0

Posh: Bye, bye Becks, Hello Ringo!

sausage

Hello. Is it me you’re looking for?

A month on and we’re still recovering from the rush. A gargantuan week as the UK whizzed along in a mad passionate whirl. Of course I refer to October 25 to 31 which, if you’ve forgotten, was British Sausage Week.

Up in the Peak District we bought and fried six sausages from Tideswell’s butcher but these gastronomic impostors were stunningly devoid of texture, aroma and flavour. The week was saved only when we strayed past a York pub window and read its British Sausage Week (BSW) testimonials. Mr W of Leeds wrote, and I beg you to contemplate this during Christmas, ‘My wife still talks of the sausage the chef here gave her two years ago.’

York is staggeringly handsome and we liked spending our anniversary there ambling among its abbey, across the River Ouse (why it belongs to all of us!) and atop the Roman Wall which smartly entraps the city. The Minster is a towering, honeyed church and humbling to behold.

However we didn’t venture in as the six pound fifty ‘compulsory donation’ appeared a little, well, un-Christian. Gladly, St Albans Abbey demands no fixed fee but visitors may part with their pounds through a credit card swiping machine, positioned conveniently in the bookstall at the cathedra’s entrance.

Dining in York’s improbably haunted Golden Fleece pub was tremendous, despite the ghosts! Continuing my uncertain flirting with Real English Ale I purchased a Yorkshire Terrier and straining it through clenched teeth, the taste and temperature made me wonder if every pint of this distinctively Northern brew came directly from a yapping dog’s kidneys.

Sitting hidden by undulating green hills is Tideswell whose market square is hugged by stone shops. Tindalls is stuffed with exquisite home-cooked breads, cakes and pasties and apron billowing, stood Mother beaming behind her wooden counter. Father’s glass cabinet parades black-pudding, scotch eggs and streaky bacon and in their olden store, eternally 1952, the doorbell chimes welcomingly and foodstuffs are dispatched eagerly in thick brown paper.

Also noteworthy are the chippy (chip shop) advertising not opening hours but frying times and that, courtesy of the summer sun’s disappearance at 11pm, the Tideswell Cricket Club competes in Wednesday evening fixtures. How fantastic is that? Time was wretchedly against us so we couldn’t visit Castleton’s most delightful emporium, World of Icing but, hopefully, another day…

Exploring European cities aside, our preferred pastime is rambling, with Roxy, about the countryside and Derbyshire presented abundant opportunity. The hamlet of Litton sleeps in an autumnal hollow. It is hushed apart from a sporadic dog bark. Their branches blazing burgundy; trees watch its placid streets, leaves like a Hawaiian lava flow. We swim through the footpaths, our shoes drowning in swirling colour. The village green is pocket-sized and wooden stocks speak of an unruly past… A boisterous tractor roars past unexpectedly and lurches to a halt. Bounding down from his cabin, a green-capped farmer nods at us and ambles into his lunchtime pub.

Friday evening in Litton’s Red Lion was the finest pub experience we’ve had in either hemisphere. Tilly the Airedale transversed the antique entrance, a jovial fire bellowed and homely chairs creaked with rustic tales and belly laughter. We’d been in the bedroom-sized bar but a minute when Harold pumped my paw, thrust a Black Sheep at me and opened a yarn about his 1992 Australian holiday; notably punctuated by wearing his pristine Crows tie during a roasting Christmas at Christies Beach.

The grimacing Terry doles out the falling-down water in this family-run pub whilst matriarch Joyce steers her kitchen and insists on autographing her little home-made booklets of home-spun poetry. The titles are flawlessly kitsch: Re-Joyce, Jump for Joyce and the forthcoming Orange Joyce. We bought copies for Kerry’s grandma in Gympie.

Retreating bar-side after some tremendous lamb shanks I’m button-holed by Joyce’s husband, thirty years my senior but insisting, Yorkshirian style, on calling me Sir. He asks of Adelaide and cricket and St Albans as if these are the most vital things in his world. Meanwhile Kerry chats merrily with the rugby-loving couple from Portsmouth who is also commemorating their second anniversary. Afterwards we retreat to our cottage and its popping, cracking fire. Perfect.

Steering the Fiat Punto at the appealingly tranquil Eyam proved fascinating for we learnt that in 1665 it lost much of its population. Shortly after unwrapping a package of cloth from London a local complained of feeling poorly. He was soon dead and the Plague again lowered its cold noose. Panicking, the minister urged his brethren to quarantine themselves in their houses and only collect provisions from designated places and mercifully this self-sacrifice partly confined the disease.

Strolling the 4WD-ed boulevards we read solemn plaques describing the demise of families of eight in as many days. 350 were ultimately claimed but it is tricky to picture Eyam suffering any modern disaster beyond the Agricultural Society cancelling, due to heartless disinterest, the 1964 Strawberry and Fig Conserve Competition (Open Section).

Easyjet flew us from Gatwick to Cologne one weekend so we could explore the renowned Christmas markets. The city is largely unremarkable save for the utterly compelling cathedral; the Dom. With twin spires ascending to 515 feet, it was the world’s tallest building until the Washington Monument. Similarly astonishing is that in 1162 Emperor Barbarossa secured the authenticated remains of the Three Magi for the Dom. We drifted about its vast, almighty interior and leaving, willingly presented some Euros to a courteous priest.

Papa Joe’s En Streckstrump is Cologne’s chief jazz venue so we find our seats early for Sun Lane Ltd, a trad ensemble from nearby Aachen. Slender, smiling waitresses disperse wine and beer. Bespectacled, elderly and ample musicians timorously squash onto the picnic-rug stage. The pianist looks like a superfluous sheet has been stretched about a lumpy, wobbling refrigerator. We can scarcely see through the stinging blue smoke. Like sailors to a knock-shop, the punters still surge in.

Standing abnormally close; a gentleman suddenly clambers up and straddles me and a nearby stair as if imagining that he and I are posing for a gay fire-fighters’ calendar. I am startled. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I declare, overlooking that Europeans are bi-lingual.

As the gentleman dismounts the step and my horrified groin I mutter, ‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome!’ my intimate twitters.

‘Say what you really want!’ adds his friend. We don’t see them again. The jazz is brisk and zestful and spilling out onto the Rhine’s bank, Nina’s “99 Red Balloons” bursts from a heaving club. Lingering at the chilly Alter Markt, Kerry sips a final Gluhwein; the hot, spiced, red wine and we confirm that Cologne is hip.

Our staff room corner houses year 7 pupil information and photos. Posted earnestly, but these summaries are memorable for their crude and po-faced honesty. This one, of course, is accompanied by a hilariously glaring youngster’s face.

Lazy girl. Hates maths. Mum hairdresser.

Such psychometric insight and sophistication! Now, dear friends, I leave with a question; with which six words would you summarise yourself?

Enjoy a splendid Christmas, especially if you missed British Sausage Week.

cologne-cathedral

This story is from the collection I call The Ringo Tales which chronicles our travels during 2003- 2006 when we lived just north of London, and spent time in Europe and North America. It can be found on this blog at https://mickeytales.com/2014/02/22/the-ringo-tales/

0

Hertfordshire: Harry Potter and the Cheeky Half Pint

Ling

In St Albans I thought about two of its celebrated citizens, Benny Hill and Stephen Hawking.

Yeah, you got me. Just Benny Hill.

Colonised by the Romans, who called it Verulamium, it’s just north of London. It’s pretty and historic. When we lived there it had eighty pubs.

*

On the way to Watford is the Warner Brothers studio tour. Once the decade of filming Harry Potter wrapped, someone gasped at the tracts of wizardy robes, giant spiders and the Great Hall, and murmured, “What will we do with all this lot?” In the first week of January, we found out.

Alex and Max loved the blue screen experience. Their Flying Ford Anglia zipped high above the Scottish countryside, and their racing broomstick swooped low over the Thames. As a mate noted,

Nothing is better named than the Nimbus 2000.

An enormous challenge was the Quidditch scenes. These were filmed with skydiving, industrial fans and Russian swings launching body doubles like bungy jump mishaps. I’m staggered by the collective imagination.

An inanimate star of the franchise is the huge model of Hogwarts Castle. When the time spent designing and building is totalled, it took seventy-four years to construct. That’s even longer than watching all of St Kilda’s footy trip highlights!

Lastly, of course, you are cast adrift in an oceanic gift shop, reminding you that while this is fun, it’s primarily commerce. As the mortgage is finalised on two wands and a Gryffindor scarf, I spot a man in the kit of the previously secret, fifth Hogwarts house, Fremantle.

The purple haze of the Dockers? Here, in this magical kingdom of spells and free-flowing football? As Hagrid would attest, the Geelong hoops are distinctly Hogwarts. After all, who didn’t love Cameron Ling’s performance as pureblood wizard Ron Weasley?

*

cocks

One of my favourite patches on the planet fits on an Adelaide oval or two. Our tour begins at St Albans Cathedral, which is 551 feet along its immense and picturesque nave.

Alban earned his sainthood by sheltering and then substituting himself for a local priest. It was a Roman version of the Fine Cotton affair. Unlike the horse, which lived to the impressive age of thirty-two, Alban was beheaded.

Expertly detached, his noggin started a-rolling, and moving appreciably from leg to off, bounced to the bottom of the hill. At this spot, legend suggests, a well instantly began gushing, and is named Holywell.

Surrounding both the former monastery and Roman city is one hundred acres of gorgeous expanse, Verulamium Park. When the first shafts of pale spring sunshine coax the temperature into double digits, cider-guzzling locals strip down to their waists, and hoof soccer balls about with splendid inaccuracy.

The concluding locale in our painterly excursion is the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. Built in 793AD, it’s England’s oldest pub. It’s superb.

As an Australian Rules footballer I was a rover. Sorry, kids, that’s a primeval term for midfielder. So low is the pub ceiling that about a thousand years ago, if I was picked for the Verulamium Caesars, in the derby against the Londinium Scurvy Knaves, I obviously would’ve rucked.

I used to love walking in there, proudly but pointlessly ducking my head, and pretending I was Shaun Rehn, minus the knee braces. And this, before I’ve even had a beer, is every pub’s function: to help us feel unrealistically good.

With exposed beams, snug nooks and an enticing lunch menu, it’s like we never left. The boys sit by the dancing fire. There’s the Belgian strawberry beer, Fruili, to which Kerry utters, “Yum.”

Trickling by the pub and the ornamental lake is the diminutive River Ver. An energetic hour in the tavern means even from a stationary start, and into a breeze, most males would carry it comfortably.

But cathedral, park and pub make an exquisite spot and now, exploring with our boys, it still is.

*

Inside the abbey we lit votive candles at the tomb of St Alban. Max immediately told Alex what he’d asked for. And vice versa. As kids do. Their innocence contrasted with the entrance’s Thatcherite ultimatum,

Your four-pound donation (each) ensures the upkeep of the cathedral.

Since the ninth century a cobblestoned square has hosted twice-weekly markets, offering fish, meat, olives and much else. Beyond the kaleidoscopic colour and movement, and sausage and beef wafts from Charlie O’Brien’s butchery, its soundtrack is bustling fun.

“Pound a bowl,” bellow the greengrocers. We’d often buy a bowl, and later home in the kitchen, wonder at its catholic contents: parsnip, carrot, ear of corn (no eye of newt or toe of frog).

The spruikers are still there, with voices rumbling about the fourteenth century clock tower, sounding like jauntier versions of Ray Winstone,

Get me the money for those potatoes by Wednesday, or you’ve got yourself a little problem. Me.

*

Who could resist visiting the house they lived in a decade before? Taking a left off Holywell Hill, the Peugeot halts, and I turn down XFM. Why, it’s tiny! Wasn’t it bigger? How has our world again shrunk?

I stole down the path, and looked over the gate like a burglar in a telemovie. The scruffy hedges have been replaced with charmless, pine fences. Also gone is the shed, in front of which, during warm mornings, our precious, now departed terrier Roxy would sun her honeyed fur.

Why are we always disappointed when cherished spaces change, even for the better? We walk under the barren tree. I put Alex and Max in the car, and drive away.

*

After twenty days in Europe, we make our glutinous, anticlockwise way around the M25, towards Heathrow. Farewelling the icy winds and trains and ancient cityscapes, our A-380 soars to Dubai.

Then, we skim down to the equator, and Singapore, in its muggy summer.

ron

0

Football in London: Who took the jam outta your doughnut?

BTT

At the football I thought about Vinnie Jones.

A midfielder, his first club was semi-professional Wealdstone, in North London. Moving to Wimbledon, they won the 1988 FA Cup.

His Guy Ritchie film phase followed, including Snatch, in which he played Bullet-Tooth Tony. Becoming president of the Hertfordshire Agricultural Society in 2005, Vinnie showed what a community-minded fellow he is. Just like Bullet-Tooth.

Glancing about the ground I don’t see anyone likely to be in cinematic demand as an underworld thug. At least, not on the pitch.

I’m at Wealdstone on the first Sunday of the year, for their Conference South clash. Floodlight mingles with the fog. I’m on the terrace with Barry.

Hemel Hempstead is known as the Tudors. Their city’s famous for an infrastructural oddity, the Magic Roundabout, and Roger Moore, universally acclaimed as the fifth best James Bond.

I last saw Barry in 2008, and he’s now married with a son. He befriended me when we moved to St Albans, and after work on my first Friday he took me to the Bunch of Cherries. He sees you as you’d like to be seen. Spending time with him makes me buoyant. It’s his gift.

We slip into our comfortable way of yakking, and turn to sport. “I don’t love football,” Barry reveals at kickoff, “But I love Wealdstone. I don’t care about the Premier League.”

*

For the final game of 2004/5 we travelled to Salisbury in Wiltshire. Pausing for lunch at The George Inn in Middle Wallop, we failed entirely to acknowledge that a BBC adaptation of Miss Marple was filmed locally.

Nearby are the villages of Over Wallop and Nether Wallop. I’m reminded of Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds. The rural counties promise abundant violence.

From the football I see Salisbury Cathedral’s 404-foot spire, which has attracted travellers since its completion in 1320. But our pilgrimage is one of simmering anxiety. The locals are teased

I can’t read and I can’t write

But that don’t really matt-er

‘Cause I’m from Salis-bury

And I can drive my trac-tor.

Wealdstone was walloped 3-1, although the perilously late goal meant they evaded relegation. As a life event it ranks highly for Barry, and the next day he texted (repeatedly) as if in thankful, blunt prayer

one effing goal

*

During the last World Cup qualifiers, Ireland played Kazakhstan in Astana, and won 2-1. Over 12,000 attended. Forty-seven away tickets were sold, and as a zealous Irishman, Barry’s brother Shawn was among them.

Today, Wealdstone FC looks to be in Kazakhstan. Like Warnie tutoring three buxom nurses, Hemel Hempstead threatens bedlam. 1-0. The keeper alone stops it becoming catastrophic. “He’s good,” I offer. My feet are torpidly cold, and could undergo major surgery, without anaesthetic.

Barry says. “He used to be the Under 21 keeper for Wales.”

“Impressive,” I observe.

“ Yeah,” Barry qualifies, “but the second choice was a sheep.”

*

There are two types of football fans. Those who sit, and those like me, who stand. It’s my country upbringing. Boofy clumps of men standing on the wing, bantering like goats, and bellowing at the opposition, their supporters, and the umpire. This, vicar, is how the congregation behaves.

At work I flop into a chair constantly, but will stand at the football all day. Conversation is easier. Hanging stuff on your Port Power mate about his dental status is harder if you’re squeezed into a row next to Nanna and her tartan thermos.

As ball sponsors we enjoy boardroom hospitality. There’s coffee and sausage rolls at halftime. Roast beef, winter vegetables and Yorkshire pudding after the match. It’s better than a Famous Five picnic. Someone within the club prepared it, and not an external caterer. I can tell.

This connects to cricket in the Barossa. Surrounded by vines sagging with fruit bound for Dutschke Wines up on Gods Hill Road, the Lyndoch Cricket Club always provided an afternoon tea of egg sandwiches and refreshments. It invested those days with graciousness. As a young uni student from Kapunda I probably needed help in this.

*

On the frozen terrace there’s a haiku-like economy in the way Barry and his friends talk. Together, they’ve had countless Wealdstone moments. They’ve no need for elaboration, but I hear warmth in their words. Football’s only part of their pact.

“Take the Metropolitan Line,” suggests pub DJ Chris when I say my digs are near (not in) the Tower of London. I love the passion Londoners have for the Tube. Apart from the Womma station, Adelaideans care little for their transport. “Yeah, but make sure it’s an Aldgate train,” clarifies Barry.

The Underground is London’s cardiovascular system, and its lexicon is evocative. Hammersmith & City. Bakerloo. Jubilee. “Don’t get caught in Tottenham Court Station,” is the final tip. “It’s shut ‘til next Christmas.”

Unlike Henry VIII, the Tudors don’t execute cleanly in front of goal. Wealdstone dominates possession, but is timid in attack. Coming from behind twice, 2-2 ensures they’re undefeated in their last ten outings. However, they’re precariously close to the drop zone.

With the whistle Wealdstone exits the pitch to hearty applause. I’m not sure if it’s ironic, daggy or great, but Pilot’s “January” then bursts into the fog

January
sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me
you make me sad with your eyes
you’re telling me lies
don’t go
don’t go
January
don’t be cold

As my train speeds south I see Wembley and its colossal arch. In the dark western sky it’s a cathedral. It’d be tremendous to take Alex and Max there, but I’ve had myself an afternoon at a tiny match, which matters only to a few hundred devoted folk.

Besides, I doubt Wembley offers home-cooked roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Wembly

0

July 2005: It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

bus

I stop the Macbeth video and flick on the radio. My Year 7’s leap around, shrieking and pink-cheeked. Ties are flapping.

IOC President Jacques Rogge begins, and with delightful, British style, the boys link arms and make a circle. Their camaraderie is catching. I laugh. Either way, we’re about to have a moment.

At 12:46 pm and ‘Lon-don,’ they erupt. England to host the 2012 Olympics! It’s lovely, and I’m happy for them, but the day after, I can barely believe it happened. A terrible contrast was coming.

*

‘Chris goes through Liverpool Street Station about this time,’ says Jane, tears starting, ‘and I can’t get him on his phone.’

‘I’m sure you’ll reach him soon,’ I offer, her panic cloaking me. Texting to check on friends, I agonize, the seconds stretching, waiting for my phone to pronounce their safety.

It’s July 7. I’m at school in St Albans, where news of the suicide bombings rushes upon us. In our desperate and sightless ways, we try to tether ourselves. The stabs of horror come quickly, as just to our south, London is wounded. This bespoke violence makes home seem mercilessly remote.

Emerging from her Hammersmith train, Juanita messages in that cheery way Australians often have during a crisis- “all good mate.” She’s only escaped by minutes. Jane gets through to her husband, finally. He’s arrived at his office in the City.

We lived twenty-five miles north of the Themes, in cloistered, handsome Hertfordshire. That evening our answering machine blurts a succession of messages from Australia. Our parents; hotly anxious, friends; fretful, and even people we’d seldom talk with have called.

The day is draining, and forces a deep, pounding introspection. It’s our twenty-fourth month away.

In his remarkable Guardian op-ed piece* Booker prize winner Ian McEwen calls the terrorists’ minds ‘unknowable’ and asks, ‘How could we have forgotten that this was always going to happen?’

*

REM’s Around the Sun concert is postponed because of the attacks, and on Saturday week as we board the Jubilee line I try to think of the fun ahead. It’s our first Tube journey since the unspeakable awfulness, and my hands become sticky as our train crashes through the uneasy dark. My fear races like gas. My eyes zip incessantly.

A streak of jets howls across, the full moon beams, and here we are with 85,000 folk, just across from The Serpentine, in Hyde Park. It’s chardonnay and sushi, not black t-shirts and insurrection. It’s wonderful. Kerry buys a slice of watermelon.

For me, today again confirms London as the planet’s finest theme park. Just walking about is compelling theatre. Send me out on foot for the day, let me meander, and then late afternoon, tip me into a boozer like The Moon and Sixpence in Soho. Sorted.

Twilight falls. REM begins. The concert’s more gorgeous picnic than Glastonbury. Mainstream’s replaced alternative edginess for these Athens, Georgia natives.

Jangly pop doyens, they also have picturesque moments. “Electrolite” from New Adventures in Hi-Fi is one, and I’m thrilled to hear it. It’s their tribute to an often unloved Los Angeles, but the joyousness applies, right here, right now

You are the star tonight
You shine electric outta sight
Your light eclipsed the moon tonight
Electrolite
You’re outta sight

Unhurried and summery, it’s threaded by Mike Mills’ jaunty piano and Peter Buck’s banjo, and insulates us, fleetingly, against our broader catastrophes.

Michael Stipe introduces punk iconoclast Patti Smith to sing on ‘E-bow the Letter.’ It’s her sole appearance on the tour, but in that quotidian, London way, she’s in town. After, with a coda of swirling, Sonic Youth-like guitar feedback, ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’ closes their show.

The wife and I zip through the crowds along Oxford Street, and then turn towards Kings Cross. An accusatory light blazes out at us. There are police everywhere, and yellow police tape.

It is Tavistock Square. On the street beneath the light is a silenced double-decker bus, untimely torn by the bomb that detonated ten days ago. Our musical buzz vaporizes.

This tableau’s between University College Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital, but for those on the number 30 Stagecoach, both were too far. How could this occur in Bloomsbury? Once associated with arts, education and medicine, and now death. We go home.

July 2005 continues, as it must. Lance Armstrong retires after winning a seventh consecutive Tour de France. Mumbai receives forty inches of rain within a day, and its city decelerates massively, but like London, cannot be halted.

And later, as witness to the gargantuan persistence of this capital, the cricket! Yes, the slow, strange cricket in which we find sanctuary commences with the opening Ashes Test at Lord’s. While Australia wins this match, the longer narrative develops astonishingly, and reminds us of all that’s decent and affirming. In Yorkshire and Cumbria and Cornwell, summer’s in bloom.

We stumble on.

ashes

* http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/jul/08/terrorism.july74

2

AFL Round 10- Adelaide v Carlton: The Pogues or Paul Kelly?

Image

Our eldest son lost his front tooth yesterday. Already dangling, the other is now lurching across his gum. He is six.

Smiling, he is a little like Shane MacGowan, the lead singer of The Pogues. You know, the one who somehow maintains a pulse. Despite his sustained dedication to not, over these last four decades.

With the annual, happy promise of snow, a big Norwegian spruce in Trafalgar Square, and BBC Radio 2 being obliged to play “Fairytale of New York” every fourteen minutes across December, England does Christmas better than Australia.

It just works better in the dark and the cold.

“Fairytale of New York” is a superbly bleak song. Marrying misery with a rousing melody, the doomed couple bicker and snarl, and of course, it ends badly for them.

Which connects to both Carlton and Adelaide, except that it is only May. For much of the first half, the football goes back and forth, perversely suggesting the call and response form of the duet between Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl

I could have been someone

Well so could anyone

You took my dreams from me

When I first found you

I kept them with me babe

I put them with my own

Can’t make it all alone

I’ve built my dreams around you

While this festive ode is euphoric, Sunday’s MCG fixture was dour, and for much of it, lacking music. There would be grander joy within an afternoon spent shopping in Luton. At least there’d be the chance that your umbrella might be picked up in the sleety gale and speared into a Bedfordshire oak tree.

In their peculiar tribute to “Fairytale of New York”, The Crows continue to set their watches to Christmas Island time, well behind that in Melbourne, chronologically and in humanitarian/football supporter terms. And so they only have two goals at the major break. Adelaide’s pre-season strategy of starting in an excruciating way persists into a tenth week. John Farnham has enjoyed shorter retirements.

Norwood boy and Crows fan Paul Kelly’s “How To Make Gravy” is our finest seasonal song. Like The Pogues’ tune, it is jubilant in its despair. Both are anchored in familial misfortune. Each begins with a gentle, welcoming melody, and then erupts into a torrent of regret.

Living in St Albans, just north of London, Paul Kelly’s tour de force was my umbilical cord to Australia. Its evocative power, and fraught, jailed brother were overwhelming. On many a Friday evening I played this song in our tiny townhouse, after beers at The Bunch of Cherries, The Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, or The Goat.

When Peter Luscombe’s drums kick in at

I guess the brothers are driving down

From Queensland and Stella’s flying in from the coast

They say it’s gonna be a hundred degrees

Even more maybe, but that won’t stop the roast

I’d be a goner. The heat, the ritual, the anguish. There I’d be, on our couch, blubbing away, wondering what the feck we were doing half a world from home, having, in a sense, voluntarily imprisoned ourselves. Both songs signify Christmas and the end of the year. Although winter has not begun, 2014 is already finished for The Blues and The Crows.

Yarran and Betts have some electric moments, while Thomas for Carlton and Laird for the vanquished, contribute meaningfully. Kade Simpson appears to roam about unchecked and collects a mammon of disposals. There are more clangers than a Chinese gong workshop, and Adelaide’s sixteen behinds is telling.

I’d like to say that the second half was artistic and masterful like Paul Kelly and The Pogues, but I can’t. The error and turnover rates fell. Each team kicked eight goals. It was close.

Within a few weeks, our son will have a new front tooth, and his smile will again be complete.

Adelaide needs to stop its decay, and stop it urgently.

pk

0

Boris, The Bunch of Cherries, and The Gatting Ball

AB and me

I can see it now. I’ve a horrifying habit. Too many times, I’ve accidentally chosen to work where the local pub is the worst in town.

St Albans is a fetching cathedral and market town, just north of London, in the glamorous greenery of the Home Counties. It boasted over eighty boozers when I lived there, and most prominent is the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in Verulamium Park, where once stood a Roman city.

An eleventh century building on an eighth century site, it’s the Guinness Book of Records holder of oldest pub in England. Our townhouse was an easy par 4 from the Cocks, but I worked on St Albans’ periphery near the untreatably dreadful Bunch of Cherries. I’d many a pint there with my workmates, although as an example of 1960’s Dismal Brick/Shithouse, it has less charisma than a Heathrow toilet.

I now work in Singapore, a languid 5 iron from Orchard Road. Apparently, Harry’s has our Friday refreshments conquered with

26 premium lifestyle bars targeted at the PMEBs (professionals, managers, executives and businessmen).

My closest Harry’s is set in a shopping mall, and the staff offers rancid lager as well as a merry hatred of the thirsty.

The smallest place I’ve lived is the exception to this cosmopolitan misery. Kimba is half way across Australia, and on a Friday its sole pub was rollicking and happy. Icy beer, roaring jukebox. The core of its community. My first weekend in town, I won the meat tray. How could I not love it?

Geelong-besotted Almanackers identify Kimba as the hometown of Corey Enright. As a young fella who was frequently upright, and possessing of a pulse, I became Boris’ PE teacher. All saw him as a gifted footballer, but I argued that he was a better leg spinner, and could go far. Bowling on concrete decks that bounced and bit like a taipan, he bamboozled men and boys alike.

June 4, 1993 is a Friday, and despite it being Eastern Eyre footy season, a blissful tangle of chaps is inhaling ale. The Kimba pub jukebox blasts Choir Boys, Meat Loaf, and the sing-along gem, “What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes.” Day Two of the First Ashes Test from Old Trafford is on, but it’s beyond a footballer’s curfew, particularly for us modest B-graders. And then, shortly before lunch, AB throws a tubby, naturally non-blonde the ball.

For all the where-were-you-when-you-heard about Lady Diana, 9/11, the Boxing Day tsunami, there are celebratory counterparts. Jezza’s legendary leap, Australia snatching the America’s Cup, and for many, the Ball of the Century.

Ritchie’s commentating. No Bill hyperbole. Mercifully, no screeching Michael Slater.

He’s done it. He’s started off with the most beautiful delivery. Gatting’s got no idea what’s happened to it. He still doesn’t know.

The batsman’s humbled reaction is apposite. What choice had he? Anger and disappointment could have had no useful function. There’s only Gatting’s acceptance something astounding had occurred, that he had not previously seen, nor would likely see again. In the booming beery frenzy, Robbie, Hendo, Klingy, and I know we’ve witnessed a remarkable episode.

Strolling off, Gatting preternaturally knew he’d stolen a cameo role in what would be regarded as cricket’s most illustrious single-act production. Not a tragic narrative, but one approaching the comedic in its enthralling unlikelihood. Shaking his head in bemusement corroborates our shared view.

Australia was then sponsored by XXXX and, much later, so was I when in the skirmish for beer supremacy a grassroots marketing strategy took me hostage. For twelve months I transmogrified into a XXXX Gold Ambassador. As a Coopers Sparkling and Pale Ale aficionado, I call it the year I barracked for Collingwood. I had not gone native. It was abundantly worse. I had gone Queensland.

Given entirely too much XXXX to inflict upon family and friends, I was also required to host a XXXX-infused BBQ and, finally, with my Kimba mate Bazz, sat in the sponsor’s marquee at the Adelaide Clipsal 500. This was telling given my relationship with motorsport is akin to that between Fev and Mensa.

My ambassadorial climax was a Sunday in Glenelg’s Holdfast Hotel with our most significant modern captain, Alan Border.

Me: I must tell you that you’re my Dad’s favourite cricketer. He describes you as being “pugnacious.”

AB: Well, everyone has their own personal style. I did what I did best.

I decline to say that Dad also once remarked if he had to be in a fight, AB is the first bloke he’d want on his side.

Me: Can I ask you about my best ever sporting moment? The Gatting Ball?

AB: Sure. It was a huge occasion.

Me: Where were you?

AB: At that point I often fielded at midwicket, so I didn’t really get a decent view of it.

Me: But you knew it was special?

AB: Yea. At the drinks break Heals said it was, “a pretty fair seed.”

Laconic understatement. Just what I wanted to hear. Sensational.

Me: What did Gatting say?

AB: He knew it was good too. He’s done really well out of it. The Gatt’s dined out on that story ever since. With all the speaking engagements, he’s very pleased.

Warne’s striking proclamation of his genius is leg spin’s enchanted temple. For cricket fans, it generated a global epiphany while the attendant symbolism makes this the most resounding of his 708 Test wickets.

And on that June afternoon I suspect even the desolate types in The Bunch of Cherries squinting at the screen over pints of tepid Tetleys knew SK Warne’s first Test delivery in England was to be cherished.

In Kimba we definitely did.

.bunch

2

How football cost us the 2005 Ashes

2005

Like a crazed nymphomaniac I could not get enough of the punt.

It was perfect to be an Australian in England when we won the first test by 239 runs. My local friends conceded glumly that the 2005 Ashes were gone. Smirking, I imagined how I’d spend my bodyweight in pound notes when we won our tenth consecutive series.

On the morning of the second Test in Edgbaston our summer guests and we take a day trip to Amsterdam. Anne Frank’s House is affecting and crowded. We visit Nieuwmarkt- zigzagging about the canals and museums, and enter the heart- or is it groin- of the Red Light district with its prostitutes behind windows. Tragicomically stricken with zero speech filters, my mate Bazz hollers across to his wife, ‘Hey Annie!’ He then suggests. ‘Pick out which hooker you’d like to join us for a threesome.’

Late afternoon at O’Reilly’s pub near Dam Square, and the stumps score blazes from a TV screen. Over 400 English runs in a day! Ponting had won the toss, and bowled! I then learn that McGrath, fresh from a man-of-the-match, nine-wicket bag in the Lords test, was a late withdrawal. He injured his ankle playing football! At silly mid-off! And Ponting strangely, unknowably, elected to bowl. Shaking my head, I think I must be a passive coffeeshop smoke victim. Despite the last wicket heroics from Lee and Kasprowicz, Australia is defeated. Arguably, football cost us this match, and the Ashes.

Boston made me a fan of three things: New England clam chowder, the Red Sox and naming beer after national idols. The Barking Crab restaurant faces the old Northern Avenue Bridge in the downtown area. Its shanty-like setting appeals to sailors and Harvard professors, and we devour the tasty seafood. The billboard declares, ‘It’s the best place in Boston to catch crabs.’

T-shirts pronounce there are two baseball teams to support: the Red Sox and whoever beats the New York Yankees. Catching a few innings in America’s oldest continuously operating tavern, The Bell in Hand, converts me. Baseball and cricket are both beautifully hypnotic. Both anchor a country’s summer.

Named for Declaration of Independence signatory, Sam Adams lager encourages me to ask why Australia fails to similarly honour their icons. I’d love to be at the altar of my Sunday pub ordering, ‘Two pints of Dennis Lillee, a jug of Gough Whitlam and a bottle of Bon Scott, thanks.’ Boston’s illustrious baseball history provides a captivating context for the fourth Test at Trent Bridge. In this pre-smart phone universe I frequently visit the hotel’s business centre to check the scores. Flintoff stars again. We’re down a test with only The Oval remaining.

Ashes tickets are as rare as sunburn in Sheffield but, back from North America, we score a pair for the Saturday. Taking the Northern Line to the ground, I’m struck by the blissful civility of those waiting to gain entrance. I’m also struck by the industrial quantity of wine and beer allowed. Adelaide Oval banned BYO decades ago. After lunch the Barmy Army is amply lubricated. Many ditties on their hymn sheets simultaneously tease and glorify Warney. Set to the tune of “Amarillo”, I enjoy

Show me the way to Shane Warne’s Villa

He’s got his diet pills under his pilla

A dodgy bookie from Manila

Nursey’s on her mobile phone

Rain restricts play to only fifty overs, but Langer makes his 22nd century, and Hayden achieves his first ton in a year. After tea, with vino bottles spread about like a berserk Neapolitan wedding, I’m startled by the tidy conduct of the Vauxhall End supporters. The gasometer looms benevolently. The Oval is festooned in Wolf Blass advertising and I’m homesick for Australia and the Barossa.

I dreaded going to school on Tuesday September 13, 2005. The previous afternoon England reclaimed the Ashes for the first time since 1989 and I, as fortune would have it, was teaching just north of London in St Albans. Over the next weeks the banter I had as the conquered Australian in a country celebrating a gigantic sporting triumph, was good-natured. Mostly.

As they had not been born the last occasion England defeated us in cricket, I helpfully suggested my students at Nicholas Breakspear Catholic School (named after the only English Pope) should enjoy the victory. ‘You could be grandparents the next time this happens,’ I lectured. Freddie Flintoff celebrated like a Viking and on the first morning after, Mike Gatting asked him whether he had had anything to eat. ‘Yes,’ replied Flintoff, ‘a cigar.’

I trudged the campus handing over cash to numerous colleagues. I also gave each horribly happy Englishman a letter.

Dear Sir

On behalf of the Australian cricket team I’d like to offer my congratulations on a highly deserved victory. It was a most exciting series.

With the Ashes now completed, I can reveal that the ICC, ECB and Cricket Australia were engaged in top-secret talks over the past months. If Australia had won and made it ten consecutive triumphs, then all future Ashes would have been cancelled and a more competitive nation, officially sought to play Australia every two years.

So whilst cricketers from Italy and the Shetland Islands are disappointed, I for one am pleased that, at least for the next encounter, the Ashes will continue.

Your colonial servant,

Ricky Ponting

oval

0

From Croke Park to Vicarage Road is a one hour flight with Ryanair

CP

Dublin’s Croke Park on the All Ireland Football Championship quarterfinal day is fantastic. During our tour of England, Ireland, France and Italy we’d see plenty of cathedrals but with O’Keefe ancestry in County Cork, this is a distinctive pilgrimage.

And while it’s Dublin and Roscommon clashing, a vivid afternoon unfolds. Taxiing to the ground, Dad and I see sky blue tops on scurrying local spectators and bright yellow on the visitors. We pass pubs like Quinns, Kennedys and The Big Tree bursting with blokes roaring and downing pints. Dad and I duck in for a lager. The Red Parrot is thunderous and frenzied but affable.

Our reserved seats are on the top deck of the Hogan stand and Dublin Bay sparkles across to the east. As the match evolves, two local supporters observe, ‘Our centre forward is too slow’, ‘We’re getting killed across half back’ and ‘the umpires aren’t doing us any favours.’ We could be at Footy Park, the MCG or Dutton Park in my hometown of Kapunda. Possessing an aural effect unlike soccer, the crescendo and fall of the GAA crowd is uplifting.

The game is attractive and fluent. The Dubs are quicker than Australian footballers, and as a matter of necessity, lithe and angular. Dublin controls the ball and the lush spaces. In the golden summery light, they tidily account for Roscommon, known also as the Sheepstealers.

Of course, the guilty were often transported to Australia. Leaving Croke Park, Dad and I evade a bony lad enthusiastically jettisoning a hula-hoop of amber onto the concourse. It is uncertain whether he is celebrating or commiserating Dublin’s victory, but there is jeering praise. We return to our digs at Browns Hotel near O’Connell Street, for an Irish music tour through Temple Bar.

I enjoy the dexterity and explosiveness the round ball allows but prefer our game’s elliptical ball. Its blissful and cruel unpredictability seems a candid metaphor for life, which is surely football’s noblest function. Additionally, our code allows and even celebrates goal scoring imprecision by permitting behinds.

How exquisite was Plugger’s famous point after the 1996 preliminary final siren? This, too, reflects an Australian ethos that speaks of our generosity of spirit and innocent effervescence.

Despite our resistance, sometimes sporting teams demand us as supporters. Southampton chose me not because of their soccer prowess but, curiously, their fans’ set list during a fourth round Carling Cup encounter with Watford at Vicarage Road. Some mates and I sit at the Away End and the singing is compelling.

Early in the fixture and expectant, Southampton praise their diminutive striker in blossoming tones

Sup-er Sup-er Kev Sup-er Ke-vin Phillips!

Still 0-0 late in a grim first half but their pride remains contagious. The contrast with the hyper-moronic, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” is sharp.

We love Southampton, we do!

We love Southampton, we do!

We love Southampton, we do!

Ohhhh, Southampton, we love you!

At half-time the combination of glacial queues and gastronomic judgment makes me unable to buy a cup of Burton upon Trent’s finest yeast- based beverage, Bovril. Five minutes in, they’re down 0-2 to the second division side.

Maintaining the global custom of using ridicule to try to save face, they taunt

We’re in the Premiership

We’re havin’ a laugh!

Suddenly it’s 0-3 and getting grubby. Across the autumnal air of Vicarage Road, the Saints’ choir recites the dismissive,

You’re just a small town near Luton

And then yet another Watford strike and all patience is gone, so they turn cannibal, as Bob my mate in Adelaide says, and start devouring their own

We’re so shite

It’s un-be-liev-able!

Two late consolations for the Saints and the second half, seven goal orgy is over. It is a night of dramatic tragedy on the pitch and musical theatre in the grandstands. Then, this being modern soccer, we of the Away End are funnelled, for our own safety, through a human chute of mountainous policeman.

We’re flushed out of the Vicarage Road ground and along the Watford streets to our Vauxhall Corsa. My evening is emblematic of England: startling and faintly menacing but, as always, richly engaging.

watford

0

Homecoming

cricket

Like Gatsby preparing to again see Daisy, I’d imagined it vividly and often. However, our plane simply rose from the Heathrow runway, and ended our English adventure. Leaving became only a transaction, a mere connective between one life concluding and the old one, recommencing.

Returning to Australia after nearly thirty months is like being both troubled and delighted by the sudden, unmistakable scent of a forgotten friend. I ‘d missed our popular culture, and drifting through the in-flight entertainment during my 3am restlessness I discovered Billy Birmingham, the Twelfth Man, being interviewed by Adam Spencer.

Billy’s first success, I‘d forgotten, was co-writing 1983’s Australiana. How weirdly wonderful, as we rushed over the Tanami Desert, sleeping in the silently breathing below, to be stirred by those faintly pathetic puns- Well a few of the blokes decided to play some cricket. Boomer says, ‘Why doesn’t Wombat? Yeah, and let Tenterfield.’

I then watched Crowded House’s farewell concert from the Opera House. Could that have been a decade ago? I recall my sadness as we journeyed along the Grand Union Canal in a narrow boat, and I read in The Guardian of Paul Hester’s passing.

Through the 767’s window, the sun then burst up over the Western Plains. Not a stunning sunrise but as it’s my first Australian sunrise in nine hundred days, its poignancy makes me misty.

Which band could have served me other than Crowded House? Favourably compared to the Beatles with their fetching melodies, but manifestly local, they’re as effortless as a Sunday BBQ. When they performed, “Better Be Home Soon” I realised the golden corridor, my arrival, was close.

Scurrying about the Sydney airport shops, I beam at things unremarkable transformed by my excitement to native treasures. Powderfinger CDs. Steve Waugh’s autobiography. Boost Juice! Their realness is exhilarating. Within the terminal, the uncluttered spaces, affable colours and the brazen January light are deliciously Australian.

After the gloomy British currency, visiting an ATM makes me gawk at the crayfish-coloured banknotes. And everywhere, voices, our voices. Here, accents don’t crash like improper cymbals above a mortified English string section. I eavesdrop, and the chatter is as comforting as a Coopers.

Waiting with our hand luggage while my wife goes for a stroll, I fiddle with my Walkman radio, singularly ravenous for Australian sounds. My morning’s second musical epiphany occurs as Triple J plays Sarah Blasko’s version of Cold Chisel’s “Flame Trees.” Originally released as I began uni when life was inching beyond my dusty hometown, Kapunda.

I’d long appreciated the song’s jaded melancholia and evocations of happy hours and old friends. But the girl’s plaintive singing gives it an aching warmth. This is a welcome contracting of my planet back to the recognisable; a sensation not easily found in a confronting, often unknowable Europe. Having hugged me so tightly upon my homecoming, this song again sits in my heart.

It is fitting that Sydney was covered by cloud for when we land in Adelaide the unbounded sky is a cathedral. Walking across the tarmac, I take in the low, auburn hills and the thirsty plains and later, the idyllic drone of the cricket as we move through the empty afternoon streets of our screen-doored suburbs.

After months and hours of hungry longing, I am home.

flame trees

2

St Albans and her pubs: a love story

 

six-bells

 

The blacksmiths arms

bold & jetlagged after Heathrow

your lunch arrived with scampi, chip and beans (baked not green)

The goat

in its tiny garden during those terrifying, thrilling weeks

we designed our new life.

The subsequent summer; Monopoly with Jayne and Karina and actually finishing!

The lower red lion

Cheese Club in quaint progress; we watch like anthropologists.

drinking in the lush, bustling beer festival

with Emma and George late that May

The six bells

Roxy’s first pub drink (bowl of water; mostly ignored)

after she dashed across Verulamium Park

in the icy, Six Nations Rugby afternoon

The rose and crown

the sandwich pub & her tranquil fire.

we muse over our hopes and remote home, at a squat table

Ye olde fighting cocks

On a bench by the gushing, gargling Ver.

Astonishing, on every visit, at its impossibly low ceiling.

The spotted bull

A jubilant call from Classic Sovereign- The Brambles was ours-

so we were moving from Mrs. Thomas’ B&B

& Damo & his awesome weetbix teeth.

Suddenly caring for that sport on rugby world cup morning

& our last lunch in England; Christmas day.

The king harry

Fruli for you on Fridays and over Hoegarden

Father Manus spitting about Nicholas Breakspear, England’s only Pope, da bleedin’ fooker

The white hart tap

in hazy September sunshine, both wide-eyed over cheese steaks

The vintry

Once proud home of the nine sausage lunch, assembled on a mashy gravy pillow (what a country)

The bunch of cherries

chattering, after school ales (just another half for Fiona) then

cycling home, into the weekend, along the ghostly Alban Way

The white hart

One Friday as we sip, an ambulance crashes on Holywell Hill (second that week!)

& our unsettling and wonderful, last few nights & freak-out days

The hare and hounds

a pint with my cricket-mad father-in-law and cricket-mad Matt,

a 20/20 match on Sky TV and the Ashes agony begins…

The three hammers

after a brisk autumnal ramble out to Chiswell Green

we and Sunday roast and Yorkshire pudding and just the two of us.

The cross keys

curry and naan on metal plates and my mixed grill surprise.

Kathleen, Paddy and Louise-

snowy Hertfordshire schools: shut that bright and crisp afternoon.

The white lion

the petanqued beer garden

& how, vanishing summers ago, on their first day, mum and dad

recounted stories of our life in that other world; far, far away.

 

goat