The Albatross Rules, Chapter 5: A Pleasant Sunday Arvo

The Albatross Rules

(a football chronicle)

Con and the Prof have been putting the team together. With the season fast approaching it’s time for the social club to play its part in the Albatrosses’ revival.

5. A Pleasant Sunday Arvo

The boys had been training hard and the recruiting effort, though at times unconventional, had gone extremely well. The Rivera boys, Juan and Bobby, would fit in nicely. They were as tough as nuts and fast. Eagle the ruckman and Rachmann the wingman were both, it turns out, more than handy. The German’s infectious confidence was a bonus for a side short on success. And the Kid, Robby Formosa, could easily fill a key attacking role. Con would have taken one or two more but he was happy with the balance. There were no real injury problems and, even with five players suspended for a couple of rounds the depth and spread looked good on paper. Con might even be able to rest the older blokes like Cotto and Archie, or use them off the interchange to keep them fit and fresh, for a tilt at the finals.

Signs went up all round town. ‘A Pleasant Sunday Afternoon. Fun for all. Proceeds to the Albertville Football Club’.

Organisation for the day fell to the indomitable matrons of the social committee. They wielded power and demanded respect in equal measure. Most formidable amongst them was Edith McKenzie.

Edith was determined that, in keeping with the Prof’s vision, the family day would be the best ever. She set to work delegating. She knew who to call on. She knew who had what. Father Anthony could supply the coloured flag bunting they used to decorate the church at Christmas. Jen McRae had two generators and could set up the old school bus as a sandwich van. Between Nugget O’Laughlin and the Prof they could put together a petting zoo for the littlies. Bill Pedersen made the best sausages in the area, she’d get him to do something special. There were cake makers aplenty—Edith knew their strengths and weaknesses. She set them to work on designated baking tasks—woe betide any who had their own ideas. “Leave the scones to me,” she demanded. Edith also knew, because there was little she didn’t know about local business, that Harry Meyers, who ran a bargain second-hand shed down in the valley, had picked up an old jumping castle in a job-lot at a recent auction. Yes it would be a great day.

There is, all too often, in the making of well-laid plans, the unseen hand of fate. On Saturday morning Nugget loaded his old truck and delivered, to a small holding pen on the boundary of the Massey property next to the oval, five ducks, three piglets, three hens, two geese, one goat and his grandchildren’s rabbits, ‘Flo’ and ‘Joe’ and pet lamb ‘Fuzzy.’ In the adjoining enclosure he deposited the cranky ewe that was to be sacrificed in the name of Pederson’s famous lamb and rosemary bangers.

‘Strewth.’ thought Bill when his apprentice son, Lachlan, returned to the butchery with the promised beast, ‘Nugget’s getting a bit stingy in his old age.’ “Fresh meat, I told him, that’s what makes these snags special. Fresh meat and plenty of it. Go into the coolroom, Lachy, and see what you can find to spin it out.” The boy returned moments later with a pile of trays and they set to work preparing the barbecue delicacy to an old family recipe.

Edith was at ease. Not even a torrential downpour on Saturday evening could dampen her spirits. Besides rain in these parts was sorely needed. She went to sleep confident that everything would be in order. By nine in the morning she was tromping around the sports ground site, clipboard in hand, barking instructions to a team of young blokes who were marking the layout with pegs and paint. “Tea and coffee. Cakes and scones. Barby. Pie stall; can we get power over here—good, good. Jumping castle here. Here! Come on, keep up boys.”

Very soon the ground began to fill with activity. The Pedersons set their barbecue up, as instructed, next to the cake tent. Edith had a sign all ready for them, ‘sausage in a roll – $2.50’ and a float and cash box to get them going. Maria from the Mt Desperate Bakery arrived and Edith pointed her towards the trestle table alongside the Pedersons’ barbecue.

Some time later young Lachlan tiptoed up to her and, from his timid disposition, she knew something was amiss. “Well, out with it, son. What is it? Not enough change? Not enough gas?”

“Not enough rolls.”

“Not enough rolls?!”

“Not enough rolls, Edie.”

“Not enough rolls!”

“No rolls. Ede.”

In the cake tent Maria was unloading trays of sticky buns. “I can only do what I’m told, I tell you. It’s those bloody teeth.” When Edith got excited her dentures loosened. When her teeth got loose she mixed a variety of clicks and clacks of teeth and spittle with her speach. There had been some unintended consonants. “That’s what I heard so that’s what you’ve got—I sure hope you can use ‘em.”

“Maria!!!”

“Edith…Your scrolls.”

“Bah.” Edith McKenzie stood momentarily, frozen in frustrated silence. Then she turned on her heels and, drawing a large black felt pen from her apron, marched purposefully towards the barbecue. “Son,” she bellowed at the quivering apprentice, “go and find some bread.” With a flourish she reconfigured the signage.

“Sausage and a scroll for $2.50. Heh, Great deal Bill!” Nugget was just wandering past. “One for me and the kids can share one.” At that moment young Lachlan returned at the gallop with five sliced loaves in hand and soon Nugget was on his way again. The sausage was as good as any he could remember, beautifully tender and full of flavour. “You got to hand it to ‘em kids—those Pederson’s make fine snags.” The youngsters nodded as they looked up at their pa. Young Thomas licked his lips and prepared to taste the morsel. They rounded the corner of the line of food stalls. Suddenly his grandfather stopped. The old boy’s face turned ghostly white. He choked on his gourmet mouthful, recovered, then quickly changed direction. In front of him, not twenty metres away, towering over the other animals in the petting enclosure and looking meanly at a couple of unsuspecting toddlers, was the scruffy old ewe he had sent to be slaughtered. And Fuzzy…

Nugget snatched the rolled up bread from the little fella’s hand. “Oh Geeze. Er… um… er.. Sorry Tommy, bad sauce. The sauce is off. Yeah, the sauce is off, son. No good. Er…um… ,” and he quickly led the bewildered youngsters towards the wood-chop.

Back at the enclosure Nugget’s crusty old sheep had the smallest toddler bailed up against the chook shed. The pimply boy-scout who had been chosen to look after things dashed to her aid, leaving the gate ajar momentarily. The goat, which had been eyeing off the jumping castle, laid out ready for inflation, seized the opportunity. By the time the khaki-clad kid had restrained the recalcitrant sheep the escapee had munched right through the rubberised cloth and was contentedly chewing on Captain America’s foot.

News of these dramas had not yet reached Edith. Around her there was a hubbub that suggested things were going well, scrolls aside. She hadn’t reckoned on Muriel Watson. Muriel, who could not cook, arrived at the cake tent, uninvited, with not one, nor two, but three trays in hand. When Edith lifted their tea towel covers and saw two dozen scones on each she flew into a fearful rage, at which, as usual, Muriel collapsed in tears. Within moments placators had gathered around Edith and comforters around Muriel. The tension in the cake tent was as thick as a lemon slice. It took a good deal of diplomacy before Edith was cajoled into accepting the offending scones and Muriel was thanked and sent home to rest.

“Give it to me straight, lass.” pleaded Edith when she had calmed down, motioning to Jen’, who had arrived at last with her own tale to tell.

Jen’, who only ever gave it to anyone straight, picked a doughy lump from the top tray. “Bloody heavy. Shapeless. Shitty colour… Aw, bugger me Ede’, it’s as hard as a rock. These aren’t scones, they’re cannonballs—you got a ship to sink? I wouldn’t feed these to pigs.”

“The petting zoo—of course. Well done Jen’.” Edith brightened up. “Send ‘em over. Compliments of the Ladies Auxillary.”

Disasters, minor and major, arose and were dealt with throughout the day. And everybody, except Edith, continued to have a ball. Edith blanched at the many compliments that came her way. All she could see were carefully spun plans unravelling bit by bit. The bus had been swamped when Jen’ tried fording the swollen waters of the creek. A layer of stinking mud rendered it unsuitable as a food van. So she parked it over near the deflated jumping castle and the Professor hung a sign across it. ‘Chase the Goat – Loads of Fun, $2:00’

Then Jen’, always resourceful, salvaged what she could of the ravaged jumping castle and connected it up to the generator. A superhero figure emerged, flying high, arms extended. The Prof hung a footy at the end of an ‘occy’ strap above its head and they sold tickets to kids to take speckies over it.

The woodchop logs were green. The beer was flat. Half the PA blew. Tired of being mercilessly pursued the goat lay down in the middle of the sack race and refused to move. In mid afternoon it began to rain. It rained and it rained. Though it pleased all the farmers it displeased Edith.

For Maur and Con the family day provided a chance to relax and enjoy the ‘culture’ of the town. “It’s not exactly high art, love,” Con laughed. Maureen had always been into ballet and the theatre. Stuff like that.

“Oh bugger the arts,” she grinned. “It’s fun.” Albertville was in a celebratory mode. It came naturally to the town in spite of the haze of day-to-day hardships—the sluggish local economy, the drought that had made farming even harder than usual, the kids leaving in droves for the big smoke and the sense that, in a world that moved in light-years and milliseconds, places like Albertville were being left behind. Con and Maur had their fill of Pederson snags, sampled cakes and preserves, bought numerous raffle tickets and chatted, it seemed, to half the town.

At 2:15, after local band, the Tygerz, had trudged from the stage, big Rory Schindler, bush artist, bon vivant and MC for the day announced that the jumper presentations were about to begin.

Con made his way to the side of the ‘stage’, a semi-trailer parked on the wing, while Maur joined the crowd gathering in the drizzle for the ceremony. The players straggled up onto the tray of the truck.

“OK everyone,” Rory roared, “let’s hear it for the president of the Albertville Football Club, the Professor himself, Barry Massey.”

The Prof sprang up the wobbly steps, strode across to centre stage and hooked the microphone out of its stand like an old pro—the Tygerz’ pimply frontman could have learned a bit from him. “G’day all. Beautiful weather. Thanks for coming. Thanks Rory. OK it’s a big day for the club so no mucking around. As you know we’ve been working on a new jumper for this year. So I figured you might want to see it.” He waited. “Well come on, do you want to see it?” he shouted.

A collective cry of “yeah” rose up around the wing, just as if an umpire had blown an affirmative whistle to an imploring, ‘ball?!’. Barry, took the lid off a plastic crate and, with great reverence, raised a black and white jumper from it. The crowd gasped. It looked…

“… it looks like crap, Baz!” screamed Jen, “It’s horrible.”

The jumper looked like…well…crap. The Prof turned and peered at the duck-like cartoon bird, splattered across the front of its old black and white hoops. “Oops, wrong one! Sorry folks.” As the crowd jeered he swung it round to reveal, in place of a number, the words ‘club president’.

“You wacker, Baz. Get on with it!”

“Alright. Enough, mucking around. Rory, can you get us the real ones?” As Rory brought another crate across the Prof peeled off his coat and pulled the ridiculous duck jumper on. “OK, here it is, our new jumper, all sponsored by Ecoprint too.” He glanced at his palm. “They’re down in the valley. Talk to Paula or Oz down there for all your fabric and general printing needs.” With just a hint of a flourish he lovingly lifted a jumper out of the crate and held it to the crowd. It looked…

Jen, whistled and cheers went up throughout the crowd.

…it looked fantastic. The black and white hoops were intact. Across them, in alternating black or white according to the colour of the background, was an elegant albatross silhouette forming a diagonal slash from near the right shoulder to above the left hip.

After a moment, the Prof went on. “OK. The rain’s getting a bit heavy again and we don’t want to keep you too long in it—though god knows we need it. Anyway I’ll just hand ’em out in number order. We’re reserving number 1 for the captain as usual so I can also announce, our new club captain for the season—no surprises I guess—Boof McKenzie.” The announcement was greeted with more applause, whistles and shouts of approval.

The Prof went on, announcing numbers and names, then tossing jumpers across the stage to the boys who put them on over whatever they happened to be wearing. He paused to introduce new recruits. “Number 15, Robby ‘the Kid’ Formosa. Don’t let his fancy city looks fool ya, folks. He’s a key position forward with very handy skills, recruited from Ringwood in the city.” “Number 17, Eagle. It’s not a nickname. Ruckman recruited from Beaumauris…via Nepal…or somewhere. He designed the jumper too!” An appreciative cheer went up. “Andy Rachmann. Number Twenty. Recruited from Hamburg, Germany. And, yes. He plays on the ‘Ving’. Give ‘im a hand.” “Number 22, Bobby Rivera. As you know Bobby’s a midfielder from Dwights’ and he cut us up a bit last year so we’re glad to have him in the black and white. And number 23, Bobby’s brother, Juan Rivera, he’s a handy in and under type.”

Then, with the players looking fine all kitted out in the new strip he reached down to the bottom of the crate. “One more folks. Give him a big hand. Our coach, recruited from the Panthers where he played with distinction alongside some of the best—he was cut down by injury cut but he was a fine player himself—Con, ‘Duck’, Filipou.” Con leapt up onto the edge of the truck, tripped, stumbled and began to fall. He couldn’t tell whether it was him, or his entry, that was being applauded. As the last Albatross jumper floated towards him he recovered his balance and snatched it from the air. It felt precious. It was personal, which he hardly understood. It seemed, at that moment, to epitomise opportunities he hadn’t yet considered and others he thought he’d lost long ago. He held it aloft for a second before slipping into it and joining the players for an obligatory photograph.

After the jumper presentation the family day began to wind down. By the end of the festivities the kids of the town looked like mud crabs. They scurried this way and that with eyes alone protruding through the grimy, slimy, muck. There were mud caked footies flying all over the place, which seemed an auspicious way to kick off the season. The omens were good. The new jumper had been a huge success. The whole team, and the townsfolk too, were charged with anticipation for the season opener.

Nugget surveyed the scene with satisfaction. He was content in his new role as an elder statesman and had to admit that the club appeared to be in good hands. To celebrate, he put taste ahead of sentiment and bought the last sausage/scroll combination. He’d deal with the delicate matter of Fuzzy later.

But poor Edith found it hard to smile. She looked across at the crippled jumping castle and all she saw was her carnival vision in tatters. She couldn’t appreciate the queue of kids who had spent the afternoon living out their football dreams as they soared high, grabbed the dangling pill then plunged back onto the billowing pillows below.

Back at the petting enclosure only the last crumbs of Muriel’s cannonball scones remained. The piglets looked seedy and the poor ducks couldn’t raise a waddle. One goose was leaning against a hay bail like a drunk against a lamp-post. The other, having been tipped onto its side, seemed to have lost the will to stand again. The rabbits copulated one last time in the corner while the sheep and the goat, tethered to a corner post, butted each other pointlessly.

The scene around about was not dissimilar. Among the stragglers, over-indulgers staggered about hopelessly. A couple of old-guys shaped up in the carpark before being sent on their way. And in the bushes behind the cake stall tent two fumbling youngsters engaged in some petting of their own. As they gracelessly embraced and let their tongues entwine, the sun—which Edie figured had come out again to taunt her—set slowly over the best family day that Albertville had ever seen.

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