1

Singapore and Me

laneway

The captain is a one-armed dwarf

He’s throwing dice along the wharf

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King

So take this ring

“Singapore” by Tom Waits

This island is a photocopier.

Delivered and installed on a Monday, everyone gathers around in an uncomfortable semi-circle. However, the collating, duplexing, and high-end printing means we’re swiftly smitten. We ooh and aah. Then, the boss has a turn. Attempting a scan/sort/staple/wrong ‘un he messes it up spectacularly.

They’re technologically exciting, doing whizzy things beyond the boundaries of your competence but, do you know what? You can’t love them. And photocopiers, I’ve discovered, don’t love you back. Ever.

Within weeks, the most frightening phrase in English will blink onto the condescending screen.

Add toner

Then, the phantom paper jams start.

I admire Singapore, but leave not having fallen in love. And it’s sad to not fall in love, because it’s the only place I’ve lived that’s not grabbed my full affection. Maybe in time it will. I know you shouldn’t compare siblings, but as our ferry bumped into the dock in Dover, I fell for England.

*

Koh Lanta has the best beach I’ve seen. Long Beach. Flying into Krabi, it took nearly three hours to get there, but was worth it. When you go to a travel agency, take a booklet from the shelf, and gaze at the aquamarine ocean, flawless sand, and Thai beach resort, it’s Koh Lanta that you’re staring at.

We were there in March, and every day I was on a lounge bed, with book and beer, gazing out at the shimmering water as our boys played by the gentle gulf. These are golden moments, and I know they’re as good as it gets. I know how lucky I am.

Then, I thought about the fragility of beauty, and how infinitesimal our lives might be.

*

Our boys began Auskick in Singapore. Suddenly, they were there, flopping about in their green and gold Sharks guersneys. Of course, the best, most instructive moments as a parent are those when you spy on your kids.

Yes, they’re frequently appalling in your company, but maybe that’s the key function of the family. It’s the moments that we strive for; when you see them, getting it right, with nobody looking. We enjoy those.

I was umpiring the adjacent game, and glanced over at the boys. In a wonderful, painterly scene they were holding hands. I was instantly teary. When I looked back a few minutes later Alex and Max were entirely indifferent to the crazy arc of the ball, and wrestling each other. And the next time Alex was on the ground chatting with his opponent, while Max had wandered off. He was putting an orange cone onto his head, as if Grand Master of a peculiar branch of the KKK.

*

Like denying Warney cheese slices, living with two boys (and a wife and a helper) in a small apartment is cruel. It just is. Sometimes, we can’t adjust to our domestic environments.

I now want harsh light, and space, and private greenery. I want to rush the boys out the back door, and to wheel my own bin out into the quiet Thursday street.

Here in Singapore we swim daily, but are drowning in an obscenely overpriced jail cell. Now, the door’s open, and my harmonica’s in my back pocket. Pssst. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m anticipating my lawn back home as much as anyone.

*

A Tim Winton enthusiast since university I bought Eyrie when home eighteen months back.

I read his words hungrily. The protagonist, Tom Keely, is archetypal of the author’s males: in an emotional crisis of his own invention, and scrabbling destructively within his relationships. For me it was significant when Keely considered reaching out to his sister, living in Singapore.

Singapore. The word zapped me. How exciting. Singapore. Frisson. Terrific that she lives in the Republic. What a plucky and daring soul.

Then, the bizarrely delayed realisation.

Wait a minute. I live there! We’re brave too. Despite the tropical location isn’t this just the dreary triangle of home, work, shops. Home, work, shops? Adelaidean suburbia, but hot and humid? Only if we let it.

Why is it that our lives occasionally read better on paper than in their practical expression?

There’s something incendiary in Winton’s single word that burnt me, and gave me some gruff underage footy coaching. Periodically, we all need some third person perspective.

*

At the Meadow within Gardens by the Bay, in the sizzling sun, with Marina Bay Sands soaring over us, we stretch out on our blanket with Heineken pints, squinting, and drinking in Vance Joy’s sunny pop.

Music festivals can remind you, somewhat savagely, of the youth that has now sprinted past you. But, the Laneway Festival in Singapore is among my highlights. Off we went. Each January.

Thirty years ago we’d be thirty foot under water, but the land reclamation here is mind-blowing. The Raffles Hotel on Beach Street is now downtown and not seaside. The home of the Sling has been slung inland.

The Laneway Festival is Australian, reaffirming, and vital. The wife pats me on the knee, and says, you know, this is not a bad life.

And it’s not.

*

Once taken, Europe’s an incurable drug. It’d been nine years since we climbed off Heathrow’s tarmac, and we’d often talked of the first country we’d take our boys. Italy? Greece? Spain?

So, on a Saturday just before Christmas, we left Asia, stopped during the afternoon in North Africa, and then arrived in Europe that night.

I love that I’m still a country kid who finds astonishment in this. Munich, and sleet slashed across the autobahn, battering our taxi. One day. Three continents, three time zones, three airline bread rolls.

I’m grateful that life in Singapore made this possible.

*

Our world shrinks, and shrinks.

I remember the half hour journey from Kapunda to Robertstown for boyhood football, standing huge and preternaturally hairy man-childs, and cold showers and colder pasties. It was to venture to the edge of the world.

But now, clinging to the equator ahead of my departure I see how small the infinite country of Australia is.

Many argue nostalgia’s the memory of childhood food. Today my mind’s swirling with images of Mum’s sausage rolls, tuna mornay topped with cheese, and plastic cups of Bobo cordial.

It’s time to go home.

BoBo

0

Round 9- Adelaide v Fremantle: Colin Sylvia’s mother says

dr hook

In even greater news the Fremantle Dockers have adapted Dr Hook’s 1972 hit, “Sylvia’s Mother” as their new club song

Colin Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Colin Sylvia’s busy

Too busy to come to the phone’

Colin Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Colin Sylvia’s tryin’

To start a new life of his own’

Colin Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Colin Sylvia’s happy

So why don’t you leave him alone?’

With their gargantuan pressure evident immediately Fremantle forces an error, and Mundy goals for the Dockers. Walters snaps tidily and it’s two majors to zip. Freo is big and fast and skilful. Adelaide is bedazzled. Then Ballantyne (Gandhi would doubtless find him punchable) gets one too.

Evoking the joyous regularity of Warney jagging one back from outside leg and onto an Englishman’s off stump, Betts kicks a cracker from the pocket. Moments later his protégé Cameron slots it truly.

The rain is torrential. The splotches of poncho colour give the screen’s sweeping vista a Monet quality. We’re getting the Fox telecast here in Singapore, and the absence of BT gives the experience a Christmassy quality.

Fittingly, Adelaide’s third goal is courtesy of Ellis- Yolmen, meaning all three have come from indigenous players. While Fremantle dominated the opening scenes, the Crows have since applied themselves productively.

The second quarter opens with both sides slugging away in a scrappy yet engaging affair. Cameron takes a super grab reminding me of Mick Jagger’s comment to the crowd about his drummer during their live album Get Your Ya Ya’s Out, “Charlie’s good tonight.”

Suban gets one for the visitors with an impressive left foot poke to give them back the ascendency. Like a series-winning moment in Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, Dangerfield then kicks the ball into the back of an oblivious teammate’s head, giving the footy shows footage for tomorrow.

Adelaide’s controlling the ball, and Betts slots one from the boundary with an exquisite, almost slow motion left foot checkside punt, ensuring his 2015 highlights DVD is already into its second hour. He’s become the most watchable Crow since McLeod.

Against the flow Fyfe takes a telling contested mark. He’s in Exile on Main St form, and has had important touches. Talia punches the footy away from Pavlich to save a late goal, and show his sublime All Australian skill. Half time.

Are you aware of Crows Forever? It’s a bequest programme founded in response to the insufficiency of the billion-dollar AFL underwriting the Pride of South Australia. So, I’m bequeathing my modest assets to the Adelaide Football Club. However, the seventeen future cats my octogenarian self is destined to share house with are going to be disappointed when they read that they’re out of the will.

The good Adelaide Tom Lynch, and not the evil Gold Coast version, starts the second half with a wily conversion to give us confidence. Dangerfield and Fyfe are magnificent. Each is symphonic, brave and artistic. Punctuating this the star Docker goals to claw his purple haze back.

West Torrens royalty Pavlich has been quiet, and puts the Dockers but a point behind. Walters benefits from panicked Crow kicking, and they surrender the advantage.

Both sides trade majors in a pulsating period. Fremantle’s death row pressure is again evident as Adelaide’s defensive work stutters. Monster truck Jenkins ties things up, and moments later Pav gets his just desserts. Three quarter time. If this were East Enders I’d make a cuppa tea. But it’s hot Singapore, so beer is medically necessary.

Was it only twenty years ago that the Dockers had their first game against Richmond at the MCG?

Ill-fated forward Chris Groom took four marks, yet only had three possessions. Following his fourth grab, did he simply sit on the ball and refuse to budge, like a toddler in a supermarket aisle? Half back flanker Todd Ridley received two Brownlow votes for the best twelve-possession performance in the history of our code.

In the last stanza Fremantle kick a goal. Another score review. Touched. The match is like a gripping forth innings run chase. It’s Brett Lee and Kaspa at Edgbaston during the 2005 Ashes. Half way through the quarter we’ve a nil all FA Cup thriller with both sides bursting and holding, bursting and holding.

Barlow then gossamers it from the boundary to put them up by over two majors. The Dockers surge. Pleasingly, Pearce is off with his kick at goal, but Adelaide is being trooped to the gallows.

We trap the ball. The clock gallops. Another behind. We pump it in, but there’s three Dockers smothering our square. It comes out. It splutters back. Our final quarter is gallant. Dangerfield loads one through from the boundary. Score review. A behind. Fremantle win.

The good Sandilands- Aaron and not evil Kyle, records sixty-nine hit outs, while collectively Fyfe and Dangerfield have nearly eighty possessions. While we’ve luxuriated in our chairs, these two have played us Let It Bleed, and also Revolver.

As my loved ones sleep I now sit silently, and morosely, staring into the hot dark, looking tearfully out at the eighteen wheeled truck I don’t have, and feeling forlorn about my football team, and myself, like a wretched character in a bad country song.

Like, possibly, a Dr Hook song.

truck

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Adelaide Test, Australia v India – Day Two: Mitch Johnson’s moustache releases album of Boney M covers

oval

It’s disappointing. I’ve looked closely. Not a single member of the Australian team is wearing Dunlop Volleys.

*

Rain at Adelaide Oval. December is Singapore’s wettest month. In 2012 there were fifteen deluging inches across the festive period. However with connotations of human and infrastructural failure the term flooding is not used here. So what is it called? Ponding. Sometimes Singapore presents with the exasperating naiveté of a Famous Five novel, but less ginger beer.

Clarke’s broke back remains as suspect as Watto’s twitter declaration he read and rather enjoyed Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. Nonetheless as the morning opens the captain resumes, and his appearance at the crease is stirring.

If, while running between the wickets a fit Clarke were to piggyback Clive Palmer, he’d be in less pain. We start brightly. Somehow, he’s batting with freedom and authority.

An early boundary, and Clarke moves past 63. Along with 99.94 it’s already a profound number, but forever laden with tragedy. The sky is gloomy and the lights are on. Thickening drizzle means we stop with Smith on the cusp of his century.

It’s annoying. In Singapore it rains properly, torrentially. Like Fev on the frothies; it’s not two stubbies of mid-strength and then home to do some knitting.

*

Steve Smith gets his fifth Test century. The poignant moments continue with the young Sydneysider moving across to the large 408 painted on the grass, where he raises his bat and gazes skyward.

His narrative is increasingly exciting, and like celebrated batsman such as Ponting, Hayden, and the Waughs, an unforgiving mixture of success and the ignominy of being dropped have challenged his cricketing character. All five hundreds have come in first innings.

The showers again come. Like the ancient German farmers of the Barossa used to muse, “It always rains at the end of a dry spell.”

I sometimes peek at the cricket on a subcontinental website. I know, I know. It’s a hybrid with Channel 9 vision and England’s Sky Sports commentary; reviving and less hyperbolic than Slats, Tubby and JB.

Punctuated by Indian TV advertising, which offers cultural insights into this mesmerizing country’s aspirations and mores. When you’re next in Hyderabad, and need to know about buying a Ford Fiesta, just message me.

*

And Clarke clips Aaron behind square for a single, and a record seventh ton in Adelaide. Surpassed by none for complexity and dreadful context. Rather than festivity it’s a moment of beauty and emotional respite. The batting has bristling purpose, while India’s bowling lacks creativity and poison.

With the milestones achieved, and dismal light descending, Australia gets a-galloping. Smith clubs them, agriculturally. On a December day when the weather is more Aberdeen than Adelaide, the rain again intervenes. The ground staff has enjoyed more exercise than the cricketers.

Last season I caught some cricket on Singapore’s pay television service, Starhub. Which of the following about it is true?

1) At every point, of every day, on at least one channel, there must be a shark documentary.

2) Such is the galaxy of programming I once discovered Everybody Loves Raymond was on two channels. Simultaneously.

3) During an exceptionally pornographic episode of Escape to the Country, the host’s cleavage was pixelated while she showed a Cumbrian cottage to yet another unrealistic couple from Shepherd’s Bush.

4) All of the above

*

You’re starting a band to do songs about cricket! What would it be named? There’s only one choice.

The Duckworth Lewis Method

An Irish pop group featuring Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, they’ve recorded two albums of vaudevillian cricket tunes. The Duckworth Lewis Method channels Noel Coward on their foppish ode to the Gatting Ball, “Jiggery Pokery.” It includes the only known reference in cricketing culture, no, human history, to the contrabassoon

It was…
Jiggery pokery, trickery chokery, how did he open me up?
Robbery! Muggery! Aussie skull duggery, out for a buggering duck.
What a delivery, I might as well have been holding a contrabassoon,
Jiggery pokery, who was this nobody making me look a buffoon?
Like a blithering old baffoon…

*

Around midnight play recommences. Adelaide Oval is empty although plenty of folk are out the back, oblivious. Is this the cricket? Derby Day at Flemington? Happy hour at the Ramsgate? Wish I were there.

Smith gets to one fifty. Great knock. At slip, Kohli drops him. Shabby. Warnie’s commentating. Our smartest dumb bloke, but Australia’s best cricket brain since Ian Chappell. India finally claims Clarke’s wicket. With light quality similar to a Hindley Street nightclub, the players go off.

Can we campaign to bring back the Player Comfort Meter? More impenetrable than the Large Hadron Collider, and seemingly developed by a consortium of the CSIRO, NASA and the Ponds Institute, Tony Greig often concluded his Weather Wall segment in a distantly menacing way:

The Player Comfort Meter shows thirty so it should be good for batting this morning. However with a chance of thunderstorms across the afternoon here at the Gabba, it could quickly change. Beware the moors, lads. Stick to the roads.

*

Umpire Erasmus calls stumps. Was he a villain in Tintin in the Congo? Within the medieval manor of North Adelaide, the Queen’s Head on Kermode Street is surely roaring. I’ll stop typing now and head out for a beer.

tintin

2

AFL Round 23 – Adelaide v St Kilda: Mr Squiggle and Dr Smith, trapped aboard the Jupiter 2

robot

Remember the cranky blackboard that Mr. Squiggle used for an easel?

Blackboard’s catch-phrases are applicable to the 2014 Crows. All on their payroll should heed the be-chalked one’s gruff proclamations.

“Oh hurrry up!”

“Hmmph.”

“Double hmmph!”

“Booorrriing.”

In 1999 mere months after Adelaide’s second, and seemingly final premiership, Mr Squiggle was axed. However, there wouldn’t be a kid on your street who’s heard of Gus the Snail or Bill the Steam Shovel.

It has been too long.

The Adelaide Football Club is the now underperforming Harvey Norman salesperson who previously played bass in the long defunct, forgotten band that opened for Powderfinger, before a half-empty Thebby twenty years back.

They’re becoming the quiz night question, that no-one gets. Not even that young, skinny physics teacher who ambled in alone, and is drinking diet coke.

The autopsy states the Crows’ season died as the siren sounded in Sydney when Richmond knocked off the minor premiers. But misery can be complex. Was it actually last week against North? And the defibrillator was whirring during those home losses against the Tigers, West Coast and Melbourne.

Or was it already on the fritz way back on that balmy Saturday in April after the Swans spanked us at home? When we were 0-3 with the ambulance already shrieking towards War Memorial Drive?

*

St Kilda start brightly, and register the first major. It takes the Crows ten scrappy minutes to score courtesy of Taylor Walker. The visitors dominate play, but fail to assemble any scoreboard pressure. Kicking like Mark Waugh used to bat, he then gets another.

A Tex roost is among our code’s joys.

Plainly dejected, Bruce McAvaney has left the growl home at Glenelg South. His descriptions reflect the stature of the match. It is an exhibition game between the locals, who, like Bob Dylan in concert, are maddeningly erratic. And we’ve got the AFL’s eighteenth best side.

In a spurt, Adelaide inserts five goals and smotes the Saints. Suddenly, it’s an unpleasant mismatch, like a professional footballer setting fire to a hired dwarf on Mad Monday.

At one terrifying point in the second quarter the commentary team go a complete minute without mentioning Lenny Hayes’ retirement. The Channel 7 receptionist has me on hold, and then, over the muzak, I hear Tom Harley reminding us the Saints star is the all-time leading tackler. Wow-wee!

Relieved, I hang up.

Adelaide and St Kilda exchange easy goals early in the second half. Whilst there are six-pointers aplenty, the contest now has less fizz than flat Fanta. Mrs Rutten is well thrilled as her Ben kicks a goal with his last kick in AFL, due to a handball from that most scarce of footballing creatures, the unselfish, crumbing forward. Eddie Betts is then compensated with the fifth major of his own in a fifty goal season.

Of some interest to the crowd is the third stanza moment when the Crouch brothers are on deck together for the first time. They’ll provide substantial midfield grunt for many seasons. Of course, they’re the first siblings to wear the tri-colours since the Jarmans, who are now providing substantial midriff grunt.

Game over, but questions remain.

Did Farren Ray and Spencer White co-star in a string of 1930’s Hollywood musicals? Why is Leigh Matthews still in the media, when Basil Zampelis is offering his considered insights? Did James Podsiadly play for Geelong? And, if you had the choice, who would you take to a Hugh Grant rom-com: David Armitage or Samantha Armytage?

*

It has been too long.

Listen. You can hear it. On a distant AM radio. So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999. Yes, it is Prince. When Mark Bickley last thrust the cup aloft, 1999, somehow, remarkably, hadn’t yet happened. Like The Jetsons, the song was in the delicious, crazy future.

With an official mission launch date of October 16, 1997, Jupiter 2 of the cult TV series Lost in Space was, at least narratively, drifting silently about the galaxy when The Crows last triumphed. And Dr Zachary Smith was the show’s enemy agent and saboteur.

If he were to burst flamboyantly into the 2014 Crows’ post-season review he’d surely exclaim to one and all, “You bubble-headed booby!”

mr squiggle

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AFL Round 13- Adelaide v North Melbourne: Western Democracy and the Wally Grout Snack Bar

nick

Is there a better-named wine than Jim Barry’s Cover Drive?

A classy cabernet sauvignon, it’s been a highlight since we arrived in Adelaide from Singapore. Earlier in the week, some old school friends said, “Let’s go to the Prince Albert.” I’m happy they didn’t say, “Let’s get a Prince Albert” as that would’ve been excruciating and brash.

So there I was in the dining room of the Prince Albert Hotel, considering my glass of earthy red. Years ago a mate met Nick Cave following a gig at the Thebby. Instead of the usual, fawning fan stuff, he asked, “Who do you think was the better cover driver? David Gower or GS Chappell?” Cave replied promptly. Australia’s thirty-fifth Test captain.

While contemplating cricket, the Clare Valley and music NME once described as that of the “gothic psycho-sexual apocalypse” a text invited me to the Crows and Kangaroos fixture!

In our flat and featureless city, Adelaide Oval is a soaring basilica. Moving through the Saturday evening of our screen-doored suburbs, I’m struck by the darkness. In Singapore there are few shadowy spaces; it’s a casino, it’s drowning in loud light. As Nick Cave might note, there’s comfort in the gloom. He’s not a man of the tropics.

Its website brags, “Adelaide Oval will exceed Australian design standards for stadium toilet facilities by 30 percent.” My now equatorial bladder applaudes, but does this mean those instructive pissoir queue tête-à-têtes are cut by a third?

This is my first time at the new ground.

The redevelopment is striking, however the timeless features endure: Edwardian scoreboard, Hill, Moreton Bay Figs. Despite the half-billion dollar investment, the flora triumphs. Which other major stadium has trees?

We head to the new David Hookes Terrace Bar. Above the fridge, a glass case contains a poignant tableau: stumps, cap and Hookesy’s Gray-Nicolls double scoop bat. On tap there’s West End Draught, but there’s no mortal situation I can conceive in which I’d actually drink it. My James Squire Pale Ale is tasty, and I recall my 1989 visit to the Gabba’s now demolished Wally Grout Snack Bar.

The opening period is dour until Eddie Betts slots a boundary line snap from in front of the Gavin Wanganeen Stand. It’s a wonderful kick, and my friend, R. Bowden, notes that unlike those at Football Park, the pockets are shallow, so we could see more of these. It’ll be fascinating as the idiosyncrasies of this new/old venue emerge.

Podsiadly performs with energetic imagination. In the third quarter a huge moon hangs like a Monet above the Max Basheer Stand, while on the wing far below Pods takes an equally luminescent mark. I understand why Geelong released him, but unlike mature Crows recruits Ronnie Burns and Wayne Carey, he is a success. Vitally, he also kicks two rippers.

Beyond an early patch when they suddenly score three majors, the Kangaroos don’t threaten. Their forward line’s dysfunctional, and across the field North claim only nine contested marks. Petrie’s imperceptible, and extraterrestrial umpiring and absurdly generous teammates provide Thomas with four goals.

Dangerfield is thrillingly robust, but doesn’t dominate. This, I suggest, is heartening as the Crows can be a single-engine Cessna. Half-back Brodie Smith rebounds resourcefully with missile-like disposal. His third term conversion from fifty is telling.

The Roos’ premium player is Brent Harvey. Despite his autumnal age, he’s still quick and frequently finds space. Like King Lear, the time to relax has not yet arrived. Someone yells out, “Good work Harvey, but Joe Hockey needs you to play until you’re seventy!”

Taylor Walker demonstrates confidence. His vision and command is soldierly, and he takes five pack marks. But his kicking fluctuates bizarrely. R. Bowden says that he appears to have a wooden leg. However, with swaggering muscularity he asserts himself like a thirsty publican.

It’s the most fun I’ve had at Adelaide Oval since the 2006 Ashes Test. I was there on Day Five when with 4/49 in England’s second innings, SK Warne bowled us to a far-fetched, illustrious victory.

As my train rushes through the wintry velvet, I ponder Nick Cave, and the joy of different Cover Drives.

mbf

 

3

AFL Round 9- Adelaide v Collingwood: Chernobyl FC still likely to host Crows’ entire 2015 pre-season

Image

Forking out a week’s salary to see Milli Vanilli at the Vienna Konzerthaus. In 2014, this is Adelaide Oval for the Crows fan.

Magnificent arena, miming charlatans.

Can anyone tell me if Adelaide has recently beaten Collingwood in a significant match?

No, I didn’t think so.

Connecting inside the centre square during the 2002 Crows and Magpies preliminary final at the MCG, Anthony Rocca’s third-quarter drop punt went straight through. The Sherrin had covered seventy ghastly metres.

It was an astonishing goal. It was a horrible goal. 88,960 people remember it. Although Rocca was down the City End, everyone around us at the Punt Road End knew as he kicked it.

How could Collingwood lose after that?

*

It was a month before I got married. We decided to go after the Crows defeated Melbourne in the semi-final. Now, this was a game of graphic mood swings. Like K. Rudd in a midnight cabinet meeting. Apparently.

Some Kapunda schoolmates and I drove over from Adelaide. In microscopic Singapore a decade on, and squeezed into a condominium with two boisterous boys (and one wife), there’s an otherworldly quality to this idea. Time passes.

Sweeping road, conversation, music.

You Am I escorted us into Victoria with their superb album, Hourly, Daily. Evoking boyhood and backyards, Kangaroos supporter Tim Rogers moves us through the skimming bliss and little deaths of suburbia.

The loose narrative arc recalls Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, and the laconically pretty, “Please Don’t Ask Me To Smile” especially stirs memories of this weekend.

When I was in grade six

I used to hold open a door for a girl

And she called me a wimp

Said there’s just no need

To be so fcking polite

I politely agreed with her

I think she was right

Tradition urges a break at Horsham’s White Hart, before pushing on to our Carlton digs, and an animated slurp at the University Hotel.

Saturday. Preliminary final. Sluggish breakfast. Wander about the Docklands. Young & Jackson. Stroll to Jolimont. The footy. Disappointment.

*

Not being bucks and hens show types, we instead had an afternoon at the Victoria Park races in front of the heritage-listed grandstand. It was a sunny Caulfield Cup day, and Northerly saluted.

And the imposing gelding also collected the W.S. Cox Plate a week later, about three hours after we were married on the lawns at Cummins House, a couple furlongs from Morphettville racecourse.

*

Dane Swan is an ugly duckling. Despite years of resistance, he’s now among my favourite footballers. He presents as a dilettante. His expression is of joyless slogging on an assembly line. At any point, he could simply walk away. It is his unlikeliness, that is, well, likable.

It was Taylor Walker’s return following a serious knee injury. Last we saw, he sported a Broken Hill mullet, but now he models a Berlin coif and post-ironic hipster moustache. He could have launched into Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now. Tex was rusty, kicking four behinds, but got the pill seventeen times.

Adelaide and Collingwood often play close, scrambling matches. On this balmy May night, both miss opportunities. Neither grasps the ascendency. It’s pulsating.

Travis Cloke checks himself into the cloakroom. An early fumbled chest mark sets a dismal tone for the black and white power forward, and he remains ineffectual. His opponent, wunderkind Daniel Talia, demonstrates how he’s overtaken former tricolour Phil Davis.

Showing us his protean composure in traffic yet again, Scott Pendlebury is the evening’s best Magpie. When next juggling crates of live chooks by a feverish intersection, in, say, Ho Chi Minh City, I want him to chaperone me across the road, between the cars, honking trucks, and zipping motorcycles. Surely, a Pendlebury Brownlow’s coming.

Although there’s only a solitary goal in the final term, it’s oddly magnetic football. At the Boomarang Bar we know the Crows are never certainties until they’re up by fifty points with fifty seconds left. Eddie Betts is the scorer, and we hold on.

Our season flickers.

0

The cobra and the condominium

 

williard

 

This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, a lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head.

The Dude, The Big Lebowski

Condominium living with two young boys is to be imprisoned within an endless St Kilda players’ function- minus the moments of deep introspection, and wholesome civic values. It’s occasionally beyond challenging. It’s at the heart of our predicament. To stay in Singapore or head home?

Australia is lucky. Although threatened, a chief reason is the backyard. Here five million Singaporeans wrestle on a napkin. It’s a quarter the size of Adelaide. It’s berserk. There’s a plan to surge to seven million. How can we continue in such crushing lunacy?

Mercifully, nearby is bike-riding, footy-dobbing, scooter-crashing open space, straddling the canal. Recently, as the boys played, an English jogger merrily pointed out the assorted cobra nests. Frenetic construction means homeless snakes slink elsewhere. Obsessed by these reptiles, I’m Willard to the cobras’ Colonel Kurtz. I need to confront one. Not in the zoo. Up the river. Or at a bus stop. We best leave Singapore before I do.

Our school’s in the shadows of Orchard Road, and sometimes, skulking and coiling, cobras come a-callin’. Slouching past, the groundsman saw one inside the PTA office. The PTA president, a bellowing, volcanic empress, sat at her desk, focussing fiercely on her PTA-ing; fabulously unaware of the poised snake. The groundsman stomped. “Watch out! There’s a hideous, poisonous creature! Get out! Get out!” He yelled to the cobra.

I intermittently amble along Alexander Canal to The Boomarang (sic) Bar at Robertson Quay. It shows the AFL on big screens, hypnotic altars. Settling on a stool in the sultry noise, I buy a beer. Football and refreshment finished, I glance at the bill.

Tiger Pint- $15.01

“Excuse me,” I ask, “Is this correct?”

“Yes?”

“The $15 part. I get. Sort of,” I fucking offer, “The government doesn’t want people to enjoy themselves. Ever. It is an obstacle to the singular, undying aim of zealous National Service. But One Cent? Really?”

The bartender blinks. “Sir, this is the appropriate price.”

I can live in a city that cheerfully steals $15 from me for a beer, but my Principles of Drinking, and interior cash register, cannot stomach $15.01. In The Big Lebowski Walter Sobchak hollers, “Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?”

Singapore is a pubescent with an attendant sense of self. Its 2013 Grand Prix concert headliner? Justin Beiber. Truly? Is Barnsey retired? The Choir Boys doing a bikie wedding? Metallica has toured; surely they could have been seduced by the petrochemical /banking /biotechnological coin.

Grands Prix peddle aspirational fantasy and boorish volumes of din. We moved here to engage with what we don’t understand, but are snarling motorsport devotees Beliebers? I can’t connect F1 to my fuzzy, involuntary construct of JB. It’s a funny joint, this Singapore.

The government aims to protect its citizenry. Buses and trains are gruesomely crowded; fetid, heaving confines. A billboard campaign directs commuters to

Protect yourself against unwanted sexual harassment

It’s arse-about. Yes to empowerment against predators. But I think an alternate message should be disseminated. I’d suggest, ”Hey you! Shithead. Keep your stinkin’ hands to yourself!” T-Shirt of The Gruen Transfer agrees. There’s much to appreciate about this diminutive island, but it’s often unknowable.

Football is the final dilemma. Next year, Adelaide oval hosts AFL. I’m impatient to take a clattering tram from Moseley Square with our boys, Alex and Max, and walk down King William Road. This is where their learning, their golden heritage waits. Footy happens in Singapore, but as a desolate addendum, a doomed transplant. It’s decontextualized. You can’t get a decent pie here.

And there’s Auskick at Glenelg oval on sun-dappled afternoons. Our boys will scurry about in their too-long sleeves. Delighted shrieks curl about on a sea breeze. We’ll get teary, as one, maybe Max, arrests the Sherrin’s flight, somehow marks the ball- and then kicks it, joyously, messily, toward a muddy mate. And after, in the still swirling exhilaration, A4-sized schnitzels for all. Perfect.

This towering cosmopolis allows us global insight, but country footy is vital too. We’ll watch the Kapunda Bombers and the Kimba Tigers. What is more instructive, more superb than an unhurried Saturday at our game? Yes, we’ll make the most of now. This is a remarkable sabbatical. However, for how long can we resist home?

The Big Lebowski: What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?

The Dude: Dude.

The Big Lebowski: Huh?

The Dude: Uh… I don’t know, Sir.

The Big Lebowski: Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn’t that what makes a man?

The Dude: Hmmm… Sure, that and a pair of testicles.

0

The Frog and The Footy

volleys

Ordering rissoles in Bali is a sign that I need to go home to Adelaide.

It’s a Friday night, and I’m in Barb’s sports bar for the Crows season opener. With an Adelaide Crow tattoo on his arm, mine host Ian ambles by as the club song choruses from the TV. He mutters, “It’s got a good beat, but I reckon the kids won’t dance to it.” He’ll say that another twenty one times before September. There’s a galaxy of Indonesian dishes on offer, but I inhale a plate of meaty patties, chips and veggies. The footy is streamed from Channel 7 in Perth and, frosty long necks of Bintan aside, when I find myself getting misty-eyed about the Bunnings ads, I know the score.

Then there’s the frog. He lurks in the grounds of our Singaporean condominium, and he’s seeking a mate. After dark his thoughts turn, as Barry White may have sung, to making a little love or as HG Nelson certainly said, to “wielding the night tools.” His call is a loud, resonating, metallic honk. He honks nightly into the cruel fug. His throbbing desperation wakes us up, and keeps us sleepless. Nightly. The wife and I want to escape his amphibious ardour so we’re heading to South Australia for a June holiday.

Despite living on the equator I love winter. The endless summer here delivers an effortless lifestyle of shorts and swimming, but Adelaide extends her charms. I like dressing for the cold; faded jeans and my boots- indestructible Blundstones bought in Kimba twenty years back. Include Dunlop volleys and a pair of dusty thongs and what other footwear is there? The Southern Ocean often lashes its wind at us so I’m a convert to the hoodie. We’ll stick a pair of rubber boots on each of our boys Alex and Max and they’ll be right. Cousins are often among our first friends and, happily, they’ll all soon be running, yelling and settling their necessary disputes.

We’ll relax in Adelaide, but I’ll also tour the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra – viniculturally. Confirmed by one ignoble episode, tropical life and cabernet sauvignon simply don’t combine for me. It’ll be superb to plonk down with some old winter friends from Turkey Flat, d’Arenberg and Katnook, and discover what they’ve been up to. I’m confident that every bottle will burst with stories as I sit at assorted tables with Dad, my wife’s Dad and the brothers-in-law, and uncork some robust conversations about footy, the Ashes tour and everything else.

Winter back home often hosts cloudless, still days of pale sunshine; ideal for beach walks and parks. Blokes occasionally label their pubs; Rundle Street’s Exeter is, “The X.” The boys name their preferred coastal playgrounds- the Nemo Park, the Buffalo Park and the Rock Lobster; baptised for the B52’s song I unthinkingly played them once. They also have to climb some trees with their mates.

Enthusiastically standing on the terraces as Glenelg play at Brighton Road could placate my football pang. Contemporary AFL spectators have little opportunity to appreciate the contest, as it should be enjoyed. Standing, skilfully, allows for better talking, laughing and barracking, and also expedites what Roy Slaven described as, “drinking in concert.” Unlike modern colosseums, I can wander to Snout’s bar or the BBQ while maintaining an eye and an ear on the ball, without burrowing down a concrete hole, like a rodent, seeking a snag or a pint.

Improbable footballers such as cult Roosters full forward Grenville Deitrich charm me. Treasured exceptions who, despite their prohibitive shape, advance to a high level. Thankfully, these survive in the SANFL. Just. I favour this over the AFL as the national competition is increasingly conquered by charisma-free robots, automatons manufactured into facsimiles of footballers like an Asimov dystopia.

A fire is vital. Both sets of grandparents have wood fires. Grumpy’s Brewhaus at Verdun boasts a German-inspired microbrewery, wood-oven and combustion stove. A golden pint of Tomcat pilsner and a few slices of Funky Chicken pizza on a Sunday and I’ll be set. I taste it all now, and can smell the drifting eucalyptus smoke as Alex and Max scurry through the last of the autumn leaves on Grumpy’s lawn.

Life here in the endless summer is fine, but like gravity, winter at home exerts an indisputable pull. It will be a languid exhalation but, ultimately, we’re hoping that when we return to Singapore, our amorous frog is on his honeymoon.

fire

2

april conversation

april conversation

lunchtime patio &

i say autumn

sunrise’s first tee

wellington square dixieland

sparkling burgundy sundays

& football kicking over

summer’s wilting backline

our bbq chitchats

as you reply

seaside breezes      kissing

dogs scattering sand

oakbank’s huddled village

& back lawn petanque

beneath honeyed light

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