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Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1993

wellington

Gee, I love the early nineties. Indeed, my wife has often remarked that I’m still living there. She may have a point. So, I’m listening to some old songs. Here’s two that reverberate.

Girlfriend- Matthew Sweet

I remember the first time I heard Triple J. I was driving around Adelaide on a Saturday during 1990 in my VK Commodore. Roy and HG and This Sporting Life was on, and Roy was telling of the occasion he was marlin fishing off Bermuda with It’s a Knockout host Billy J. Smith, Kylie Minogue and celebrated cricketer Steve Waugh. He narrated with such earnestness that like all good satire I believed him for a few minutes.

Back then Helen and Mikey did the breakfast shift on Triple J and it remains the most exciting, deranged radio I’ve heard. They regularly played Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend.” It’s power pop perfection with its exhilarating, urgent guitars and ambiguous lyrics. It still transports me back to 1992 when I and Greg Anderson both sported (unironic) mullets.

A few years later Mikey was still on breakfast, but with the Sandman, and this happened.

Sandman: I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to be a woman.

Mikey: Come here.

I’m not sure if Matthew Sweet is a one-hit wonder, but “Girlfriend” endures as a glowing artefact from a fun time.

Saints- The Breeders

Emerging as a Pixies side project for Kim Deal, their signature song is “Cannonball” from their album Last Splash. I bought this when I was down from Kimba, in Adelaide to undertake my first City to Bay fun run. My aim for the gently downhill twelve kilometres was modest. I wanted to break the hour mark.

The run was Sunday morning, the day after the 1993 preliminary final between the Adelaide Crows and Essendon Bombers. I watched it in Magill with a couple mates who were enjoying some footy beers. Adelaide was up by 42 points at half time. How exciting was this? We were going to our first grand final!

As things unravelled in the second half I was tempted to apply some medicinal lagers, but resisted as I’d been training for two months. Of course we lost and a week later Essendon claimed an unlikely premiership.

I completed the run in 58 minutes.

Last Splash is an eclectic listen comprising surf music, off-kilter ballads and infectious pop. “Saints” recounts a summery day at the fairground, but through an alternative prism. There’s disconnected imagery and a driving beat with Kelley Deal on a growling guitar. Invited by her sister Kim to join the band as a guitarist presented but one problem: Kelley did not know how to strum a chord. “Saints” shows she picked it up pretty well.

The following Christmas I was in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, on a Contiki tour.  I learnt that the Breeders were playing a small venue around the corner from our digs. I didn’t go because I had to drink Steinlagers in a pub with other Australians and talk footy and cricket. As Australians do when overseas in beautiful places they might never again visit.

Ridiculous.

knockout

0

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

Tex

It was a moment of unfussy beauty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

Our captain had just won the match.

Broken Hill

3

Ringo Appointed Caddy to Tiger Woods: Adventures in Morroco and Portugal

marrakesh

‘How do you like my new Fes?’ asks Jerry patting the hat on his melon. Only forty Dirham and he’s grinning like a shot fox. A dozen of us collect closely. We’re in the Medina or old city and New Jersey Jerry; ever-blaring, ever-egotistic and forty-something is taking pleasure from the tasselled headdress- and his own voice. ‘Yes, Jerry it’s great,’ we chorus. Absalom is our guide. Wearing his Muslim robes elegantly, and with snowy hair and trimmed beard he looks alarmingly like Kenny Rogers. He silences the Gatlin boy with, ‘Yes Jerry, it suits you perfectly.’ Through the dust and noise we lean nearer. ‘You are wearing the Fes of a young boy. Recently circumcised.’

With 350,000 people, 10,000 indistinguishable streets and 320 Mosques, the Medina is astonishing. Reaching its zenith in the 13th–14th centuries, the medieval monuments, madrasas (schools), fondouks (hotels), palaces, markets, residences and fountains are utterly engaging. About half the size of an Australian suburb, UNESCO declared it a World Monument in 1981. By morning’s end I am drained by the unbroken attack on my eyes and nose, ears and brain.

Attempting to engage me, one impish boy chirped, ‘Hello mister.’ I ignored him. ‘Hola. Bonjour,’ he continued. ‘Ciao. GutenTag. Aloha. Konnichiwa.’ I laughed. Konnichiwa. In a particular light I guess I appear Japanese. He reminded me of the carpet-seller in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar who, sensing I’d rejected every rug- buying opportunity, edged up to me and smirked, ‘Is it now time to talk about carpet?’

In Marrakech we’re steered into an apothecaries’ souk or pharmaceutical market. Spices, roots and aromatic plants for cooking, magic and pills cram the shelving in kaleidoscopic chains of little jars. The apothecary talks about the local herbs and their various uses. We enjoy listening but of course should have known what was coming. The lecture concludes, a corps of zipping assistants gives everyone a plastic bag and the Big Sell begins.

The apothecary repeats his catalogue whilst the helpers briskly dispense the concoctions. Our entourage includes Americans, Dutch and New Zealanders of every age and attitude and twenty minutes later not a medical secret remains amongst us. ‘These jars contain a potion to combat abdominal dryness,’ he announces and up fly some hands, their owners eager to spend and lubricate. Enchanted containers are urgently thrust at the grateful. He hollers, ‘Next is the haemorrhoid relief cream!’ More hands. ‘Who’d like the Moroccan herbal Viagra?’ I sit tighter on my palms. Never have I become so unintentionally informed about the private rashes, oozings and inflammations of strangers. It was like a nutrimetics party but without the collapsing paper plates of sausage rolls.

Beasts current and cooked, domesticated and dangerous were a mesmerizing aspect of our trip. The Jemaa el Fna or Place of the Dead is the gigantic square in Marrakech which functions as an al fresco circus. Street performers compete for our coins with yelling shoe-shiners and insistent henna tattooists whilst loops of snake charmers rhythmically sway with their hooded cobras. Given that she’s a biology teacher I selflessly sent Kerry among the reptiles as I captured photos and videos from an artistic distance.

And suddenly a snake was writhing around my neck and a lithe wrangler rubbed its anaconda-like girth against my forehead. ‘It is good for fertility,’ he declared. I squeaked, ‘Mine or the snake’s?’

Monkeys (few self-pleasuring!) sprung about the teeming square too whilst stalls groaned with meats and dishes of arresting aromas. Curiously wry rows of boiled camel-heads were Plat du jour but disappointingly we’ve been off them lately. Rooster idolatry is popular on Portuguese china, shirts, towels, hats; indeed everything! Heading along the Atlantic coast road from Tangiers I glanced down to the sundrenched shore and what did I spy? A jaunty row of trotting chickens! Have you ever seen wild hens pushing into the breeze, bouncing along the sand? It was so unexpected yet so childishly familiar and funny that it became an African highlight. Beach chooks! Even now I can see my documentary advertised in the TV guide-

BBC 2- Sunday 8pm

Moroccan Odyssey

Tonight Mikey Randall goes in search

of Tangier’s mystical beach chickens.

(50 minutes)

Despite the coach being guarded whilst we slept in our Tangier hotel (up the esplanade from Celine Dion Café; your heartburn will go on) it occurs at midnight. We are oblivious. From our giant ferry we witness customs police beating and kicking would-be illegal immigrants. They hide down by the waterline- frantic to flee Africa’s poverty for the nirvana that is Europe.

A rolling Atlantic swell surrenders to Gibraltar’s gentler waters. Then in Spain we drive a hundred Andalucian miles and alight at a restaurant whilst Juao, our Portuguese driver, re-fuels. He hears a noise from under the bus. Two continents and an ocean later, a small stowaway escapes; having clung perilously to the undercarriage for fourteen dark hours. He slides into the countryside like a phantom.

The jagged rush of surprises makes travelling addictive. Toledo, indeed, is quite holy and El Greco’s 1586 masterpiece, The Burial of the Count Orgaz adorns a wall within the modest Church of San Tomé. The painting is marvellous but it is also startling that we could saunter in and admire a magnum opus without a wardrobe-sized guard pointing his Uzi at us. If it were displayed in a London or Paris gallery I’d probably shave three times getting to the ticket window.

It was curious to feel homesick in Morocco with its mosques and confronting hardship and intoxicating town markets. Introduced from Australia last century, Eucalyptus trees appeared like old friends and combined with the sparse terrain to suggest the River Murray landscape back in South Australia. I love being amazed when travelling.

I had few expectations for the Portuguese capital but found it wonderful. Prior to visiting Europe my favourite world city was San Francisco and Lisbon often reminded me of its hilly charms and marine vistas. Two colossal structures cross the glimmering Tagus River; the Ponte 25 de Abril commemorates the 1974 Revolution and is strikingly like the Golden Gate; the planet’s most fetching suspension bridge. At over seventeen kilometres; we entered Lisbon on Ponte Vasco da Gama, Europe’s largest and probably the biggest bastard of a bridge that I’ll experience.

In an age when Barcelona, Kuala Lumpur and Florence are serviced by airports hours from their CBD it is remarkable that Lisbon’s is downtown; reflecting that last century the metropolis grew exponentially. The equivalent of Heathrow being in Hyde Park; it was compelling and somewhat menacing- post 9/11 to watch planes climbing and landing near skyscrapers. We loved wandering about historic Alfama and seeing the mighty Monument to the Discoveries before learning that although the world is a village chip-shop one should never order Italian dishes in a Portuguese Indian restaurant.

Seville burst into my Top Ten with a bullet and is illustrious for much; orange-trees lining the charming boulevards, the resting place of Columbus and of course, bullfighting. During summer the Sevillians stroll past the cigar factory immortalised in Carmen to the Plaza del Toros de la Real Maestranza and given that it nudged 54 degrees in August 2003 some sip Cruzcampo beer!

Many stories are relayed of brave bulls. An ancient matador told me the obscure tale of an old bull and a young bull. One lazy afternoon they were gazing down at a field of attractive heifers. The young bull shouts, ‘Let’s run down and shag a few cows!’ The old bull quietly replies, ‘No. Let’s walk down and do the lot.’

True.

Michael and Kerry

January 2005

 CD

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The View from Afar

darwin

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

kapunda

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

1

Sea Snake!

sea snake

Alex and I each wrote a poem about our encounter with a sea snake in Thailand. We talked about the snake, and then wrote some notes on the plane trip home. Here they are!

Alex’s poem

black and white stripes

sliding through the coral like a very fast slug,

like fat string

we were excited

so dangerous it can bite off an elephant’s tusk

we told Mum and Max

we felt extreme

nobody can ever find it

that was the best thing ever!

 

Dad’s poem

Andaman Sea

limestone peaks like monuments

flotilla of speedboats

we’re on the surface

kicking languidly

peering down, together down.

snorkelling in the oceanic cool

above the coral

our bubbling sphere

like Bangkok motorbikes, tiger fish

whizz across our masks

 

patterned like a cavalcade

a sea snake whips over

the ragged seabed

 

with muscular purpose

it glides beyond our sight

once gone, we sit up on the azure

gasping, snorkels flapping

 

Did you see it Dad?

Sure did. What’d you think?

So cool.

 

ours is an indifferent world

but, sometimes,

on anonymous Fridays

it still permits moments such as this

 

intimate paintings

vivid watercolours
thailand

0

A Yarn About Writing Yarns

skyline

I nod goodbye to the cleaner. Always gracious, she simply gets on with it. Aunty Chong’s nudging seventy. She’s paid two hundred dollars a week.

My school has a half soccer pitch. On its eastern wing, roots push up through the soil. Being by Orchard Road means this grass rectangle is worth hundreds of millions. Modern economies can be ridiculous, but Singapore’s is unfathomably so.

Traffic’s roaring along Grange Road, and I move through the thick heat. I turn onto Bishopsgate, with its modernist homes at thirty and forty million a pop. How can this be? Singapore often places opulence and poverty together in hideous proximity. I think of Aunty Chong.

I pass home, where it’s just us, and seven hundred and twenty-seven other condominiums. More people live here than Kapunda, the country town I’m from. The Singapore River travels sluggishly today. I arrive at the Zion Road Food Centre.

I’m in shorts. I only wear shorts. Apart from the wedding last March at the Fullerton Bay Hotel in Collyer Quay, but I reckon if I’d turned up in boardies, I’d have been fine. Well, maybe a few hours into the reception. The bride was Australian. They may have played, “Eagle Rock.”

Like the nation itself, the hawkers’ centre runs on obedience. Signs insist upon no smoking, touting, littering, bicycling, dogs, or pet birds, which is probably compassionate as there’s ducks hanging everywhere in their gastronomic gallows. Remember, pet birds have feelings too.

But there’s chicken rice. Fish steamboat. Pig organ soup. To avoid the chaos of free will, all seating is fixed. On each table is a plastic number.

Additionally, here in the republic, public restrooms often have labelled urinals. Join me and listen now to, say, a banker. Please don’t stare, but he’s phone up and zipper down.

Mate? I’m just in the loo. Yeah, urinal U3. Nah, U3. Nah, someone else is at urinal U2. Nah, mate, unfair. The Joshua Tree is a great album. Yeah. Yeah. Bono wasn’t always a tosser. Hey, get me a pint. Heineken. I’ll be there in a minute. Righto. Don’t let Stephanie leave.

On Thursdays I park outside, beneath an umbrella, as it’s often punishing sun or rain. With a Tiger in my tank (lager, not the carnivorous cat) I write.

It still astonishes me how my phone can get radio from distant lands. I’m probably like Bill Bryson who once remarked that he remains surprised electricity doesn’t leak out from the wall sockets.

As a radio listener I’ve tried to assimilate. About a month ago, a rock station launched. It confidently declared a national first, promising, “Singapore’s Only No Repeat Workday.” No, really. I’ll be disappointed if one afternoon, I’m skiddled by a Black Thunder loaded up with icy cold cans of Coke.

So I listen to footy talk, to catch the teams and previews, surfing between 5AA, 3AW, and Triple M. There’s curious contrast in sitting near Boon Tong Kway, while listening to Richo’s prediction for the Bombers and Magpies clash, or Stephen Rowe’s hyperventilations as a whiff of Hokkien Prawn Mee drifts across.

5AA host: Let’s go to Bill from Rosewater.

Bill from Rosewater: Hello there. I’m a long time listener, first time caller.

5AA host: Welcome, Bill. What’s on your mind?

Bill from Rosewater: I want to talk about the umpiring in last Sunday’s Port game.

5AA host: Utterly disgraceful. What’d you think, Bill?

And so on. But do you know what? I love it. It’s the familiarity of the accents, as secure as Christmas lunch, when the pudding comes out. It’s our dialogue, begging, on behalf of our discarded simplicities. Maybe it’s aural homesickness.

When I’m not in Australia I spend disproportionate time thinking about the bloody place. I devour its media, its music. Trawl its websites. About twice a year I reacquaint myself with Coopers, but it’s like the Indian cricket team. Brilliant at home, unaccountably poor in the other hemisphere.

I feel sad for the people who’ve declared they’ll never again live in their homeland. Canadians, Americans, Brits. If this is possible, they’re professional refugees.

So why are whites are ex-pats, when everyone else is an immigrant? I’ve been an ex-pat twice, and like the expansiveness, the exuberance of it. Australia is home, but I’m not sure at what point we’ll say enough, and stay put.

Singapore soon turns fifty, but is still under shadows: China, Malaysia, England, as local obsession with the Premier League is pathetically immature. Enjoy it sure, but to slavishly dedicate most of your sports reportage to it? To care more about Tottenham than your own Tampines Rovers?

Even Australia looms, as our boys drown their breakfast cereal in milk from near Melbourne. And we recently had some steak. Bewilderingly, it came from Omaha, Nebraska. So, that’s now two Nebraskan products I’ve had. Bruce’s album with its songs of despair and death. And, last Saturday, a modest segment of cow.

*

Soon, this will be done. We’ll return to Australia. I know Singapore’s weather the July day we fly home: 32 degrees, with a chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. Then, we’ll watch the Glenelg Tigers, and hop on a tram to Adelaide Oval, to yell at the Crows.

In the meantime, I stroll down here most weeks, and invest an hour. Keyboard and cup. Channel footy noise into my ears. Dwell upon ladder positions, hamstrings, handball receives.

After, the boys and I flop around in the pool for a boisterous bit. Puff them out. I like the late week rhythms, the easy routines. I especially like the time to write.

Our home and away season’s underway.

zion

0

Hertfordshire: Harry Potter and the Cheeky Half Pint

Ling

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

Yeah, you got me. Just Benny Hill.

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

*

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

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

Nothing is better named than the Nimbus 2000.

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

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

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

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

*

cocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

ron

0

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

BTT

At the football I thought about Vinnie Jones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

I can’t read and I can’t write

But that don’t really matt-er

‘Cause I’m from Salis-bury

And I can drive my trac-tor.

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

one effing goal

*

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

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

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

“Impressive,” I observe.

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wembly

0

London: Good Service on the Piccadilly Line

London Eye

In London I thought about Margaret Thatcher. I didn’t wish to.

Our hotel lift was of the talking variety, and in the awful, condescending vowels of the late baroness, it’d declare things like

“Going down.”

“Doors closing.”

“I usually make up my mind about a man in ten seconds, and I very rarely change it.”

That last one was a shock, especially when the lift then scolded me. “You. Yes, you. Colonial man. You’ve been a disappointment to so many, many people.”

*

Slung from the Eurostar, we got into a black cab outside St Pancras. It was instantly welcoming. Like bumping into old friends at the cricket, and sliding straight into some happy banter.

The Gherkin loomed into view along with provocative youngster The Shard. Nattering about kids, our cabby said, “A mate of me old man reckons you should treat boys like dogs. Run ‘em ragged all day, then feed ‘em and put ‘em to bed.”

And that’s why we love London.

*

A decade back and living north of the city, we’d take visitors, without telling them much, on the Northern Line from Kentish Town to Westminster. We’d scale the stairs, rush out into the light, and right there in front of them, to their surprise, would be London’s most lovable landmark, Big Ben.

We did this with Alex and Max too. For them Big Ben’s initial significance was through the film Cars 2, as the place where Professor Z traps Finn McMissile, Holly Shiftwell and Mater. But you already knew that.

It was New Year’s Day. So we found a spot on Whitehall to watch the traditional parade. Suddenly it began, with rousing music from that most cherished British institution, the University of Texas Longhorn Alumni marching band.

Once we’d enjoyed the spectacle for something approaching seven minutes the wife decided we should pop into a nearby pub for lunch. “Think of the children,” she said.

The Silver Cross was a bright opening to our Ashes pub tour. Like Justin Langer getting a solid forty in the first dig, I had a Staropramen pint, and there was a lager and black for the bride. Having fended off the new ball, we played our gastronomic shots. Scampi and chips, steak and ale pie, and kids’ serves, which were good if unspectacular, like a second XI middle order.

A hospitality company, Taylor Walker has run English pubs such as the Silver Cross, for two centuries. If he hasn’t, the new Adelaide Crows captain should claim this etymology. It’d fit within his robust narrative: Broken Hill boy, not uncomfortable within a boozer, former global beacon for the mulleted.

*

London Eye. Up we go. The river shrinks, and the cityscape stretches. Now, multiple interactive touch screens litter the capsules, and there’s vaporous Wi-Fi. Shouldn’t we simply look out the window, and enjoy? Are we so addicted to the digital that even London can’t sustain our gaze?

The rain became ridiculous at the zenith of our ride, and we could just see the Houses of Parliament. Remarkably, it was the first bad weather of our fortnight in Europe. The capsule was a glass submarine, but the boys left buzzing.

Cantilevered observation wheels aside, sightseeing remains best by foot. Our hotel sits within the shadows of the Monument (to the great fire of 1666) and heedful of the cabbie’s son-raising philosophy, we go up and down the Thames. Daily. Maniacally.

Like scamps, Alex and Max run and parkour between the Tower of London and Blackfriars Bridge. St Paul’s. HMS Belfast. The Founders Arms (Coopers Sparkling Ale now available). The iconography! The Tate Modern. The Globe. The new Nando’s at Bankside. At dusk, with the tide out, they dash about on the riverbank, and throw stuff at the freezing water.

*

With Kerry and the boys ice-skating, I’m solo in London on a Sunday morning! I walk. Time can appear elastic, and gazing at Trafalgar Square’s bronze lions and Norwegian spruce tree, and across to St. Martin-in-the-Fields, it seemed we’d only been away for a long weekend, and not nine summers.

I dive into Soho. Losing my usual spatial bewilderment, I know precisely where I am. I round the corner and spot the youth hostel we once stayed. Was it fourteen years ago? Had the Adelaide Crows really lost four preliminary finals since then? Had only nineteen Spiderman films been released in the interim?

I then photographed Berwick Street as it features on the cover of (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory by Oasis, and imagined Noel and Liam and I in the gutter, happily bashing the fook out of each other with expensive guitars.

If you let it, nostalgia can kidnap your life, so I snapped back to the moment. I strolled over to Oxford Street.

*

London’s Natural History museum is magnificent. The Volcanoes and Earthquakes, and Entomology sections investigated, we steer Alex and Max towards the blue whale. Grrr. Another gift shop.

When Kim Jong-un takes command he’ll annihilate every single gift shop using the same precision his late father displayed with a Hot Dot: a 38-under par 34, for 18 holes at the 7,041m Pyongyang Golf Course. Eleven holes-in one. As witnessed by his seventeen bodyguards.

The blue whale looks old because it was completed in 1938. Weighing six tons, it dominates the room, and is impossible to capture entirely in a photo.

Orbiting the whale, I’m startled that coins are thrown onto its massive fluke. Do the punters flip a quid and wish for West Ham to beat Chelsea? For the stockroom assistant to win Big Brother? For a Susan Boyle CD?

*

Down into The London Dungeon! Jack the Ripper, medieval torture, Guy Fawkes, Sweeney Todd, and a gift shop combine into a woolly performance, and it was excellent.

“Giant leeches were used to protect people from the Great Plague of 1665 by removing bad blood,” cried the doctor. Our seats wriggled beneath us as if these parasites were urgently seeking somewhere warm and moist. Being an owner of warm and moist, I leapt up. Alex loved it.

It was terrifying, but timid next to Margaret Thatcher. Years ago, before her passing, I asked my mate Barry if they’d erect a statue of her in posthumous tribute. “Yes, they will,” he said, “And I’ll head straight there and turn it into a fountain.”

oasis

0

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

bus

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We stumble on.

ashes

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

3

Killing the Mockingbird: Recollections of the 1997 Bulldogs and Crows Preliminary Final

sandy

Saturday, 20th September 1997. Half-time in the preliminary final. The Crows are getting paddled by seven goals.

I take a nap.

*

A soap opera fledgling, Greg Fleet swiftly enraged the nation. His Ramsey Street character had dispatched Daphne, like a Cairns cane toad, by expertly running her over with his car.

Later, he was strolling along a Melbourne street when a Truth headline screamed, NEIGHBOURS STAR TELLS: ‘MY HEROIN ORDEAL.’ Shocked at his public shaming, Fleety’s initial thought was, Oh my God! I can’t believe it. I was on Neighbours.

TOURIST DIES OF THIRST is a memorable newspaper poster too. It’s on the yellowing wall of Adelaide’s Exeter Hotel. I smile every time.

It’s an ageless boozer. Resistant to infantile trends, (Irish pub folks?) it’s a rollicking temple for cups and conversation. There’s nothing to distract your entourage from its tasty project. No TV, no TAB, no pokies. But there’s music. Thoughtful, eclectic music, with entire albums pumped into the front bar.

If I could design a pub, it’d be the Exeter.

*

The night before the Crows and Bulldogs clash. Our mate Chris is emigrating to Queensland to work for a software company. So, to mark this, we dine on curry and Kingfisher lager, and then gallop across to the Exeter.

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

As always, we talk cricket and travel and bands and film, and our discussion arrives at Harper Lee’s autobiographical masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Lizard was a heavy-metal mad, Axel Rose-haired kid. I taught him in Kimba and he read the book, reckoned it was about the only one he’d ever finished. In his Cannibal Corpse way Lizard often mislabelled it, “Killing the Mockingbird.”

Atticus Finch. Is there a more inspirational dad in literature? He’s metonymous for courage. I wish the Australian cricketer Aaron Finch was nicknamed “Atticus.” But, of course not. Can you imagine Tubbs and Slats explaining this? He’ll always be “Finchy.”

Over and through our Coopers, we ponder the novel’s last lines, admire their uncomplicated elegance. They’re among the finest words printed. After the rush of the climax, and Bob Ewell’s demise, we’re left with a painterly scene of love, a world profoundly restored

He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

Radiohead’s then recent release OK Computer played in the Exeter that evening. I love the cinematic melancholy, and the immaculate alienation. I’m a fan of lengthy, multi-sectioned songs, and “Paranoid Android” is superb. There’s venom in Thom Yorke’s

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking and squealing gucci little piggy

The album is additionally embedded with references to the cult novel “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!” How excellent is this? Satire, existentialism and guitars!

Despite its anguished doom, OK Computer becomes a happy soundtrack for me. Living in Hertfordshire, we listened to it once before enjoying Terry Wogan’s wine-soaked Eurovision commentary. In his brogue he noted

They’ve got four languages in Belgium and they’re singing in an imaginary one. The essence of Eurovision.

We laugh at the songs, and are bewitched by the geopolitics. It was 2003, defined by the charming nadir of England’s nul points.

I remember Triple J first featuring OK Computer. On breakfast, Mikey Robins and the Sandman considered life’s unknowns

Sandman: I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to be a woman.

Mikey: Come here.

Like gates clanging in a prison movie, the Exeter finally shuts. Nick drifts to his Hutt Street townhouse and I taxi home to Glenelg.

*

Rampaging Roy Slaven famously spoke of playing golf with Seve Ballesteros. As an ornament to rugby league, fishing, cricket, horse racing (he piloted Rooting King), and pig shooting, he is peerless. Roy’s vanquished are “hopeless pillows” or “mooks.”

Obviously, the big man from Lithgow was towelling the Spaniard. Without warning, Seve walked quietly over to his opponent’s bag and went the bushman’s hanky all over Roy’s clubs. Standing “ashen-faced and tight-lipped,” Roy then turned to his caddy and said, “You know, there’s something I just don’t like about this bloke.”

*

I wake during the last quarter, wander out to the lounge, flick on the TV, and see Liberatore’s snap on goal. He jumps haughtily onto his team mates, fists a-pumping. The result’s a formality, the remaining time, an irritant. His Dogs are home.

But I know what Atticus Finch would think. I remember what Roy Slaven said.

And the goal umpire signals a behind. Premature exaltation. The braggadocio is scorched.

The quarter’s been goalless, and we’re down by four straight kicks with ten minutes to go. As the bride’s still asleep I choose to endure the ending. It’ll be a Saints and Bulldogs decider.

On the siren, car horns hop in our windows, zigzag over Jetty Road, and vault about the esplanade like acoustic exclamation marks! The wife stirs.

Having spent the match in a torpor, Darren Jarman contributed three majors. He was learning to love final quarters.

With its lengthening afternoons, pledge of an enriching, outdoorsy lifestyle, and barbeque bouquets freewheeling about like sociable phantasms, late September’s always been good.

Just then, it got much, much better.

ex

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Singapore Darts Masters: “There’s only one word for that – magic darts!”

andy-fordham-throws-in-the-showdown-in-2004-lawrence-lustigpdc_0,,10180-5625416,00

I’m horrified.

The Professional Darts Corporation’s Order of Merit lists a solitary player called Keith. Only one Keith? Like The Rolling Stones?

An AFL equivalent is one culled of every Jaryd, Jarrad, Jared, Jarryd, Jarrod, and Jarred.

With earnings of £1500, number 134 is Dick van Dijk of the Netherlands. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! One hundred and eighty! When he weighed 31 stone (197 kilograms, 434 lbs.) £1500 was former champion Andy “The Viking” Fordham’s pre-match bar tab.

I’m at The Singapore Darts Masters with a Scot, an Irishman, and another Australian. No, it’s not a joke. It doesn’t finish with, “That’s what she said!” or “I thought you were George Michael!” or “They’re all in the truck and one of them’s honking the horn.”

Ignoring visits to the Docklands, I’ve never laughed so heartily at a sporting event’s price structure:

$501 – First Tier Table Tickets including front row seats, player access, limited edition shirt, bottle of spirit plus mixers, goodie bag, 180 cards, fast food & freeflow beer

$301 – Second Tier Table Tickets including goodie bag, 180 cards, event shirt, fast food & freeflow beer

$180 – Third Tier Tickets including fast food & freeflow beer

$40 – Auditorium Seating, with 25% off for early bird booking (that’s us!)

I rarely play darts. At the pub eight ball and darts are distractions. The pub is the place to go after sport, or to watch sport. But not to play sport.

So, I’m at the arrows for the anthropological insights.

But darts is also a celebration of English pubs. Unlike Antipodean hotels, British boozers are thematic extensions of the living room. Board games, nooks for reading, delightfully dreadful wallpaper. Australian pubs position themselves as being the opposite of home; a place of aggressive escape.

Our local in England was The Goat. Built at the end of the 15th century, it has Chesterfields. There’s water bowls for your dog, and a beer garden with giant Jenga blocks. The landlord wants you in there, enjoying yourself. Collecting your coin is almost an afterthought.

In the Singapore Indoor Stadium’s opening stoush James Wade defeats Peter “Snakebite” Wright. Snakebite sports a technicolour Mohawk and painted skull, while Wade is the one from Finance. “The accountant wins,” I predict. Scottish Andy replies, “They always do. They always do.”

The darts is set in 1982. Like merchant sailors or long-haul truck drivers, some of the players are festooned with ancient tattoos, top of the forearm- no Chinese symbols or wanky Latin maxims here.

The combatants’ shirts are relaxed, except for the girth, where each seems to be smuggling an upturned Sunbeam® Mixmaster® bowl across the Russian border on a dark night.

A cracking soundtrack blasts the arena. The Communards, Style Council, The Church, Stealers Wheel, The Jam. It’s rollicking. The Unicorn darts board is miked up, and each projectile thuds in with a sonically satisfying basso tone like a depth charge in a speeded up submarine movie.

Russ “The Voice” Bray is the score announcer. We’re tickled by his raspy, theatrical style that makes Ray Winstone sound like Barry Gibb. In the UK he lends his larynx to Ladbrokes and Cash Converters. His “One hundred and eighty!” is Tom Waits-tearing-his-hamstring-while-off-the-long-run vocal mania. He and the two official scorers stand with black-shirted backs to us, slump shouldered like Norf London henchmen staring down into Barry’s fresh grave.

Up next is Stoke-on-Trent powerhouse, and former ceramic toilet roll handle maker, Phil Taylor. He and Dave Chisnell exchange 180’s through the middle legs (possibly illegal here).

And Chissy crushes The Power!

“I’m delighted, over the moon,” said Chisnall, fulfilling every British sports-star’s lunar cliché obligation. “I started quite well; my scoring was good at the beginning and I was hitting my finishes well.”

Only twenty-four, Michael van Gerwen is preternaturally talented. On the balcony a cluster of orange-attired girls holler as the Dutch prodigy strides out to The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”

MVG’s already developing the darts physique, and with his shaven bonce, he’s a hybrid of Gary Ablett Junior and Little Britain’s Matt Lucas. A nine-dart finish is analogous to a hat trick or ten-pin bowling’s 300 game. He first did this on television when he was seventeen.

The boys and I provide our own analysis.

“Loose darts…”

“Tidy darts.”

“Quick darts!”

As our evening evolves we offer more colour.

“Angry darts!!!”

“Pensive darts?”

“Socially enlightened darts.”

“Post-modern darts¿”

Simon Whitlock’s walk on is “Down Under” by Men At Work. See, 1982! And he does look like Brett Lee. A Brett Lee with a sheet-metal worker goatee, clashing ink, and Willie Nelson ponytail. He strains perilously into the board, but flings like a surgeon. Richie Benaud might’ve observed that, “The slow-motion replay does not really show how fast the dart was travelling.”

Quarter-finals (read in your best BBC voice): Peter Wright 4, James Wade 10; Simon Whitlock 10, Raymond van Barneveld 6; Phil Taylor 6, Dave Chisnall 10; Michael van Gerwen 10, Andy Hamilton 4.

To compensate for the evening’s unspeakable lack of Keiths I listen to Exile On Main St as the MRT hurries under the harbour towards Orchard. And I think of Sid Waddell who once exclaimed, “You couldn’t get more excitement here if Elvis Presley walked in eating a chip sandwich!”

Simon Whitlock

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When The Sun Sets Over Carlton: Moments in Melbourne

DK

I am walking towards him.

And there is DK, those Puma bowling boots flying, in his magnificently menacing delivery stride, about to hurl it at me. Doubtless, pitching just outside off-stump, and jagging back sharply and unplayably onto a knee roll. Plumb.

With its classical vitality, and evocations of my summery, simple childhood, the Dennis Lillee statue outside the MCG’s Gate 1 is brilliant. Just brilliant.

*

The MCC library captivates me. A reading room within a colosseum! In other places and times this might be strange. But this is Melbourne. The complete Wisden’s Almanack (still using the archaic “k”) catches my eye, as does its predecessor, Lilywhites. As a built environment the MCG is superb, however it’s also a rich human location. It swirls with stories.

I look affectionately to the Nylex tower. It is colder than eleven degrees.

*

I take the Skybus from Tullamarine to the CBD in twenty minutes. No other city populated by 4.4 million permits such an easy transfer. This pleases me. The Skybus is blasting Triple M. I retrieve my phone, plug in the earphones, and tune into 3RRR’s Respect The Rock with Nicole TadPole.

Federation Square remains arresting, but is discordant, and utterly decontextualized. Is this the intention? It’s a serviceable public square, except, many would argue, a narrative of loss pollutes the pavers. I wonder if finally there’s a begrudging acceptance.

It’d be surly not to invest an hour in Young and Jackson. I imagine when I first visited, the taps poured VB, Fosters and, for the discerning, VB. Murray’s Angry Man Pale Ale is horrible. It possibly speaks of my naiveté concerning American styled beer, but in this case I see “complex character” as encoding for poop. However, Stone and Wood Pacific Ale is golden lusciousness. I drink a second.

My room doesn’t include NITV and The Marngrook Footy Show. Watching The Footy Show is like eating MacDonald’s; few admit to it. And it’s true, courtesy of my Singaporean address, I haven’t seen it for years.

Sam Newman is self-parodying. Does he care about his eponymous character anymore? Nevertheless, there’s a tribute to just-retired Jonathan Brown, and multiple mentions of “frothies.” Before they get to the games, I’m asleep.

*

I read The Odyssey on Mykonos. I heard “LA Woman” in Santa Monica, while driving down your freeway. As a boy, I enjoyed Sun on the Stubble by Eudunda’s favourite son, Colin Thiele. Staying on Flinders Street, I’m reading The Slap. Despite the dark plot, it also celebrates this city’s multicultural confidence. What fun to enjoy the art of a place while there! It informs the literary experience in an intimate, amplified way.

The vinicultural climax is a Murrindindi Shiraz at the Footy Almanac’s Waterside Hotel luncheon. Like the function, it is languid and companionable. The hours rush by. The hours glide by. There’s talk of musician Tim Rogers’ vulnerability within the context of modern masculinity, Dane Swan’s plucky unorthodoxy and Heritier Lumumba’s “I am a golden negro of mother Africa” tattoo.

*

At Docklands Stadium I take in Geelong and Essendon with some Footy Almanackers. I enjoy sitting in the Medallion Club at the Coventry End. The track is a FAST 1; a dry, hard track. The football is Muhammed Ali quick.

Being dispassionate about the result conjures Brecht, and Verfremdungseffekt, or the “alienation” effect. The purpose of this theatrical technique is to make the audience feel detached from the action of the play, and therefore better placed to appreciate it. Yep, as a neutral spectator, that’s me!

Heppell is terrific for the Bombers. As a left-legger he’d fit into Hawthorn’s side, but he’d have to trade his absurd hair to one of the Coasts: Gold or West.

*

Saturday afternoon, and the Docklands for Richmond and St Kilda. I’m at a TAB caravan on the concourse, tapping screens, and scanning the thoroughbred fields.

The wife and I went to Iceland one February. This was Hayman Island next to the frigid lasers of fecking wind slicing at that caravan. Bjork would’ve pulled her beanie of swan feathers down low, abandoned any thoughts of a Rosehill, Race 6 earn and scampered inside.

Good idea.

Having met fellow South Australian Mark “Swish” Schwerdt, we then sit up high in the affectionately labelled Level 3, and chat about our childhoods, Skyhooks, writing, and, of course, cult Crow, Eddie Hocking.

With six goals in the opening term, the Tigers create an irresistible lead. St Kilda provide their opponents Saharan space, allowing frequent invention from Trent Cotchin and Punt Road’s own son of anarchy, Dusty Martin. The Saints kick their only major through Nick Reiwoldt. He’s still as solid as a Chrysler Valiant.

After quarter time, both sides play spasmodic football. The kind that makes folks remark, “ I’m glad I’m not wasting fifty cents on electricity by recording this at home on the Betamax VCR.” Former captain Chris Newman is quiet, but after the half-time siren, threads a tidy goal.

St Kilda hang with them in a way which gives false hope, like the effortlessly beautiful girl you saw on a jetty when you were fifteen. When you were beyond deluded.

Meanwhile, Swish and I are diving into our conversations, and Richmond win by about three lengths.“Oh, we’re from Tigerland” is wonderful as they’re my second team, with the best song. What a shame it can’t be entered in the Eurovision competition. For the yellow and black it’s the first win in their famous nine-match streak. Today is the Saints’ ninth consecutive loss. 2010 must seem Paleolithic.

As we’re leaving I see a merchandise van called the “St Kilda Locker.” Bad eyes. Thought it said “St Kilda Lock Up.”

*

I dine at Il Tempo on Degraves Street.

Eating bruschetta, I reflect on my relationship with the tomato. I fancy tomato soup, but despise tomato sauce, specifically on fried eggs. Surely, among polite peoples, this is indefensible. I accommodate tomato in toasted sandwiches, but I avoid it in the New York underground train network restaurant. I sometimes eat a grilled tomato at breakfast or a BBQ lunch.

Being an adult can be awkward.

In the Sunday quiet I listen to The Whitlams’ “Melbourne.” It’s an enchanting song, and weekend coda.

In love with this girl

And with her town as well

Walking ’round the rainy city

What a pity there’s things to do at home

Y & J