Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games- Rd 19

Round 19

Carlton versus Essendon

M.C.G. (N)  Friday, August 6th.

Eddie fixes doors.  He is a superbly effective door-fixer, a prompt, no-nonsense operator who doesn’t try to screw body corporates.  I’d like to watch him work but, after I’ve pointed out the problem door, he nods, mutters something like “piece of piss,” and tells me I can go and he’ll ring when he’s finished.  Pity, because fixing doors is a handy skill.  There’s a couple at Tallerack that could do with an adjustment.

He obviously doesn’t make notes or his memory isn’t that flash, because after Eddie slides out of the cabin of his van and takes a sweeping view of the establishment, he still has the same concerns: how many apartments are there, and what major structural issues do we have.  The first is easy and I give him the same figure as I did last time.  Cumulative net gain/loss assessment: neutral, zero, zip.  Unless one has been dismantled and carried out in suitcases in the dead of night, I say, jocularly, ho ho.  (Well, it draws a smirk.)  As for structural issues, I’m quicker on my feet these days, so I ask him what exactly does he have in mind.

“Well,” he says, “you know, like, dry rot, subsidence, cracking, water ingress, gas leaks, termite infestation, mould, fire hazards . . . ”

I suspect he may run another business on the side, clearing up these crises, or he simply enjoys sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of property managers, or he has a really pessimistic view of the building profession.

“No, we’re clean of those nasties, Eddie.  Just waiting for a decent fire or earthquake.  Civil war if Tony Abbott wins government.”

Unconvinced, and still looking at the buildings suspiciously, as though they’re going to collapse or burst into flames at any minute, I take him to today’s trouble spot.  It’s the door of the stairwell to Mrs Sidebottom’s flat, and she’s lurking on her balcony above us, because yesterday The Tigers upended the Crows at the ‘G’.  Being wintry weather, she’s rugged up, her neat little head nid-nodding out of the top of a voluminous trench-coat, her small mouth beaming the pearly-whites of victory.

“Who’s that you’ve got there?” she calls down.

“It’s Eddie.  He’s going to replace the door-closer.”

“That’s good.  That darn door nearly catapulted me down to the lower terrace yesterday.  Bring him up.”

On the stairs, I give Eddie a rapid-fire account of our ritual with Mrs Sidebottom, and he tells me, good-oh, he’s a Tiger man himself.  It’s when we’re on the landing I notice the Tiger-like features in Eddie I’d missed before – the jutting jaw, the deep-set, watery blue eyes, the bristle on the cheek-bones, the straw-coloured, flat hair.  He couldn’t possibly barrack for anyone else.  He looks like one of those blokes who played for Struggletown on the half-back flank during the Depression for twopence-halfpenny a game, and pulled the stops out of his boots afterwards so he could use them for work on Monday.

“You’ve had to replace the carpet in these stairwells?” he asks me.

“No.”  (I don’t know actually, but I’ve decided to contradict everything he says, structural-wise.  Otherwise I might get depressed.)

Tommy’s already there, glowing like a beacon, passing around a cheeseboard groaning with calories.  Eddie has slipped his boots off, and he’s that surprised at what he’s stumbled into he can’t think of one structural defect to draw our attention to.

He says, watery eyes fully dilated, “Does this happen . . . what, every time The Tiges win?”

“Six times in all,” announces Mrs Sidebottom.  “It began with just a drink when we beat that dreadful Port Adelaide crew – remember that Eddie? – and it’s gotten a little bit more extravagant with every win.  The theme for yesterday’s victory over Adelaide is cheese and cabernet sauvignon.”  She raises her glass, and we toast The Tigers.

Eddie nods.  “Just imagine when we’re in the top four.  You’ll be at it every week.”

“Bring it on!” says Elaine, raising her trembling glass again.

Tommy and me exchange sceptically raised eyebrows.

So, here we are having a post-mortem of the Richmond-Adelaide game at a time usually reserved for me and Tommy to be giving the Bombers a going-over, sacking our coach, deriding our game plan, lamenting our leaking defence, our lack of potent forwards, our shattered confidence and calling the selectors a bunch of idiots.  Instead, we’re listening to two fanatics sharing Tiger love, telling us of their relief that Adelaide didn’t kick straight in the second quarter when they had the game by the throat – 4-9 from thirteen shots on goal – and how their boys fought back and, from a goal up at the last break, powered home in torrential rain and hail.

“Earlier in the year, they ran all over us in the last quarter,” says Eddie.

“Yes, they did.”  Mrs Sidebottom has taken a step or two backwards to give herself some room for what looks like a re-enactment.  “Boys, did you see on the news . . . Eddie did you see it? . . . Jack Riewoldt steps around the man on the mark . . . like that . . .and on his left foot . . . threads it through the goals and pumps his fists . . . oops.”

“Mind your glass . . . ”

“Careful, Elaine.”

“Oh dear, have I spilt much?” she says, flicking droplets of wine off her skirt, head wobbling like the clappers.  “Pour me some more, Rabbit.”  She looks around at us, unconcerned about the spillage.  “Did you see it?”

Yes, yes, we all mutter.  Yes, we saw it.

“I suppose the balconies on these upstairs units have all had to be re-tiled,” observes Eddie on the trip downstairs.

“No.  They’re the original tiles.  Weathered well, eh?”

At ground-level, Eddie directs a derisory sniff at the defective door.  “Can you fit a door closer with two glasses of cab sav under your belt?” I ask.

“Piece o’ piss, mate.”

. . . / / / . . .

The next day, I’m invited to meet Mario and Francesco’s new flatmate, Ludmilla.  They tell me that this time they have conducted extensive interviews before coming to a decision about who they should share their apartment with.  Of course, I ask them whether any part of the interview procedure raised the question of possession of firearms.  They think this is hilarious – god I love people who laugh at my jokes – and that evening I deck myself out in smart casual gear and join them in their apartment for drinks and dips in honour of unarmed Ludmilla.

She is entirely delightful.  She has brown, shoulder-length hair, a round, open face and a breezy, bubbly personality.  She is tactile type, with lots of arm-pats and hand-squeezes – not that that’s going to get her house-mates doing handstands.  I’d say she is as fit as, with great upper-body strength.  She’s an axe-handle across the shoulders and, yes, she looks in remarkably good shape.

So, I’m not surprised to learn, by and by, several drinks and lots of dips later, that Ludmilla was an accomplished canoeist in the Czech Republic and, not only did she paddle canoes through raging torrents, she played a game like water polo, only instead of swimming and throwing and pushing the ball around the pool, the players are in canoes belting it with their paddles.  (Or maybe they throw it – I lost track.)  Awesome, I said, and no-one noticed the pun, so astounded were they that anyone would want to waste their time doing this.

Ludmilla is a lighting director for a theatre company, and also does a lot of freelance lighting.  She’s going to get us tickets to all the productions she’s involved in.  She’s already been recruited to barrack for Carlton, and fetches a scarf from her new room to prove it.

“Go, go ze Plew-buggers!” she yells, squeezing my arm in an affectionate tourniquet, and we blokes fall about, giggling our tits off at how Blue-Baggers sounds in the original Czech.

Later – much later – on the landing, Mario – or is it Francesco? – asks me in a whisper what I think of Ludmilla.  I tell him, also in a whisper so as not to fuck with the ambience, that I think she is a really strong person, physically, socially and intellectually, and I am amazed she would want to barrack for Carlton seeing as how the Bombers are going to piss all over them on Friday night at the ‘G’.

“That is a filthy and ridiculous thing to say, you diseased son of a whore,” says Mario (Francesco?), “because the Blues will shit all over your pathetic team, and you will be destroyed in the after-burning of our excrement.”

“You are the bastard son of a rabid camel, and I will come here after the game and drink every drop of your paint-remover wine and have non-consensual sex with your cushions.”

“Good, you screaming Bomber pervert.  Looking forward to it, and when we have poisoned you, I will throw your red-and-black abominations onto your funeral pyre.  Good night.”

“Good night.  Careful you don’t offend Ludmilla.  Fear her squirrel grip.”

. . . / / / . . .

Labrini gets free of the Dance Studio at lunchtime on Thursday.  She’s got to be back for a dance competition the next night at which she’s doing a performance with Hilary, presumably on the dance floor; I’ve got to get back to watch the Bombers disembowel The Plew-Buggers at the ‘G’.  There’s something fishy going on with the travel arrangements – to my knowledge, the lady doesn’t own a car, but I’m told to be waiting out the front of the Mews at mid-day.

Which is where I’m standing when a 1969 Valiant pulls up in front of me.  It’s begging me to ogle: it’s got a classy paint job in red and orange, flames leaping across the bonnet, lowered chassis and mag wheels.  Difficult to believe, I know, but there are fluffy dice dangling from the rear-vision, and it’s burbling in a kind of threatening way.  Not wanting to give the petrol-head driver the satisfaction of looking interested, I sidle a few paces away.  As I do, head and shoulders appear from the driver’s side, indisputably belonging to the Dancing Queen.

The white, skunk-sash is back in the hair with a vengeance, yelling Magpies, Magpies.  There’s a cheeky grin somewhere behind the slash of pillar-box red lipstick.

Definitely Labrini.

“Wogboys drive, their chicks concentrate on looking cool,” I suggest.

“You are so not a wogboy, Rabbit.  I’m driving.”

As we dart into Huntleigh Road traffic and growl across into the right lane, I speculate, aloud.  “Your brother-in-law, currently out on bail, suggested you take this little number for a run up the highway.  I could be wrong, but maybe it arrived at his place from a workshop in Broadmeadows a couple of nights ago.  Like, around three in the morning.  On the back of a truck.”

“Peter, Peter.  First you rubbish my football team, now you’re starting a vendetta on my family.  You’ve invited me to see your farm, so let’s just enjoy ourselves without all these insinuations, yeah?”

“Sorry,” I say, and she gives my thigh a squeeze.

We get to Tallerack in next to no-time due to Labrini’s idea of driving being strictly two-dimensional: we’re either stopped or we’re flat-chat.  Apart from a couple of fish-tails on the gravel section, the trip was incident-free.  We stand beside the sighing, creaking Valiant while Labrini takes it all in.

“It’s lovely,” she says, and I feel proud.

“I’ll show you around.”

We go down to the shearers’ quarters that Linda and me were halfway through converting into accommodation for city folk to come and have a free range holiday.  I prattle on about the plans we had, and when I stop and apologise for talking too much, Labrini gets serious, and tells me she wants to hear it all.

“Down to the last detail,” she says.

We amble around the chook runs, and I get a lump in my throat.  They look pretty sad, the wire sagging in places, feeders upended, a gate hanging skew-whiff off its hinges.  We move on to the stockyards, the main shearing shed, the machinery shed and the lean-to where I pretend to fix things.

“Want to walk over to the boundary fence?”

She puts her arm through mine.  “Of course.”

We cross the paddock at the back of the house, zig-zagging our way through clumps of rushes that should have been slashed, stepping cautiously around soggy patches of ground.  A small mob of crossbred ewes and lambs give us the stare then scatter, half-heartedly.  A lone sulphur-crested cockatoo is perched on the silver corpse of a tree, and gives a screech and flaps away as we approach.

Labrini shudders, gives my arm a tug.  “It’s annoyed with us.”

“Could be.”

As we approach the dam I whisper, and point to a spot higher up the rise that will give us a view of the water.  We lean forward from there, shoulders hunched, and for a few seconds half-a-dozen wood ducks – brown, grey, black – sit motionless for us, then take off, a mad slapping of wings and curved ripples gliding across the water surface and sucking into the banks.  We stand on the limestone banks and watch the birds wheel in a beautiful arc, then straighten and disappear behind timber.  Tiny feathers bob on the rippling black water, and Labrini squats and takes a good look at web prints, as precise as patterned material.

“A spring feeds the dam,” I tell her, “which we use for the house.  Except for drinking,” and I point to tanks clustered around the sheds.


The sky is huge, pale blue like the finest bone china.  The only blemishes are an aeroplane’s dissolving vapour trail and a neat, yellow half-moon.  Across the valley, the sun has set the ragged outline of the ridges on fire.  Half the rock-pitted, creased and rolling country is lit by brilliant sunshine, the other half is in deep, black shade.

Labrini hugs herself.

“Want to go back?”

“Yes, but slowly.”

I was just going to say something about how magnificent it all is, but she  took the words out of my mouth.

We meander back towards the house, and I rattle on about the farm gear that’s lying around – the stock crate, the hay rake, the round bales, the super spreader and the stock feed silos.  Labrini nods and hugs herself some more, because the air is freezing now, brittle enough to break.  I slip my arm around her.  “What’s the coldest part of you?” I ask.

“My feet.”

“That’s okay then, that’s not serious.  Linda’s thermal socks will suit you to a T.”

After getting ourselves rugged up and the food for a meal organised, we sit on the verandah with a bottle of wine – what else? – and watch the day do its final disappearing act.  Starlings twitter and thrash around in the strawberry tree while they sort out their sleeping arrangements, and the old tennis court  fades into gloom.  Beyond the front paddock, the hills rear up like a black curtain with the deepest, richest orange light around their edges.  It’s prehistoric, and Labrini and I stare at it in silence until it fades and turns into a glow of delicate turquoise, and darkness absorbs the shape of the land.

“It’s beautiful,” she says.  “Thank you for bringing me up here.”  And a few moments later she adds, “And so quiet.  Eerily quiet.”

. . . / / / . . .

It’s just on dawn when I wake.  Through the window I can see the thick black velvet is thinning to grey; I can barely make out the sagging wire of the tennis court fence, or maybe I’m anticipating it.  Even in the pale light of the bedroom, Labrini’s mess of black hair is a contrast with her pillow.  I stifle the urge to wake her.

I realise what has woken me: in dreamland, I was revisiting my Wednesday meeting with Rebecca the Riot, which is a pretty fair indication that it has been niggling me, sub-conscious-wise.

Careful not to disturb Labrini, I roll over on my back, draw the doona up to my chin, and re-play the scene.

Rebecca had rung me on Wednesday morning, and asked me to meet her at a cafe in the city.  Interesting, I thought.  Strange.  Weird.  When I rocked up, there she was at a table, resplendent in neat navy slacks, long-sleeved yellow shirt and waistcoat with a Drop ‘o’ the Doings inscription, strongly suggesting she may have formed an association with that organisation.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

I didn’t get the chance to ask her what happened to the job at the deli selling me cassoulet and beef burgundy – she was right into her story before the waitress had delivered me my glass of wine.  (Yes, wine again.  Continuity is important.)

“I know all the people in your mob,” she told me.  “You of course, and Brian Nankervis from school, and Tommy Hubble from hassling me at the apartments.”

“Yes.  That leaves . . . ”

“Geoffrey Jones was a friend and business associate of my father’s.  I recognised him the time we took his car back, after me spewing in it.  For a long while I thought he was responsible for my father’s killing himself, but I now know I was wrong.”

At the cafe, Rebecca was a transformed person.  I was getting used to seeing her as weak and vulnerable, unkempt except when she tarted herself up for work, but on Wednesday it was more than the uniform.  Her face was firm, understated make-up, her expression and general demeanour confident.  She told me her story calmly, with a certain detachment, as though it was someone else she was reporting on.

Her father and Jones were mates.  They did business together, Mr Ritchie went guarantor when the Jones’ were scraping together money to get their liquor business going, he did their accounting, all that stuff.  They used to go to the footy together – watching bloody Essendon of course.  Who else?

Anyway, after the Jones’ empire was up and running, her father, who was more conservative the Caligula, decided to invest his money in envelope-making company.  Rebecca got side-tracked here, and a bit emotional for the first time, telling me how domineering her father was, not letting his wife get a driver’s licence, giving her a weekly allowance, not letting her get a job, keeping his thumb on Rebecca.  Real old-fashioned bloke by the sound of it.

I got the impression Jonesy might have been trying to return the favour to old man Ritchie, like give him a hot investment tip, but whether that was the case I don’t know, because it turns out that the envelope-making company was a dog.  The people actually running the factory were nut-cases, a family of Turks who hated each others’ guts that much, the factory just didn’t work.  A dysfunctional envelope-making factory, the scene of a tribal war – that’s how her father threw his money away.  It went broke, belly-up.

“Didn’t Jonesy know what was going on?”

“Dunno.  He absolutely says he didn’t, and I believe him.  They looked honest and hard-working people to him, the company just needed an injection of funds.  My father should have found out, anyway.  It’s so out of character, what he did.  He was that careful, every time he gave us money he doled it out like it was his last cent.  We found out later he had got in deeper and deeper, even mortgaging our house.  In the end, it got too much for him.  His pride was at stake.”

“And you told me what happened.”

“Yes.  He strung himself up in our garage.  I found him.”


And I’m sitting there thinking, now you’re working for Jonesy, Rebecca, because you’ve believed his story exonerating him from any blame in the mad investment.  He’s told you he sees a bright future for you in his business, he’s offered you a handsome salary, says he’ll pay for you to do some study in the wine trade.  Fair enough, grab the opportunity.

And I was being told by the well-groomed young lady opposite, thank you Peter the Rabbit for putting up with me and for looking after me while you’ve been at Huntleigh Mews, but I’m okay now.

I felt good about it, and a little let down.

I ease myself out of bed and pad to the toilet.  When I get back, The Goddess is conscious, and I slip back under the covers and take a good look at her, sleep-mussed, dopey, beautiful.


“We have to talk.  It’s Round 19 this weekend, and it only goes up to 22.”

“Later,” she mutters, and draws me into her warmth.

. . . / / / . . .

“What are we playing for tonight, Thomas?”

It looks to me to be about 60,000 people at the ‘G’ – when they get back from the toilets and food outlets and sit in their designated seats – and it’s a crisp, some might say cold evening.  Others, such as myself, freezing.

“Us, we are playing for the right to say, with certainty, that we are ‘going forward’ Peter”.

“We have been ‘going forward’ since this bloke was appointed coach,” I remark, perhaps with a hint of disdain.

“The Blues want to show that they’re worthy of a place in the finals.”

“Thanks for that.”

There’s only the two of us tonight, a couple of blokes thermal-wrapped and emotionally wracked by the football fanatic’s enduring pessimism.  We should be raging favourites – possibly we are – but for Tommy and me there’s a whiff of defeat in the air.  The Bombers are coming off a magnificent victory over a contender in St.Kilda, the team has only one change – Gumbleton out due to rib problems, Winderlich in – and their opponent is ripe for the picking.  The Blues were monstered by Collingwood last week, and most sections of the media have been telling them they’d better do something this week or else . . .

Matthew Lloyd, former champion Bomber forward, predicts we’ll win  comfortably.  That’s the final nail in the coffin for me.

Away we go.  Round nineteen, a clash of traditional rivals.

Carlton’s forward line is as open as my front paddock, ours a conventional sort of set-up.  Our blokes run forward, and if there’s a turn-over, it’s wide open spaces for the opposition.  (Tommy and I play the how-many-turnovers- -to-Brent-Prismall? game.) Reimers and Monfries get us on the board, but Garlett and Mitch Robinson reply for the Blues.  The umpires are having a field day with free kicks on and off the ball – they’re in yellow tonight, and look a treat.  Meanwhile, we’ve obviously decided to even things up by missing most shots on goal.  (Very generous of us, I say to Tommy, in an outburst of gallows humour, my favourite genre on nights like this.)

At the end of the quarter, the score is 6-3 to 3-6, the first in a series of symmetrical statistics fascinating to my plump, diminutive companion.

I allocate the second quarter the distinction of being one of the most ordinary ever played in AFL history.  It’s scrappy, congested and on one momentous occasion Umpire 21 gets in the way of one of our players and it costs us a goal.  (The bloke behind us goes ballistic.  He claims it should have been as ball up.  Tommy mutters to me – hilariously – that it already was a balls-up.  Such wit from the little bloke, and on such a cold night.)

We kick 7 behinds – none of them ever looked like missing.  It’s 65 to 43 in Carlton’s favour, and they are playing with more desire and determination than our blokes.  (The two D’s – desire and determination.  The other two are Dumbfuck Decision-making, where we’re also very strong.)

In the third, we get to within two goals at one stage, and Tommy and me start to wriggle with thermally-enclosed excitement.  But Garlett – playing his best game since the Under 10s – and Simpson stretch the lead to 22 points, which is exactly what it was at half-time.  Pity we didn’t know this beforehand – we could have cancelled the third quarter and got home earlier.

Carlton kick ten goals to our one in the last quarter.

Hang on and let me say that again: Carlton kick ten goals to our one in the last quarter and win by 76 points.  Yes, it’s true.

The only time Tommy and me speak is when the score is 8-16 to 16-8, and I point out the beautiful symmetry of the statistical situation.  Everything else is symmetrical shit.

My only point of comparison with what I am experiencing in watching this god-awful fade-out by my team is, once up in Queensland, a couple of months after Linda’s passing, I was labouring for a plumber at this really big mansion.  He told me to go and get a tool from the box behind this hedge, which I did, but I forgot we had opened up this huge pit where the main valve was housed, and I looked over the hedge to ask my boss something and as I did I stepped into the pit.

I just stepped into nothingness, and my groin area crashed into the metal frame around the rim of the pit.  It was like being in a car accident, and I was lucky it missed my schlong or I might have been rendered incompetent.  It rattled my whole body, in fact my whole being, calling in to question the purpose of life.

Anyway, that’s the only comparison I can think of that expresses my feelings about this last quarter.

. . . / / / . . .

I am committed to share drinks with Mario and Francesco and Ludmilla after the game.  Naturally, I am not in a party mood, but my hosts are very generous and only spend an hour or so reliving each of Carlton’s 10 last quarter goals.  Such sensitivity.  (Gay men are noted for it, but not necessarily those who barrack for Carlton.)  Meanwhile, Ludmilla and me drink large quantities of their paint-remover wine, and in between goals 9 and 10 she tells me to call her Liddy, because in the Czech Republic Ludmilla is regarded as a total dag of a name, and no-one uses it.

“Okay Liddy.  Is that better?”

“Thank you.  I am yet no so good with the English language,” she says.

“You’re doing very well, Liddy” and Mario and me get behind Francesco to endorse his opinion.  (I am so relieved the conversation has turned from the recent football debacle, that I will talk about anything.  Even Tony Abbott.)

“I only know one joke in English.  I am thinking it is very ancient, but I am happy to tell you blocks.”

“Blokes.  Yes, tell us.”

The girl needs no second invitation.  I brace myself for a knock/knock or a chicken crossing the road joke.  “Well, there was a bull and his young son, who were standing on a hill overlooking a field containing a group of crispy young heifers, and the young bull says to his father, Let us immediately run down to this field, papa, and each of us fook one of those crispy young heifers.  And the papa bull looks at his son, and says very solemnly, Son, let us walk slowly down the hill and fook the lot.”

Well, there is a moment of silence before we laugh and tell Liddy, yes, it’s an old one but a good one, and very well told too, the cute way you have of pronouncing the ‘f’ word is really amusing.  (It’s just not what we were expecting, but I’m beyond caring.)

It is quite a lot later when Mario faints.  (Both chaps are light drinkers, I’d say, but tonight they’ve let rip and have toasted every one of the terrible 10 goals.)  It was totally unexpected, like Liddy’s joke in a way.  He was pouring Francesco a glass of wine, standing in front of him, when Liddy says that her father had represented his country in pistol shooting, and would we like to see a photo.  (After processing,  Mario heard “pistol” and “would we like to see it.”  Thus blood rushed to his brain. Or out of it.)

He fell onto Francesco, and they ended in a tangle of limbs, spilt wine and panic noises.  Liddy was quick on the scene, shouldering me aside and gathering the various splayed sections of Mario in a fireman’s lift, and taking him to his room and placing him on his bed.  Francesco followed, laying damp towels to his companion’s head, before subsiding beside him.  Ludmilla, er, Liddy, and I tiptoed out, closing the door behind us.

Which left the two of us.  I hastily fill her on on why it might be a good idea to avoid the subject of firearms, especially pistols, if she wants longevity in the house-sharing department.  She nods wisely, possibly understanding at least ten percent of what I’ve just said.

Now Liddy is keen to demonstrate the fireman’s lift on me as well, but I decline and offer to tell her a joke before I leave.

“It’s a joke about a lady who is still not used to speaking in English,” I say.

“Like me?”

“Yep, could be.  Here goes.  This lady, who has not lived in Australia very long, like you, gets in a tram and sits next to another lady who is wearing a Salvation Army uniform.  ‘Good afternoon, says the woman in the uniform, I work for the Lord Jesus.’  ‘Oh, says the lady from the Czech republic.  This is good, I work for the Kraft cheeses.’

Liddy looks blank and unamused (and drunk).  “What is this cheeses?”

“Well, let me explain.  You know what the Salvation Army is . . . ?

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