26 July, 2009

What Would You Have Done?

I went to a local pub on Friday night to catch up with the dads from the primary school my sons attended. We get together about once a month and there's a lot of local football and cricket crossover so it's a long-standing friendship group and all very convivial. The pub even has a nightclub attached to it, so it's occasionally squirmingly funny if we step out the front door of the bar for a smoke and somebody spots their underage daughter in the queue.

I'd arrived late and had to park a fair way away. I was walking head down into a chilly northerly when I saw a late model Holden accelerate hard into a left turn off the main road I was walking along. The bang followed quickly. The driver had lost control of the car when he'd hit the cobbled bluestone guttering between the main road and the street he'd just turned into. I didn't actually see the impact but when I drew level with him I could see he'd T-boned a parked car. No-one was in it but if someone had been they might have suffered an injury. If anyone had been crossing the street it might have been worse.

He walked towards the main road shaking his head, swearing loudly and exaggerating his reaction in that way the young, drunk and attention-seeking seem to always do. Some of his nightclub contemporaries were starting to gather.

I walked just close enough to get his registration number and that of the car he'd hit, dialled 000 and asked for police. I gave them all the details. I was about half way through my description of the event when they asked me what state I was calling from. This threw me out a little as I'd assumed I was talking to someone in Victoria.

I thought the young bloke had done something pretty stupid and that if he'd ended up reversing and pissing off, the owner of the parked car would be out of pocket. So I rang to make sure there was a record of what happened. And also in the hope that whatever consequences were visited upon the driver, they might act as a deterrent against any future behaviour of a similarly stupid nature.

I continued on to the pub but only stayed about an hour. When I left, the Holden was just being taken away by tow-truck and the young driver was helping police with their enquiries.

Look, as dilemmas go this is fairly pissy but I think I would have felt pretty bad afterward if I'd just kept walking and left it up to someone else. So what would you have done?

20 July, 2009

The Dream

I had this dream about two years ago and remembered it really clearly the next morning. And described it to TLOML that day. It had a clarity to it that most of my dreams don't usually seem to have and very little of the whacky surrealism that permeates so many really interesting, exciting dreams, but makes them more like arty European films rather than any of the more familiar Hollywood narrative types.This dream was set in an alternative reality, but not the kind that has you waking up screaming. Nor was it the sort of dream where your real life comes up way short by comparison. It was just a really enjoyable story to be a part of and quite thought-provoking.

The dream took place in a present that might have been.

Okay, so in this dream I'm still single. Still. I'm at a party where I know quite a few people, but not everyone. There's a nice, sociable vibe. I'm having a bit of a drink, a bit of a chat, and then I see her. TLOML. But it's different. You see in this dream, we never ended up together. We dated a few times and then I got the impression she wasn't all that interested and so stopped calling her and it just fizzled out. No-one broke up, no-one got dumped, no-one got hurt. Probably not even substantial enough to be describing her as an ex.

But seeing her again made me feel really uncomfortable. I instantly dreaded that she might be mortified about bumping into me after all this time and would feel the need to avoid me, possibly even in an excruciatingly exaggerated way, making a big deal of her embarrassment. Come on, I know that's how it works sometimes. And that her feeling the need to theatrically avoid me would in turn, be a source of some considerable embarrassment for me. Of the Earth-please-open-up-and-swallow-me variety. So I made plans for a quick exit.

But I was on the wrong tram. There was no need to worry. She looked straight at me and came right over. "Hi Lad! How are you?" Big smile. Really nice, really natural, friendly. This wasn't going to be awkward at all.

Turned out she was married to some terrific, successful bloke who was also at the party but never appeared in the dream. Married with a couple of kids. Clearly happy. Me? I was doing okay. Or made out I was to the extent that I at least convinced myself.

We spent some time chatting and it was really pleasant, bringing back memories of why I'd liked her so much in the first place all those years ago. The views in common, the sustained eye contact, the occasional big laugh at something I'd said. It was all there from when we'd briefly dated.

Later on, I went outside for a cigarette. She came outside not long after me. It was a languid, balmy evening with just the two of us in the backyard. She brought up the subject of how we'd broken up. Wanted to know why I'd stopped calling her. At first, I pretended to be struggling to remember, and then told her the truth as it was at the time. That I'd determined she wasn't all that keen and I was probably doing her a favour by disappearing. So I couldn't become a pest. Wouldn't become someone she’d need to avoid if she ever bumped into me again later on. Like I'd feared might happen earlier. She was not impressed.

I was trying to explain that we were younger and that it was so long ago, lacing the lame near-apology with countless shrugs and sentences that trailed off into nothing, when she cut me off and leaned close, slightly annoyed.

"Look, I didn't come out here to talk," she said.

Then we kissed. And I woke up.

How's that for a storyline? Hangs together pretty well, doesn't it?

When I told TLOML, she thought it was really romantic that my subconscious would come up with something like that.

Spewing I didn't tape it.

14 July, 2009

Why I Play Cricket

I'm going to try not to sound too defensive about this. But I have to concede it's pathetic really. Playing cricket at my age. Sure, I can rationalize it in any number of ways: important exercise for a bloke in a high-risk age group; worthy community involvement; the opportunity to coach and mentor junior and less exprienced players; making some kind of contribution to the club's on and off-field fortunes. All very altruistic. But it's far simpler than that. And much more selfish.

I'm really only there to play. Deep down. All the rest of the involvement, from Junior Co-ordinator and U12 Coach, through Committee membership to part-time barman, bin emptier, sausage-sizzler and raffle organizer is just what you get caught up in when you play, and I would have a whole lot less interest in any of it if I couldn't take to the field myself.

I'd been toying with the idea of giving it another go for a couple of years but when I had a disc removed at the age of 37, (L1-S5: right down at the base) I could feel the curtain coming down. Surely you can't bowl with a fragile back? Jesus, I could hardly run. Anything could go wrong and probably would. So I forgot about it. A few years later, Moe and Larry were enjoying little kids Milo cricket and I rolled the arm over at them in the park and the backyard. Shit! That felt alright! Maybe next year I could give it a go. Just a couple more seasons, enough to bring up the 100 games - 100 wickets double that I was close to when I stopped playing at the age of 25. Then I'd have it all out of my system.

The 2004-05 season approached, but as it turned out, my youngsters weren't interested in playing. Well bugger the pair of you then. I'll play. TLOML was not impressed. She hates cricket. Finds it boring, pointless and can't for the life of her understand why everything has to take so long. I was accused of having an idiotic mid-life crisis, trying to recapture lost youth, being pathetic. It was ridiculous. And didn't I used to make duckies or whatever you called them all the time? Well, yes. But I had a significant debating point ready to launch.

"Alright then, it's either the kind of mid-life crisis where I want to play cricket again, or some other kind where I want to buy a sportscar or try to pick up women on the internet. You decide."

We both had a good laugh about that, especially when the frypan she threw bounced off my head at a funny angle. I figured with that kind of support, I'd be mad not to pull on the whites again.

And so at the age of 44, with only two blokes remaining at my old Moonee Valley Cricket Club from the fellows I'd played with previously, I turned up for pre-season training. And I don't mind telling you I thought picking up where I left off would be a mere formality, thank you very much. I would bowl accurately and decisively, field competently, and put together the occasional defiant tail-end innings when the team needed it most. But cricket had news for me.
Most of what few skills I'd originally possessed had evaporated. I couldn't withstand opposition bowling long enough to make many runs. Sometimes any runs. And just about every opposition batsman delighted in belting me back over my head for six. At least I could still hold catches, thank Christ. All of this should have been devastating for me, but I was able to rationalize it thus: we're getting shitted on; I'm not having much impact or success at all; but it's a nice warm day; there's a gentle breeze blowing; and I love cricket just enough to feel happy about being a small, spectacularly unsuccessful part of it.

I spent the next two seasons captaining the Fifths, a development XI consisting almost entirely of junior players wanting to get a taste of senior cricket. Pete, a bloke of similar vintage to myself, joined me on mentoring duties.The development XI was an interesting idea and Pete and I were really committed to it, but it didn't quite come off. We were thrashed just about every week and no-one played up to their potential. That led to a lot of the young fellows piss-farting about. In the end, the club decided to discontinue the concept after two seasons and just spread the juniors out where they would be of most benefit. I was actually glad of this, as I have never really enjoyed captaincy. It tends to make a complex game that bit more complicated.

But despite lack of team success, my own form had seen small incremental improvements. A few more runs here, a few more wickets there. So I hoped to stay in the Fifths and concentrate solely on batting. Let the young tearaways have the ball. But the new Fifths captain had other ideas. He wanted me to concentrate on bowling. Alright, if you insist. Taking my run-up back to its original length gave me a refreshingly balanced approach to the wicket, and I just tried to keep the seam upright and let the oncoming breeze and the shiny side of the ball do the rest. And it worked. I found myself in the unfamiliar position of being afforded something that seemed awfully like respect for chrissakes, by opposition batsmen. I took wickets in every innings bar one that season to win the 5th XI Bowling Award. And played a couple of decisive innings with the bat too. So I fronted up at the start of this season just gone in better touch than ever. Shit, they even promoted me! All the way up to the 4ths, where I was going to be captained by a bloke I'd taught at Moonee Ponds Central School. The slightly higher standard was going to be a bit of an acid test for me, but I was able to bowl accurately for long spells (thanks skipper!) and took out the 4th XI Bowling Award to cap it off. I'd also made the backward squareleg position something like my own and held onto some hot chances from the heavy traffic that tends to go through that neck of the woods.
Sure, my batting had gone to seed but I was an automatic selection in the 4ths once I was established and am looking forward to next season. And I seemed to have gathered a little respect from my club mates that had everything to do with my capacity to put the ball on the stumps regularly and throw in the odd unplayable outswinger.

The 2009-2010 season is approaching and there's a chance that our 4ths will be going up a grade to play on turf. I'm very keen to be a part of it, even though it means shelling out for my first set of sprig-studded cricket shoes. The Selection Committee might decree otherwise, but I'll take my chances.

With both the 5ths and the 4ths narrowly finishing just out of the finals over the past two seasons, my tally of finals games has remained at a measly 4. And my only flag was in the 2nds back in 1977-78 where I batted last, didn't bowl and fielded behind whatever trees encroached on the ground. So I'm very keen to make just one last addition to the trophy cabinet.

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it. I always have.

13 July, 2009

Great Moments In Sport I: 1984 VFL Preliminary Final

I had to drive over to a house in Nth Sunshine to pay $50 for 2 tickets to the 1984 Preliminary Final. Retail for two tickets was $30 in 1984. Essendon were playing Collingwood and, needless to say, both camps were confident, general interest in the match was high and a place in the Grand Final against the formidable Hawthorn was up for grabs. So tickets were hard to come by.

My Collingwood mate Frank and I had despaired of finding any luck in an exorbitant scalping environment. We'd even resolved to drive to Albury in the hope of picking up the game live on TV in a pub. But then on the Thursday before the match I decided to give the Age classifieds one more try and hit pay dirt with two tickets only $10 over the retail price. So we were off to VFL Park, Waverley.

Collingwood had defeated arch-foe Carlton in the 1st Semi-Final while Essendon had fallen just 8 points short of Hawthorn in the 2nd Semi, a game which many commentators were describing as one of the best they'd ever seen. In the two previous Bomber vs Magpie encounters that season, Essendon had recorded comprehensive 10 and 6 goal wins. But Collingwood were not to be denied. On their day, they were tenacious and determined. Deep down, no-one gave the Magpies even a ghost of a chance. But as is the way with the football media, everyone seemed to be doing their darndest to talk the mismatch up.

Essendon would go into the game with a full-strength lineup and stars Madden, Watson, Daniher, Baker and Neagle all at the peak of their considerable powers. By contrast, Collingwood were weakened by the absence of the injured Cloke and Taylor and then suffered a further blow when David Twomey was a late withdrawal.

Ex-Essendon champ Ron Andrews kicked the first goal of the game for the Pies but that was where the fun ended for Collingwood. Because Essendon recovered from this early aberration to lead by 84 points at half time. That is a whopping big margin. Even for the end of a game, let alone half-time. 14 goals. There's no comeback from that far down. All hope is lost.

And so during the main break, the aisles were just awash with departing Collingwood supporters, retreating from an ignominious defeat. It looked a little like one of those mouse plagues in the Mallee, an almost liquid movement of masses of people. And it seemed as though in every section, there was at least one drunken scumbag Essendon barracker standing up on his seat and pointedly jeering them off with gales of theatrical laughter. I confess I had a bit of a giggle too. Especially after one wag started calling for all of the Collingwood bus drivers to return to their vehicles.

Whadda you reckon: time to light up a joint fellas? Experience a glorious Bomber victory under the influence? There was no dissent. Even staunch Magpie Frank adopted an air of insouciant resignation and had a few choofs.

The slaughter continued in the second half until siren time when the final margin was 133 points. Baker had kicked six classy goals and Van der Haar with five managed to feature in the votes from many commentators even though he was off injured just before half-time and didn't reappear. So big was his impact. Check out what a spectacular player he was in this career highlights montage:

But I had to take my hat off to Frank. He'd stuck it out. The greatest humiliation in finals history. And more was to follow. Because no-one was going anywhere in a hurry.

We had Waverley down to a fine art in those days. The ground was famous for its post-match traffic snarls but we'd worked out a pretty good way to circumvent the problem. After the final siren, we'd make a leisurely stroll across the oval dodging ill-directed footies from the hundreds enjoying kick-to-kick. Through the gate on the other side of the ground and into the members, making a bee-line for the Brownlow Bar. It was always crowded but you could usually find some space and watch the replay which started about five. Then at around 7, you could wander out and have no trouble whatsoever finding your car, even in the pitch dark.

That was the plan and we stuck to it. The crowd in the bar started to thin out around 6. But we were in no hurry. Numerous rounds of drinks punctuated by loads of laughter and back-slapping provided an exultant backdrop for the TV review of Essendon's massacre. By 7, we were the only ones left and thought the bar staff would be asking us to call it a night. But they kept serving us, so we fell into line with this welcome new policy.

A little while later, all these people started to come in. Collingwood people. Collingwood players and officials. All filing gloomily in for their post-match meal. In 1984 the quarantining of players from mug supporters was a little more haphazard than it is today.

It was my round next so I asked the bloke behind the bar if he wanted us to make tracks, seeing as how we were almost gate-crashing an official Collingwood function. Not at all, according to him. We'd be welcome to stay a bit longer. So we went through a few more rounds. David Cloke walked past with his arm in a sling. General Manager Peter Bahen tried to put a a brave face on things, but there just wasn't anything at all for them to be upbeat about. Seated between the official party and the bar, we weren't exactly sure how to conduct ourselves so we toned down the celebrations a bit.

But only a little. The Collingwood mood was in such stark contrast to ours that you just couldn't help but see the humour in it.

One bloke who looked like ex-Magpie hard man Kevin Grose seemed keen to make lingering eye-contact with me. I'd look away, have a bit of a chat and then steal a glance back at him and blow me down, his intent gaze in my direction never wavered. And I don't think it was because he fancied me. What to do? I know, I'll make friends! So I raised my glass to him, and winked and smiled a salutation. He started to get up and I was already mentally phrasing a suitably contrite apology for my clumsy social skills but I wasn't confident of avoiding some expensive dental repair work when someone at his table shook their head at him and he figured I wasn't worth it and stayed where he was. I've since thought seriously about having it registered as a near-death experience.

But eventually, there came a lull. It was caused by us all getting the giggles at the same time and trying desprately to hold it in. You could hear a few of those high pitched snorting sounds where the air gets caught in between nose and mouth while you're trying desperately to stave off a guffaw. It was no use. Someone spoke without saying anything particularly funny and the floodgates opened. Huge squalls of laughter erupted and we just couldn't stop. Some of the blokes had tears running down their faces. A Collingwood official signalled to the barman that it was about time we made our way out of there and so we bid the friendly and tolerant bar staff a warm farewell and went off into a cold night that somehow didn't chill us at all.

The following week, Essendon would kick nine goals in the last quarter of a hard fought Grand Final against Hawthorn to record a come-from-behind-win and claim their first flag in nineteen years.

12 July, 2009

Malapropisms I

What's inspired this post is one of the funniest malapropisms I've heard in a long time.

We were at our local footy club's annual ball and the fellow who runs the junior section was making a speech. He's a great bloke, does a terrific job heading up the club's under-age section and is well-liked by all. But he's a bit of a mangler of the English language. To give you an example: "...and so without any further to do..." is a common phrase in his speeches.

Last night he was praising the verve and enthusiasm of one of the junior coaches and the word he meant to use to describe this bloke's vigor was gusto. What came out was "gutso". And what made it funny for me was that it kind of fitted in with footy-speak as there's often a lot of talk about guts.

Do you have any favourites of your own?