6

Cooler than a robot, older than the wolf

beach

The endless swimming was a highlight of our three years in Singapore. On some Saturdays, we’d be in and out of the condominium pool four times. At dawn, when the boys and I’d occasionally happen upon whispering Japanese couples rounding out their evening with a bottle of breakfast Shiraz. Then we’d also dive in around midday, and driven by heat and claustrophobia, twice during the sultry afternoon. It was a theme park and often for us, an escape.

Early during our other-hemispherical stint, we were in the water, and I was talking with you about your birthday. I said, “How’s things now that you’re three? How’re you different?” Of course, your answer was instant, and assured. You replied, saying you were now, “Cooler than a robot, older than the wolf.” Not any wolf, mind you, but the wolf. I’d long suspected that you’ve a capacity for language, an opulent and striking relationship with words. Splashing about that muggy day, confirmed it.

Only a few months ago, and back in Australia, there was this domestic exchange. “Max, will you stop being so ridiculous?” It’s a word that’s vigorously employed from time to time in our house. But only as required. Ridiculous. You announced, “Mum, you’re ridiculous!” to which she said, “You can’t even spell ‘ridiculous!’” With sparkling comic timing, your retort came. “Yes. I can. M-U-M.” This talent, while sometimes maddening, might carry you far. It’s a gift.

A counterpoint to this linguistic skill is your love for engaging with the physical world. Moving like an inexhaustible machine, you explore, you probe, you pull stuff to bits. Inspired by curiosity, and bursting with a hearty sense of industry, you help me with jobs about the house. These are the moments.

One of my favourite things is when our world shrinks and shrinks, and it’s just you and I on a Saturday morning. A little backyard militia, we mow, and with a cutting wheel, we edge the lawns. All the while you question, encourage, engage. We sometimes visit the recycling depot, and lastly as a tiny reward, we pop by the Anzac Highway TAB, where in joyous imitation, you illustrate your fan of betting slips, resulting in financial return at least equal to mine.

It’s a routine that drapes exquisite meaning over these weekends. In a life often too complex, this fetching simplicity refreshes me like an oasis. We don’t often sit still on the lounge and chat, instead conversing while in motion. The car. With heaving backpacks, walking to and from school. Out the back, as Sunday shadows lengthen, playing cricket.

Last Easter, we wandered down to Glenelg Oval for the Sheffield Shield final. Strolling southwards, chatting; the breeze, the bent rays of autumnal sunshine. I love listening to your brotherly conversations, as these dance and hang in the air like bubbles.

*

If I close my eyes I can see a silent movie of flickering highlights, and these tumble about me, like rain.

You’re riding madly round the Old Gum Tree Park, with your feet dangling high above the pedals, and look, they’re now up on the handlebars as you wizz by in a mischievous blonde rush.

Lying under the patio, just after a December dawn, with summer’s heat already heavy in the sky, you’re hugging our new dog, Buddy and you’re talking to him like an equal, as if he’s a little brother. And, he is.

We’re on a Thai beach, and in a cocoon of pure, insubstantial now, you’re jumping like a kangaroo and laughing in the gently frothing waves. I barely believe we’re here.

Finally, you’re in bed, and I creep into your room, but there’s a thin shaft of light. Inspired by the nocturnal habit of Alex, you’re in your bunk, on your belly, immersed by a book, reading with a torch. This makes me happy.

Now exhausted, you finish your story, surrendering to our will, and within moments, you slide down into an irresistible sleep. You’ve interrogated your world, so delightfully, so energetically, across the long hours of the arching day that instantly, almost impossibly, you’re still.

You are now six, and will always be cooler than a robot, and older than the wolf. Max, we love you. Play on.

lawn mowing

2

Now You Are Eight

Koh lanta

Suddenly and incredibly, you are eight! Alex, how our world changed when you were born on that bright Saturday afternoon, eight years ago.

Among my favourite things is spying on you. Isn’t this funny? You and Max love spy games, but Dad loves spying on you. What do I see when you’re not looking, but I am?

I see so much that makes me, and Mum proud. You’re funny and alert. Like a puppy, you play with creative energy. You love your friends, and they love you too. You like sharing stories, but listen when people tell you stuff too. For you, games and fun must be fair. You don’t like it if others are unkind to you, or those you care about. Because it’s important, you take a stand. This makes you a leader, and we love this about you.

I’ve so many memories.

We’re on Koh Lanta. It’s a fresh, clean morning and the sky’s holiday blue. I’m on a sun lounge out the front of the resort, looking across the sparkling sea towards the Strait of Malacca. You and Max are on the flawless, golden sand. Buckets, spades, toys. Boys and brothers. Do you remember this? I watched you; long-limbed like a giraffe, and miraculous, as if born of the tropical sun itself.

And later, on the same trip- our last while living in Singapore, we do a boat tour to five islands! In the marine warmth, snorkelling above the coral, Mum and Max are bobbing about on the azure ocean, while off on our own, and peering down through our masks, we see it. Silently, and like a whip cracking in slow-motion, is a sea-snake! It’s there for mere seconds, and only we saw it, together, in our private universe. Instantly we sit up, beaming

Did you see it Dad?

Sure did. What’d you think?

So cool.

A momentary sight, but for us, stronger than two electrons in perpetual orbit. For someone as curious about nature and dangerous creatures as you, it’s a thrilling highlight of our three years in Asia.

Last Friday, in the afternoon sunshine, you’re in your blue Strikers shirt and cricket cap. We’re at Glenelg Oval, and there’s plastic yellow stumps and kids, learning and playing, learning and playing. You’re batting. I’m on a bench by the boundary, spying on you. Again!

The bowler pitches it on a good length, but outside the wicket. In a fluid, looping motion, you step into it, and swing the bat. It’s an on-drive, and possibly having seen an Australian cricketer like David Warner do this, you go down onto one knee. It’s cute, but also shows me how carefully you take in the details of your world, how keen you are to do your best and display some robust mastery. You stay low and hold your position, watching until, just in front of me, the ball jumps the rope. Your first boundary! Certainly a treasured event in many years of loving cricket.

Now finally, back we travel, to 2008 when you’re only three months old. It’s May, Mothers’ Day; fetching and warm like a hug. We’re at Wattle Reserve, by the beach, with a picnic of olives, breads and dips, dolmades; unhurried food for a late autumn lunch. You’re there on the rug, in the breezy, timelessness. Smiling, blue eyes alert, enchanted. It’s a movie, a love song, our lifetime distilled. It’s a dreamlike afternoon.

So, as you begin your ninth year, I wanted to find a few moments among the guitars and the bikes, the barbeques and the blur of the cruelly rushing weeks to reminisce on how astonishing our world became on that bright Saturday. The day you arrived; the gorgeous, clever, amazing gift of you, arrived.

glenelg oval

0

Cricket and the Country Member 

tarlee 2

Footy’s finished and I’m thinking about cricket. I love cricket stories.

I remember Fonz, from Kimba, telling me how his country carnival team was dismissed in Adelaide for two. Yes, the entire side.

Two.

I also recall Woodsy and Whitey in a grand final at Greenock. As the shadows spread, Kapunda needed a dozen with five wickets in hand. Rolled by four runs.

And, I think of Tarlee.

A farming settlement between the Barossa and Clare Valleys. Its oval is microscopic, utopian for batting, but a bowling Hades. Along one side wanders the Gilbert River, while just beyond, lies the rail line.

Saturday. Distant decades back, my first footy coach, Bruce Dermody, bashed the ball long, very long, and in a rare but happy junction between work and play, it plummeted into a moving train carriage. Bruce was a Station Master!

*

During the ’92 World Cup I remember Dean Jones hitting a six at Adelaide Oval against Sri Lanka. Not square at the Victor Richardson Gates or into the George Giffen Stand, but straight, towards the petty enclave of North Adelaide. The shot rose and journeyed past the seats and the path, and onto the grassy mound.

It landed among the folk under the Moreton Bay Figs. As Geoffrey Boycott might have said, “I don’t go that far for me holiday.”

*

Davo. We all need a mate called Davo. Tarlee had a fella called Jason. Davo was a sportsman; as a dashing centreman he’d won an underage association B & F. Where footy’s forgiving, the glaring nature of cricket can be cruel. He drops Jason on four. Simple catch.

Jason then bludgeons the ball repeatedly into the reeds along the Gilbert River. It drowns, often. He almost gets a triple century. But Davo responds by taking a hat-trick with his Thommo slingers. That’s a diverse afternoon. Like marrying a gorgeous girl. And then at your reception, she whispers, “ I’m pregnant. To your uncle.”

Stumps are drawn. Hours later, ghosts in cream dinner suits are haunting the streets, and pubs. No, look closer, these are not suits, but cricket attire! The same disembodied phantoms are then lured to the Tarlee Institute disco (cheaper drinks, but poorer skin care routines than the Ponds Institute).

The DJ is a farmer. The band is called Undercover. Of course, they include “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors. Their cricket whites survive the prickly outfield and muddy river, but the floorboarded infield of bundy and beer-slop is lethal; it has a Strontium-90 half-life.

*

Simon O’Donnell at the SCG in 1986. Flat-bats one into the top of the Brewongle Stand. Like Mooloolaba and Coonawarra, Brewongle is a comfortingly Australian word, murmuring of open roads, and backyards, and drifting eucalyptus. Now sirens to my equatorial ears, these are calling me home.

Brewongle, as is mostly thought, is not named after an Aboriginal term for camping ground, but rather for the former tea room run by two sisters within the old stand. Ah, myth and reality.

One Australian summer we’ll take our boys to Sydney. The Brewongle beckons.

*

Fifteen, brazen, bearded. Precocious in myriad ways. My teenage cousin Puggy played representative cricket with fellow Barossans Greg Blewett and Darren Lehmann. After mobs of runs against men, he made his A grade debut.

Nuriootpa’s opening bowler Horry Moore was broad, fierce, and scary-quick. A walloper from Nuriootpa, he’d sort this punk out. In competition, youthful self-confidence is always insulting. His red torrent began.

Crack! Puggy drove Horry’s third lightning bolt straight back over his head. Two bounces, under the fence, onto the road, with gravel scuffing the ripe Kookaburra. Who was this kid? He got 94 in slick time.

At season’s end he’d win the association batting aggregate. Puggy’s drive was a haughty declaration, an unworldly rebellion, and bluntly instructive of life being a string of little births and, for Horry that innings, little deaths.

*

Eudunda. As you drive across the last hill before descending into town, a bluish plain swims into view. This flat scrubbyness seems, on certain days, as a wintry ocean. As a kid I used to think, instead of this saltbush and mallee, it’d be wonderful if it was the sea. As it was, eons ago.

To the north, and by Burra Creek, is the unironic locality of World’s End. Snaking nearby we find Goyder’s Line, which shows where rain and soil might allow crops to be grown confidently. Goyder is still right.

A sleety, snowy gale there once forced footballers to scurry under the fence and huddle between the Kingswoods and Chargers. I was ten, and hadn’t seen such apocalyptic storms. World’s End seemed even closer.

Kapunda’s Bull Ant got some brisk runs one January at Eudunda (former club of mine Footy Almanac host, John Harms). He was a stylish left-hander, but, then again, ignoring Kepler Vessels, aren’t they all? Clipping one off his pads, it hurled high over the boundary, and clanged about on the clubroom roof like Glaswegian hail. It sat there.

In protest at the heat, ruthless flogging and distasteful realisation they were supposedly enduring this for fun, the locals all flopped on the grass. No-one moved to retrieve the ball. Mutiny. Finally, the bowler mumbled, “Well, I served up the poop, I better go fetch it.”

And he did.

sheep

2

Gambling is illegal at Bushwood sir, and I never slice: five yarns

 

Image

 

Noonan! D’Annunzio! Mitchell! You’re on the tee!

It was a sparkling, jaunty morning. The kind only had during university holidays. Thirty chaps in whispering knots, around the first tee of North Adelaide’s south course.

As casual golfers we’d no experience with a gallery. Rocket, Puggy and I watched Crackshot have a few swings. He’d get us underway.

Exhibiting an opening batsman’s concentration, his backswing was neat. A purposeful downswing. Sixty eyes followed it as it flew up and through the autumnal sky. Remaining patiently on the tee, however, was his Hot Dot.

Now like a crashing Black Hawk’s rotor, minus the Jesus nut, Crackshot’s driver was in whirling flight. Sounding like Rolf’s wobble board it propelled up the fairway, then skimmed across the Kikuyu before finally, as in a Samuel Beckett tableau, it lay motionless and forsaken.

“My palms were sweaty,” claimed Crackshot.

I’ve sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber.

Sadly demolished, Kapunda’s Railway Hotel experienced a fleeting infamy, among the ridiculous, by opening at 8am on Sundays, when, in situ, we’d get raspberry cordial splashed in our West End Draught butchers.

Angelin was the publicans’ son. In the hotel ballroom he played me Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Once. I recuperated. Everything about the Railway Hotel was ridiculous.

But Angelin could play footy. He was a thumping kick, and when he connected, he sometimes achieved the mythological quality known in country sport as “good purchase.”

In the Junior Colts one Saturday at Dutton Park our ruckman, Rocket, got the tap from the centre bounce. Angelin seized the footy in that clean, untouchable way he had. Suddenly frozen as if in a sci-fi telemovie, the Tanunda boys were incapable of tackling him.

He surged towards the half forward line. Fifty-metre arcs were un-invented, but he was beyond that when he bombed it. Perhaps prog-rock had already pinched his conceptual clarity. It was a behind. To the Tanunda Magpies.

He’d kicked it the wrong way.

But, gee, it was impressive.

Hey Moose! Rocko! Help my buddy here find his wallet! 

The history of Spoof suggests English public schoolboys, darkened cupboards and loosened trousers. But for me it’s afternoons in Kapunda’s Prince of Wales, or Puffa’s, as it’s widely known.

Called ‘the ancient art of mathematical calculation as played by gentlemen,’ Spoof is a drinking game fabricated upon failure. It is a drinking game of cheerful cruelty, for it identifies no winners, only the loser.

Whitey loved Spoofy, and grabbing three coins, he’d jangle them at you with the same cacoëthes as the cat that was bitten by The Gambling Bug in the cartoon, Early to Bet. Whitey always found takers. Laughing, drinking, spoofing. In concert.

One afternoon Whitey lost. Many, many times. It remains a pub highlight even among the punters who weren’t there.

How can it have been so long since I played Spoofy?

Now I know why tigers eat their young.

It was a noble idea. Improve standards by running an evening clinic with Test umpire Tony Crafter. So we congregated in the Marlboro Red fug of the Kapunda clubrooms. Our guest officiated across the planet, but tonight, would field some exotic questions.

Angaston Muppet: Tony? May I call you Tony?

Tony Crafter: You may.

AM: Saturday in the A3’s I bowled a bouncer. And the batsman stuck up his hand and caught it. What do you think?

TC: If he had time to let go of the bat, raise a hand above his head and then catch it, it must have been a bloody slow bouncer.

AM: Well, yeah. But what should happen?

TC: You should give up bowling.

AM took charge massively. He changed topic.

AM: Once in the A3’s I appealed for a LBW.

TC: How did you go?

AM: Robbed! The umpire said he couldn’t make a decision. He reckoned I’d run down the pitch and blocked his view.

TC: Fair enough. That’s a reasonable response.

AM: OK, the umpire can’t make a LBW decision! Could I then appeal to the square leg umpire?

The Angaston Muppet, I’m assured, is currently a senior advisor within the federal government.

Be the ball, Danny.

Milan Faletic was a good average footballer. Turning out for West Torrens and Port Adelaide in over two hundred games, his nickname had pubescent, but lasting appeal. They called him Spoof.

At Port with Spoof was Rod Burton who became senior coach of the Kapunda Bombers when I was a boy. He was menacing. He had mad eyes. Replace shark with Burton and Quint’s still right

Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’

Crackshot, Rocket and I were on the wing by the timekeepers’ box when Burton had a boundary kick in. The box also housed the PA, and during the B Grade club stalwart Bruce Dermody pontificated

Ladies and gentleman. The canteen is selling pies, pasties and sausage rolls. Lollies for the kids. And the liquor bar will open at 2.30 for all your refreshment needs.

We were behind Burton. Deliberately, he pushed off the fence, and launched a mountainous screw punt. Spiralling instantly above the gum trees, the Ross Faulkner footy bisected the posts, and below the mound, down near the weedy trotting track, on the service road, it landed.

Blighty’s goal was but a stab pass.

As the Holden VC Commodores honked in praise, and duffel-coated kids hollered, Burton smiled. Just briefly.

 

 

0

Swanny, Spandau Ballet and Spotted Dick

spotted dick

 

England 6/226- Pietersen 67,Carberry 38, Harris 2/32, Johnson 2/59

Graeme Swann #1

Retirement. Swanny pairs up in 2015 with Phil Tufnell on their vaudeville TV show, The Spinning Geezers. Debuting in primetime, ITV soon buries it on Sunday afternoons, against the darts. Channel 9 fast tracks it. Each episode’s finale is Swanny and Tuffers singing, with grinning irony, a Spandau Ballet number

Gold!
Always believe in your soul
You’ve got the power to know
You’re indestructible
Always believe in, because you are
Gold!

Morning Session

Leading an unchanged eleven, Clarke wins the toss and bowls. Prior and Swann are out for Bairstow and Panesar. Broad removes his moon-boot and Hannibal Lecter mask to retain his place in the team. Diving wide, Smith drops Carberry on 2; a tough one, from the bowling of Harris. Heartening.

Cook is effervescent, scoring at a run a ball. Australia’s bowling is tidy with good line and length, but not menacing. Then Lyon turns it, gets it to bounce, and questions Carberry. Presenting as a hybrid of a kindly, but bonkers granddad and Uncle Terry from A Moody Christmas, it’s comforting to have Bill back in the commentary box.

Siddle claims the wicket of Cook, playing at one he should have left, and Clarke takes the sharp chance. It is emblematic of the English captain’s summer. A poor decision, taken by a batsman with a tremendous record, but perhaps not the leadership skill and imagination currently demanded by circumstance and country.

Root comes in, and Warney on Channel 9 and I resist all manner of adolescent puns. We both struggle. Siddle interrogates him. Root pokes about. At The Members’ End. See! It’s impossible.

Carberry grows in assurance, having multiple first innings starts this series. He needs to make a century to convince of his long-term position. He dispatches Johnson to the boundary with the shot of the session, a pull shot of majesty and power. At lunch England is 1/71. Sent in by Clarke, who’d have wanted at least three wickets, I reckon they’ve taken the early honours.

Graeme Swann #2

Sudden by international standards, Swann’s demise was glacial compared to my mate Bob’s at Greenock in 1986. At the start of his final ever over for the Kapunda Cricket Club he was a reliable medium pacer. Ten agonising minutes later his bowling career was dead.

It began with a couple of wides, progressed to a cancerous lack of confidence and culminated with Bob, broken, walking to the wicket like it was the gallows, and trying to complete a legitimate delivery. It often ended up at slip, or skidding forlornly, ashamedly, down to fine leg. His mental self-disintegration was total.

Subsequent pub analysis confirms that Bob’s fifteen-ball over only contained seven legal deliveries, and therefore nearly thirty years on, remains incomplete. I was at mid-off, and lobbed the ball to him, fifteen times. I felt increasingly like I was throwing him a box jellyfish.

Graeme Swann #3

Swann’s retired, declared the radio headline. Great, I thought, the Collingwood mid-fielder is grafting two horns to his forehead, and joining the Jim Rose Circus to star with the Amazing Mister Lifto, Zamora the Torture Queen and The Lizardman.

Oh, wrong Swann.

Afternoon Session

The English begin patiently. Clarke has mixed his attack about, using his bowlers in brisk, but barren spells. Watson swings it away, but not tantalisingly, as his bowling is often too wide. Carberry seems to have plenty of time. Did Clarke spot some demons in the pitch that, like Jeff Thomson’s sensitive and urbane qualities, aren’t actually there?

Watson bowls Carberry a ripper. It curls late and big. He leaves it. It crashes into his wicket. It will make the Best of Watto DVD. KP strides out to tremendous noise; cheers and jeers. With maturity and poise Root starts to build his innings. Expectation now as Siddle is about to bowl to his bunny, KP. It could finally get fascinating.

Johnson gets Root to edge one, but it falls short of Clarke at second slip. It offers some encouragement to the Australians. Now nearing 90,000 the crowd is justifiably quiet. It has been the most prosaic day of the series. I might start a Mexican wave, or assemble a beer cup snake if I can just locate some beer cups.

Harris lures the impish Root forward, who dabs feebly at an outswinger and snicks it. 3/106. If only Harris were a decade younger! The dismissed English batsman have all made useful starts, but with the now expected lack of concentration, contribute appreciably to their own downfall. KP and Bell decide survival is required, and refuse to follow their instincts. Like Cook’s captaincy, it seems pointlessly defensive. We have them spooked.

Lyon has bowled with variety, surprising the visitors with bounce and spin. He looks like he could do some damage. His control remains a chief attribute. A rare six is caught, but carried over the rope. Poo.

Graeme Swann #4

Swan retires, declared the radio headline. Great, I thought, Tippett the traitor is gone. He’s belatedly taken the morally correct path and hung up his boots. Homesick, he went back to that little-known Gold Coast suburb of Sydney. As you do. Buddy and Tippett on the SCG forward line would have been like two anacondas in a bath, wrestling over a ping-pong ball.

Oh, wrong Swann.

Graeme Swann #5

Possessing limited natural talent, but brazen confidence, he stole the advantage from the opposition and became an unlikely international celebrity and geezer role model. No, that was Ronnie Biggs.

Evening Session

Pietersen and Bell continue. Johnson bowls quickly, but spraying them like a tomcat. Lyon is afforded respect, but the English are channelling the dour spirit of Yorkshire men past, minus the sunny flamboyance.

Neither side has done much wrong. Neither side has done much right. The clouds have cleared, but the cricket remains grey. Clake’s decision to bowl looks increasingly peculiar. On this placid deck, I wonder what carnage Warner and Watson might have caused the fractured tourists, with Anderson struggling, Monty a well, Monty for a spanking, and Broad’s foot surely problematic.

As Kanye didn’t rap, “Oh hell, Bell’s gone into his shell.” The scoreboard is frozen. Boof is surely napping in his chair. Warney’s talking about the Ball of the Century. They’ve shown it now. Many times. The Warney carnival continues with his 700th test wicket. Like the car Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio spent horizontal time in during Titanic, the commentary box is steaming up. I turn on the fan. If they start showing scenes- there are no highlights- from Two and a Half Men, I’m going for a swim.

This wank-fest is interrupted cruelly by Ryan Harris getting Bell caught behind. It’s 4/173. Bailey then drops KP at mid-on. Harris is unhappy, but Bailey should be sent to the Old Bailey for that. KP starts spewing. Has he swallowed a fly? Perhaps the 12th man should bring out a spider. Boof wakes up. KP reaches fifty.

Stokes goes after Lyon and England reach 200. New fig in hand, Johnson gets the edge to Watson at slip. Maybe Clarke will receive vindication in the late, golden sunlight. Bairstow takes guard, and the Porno Mo is really flinging them now. Bairstow then leaves a Hummer-sized gap between bat and pad, and Johnson drives it onto the pegs. The crowd is ecstatic. A frantic, diving Harris just misses a Bresnan pop up. We head to Day 2 with the advantage.

Graeme Swann #6

An Antipodean Christmas had no appeal for Swanny. Pulling a cracker with KP is thorny when one or the other or both have their head/s somewhere warm and dark. The greatest Christmas cracker joke, according to our five year old is one that references both Swanny and Ronnie Biggs

Q- What do you call two robbers?

A-   A pair of knickers.

Let’s hope, back in England, safely distant from those “nasty” Australians, and in the soothing bosom of his Nan, Swanny enjoyed his festive Yorkshire pudding and Benny Hill-inspired dessert, Spotted Dick.

2

april conversation

april conversation

lunchtime patio &

i say autumn

sunrise’s first tee

wellington square dixieland

sparkling burgundy sundays

& football kicking over

summer’s wilting backline

our bbq chitchats

as you reply

seaside breezes      kissing

dogs scattering sand

oakbank’s huddled village

& back lawn petanque

beneath honeyed light