Saturday, 27 August 2011

Sons ,Sport and Lost love

I am about to write about sport. This may not figure large in many of your lives but bear with me. I'm trying to both celebrate the end of the Australian Football League (AFL) season for my local team and to understand why I still keep going back. Does sport have a bigger meaning for me than merely a Saturday evening adrenalin rush?

This could be a thesis but I'll try to limit it to my whole life and not the history of sport on the planet.

Okay. I was once a young bloke who spent every waking hour (when not at school) running jumping kicking hitting bouncing rolling racing pedalling swimming diving and catching things. As a fourteen year old it was everything. Call them my innocent years.

As I got older I became aware of the world as an imperfect place. I learnt that men could be bastards, that money and capitalism were evil and, among many other things, that competition was at the core of many of these ills. I still enjoyed sport but it became a silent pleasure. A guilty pleasure. To love sport was not cool for the enlightened man.

Then I had a son. A son who emerged from the womb carrying a tennis racket, cricket bat, a selection of balls, a compulsive need to be active and a drive to compete. And win.

I was amazed. This was not of my doing. This was either innate or learned from someone else. But i was powerless to stand in the way of this pint sized force. So I bowled balls to him until my arm ached; I kicked balls around parks until I knew every possible place a ball could get lost. I raced him in and out of the surf; I forced myself to play tennis - a game for which I have no talent. At first I was reluctant but finally I gave in. I saw that this was a deep need in him. I saw that my role was to manage his attitude to this competitive spirit and to celebrate his love of life and movement.

At some point 15 years ago I found myself a season ticket holder and a member of the Brisbane Lions AFL club. I had regained my love of sport and overcome my 60s guilt. Sport, with all its limitations (and there are many, particularly in professional sport) was again part of my life. So with my son (and my daughter) I have watched motor sport, The Tour de France, rugby league, rugby union, AFL, netball, volleyball, baseball, tennis, cricket, Summer Olympics and Winter. I have watched American Football, a game that completely baffles me. And I have watched the Mighty ducks movies more times than is healthy in one lifetime. I have seen some remarkable feats of courage and drive and moments of sublime humanity. I have also taken up sport. As often as I can I sail on the river, ski, swim, surf, bushwalk, climb mountains, ride my bike. Some of these are more of a hobby or an interlude than a sport. But I enjoy being physical.

I have even developed an analysis of organisational structures based on sport - along the lines of how different sports and their rules constrain play and set boundaries. From the hightly structured and heavily rule based (Rugby League or American Football), to the more open and 360 degree games such as Soccer (or football as the world beyond Australia knows it) and Basketball. I personally am in love with organisations who encourage creative opportunities where almost anything is possible within a minimal set of rules. Of course this works in some but not all circumstances. You can't run a jail system with minimal rules ( though some would say we could apply much more creativity to their operation - and for the better).

Anyway. My team came almost dead last this year in the national competition. Having won three premierships in a row in 2001, 02, 03 (the threepeat) we're going through a tough period of rebuilding as the old and bold retire to make way for the young and feckless.

These lean years contain other things sport can teach us: perseverence, loyalty, patience, that life goes in cycles. I intend to continue to indulge my love of things in life which allow people to strive for attainable and unattainable goals. I wonder, is Utopianism a sport?

AFL (a variation - left) and Soccer (right)

Thursday, 18 August 2011


Dark stories of scarlet lives and
secret liasons driven
by unfulfilled dreams
and blind self deception

white lies and blackened reputations
told by the ambitious
for the expedient
without a care for consequence

no interest in the gray
of circumstance
or the glare of reality
illuminated by the reversing lights of history

Enamel hides blemishes and
lies that lay beneath
the manicured surfaces
of shining private lives

More magpie tales click here or on the magpie stamp.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Strange bedfellows

Pillow talk. Arch enemies. Tony Abbott - Leader of the Liberal Party in Opposition and Bob Brown Leader of the Greens.

B: Tony, about these coal seam gas companies. They're just bullies.
T: I agree Bob. An Englishman's home is his castle. Someone has to draw the line.
B: You don't know how happy that makes me feel Tony. You and I, we think the same way about things.
T: About the farmers?
B: And the miners.
T: But you hate miners
B: I don't hate the miners Tony, only their dirty filthy habits.
T: I hate filthy habits too Bob.
B: I won't take that personally Tony
T: Look Bob, What I really meant was that farmers should have the same rights as us.
B: Consenting adults?
T: Bob, you're making me nervous.
B: What then?
T: To say no.
B: Aw, c'mon Tony.
T: Bob, you are deliberately misconstruing my intentions.
B: Well , can you be a bit clearer Tony. I'm confused.
T: Bob, not all farmers are the same and ... it's complicated.
B: Don't tell me. You've been seeing a few miners on the side.
T: Well, yes. But I'm getting exhausted trying to satisfy them all.
B: I feel for you Tony.
T: And now this.
B: You're so fickle Tony. C'mon snuggle up. I'll show you what we did to the loggers.

Cartoon by Bill Leak The Australian newspaper Monday 14 August 2011

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Demolition Man

I'm on a mission. I'm searching for a length of moulding to match the architrave lining the bedroom ceiling in my house where I've had a new built-in wardrobe installed.

I've visited The Renovators Centre, a second hand yard on Old Cleveland Road. It's very well organised. I ask for help and I'm directed to the rear of the warehouse where the skirting boards and architraves are sorted and marked. I have a drawing of the profile I need but I can't find anything which matches. "They're all different", the yard man tells me. "Every timber yard in the 192os developed their own style. You can try over the road if you're game" he says. I've run out of time and 'over the road' looks like a dumpsite so I decide to leave it for another day.

I'm back again today. I've visited three other places before returning here to try my luck. I'm ready to give up.

I park in front of the Renovators Centre and cross the road. There's a bloke sitting on the footpath at a table working at something with a screw driver. He's intent on his task. He looks like he's in his late sixties. He's dressed in a flanelette shirt and his grey trousers are held up by a piece of twine. His dirty gray hair is tousled and his skin has seen too much sun. He's sitting in full sun with hundreds of cars passing within a few feet of him. It's not an ideal work space.

His yard fronts this arterial road 100 metres before a railway crossing. There's often a line of cars idling outside his place waiting for the trains to pass. "Is this your place?" I ask. "I'm looking for a piece of moulding to match this". I show him the drawing and he pauses. "Yer might find something in there if yer've got a couple of hours" he mumbles. "Down the back , turn right, then left and go up the plank to the second level."

I see what is masquerading as a doorway and, looking inside, hesitate when I see a narrow passage barely wide enough to walk through. It's lined with old doors and window frames and steel shelving lined with boxes of every shape and size. I cautiously navigate the first room and cross an invisible threshold where the path, what once would have been a hall way or corridor narrows further and this time I take extra care to place one foot in front of the other brushing the sides as I progress.

It's getting harder to see. There are no lights, only the natural light which struggles to find its way to me via holes in the roof and the fading shaft of afternoon light following me from the road. Turn right I remind myself. I seem to have come to a dead end. I look right but its pitch black and, as far as I can tell, leads to a dead end.

I'm confused. I step back, looking for another way forward and decide to retrace my steps. Allen, as I later learn is his name, has not shifted his intense concentration from his task. This time I see he's straightening metal guides for louvres using a pair of pliers and a small hammer. Who would want those I wonder? I ask him again to confirm his previous directions and he repeats exactly as before "Straight ahead, turn right, then left and up the old aluminium painter's plank". He says this with a tone which clearly has me pegged as some kind of idiot. "That door?" I ask, pointing to the place I recently disappeared into. He doesn't answer; he simply looks at me wondering what it is about his instructions I don't seem to understand. I answer my own question with 'That one" changing my tone to affirm what is obviously the answer.

My second attempt mimics my first with the addition of some sense of doubt and dread. I have this picture of all this stuff collapsing in on me, trapping me in a landslide of discards. At the end of the corridor I again look right and can see that, yes, there is a way through, but narrower than the previous route requiring me to support myself on the miscellany of stuff as I tread carefully through the dard corridor towards a sliver of light. The walls of doors and window frames and assorted rubbish slope back from the floor on both sides, almost meeting at floor level. I have less than a shoe width to work with this time.

Turn left. Having come this far I'm not about to stop. Five wary steps along a much lighter path, eight inches wide, leads me to a sunfilled space packed full of timber lengths and open to the sky. I ascend the ramp, as directed, and find myself literally surrounded by an ocean of timber. Its as if a huge wooden ship has foundered here and I am amidst the floating flotsam and jetsam of the ruins. In one direction lengths of timber are stacked on a large storage system built from lengths of four by four, but in another direction timber is arranged in no order, simply seeming to have arrived and been dropped from the sky onto the pile. Some giant scotsman has been playing 'toss the caber'.

I feel overwhelmed as I stand in front of this mess of possibilities. A makeshift path of timber lengths leads from the aluminium ladder across the storage frame, each peice wobbling as I step from one to the next. I take out my piece of paper and begin to scan the ends of hundreds of lengths of timber mentally seeking to find a match. There are so many. I want to believe that there must be one here that matches. I pull a few out only to find each is too short or too wide and invariably not a good or even passable match. I work my way along the sections and as I go I get more and more inclined to take anything which even remotely resembles my drawing. However whenever I find what I hope might be my solution the piece is less than the three metres I need. There are lots of short pieces.

Allen is obviously a man who has never refused a piece of timber, or, as I make my way back to the front of the shed any other item of hardware or any building related object. He has boxes of old taps, screws, washers, garden fittings; light fittings hang from the ceiling; knobs, basins, handles, corrugated iron, more doors and even more windows fill every corner. Sadly there is no way anyone could possible identify any piece without considerable effort, which partly explains why Allen is sitting quietly on the footpath straightening disfigured metal louvre guides. This is the only way he can continue to have a sense of purpose. to remain in control.

I interrupt him again. "Any luck?" he asks knowing the answer. "How long have you been here?" I say, looking to keep him company for a moment. "About thirty years" he replies. I feel a sadness in him and a rising empathy in me. How has his life come to this? " How's business?" I say realising it is a stupid question. His reply is a series of hesitations. He agrees that there is not a lot of scope to sell anything from his decades of collecting. "Flat out finding anything in there" he observes. "Needs someone to take it apart and organise it.'

I return to my car over the road and decide to have one last look at the 'Renovator" collection. I find a piece with some resemblance to my drawing and it's the right width. It's probably the best I can do so I part with ten dollars fro two lengths giving me about four metres in total.

"What's the story with the bloke over the road?" I ask the yard man serving me. "How old is he?" I add. Turns out he's well into his eighties and owns some pretty significent pieces of real estate along this strip of road frontage. "He can't get anyone to work with him. It's too hard. Too far gone." Turns out he lives somewhere nearby to the Renovator man who has taken to picking him up each morning and delivering him home each evening as his charitable contribution to the world.

There is a code among demolition men. I am warmed by that discovery.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Fluorescent - Magpie 77

I touched your hand
you smiled and turned your head
your eyes drove straight through me
moths circled the verandah light.

From the street we must have looked like lovers
from where I sat I was merely hoping
your skin glowed in the luminous light
heat poured in from the recently disappeared day

Inside the house your mother called your name
I knew you wanted more than conversation
you leant back on the ledge beside me
a car horn sounded in the street

You flicked your hair, I avoided your gaze
I see your shoes are blue
I hold my breath you turn and tilt your head
the fluorescent light flickersMore Magpie tales click here or on the magpie stamp

Monday, 1 August 2011

Dear Mick

Dear Mick,

We've been brothers for 60 years today. As a tribute to those years I thought I'd set down sixty special moments, one for each of those years.
Then I thought NO. I need to get this written today.

Mum was a counter - counting her way through her daily shower; counting how many pegs she used at the washing line; counting the number of steps to the bus stop. A little odd but then she did work as a comptometrist, an occupation I never fully understood but there was machinery involved and .... numbers. So, following in my mother's footsteps - I've reduced the sixty to about ten.

Before I begin I'd like to say thank you for giving me an 18 month start which allowed me to have the undivided attention of mum and dad for a period. I don't remember those months but I believe there was a lot of breast time involved and I imagine lots of cuddles and bouncing on Kev's knee.

I remember sharing a hard wooden stool at a small table in a tiny kitchen for the first five years of our brotherhood. It was one of dad's masterpieces , designed in such a way such that if either of us stood up without notice, the other would be catapulted off the other end. Dad was a salesman, a handyman but maybe not a carpenter. I believe we have both inherited his enthusiasm and lack of skill.

I remember playing with you every day for what I calculate were over 5000 consecutive days - backyard footie, cricket, marbles, monopoly, made up games using the garden hose as a speedway, go-karts made of junk we scavenged from our local dump - the best playground ever invented; we even created a nine hole golf course in the tiny back yard and got away with it. Dad was very tolerant and backyards were for play not display. We learnt so much mucking about with hammers and nails, bits of timber, axles and wheels; whatever we could lay our hands on. Broken pieces of asbestos fibro became frisbees when we visited the dump. I still have a hidden fear that those asbestos toys may come back to claim me. As I get older and my lungs slow down each cough or shortness of breath reminds me of those carefree days..

I recall being crowned BODY SURFING CHAMPIONS at Currumbin beach in 1965. You and I were the only competitors and dad was the sole judge. Still we deserved the accolades.

I remember drifting off to sleep in the twin beds in the room we shared for 15 years. It had one dresser and one small wardrobe. We had simple needs. We'd talk about the meaning of life and school and girls until one of us stopped talking in mid sentence, exhausted.

Those memories of childhood are so intertwined that I sometimes find it hard to distinguish your life from mine. We were like twins.

And then at university we lived parallel lives but we were still connected by mutual friends and in listening to the same anti Vietnam speakers and sharing a set of values. And later we married two girls who we hadn't met at uni but who together had been uni friends themselves.

We shared the terrors of parenting and watched our children (your three and my two) grow up as cousins as we too grew older - watching our lives take different paths. You into the sciences and me into the arts and humanities.

It was the first time I really knew we were different. That was hard at times but we still found ways to stay connected, even into our fifties;

Where we found ourselves sailing together on Saturday afternoons on the Brisbane river in our four hundred dollar last in the fleet NS14 dingy. We talked about our kids and our lives and not the meaning of life but superannuation and the concept of life after full-time work. It was like we were fifteen again and in that bedroom. But no - we would never be that innocent again.

So sixty years later we're still good mates. We've remained friends. Something we take for granted. We've made choices along the way, sometimes consciously sometimes unconsciously which have helped make this a reality. We can thank our parents and perhaps some mysterious force for having a hand in that. For whatever reason, we did it. Not all siblings have the satisfaction of achieving that.

Now, with my eighteen months advantage, I can welcome you to your next life and assure you that, from my vantage point, there's nothing to be apprehensive about. There's a world of things out there which are yet to be discovered.

Happy birthday brother.