0

Round 10 – Adelaide v Fremantle: The 2013 Wolf Blass Brown Label Classic Shiraz Is Dramatically Better Than The Dockers

fire bucket.png

Fire, footy and friends.

Of course, my wife’s right. She bought it about six weeks ago, from the sausage sizzle hardware emporium. It’s been a great addition to our patio and we’ve had many nights around it. As autumn descends to winter there’ll be many more.

It’s a fire bucket.

Once aflame, a chair, a cup and some company’s all that’s needed.

Among our party tonight are some of my favourite folks, including three girls with whom I shared house when at uni. As you know, there’s a lifelong attachment made when sitting cross-legged on stained carpet, in a daggy rented house in a then pre-gentrified suburb, glugging cask wine by candlelight.

Surprisingly, Josh Jenkins is better in the wet. Our warm, still autumn has not been kind to him. Tonight, the harder the Dylanesque rain falls the nimbler the monstrously-built forward plays. Maybe he’s more whale than herbivore dinosaur. Light on his feet, he finds space, and like Lennon in the Dakota Building seems happier in this dissimilar environment. I was bewildered by his sudden recall, but he does well.

Among our friends is a junior footballer. Jed’s nine. He and our boys burst about the house like joyous thunderclaps. Bedroom, backyard and back. Repeat. About four games into their 2017 season Jed’s team’s been utterly scoreless so far. Not a lonely, lazily rushed behind. Nothing. Happily, no-one’s keeping score and their competition has no cruel premiership ladder. A Sunday afternoon text tells me they scrambled four behinds today. Despite another loss, they’re on the board.

The Honourable Edward A. Betts snaps a goal square major that must be barely satisfactory for him, such is the unchallenging simplicity. Indeed, each of Betts’ majors is registered from the square, away from the boundary lines with which he enjoys a preternatural, endless affinity. Another lashing rain shower jangles on our roof and we’re unable to hear special commenter Mark Ricciuto and his monotone monosyllables.

During his thousand-day absence from the Crows, dual knee reconstruction survivor Andy Otten came to our island home one weekend as a guest of the Singapore Sharks footy club, and provided much curious excitement for the ex-pat urchins. Now back in the Adelaide tri-colours and sporting an Oregonian lumberjack’s beard, he’s enjoying an attractive stretch as an enigmatic forward. Four goals courtesy of his considerable footy smarts is a luminous return.

Again, the brutal rains lash our city, oval and house with a ferocity that reminds me of The Deadliest Catch, save for the Alaskan King Crabs. Instead, we’ve party pies, garlic bread and various processed Germanic meats. It’s comfort food, and I feel decidedly comfortable. Our patio blaze crackles and exerts a happy gravity onto our loose circle of friends.

Wayne Milera’s been hovering on the cusp, and presents well in this Indigenous Round match. I hope his growth continues. With Chas and Eddie, they’re a vivacious triumvirate. They’re huge fun.

At halftime, we bring out a chocolate cake with a solitary candle to acknowledge the recent major birthday of one of our guests, RS Bowden, and we share a 2013 Wolf Blass Brown Label Classic Shiraz, and we nod at our good fortune. Indeed, Wolfgang Blass, AM, is also a dedicated Rolls Royce driver and Norwood fan. I wonder if he and Garry McIntosh have met. As always, his plonk goes terrifically. It’s luscious and at once, atomic and universal, while whispering of our tremendous providence, in a lifted fruit and gorgeously brick dust and ironmongery scented way.

The fire roars on into the wintry dark. Our visitors drive off into the suburban night. The Dockers, now doubtless suffering the troubled sleep of footballers tormented by a coach with more unfathomable psychobabble than constructive game plan.

On an inhospitable night where they somehow registered forty-three scoring shots, the Crows remain top. I have leftover chocolate cake for Sunday breakfast.

wolf blass

 

 

 

0

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

Paris: Je Suis un Rock Star

10540995_10152728491201865_106283712045647110_o

In Paris I thought about former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman. It was either him or Plastic Bertrand. Both had hits in the 1980’s. Both sang in French. Sort of.

*

“Can we go on an adventure?”

“Sure. Which way shall we go?”

Alex is confident. “The front. We can go to the restaurant.”

We’re hurtling across the Alsace near the German and French border, and I glance up at the display. 313 kph. European trains are beyond brilliant. The snow is falling in curtains, and we rush past hills and farms. I spy some pigs.

In the café car we climb onto some stools and gaze out the window. The boys have a Kit Kat. I have a beer. We see wind farms. Go through tunnels. We talk about Harry Potter, the Adelaide Crows (Alex), and the Essendon Bombers (Max). I’ve never been happier.

We slide through Strasbourg. There are ships and boats on the Ill River. “Is that the Titanic, Dad?” Our train is slingshotted by a French motorway whose vehicles seem motionless. “Dad, that looks like our black car!” And then, as talk rolls around, “When does footy start at the Singapore Sharks?”

Trains civilize us. Trains nourish our imaginations. They evoke a romantic age, and easing along the corridors, I should be sporting a top hat and muttonchops.

*

Aside from buses, what’s the worst way to travel? Pushing your own taxicab! Our Parisian driver was friendly, but we were keen to reach our apartment, drop our luggage, and eat. Battling traffic along Boulevard de Magenta, Alex and Max increasingly behave like deer trapped in a Canadian liquor store. Détente was disintegrating.

The cabby wobbled the gearshift as we glided to an uneasy halt. “Problem?” I offer. Wearing the haunted look of a fugitive, he evaluates, “Gear box.” So there I was, as my family stood on the pavement, straining against the shat-itself-cab. Ah, welcome back, sir. Lovely to have you back in the City of Light. Why, you’re even more handsome than I remember. May I offer you a 2004 Bordeaux?

Heading to the Gare de Nord five days later, the driver warns us about railway station crime. “Be careful,” he urges. He then speaks in French to his phone before showing me the translated screen

In Paris a pizza arrives quicker than the police.

*

Returning to Europe, but with the boys, is to visit the continent afresh, and see everything as if for the first time. How terrific is this?

On Sunday we walk down by the Louvre, and turning the corner near the Seine, urge the boys to look westward. And there it was! The Eiffel Tower.

But our view was obscured. We could only see the top half. Chopped down as if kneecapped by the Mafia, it doesn’t function. Painted in 1970’s physics teacher brown, it’s a charmless Soviet radio mast.

The Eiffel Tower’s attractive only when seen in its entirety with, for example, the Champ de Mars framing it. Without its fabulous mise-en-scène, it’s decontextualised, stripped of beauty like a torn painting. But, the boys loved it. Even lining up for two hours in the winter chill to ascend in its elevator. And that’s all that matters.

Our Tudor apartment on Rue Montorgueil is stunning. Featuring exposed beams, characterful floorboards, and an ancient staircase; it overlooks the cobblestoned street, four stories below. The ground floor? A pizza house! Game, set, match. However, the police cruelly cut the padlocks I used to chain myself to the wood oven and beer fridge.

*

It’s probably a hundred types of wrong, but on this, our third visit to the French capital, I’ve still not seen the Mona Lisa. The wife of the former publican of The Sir John Franklin Hotel in Kapunda and The Bushman Hotel in Gawler interests me more. Her name is also Mona. And I’ve not seen her portrait either.

We ride a hop-on, hop-off bus to escape the biting cold, and also because Alex and Max enjoy it. Their personal earphones seem to function as auditory tranquilizers allow them to learn some French history, culture and architecture, which is a wonderful opportunity.

Celebrated Parisian music links the commentary. We hear my Mum’s favourite, Charles Aznavour and his song “La Bohème,” tragic songstress Edith Piaf, and in a surprise, Robin Thicke’s veiled ode to Notre Dame and the Île de la Cité, “Blurred Lines.”

Driving past the Palais Garnier, the narrative continues

Charles Garnier, the renowned architect of the Opera House announced that unlike other Parisian avenues, Avenue de l’Opéra would not be tree-lined, as he did not wish for views of his magnificent creation to be impeded.

I lift an eyebrow, glance at the wife and mouth, “Tosser.” She nods back.

Dining at Jet Lag by The Church of St Eustace is great. Alex declares his cheeseburger the most amazing ever! Once we took our nephew to the Buffalo on Glenelg’s Patawalonga. After his modest meal Dylan says, “This is the best Buffalo restaurant I’ve visited.” Max just eats.

I devour the tarte aux pommes de terre et au boeuf. Wow, I hear you breathe, what a gourmand, a sophistiqué moderne. It’s true, things do sound better in French. My dinner? Yep, cottage pie.

We love the neighbouring Jardin Nelson Mandela and its playground. On our final visit an attendant asks, “Where you from? England?” No, Australia, I reply with a nod. Despite his monstrous size he suddenly seems boyish, and squeals, “Kan-goo-ra, kan-goo-ra.”

*

Paris. Such blinding elegance. Such soaring ambition. This city is splendid. It celebrates the individual, and offers avenues to happiness. I reckon we found some.

Just like Bill from the Rolling Stones

Took her to a disco
In Battersea
I asked her to dance
And then she danced with me

10860829_10152728487901865_124023434196030029_o

0

Football islands

Alex and Max at footy

My ears are more alert than my eyes. I hear the song before I see anything.

Meet me down by the jetty landing

Where the pontoons bump and sway

I see the others reading, standing

As the Manly Ferry cuts its way to Circular Quay

“Reckless” by Australian Crawl takes me back. With a funereal bass line, and a snare drum like gunshot, it’s prominent in the soundtrack to my last year at school. This was also the year I broke my arm playing junior football for Kapunda. June and my season, wrecked.

A fortnight later my arm was to be re-broken, as the locum had not aligned it. Six more weeks in a cast! So with Mum watching I was on a hospital bed as the resident doctor loomed and mumbled.

“Ouch! It’s hurting!” I sensed the subterranean crunching.

Doc was an absorbed professional. “Be quiet please!”

I was in distress. “ No, it’s really hurting!” Not just Masters bakery is out of sausage rolls distress. Or even Skyhooks split distress.

Minutes later the doctor squinted at the drip. He realised. His tone transformed. “Oh! I’m so sorry. I’m very sorry!” There he was, fracturing my arm enthusiastically, but, somehow, having neglected to turn on the anaesthetic. After, the local veterinarian gave me artificial insemination gloves to slide over my cast when showering. Pleasingly, for the district’s young and old bulls and especially me, these were not pre-loved.

We’re at the Australian School in Singapore. It’s Auskick registration on Australia Day. With blonde mops, the boys now merge. Unlike much of Asia, no one here takes their photo. Ninety-five inches of rain annually means there’s artificial turf. However, they’ll be in the cavernous gym. No footy boots. Not yet.

The covers band chugs along. “Reckless” runs into “Flame Trees.” More country town wistfulness. Bouncy castles. Bins bulging with ice and drinks. BBQs and stalls. Barefoot blokes, clutching lagers, kick to kick. They spill nothing. They could be Geelong backmen. We rush the Singapore Sharks footy tent.

An official measures them. The Sharks jumpers are green and gold. The major sponsor is a Boat Quay restaurant and bar. Our coach anticipates. “Who do the boys support?”

“Adelaide Crows.”

“I reckon I’ve got a Tex Walker left.”

And so Alex is to begin his career as number 13. Could be worse. Shane Ellen kicked five in the ’97 grand final wearing 13. We like Tex, but I can’t envisage our first born cultivating a Broken Hill mullet.

“Number 8 for the little fella?”

“Sounds good.” Nathan Bassett is Adelaide’s best number 8. The boys’ mother’s favourite too. Dependable. Left arm like a telescope, and an under-age kicking style.

Welcome aboard, Max.

A bouncy castle seduces us like sirens, both footy ground and Greek mythological. I think ahead. What do we want for our fledgling footballers? A thirst for sport and endeavour. Skills, but also camaraderie and community. And ultimately, social and personal responsibility.

As Malcolm Blight maintains, football is difficult. You wait for your turn in a handball drill. It devours your boyish patience. Mostly, you don’t have possession. You watch the ball up the other end. Zinging anticipation. And then- it’s coming your way! Make a decision. Quick. Do something! But there’s fun too.

This, an ex-pat isle of footy, is itself on an island. The Singapore Sharks is new, whilst I began at Kapunda. Launched in 1866 at the North Kapunda hotel, it’s among the world’s oldest football clubs, in any code, operating under its original name. Magnificently, its website is

http://www.bombers.com.au/

My home club owns this, and Essendon’s behemoth doesn’t. I imagine Kapunda as a brittle island up against the seismic bullying of the AFL. I imagine Demetriou ringing the club president, and in a loutish, aborted monologue, trying to acquire it.

Mini-League was my Auskick. Wednesday training at Dutton Park. Former stationmaster Bruce Dermody was our coach. He was grandfatherly. “Hold that ball straight, when you kick lad!” We’d have scratch matches with goalposts across the ground, down the trotting track end. It was an innocent island. It was our world. Only stopping because of the gathering gloom, we’d then cycle home to chops and three veg. Dukes of Hazzard and bed.

Bruce met his wife Melva at Bowmans, a railway siding, between Balaklava and Port Wakefield. It’s long gone. They lived for the club, and it was their family. Now they are also gone. With blind, familial loyalty Alex and Max often announce, “I’ll play for the Kapunda Bombers!” Their Poppa, my Dad, is a life member. Football flows like rain. A stationmaster? My boys are likely to be coached by a web-master.

Leaving this rowdy islet of Australiana, the band jangles through Powderfinger’s “My Happiness.” What varieties of happiness might football offer Alex and Max? What will it teach them of the tantalising connections between danger and beauty? Others and self? Will football become a faithful, tormenting mate, or fade like a sepia photograph in a museum?

This Saturday, we’ll start to learn.

bouncy castle