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

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

Magnificent arena, miming charlatans.

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

No, I didn’t think so.

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

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

How could Collingwood lose after that?

*

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

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

Sweeping road, conversation, music.

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

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

When I was in grade six

I used to hold open a door for a girl

And she called me a wimp

Said there’s just no need

To be so fcking polite

I politely agreed with her

I think she was right

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our season flickers.

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AFL Round 6- Adelaide v Western Bulldogs: Munch on, munch on, what a lovely luncheon!

 

If dreary soft-rockers Boston, at a mid-tour band meeting, voted for an expansionist nomenclature policy, and re-named itself Massachusetts, would more fans have bought its 1976 single More Than A Feeling?

No, I thought not.

Would it now somehow get more than a single airing on any of the turgid FM No Repeat Workdays? Would Marianne still walk away?

I don’t see why Footscray, with its evocative connotations of Whitten, Sutton and Hawkins, and proud sense of history and place, changed its name to the amorphous Western Bulldogs. From my outsider’s viewpoint it appeared as an ingenuous marketers’ strategy. It’s a cruel dilution. How many new fans pledged allegiance?

The game’s 11am Sunday start suits the unexpected rhythm of my day. Well before dawn I’m awoken by a ferocious thunderstorm. Also electrified, our boys bound from bed in the torrential dark, ready for breakfast and the animated French nihilism of Oggy and the Cockroaches (named Joey, Dee Dee and Marky after The Ramones).

The storm seems to have been conjured by Industrial Light and Magic, and given that we’ve recently endured ten weeks with no precipitation, including the driest month since 1869, we’ll take it. We need to play catch up rain to get to Singapore’s annual average of 95 inches. As happens in the tropics, ambling down to Robertson Quay late morning, all signs of the deluge have evaporated.

The Bulldogs begin brightly, and the Crows spectate, as is their 2014 pattern. Cooney and Boyd collect uncontested disposals, while Adelaide is unable to string anything together. Our tackling is as limp as a British boy band. Suddenly, we’re down by four goals, and the Boomarang Bar’s Martian prices for Heineken look irresistible.

Robert Murphy is a learned footballer, thinker and columnist. I love watching him compete, but will be even more absorbed in his post-playing career. To go dumbly into broadcast media would be beneath him. Why not AFL Writer-in-Residence?

It would be de rigueur to paint him as a Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I reckon his fresh unorthodoxy and scrubby, alert style is more Annie Proulx, of Wyoming Stories fame. He plays wholly unlike the blubbery Newfoundlander Quoyle of The Shipping News, in accumulating many possessions. He might choose to withdraw from public life, but unlike others (BT, Tredrea, Darcy) this would be a loss.

Having put a leash on the rampant Bulldogs, the Crows commence. They re-discover how to tackle, use the football with innovation, and kick eight consecutive goals. Galloping target Josh Jenkins imposes himself.

Revving his modish chassis, Tom Lynch reverberates about the forward line. James Podsiadly has toiled all season for little scoreboard impact, but courtesy of clever marking, steers through two pivotal majors in the middle of the second stanza.

When the AFL salespersons again claw malevolently at our game’s fabric, and players’ names are forever festooned across their backs, the only way Giansiracusa will be readable is if Billy Brownless makes a comeback, and legally adopts this handle.

Typical of the zest is this small forward poleaxing Dangerfield on the three-quarter time siren. However, the subsequent scuffle is brief as all are keen for half an orange and a rub with the magic towel.

The last term is a pulsating classic. Having led early by about five goals, the Western Bulldogs are down by nearly four when they surge, to lead by a point. There are superb solo moments from Wright and the Bulldogs’ boy named Tory and wrestling, attractive football. Betts intercepts an errant goal square handpass, and converts with two minutes left to secure the Crows’ success.

Adelaide’s second Docklands victory in a fortnight gives our season momentum and hope. I head home along the river in the drenching sunlight.

 

 

 

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The cobra and the condominium

 

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

The Dude, The Big Lebowski

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

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

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

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

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

Tiger Pint- $15.01

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

“Yes?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protect yourself against unwanted sexual harassment

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

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

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

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

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

The Dude: Dude.

The Big Lebowski: Huh?

The Dude: Uh… I don’t know, Sir.

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

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

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Dangerfield and the Rickenbacker guitar

 

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Patrick Dangerfield is the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles.

George Harrison’s Rickenbacker strum is pop music’s most thrilling moment, and Adelaide’s most dynamic midfielder also electrifies. Both are anticipation and frisson. Dangerfield exhilarates just like The Fab Four’s two and a half minutes of frenzied, intoxicating genius. Both are astonishing illustrations of their respective art.

It’s a Mother’s Day game so I offer to listen to the footy via a radio app. The wife urges me, “to watch it live, so you’ll appreciate it better.” Radio streaming is brilliant, and one morning I found a local Mandarin station. Despite having limited Chinese I quickly establish that the show, certainly called the Wacky Breakfast Zoo, features a zany guy, a straight guy and to use media industry jargon, a chick. Sound familiar? Doubtless, there’ll soon be a Black Thunder stalking my Singaporean street, giving out icy cold cans of Coke and Whispering Jack CDs.

The Sydney Showgrounds arena is fetching in the autumnal sunshine, but the wood chopping at the Royal Easter Show makes more happy noise. Iconic Tassie axe man David Foster would have been terrifying in a forward pocket, and I once saw him departing the Adelaide Show in a 4WD, fresh from dichotomizing a feeble log. Struggling to mount a speed hump, his car appeared to have been assembled around his singletted bulk. Like the Bluesmobile outside the Cook County Building on Richard J Daley Plaza, it would surely disintegrate.

The Crows and Giants begin before lunch Singapore time. I’m at The Boomarang Bar, and not wanting to evoke the ancient Barossa rule of, “One at 11, or eleven at 1,” I get a frosty pint. With a cornucopia of splendid Australian beer from which to choose, Boomarang’s management could have Coopers Sparkling Ale, Little Creatures or Fat Yak as their ambassadorial lager. No, Pure Blonde is on tap. It’s like Phil Tufnell being Wisden’s Cricketer of the Century. Still, come June I’ll be watching the footy back in wintry Adelaide. A glass of Dutschke GHR and a boisterous fire will then suit.

GWS. The acronym suggests a K-Mart quality law firm to which Dennis Denuto of The Castle might have aspired. GWS, I’d also argue, could be a mildly exotic skin infection. I can hear my GP grimly saying, “I’m afraid you have GWS.”

And Giants? The Icelandic nu-folk listening, hipster marketer obviously said, “Greater and Giants totally share a ‘G’ and that is, you know, like, alliterative, so let’s go with that.” However, I hear you retort, your team is mascotted by a hostile bird, best known for Graham Kennedy’s 1975 infamy. Faaaark.

The dazzle from the empty orange seats is as sorry as the AFL’s probable excuses for the attendance: catastrophic competition from Mother’s Day luncheons, the eight race card at Gunnedah, Col Joye headlining the roast and three veg fixture over at the Rooty Hill RSL. In a pulsating heartland of three million people, that only 5,800 bother is alarming. GWS will be successful eventually, but I think they should become successful elsewhere.

With a population of over eighteen million, that Los Angeles has not hosted a NFL club for nearly two decades might indicate a vast community is not itself a guarantee of football permanence. Green Bay is a small municipality by American standards, and its team continues to thrive. Similarly, supporters in Tasmania, Cairns or Darwin would have attended a Crows and Giants encounter with an increased and vociferous presence.

Tom Lynch provides the best breakout performance by a carroty-haired youth since Richie Cunningham’s work in season one of Happy Days. With Arthur (Tex) Fonzarelli’s knee having jumped the shark, and Potsie (Tippett) taken by a swan on his lonely way to Inspiration Point, Lynch presents himself. When he laconically kicks his tenth, and becomes the first Crow to do so since Tony Modra in 1994, the few spectators remaining are glumly playing paper/rock/scissors to see who locks the gate.

Adelaide wins by 135 points, a solitary behind shy of their record, but I remark that it’s not a game I’d buy on DVD. All at The Boomarang nod agreement. We stroll out into the tropical afternoon.