Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games- Rd 18

Round 18

Essendon versus St. Kilda

Etihad Stadium, Friday, July 30th.

“The coach is an oaf.”  Thus spake Zarathustra, aka Thomas Hubble, the dramatic effect compromised by a blob of cumquat marmalade on his chin.

“You going to shred your membership, oh wise one?”

“No, seriously Peter, hear me out.”

“You provide me with food, shelter and gainful employment.  What choice do I have?”

“Essendon has just had a win after six successive defeats.  In Round 12, Geelong thumped us by 71 points, but that could happen to anybody.  Our first half was competitive, then we leaked goals like a sieve.  The next week we lost narrowly to Hawthorn, thanks mainly to the Buddy Franklin-bouncing-and-kicking-improbable-goals-show.  More or less an honourable, or at least tolerable loss to a team just coming into form.  After that, we were abysmal against Melbourne – remember the 50 metre penalties? – the pits against Adelaide and atrocious against the Eagles.”

“Memory like a goldfish.”

Tommy’s got a sway up, barely noticeable on the straight-backed chair, and he hasn’t had a bite of toast since I started to hear him out.

“Okay, so we’ve just had a battling win against a middle-order mob, and let’s face it, the gods were smiling on us.  North were in disarray at the start, thanks to the injury to Wells in the warm-up.  Courtney Dempsey’s tackle, a couple of turnovers in the last few minutes, and Neagle – he played on in my book, and should have been penalised.  We got lucky.  So what does our coach do at the press conference?  He starts sticking it up people, being combative, telling the legends like Lloydy, Hird and Scotty Lucas who have dared to make some sensible, reasonable comments about the team’s recent woeful performances, to keep their traps shut.”


“I’ll say indiscreet.  And coming up, St. Kilda.  We’d want to turn in a decent performance on Friday night.”

“Do you think he’ll be coaching next year?”

“Probably.  But he’s polarised the supporters.  He’s not popular.”

I drain the dregs of my coffee, and jiggle the cup.  “What do you think of this brew?”

Tommy frowns.  “Dreadful.”

“It’s a fair trade item, from Sumatra.”

“Well, we’re doing someone a favour, so we can feel good about that.  That doesn’t alter the taste.”

“There’s half-a-kilo to go.  You know what I think?


“They should leave the team basically the way it is.  Don’t fiddle with it now, like they’ve been doing all year.  There’s, what, five rounds to go, just let those blokes play, get a bit of continuity in the team, see who can cut the mustard and who can’t, and give those blokes the flick at the end of the season.  Hardingham should play every game, Prismall likewise, Houli Dooly the same, bring Atkinson in and Lovett-Murray.  But just leave it.  Hands off.”

Tommy nods, cheeks bulging with toast.  “Ah-wee,” he says, which I think means he agrees.

I round up my cup and plates, and fold the newspaper.  “Just to change the subject, Tommy, and there’s no need to reply until you can, but I’ll be heading back up the bush at the end of next month.”

In fact, Tommy does take his time about chewing this over.  In the end, he does the big inhale and exhale routine, and says, “I’m going to miss you, Peter.  I thought you might have decided to stay on.”

“Can’t, mate.  There’s a heap of work waiting for me up at Tallerack, and I can’t rely on the neighbours forever.  You’ll get someone in my place easy enough.”

“What about Miss How-do-you-do?”

I shrug.  “Dunno.  Not many dance studios up my neck of the woods.  Anyway . . . ”  I get up, grab my plates.  “. . . I’ll suggest to her that we pay a visit to the farm.  She said to me once that I look as though I came out from under a rock, so I might point out which one.”

Tommy grins, gives me a friendly punch on the arm.  “It won’t be the same without you, Rab.”  And then, “What about coming down next season?  In fact, make it an annual event . . . ”

I spend a few minutes in the courtyard before launching into a full-scale assault on the mountain of vacuuming waiting for me.  The gardens are subdued at this time of the year, the bare branches stark against the cream-coloured buildings, and the greenery is strong and healthy looking.  There’s splashes of colour from the gardenias and camellias.  I must know about a hundred people I reckon, if not their names then their faces; a few I can call my friends.  And then there’s Labrini Houdalakis.

Yeah, I’ll miss her.  You can go all day up at Tallerack and not run into a Greek dance teacher with a passion for Collingwood.

. . . / / / . . .

I’m back in the groove as assistant manager, with customer services having been added to my portfolio (informally).  It’s not all spraying, wiping and sucking.

The week disappears like bird-shit off the garden benches when I’m on the rampage.  It’s half-over already, Tommy’s visiting his line manager out in the ‘burbs, when Claudia Averling appears at the manager’s apartment in a bathrobe and with a towel wrapped around her head, flushed, looking like a Bedouin on a drinking spree.  Her expression is so aggrieved I wonder if she has attached bulldog clips to her nipples.  She claims she has third-degree burns and heart palpitations because the pool water is so hot.  She hoiks up her robe to show me her legs, and I agree, they do look very pink.  So does her tummy, which is the next point of interest on our tour.  She chooses not to show me her palpitations, simply places a hand on them, which we watch rise and fall several times.  (It looks suspiciously like breathing, but hey, I’ve only done the first aid course required by the fire brigade, so what would I know?)

I suggest she doesn’t swim any more, instead goes and has a cool bath and a lie down.  I guarantee to rectify anything that requires rectification.

The pool thermometer reads 42 degrees Celsius.  That could kill a cross-bred ram, so Mrs Averling has a point.  The knob on the heater hasn’t moved, so I ring Arnold the pool man.  Maybe he damaged the thermostat during his recent transplant operation, or while he was thinking up some more questions.

He’s in the area, and arrives an hour later.  He’s interrogating me before he’s out of the van.  “Where is she?”


“The woman you told me about.  How burnt are her legs?”

“They’re pink, and I’ve pacified her.  The water’s 42 degrees mate.  It’ll be the thermostat, yeah.”

“Probably.  You want me to fix it?”

“No, I thought we’d just do the evening three-step for a while.”

“Don’t get smart.”  He drags a toolbox out of the back of his van.  “How much do you reckon the Sainters are going to flog you fairies by on Friday night?”

. . . / / / . . .

“Listen to this.  This is the English tango.  One walk, which is slow, slow.  Then there’s the progressive side step which is quick, quick, slow.  A walk – slow.  The reverse turn, quick, quick, slow – and this is where I stand still in time, my left leg goes back but my frame stays next to yours while you motor through . . . ”

“Something like that . . . ”

“ . . . where was I?  Yes, finish the reverse turn, which is slow.  Next, two walks, slow, slow and a link.  Here comes the link: da da – quick, quick.  (I snap my head and drop my shoulders dramatically.)  Now there’s a walk, slow, a back cortage, slow, quick, quick, slow.  Stop.  Link – da, da, and an open promenade which everyone knows is slow, quick, quick, slow.”

I raise my arms in triumph.  Labrini high fives me.  “Well done, Peter.  That’s about a third of the routine.”

“One small step for mankind . . . ”

We’re drinking chardonnay, beginning, as usual, with a stale already-opened bottle and moving to a fresh one.  I’ve come to the view that it’s Labrini’s way of adding value to an ordinary wine: the fresh bottle, even at $6.99, tastes like nectar after what’s gone before.

I’ve been telling her about the visit by The Reptile and his wife and grand-children.  I’ve told her about Bronte and Jamie kicking the football in the courtyard, throwing the frisbee in the carpark, playing with the bog paper in the swimming pool, pulling the plug out while I was vacuuming and how I nearly strangled them with their North Melbourne flags at the football.  I also told Labrini that Tommy and I were amazed when Daisy set up a stall to sell her craft products next to the letterboxes.

Labrini tells me she saw it.  “I was tempted to buy a scarf.”

“She didn’t even ask us.  Just said she was going to show her work to some people.  Sold a truckload of stuff.”

“Were you worried about it being a bit down-market for Huntleigh Mews?”

“Tommy was.”

Then I told her a few stories about The Reptile, how I’d seen him many times out at our farm suddenly jump out of the ute and hurtle after something I couldn’t see.  The first time it happened I didn’t know what the hell he was on about, because he just yelled at me to stop and he was out the door like a shot out of a gun.  I got used to it after a while.  He’s run like the clappers, then bend over, still on the run, make a grab and come up with a snake,  holding it up near its head, the rest of the thing thrashing around.  Naturally he’s bring it over to give me a real close-up look.  The bastard.  I also told her about the time The Reptile was driving several Beaumont players to a game in an old Holden station-wagon he owned, a two-toned grey thing, rusted to buggery, three in the back seat and a couple of young blokes laying down in the back, when, I don’t know when, say about 50 kilometres from wherever we were playing, the blokes became aware that there was a snake in the vehicle.  It’s kind of curled up in the gap between the console and the front seat, some of it actually under the front seat.  One of the blokes says to The Reptile about there being a snake there, and could they stop and get rid of the fucking thing, but he just says, relax boys, it’s been milked of its venom and it’s as sleepy as, so just sit tight.  One of the blokes told me that when they pulled up at the entrance to the ground, they just bolted out of the station-wagon, and walked over to the sheds.

“How did they play?”

“Yeah, I dunno.  They couldn’t stop talking about it in the rooms before the game.  I remember that.”

“Does he still have his park, with all the snakes?” Labrini asks.

“Well, yes, but I think one of his kids has to run it now, so far as handling the snakes is concerned.  The Reptile said to me that he nearly died last time he was bitten, because he’s been punctured that many times the antivenin doesn’t work anymore.  He was showing some kids a snake, they were in a circle around him, and they crowded him and he couldn’t keep its head away. It bit him on the wrist.  He spent a week in hospital, nearly carked it.”

“I see.  You’ve got some interesting friends, haven’t you.”

“Hmm.  You know the old phrase about how people mellow with age?”


“It doesn’t apply to the Reptile.”

. . . / / / . . .

Tommy tells me in a rare blokey confessional that Jonesy has made remarks (on the quiet, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) regarding Claudia Averling’s principle source of income.  He seems to think Tips ‘n’ Toes is not the full picture, that the lady is in the flesh trade. Tommy says he’s been dropping hints since Claudia first put in an appearance, way back on Anzac Day night.  The old bloke says he’s not worrying about it, so he obviously is.

Private Detective Rabbit O’Lappin lies awake after the disclosure, meditating.  Casting his mind back to a tempestuous night in Adelaide, the private dick comes to the conclusion Mr Jones is too fond of making insinuations about life choices women make.  He, who has an open mind on the subject, determines to resolve the matter.

Bonhomie is rampant in Apartment 12, possibly due to my imminent departure.

I follow Claudia the morning following her near-scalding experience to determine her primary source of income.  I saunter behind her at a comfortable distance, along Huntleigh Road, across the park to a tram stop on Nicholson Street.  I am immediately confronted by a tricky situation – how am I going to stand on the same tram stop and not be recognised, despite the fact I’m wearing shades and my hoodie?  I cross the street, fifty metres up-wind, then pretend to be fascinated by what’s on display in the window of a violin repair shop.

A tram appears on the East Brunswick horizon.  I sidle along the footpath towards the stop, and as it gets closer, move quickly with my hooded head down and dart across the road.  There’s a howling horn-blast from a motorist who nearly cleans me up – I forgot it was an island stop – but I leap on board, the opposite end to Mrs Averling.

The tram is packed – what tram isn’t these days? – so I have trouble keeping my quarry in sight.  Also, I’m worried about inspectors trained in martial arts, because I haven’t got a ticket and there’s a cast of thousands between me and the machine.  Fortunately, I catch a glimpse of Mrs A as she alights at Gertrude Street.

She’s waiting for me on the footpath.

“Good morning,” she says, as chirpy as, despite yesterday’s ordeal.  “Fancy seeing you.”

I’m disappointed my cover has been blown so quickly, but I’m equal to the challenge.  “Morning.  Just picking up a few sticks of timber.”  I point further down Gertrude, where I think I once saw a hardware shop.

She’s not remotely interested.  Her mind is locked in.  “You boys are very irresponsible.  You should test the water first thing every morning.  Isn’t that part of your job?”

“We do test it, that is, I test it, but I don’t actually swim in it.”

Her smile screams “unconvincing explanation” louder than the words.  It pisses me off.  It’s a thin smile, perfectly suited to her unpainted lips, typical of someone in the flesh trade.  A madam on the way to work, if ever I saw one.  Her skin is olive from her make-up, or possibly one of those tanning studios, her eyebrows plucked and drawn into perfect semi-circles.

She’s leading a double life.  I feel so sorry for Tommy.

Her mane of frizzy hair bounces jauntily, lasciviously, as we walk down Gertrude Street, in and out of sunshine, while she talks on about how dangerous it is for elderly people to go swimming in boiling water.  We cross Smith Street – we’ve walked right past the hardware supplies – and Claudia stops outside a narrow-fronted shop.  On the milk-white glass panel of the door is her sign:



Sports and Therapeutic Massage

By appointment only

“I’ve got the first half-hour free, if you’re interested, Peter,” she says.

. . . / / / . . .

Etihad Stadium at night, the roof closed, a thrashing the most likely outcome for our mob, and close to 40,000 football fans have joined The Mob for the occasion.  And The Mob has mutated.  Bulldog is AWOL due to illness – I’m worried about the boy – Jonesy and his wife Thuy are in attendance, and Tommy has granted restricted membership to Claudia Averling and . . . wait for it . . . Labrini Houdalakis.

Me, personally, I am surrounded by impressive, substantial womanhood.   Claudia is to my left, reputation unsullied by Jonesy’s wicked, private insinuation, thanks to my sleuthing.  Her thin lips remain pursed in annoyance, however, at having been persuaded to come to the foot-pall, body entombed in the leather overcoat, and hair tortured into a massive frizzled dome.  Labrini is to my right in neat, casual attire, pretending indifference by chewing gum and carrying on a galloping conversation into her mobile.

My agreement with the Goddess is that she attends tonight’s game, I join her at tomorrow’s Collingwood-Carlton stoush.  In my book, “attend” requires a decent level of involvement, so the chewy, the bored look and the phone had better go away when the game starts.  (Like a pre-nuptial, I wish now I’d got it in writing.)

The teams are on the ground.  A lot of the Bomber boys are wearing yellow boots.  Their jumpers have yellow trimming.  They are taking the fight up to cancer, and good upon them.  The Saints are predominately white, their red and black segments narrower than I’ve seen.  Both teams look impressive: brave, tough, talented young blokes ready to do battle in front of thousands of passionate, unforgiving fans.  Nowhere to hide.  How I admire them, and envy them.

The game starts.  It doesn’t take long for Nick Riewoldt to get a free kick in front of goal.  Labrini assures me the free was there – your guy prevented him from taking a run at the mark, she says, shrugging like she can’t believe how blind I am.  Obvious free.  You just can’t block like that, it’s against the rules.

I give her a firm look.  “Okay, don’t labour the point.”

“Ooohhh, snitchy eh.”

A few minutes later, The Bombers’ Gus Monfries gets a free, 25 metres from goal.  Labrini and I lock eyes for a second.  It was in the back, I tell her, it was there.  Bleeding obvious.  You can’t do that, and it’s no good Sam Fisher pushing and shoving and complaining.  Get a life mate.

Goal to Monfries.  Yoh!

Followed by Travis Colyer, delivering a beautifully weighted pass to Patrick Ryder, who goals.  I’m jigging with excitement: have we come to play?  We’re getting great movement through the mid-field, we’ve always got someone to receive a hand-pass and our disposal is first-rate.  I hug myself to keep the jigging under control, lock it down.  Early excitement can put a mozz on the team.  However, I lean into Labrini, give her an affectionate hip and shoulder, just to let her know what I’m feeling, internal-wise.  She smiles.

She smiles.  Yoh!

Free to Ryder, someone’s holding him.  Obvious free kick, and things are running our way.  Goal.  I suggest the free was there, Labrini agrees.

Big pack mark paid to David Hille, back in the side after 6 weeks out with a hamstring.  Was it a mark?  Just, says Labrini, it would have been play-on for Collingwood.  (The perennial victim, the ‘Woods.)  Goal to Hille.

Another free to Gus Monfries in the forward pocket.  (Labrini shrugs, I punch the air.)  Goal.  It’s raining goals – that’s the sixth.  Jay Neagle crumbs a loose ball and dribbles through our seventh, and we hold them out for the rest of the quarter.

Seven goals to one against a top-four side, a contender no less.  Last year’s grand-finalist.  Claudia wants a fag and couldn’t give a rat’s arse, so Tommy escorts her to the gaspers’ gate.  I’m so excited I hum See the Bombers fly up, up in the Goddess’ ear, just for fun.

She admonishes me, but lightly, and turns the subject back to the football.  “How about a glass of wine, Peter?”

In the second quarter, our dominance continues, although it finishes with two goals apiece.  That’s okay, I reckon the game is over.  The Bombers’ attack on the man and the ball is fantastic, and in my view – which no-one has availed themselves of – it’s too far back for The Saints.  Bachar Houli kicks two goals, and each time I do the incredibly childish Hooly-Dooly thing, finishing up with Hoo-Doo-LAKIS!  It’s pathetic, but it’s the kind of thing I do when I’m excited.

Labrini admonishes me, less quietly this time.  I think the worm has turned.

At one point in the third quarter we’re 58 points up.  And we’re twelfth on the ladder, and they’re third.  They get a run-on and kick a couple towards the end of that quarter, and it’s 6 to our 4 in their favour in the last.  We win by 33 points.  Claudia can blow smoke into the heavens and Labrini can go home, but not before we’ve heard the club song three times, and I’ve draped my scarf around Claudia’s frizz-bomb hair and jammed my beanie on Labrini’s flowing locks.

Labrini doesn’t think she’ll join us for celebratory drinks at Jonesy’s, despite an absolutely charming invitation from the lovely Thuy.  She says she has a lot on tomorrow.

. . . / / / . . .

She’s decked out in the funereal colours of the ‘Woods for the Carlton game at the ‘G’, a club merchandising department’s crowning glory.  (The black and the white, the sin and the innocence, the ying and the yang – she looks like a summary of a morality play.)  She’s radiant and fizzing with energy.  She rams an arm through mine, gives me the crush treatment and mutters something Greek and filthy-sounding in my ear.  I suspect it’s about the Carlton Football Club, not me.

I feel a bit second-hand, but good.  (Follow me?)  You’d have to be mad to be dead.  Or old.

It’s a bright, sunshiny day, and I can see clearly now, which is an improvement on this morning.  We did adjourn to Jonesy’s ramshackle East Melbourne mansion for a triumphant post-game rap, and one exquisite, never-to-be-repeated beverage followed another out of our host’s cellar door.  When I left Huntleigh Mews an hour ago, Tommy was swilling Sumatran fair-trade coffee in industrial quantities in an attempt at restoration.

There are 77 thousand others joining us at the ‘G’.  Word must have got out – Collingwood are a flag possibility, and as for Carlton, well as they’ve been telling us for a while now, THEY KNOW WE’RE COMING.  Do we?  Today would be a good day to come, chaps.

It’s a fierce, congested opening few minutes.  The umpiring insects gift Carlton their first goal (Hampson, I think – I’ve bought a Record), then Shaun Grigg kicks one and LOOK OUT LABRINI, THE BLUES ARE COMING!!  (I give her a playful whack on the thigh with my rolled-up Record.  Not funny, Peter.)

Whoops, Leon Davis replies for the ‘Woods which is fitting, seeing as it’s Neon Leon’s two hundredth game, the first indigenous footballer to have reached that milestone.  I applaud enthusiastically, the faithful go berserk, Labrini is rigid with joy.  Then, somewhere around the ten minute mark, I suspect that what’s about to happen is going to be really ugly for The Blues.  Collingwood’s Swan, despite being tagged by Carrazzo, gets into the swing of it, Didak goals, Cloke takes a heap of marks but misses everything.  Carlton look pathetic in the face of fierce, skilful pressure.

My personal opinion is, the game is over at quarter time.  Had Travis Cloke learned to kick straight, it would have been over earlier.

I must look bored, because at quarter time The Goddess wants to know the root cause of my loathing for her team.

“You mean, is my deep-seated antipathy for your football team the result of a traumatic childhood experience?  Did a magpie steal the rusk out of my tiny, starfish hand when I was in my cradle out on the verandah?  No, there is no evidence that this occurred.  Did a magpie shit on my head when we were having a poetry lesson outside at Beaumont High School when I was in Year 8?  No, it was a noisy minor.  Have I ever been swooped by a magpie during their nesting season, drawing blood and causing me to fall off my bike and sprain my wrist?  Yes, but that happens to lots of kids who live in the country, and some who live in the city, too.  Did a magpie attach itself to my scrotum while me and my mates were skinny-dipping in Dingo Pattison’s dam when I was in Year 9?  No, it was a leech and Dingo burnt it off with his fag-end and do you want to feel the scar?”

Neat eyebrows dart north and return to rest immediately.

“Okay.  Did magpies shit in every room in our house at Tallerack because I forgot to close the door before I left for the day?  No, it was chooks, and they laid two eggs in Linda’s lingerie drawer.”


“Yep.  Far from causing me pain, Collingwood has provided me with years and years of pleasure.  If the Schofield family had invested wisely the money they have received from backing Collingwood to lose grand finals, we might still own our farm at Beaumont.  The only exception to this is of course, 1990.”

“Ah, 1990 . . . ”

“One premiership in 50 years.”

“And 2010 . . . ”

“Don’t talk trash . . . ”  Although, for the rest of the afternoon, the Pies look awesome.  They completely annihilate The Blues, who manage to kick five unanswered goals in the last quarter to make the scoreboard look a little more respectable.  But no-one will be fooled by rubbish goals.

On the walk home, after we’ve dissected the game minute by minute, and The Goddess’ heart-rate is back in the normal zone, I pop the question.  “Labrini, I was wondering . . . ”

“Oh god.  What’s coming?”


“You’re using my given name, and sounding very serious.”

“Well, Houdini, I would like you to come up to my farm.  Maybe next week, just for a day, maybe an over-nighter, to check out what it looks like, because you know, this is Round 18 and for me, anyway, that only leaves four more games and I’ll be out of here.  Back to the bush, talking to the trees, eating damper for breakfast . . . ”

She gives me the crush treatment, again.  “I’d love to, Peter Rabbit.”  And then she smiles at me, “You pick your time to pop the question, don’t you?”

“Go Pies,” I say.

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