When Noel Coward penned the song “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” in 1931, beginning and finishing almost every stanza with “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”, did he spare a thought for us Aussies?
Sydney is in the middle of a heatwave. January was the hottest month on record and February is following in its footsteps.
Today’s Sydney Morning Herald’s headlines screamed: EMERGENCY SERVICES BRACE FOR HEATWAVE. We were being warned of “catastrophic” fire threats, strains on hospitals, electricity blackouts, and told that the numbers of people in the Emergency department these past six weeks had far exceeded those in previous summers. And not just old people. We had been warned. We were also told that junior sporting events on Saturday could well be cancelled and that some NRL pre season games wouldn’t go ahead either.
Last week the predictions for today (Friday) and this weekend were pretty scary: 40, 39, 40 in Sydney. And up to 45 a few suburbs away in the west.
I wouldn’t normally be concerned, and under such circumstances would probably just stay indoors a lot of the time, but today (Friday) was the first day of the resumed Sheffield Shield season for my team Queensland – here in Sydney.
It was also going to be the first day for a “real” outing for Marshall since coming home from his operation mid January. And I wasn’t sure whether someone recuperating from such an operation should be exposed to such extreme heat.
One problem was that Marshall didn’t really know about this day out – well at least until a day or so ago.
The 10th – 13th February had been marked in my diary since the Shield season’s fixtures were announced – months ago. I was not going to miss going to the SCG for this game. We didn’t get to last year’s as we were overseas and the year before, Queensland didn’t play here. So this was an absolute must, no matter what!
I asked Marshall several times this morning whether he felt well enough or wanted to come along. “Yes” was the answer each time. So, with cushions packed, and a sense that not using the air conditioner all day at home was hopefully helping the Sydney power grid, and the planet, off we went. It was way too hot, even at 9.30 this morning, to walk (as we normally would), so we drove.
There is one section of Moore Park Road (outside the SCG/Allianz Stadium complex) where there are no restrictions on parking – free all day. I was hoping to snatch one of those spots. The car in front of me was obviously after the same thing and at the last minute, not quite believing his luck, swerved left and took the last remaining space.
Off to Driver Avenue, and either the $20 car park or the four-hour parking meters. “Sorry madam, there is no car park facility today”, the guy near the entrance told us. We took the remaining free space with a meter. What the hell does it matter – $24 for 8 hours, I think to myself; Marshall couldn’t possibly have walked, and I have a sneaking suspicion that’s he’s coming along for my sake, so who cares about parking meter costs.
The credit card goes into the slot, it takes forever to process, and then the words CAN’T BE PROCESSED come up. We try again: same thing. A guy a few cars up tries: same thing. I notice a Rangers car not too far away and run up to it. He doesn’t seem to want to leave the air conditioned comfort, so drives the 30 metres to where we’re parked. Gets out, and ask us to try the payment again. Same answer.
“With all the rain the other day, parts of Moore Park were flooded and some of the metres have been affected”, he tells us. (In between the heat we had drenching rain for a day).
“So, we don’t need to pay for parking here.”
“And we won’t get a ticket?” I ask.
“No you won’t”.
“What about after the maximum four hours is up on the meter, do we need to come back out and try again?”
“No, I’ll let the next Ranger know about it.”
Thinking I’d better have some proof just in case things go awry, I ask his name.
“Can you spell that, please?”
“Manny, like the boxer”, he says.
“Oh, OK.” I didn’t like to disappoint him or sound dumb when it came to boxing, but I had absolutely no idea who Manny the boxer was!
With five minutes before the start of play we were in for another $ surprise. No entrance fee, at all. Our lucky day!
No sooner had we found seats in the Ladies Stand, where non SCG Members were allowed to sit, there was a collective “Oh no” from the Sydney crowd – all 147 of them. My boys had a wicket! Hughes, their opening batsman had gone for a duck. A few minutes later, Cowan (also a duck) was lbw to Neser and the score was 2/2.
“Wow, this is great, Marsh, surely this is our lucky day”, I say, rather than ask.
It’s stinking hot already and the sweat is starting to trickle down our faces and necks. I just have to remove my shirt; fortunately a singlet covers my top half. As Marshall also removes his shirt he looks at me quizzically, saying “But what about your arms, you never show your arms.”
“Bugger my arms today, it’s just too hot.” (tops of arms when you’re my age tend to become floppy and a little wrinkled – unless you keep up the gym work – and because I sometimes carry around some of that past vanity, I don’t like the look of my arms).
There was absolutely no breeze in the Ladies Stand – anywhere for that matter – and I couldn’t help but think of the players and how they must be feeling. I vaguely thought that my boys, being used to extreme heat, would better deal with it – after all we’d already taken two quick wickets in 10 minutes, and the Blues looked a little forlorn.
Forty minutes after the start of play, drinks were taken, and would be taken at every forty minute interval for the remainder of the four-day game – such was the concern for the players from the cricket authorities. I’ve never seen that before.
We were also in need of drinks but I hadn’t brought any water. In previous years anyone could sit in the Members Stand and enjoy the inside bar area where water was provided. I assumed we’d be sitting there today.
Off I walked to the one and only refreshments hut near the entrance and asked for two bottles of water.
“That’ll be $10 please.”
“WHAT! $5 each?” (I’m thinking, bloody Sydney all over again, especially after the earlier experience with the $20 car park fee for the Sydney Test match).
She looks at me, shrugs her shoulders and says “Yes, I know!”
I’d only taken $7 cash from my bag, so one bottle had to suffice. Tap water from the sinks in the lovely old Ladies Toilet, with its original pale pink tiles and not so recent dark pink liquid soap in a 50s container, kept us going for the rest of the day. It was also about 10 degrees cooler in the Ladies, so I visited frequently just to cool off for a few minutes.
Just after lunch, Larkin and Patterson had reeled in their 100 partnership and the 2/2 now didn’t seem as exciting. Although when our spinner Floros catches Larkin for 86 off his own bowling and the Blues are 3/158 I give a subdued Yes, to the amazement of the people sitting close by. I explained that I lived in Brisbane for many years, so of course Queensland was my team. Some smiled.
Not long before tea another Yes, this time slightly louder, emanated. It accompanied a right-handed fist punching an open left hand, and at 4/197 I was feeling a little happier.
The heat was stifling at 3pm. I was a little worried about Marshall, although he reassured me he was fine. After the break he wriggled around in his seat and came out with “I wish I had a softer bum!”. It was very funny at the time. All I could possibly add was “Me too.”
Many of the crowd left at the tea break. Why do people always do that? Almost every cricket game I’ve been to, people leave at tea. I just don’t get it.
With 52 people now in the Ladies Stand and a handful in the Members, I wasn’t so conscious about screaming Yes if we were to get a wicket. We didn’t.
An hour or so went by, and as the play dawdled along and only 19 runs had been added, Marshall came out with the most shocking thing he’s said in a long time. To tell you the truth, I thought he’d been hallucinating, and was getting a little concerned and wondered about leaving early and getting him home into a cool spot.
Maybe it wasn’t that shocking, but he said it just at the time that I was thinking how nice it was to see three slips and a gully, and one man on the boundary, and not having to put up with inane blaring of music after almost every ball bowled or six hit in that newly adopted game they call cricket. I was almost enjoying the slow pace of the game being played right in front of me; I was enjoying seeing the creams worn by the players, and I was enjoying having so few people around me, all clapping at the appropriate moments and concentrating intensely on that very next ball and that very next stroke. And, not caring that it wasn’t a six! Not one had been hit all day.
“I think I’d prefer 20/20”, were his frightening words.
“WHAT!” “What did you say?”
“I’m only joking!”
I wondered. Surely the heat had affected him?
I was also enjoying the crowd. Or those that were left. Most of them of the retired age, mostly men, and some younger people – also mostly male. Three of them near us were Poms. You could just tell they were Poms, and probably from the north. They obviously wanted a suntan and sprawled themselves across seats out in the sun until they could bear it no longer. Mad dogs and Englishmen!
Another person, a young woman, who I thought must have been slightly ill, sat herself in the stinking heat of the day for three hours. She wore a straw hat, but had covered her body completely in a sort of shroud – from almost head to toe. But she remained in the sun for all that time. When I couldn’t see her at tea time, I assumed she must have been taken to the Emergency department with a bad dose of heat stroke. You had to be there to believe it!
A bunch of suits arrived not long after lunch – having abandoned their ties and coats – and immediately started the rounds of liquid amber. I simply could not believe how many they were able to consume throughout the day. There was no water to be seen. At one point they removed their shoes and socks and rolled up their trousers. They looked a sight!
Back on the field, Henriques is playing havoc with our bowlers, and the Maroons look down and out. Surely, they’re used to this heat? It seems a thankless task, as another drinks break is taken – this time the players all huddling together in the shade of the light tower’s shadow encroaching over one small section of the ground.
At 5.30 we’re told another 11 overs are required and that we’d be there until 6pm. Marshall, doing the various SMH crosswords, groans a bit, implying he’d rather be somewhere else and when I ask him if it’s the heat or the lack of wickets, he says “both”. At least he didn’t say “bored”!
I offer to take him home (he doesn’t drive) but he insists we remain to the end, knowing that I never ever leave before the end of a game, footy or cricket. So, he was being kind.
Not long before stumps, Henriques gets his well deserved century and the Blues are way ahead. Everyone applauds, even me, as his stroke-play has been superb.
The Poms have left, the suits decide it’s time to go home (hopefully in a taxi) – taking their stacks of plastic cups with them – and the woman in the shroud is nowhere to be seen.
Stumps are drawn at 4/328 and my Queenslanders look a sorry lot as they trudge from the SCG.
But, you just never know with cricket. Wickets may fall in a flurry tomorrow morning, or Henriques may go on to make a double century. That’s the beauty of this game. And today, all for the princely sum of a $5 bottle of water!
With or without Marshall, I’ll be there tomorrow to go through it all again, despite the 40+ forecast for the hottest February day in history in Sydney. And I’ll certainly be reminded of the Mad Dogs, Englishman, and the Midday Sun.
And who knows? That parking meter may not have been repaired yet?
p.s. Walking to the car the woman in the shroud crosses my path. She’d survived the day, stayed to the end, and hopefully enjoyed the cricket.