Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games: Round 3


Carlton versus Essendon

Saturday, April 10th., M.C.G. (Night)

Zip – two to the Bombers.

Consequently, relations are testy between me and Tommy Hubble.  Defeat makes us irritable.  He stays indoors doing the managerial side of Huntleigh Mews business, which involves sending one long email (that I know of) to Matthew Knights, the Essendon coach, while I roam far and wide with my cleaning apparatus, conscientious, pleasant to everyone I meet but . . . brooding.  My early-season optimism is dissolving.  We didn’t expect to beat Geelong, but if we are going to be  anywhere near contenders, we had to beat Fremantle last week, no matter how much they had improved.

It’s difficult to talk about Essendon with Tommy.  It has to do with him thinking that he’s still a coach, which he hasn’t been – I come very close to reminding him – for twenty years.  Every opinion he offers carries more weight than what I say.  Like, when I suggest, “It’s our forward line that’s letting us down.  If we still had Lloydy up there, while he might not be the quickest thing on two legs, at least we’d have a target.”  And Tommy replies, creasing his pink face and dipping his head like he’s about to explain the Theory of Everything to a moron, “I’m afraid in the modern game you just can’t afford the luxury of having someone who lacks mobility in your team.”

Oh really.

So then I ask him, how come during the Fremantle game we started fiddling around with the ball, chip-kicking to static targets, until the inevitable happened and we turned it over? What happens to our free-flowing, overlapping game where our players run through the lines?  (I love saying things like “chip kicking to static targets” and “running through the lines”.  I’m as entitled to talk modern jargon as much as he is.  And when I find out what the “inside game” and the “outside game” are, I’ll use them, too.)

Again my opinion gets me a look as though I have just crawled out from under a rock.  “Mental toughness, Peter.  I put it down to poor coaching.  Your players have to be instilled with an absolute determination to stick to their game plan, come what may.  I’m not sure our man in charge is the person for the job.”

Oh really.

That’s a radical call for an Easter Tuesday morning, especially seeing we have only suffered two losses – as opposed to twelve or twenty – and coming from a man who coached the Beaumont Parrots for five years for a 48% win ratio and one grand final appearance.  (100% losing ratio on that one.)  I’m roused now, so I drag out one of the very few pieces of statistical trivia that somehow refuses to dislodge from my brain: I remind my host that Essendon won the premiership in 1993, and after the first five rounds of that season we had one win and a draw.

What about that, eh?

This draws a scoffing noise from Tommy, so I decide I’ll go outside and rake up another gazillion autumn leaves.  (Sometimes it’s simply better to be apart.)  I’m cut short, however, by the gate buzzer letting out its massive fart noise, and Bulldog announcing himself through the intercom.  Tommy retreats to the kitchen, all hissing sighs and head shakes, muttering that he’s going to make corn beef sandwiches.

Bulldog Nankervis is a distinctive sight.  He’s seriously tall and, despite consuming huge amounts of food and drink, remains as thin as a rake.  He always preferred earth colours in his clothing back in the Beaumont days, and this hasn’t changed.  This morning, to celebrate another fine autumn day, he’s wearing a pair of baggy shorts that reach below his knees, a check shirt and sandals.  He looks like something you’d see washed up on the beach.  But don’t get me wrong.  He’s a good bloke, and charming, and he was a bloody good teacher and friend to me when I was an utterly obnoxious young man.

I’m warming to him again, now that I’m a slightly less obnoxious thirty-something.  He seems not to hold any grudges against me, for the problems I caused him at school.

We settle into Tommy’s monstrous leather chairs.  Bulldog is on school holidays, and is as relaxed as.  Another thing that hasn’t changed about him is his attitude to The Game.  I don’t think losing hurts Bulldog as much as me and Tommy.  He lacks the intensity of a ridgy-didge club die-hard.  A loss doesn’t penetrate to the core of his being, and turn him sour like me and my boss here.  I put him down as a barracker, rather than a supporter.  That’s a tough call, and I don’t make it lightly.  But he was always like that, even when those bastards from Balagundi thumped the Beaumont Bombers – which they did, regularly.  Today his opinion is  that we’ll be better on Saturday night.  The coach will get stuck into them, smarten up their attitude.  There’ll be a minor shake-up to the team.  Maybe Alwyn Davey might have a spell in the VFL, because he ran around like a headless chook against Freo.  Lovett-Murray will be back – he’s an important player for us – Scott Gumbleton started to show signs of being a champion and, well, we always rise to the occasion against Carlton.

“We’ve beaten them the last six times we’ve played them,” he says.

“History is bunkum,” says Tommy, plonking a plate of sandwiches on the occasional table in front of us.  “Every game is a new game.”

Bulldog and I exchange a glance.  “Did you get that, Peter.  Every game is a new game.”

“Just eat, Bulldog,” says Tommy.  “I’ll get my selected side and we’ll go over it.”

. . . / / / . . .

The next day, Wednesday, means Easter is officially over – it takes forever – and life at Huntleigh Mews returns to its regular pattern.  Residents have returned from their holidays, guests have left, humping suitcases to cars and taxis.  The carpark is full again, and there’s no little kids terrorising the goldfish in the fountain or thrashing around in the swimming pool playing brandy with a wet toilet roll.  (Idiots.)  What’s more, I am now able to sweep the footpath without being run over by a religious procession.

In the early afternoon, I stop for a breather and, propping my broom next to me, sit on a garden bench on the upper terrace and take a good hard look at myself.  First and foremost I feel a bit more relaxed about Linda – in fact I’ll admit I haven’t been dwelling on her much at all.  Associating with football fanatics is a distraction, but it’s also got to do with the fact that I’m discovering that life’s pretty interesting at Huntleigh Mews.  No wonder there’s been television series, films and books based on people living in apartment blocks.  Drama is concentrated into a small area in these places.  You don’t have to go looking for it, such as you might have to do out in the suburbs.  It just comes bouncing right up to you, demanding attention.  I mean, nothing happened in Lilac Street, Bundoora, for the entire eight weeks that it had the pleasure of my company.  (Nazi Norm and the Goth Girls weren’t drama.  They were . . . irritating.)

Take yesterday’s little episode as a case in point.  There I am sweeping up a dust storm in the car park when I am accosted by a brilliantly dressed woman whom I reckon hails from South America – I can’t be more specific – who wants very urgently to know whether I can assist her with some jumper leads.  Of course I can.  If this lady wants a set of jumper leads, I’m her man.  So I’m quick about it and we rendezvous at the offending motor vehicle, together with her male companion.  (I hide my disappointment at this development.)  He looks like he could be a model, the type who would play premier league beach volleyball back in Rio, but when it comes to jumper leads, he knows bugger all.  He examines the dead battery of the lady’s tired-looking Pulsar and his own cheeky Jeep which he’s nudged into the next parking bay, like he’s defusing a landmine.  (I think about a defusing landmine joke, having just seen the film Hurt Locker, but I mind my manners.)  He ums and ahs for about five minutes, drops one end of the clamps onto the ground in a shower of sparks and jumps away like he’s pulled the pin out of a grenade, and generally becomes very agitated.  I suggest – about six times – that he will not explode the battery provided he matches up the colours.  “The red does not specifically mean negative and the black positive, my friend,” I say, very politely, if a trifle slowly.  “If you hook the red to the negative on your car, do the same on madam’s car.  Or the black, it doesn’t matter.”  But he’s not convinced.

For some reason he finds me irritating – I can’t believe why, as I’m only making polite conversation with his girl while he’s sending out sparks and jumping around like a cricket.  So he gets on the phone – can you believe this? – I think to ring a friend, possibly the captain of his beach volleyball team in Rio, but he can’t make contact, because we’re in carpark Level 4 under the earth’s crust, halfway to China.  The lady gets involved in fluent Spanish.  I guess she reckons making a phone call is a seriously dumb idea, because we exchange raised eyebrows, which is very revealing seeing as I’ve only just met her.  I have a potential domestic violence scenario unfolding before my very eyes, but I want to avoid a repeat of my Round 1 performance.  So he and she go at it hammer and tongs, real South American passion here, until I tire of the whole thing, hook the leads up, and get the miserable-looking Pulsar ticking over.

All the time trying not to be a smart arse, of course.  Explaining that I grew up in the bush and know a few things about jumper leads and car batteries.

Mr Ranoldo was less than impressed with that detail, and everything else, and squealed the Jeep’s tyres as he departed the scene.  The lady, on the other hand, was most grateful for my efforts, and as she drove away I waved, and wondered how her cistern was holding up.

My point is, that was raw drama, a personal eruption echoing through in the  midday carpark.  It left my heart racing and caused me to reflect on how much give and take there has to be for a relationship to work.

Allow me to expand further.  Close living creates other kinds of pressure.  You have to be careful, because you’re in the public eye as soon as you step out your door.  Take blowing your nose.  I’m very careful to use my handkerchief to clear my nasal passages when I’m in a courtyard at Huntleigh Mews, with all those windows looking down on me.  (Such as now, as I look around me.)  No bushman’s hoiking allowed here.  We are a class above that at Huntleigh Mews, with the most recent sale bringing over half a million bucks for a one-bedroom about the same size as my kitchen up at Tallerack.

The other subject that’s been on my mind – just in passing, I’m not obsessed by it – is that in all these apartments people will be engaged in the intimate business of life at some point in the day or night.  Well, they would be restricted to some extent, I would think, because you can hear what’s going on next door through the wall if you shut up and listen hard.

It was while my mind was engaged in this observation that a flush of nostalgia swept through me.  I couldn’t help but compare Linda and me up at Tallerack, before she got ill, with this inner-city situation.  We’d have tea on the front verandah at this time of the year, until the evenings started to get chilly anyway, and depending on what sort of day we’d both had, we’d often get a bit of necking going.  (Linda often came home dog tired from a shift at the hospital, and I’d leave her alone.  I was very sensitive to her needs.)  One thing would lead to another, and we’d go the whole hog – on the verandah, on that very comfortable settee arrangement we bought at a clearing sale for $25.  Well, why not?  No-one was about except us and the odd mosquito, so why bother to interrupt the continuity of the thing by shifting camp indoors?  Linda loved spontaneity, and so did I.  If anyone did turn up, we’d see them coming up the track, plenty of time to get ourselves decent.  You couldn’t do that here.

Although – hang on a moment.  I need to be utterly honest here.  I’m not sure about that apartment over the swimming pool.  Whatever was going on in there a couple of hours ago, I wouldn’t like to guess, but it sounded like a bloody slaughterhouse.  No inhibitions there.

I’m quite enjoying the work, even.  I can hardly believe it’s me doing all these pissy little jobs like cleaning windows and wiping the cobwebs off door jambs, cleaning bird-shit off garden benches, vacuuming miles of stairs, changing light globes, mowing bits of lawn the size of billiard tables and sorting through rubbish bins and getting annoyed with people who put paper in the bottle bins.  (Idiots.)  I mean, not so long ago I was truck driving, working sheep, fencing, welding, building stockyards and – most recent of all – contract harvesting up and down the country.  So, it’s not surprising that in the first few days here at Huntleigh Mews I was expecting people to be looking at me like I’d no right to be here – like I was an intruder.  When I first strapped the RocketVac vacuum cleaner on my back and stepped out of the storeroom I expected a couple of hundred people to be milling around ready to give me a massive raspberry.  Or they might have started singing Ghostbusters.  Instead, a elderly lady with blue hair smiled and told me to have a good day.  Yoh!

Linda and I used to share the housework, like we shared all the work, inside and out.  It’s just that I’m not used to doing housework all day.  This is a new concept.  Vacuuming used to be whipping over the lounge room and the main bedroom once a week, and that was it.  Now it’s twenty-five bloody stairwells – up with the broad nozzle, down with the narrow one to get into all the corners – and at the end of it, how do I feel?

Absolutely knackered, requiring a stretch out on Tommy’s leather couch.

I wander out the front and stand on the footpath, broom in hand, and run an eye over the facade of Huntleigh Mews.  I check each cramped balcony.  There’s no-one out having a smoke or reading, no one tending to their potted herb gardens, no-one leaning on their railing and staring blankly at the park beyond the gridlocked traffic along Huntleigh Road.   I think I have worked out which is the balcony of number 77 – it’s on the second level, the bare-looking one with just the plastic outdoor setting.  Not a shred of greenery to be seen.  (This is consistent with the sparse interior, where black-and-white is in the ascendancy.)  Nor is there any sign of Labrini Houdalakis herself – I’ve checked her surname in Tommy’s little brown book – no swipe of white hair, no anxious fluttering of a hand urging me up to repair something.  Damn.

I haven’t seen her at all over Easter, although I prowled around on Saturday, the day Collingwood beat Melbourne by a point.  Maybe she goes straight to the footy from the dance studio, which is in Richmond I think.  I wonder how her toilet’s going.

I retreat to the upper terrace, which will need a sweep.  Sure enough, the leaves of the silver birches have made glorious yellow drifts, like ribs of sand on a beach.  (It’s a pity to disturb them really, but Tommy disagreed when I joked about this.  He has no poetry.)  It is quiet and peaceful, and I poke around the garden beds, piling up heaps of leaves in preparation to binning them, until I catch a whiff of cigarette smoke.

I peer through the shrubbery and see someone sitting in the gazebo.  Pretending to be deeply absorbed in my work, as if the entire apartment block would collapse in chaos if I wasn’t around, I edge around the corner of a garden bed, and take a quick look at the smoker.  The instant I appear, our eyes meet.  For me, the face, the hair, and the stud in the nose spark instant recognition.

It’s a woman, or a girl.  It’s hard to tell.

I advance.  I act chirpy, doing the convivial assistant manager act.  “Hi there.  Lovely day.”

She nods, and I get a brief, guarded glance.  I take a seat on her bench, decently far away.

“Autumn, eh.  Great time of the year.”

I think I see a tiny shrug.

“You couldn’t spare a cigarette, could you?”

“Yes, I’m afraid I couldn’t.”  Then she softens her tone a bit, inclining her head.  “They’re up there.”

“That’s okay.”

It’s a frosty reception so far, but I keep going, because I told Tommy this person intrigued me, so now I’ve discovered who it is, I’d better find out why.  Besides, I’ve had enough autumn leaves for one day, even golden ones.  “I’ve well and truly given up, but every now and then the urge comes back.”

She takes a drag, and expels a cloud of smoke.  You might have, but I’m not a quitter, is what she’s saying.

“I’m working around here now, helping Tommy Hubble.  I’ve been doing the windows, dealing with the rubbish.  My goodness, people are good at recycling here.  Hardly any contaminants in the paper bins.  I’m impressed.  Gardening, I do gardening.  I like gardening, and I know a bit about it.”


“I do most of the heavy work.”

“Like sweeping leaves.  Don’t get a hernia.”

Phew.  After that little dig, her attention becomes concentrated on the unswept ground in front of her.  She keeps scraping it with the heel of her shoe, which I find irritating.  I still haven’t asked her about my encounter with  the orange shirted intruder.  Maybe she doesn’t recognise me.  I’m about to leave when she mutters, “We don’t get on, me and that gross little man.”

It’s got to be Tommy she’s talking about.  “Tommy.  Gross?  I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It wasn’t me who put the tyre marks on the wall.  It was the boyfriends of the Italian bitches in the apartment across from me.”

“Oh.  Maybe I could talk to him.”

“Don’t bother.  He’s always telling me I make too much noise.”

“Do you?’

“Sometimes.”  She takes a final drag, and flicks her cigarette towards the Smokers Please container.  It misses and lies smouldering among the golden leaves.  Her face is kind of pasty, and her hair lifeless, but she could be pretty.  Her frame is narrow, and to my mind, she doesn’t look in top shape at all.

“I could get you a key for the Number 2 storeroom.  You could leave your bike there.”

She shrugs.  Then suddenly, she changes tack, she’s talking right at me.  “You would have killed that bloke, throwing him at the gate.  You’d lost it completely.  Are you mad or something?”

“No.  I was bloody angry but not out of control.  He kicked me in the snoz.  Look.”  I hold two fingers on the top of my nose.  “Two shiners.”

She squints at me.  “Nothing there now.  God, you two looked funny.  What a sight, the two of you rolling around on the ground like two dogs fucking.”

“Must have been hilarious.  You didn’t stay long.”

She doesn’t say anything about that, rather she wants to know whether I had to explain myself to the police.  I tell her no, the bloke didn’t have time to pinch anything, and he had a list of charges against him a mile long, so it is unlikely I’ll even have to make a statement.  Then I notice a Carlton badge on her washed out windcheater.

“You a Carlton supporter?” I ask.

“You’re quick, aren’t you.”

“We play you on Friday night.”

“You sure do, Mr Rabbit.”

I know where she’s got that from.  “It’s Rabbit, with a capital “r”.  It’s my nickname.  What’s yours?  Angry Ant?”

“No.  Why do they call you that?  Is it because you’re silly enough to barrack for Essendon?”

“No.  When I was a kid, my teeth stuck out, a bit like a rabbit’s.”

“What happened to them?  You change them?”

“No.  I grew into them.”

“Oh.  That’s good,” she says, picking something off the sleeve of her windcheater.  “By the way, I hate Essendon.”

“Oh god, not you too.”

“Can’t even beat Fremantle.”

“You going to the game on Saturday night?”


“We’ll beat you, like we’ve done the last six times.”

“Piss off.”

Now she gets up and walks towards her stairwell door.  I call after her: “Number seven coming up.”

“In your dreams, rabbit-o.”

I pick up my broom and dustpan and sweep up her butt and look at the carpet of leaves.

Bugger the leaves.  They’re lovely.

. . . / / / . . .

Saturday night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and The Mob is not all here.  Geoffrey Jones is wining and dining somewhere in the bowels of the Southern Stand with his coterie mates.  We three are in the Northern Stand, on Level 1, close to a bar and toilet block.  This is handy for Bulldog and Tommy who are drinking beers like they are going to reintroduce Prohibition at midnight.  This means Tommy will be going out for a leak about fifty times.

I don’t drink at the football, except under exceptional circumstances.

My two companions were hopelessly wrong in their team selection: the Bombers have made six changes, not one.  Jake Melksham and Travis Colyer come in for their first games.  Kyle Reimers, Sam Lonergan and Bachar Houli are back in, and I love all three of them.  Brent Prismall has been omitted, which causes Tommy to wonder whether our coach has “lost the plot”.

The game begins, and I get glimpses of the first quarter through the several hundred people who arrive late, including the family who stand in my way while the usher sorts out a double-booking situation.  I remain calm, because it only takes about ten minutes, and Tommy reports that Carlton is on top anyway. Essendon have a burst in the middle stage of the quarter – only the SNACKS bloke selling ice creams to the family of eight two rows in front, the old codger with a massive inflated blue-and-white hand and the dude with the blue-and-white dreadlocks  drinking cloudy ammonia who stands and yells something only a caveman would recognise, obscure the ground.  Otherwise, I have a perfect view.  At the end of the first quarter, Carlton is back on top – by three points – Tommy is back at the toilet and Bulldog back at the bar.

I am resigned to it being a close game, with Carlton running all over us in the last quarter.  Or the last ten minutes.  I am emotionally prepared for this eventuality.

Not long after the second quarter begins, there is no-one blocking my view.  I savour the moment.  “Essendon are spotting leading targets,” I say to Tommy, who nods in agreement.  We’re all over the Blues.  Captain Jobe Watson is dominating, the new boy Melksham is doing well, but we can’t buy a goal.  A Bomber supporter nearby yells out, “Will someone please kick a goal!”

Good point, mate.

“We’re controlling usable space, Tommy,” I say, to be rewarded with another nod.  (Tommy is having trouble holding his beer, writing down scorers in his Record, commenting on the coach’s performance and listening to my control of new-age football language all at the one time.)

Dustin Fletcher – never retire, Dustin, please – is in everything, magnificent for us.

We have 11 shots and score only three goals – not a good return on investment, according to Bulldog.  Eddie Betts for the Blues, creates two brilliant goals to drag his team back into the game.  Lonergan snaps one for us, and we finish the half 10 points up.

Tommy’s half-time assessment is, that we are watching two middle-of-the-table teams slog it out.  The game is intense, but I have to agree with the old bloke: it doesn’t compare with St.Kilda and Collingwood last night.  Who gives a rat’s toss – we’re watching our team.

We play the third quarter like winners.  We’re winning contested ball, and Carlton – especially Brock McLean – squander opportunities.  Eddie Betts again inspires his mob with a couple of goals to keep Carlton in touch, and we finish a couple of goals up.  It’s anyone’s game at the final break as half our section of the stadium walks in front of me to buy fried chicken and chips, cloudy ammonia or beer, or go to the toilet.

I’m still expecting the worst.  Like last week.  Chip-passing to static targets, turn-overs – the whole catastrophe.

Mark Williams, recruited from Hawthorn, bombs a 40-metre goal from the boundary to get the last quarter going.  (Yes, that’s why we recruited him.  I agree with the 35,000 other Essendon supporters who make the same observation.)  We get to four goals ahead and, while the Blues continue to threaten and cause me chest tension and shortness of breath, we win the game by 20 points.

The deluge of goals from the Blue Baggers fails to turn up.

We’re on the board.  I’ll be having something to say to the feisty little lady from the top terrace.

Seventh heaven.

We could go a long way this year.

This reunion idea of Tommy’s was an excellent idea.

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