Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Ashes

After the ever increasing fanfare and bullshit of the last few weeks, finally the cricket has begun. Like most Australians I’ve been waiting almost 18 months to reap revenge on the English for the impetuous way they stole the Ashes off us last time. And what a good start today was. Ricky Ponting, I think it’s fair to say, was even more stung than me by our last Ashes defeat. 130 odd not out at stumps on day one, he looked like a man most definitely on a mission. What a great player he is. I’m just looking forward to more and more people acknowledging his place in the game on a higher pedestal than Greg Chappell. I never have forgiven Greg for the way he turned down giving me an autograph all those years ago. Just because I was a 14 year old kid and knocked on the door of his hotel room to ask him. The cheek of some people! Putting his privacy above the pleasure of an invasive little kid. What a cunt! I’ve never forgiven him. That and his susceptibility to the short ball, of which Ricky is one of the finest players ever.

The dark event in question was back in Brisbane around 1977. We were staying in the same hotel as all the World Series Cricket teams. Andrew Kausman distracted the girl at reception while I leant over the counter to find out what rooms all the players were in. We struck gold. Kerry O’Keefe and Trevor Chappell - well perhaps bronze there rather than gold. They weren’t so happy to see us at there door. It was only their looks that told us to fuck off rather than their words, but the meaning was pretty much the same. Richie Robinson (great Victorian keeper/batsman a bit ripped off to have not played more tests) came to his door dressed in just a towel. I didn’t really understand about pedophilia then, and am happy to say that Richie never let the towel slip. More to the point, he was fantastic. Invited us in and was happy to have a chat to us for 10 minutes about cricket. I always loved Richie even more after that. Then came Greg Chappell. The doyen himself. He just more or less snarled at us. I don’t think he used the words fuck off, but he might as well have. It was the coldhearted look in his eye that has stayed with me all these years. No autograph there then. Graham McKenzie was just coming out of his room at that stage and saw the incident. He took us in to have a quiet word about respecting the players’ privacy. He did it in a really nice way. We just wanted to meet the players and having the then Australian record wicket taker lecturing us about knocking on their doors and invading their privacy was as good as any other conversation. We nodded understandingly and tried to extend the lecture out as long as possible. After leaving them and heading back down towards the pool we got in the elevator with Marc Hunter from Dragon. Talk about rubbing shoulders with A-list celebrities! As for Greg Chappell….

Yeah the Ashes. There’s nothing quite like it. I guess it took England beating us finally after so many years to remember the passion. The sad and regular defeats of the 80s had been worn down since 1989 by continued Ashes success. Mind you, I have to say that I have always savoured them. And if I think back, they are like a yardstick against my life. My earliest Ashes memories are from the 1970/71 series. We were in Perth over Christmas and I remember the Melbourne Boxing Day test being abandoned. The series ended up having 7 tests and I thought that this was how long series always were, but in fact they just added the Melbourne test back on at the end. I remember as well the drama of the fearsome John Snow, and the magnificent test century on debut of that great young champion batsman Greg Chappell (oh yeah him). And the sacking of Bill Lawry. And Ray Illingworth leading the English team off the field when someone in the crowd grappled with Snow. All events coloured further in the years since by seeing old footage and reading more on the events. But I remember clearly the feeling as a 7 year old when we lost the Ashes. I was surrounded by cricketers all the time, so probably just picked up the emotion from them. I learnt early that losing the Ashes doesn’t make anybody happy.

And then in 1972, I remember vividly the footage of Rod Marsh waving his bat around as Australia passed England’s score to draw the final test and level the series, although as a 9 year old, cricket on the other side of the world in a different time zone happened almost exclusively while I was sleeping.

It was only really in 1974/75 that I devoured a full Ashes series as it was unfolding. As an 11 year old I was already fanatical. And what a series to behold. England had the Ashes. I remember the pre-series banter about how great a batsman Dennis Amiss was – best since Bradman I seem to recall some journalists saying based on the vast amount of runs he’d scored in county cricket. What they hadn’t fathomed on was Lillee and Thompson. Seeing those guys in full flight and the English batsmen mostly cowering was sensational. I was in grade 6 and I can remember still the first day of the first test in Brisbane. We had a full MCG style scoreboard going, up on the blackboard, detailing the fall of every wicket as Thommo just ripped through the Poms. The summer holidays were spent going from the tv to the backyard where test matches would unfold between myself, Mark Chipperfield and occasionally Cameron Wyman. At that stage we were often using a cricket ball, padding up and bowling flat out at each other, on our uneven grass pitch. We nicked a log seat from the school next door to use as a roller, but it was more for the ceremony of rolling the pitch than actually making it any flatter. During one game on our dodgy wicket, I remember getting a rearing ball from Chipper that I instinctively pulled through mum and dad’s bedroom window. Mum wasn’t happy and sent dad out to tell me off. He suggested that when I played the pull shot I should roll my wrists at the point of contact so as to keep the ball down. Less likely to get caught at square leg he said. Mum heard and he copped more shit than me. I think he was secretly proud. Unlike dad, mum never seemed to understand the important growth gained by the breaking of windows with cricket balls or footballs over the years.

While not actually an Ashes series, the Centenary Test in 1977 was a major milestone. I was in year 9 by then. Old enough to go to the cricket by myself. Are 13 year olds old enough to venture on their own to the MCG these days? I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to work that one out in the next 7 or 8 years. I even wagged school one day to go to the test. Every single player who had ever played in an Ashes test was invited to attend, and most living players had accepted and gone along. John Axton’s father was a member and so he got to sit amongst all of these great old players. I was so jealous. That’s what inspired my wagging I think. I left after lunchtime and got to the ground some time before tea. I made my way around to where the outer meets the members and watched the game from there. And what a game. Derek Randall was fantastic for England. I saw the first 87 of his 174. And Lillee, as dominant a figure as ever. Great players on both sides performing at their peaks. During the tea break I dropped the tennis ball I’d brought with me on to the ground and jumped straight over to fetch it. The cops weren’t quite as vigilant then so I didn’t get rugby tackled and have my face ground into the mud like happens today. Instead I retrieved the ball and climbed back over the fence, except this time, into the member’s enclosure. Very happy with the way I’d brilliantly outwitted the establishment, I went hunting around with my autograph book to seek as many signatures as I could find. Some players I could recognise, many I couldn’t, but there were legends everywhere. I knew many of their names and deeds even if I didn’t know what they looked like. Meeting Jack Ryder was a highlight. I couldn’t see Bradman anywhere, which really annoyed me because John Axtons had met Bradman and got his autograph. Still, I was in bliss. And it was the first time that I gate crashed the MCG members.

And so began the dark ages. World Series Cricket. All of our best players still in their prime. We were the best team in the world, and then all of a sudden, none of these players were allowed to play test cricket any more. How depressing. I couldn’t get into the WSC as much as I wish I had. A lot of the greatest players the world has seen, but it just wasn’t real test cricket. All that was at stake really was the personal pride of the players, like in any exhibition match. That did make for some great cricket undoubtedly, but there was no real competition to it with history like the Ashes. It just wasn’t the same. Yet we still had to play England in 78/79 in the “real” tests. They had hardly anyone who’d defected to WSC so still had a pretty full and strong side. We had players like Trevor Laughlin and John Maclean. Alan Hurst was opening the bowling while Dennis Lillee was unavailable. Graham Yallop and Peter Toohey were our number 3 and 4 batsmen, instead of Ian and Greg Chappell. And things didn’t get any better for a long time. After WSC finished and the players came back there was a huge rift in the side. We were fucked for years. England used to just turn up and win the Ashes. We should probably have won the 1981 series that England look upon so fondly. Some memorable performances by some of their champions helped along by some woeful performances by us. And then a procession for what seemed an eternity through the 80’s of Gower, Gooch, Gatting, Botham, Lamb. They even brought along the most boring cricketer to ever play the game in Chris Tavare, just to torment us at how shit we were that we couldn’t even beat them with players such as him in the side. Tavare was so boring in his batting, that during one innings, a spectator ran out on the ground with a chair for him to sit in. And their bowlers who always seemed so innocuous but always seemed to get us out pretty easily – Pringle, big fat Eddie Hemmings, Geoff Miller. Even Gooch would bowl a few down. And we’d just seem to crumble. Another batsman out hitting a Botham half pitcher down mid-wicket's throat! I hated cricket in the 80’s. At least I admired the West Indies. In fact the only salvation of cricket in the 80’s was that even though the Poms came over and would give us a whipping, they were mere fodder for the might of the great Windies teams of the 80’s. It seemed to me that they were doing to the English what we should have been doing. We were just too shit to do it.

Until 1989. And finally, with the English press having given us a big pasting as the worst ever Australian team to land on English shores, we shat on them. 4-nil. The dawn of a true golden era of Australian cricket. Border, Taylor, Boon, Marsh and of course Steve Waugh. Finally we were back to where we belonged. The winning so enjoyable after the pain of so much losing. The West Indies still kept thumping us for a few more years. But at least we had the Ashes.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Back home again

Well I’ve been back for a week now. Three weeks away, which at times seemed like an eternity. Now it feels like I was never gone. How do time and mind conspire to play such tricks?

Finn started cricket the other day. Milo “Have a Go”. I had to lie about his age because you have to be 5 years old to start and he’s a couple of months off that. He loved it. And he was easily strong and coordinated enough, both physically and socially to take it on. I feel a sense of success as a father of an Aussie boy. He loves cricket and footy. What more can you ask for. And he loves me, which is no minor matter either. He’s going to be a light in many people’s lives as the years unfold. Such a generous little soul, with a sense of playfulness and mischief that hopefully I can’t subdue him of, no matter how hard I try. Such a strong defiant streak. Very strong willed. Today he was sentenced to a night of no TV after Tori cracked it at him this morning for not doing what he was told. Again. He howled and screamed his lungs out when he was evicted from the lounge while Jazzy got to watch the favorite show. I listened to him with a mixture of parental satisfaction that maybe he’d learn his lesson and be more obedient in future (unlikely), personal annoyance at his tantruming (I suppose you’ve got to have a go – it might work, but fuck he’s loud), and sorrow that instead of having a nice happy night with my boy he was off somewhere else being sad. Not that I was much use tonight anyway. Tired after the weekend and a day of work, I just flaked out in front of the TV. Jazzy came and lay down with me for a while, but that was mostly incidental to my mood. I have to admit that I was a bit preoccupied by the thought that some of the nits from her hair would manage to go for the excursion across the pillow and on to my head. Having survived the toxic shampoo, they would have to be the heartiest or luckiest of the species. I’m sure that my hair must look like a great place for a picnic if you’re a louse. You could lay your eggs there and be pretty guaranteed that nobody else would stumble across them.

I’ve moved into my new office now and have an employee. It’s good to leave the house to go to work again. It had all become a bit too claustrophobic for me working from home. I think I might be able to get some balance back into my life now. Friday I decided not to go into the office and just leave Ik to work on his own. What a great feeling. Reminiscent of those uni days where I’d wake up, dreading the day ahead of going to some boring lectures after a long haul on public transport, and the feeling bordering on euphoria as the decision was made to just roll over and go back to sleep instead. Just blowing the day out to choose leisure over what I was “supposed” to do. I loved the aspect of tertiary study that you didn’t have to turn up if you didn’t want to. Friday was the first day in a long time where I felt that feeling again. Mind you it was after having a conference call at 8am until around 10am. But that “ fuck it, I’m not going in today” feeling was blissful. Just going back to bed. In the old days, after making the decision to stay home, I usually felt a lot more awake and alive, and it was time to get up to try and find somebody to go and have bongs with. Disappointingly, my life has moved on from there now in both enjoyment levels from cannabis and responsibilities.

I wonder what damage I‘ve done to my brain with cannabis. And which parts of my brain have been opened up permanently in a positive way thanks to its powers. Impossible to know really. There’s a new campaign on the tele about the evils of the dreaded marijuana. It’s so difficult to quantify whether some permanent brain damage is actually a fair trade off if with it comes an extra sense of self awareness and a different way of looking at the world. And a whole lot of laughter and fun and shared new experiences. I loved it. The ritual of making a mix and packing the bong. Waiting for it to come around the circle to me and hoping for maximum effect with the glowing cone all being sucked down in one hit. And being so stoned that another one seemed too far to go, only to hear Mr. Big saying “just a small one. You can pack it yourself.” The discovery of bucket bongs was another level altogether. An even better ritual requiring precise technique followed by an unparalleled headrush. Learning to roll joints at the educational hands of Brian and Morrie. And the laughter. So much laughter. Mave turning into Patrick at Cotham Road. Games of zoom and cardinal puff. Listening to Lou Reed with Dave in full infectious mode. Late night raves at the goat with Morrie. The cask game at Cardigan Street. Skipping lectures with Bruce and going to the music room to listen to Monty Python or Chech and Chong. Rolling around a room with Bobby. In the car before lectures at Swinburne with Mark. Nights of mega and a crazy chinese restaurant night, thanks to Sport. “Thankyou gargoyle”. Joints on the St.Kilda foreshore before seeing the Church at the Venue. And parties. So many great parties. And gigs. Everywhere music. The psychedelic party when Mum and Dad were away. Kent Street tripping. Ian’s house in Brunswick Street. Argyle Street. Barak Street. Cardigan Street. Smiling Infants at Grosvenor where it always seemed to be a party. Except for the casualties who lived there. I could at least go home.

So how will it be then when Jazzy and Finn have their first drug interactions. Because it’s as inevitable as the sun coming up that they will. “Just say no” doesn’t seem like the way forward really. A bit hypocritical. “Don’t have as much fun as I had when I was growing up because you need to take life much more seriously than I have”. I do wonder about my ailing memory. It’s definitely not as good as it used to be. But Mum hasn’t done any recreational drugs so what’s her excuse? I do have emotional mood swings. But don’t most people? Some people shouldn’t smoke and it often takes them a while to work that out. Who can tell really what effect it has long term? There is undoubtedly the danger side. Which is a part of what adds mystique and makes for a slightly satisfied feeling of doing something outside of the rules. But it also leaves dead bodies in its wake. Mark. Bobby. Jay. Theron. Heroin deaths all. The hard edge of drug usage. I don’t know. I had the sense not to go too far, and a bit of luck also I guess. I suppose I just hope that Jazzy and Finn have the sense and strength of character to not get dragged down by the negative aspects of drug usage and culture, and that if they choose to dabble, that basically they get it together. And have enlightening experiences that add to their lives rather than detract. And that they make great friends that all survive the experience. And become exposed to music that they may otherwise have never really heard. And meet interesting people in smoky ultraviolet lit rooms at 4am that provide an extra sense of knowledge of how the world works. And laugh their arses off. Coz it’s only life after all.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

James

I found out today that James has died. Found out in a very matter of fact kind of a way from Martin Hassett. “Do you remember James Graham? He died. Stomach cancer I think. Funeral was last Tuesday. Shame.”

I never did get to see James at the end of my last trip. Didn’t make it for that one last drink. Too many things happening on the day and I couldn’t make it. Work, family, dying friend. The dying friend lost out. Or I did. Bad choice. Nothing would be different now though. Still dead. Only one more drink to have been had. I think I knew that he was dying. He had that same joie de vivre I had seen in John Bigham in his days of terminal cancer. A man past the stage of denial and depression and in some form of acceptance. Enjoying the moment and the company of others. But very thin. The telltale sign of unhealth.

I’m back in England now. I arrived a few days ago and it’s been bleak. A reminder of a life that I used to have and am just hanging on to. It’s feeling pretty tired now. London has been grey and rainy and bleak and depressing. It took me more than two hours to get home today to the hotel. I’m so glad I don’t live here anymore. There’s something that feels so much more refreshing and nourishing about Melbourne. Australia in general. The na├»ve child. Not the crusty old dilapidated wise but weary London. It’s as if the backdrop for a sad poem.

I saw an adaptation of Metamorphosis for the stage last night with music by Nick Cave. Fantastic in every respect. A bleak storey for a bleak time. So moving in its tragedy. Brilliantly produced. A double story set with the lower floor being the family dining room and the upper floor being an aerial view of Gregor’s bedroom. The visual perspective matching the surreality of the play. Gregor clambering acrobatically around the walls like the insect he had become. Shunned by his family and starved to death due to neglect. I forgot his name was Gregor.

I feel so sad for Sally it makes me want to cry. And the boys. So much of their lives to go to be spent without James. I have to call Sally. I didn’t today. I feel somewhat apologetic. I knew James was dying. I didn’t call. I didn’t write. I don’t think I knew what to say or do. So I sort of procrastinated until it was too late to do anything. Not that I could have done a whole lot from thousands of miles away. It’s just all so sad. Sally knew when I last saw her that James was dying. She didn’t tell me, but I could see that she knew. She was optimistically asking me if James looked alright, looking for some kind of reality shift that would mean that it wasn’t so. But she knew. I hope I have the courage to call her and that she wants to see me over the coming days. Death in the family. Nothing hits home quite like that.

I saw The Departed tonight. The new Scorsese good guys and bad guys film. So many people blown away for our pure enjoyment. It felt like a good piece of light entertainment – a bit like the self inflicted adrenaline rush of the roller coaster. Some guy shot through the head with blood spraying everywhere. Another guy hurtling off the roof and being splattered on the pavement. All the characters that we’d spent three hours being built up to associate with coming to a gruesome end. All good enjoyment. Such an interesting phenomenon this death thing. So easy to take in some respects and so difficult in others.

Today was also the day of celebration for 10 years of the SettleNET project. They showed the SettleNET The Movie video we made, coincidentally enough, for the dying John Bigham. It brought a lot of laughs to the assembled crowd and actually stood up pretty well with the passing of a few years. It was a reminder of how vibrant the project was when we were all based in Brighton and how these days it’s in its death throes. It’s all just going through the motions now. Even the turnout was disappointing with several people not bothering to show up. Not something that ever would have happened in the Brighton heyday. Today everybody drove off around 4:30. Formerly people would have been requested by bar staff to stagger out at closing time, and would have then been looking for another venue.

And the food was shit. Well perhaps some things never do change.

I’m sitting here getting pissed in the vibrant noisy bar at the K-West. It’s 1.30am on the Thursday morning and everyone here is in a comfortable stage of drunkenness. I’m having a drink for you James and thinking of the many different bars we ran around in together. Champagne in London city bars. Beers at the Fortune of War. Guinness in Soho. Whatever was going at the Catfish Club. Strange unidentifiable cocktails at Bigwood Avenue. You’d love this place. Cheers my friend.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Cancer

James has cancer. What can you say? We were going to be staying with them, but understandably they couldn't do it. Trying to entertain visitors with young kids screaming and running around while simultaneously having to deal with raw emotion and fear is a hard ask. Stomach cancer. Can't operate. Chemo will make it go away, but temporarily. It will come back. But when and how badly? Does it just get worse and worse continually, occurring at diminishing intervals and with greater severity until you die? Often this seems to be the case. Tori wants to buy James the book "The Journey". Apparently this woman had a tumour the size of a watermelon inside her and was told she had 2 months to live. She changed her approach to her life, dealt with her past suppressed issues and the tumour decreased in size until it vanished. Seems incredible. Possible perhaps, but unlikely for most.

I'm meeting James for a beer on Wednesday in London. I have to find a way to ask him what the doctor's prognosis was and how he plans to approach it. Wonder if I'll have the guts. And is this something he'll tell me anyway or rather keep private and not talk about? And why do I need to know these details anyway? I want him to recover fully so that I can meet him for beers for many years to come. I fear that this may not be the case. He's looking thinner than I've ever seen him. The sparkle is still in his eye but his body is having a tough time. Stomach cancer.

There seem to be a lot of people I know who are dying or badly sick lately. Phiz just had a stroke. Bill Liddle dropped dead at 55 from a heart attack days after I'd been drinking with him in Singapore. Andy Duplain had a couple of heart attacks. He's survived and is back to full form of drinking and smoking. What do you do?

Mum's spleen is getting larger. She had a colonoscopy last week because she thought she had bowel cancer. Got the all clear but fear is in the air.

James is still going to work. Is that a sign that he expects that he'll be getting better? Is it some kind of denial of his situation? If he only has a short time, commuting from Brighton to London doesn't seem a good way to spend it. But what do you do if you decide to leave work? It gives you more time to dwell on your condition. Perhaps it is better to keep things normal. Fucked if I know what I'd do. Terror, panic and self pity I expect. I guess I'm assuming the worst here. Perhaps James will be ok. I hope so, but I fear not.

I can't help but think about Sally's grief if James dies. And Harry and Louis. Such a close family unit. And their good friends who became our friends. Keith and Dianne. Glenn and Penny. A sad shift in dynamics if James is no longer around.

Camping trips and outings all together as families. Some of our best times in England. Being welcomed warmly into a group of old close friends. The party at Izzy's with his particularly good cake. Mike and Kim's indulgent extravaganzas. Beers at the Fortune of War. And the Lion and Lobster. And after a half assed Syntegra sponsored bowling night where we met over a beer.

Come on James.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The working life

What a whirlwind life has become. One day in Australia sitting at home in the bush of Warrandyte. Slow paced, bellbirds in the trees. Tori, Jazzy and Finn whirling around in their own lives. Me working frantically in multiple timezones to get the next work project finished in time. Working late into the night when it should be time for relaxing. Working on the weekend when it should be time for playing with the kids.

The next day in Singapore taking up life again there. Going to work in the morning and spending the day inside office buildings that are the same in Melbourne, Sydney, Mumbai, Taipei, London, Manila, Los Angeles, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur. The faces of the people change and the lunch time cuisine. Other than that it's all computer screens and photcopiers. Business suits and formalities. Undoubtedly there is a buzz in travelling through the sights of a new city to get to the office, and once in the office to meet new people of different languages and cultures. But an office is an office is an office. And a large multinational corporation is just a collection of people doing the same things for some larger machine wherever it may be located. As for hotels, after walking in the door and thinking "this is a nice room" (at best), it just becomes another impersonal box with a bed and a minibar.

Coming back to Warrandyte from the hustle and bustle of a city some 12 hours flying time away, in another timezone, and the need to hit the ground running. I feel like I've just crashlanded in a flying saucer. On with the next project. What emails haven't I answered. Which bills need to be paid. What deadline is looming and who do I need to have a conference call with in which timezone. It wears me down. Inevitably I hit this point. The excitement has gone and there seems no chance to recharge. My energy is too low to give out anything positive to the people I should be closest to. If Tori is having a hard time, which seems frequent enough, I struggle even more to give her what she needs.

Well Greg. Sounds like you need a holiday. Good thing that one is around the corner. Perhaps your self indulgence will subside and you'll be able to think about somebody else for a change. We'll see I guess....