argue, is its finest. How can one not love a club sandwich?

*

Following a voluntary diaspora during which our group lived variously in Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Gilgandra, we’re back in Clare for the long weekend. I love tradition, and am thrilled that this one’s returned after too many years.

The old world tone of our visit is enhanced by the medieval floods and tempests. Notwithstanding the problematic marvel of electricity Clare suffers continuing phone and internet outages, meaning we must pay cash for everything. It’s like 1974. My sideburns seem fluffier.

The footy’s approaching so I veer into a winery to collect some sparkling cabernet-shiraz. Despite his splendid location, and gentle days crafting gorgeous things, in our lengthy experience the vigneron remains the grumpiest man within a light-year. I creep in.

“G’day mate. How’s things?”

“Yeah, well, you know we haven’t had internet for three days. Can’t use EFTPOS. What do ya want?”

But there’s something endearing in his longitudinal consistency, and I wonder if it’s a performance, a learned expectation. With two bottles of Anastasia (90+points) under my arm, I retreat.

*

With the wife away for work in Noumea (yeah, I know!) wrangling the boys during the grand final is a challenge, but there’s a pub, the Taminga, just down the street from our digs. On the footpath we’re welcomed by a bouncing troika of red, white and blue balloons while the red and white pair flutters too. Inside is bright and the floorboards and exposed brickwork are stylish. There’s a kids’ playroom. The boys bolt. Sorted. We claim some barstools.

The match is underway. Flagging the impending tension, minutes and minutes pass without the opening score. Old mate Mozz and I watch and chat, exchanging news over our crisp ales. The Bulldogs hurl themselves into the contest, but we know Sydney is undeniably classy.

A footytrip of lads bursts into the Taminga. They’re all wearing nametags. My collective noun is wrong- it’s a buckshow. I ask the groom’s brother, “So, what’s the plan?”

He replies, “The top pub, the middle pub, the bottom pub.”

Brilliant. On this afternoon his exact words are repeated by other buckshow participants, in country towns across this wide, brown, occasionally soggy land.

The second quarter is colossal with lead changes and surging, ruthless football. After a week of apocalyptic storms, the sunlight bends through the windows like liquid straw. Three farmers are anchored at the bar, and I don’t think they lift their backsides all afternoon. Josh Kennedy rampages across the MCG like a pirate, like a Wall Street wolf.

As it’s grand final day (and Mum’s in the Pacific) I get the boys a lemonade and bag of chips. If it was 1974 and I’d a HQ ute parked out the front, they’d be in it with the AM radio on.

With the groom having enjoyed a costume change from Freddie Mercury to nondescript showgirl the buckshow invades the middle pub. Thanks to mine host half time also heralds happy hour, and like Black Caviar on the turn, Mozz starts to accelerate.

The final hour of the season is astonishing. During other deciders I’ve been neutral, but today demands that like the rest of the galaxy my red, white and blue scarf is on, at least metaphorically. The Bulldogs are tremendous, and now the Taminga becomes seismic.

And at the siren there’s Boyd and Johanissen and Picken and Beveridge and Murphy. The boys watched the last quarter with us, and they’re excited too. How could they not be? I’ve appreciated this grand final more than any since last century. 2016 will forever be talked about with wide smiles and damp eyes.

It’s a weekend of rebirth both in Footscray and up here in this patchwork valley of vineyards and fetching hamlets. I can’t wait for next year.

 

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