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Cross Country

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It’s instructive, every now and again, to enjoy some sunny elevation. Not so much that you become disconnected from the good earth and its human endeavours, but just enough.

There’s a glorious, painterly aspect and my canvas bursts with sun and sky and sea. I look down the fairway, across the seventh green to the ocean and then to Brighton jetty with its abrupt pier and somewhat sinister telecommunications tower pushing upwards to transmit the city’s texts and calls and photos, and finally off towards the middle distance of the emboldened Glenelg skyline, behind which sits our modest bungalow.

I’m at Marion Golf Course on a bright Wednesday morning strolling the primary school cross-country track that Alex and a host of unknown competitors will soon tackle. Much of the running circuit is out-of-bounds for the golfers, although probably well explored by high-handicapped hackers like me whose Hot Dot is drawn to the fierce wilderness like a goat to the roof of an abandoned car.

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Later, I’m by a green with the loose knot of our boys and a tall, kindly grandfather who offers grandfatherly pre-race wisdom.

“Just do your best.”

“Where you finish is irrelevant.”

“The main thing is to enjoy yourself.”

You can imagine my surprise when he then channelled Walter from The Big Lebowski and barked:

“Dude, this is a league game, this determines who enters the next round robin. Am I wrong? Am I wrong?”

Actually, I just made this bit up, but enjoyed the generosity of his encouragement, and hoped the boys, now squirming with energy and anxiety, did too. We were, for that moment, a little community. It was lovely.

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About three dozen boys from half a dozen schools strained across the line, gawping at the official’s earnest, controlling remarks.

“Don’t sneak over or there’ll be a false start.”

“When you hear the Robin Hood horn, go!”

Alex was mid-line, tall and tense. On his left was a small lad who was sporting that most ridiculous of hair sculptures, the man-bun. Oh, dear.

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A minute or two in and a number had already surrendered to their personal galaxy of defeat and were walking, some distraught and slump-shouldered, while others, without an outward care, were happy to be out of school, and in the perky, breezy, coastal morning.

Running, of course, is the original and most pure of sporting pursuits. There’s no ball, or inferior teammates: just you, your legs and a relentless, unyielding terrain. I reminded myself that this is a gruelling event, especially for a ten year old, and requires uncommon resilience. How many young kids really want to run long distance?

On his final lap Alex emerged from the hilly scrub, exhausted, but still running. And while he’d finish mid-field it was his first cross-country race, and he showed impressive grit. I hoped that this was a metaphor for his inner character and a likely predictor for how he’d face his future. Who could tell? At that point, I was proud.

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In the car on the way back to school I offered him an apple, but he was busy with a bucket of orangey sports drink. He didn’t even mind that the radio was on Triple J.

“Dad,” he noted, “You’ll have to run faster when we go to the beach. If you were out there today, you’d come last.”

“I reckon you’re right.”

“I’m gonna train 355 times before next year’s race. So I can do better.”

Would he be an Olympian? Possibly not. Had we handed him the key to an active, participatory life? I hoped so.

From our elevated spot we drove down to the flat and into the rest of the day.

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My best pubs

 

Love a list. Love a pub. Don’t you?

This week the Footy Almanac sought opinion on our favourite pubs. I instantly penned a digital love letter to some cracking watering holes. How could I refuse?

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks- St Albans, Hertfordshire

England’s oldest and most charismatic boozer. Ceiling so low it made me feel like a centre half-forward when I walked in, and most certainly as I left. We lived about a Par 4 away, and invested some time there on weekends. When we returned in 2014 it was the only pub in town we visited twice with Alex and Max.

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The Magpie and Stump- Mintaro, Clare Valley

Gum trees and vineyards; idyllic beer garden. No aural pollution from within or without, just birdsong. Happily by its bar on a rainy Sunday morning before the SANFL grand final I first heard a publican say, “Another cup of tea, Vicar?” which amuses me more than it should.

Prince of Wales- Kapunda, South Australia

Hometown favourite. Colossal former mine host. When I lived five hours away in Kimba, and would visit, he’d greet me with, “Hello, West Coast smack-head.” I knew then that he missed me. Also home of spoofy.

The Kings Inn- Mousehole, Cornwall

Redolent of pirates and rum, romance and treasure. Of course, it’s pronounced Moz-all.

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The Exeter- Rundle Street, Adelaide

Eclectic perfection. Once, this happened: Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remain, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. We met in school. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

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Honourable mentions

The Goat- St Albans, Hertfordshire

The Taminga- Clare

All Nations- Richmond (frequently home to Mick Molloy and Bill Hunter, drinking in concert)

Greenock Tavern- Barossa Valley (mine host Norton, and then Mick)

Lemon Tree- Carlton (sadly now gone; snuck in there when in Melbourne during my mulleted 1980’s)

Seacliff Hotel- Adelaide

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What’s your top battle-cruiser?

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The original Footy Almanac post is worth a look and you can find it, and other great stuff here-

Best pubs of all time?

 

 

 

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Observations from a Pair of Moving Legs

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This story is from the change of millennium when old mate Bob and I used to run early mornings along the Glenelg South esplanade. There’s surprising stuff happening by the beach at dawn.

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It is like facing up to an appointment with the dentist. You know that it is going to hurt, that you will make some alarming gurgling sounds and that when it is finished, you will try, with ample humiliation, to spit.

Friday. Dawn. Moseley Square. I twist and fold in a feeble attempt to prepare. Peering into the dark space of the Grand’s Pier and Pines bar, I see a lone cleaner vacuuming away the last scraps of yesterday’s conversation. “Let’s do this,” urges Bob- my accomplice.

With a beep my stopwatch is blinking and running and so are we!

At 6am the Esplanade is two babbling streams of people and dogs: one flowing toward Brighton and the other; lazily at the Patawalonga. We surge southward and a dribbling hound lumbers into my lane and then across to a yawning pine. He autographs it with the shamelessness of a footballer on an end-of-season trip.

On the horizon a tanker drags itself noiselessly toward the refinery. The breeze is crisp. A lanky teenager shuffles plastic tables outside the Broadway café, his black beanie pulled so low that some could suspect him of arranging a bank robbery for mid-morning. I spot a Chupa-chup poking jauntily from his jaw and relax, pleased that he is unlikely to feature on tonight’s TV news. He nods, “G’day boys.” We nod back.

Knots of chatty walkers drink up the seaside zest and provide welcome entertainment. It’s like spinning a radio dial across endless talkback stations- and not without intrigue. A Reality-TV producer (still in plague numbers) could comfortably fashion a dozen gripping episodes from the random snippets we steal each morning. Ambling into Somerton Park I catch:

“…but you’ll never guess,” (an elderly gent to his grandson) “he made the putt!”

“I told Doreen that there-is-NO-WAY-I’m-going.”

“So, do you think his wife knows?”

And a boisterous woman in a pink tracksuit gives her arteries some extra traffic by broadcasting, “and that bloody plumber still wanted to charge me!”

My stopwatch offers no quirky grabs. It only rudely demands acceleration. The yacht club sails toward us. Finally halfway, we anchor and embrace our minute’s rest. “A visit to the dentist’s is less painful,” I splutter, hands on hips- hungry for air.

Bob wheezes, “At least you get plenty of oxygen in the chair.” His hair is stuck firm to his head. We devour the sixty seconds, then turn, resolved, homeward bound. The wind, previously an ally, is now aggressive. I immediately feel I’m towing an old wooden bar fridge. An old wooden bar fridge bulging with brown rows of Coopers Stout.

The Esplanade’s skyline changes constantly. Majestic villas bravely protest the spread of Tuscan packing crates. A developer’s billboard stands loud among the concrete and the mesh of a building site. “Hurry! Only ONE left,” it screams impatiently.

“Now that’s optimism,” snorts Bob. This anorexic block is apparently destined to feature all of two yellow townhouses.

A cheery clot of ruddy sixty-somethings is caught by their chain of cars on a rise. T-shirts cling and drip and they chat brightly in the golden light of the sunrise as only the retired can. A champagne cork, sorry- Australian Sparkling Wine cork cuts an arc across the footpath like a failed firework. Each gent tips a crystal flute into which the hissing fizz is energetically spilled. “What’s the occasion boys?” I ask.

“Friday,” celebrates one of this chirpy clan as he hoists his breakfast drink. A gesture of sweaty fellowship.

“Amen,” I return.

“That will be us in thirty years Mickey,” puffs Bob.

“The cheapest champagne will be a hundred bucks a bottle by then.”

“Plus twenty five per cent GST.” But Bob is given to political alarm.

Pushing on towards the Broadway, we abandon our role models to their refreshments and their broad, leisurely days.

The stopwatch sternly announces that a scant two minutes stand between us and our best time of the summer. The Grand’s sandcastle shapes loom and I try to push myself quicker. “No,” my legs scream. I know deep in my soul that a root canal treatment is better than this.

“Listen legs,” I assert, “do as you are told. And stop talking. You can’t speak. This is not a Douglas Adams’ novel!”

Our finishing line (in many senses of the phrase) swims into happy view. I glance at my now completely despised watch. The Town Hall clock frowns down at us like a disappointed Senior Colts football coach. Again I spy the wandering hound, eagerly leaving his name on a sullen lamppost.

Swerving around some swaying walkers gobbles critical seconds.

“Eleven dollars for O-Rings! What’s the hell is an O-Ring?”

It’s the pink tracksuit, still expounding on the Secret Horrors of Dishwasher Repairs.

We make a desperate, final lunge- and are outside our target time. It was, however, another vigorous run and my pounding pulse is electric and exhilarating. We savour our slow cool down on the bumpy lawn that separates the Norfolk Island Pines from the sloping sands. After, easing along the veranda of the Grand, Bob inquires, “See you and Kerry in here for a beer tonight?”

“Magnificent idea,” I agree.

Yes, it is the weekend. The glorious escape. Promise and anticipation.

Our next dental appointment is not until Monday.

 

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Round 23 – Adelaide v West Coast: Optimistically and Misty-Optically

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I’m at the game tonight, but would’ve been happy at home as it’s the last Friday night, minor round clash to be called by Dennis Cometti. With his 1970’s AM radio drive time vocal stylings he’s become a cherished feature of our game. Combining this with precise description and fabulous wit has made him iconic.

“Gasper, the unfriendly post” is his best line in a galaxy of gems. Imagine his joy as the Sherrin was launched by the star Tiger and banged into the upright. How long must he have sat on that?

My personal metric indicating his influence is that every time I say in my head, “West Coast Eagles” I can only complete it in the voice of Dennis. And now like the famous definition of an intellectual: a man who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger, I challenge you to silently repeat, “West Coast Eagles” but not in the honeyed tones of Dennis. See? Impossible.

We saw the 2006 preliminary final at Footy Park between the Crows and Eagles in which we were ahead comfortably at half-time. Probably cursing us, a friend texted- We’re going to the GF. As Ben Cousins gathered disposals at will and shrugged off desperate, lunging Crows in the second half, and the result became certain a mate grunted, “Bloody Cousins is killing us. It’s like he’s on drugs.” Mmm.

Drafted as an emergency ruckman former Kapunda boy and church minister offspring Jonathan Giles is at his fourth AFL club having been at Port, Essendon, and most productively, the Giants. He enjoyed an interregnum at Sturt where he won the 2010 best and fairest, while his SANFL life started at Central District. I’d like him to next go back to Kapunda and win a flag, then go to Glenelg and do the same before finishing his career, like many a road movie, in Fort Lauderdale. His “Places I’ve Played Footy” Facebook app is busy.

Giles is brilliant tonight, and makes the Crow ringleader appear tired. Interviewed after the match, Sam Jacobs confessed, “The only one who could ever outreach me was the son of a preacher man.”

As has been the season’s pattern the home side is sloppy early, and save for a couple clean bursts, this endures all evening. The Eagles apply good pressure across the ground and we make catastrophic quantities of errors in every facet of the game from kicking to handballing to dropping easy marks to unplumbed decision-making, most notably when Lyons snapped at the Riverside goal and missed, instead of getting it to a team-mate in the square. I’m also certain that for their post-match meal some of the Crows even went the tofu option.

It takes the Crows twenty minutes to register a major and this comes through McGovern. At the other end the Coleman Medalist is murdering us, continuing the long relationship between grassy expanses, deadly accuracy and Kennedys. He gets five in a solid outing.

Gaff, Priddis and Shuey are getting industrial volumes of ball, and we don’t seem to be doing much about this. Having reinvented himself as a half-back flanker, former Hoodoo Gurus guitarist Brad Shepperd is going well. Good times for him, indeed.

Local highlights are rare, but Tex offers some after midnight insights with his deft footwork in the centre before it lobs to Eddie who goals. The competition’s biggest scoring forward line has a Bolivian prison evening with but two majors to its members.

Our third quarter is goalless. Someone later comments that the match felt like a forfeit. Let’s hope the Adelaide Crows’ 600th game was an exorcism.

Leaving a sullen Adelaide Oval as the West Coast Eagles song plays I realise where I’ve heard it before. It was in 1985 during the final credits of a (bad) Andrew McCarthy film.

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Courtney, cabernet and camels

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“Boxing Day Blues

I know that I let you down

You’re not keen on what you found

Courtney Barnett has many musical skills. Blistering guitar and compelling deadpan vocals, but chief among her gifts is crafting exquisite lyrics. The Melbournian uses sparse, arresting questions with potency.

When’s the funeral?

Do you want me to come?

I like how within a couplet she creates a backstory of considerable heartbreak. The questions speak of a sudden schism, destruction visited upon an intimate relationship. It’s sad.

Questions hang, and generate an ocean of regret. Courtney knows when to provide space for her listeners. The song breathes and gently sobs. It’s stunning.

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In the days after we flew back from Queensland I chaperoned into our house a dreadful Clare shiraz. It was as if the grapes had been grown unnaturally out the back of a chip shop and the wine made, even more unnaturally, in the shed of an Ipswich car detailer.

I then ventured to the safer cabernet country of Langhorne Creek. Bleasdale is a ripper winery and its Mulberry Tree from 2013 is most companionable on these bracing evenings. The luscious fruit was an insulating treat, and I’ll engage it again soon. Friday looks likely. In Singapore it’d cost one of your limbs: prosthetic or God given. Here there’s change from twenty. Genius.

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Despite being well beyond its sesquicentenary Adelaide continues to grow up. It’s moving from big town to city. An example of this is how the Torrens Parade Grounds was recently transformed into the Alpine Winter Village.

Borrowing heavily from German Christmas markets there was mulled wine, bratwurst and sauerkraut. Decidedly warmer than Munich in December it was brief fun under last Sunday’s pale rays. As it was booked out we couldn’t go ice skating (probably not me anyhow) but found a table and drank (and ate) in the continental troposphere.

And as you’d expect in this wintry European enclave there was a string of camels! The huge, silent beasts were led through along the village paths, their bulbous, poop-matted knees brushing my shoulders as they went past like noiseless, coffee-coloured combi-vans. Just like Bavaria!

Of course, our boys scampered off about the village to do some exploring. They returned, fresh camel turds smeared and speckled across their coats, ready for our evening at the football.

We look forward to the return of the Alpine Winter Village. But the camels can go back to the desert.

The Gobi will do.

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a biscuit, a pie and a lost tooth

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When I was a boy there was a holy trinity of biscuits.

Bush Biscuits were summer afternoons at the Kapunda Swimming Pool. Skinny and brown as nuts we’d munch these while listening to Australian Crawl on someone’s cassette player. No doubt a TDK C-90 tape. These biscuits were impossibly bland- it was as if scientists had extracted their flavour in a hidden lab. If it rained you could shelter under one for they had the surface area of a picnic blanket. I still don’t know why we held such affection for them.

Then there was the Rolls Royce. The Iced Vo-Vo. Sweet and stylish, with desiccated coconut and pink fondant and strawberry jam these represent those moments of wholesome joy that punctuate childhood. These remain the anti- Milk Arrowroot; the biscuit that shouldn’t exist.

And then there’s the Salada. It’s a plain cracker that’s lasted. Forget the wholemeal or light versions. Go the original. Just as they come, or with butter, or cheese. Best of all, with vegemite, made into a sandwich so you can squeeze them together and make little brown worms. For me these are primary school and sharing these with old mate Greggy at recess before running up to the tiny oval and dobbing the footy.

And in a week of petite milestones, our boys have discovered the Salada. I’m just a little bit pleased and the memories evoked by this dry biscuit, again probably a culinary mystery, have sprinkled my week with nostalgia. When their mum went shopping last Sunday their hysteria was obvious.

“Mum, get Saladas!”

“No! Two packets,” demanded the other.

Later, I pinched one for myself and it was Abba and Grease and the Sturt Footy Club and the Jumbo Prince and Happy Days on the tele.

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While the wife was buying these dry crackers on Sunday the boys and I wandered up to Semaphore. It is a vibrant, eclectic village, possessing the best strip in Adelaide, and we happened upon the Semaphore Bakehouse for lunch. Our next moment of celebration then occurred as we sat at an outside table and devoured our pies.

As the punters and their dogs and the shuffling folks drifted past us boys sat there and worked away at our food and it was fun. How Australian, I thought, to enjoy a steaming pie of a sunny, June morning? As tradition dictates Max removed the lid- he prefers deconstruction as his modus operandi for interrogating his world, while Alex applied himself with messy vigour to the challenge. It was wonderful.

There was but one injury. Burnt roof of mouth to their Dad.

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It was threatening for some time. Then on Thursday it happened. Max lost a front tooth. And with this his face is forever changed, destined to march to an adulthood of deepened voice and hardening cheeks and the loss of innocence that every parent dreads.

Of course it mattered little to him, but he enjoyed the healthy handful of coins left by the Tooth Fairy, and as we set off for school this morning these were clinking away in his pocket.

Winter has rushed upon us this last week. But as we move through our routines these biscuits and pies and a tiny tooth have allowed some golden rays to bend down towards us.

As it’s Friday, I might treat myself to an Iced Vo Vo.

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Finals Week 1 – Western Bulldogs v Adelaide Crows: Disco-Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes

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It was a moment of unfussy beauty.

At home and at the MCG we were looking at the goals, and dared to hope that he’d kick it straight. The distance wouldn’t bother him. But then Jenkins rushed forward, and we were fearful that the footy might go his way. He’d hardly touched it all night.

So why wouldn’t he have a ping? Minutes before, from a set shot, he’d brutalised a goal from sixty, in a statement of daring and confidence. Our game affixes much currency to the physical, to risk-taking, to muscular magnificence. And many would have rightly expected this from a swaggering centre-half forward. We could have expected a captain’s goal.

But we want our leaders to see what others can’t, and to show the way with the brain, and not only their brawn.

Until this point the camera had ignored Charlie Cameron, and then he appeared just beyond the goal square. It was an exquisite stratagem. With a low, spearing pass Tex found him, and he goaled. Done.

Taylor Walker has displayed enormous bravery in this season of unspeakable tragedy, his first as captain. He has moved from lovable country lad to a figure of purpose and clarity. On the field, in his debut final as leader, with only moments remaining, this is his finest effort. It wasn’t a pack mark, or inspirational goal, or brutish bump. It was an act of intelligent selflessness.

It was an act of such clarity that I wonder if Tex had recently read Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

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About the only Latin I know is the phrase in medias res which means, “in the middle things” and it’s often used with reference to a story that begins in the midst of action. If the Roman satirist Horace was at the footy Saturday night he’d have recognised this in the explosion of dramatic events beginning with the opening bounce.

South Australia has again debated switching to the Eastern Standard time to align with the bulk of the nation’s population. The Crows were similarly uncertain about their clocks for they were their customary five or so minutes late in taking to the field. In that period the Bulldogs kicked four of the five opening goals.

Eddie Betts then occupied that rarefied space in which we all knew that no matter how many opponents were between he and the ball, no matter what cruel trajectory the Sherrin took before or after it bounced, that he would welcome it into his sure hands, and kick a goal. I was reminded of the Frank Zappa song from Just Another Band From LA fittingly titled, “Eddie Are You Kidding?”

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Red dirt and whirly-whirlies and haunted, silent pubs. Broken Hill was our first stop on the road to Queensland. We wandered about the Living Desert sculptures just out of town. It is a place where sky and sand and heat and people connect. In the hot morning sun we started pulling up the tent pegs prior to the long drive across to Cobar.

Our caravan park neighbours were packing up too, and the woman made me think of the diverse country this is. She was handsome; on the cusp of middle age, but wearing a blue bikini, and although it was 2001, she was smoking a pipe. I hadn’t seen anyone smoking a pipe since my primary school principal, who’d patrol the corridors, leaving an olfactory, if not educational impact.

Until Tex arrived I’d thought little about Broken Hill and the Bikini-Clad, Pipe-Smoking Woman. But I like that Tex similarly brings a singularity of unique thinking to his game, influenced by the place that gave us Pro Hart and Wake in Fright and the Flying Doctor.

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Neither side could outrun the other. At various moments Stringer, Dangerfield, Dahlhaus, Sloane and Dickson all seemed to charge into the straight with the baton a pumping, and the finishing tape mere yards away. But then the opponent would surge, and we’d gasp.

It was unrelenting entertainment. It was a Tarantino movie, a Ramones album, and it concluded in a Flemington photo-finish.

Finally, with a clever dispatching of a Bulldog on the wing, Tex seized the footy like a chalice, ran methodically, bouncing twice, before approaching the fifty metre arc.

With his sure disposal honed by long afternoons dominating kick-to-kick at Willyama High School, and then among men at the North Broken Hill footy club, he took an inward breath and sent the ball inward to Cameron.

Our captain had just won the match.

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