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To Max, on finishing primary school

Dearest Max

You are about to have your last week at primary school. So, now’s a good time to think on what you’ve done and all that’s happened.

I recall your first Celebration Night at St Leonard’s. You were in Dennis’s class and with the sun slanting in above the gum trees you danced with your friends in the back row. What was the song called? Can you remember? It seems such a long time ago, but also as if it’d occurred just a few days back. You’ll find that time is weird like this and then it’ll start to accelerate like a Koenigsegg Agera RS (which we know is the world’s fastest production car).

I hope you enjoy Celebration Night and take a moment to think about this farewell and the many teachers who’ve helped you and the friends who’ve left and the friends who’ve stayed.

I’m also reflecting on Saturday mornings and soccer matches at school, in the Adelaide Hills and everywhere in between. It was sometimes freezing when everyone’s legs went blue through to torrential rain but we also had those cloudless, pale sun days. I loved your eagerness on the pitch with your team-mates and how you listened to the coaches and were keen to impress them. Every goal you scored was a life highlight for me but I particularly loved the one at Mitcham in 2020!

Tee-ball was summery fun and I lost count of the number of homeruns you whacked and how when fielding you sprinted like a leopard for struck balls across the crunchy grass. As the coach it was a challenge to get your team to sit in the batting line-up! Were you naughty then? Just a bit.

I’ve such special memories of the camp to Narnu Farm on Hindmarsh Island and especially the horse ride around the paddocks. I reckon you were on the old one named Pudding. Do you remember playing tennis? You were such a good sport and kept the game going with your kind leadership ensuring everyone had fun.

There were fifty kids on that trip and because you’d done everything with such unstoppable enthusiasm by 10pm you were the first asleep! Sitting in the kitchen with our coffee I remember Barry the Deputy Principal saying how he wasn’t shocked as you, “ran pretty hard most days” and I was delighted by this. I trust you’ll continue to live this way.

Next morning one of your friends said at breakfast that you were the first awake and with all the kids still in their sleeping bags you told everyone funny stories. This also made me smile.

My favourite achievement is your recent poem and debate on racism in footy. It was a task you took seriously and you worked so hard on this assignment. It was probably the most important piece of school work you’ve done and it showed your deep and growing skill with language. I reckon English and critical thinking will be at the centre of your success at Brighton and beyond school it’ll remain a big part of your life.

I was thrilled and not at all surprised when you earned an A+ for this task. No, you didn’t get or receive an A+, you deserved it.

Here’s some other writing you’ve done that I love. These are from your long “list of activities” which is still up on the kitchen cupboard-

1. Ride (anywhere)

8. Eat (food).

And in accordance with the tradition you began about once a month you announce on the fridge whiteboard

                The cordial is pre-made.

This is one of our great literary rituals and of social service too!

There’re many things I’ll miss as you finish at St Leonard’s but high on my list is driving past at lunch or recess when the playground is a surging sea of green shirts and hats and suddenly, just like that, I see you dashing about, your unmissable blonde locks bouncing along as you chase your friends or climb that tree just outside the front office or kick a footy.

So, primary school is over. I hope you’ll always look back upon this with deep affection and satisfaction. Enjoy your holidays.

I’m proud of you.

Love Dad

xx

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Round 7- Adelaide v North Melbourne: Four quarters, four pubs, four points (pints)

death mobile.png

Inspired by seminal film-noir offering Animal House and the road trip taken by Otter, Boon, Flounder, and Pinto I realise I need a robust plan. How was I going to watch the footy on Saturday?

With Bass Strait likely to be beyond our modest 4WD, a road trip wasn’t possible, so I contemplated my options, and late one night the answer burst upon me like the Gospel chorus of “Shout” as performed mid-toga party by Otis Day and the Knights. I could hear Eric “Otter” Stratton saying, “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture.”

Pub crawl.

And so, a Glenelg walking and refreshment tour happened.

First quarter: Holdfast Hotel

The Holdy reinvents itself often. It was once a brew-pub and now it’s trying to get down with the kids, as its website has an Instagram gallery. A couple months’ ago, I took our boys there for a bite to eat. Despite thousands of punters going through the inn in the interim, Lucy, the young bar server, remembered our boys. Probably because having brought a footy, they enjoyed some spirited end-to-end kicking in the bar. No, an outside bar. Yes, during an engagement party.

The game’s dominant themes emerge early: North first to the ball and constructive, and Adelaide’s chasing Roos like some misfits in Wake in Fright. The early goals then became regular scores and worry changes to disbelief and ultimately laughter at the absurdity of the events unfolding. I was reminded of Macbeth who remarks upon seeing the seemingly endless dynasty begat by Banquo: What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?

Our first quarter score matches exactly Bluto’s grade point average in Animal House as declared by Dean Wurmer: Zero POINT zero.

Second quarter: Broadway Hotel

The Broady is high-vis and TAB tickets, but it’s been renovated; the side wall’s been knocked through, and now there’s a cheerful beer garden. How great would this actually be? A garden which grows beer. But, I do wonder if the new hole was deliberate and not caused by an energetic brawl, all whirls of orange and flying Blundstones*, or a stolen WW2 tank.

Eddie Betts registers his 500th goal and then courtesy of ill-discipline, his 501st. But Jarrad Waite dominates for the Roos, while for the Crows Tex Walker may as well have sat in the Ricky Ponting Stand and had a few jars, given his uncustomary invisibility.

Third quarter: The Jetty Bar

Attractively located on Moseley Square, the Jetty is a fantastic boozer for nursing a beer and people-watching, but I’ve always thought it was a pub. And an exotic, earthy one at that. It formerly advertised “Half-price Brandavino” at Happy Hour. Apparently, it’s now a bar and is sometimes known as the “J Bar.” Stop it, you man-bunned assistant manager, you’re fooling no-one. It’s a pub. Apparently, it opens at 8am for those mornings when tea and toast just won’t cut it.

It’s a grim afternoon when among the second half highlights is a patch when North kicks the ball out on the full three times as the comically blustery wind blows across Belerive and the bay. Adelaide surges occasionally, but the Roos are easily able to withstand and then counter these attacks.

I note that just up the road from the arena is The Lost Sock Laundrette, and wonder if the afternoon may have been more productively spent in there, watching a stranger’s second hand sheets tumbling and tumbling while outside in the murk and swirl an uncaring football universe rushes by.

Fourth quarter: The Grand Hotel

The Internets say that the Grand Bar is “smartly casual” and welcomes hotel guests and Adelaidians alike. All true, but I’d argue it’s actually “casually smart” which means your thongs must roughly match, or they won’t let you in. Their website (it could be an Instagram gallery, I’m unsure) includes photos of a surprisingly inert metal bucket with Corona beers (sic) and a jaunty yoof sporting a backwards cap.

Standing by the bar my Volleys are instantly glued to the floor. Ahh, The Grand, where the tiles are eternally sticky, and the beer’s not pouring well. This is the first thing all new staff are taught. “Repeat after me. That tap’s not pouring well. Can I interest you in a rare Japanese ice beer? They’re only $15.”

The last quarter plods away to its sure conclusion. Not many Crows players will want a DVD of this match for their CV while the Roos are led by Waite and Cunnington. We’ve been flogged at the ruck contests and North gets the ball inside their fifty nearly 80 times! The mathematical weight of this alone ensures that we were in trouble.

Still, we remain top, and it’s been a fun afternoon out and about in Glenelg. Next time I’ll also invite Otter, Boon, Flounder, and Pinto.

otis.png

 

 

 

2

Observations from a Pair of Moving Legs

esplanade

This story is from the change of millennium when old mate Bob and I used to run early mornings along the Glenelg South esplanade. There’s surprising stuff happening by the beach at dawn.

*

It is like facing up to an appointment with the dentist. You know that it is going to hurt, that you will make some alarming gurgling sounds and that when it is finished, you will try, with ample humiliation, to spit.

Friday. Dawn. Moseley Square. I twist and fold in a feeble attempt to prepare. Peering into the dark space of the Grand’s Pier and Pines bar, I see a lone cleaner vacuuming away the last scraps of yesterday’s conversation. “Let’s do this,” urges Bob- my accomplice.

With a beep my stopwatch is blinking and running and so are we!

At 6am the Esplanade is two babbling streams of people and dogs: one flowing toward Brighton and the other; lazily at the Patawalonga. We surge southward and a dribbling hound lumbers into my lane and then across to a yawning pine. He autographs it with the shamelessness of a footballer on an end-of-season trip.

On the horizon a tanker drags itself noiselessly toward the refinery. The breeze is crisp. A lanky teenager shuffles plastic tables outside the Broadway café, his black beanie pulled so low that some could suspect him of arranging a bank robbery for mid-morning. I spot a Chupa-chup poking jauntily from his jaw and relax, pleased that he is unlikely to feature on tonight’s TV news. He nods, “G’day boys.” We nod back.

Knots of chatty walkers drink up the seaside zest and provide welcome entertainment. It’s like spinning a radio dial across endless talkback stations- and not without intrigue. A Reality-TV producer (still in plague numbers) could comfortably fashion a dozen gripping episodes from the random snippets we steal each morning. Ambling into Somerton Park I catch:

“…but you’ll never guess,” (an elderly gent to his grandson) “he made the putt!”

“I told Doreen that there-is-NO-WAY-I’m-going.”

“So, do you think his wife knows?”

And a boisterous woman in a pink tracksuit gives her arteries some extra traffic by broadcasting, “and that bloody plumber still wanted to charge me!”

My stopwatch offers no quirky grabs. It only rudely demands acceleration. The yacht club sails toward us. Finally halfway, we anchor and embrace our minute’s rest. “A visit to the dentist’s is less painful,” I splutter, hands on hips- hungry for air.

Bob wheezes, “At least you get plenty of oxygen in the chair.” His hair is stuck firm to his head. We devour the sixty seconds, then turn, resolved, homeward bound. The wind, previously an ally, is now aggressive. I immediately feel I’m towing an old wooden bar fridge. An old wooden bar fridge bulging with brown rows of Coopers Stout.

The Esplanade’s skyline changes constantly. Majestic villas bravely protest the spread of Tuscan packing crates. A developer’s billboard stands loud among the concrete and the mesh of a building site. “Hurry! Only ONE left,” it screams impatiently.

“Now that’s optimism,” snorts Bob. This anorexic block is apparently destined to feature all of two yellow townhouses.

A cheery clot of ruddy sixty-somethings is caught by their chain of cars on a rise. T-shirts cling and drip and they chat brightly in the golden light of the sunrise as only the retired can. A champagne cork, sorry- Australian Sparkling Wine cork cuts an arc across the footpath like a failed firework. Each gent tips a crystal flute into which the hissing fizz is energetically spilled. “What’s the occasion boys?” I ask.

“Friday,” celebrates one of this chirpy clan as he hoists his breakfast drink. A gesture of sweaty fellowship.

“Amen,” I return.

“That will be us in thirty years Mickey,” puffs Bob.

“The cheapest champagne will be a hundred bucks a bottle by then.”

“Plus twenty five per cent GST.” But Bob is given to political alarm.

Pushing on towards the Broadway, we abandon our role models to their refreshments and their broad, leisurely days.

The stopwatch sternly announces that a scant two minutes stand between us and our best time of the summer. The Grand’s sandcastle shapes loom and I try to push myself quicker. “No,” my legs scream. I know deep in my soul that a root canal treatment is better than this.

“Listen legs,” I assert, “do as you are told. And stop talking. You can’t speak. This is not a Douglas Adams’ novel!”

Our finishing line (in many senses of the phrase) swims into happy view. I glance at my now completely despised watch. The Town Hall clock frowns down at us like a disappointed Senior Colts football coach. Again I spy the wandering hound, eagerly leaving his name on a sullen lamppost.

Swerving around some swaying walkers gobbles critical seconds.

“Eleven dollars for O-Rings! What’s the hell is an O-Ring?”

It’s the pink tracksuit, still expounding on the Secret Horrors of Dishwasher Repairs.

We make a desperate, final lunge- and are outside our target time. It was, however, another vigorous run and my pounding pulse is electric and exhilarating. We savour our slow cool down on the bumpy lawn that separates the Norfolk Island Pines from the sloping sands. After, easing along the veranda of the Grand, Bob inquires, “See you and Kerry in here for a beer tonight?”

“Magnificent idea,” I agree.

Yes, it is the weekend. The glorious escape. Promise and anticipation.

Our next dental appointment is not until Monday.

 

running

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crutches

 

swinging metallic crutches

and his narrow frame form

a pendulum as he

steps… stops…

steps… stops…

along jetty

to palm-tree square

 

empty trouser fabric pinned neatly

in a flat rectangle

his remaining leg suffers the weight

of this hollow world

 

a blast beyond nightmares

in a jungle

thousands of miles

and years

from this twinkling esplanade

 

refusing to rest

on a peeling bench

a solitary soldier

and his crutches funeral- march toward

a darkened room where

 

sleeping

he escapes the landmine’s orange anger

and wishes

he only

lost a leg