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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.

*

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.

*

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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Volleys, Blundstones and Thongs: Life in the Shoe-Wearing States

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They’re beyond dreadful. Flat and offering less support than Chad Morgan opening for Metallica. The Dunlop Volley is a cultural icon, but podiatric nightmare, and I often wonder how Ken Rosewell wore them and still won all those tennis matches?

But spotting them about, they’re like the rarely seen old mate banging on your door with a six pack of Coopers. House painters love them. The herringbone tread must be superb if your day involves leaping up and down ladders, and cutting in around annoyingly ornate ceiling features.

I wore them at uni. A fine library shoe, they also performed exquisitely in the bar, especially on Friday nights when fifty cent schooners were on. The Volley was exceedingly valuable for sitting in the uni quadrangle as the morning sun streamed onto our youthful dials. About three times a semester and with eyes stricken with terror, my friend David would shriek, “Essay? What essay? Due at four today?”

They were also great as we plodded off to fourth year English, cruelly scheduled on Mondays from 4 – 8pm. At 8.01pm I’d point my HQ Holden southward, and with my old friend Jonesy co-piloting, navigate speedily if not unlawfully to the Botanic Hotel where we’d review the lecture’s major themes, or not.

But I couldn’t wear Volleys for sport. On the cricket oval I was a Puma Barbados man, and everything else apart from footy was handled by my Adidas Romes.

To my curious comfort I later met someone who actually wore them on the sporting field. For three seasons Peter and I played cricket together at Wudinna. A handy bat, and lively fieldsman, he was an accomplished first slip and stealthy patroller of the covers. One Saturday he arrived in a new pair, and I asked

“New Volleys? Where did ya get ‘em?”

“Town.” Adelaide was rarely called Adelaide.

“How much?”

“Fifteen bucks.”

I was surprised. “That’s a really good price.”

“They did me a deal. Because I bought six pairs.”

“Really? Why did ya get six pairs?”

“I reckon that should see me through to the end of my career.”

And I’m sure it did. Over the decades I’d imagine Peter in his shed, pulling down a box of new but peculiarly aged Volleys, brushing aside any resident Daddy Long Legs spiders, and with impish delight, sliding on the Dunlops for spring’s first cricket training.

But six pairs! What a visionary. Succession planning of the utmost order. Cricket Australia: phone this fella now.

I had mine on last Friday when the boys and I were at the park kicking their new Sherrin. They (the shoes, not the boys) are still terrible for this. However, as I later sizzled some sausages on the park’s free barbeque they became magnificent. My tong work was sublime, and I’ve rarely squirted sauce with such crisp authority. I thank my Volleys. They were always more Dean Martin than Dusty Martin.

*

They’d doubled in price. This was much better than anticipated, but I did purchase my first pair of Blundstones from a rural supplies store in Kimba during 1993 for fifty bucks. Since then we’ve moved nine times across three countries, and they’re still travelling superbly, and remain as utilitarian as Mark Ricciuto, but with a mellifluous special comments voice.

A new job meant I had to buy some new footwear so I jumped on the tram to revitalised Adelaide menswear retailer, Trims. Where previously I had no choice there are now multiple styles of Blundstones, catering from bushie to micro-brewing hipster. It was like buying a newspaper in London. You glance at the dozen or so front pages. The Times. The Daily Express. The Independent. And then, having scanned the alternatives, you buy the one you always get.

On the tram home I thought about my new boots and me. What might the next twenty-two years bring?

*

I know it’s feeble, but sometimes you just surrender. To make life easier. In Singapore, and surrounded by Americans, Canadians and Brits I started calling them flip-flops. It was just simpler. And now back home among the throng, and with spring making a few tentative squeaks, I’m reclaiming the word thong.

In various equatorial bars I’d try to explain for my global friends. But never with much success. “So it’s wrong to buy your mum a thong, but perfectly acceptable (if a little cheap) to buy her a pair of thongs.”

*

Late Saturday evening my wife’s Grandpop passed away. He was ninety. Not knowing either of my grandfathers contributed to him becoming a significant figure. For most of the twenty years I knew him he and grandma lived in Gympie on the highest hill in town.

We’d sit on their front veranda in the thick air, noisy with eccentric tropical bugs and their assorted clickings and whirrings. Geckos would scamper up and down the walls, while I’d gaze down across the houses on stilts and valleys so different from my dusty home town thousands of kilometres to the empty south.

With the exception of our wedding I only ever saw Grandpop’s gnarly hooves in slippers. Or barefoot.

A magazine columnist once described the non-Queensland parts of our nation as being, “the shoe-wearing states.” Grandpop reinforced this. His slippers were comfortable, but he also went shoeless partly because he didn’t care what those, “bloody wombats” thought. He’d always pronounce wombats with a deliberately long vowel and make it woombats. In the extended family it’s a term of fun and gentle mocking. Mostly.

And now he’s gone. He lived long, but it’s still sad.

*

The boys and I will continue to be bedazzled by Patrick Dangerfield’s seemingly irradiated footy boots. Before the season’s first lawn-mowing I’ll buy a pair of thongs, some double-pluggers. For extra comfort and backyard safety.

Like a feisty yearling my new Blundstones will finally be broken in, and the Volleys, as always, will push me on into that bright, windy spring.

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The View from Afar

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It’s a hot and muggy evening in Darwin for the footy. And it’s a hot and muggy evening here in Singapore too. Both cities are former colonial outposts, and I’m watching West Coast and Melbourne in an apartment fourteen stories up, and can see across to the famous suburb of Little India. After the game we’ll head down there for a Rogan Josh Kennedy.

There’s a boisterous crowd in at TIO Stadium, and a grassy mound behind the goals. Both teams get an early goal, and Melbourne’s playing with welcome vigour. Coming to the Demons from Glenelg in the SANFL Billy Stretch collects some early possessions. It’s also the suburb to which I’ll return next week after I fly from here. Today the Tigers won consecutive matches for the first time in, well, eons after last week knocking off current premier Norwood.

I’ll soon be on the Glenelg Oval terrace, or in front of Snout’s Bar, named for 1970’s cult Tiger John “Snout” McFarlane. My mate Bob coached twelve year old Billy Stretch in SAPSASA, the fabled week long carnival for primary schoolers. He told me then Billy would play at the highest level. He was on the field with thirty-five other kids, but playing his own game.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch the footy in some fun places. I saw my Crows get flogged by Essendon in Barb’s Bar in the east of Bali a couple seasons’ back. The highlight of that night, apart from Barb’s rissoles and chips, was Black Caviar’s win in the William Reid Stakes; shown at half time.

I was in Singapore’s Boomarang Bar for the Adelaide and Hawthorn preliminary final of 2012. This was Tippett’s valediction before homesickness forced him back to the Gold Coast suburb of Sydney. I was strangely relieved when Cyril got the Hawks home in the final minute as I was to be at a Hong Kong conference the following Saturday. Barely into my new job, I didn’t think I could be suddenly stricken by illness, and seeking alternative treatment in a Kowloon bar.

During the second quarter West Coast exerts their dominance in front of the vibrant Territory crowd. I think of my only trip to Darwin, again for a training workshop (No, I’m not just a conference attendee!). By the final afternoon I’d had my fill of multi-literacies and neo-Marxist interpretations of Hamlet, so headed out to the Adelaide River for the jumping crocodiles and termite mounds. How many chooks are annually dangled off boats to coax the reptiles to leap up like Nic Naitanui? I couldn’t pause for a Darwin stubby at Humpty Doo, but there’s always next time.

I’m always keen to see how Shannon Hurn performs. The prodigious kicking Eagle is from Angaston which is in the Barossa and Light league along with my home town of Kapunda. Shannon’s dad William was a solid footballer with Central Districts in the SANFL.

Angaston is the scene of my own football misfortune. The season after I finished school the association changed the age rules for senior colts footy. To be eligible you had to be under eighteen at the start of July. A premature baby, my birthday’s in June so, both happy and forlorn, I watched on as my mates won a flag on Angaston oval. I didn’t play in one ever. My friend Trev took what we still reckon is the best mark ever taken by a Kapunda Bomber. A lanky lad, Trev rose impossibly to the crest of the pack, grabbed it and it stuck! This got the loudest roar when the video was shown at their recent reunion.

I spent most of that season in the B grade. We hardly won a game. In the huddle at three-quarter time of the final match we were down by truckloads. Our coach’s address was less Barack Obama than drunken barracker. “Well boys we’re in trouble. Again. And we’re out of excuses. I don’t know what to say. Just go and run a lap. Or something.”

With the West Coast comfortable victors, the crowd spills out into Darwin’s balmy night. And we head down to Little India to continue our balmy night too. My last Saturday in Singapore.

This story was first published in Inside Football. For more go to http://digital.insidefootballonline.com/#folio=1

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Round 13- Adelaide v Brisbane: Johnny Gastev Is Playing Quite Well

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Climbing over Fort Canning I’m sweating buckets. Stewart Loewe-sized buckets.

The wife and boys are this morning back in South Australia, where there’s boots and Nanny’s pumpkin soup and a fire. I’m in Singapore, wrapping our stuff up before jetting to them, and the thrilling, forgotten winter.

Like Adelaide, the Lion City has modest hills. Fort Canning’s among these, and is less intimidating than a wheat silo, so I reckon Billy Brownless could get a torp over the silent cannons and trees, and drop it into the Singapore River.

Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival established his command post here to defend the island from the invading Japanese forces in 1942. Singapore was mostly conquered by bicycle, which is both ghoulish and brilliant.

I stroll on towards neon-drenched Clarke Quay.

*

I’d love to get to the Gabba again. Last time I was there I saw Greg Ritchie club a quick forty in a shield game. Correct, there was no running between wickets.

The Adelaide Crows are proudly top-knot free in 2015, but with horrid predictability Brisbane opens us up and goals with a decisive movement. As Casey Kasem used to say, “For the thirteenth big week in a row Adelaide begins in a pedestrian fashion.”

As good as the Lions appear we’re fumbling and sporadic, and our forward line is Hong Kong tram while the home side’s is Tanami desert. We’re down by three goals, quickly.

Narrowly edging out Alex Ischenko, my favourite ever Brisbane player is Johnny Gastev. In an upset win over the Sydney Swans early in 1989, Gastev kicked seven goals after half-time! Beforehand, he’d not kicked a goal all season. Who doesn’t love this story? Not long after his career was ended by a brutal Gary Ablett bump.

*

During the second quarter the outrage grows as Man Mountain cum dwarf ant hill Josh Jenkins continues to be pushed off the contest. Is he a footballer or an ectoplasm? Then, miraculously, he goals.

Suddenly, the Crows find focus and Smith fires a fricken laser. We’re alive despite being outplayed across the ground. Cameron demonstrates singular poise and vision to get the ball to Crows’ forward impersonator Jenkins, who converts. Brisbane is efficient; meanwhile we launch the footy out of bounds with galactically shite regularity. Half time and the defibrillator’s on its way to our rooms.

*

Zorko. Zippy Lions forward, but was he a member of the Animal House fraternity? His name suggests Delta Tau Chi frat debauchery with Flounder, Boon, D-Day, Hoover, Bluto, Stork, Otter and Pinto. Based upon today’s performance, Faber College (“Knowledge is Good”) Dean Vernon Wormer would surely announce the Crows’ grade point average as,

Zero…. Point….. Zero.

*

Soon after the recommencement, Hanley goals with the cringeworthy effortlessness of a George W gaffe. In the emotional gloom of the Boomarang (sic) Bar I start to hope the TV will switch to a replay of Lee Kwan Yew’s funeral highlights.

With his Grand Tour classical antiquities moustache back on his beak Tex gets one, and crazily we’re still in this. An unscheduled break in Australia’s Funniest AFL Footy Videos allows Cameron to goal with a roost that should generate confidence for the young Crow.

Everyone’s nineteenth favourite Mitch (Robinson) then drives his head into Talia’s groin in an unrehearsed outtake from an adult film I don’t wish to see. His pornographic pluck is rewarded with a free kick. He goals. I reach for a fork.

*

During the final period the game abandons its dreadful, cartoonish tone, and Adelaide, terrified of the implications, starts to behave. We kick six goals, Betts and Walker metamorphose into the forwards they should be, and the Crows win.

*

My Eyre Peninsula mate Craig worked in the Minnipa pub, on the highway from Perth to Adelaide, where he’d often amble past the dining room’s Japanese tourists, bewildered and broken by the long, bitumen ribbon. He’d ask,

How was the crow? What! You didn’t have the crow? That’s what we eat ‘round here. Mutton. And crow.

Craig would tell them about the mythical outback station, the Speewah. He’d talk of its continental size and gigantic shearing icon Crooked Mick. He’d describe Mick standing on a towering peak, and peering out across the plains. The mountain was so tall, of course, that he could see the back of his own head.

But Craig especially loved recounting that, “During shearing, the Speewah was so huge, it had six cooks cooking for the cooks.”

Today, at least, unlike those of the Minnipa pub, the Crows are not yet done.

NB- the title offers homage to Central Districts Footy Club’s cult fanzine Brendan Maguire Is Playing Quite Well. Brendan’s career really took off when he subsequently moved to the Kapunda Bombers.

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

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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.

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Hertfordshire: Harry Potter and the Cheeky Half Pint

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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?

*

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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.

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

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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