Throwing Rocks at Cats

I would like to call this speech “Throwing Rocks at Cats.”

During the first launch of Tortured Tales I launched a few rocks at Carlton angry bitter hate filled missiles. It felt pretty good – but my therapist has since reminded me that this represents a kind of thinking called “negative regression” which is stopping me from making valuable progress.

When I explained to her how I felt about Carlton she suggested I was experiencing a form of long term melancholy associated with early childhood trauma and encouraged me to contact one of the many excellent support groups available. I pointed out that I was already a member of a group called “Beyond Blues” – that met regularly to sit in a circle, strum guitars, talk about our feelings and burn effigies of Wayne Harmes before closing with a giant group hug. She looked at me with stern disapproval and said that there were people out there with genuine problems and suggested I was being a pratt.

I quickly explained that whatever she thought a pratt was, in my book it was yet another high-rolling, big spending Carlton president who had bankrolled the evil empire back into business through a systematic process of poaching Collingwood staff & stealing our intellectual property. Because of this ‘Pratt’ Greg Swan was now Carlton president, Chris Judd was running around in a Carlton jumper and Gavin Brown was walking around in a Carlton coaches shirt, using the inclusive pronoun ‘we’ when referring to the Blues. Gavin was clearly unaware of the framed picture of he and I still standing on my bedroom wall after 20 years or the number 26 that has remained stitched on the back of my jumper since 1990 or that by making this regrettable moral decision he has made Kim Philby, the Rosenbergs and Judas Iscariot look good. If anything he was the pratt not me.

Looking increasingly disturbed my therapist tried to change the subject by asking me about my biggest fear. “Carlton winning the premiership” I quickly concluded. She asked how I would cope in the event that this happened. So I told her of my elaborate plans to build a nuclear fallout shelter in the backyard, where I could live in complete isolation for up to a year on canned food and Collingwood DVDs and my copy of “Bucks – All I Can Be”. My wife and children would learn, in time, to cope on their own. In some ways it would be for the best, she wouldn’t have to put up with my weekly angst over Collingwood and there would be no fighting for the remote on Friday nights as the football inevitably crossed swords with some romantic comedy involving Richard Gere. Maybe when I re-emerged people would have stopped talking about Carlton and they might have finally stopped screening Richard Gere movies and I would be able to achieve a kind of peace. (even though there would still be Essendon and Matthew McConaghey) The therapist told me I was “catastrophising”, an extreme form of thinking that leads to negative images of worst case-scenarios. I told her that in fact “catastrophising” is what you do when you are worried that Geelong are going to win the Flag and that what I was doing was “Carl –tastrophising”. She was becoming increasingly annoyed at my hair-splitting interjections. I was growing increasingly annoyed at having to explain to her the simple language of her own trade. A tense silence followed until she ventured:

“Have you considered writing about your problems?”

I replied: “Like, hello … I already have” quickly producing a copy of “Tortured Tales of a Collingwood Tragic”(!) and offered to sell it to her for the specially reduced price of $29.94. She looked at the front cover, she looked at the back cover, she looked at the inside cover which read “I don’t care what you think.” She looked at me and said “I honestly don’t think I can help you.”

Before kicking me out of her office, she’d suggested my best chance of recovery was to try and atone with the institution I hated most, the Carlton Football Club. It would help me find inner peace through the realisation that at the end of the day we are all one big family with much in common and really footy is only a game and we shouldn’t get so angry, bitter and uptight about things that happened long ago – incidentally if anyone would like to read more of my anti Carlton tirades, look no further than the new revised edition of “Tortured Tales of a Collingwood Tragic” available tonight and at all leading book stores. But yes – to put some closure on my therapy I would like to take this opportunity to officially make peace with Carlton. I would like to apologise for all the uncharitable things I’ve said about them and for any hurt I may have caused and commit myself to never saying anything bad again about Carlton Football Club AKA The Filth AKA The Cheats AKA Carltank AKA Carlscum AKA the Huns AKA the luring, poaching, scheming, manipulators – because I don’t need to, I’ve moved on, I’m getting over them and I’m cured because now I have a new focus – Geelong. (look at them all sitting there smugly with their premierships dangling off them. They make me sick.)

Even though, recent emotional stress caused by Geelong tempts me toward a similar monologue, my relationship with cats is more complicated.

The first cat I knew was my Grandfather, described in the early chapters of Tortured Tales. An ex- colonel with a passion for Australian flora and fauna, he became a devoted field naturalist, filling his garden with all kinds of native plants to attract local bird life. He built a perch outside the living room window with a feeder so my Grandmother could enjoy the sight of parrots in the late afternoon. If crows or magpies ever swooped on any of the seed he was quick to send them on their way. Football had a strange effect on my Grandfather, quite simply, it was the only thing that ever stopped him talking. On Saturdays he would barricade himself in his study, seated beside another windowsill on which was perched a device he referred to as a ‘wireless’ where he would absorb news of Gary Malarkey’s heroic defence of Kardinia Park in much the same way he might have absorbed news of the RAF’s struggle with the Luftwaffe or the Australian defence of Port Moresby. He would not come out until the war was over, his mood visibly altered by the result. If Geelong won, it was VE Day and he was ready again to talk the ears off anyone with a spare seven hours. If not, he tended not to be his chatty self. Elsewhere in his universe, however, cats were his sworn enemy, the scourge of his beloved bird life and he could often be seen cursing them, racing after them with a stick or even on occasion pitching rocks at them.

He was in truth, a kind and gentle soul who even chaperoned my brother and I into that dangerous 7th circle of hell for any non-Magpie, Victoria Park, where he watched, no doubt with heavy heart – his grandsons pass through those gates and somehow turn from relatively well-mannered suburban boys into feral, foul-mouthed, fence-banging Collingwood bogan lunatics as we screamed abuse at umpires and opposition fans and abandoned any sense of calm, reason, common-sense or civil propriety, becoming instantaneous products of our environment. Perhaps it was his form of penance.

Not long after my dear Grandfather’s passing we received two new kittens at our family home in Creswick. One we eventually named Daics for her consummate skill in execution – of rodents and reptiles. The other, seemed to grow so fat on the local rabbit population that when she sat imperiously on the family dryer resembling a large waterlogged football with legs, I named her ‘Sherrin’. Sherrin was affable, loving and courageous. One of those felines who clearly thought she was a person, she was able to completely control and manipulate my kind hearted father and even made frequent attempts to charm my less pliable mother who would always repel Sherrin’s numerous attempts to ghost in the back door and sit by the fire.  Sherrin would also provide entertainment in a routine backyard theatrical viewed from the kitchen window where the local magpies would try and surround the two cats while eating their breakfast, closing in en masse in an attempt to psyche them out it. These close fought encounters often saw the magpies prevail playing side by side but Sherrin was always last to surrender the field. She was such an integral member of our family for twenty years that when she eventually passed away early this year Dad made a special monument to her in the back garden.

More recently back home in the Magpie heartland of Fairfield, I’ve been managing to have run ins with a tomcat named Finnegan – who belongs to my neighbour Paul, a tall red haired Irishman who follows Brisbane and Carlton but is otherwise a good bloke. Finnegan however, is a bastard. I stopped him from mauling a young native bird one night and, perhaps in deference to my Grandfather, placed it in a cardboard box in the back room and fed it through a syringe, checking on it through the night. All the while Finnegan stood outside the glass window, surveying me with his icy stare, tail slashing, eyes boring into me, daring me to make a move “You just made yourself a very powerful enemy my friend” he seemed to be saying. I resisted the strong temptation to club him over the head with Buzz Lightyear – and remained focussed on my patient.

Next day I took the bird to the local vet congratulating myself on rescuing it from the jaws of that marauding panther in my yard. The second I arrived home Finnegan appeared on the opposite fence carrying another, larger bird of the same species. He sprang down arrogantly, placed the stunned creature directly in front of me and proceeded to stare me down with the cold, terrifying intensity of the serial killer. I knew what he was up to. He was trying to intimidate me with his superior speed, strength, agility, running capacity and good looks (he was trying to Bartel me) But I was having none of it. I scooped up this second bird, made another trip to the Vet, this time stomping through the café latte strip of fashionable Northcote in my gumboots vowing that if Finnegan showed his face in my yard again he was going to get a rock in the head.

Cats, cats, always cats. From my uni days living at Don Bosco Boys Hostel among the Abblett loving old boys of St Joseph’s, to the countless cats of Colac where I once tennis coached and more recently the Latin Teacher at my present  school, a classic Geelong fan: good-humoured, intelligent and a little bit bloody annoying. After Geelong had beaten the Pies in the Grand Final last year he presented his senior Latin class with a picture of the celebrating  Premiership team with a caption adapted from Cato the Elder: “Collingwood dilendum est” – ‘Collingwood must be destroyed’, I felt my anger rising again. I would never be found guilty of this sort of callow indoctrination of children. OK maybe I did once link the Greek concept of hubris with the Carlton FC but at the time John Elliott was president. And yes, maybe I did once refer to Gavin Brown as a modern day martyr in the same league as Socrates, John Lennon and Ghandi. But surely education is about using good examples from modern society?

Another thing I’ve picked up from teaching Ancient Egypt is that Cats were once especially sacred. Very important Cats in Egypt were once even mummified. I am in favour of this idea and would like to see it re-introduced post-haste. Given that the process of mummification and entombment can take up to 30 years I strongly recommend that Geelong withhold Joel Corey, Matthew Scarlett and Steve Johnson from this week’s line up so they can immediately begin the necessary process of embalming, preservation and organ removal. That way they can soon begin a new premiership window in the afterlife instead of hanging around here where they refuse to piss off and let someone else have a go.

Another special cat who I would not like to see mummified is my friend and mentor John Harms. Through his advice and encouragement, through The Footy Almanac and through his generous contributions he has been a constant and invaluable support. Harmsy is widely known and loved by football writers around the country – for good reason and I’m sure my Grandfather would have loved him. It is therefore fitting that the foreword to Collingwood Tragic is written by him.

Not only that, but the after word based on last year’s Grand Final quotes from his marvellous Grand Final piece, itself quoting St. Paul “Only through suffering can we achieve character, only then can we achieve joy.”

Collingwood and Geelong know both sides of these coins, suffering and joy. And as irritating as cats can be, when I think of Sherrin and of Harmsy and of my Grandfather sitting in his study next to the wireless every Saturday, I find it hard to hate them. Perhaps, in a different but similar way I have become my Grandfather, who once chased felines vigorously from his garden.

For example my bio in last year’s Footy Almanac which shows just how well I was coping with the GF defeat read:

“James Gilchrist will bide his time in a darkened room, plotting revenge, emerging only to throw rocks at any cats that wander into his yard.”

And that is what I will do – next time Finnegan drops in with an unwanted present trying to psyche me out with the fact that he can leave a half-eaten rat on my door step any time he wants or the fact that he is mentally tougher than me and has had a better pre-season and is quite capable of playing a long game of cunning, patience and duplicity that could last weeks or months as he stares his cold, silent stare in at me through the back window. But I am not giving up. Collingwood will rise again and one day I will reclaim my backyard, no matter how long it takes. I will continue to stand up to Finnegan, I will believe that Bucks has the answers, that Cloke isn’t going to GWS and that some of our players will get through the season with their knees intact and I will learn to live again. (And it all starts when we kick their tails on Friday night.)

If you like these kinds of rambling, psychotic thoughts, there are plenty more to be had in the new, revised edition of “Tortured Tales of a Collingwood Tragic”, which explains in painful detail how I came to be the way I am. As Greg Baum states “You don’t need to be a magpie fanatic to enjoy this book but it helps.” As well as a work of self-induced therapy it is also a story about growing up, family, romance, travel, music, belief and disbelief in God, the secret life of bogans, the simple pleasure of combining alcohol with umpire vilification & all the other things that make life worth living.

For copies of the book please make your initial inquiry to footyalmanac@bigpond.com

 

 

 

 

About james gilchrist

James Gilchrist is another Collingwood tragic who enjoys reading, writing, music, travel and teaching. A father of three, he teaches at Genazzano College, writes for the Footy Almanac and waits ever patiently for that next elusive Magpie Premiership.

Comments

  1. Phantom says:

    Two neighbours in their suburban back yards.

    The nosey neighbour looks over the fence and engages the other who is digging a hole.

    ‘Digg’n a hole?’

    ‘Yes’

    ‘What for?’

    ‘I am burying my pet canary.’

    ‘Bloody big hole for a canary’

    ‘It’s inside your cat.’

  2. That’s it I’m getting a new t-shirt printed with:

    “Collingwood dilendum est”

  3. Peter Flynn says:

    I listened to this speech at the Celtic Club.

    Very engaging and very amusing.

    Well done James.

  4. Andrew Starkie says:

    nothing wrong with a bit ‘negative regression’ it’s fun.

    Well done on launch, James.

  5. Andrew Starkie says:

    And can people stop it with the Latin, please?! I have enough bloody trouble with English!

  6. haiku bob says:

    great stuff James.
    wish i was there to see it!
    all the best with the book.

    hb.

  7. Peter_B says:

    Collingwood – dilendum est. That’s ‘dumb & dumber 2’ right?

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    The Eliot Goblet of Footy literature. You are a funny man James. Congratulations and best of luck with the second run :)

  9. Thanks for the comments fellas. Great to have a few Knackers there on the night. One of the real highlights was Peter Flynn’s almost supernatural quiz answering powers.

  10. Peter M says:

    I’m a bit late to be leaving a comment on this article but I have just re-read Tortured Tales so thought I’d leave a message. I initially got a copy from the Library but enjoyed it so much I decided I wanted my own copy.

    Love the book. The rants from Thug and Bugle are priceless. Some of the best footy writing I have read from any code. Very persuasive too. I was previously a bit ambivalent about Carlton but I’m starting to dislike them.

    Thanks for the book James. A great read that I will revisit many times.

  11. Thanks very much Peter. I really value your comments, I can’t imagine who you barrack for but your anti-Carlton sentiment is certainly welcome. Having said that my Carlton mother-in-law just bought my kids 3 brand new registered Collingwood jumpers (God bless) and my wife has recently censured me for inciting football related hatred in my kids (another Carlton rant) – these are strange times we live in. Meanwhile the Club has finally picked up the book so I hope to sell a few through them and Thug, who now lives in Sweden just had a baby daughter. This last news will disturb many people. Nice to hear from you and perhaps we can catch up and the next Almanac launch, JG.

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