2

Hottest 100 (minus 90) Stubby Holders of the Week

Apologies to Triple J, those entrusted with preparing gravy, Billie Eilish, fans of the long barbeque lunch, Humphrey B. Flaubert, Jock Cheese, Eugene de la Hot Croix Bun and Ron Hitler-Barassi.

In a very particular order, and with no editorialising, here they are. Judges votes are final etc.

10. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Cobdogla and District Club (est.1958).

cobby

9. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Kapunda Footy Club. Congratulations. Your prize will be sent by carrier pigeon.

KFC

8. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) comes to you live today from the Kimba Golf Club where, in a curious twist, the winner is the Kimba Golf Club.

kimba

7. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Footy Almanac. Congratulations to all involved.

almanac

6. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the one Allan Border signed when I met him at the Holdy. Yes, it is a XXXX Gold holder (don’t show your kids).

AB

5. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Sharks FC, one of Singapore’s finest Australian Rules footy clubs. Your prize will be posted shortly.

sharks

4. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Coopers Session Ale. Obviously, no actual beer was harmed during the taking of this photo.

session

3. Congratulations to former Adelaide resident and Le Cornu shopper Ben Folds on receiving Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW).

folds

2. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Crows’ icon Darren Jarman- Around the body, that will do. That. Will. Do. Congratulations Darren, your prize will be mailed to you.

fudd

1. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to Adam and Caitlyn. I bloody love youse. I have never met you.

airlie

0

Belle and Sebastian: The State I’m In

 

B and S

 

The opening track on Belle and Sebastian’s  debut album Tigermilk is “The State I’m In” and this vignette hosts some memorable characters. I first really listened to it on Karon Beach in Thailand, and often played it walking around Singapore beneath her towering skyscape. The jangling, Byrds-like guitar adds to its sunny glow.

The initial verse contains remarkable personal and family detail, and insight into our narrator’s psychological condition. “The State I’m In” utilises language in clever and complex ways to create vivid characters. The first line’s hyperbole offers humorous, arresting insight into our narrator.

I was surprised, I was happy for a day in 1975

I was puzzled by a dream, stayed with me all day in 1995

These simple, matter-of-fact, year-specific declarations engage the audience by provoking many questions, and the revelations continue through the following verse

I got married in a rush to save a kid from being deported

Now she’s in love

With this we learn that he’s compassionate, and even self-sacrificial, but then wonder who the girl’s now in love with: is it our narrator, or another? He then recounts another relationship in which he has been vulnerable: that with the priest whom takes his admissions, breaks confidentiality and the Seal of the Confessional, and turns these into art

He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called

“The State I Am In”

By the finish of the opening stanza’s confessional intimacy we’ve learnt of the family’s dynamics, challenges and history courtesy

He stood up with a sailor friend

Made it known upon my sister’s wedding day

We then hear the final affront where his highest authority hesitates before belatedly accepting our narrator; no wonder he’s in a despondent state

So I gave myself to God

There was a pregnant pause before he said ok

His self-loathing finds pathetic and final expression in the song’s last verse

            Now I’m feeling dangerous, riding on city buses for a hobby is sad

The language used in the lyrics is deceptively simplistic, but depicts vivid characters.

With this complex domestic context established our protagonist, or possibly antagonist, reveals in a striking act that shocks

I was so touched, I was moved to kick the crutches

From my crippled friend

Is this truth, or is it a comedic device; a strange metaphor? Certainly its oxymoronic nature invites deeper thought. Should we be horrified, amused, or both? Subsequently the narrator confesses this act of violence, and events take another unexpected turn with the priest acting immorally.

We find dark humour in the idea that a religious figure would steal a story and publicise it in a novel. Little wonder that our main character is disturbed! With this development the song title is invested with wicked irony that generates sympathy.

This powerful vignette catalogues key moments in the narrator’s life as he seeks purpose and meaning. The final image offers a positive picture of one, troubled as he is, wanting to do earthly good. There’s poignant use of circularity with the repetition of previous detail

Lead me to a living end

I promised that I’d entertain my crippled friend

My crippled friend

Expertly using first person perspective, the lyricist provides understated descriptions to provoke us, and our reactions encompass the witty, the sad, and the frightening. Belle and Sebastian have created some vivid characters, and this song invites deep contemplation.

 

karon

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

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

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

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

2

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.

 

 

 

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

0

The Gatting Ball and me

AB and me

I can see it now. I’ve a horrifying habit. Too many times, I’ve accidentally chosen to work where the local pub is the worst in town.

St Albans is a fetching cathedral and market town, just north of London, in the glamorous greenery of the Home Counties. It boasted over eighty boozers when I lived there, and most prominent is the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in Verulamium Park, where once stood a Roman city.

An eleventh century building on an eighth century site, it’s the Guinness Book of Records holder of oldest pub in England. My townhouse was an easy par 4 from the Cocks, but I worked on St Albans’ periphery near the untreatably dreadful Bunch of Cherries. I’d many a pint there with my workmates, although as an example of 1960’s Dismal Brick/Shithouse, it has less charisma than a Heathrow toilet.

The smallest place I’ve lived is the exception to this cosmopolitan misery. Kimba is half way across Australia, and on a Friday its sole pub was rollicking and happy. Icy beer, roaring jukebox. The core of its community. My first weekend in town, I won the meat tray. How could I not love it?

Geelong-besotted supporters identify Kimba as the hometown of Corey Enright. As a young fella who was frequently upright, and possessing of a pulse, I became Boris’ PE teacher. All saw him as a gifted footballer, but I argued that he was a better leg spinner, and could go far. Bowling on concrete decks that bounced and bit like a taipan, he bamboozled men and boys alike.

June 4, 1993 is a Friday, and despite it being Eastern Eyre footy season, a blissful tangle of chaps is inhaling ale. The Kimba pub jukebox blasts Choir Boys, Meat Loaf, and the sing-along gem, “What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes.” Day Two of the First Ashes Test from Old Trafford is on, but it’s beyond a footballer’s curfew, particularly for us modest B-graders. And then, shortly before lunch, AB throws a tubby, naturally non-blonde the ball.

For all the where-were-you-when-you-heard about Lady Diana, 9/11, the Boxing Day tsunami, there are celebratory counterparts. Jezza’s legendary leap, Australia snatching the America’s Cup, and for many, the Ball of the Century.

Ritchie’s commentating. No Bill hyperbole. Mercifully, no screeching Michael Slater.

He’s done it. He’s started off with the most beautiful delivery. Gatting’s got no idea what’s happened to it. He still doesn’t know.

The batsman’s humbled reaction is apposite. What choice had he? Anger and disappointment could have had no useful function. There’s only Gatting’s acceptance something astounding had occurred, that he had not previously seen, nor would likely see again. In the booming beery frenzy, Robbie, Hendo, Klingy, and I know we’ve witnessed a remarkable episode.

Strolling off, Gatting preternaturally knew he’d stolen a cameo role in what would be regarded as cricket’s most illustrious single-act production. Not a tragic narrative, but one approaching the comedic in its enthralling unlikelihood. Shaking his head in bemusement corroborates our shared view.

Australia was then sponsored by XXXX and, much later, so was I when in the skirmish for beer supremacy a grassroots marketing strategy took me hostage. For twelve months I transmogrified into a XXXX Gold Ambassador. As a Coopers Sparkling and Pale Ale aficionado, I call it the year I barracked for Collingwood. I had not gone native. It was abundantly worse. I had gone Queensland.

Given entirely too much XXXX to inflict upon family and friends, I was also required to host a XXXX-infused BBQ and, finally, with my Kimba mate Bazz, sat in the sponsor’s marquee at the Adelaide Clipsal 500. This was telling given my relationship with motorsport is akin to that between Fev and Mensa.

My ambassadorial climax was a Sunday in Glenelg’s Holdfast Hotel with our most significant modern captain, Allan Border.

Me: I must tell you that you’re my Dad’s favourite cricketer. He describes you as being “pugnacious.”

AB: Well, everyone has their own personal style. I did what I did best.

I decline to say that Dad also once remarked if he had to be in a fight, AB is the first bloke he’d want on his side.

Me: Can I ask you about my best ever sporting moment? The Gatting Ball?

AB: Sure. It was a huge occasion.

Me: Where were you?

AB: At that point I often fielded at midwicket, so I didn’t really get a decent view of it.

Me: But you knew it was special?

AB: Yea. At the drinks break Heals said it was, “a pretty fair seed.”

Laconic understatement. Just what I wanted to hear. Sensational.

Me: What did Gatting say?

AB: He knew it was good too. He’s done really well out of it. The Gatt’s dined out on that story ever since. With all the speaking engagements, he’s very pleased.

Warne’s striking proclamation of his genius is leg spin’s enchanted temple. For cricket fans, it generated a global epiphany while the attendant symbolism makes this the most resounding of his 708 Test wickets.

And on that June afternoon I suspect even the desolate types in The Bunch of Cherries squinting at the screen over pints of tepid Tetleys knew SK Warne’s first Test delivery in England was to be cherished.

In Kimba we definitely did.

.bunch

0

2013 AFL Grand Final: chook

chook

9.18am SGT – River Valley, Singapore

Is there a more cherished Australian word than chook? It speaks profoundly of our affection for larrikin idiom, contraction and, of course, poultry. Given the pit of existential terror that is our condominium’s BBQ, we’re having chicken (chook) and salads at our AFL grand final lunch.

Our exclusive ownership of chook was illustrated to me years ago in a Hertfordshire school staff room when I told a joke that ended with a punch line something like, “And mum said, ‘Trevor! Stop doing that to the chook.’” I expected belly laughs and streaming eyes, but the audience response was Easter Island. Beyond our shores, chook does not exist.

11.55am-Tiong Bahru Park, Singapore

As the boys rush about in the playground and zip up and back on the flying fox, I get the ABC on my phone, and from his temple The Coodabeen Champions’ mystical mentor muses.

Guru Bob: Chess is the superior game.

Torch McGee: Greater than Australian Rules football?

Guru Bob: No rule changes for 500 years.

In the late 1980’s on Sunday night drives back to SA’s West Coast, The Coodabeens would accompany me as I hurtled past wheat fields along Highway 1. With the cover featuring two goal umpires in traditional coats, their Double White Album is the best cassette I ever bought. Even better than Ripper ’76. Using a funked up melody from Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train”, Champs’ “Rhys-Jones (Goes A Bit Mental)” remains among my favourite Australian songs.

Rhys-Jones is in there swinging,

Uppercut from Rhys-Jones!

12.05pm- Gawler East, South Australia

It is a sweltering, breathless afternoon here on the equator. Air-conditioning blasting, good folk from Hobart, Vancouver, Kentucky, Brisbane, Henley Beach, and Kapunda are bunched on our lounge. 54 hundred kilometres south it’s a nippy day, and my parents-in-law have lit their fire. Pop! They open a bottle of Bird in Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir, from the Adelaide Hills, to complement their footy viewing.

12.10pm- MCG, Melbourne, Australia

Birds from Tokyo play a couple of songs to an uninterested crowd. It strikes me as forgettable music. Like Brian Taylor’s commentary, it’s affected, cliché, a grating imitation of something much more engaging. “Pre-game entertainment” has always been an oxymoron, but it must be tough when you’re the curtain raiser to the curtain raiser.

12.25pm- Barossa Valley, South Australia

Mum likes the Crows, and does not care much for the rest, so, invited to lunch with some girlfriends, she takes the opportunity. Now home alone, Dad relaxes into his recliner, and a glass of shiraz. He enjoys the match. He’s like me, there are no bad games of football, only ones you don’t watch.

1pm- River Valley, Singapore

Friends from near Louisville are with us, and Mark comments, “Fremantle’s poor kicking might cost them.” I love sharing our game with others. We discuss their visit to the MCG, years ago, when they saw Richmond play.

We also talk about the Kentucky Derby. Mark says, “There’s two ways to experience the Derby. The corporate experience for the rich, and a real experience for the rest of us.” It’s a telling observation on AFL grand final day, in the Fonzie Demetriou epoch.

2pm- Victor Harbor, South Australia

Bob and Trish and their toddler, Jack are on a Fleurieu Peninsula farm stay for the weekend. As the Dockers thrillingly surge in the third quarter, and Bruce brings out his growl, a text appears from Bob

 the purple haze descends

The haze comes, but the brown and gold ultimately disperses the purple smog. Disappointingly, for the specialised subset of Dockers and Prince fans, there is no Purple Reign.

3.10pm- River Valley, Singapore

In our living room, to selected bemusement, the siren sounds. It’s another unique feature to be prized. I always liked the siren at Nuriootpa’s ground, despite it being enemy territory, as its shrill urgency is pure 1939 London air raid. It’s still strangely appropriate in the heart of the German-settled Barossa.

Nathan is a proud Tasmanian, and a happy Hawks fan. I’m pleased for him. In anticipation, he’s picked up some James Boags. We open them enthusiastically. The fruity softness of these Australian beers, contrasts with the metallic sharpness of Asian lagers. They’re a treat.

3.20pm- River Valley, Singapore

“It seems kinda cruel to keep the losing team out on the field,” suggests Mark as Hawthorn is presented to the MCG in a stentorian baritone by AFL announcer Craig Willis, while Fremantle sit there, heads in hands. “In America, the losers would be allowed to go straight down to the change rooms and lick their wounds in private.” I think this tradition means we applaud the runners-up too, conscious that without them there can be no contest. This should continue.

We agree that it is a chief difference. This day is about parallels and diversity, closeness and distance. Football connects. And as generations of ordinary Australians have known, in the dreadful absence of barbequed meat, on this most sanctified day, these simple celebrations are best enjoyed with chook.

DRJ

0

The cobra and the condominium

 

williard

 

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.

0

Dangerfield and the Rickenbacker guitar

 

RSL

 

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.

0

The Frog and The Footy

volleys

Ordering rissoles in Bali is a sign that I need to go home to Adelaide.

It’s a Friday night, and I’m in Barb’s sports bar for the Crows season opener. With an Adelaide Crow tattoo on his arm, mine host Ian ambles by as the club song choruses from the TV. He mutters, “It’s got a good beat, but I reckon the kids won’t dance to it.” He’ll say that another twenty one times before September. There’s a galaxy of Indonesian dishes on offer, but I inhale a plate of meaty patties, chips and veggies. The footy is streamed from Channel 7 in Perth and, frosty long necks of Bintan aside, when I find myself getting misty-eyed about the Bunnings ads, I know the score.

Then there’s the frog. He lurks in the grounds of our Singaporean condominium, and he’s seeking a mate. After dark his thoughts turn, as Barry White may have sung, to making a little love or as HG Nelson certainly said, to “wielding the night tools.” His call is a loud, resonating, metallic honk. He honks nightly into the cruel fug. His throbbing desperation wakes us up, and keeps us sleepless. Nightly. The wife and I want to escape his amphibious ardour so we’re heading to South Australia for a June holiday.

Despite living on the equator I love winter. The endless summer here delivers an effortless lifestyle of shorts and swimming, but Adelaide extends her charms. I like dressing for the cold; faded jeans and my boots- indestructible Blundstones bought in Kimba twenty years back. Include Dunlop volleys and a pair of dusty thongs and what other footwear is there? The Southern Ocean often lashes its wind at us so I’m a convert to the hoodie. We’ll stick a pair of rubber boots on each of our boys Alex and Max and they’ll be right. Cousins are often among our first friends and, happily, they’ll all soon be running, yelling and settling their necessary disputes.

We’ll relax in Adelaide, but I’ll also tour the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra – viniculturally. Confirmed by one ignoble episode, tropical life and cabernet sauvignon simply don’t combine for me. It’ll be superb to plonk down with some old winter friends from Turkey Flat, d’Arenberg and Katnook, and discover what they’ve been up to. I’m confident that every bottle will burst with stories as I sit at assorted tables with Dad, my wife’s Dad and the brothers-in-law, and uncork some robust conversations about footy, the Ashes tour and everything else.

Winter back home often hosts cloudless, still days of pale sunshine; ideal for beach walks and parks. Blokes occasionally label their pubs; Rundle Street’s Exeter is, “The X.” The boys name their preferred coastal playgrounds- the Nemo Park, the Buffalo Park and the Rock Lobster; baptised for the B52’s song I unthinkingly played them once. They also have to climb some trees with their mates.

Enthusiastically standing on the terraces as Glenelg play at Brighton Road could placate my football pang. Contemporary AFL spectators have little opportunity to appreciate the contest, as it should be enjoyed. Standing, skilfully, allows for better talking, laughing and barracking, and also expedites what Roy Slaven described as, “drinking in concert.” Unlike modern colosseums, I can wander to Snout’s bar or the BBQ while maintaining an eye and an ear on the ball, without burrowing down a concrete hole, like a rodent, seeking a snag or a pint.

Improbable footballers such as cult Roosters full forward Grenville Deitrich charm me. Treasured exceptions who, despite their prohibitive shape, advance to a high level. Thankfully, these survive in the SANFL. Just. I favour this over the AFL as the national competition is increasingly conquered by charisma-free robots, automatons manufactured into facsimiles of footballers like an Asimov dystopia.

A fire is vital. Both sets of grandparents have wood fires. Grumpy’s Brewhaus at Verdun boasts a German-inspired microbrewery, wood-oven and combustion stove. A golden pint of Tomcat pilsner and a few slices of Funky Chicken pizza on a Sunday and I’ll be set. I taste it all now, and can smell the drifting eucalyptus smoke as Alex and Max scurry through the last of the autumn leaves on Grumpy’s lawn.

Life here in the endless summer is fine, but like gravity, winter at home exerts an indisputable pull. It will be a languid exhalation but, ultimately, we’re hoping that when we return to Singapore, our amorous frog is on his honeymoon.

fire

0

Footy’s Other Hemisphere

423040-darren-jarman

When living overseas, footy becomes symbolic. A happy emblem of home. Like Merv’s XXXX-foamed moustache on the side of a London double-decker.

Singapore’s Boomarang Bar is one of those Australian themed-pubs that is both brilliant and dreadful. It shows AFL, NRL, and the races from Randwick and Flemington on big screens. It’s at Robertson Quay where the river is muddy and languid; it could pass for the Yarra.

The crowd is older than the backpackers at the Walkabout pub in Shepherd’s Bush, and mercifully, there is no Barnesy banging out over the thick, hot air. It’s Saturday afternoon, and the Crows and Hawthorn are underway in the preliminary final.

This Asian city’s mostly shy and undemonstrative so it’s exciting to see some punters in Hawks and Crows guersneys. Brash tribalism is rare here. There’s banter between the fans. “Ball,” intermittently choruses out across the quay. The footy is electrifying. The Hawks threaten constantly, but we persist.

We know that it could be Tippett’s valediction. He monsters Schoenmakers and with Walker, combines for eighteen contested marks. It’s close. Back home in Adelaide, my mate Bob texts. It’s too tense, too pulsating for him. He wants a personal media blackout.

Bob was in Edmonton in 1997, for the Crows’ first flag. It was a primitive world. Footy was inaccessible. No social media. No streaming. Many, like me, were sans mobile phone. During GF week Bob instructs me not to inform him of the result. With the discipline of a Roman soldier, he avoids it.

Then, at 2.30pm Saturday, Alberta time, to guarantee the authentic Australian experience, he and his friends watch a VHS recording of the game over a BBQ and beers. And like us seventeen hours previous, underground in Grote Street’s Players Bar, he is bewitched by Jarman’s sublime clinic, and Macleod’s exquisite poise and poetry. We love Bruce McAvaney’s climax: “Jarman. Jarman. That will do. That. Will. Do.” Bob rings after their final siren, waking us, in Glenelg, to our glorious and groggy Sunday morning.

With only the grand final telecast in Canada, he tells me he followed the Crows’ campaign on the internet. In ’97 this meant reading the footy online as an underling at AFL house, typed the action on their rustic website: Smart handballs to Bickley. Bickley kicks to Ellen. Essentially, it is a three-hour telegram. Like listening to Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles in the farm kitchen.

At the Boomarang Bar, we’re a disparate group. Like us, Annie is from Adelaide. She is avid; she streams 5AA’s call of practice matches. Nathan is from Tassie and loves the Hawks. His fiance, Alison, is from Vancouver. At half time I ask her, “Are you growing to love our footy?”  She replies that she’s, “Getting there.” As Adelaide and Christchurch are sister cities, our Kiwi friend Ariana supports the Crows.

In 2004 we were living just north of London in St Albans. I’d taken my Sherrin, and would occasionally have a few dobs by the Roman walls in Verulamium Park. Back home in the Barossa, Mum and Dad taped the Crows’ games, and mailed the wins to us. They saved plenty on postage that year.

My friend Barry, from Harrow, records the grand final on Sky Sports, and I enjoy Port’s triumph. Whilst I love beating Port in the Showdowns, I am an atypical Crows fan who barracks for them when they play interstate teams. It’s a residual from the State of Origin glory days of the 1980’s.

Barry’s an Irishman, and his Catholic passion is exceeded only by his worship of Wealdstone FC. I’m with him in Wiltshire by Salisbury Cathedral for the 2005 season closer when the Stones score in the last minute to avoid relegation by a single goal. In reverential electronic whispers, he texts me one fucking goal three times the following Sunday. Returning to Adelaide, Barry gives me four shares in Wealdstone FC. Every year I am posted the annual report.

Johncock puts us up with seconds left, but then the Hawks pinch the prize.I t was a tremendous contest and, wretchedly, the Crows fourth consecutive preliminary final loss. Annie and I agree that we’ve done well, and next season our youngsters like Dangerfield, Sloan and Walker will improve. Bob and I text. Mum and Dad message their pride. We take comfort in the future.

We leave the Boomarang, and walk home along the muddy Singapore River.

0003_Boomarang