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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

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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

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

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.