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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

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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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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.