Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games: Rd 5



Sunday, April 25th., M.C.G.

Which leaves the Dons at one and three.

One of the weekend papers suggested it was going to be a long, cold winter at Windy Hill.  What idiots.  The week following our woeful showing against the West Coast Eagles turns into an Indian Summer with the temperature in the high twenties and me cruising around Huntleigh Mews in board shorts and sandals.  Sports writers should never try to forecast the weather.

It’s difficult to describe the effect the defeat has on me and Tommy.  I think it’s a bit like a situation where there’s been a really unfortunate event between two people – not a fatal one, but serious enough – and when they try to find the words that will clear the air, they fail, so they stop talking about it altogether.  Like what happened not long after Tommy and Yvonne, his late lamented wife, moved from Beaumont to live in the suburbs.  They had a beautiful red setter dog, which was highly strung, by which I think he meant it was stupid.  It was scared witless of loud noises, thunder being number one on its list.  One time there was a violent electrical storm, and Tommy had left the gate open, and the dog went off its well-bred head and bolted.  They eventually found it, shivering its tits off under a table in a florist shop six suburbs and fifteen kilometres away.  (Don’t ask me how they found it, I don’t know.)  Tommy reckons he apologised to Yvonne about a hundred times for leaving the gate open, bought stuff like flowers and chocolates, did the grocery shopping for weeks, cleaned the house to try to make up lost ground, but the issue just would not go away.  So they stopped talking about it, but it was always THERE.  Until she died.

This week has followed a similar pattern.

Don’t get me wrong: neither Tony nor me has gone off our heads and bolted across six suburbs!  Football is not that important to us.  Nor has there been an “incident” – except what we saw on the television at Jonesy’s house on Friday night, which was one long piss-ant incident – but this week there has been an elephant in the room similar to the freaked-out dog situation.  (Dogs, ants, elephants, I know, but it’s a complex situation.)  We tried, early days, to give form and shape to our disappointment – disgust, more likely – but words failed us.  So the old bloke and me do the avoidance thing.  We don’t recapitulate the game, if I may use such a technical term.  We spend a lot of time and green tea discussing matters entirely unrelated to football, viz, current affairs.  Kevin Rudd’s health plan got a going over early in the week – Tommy’s still a true-blue liberal by the sound of it – Carl Williams, the career criminal getting murdered in gaol, Christine Nixon, women who wear burquas and, on Friday, rugby league’s Melbourne Storm getting pinged for rorting the salary cap for about ten years.  (That’s definitely not football, that stuff.)  We moved on to international affairs on about Wednesday: the threat posed by Iran with a nuke, why would anyone want to go up in an aeroplane while the Iceland volcano was still spewing out ash, and the people in America who think it’s okay to demonstrate against their president while carrying loaded weapons.

Even when we encroach on the subject of Aussie Rules football, it’s got nothing to do with Essendon.  We stick to subjects like how many blokes are getting knocked unconscious this season, we talk about the sad state of affairs at Richmond, who would ever have thought Adelaide would be where they are, and we talk about the resurgence of Melbourne.

But we don’t talk about . . . you know what.  The mob with the black jumpers with the red sash.

If last week’s game represents an elephant, then the impending clash with Collingwood on Anzac Day is a calf elephant, also present in what is now a very crowded room.  (Don’t forget the freaked dog.)  It’s obvious we’re both looking forward to the game with the same enthusiasm we look forward to a colostomy.  It could be very uncomfortable afternoon.

Saturday arrives as fast as I wipe a window streaklessly clean with my Enjo miracle cloth.  I spend a quiet morning.  I do a bit of personal shopping – socks and jocks – then meander along Lygon Street, looking over the crowds sunning themselves, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze.  There’s plenty to look at: groups of bloke workers in blue overalls and orange safety vests lounging at tables, taking up twice as much space as anyone else; middle-aged mothers dressed to kill, double-parking hi-tech prams; matrons finding enough interest in the colour and movement of a busy street, just like I’m doing; elderly couples hobbling along on sticks, grateful to be able to do so; business types, serious and busy; noisy students from the local language school making a hell of a noise in their native tongue when they should be practising English; and loners reading, or writing reports, blogs, letters or filthy novels, or working up business plans or, on one occasion, sketching.

On impulse, I push open the door of a hair salon – Attitude Plus – and I’m ushered to a chair immediately by a young lady with a broad New Zealand accent who tells me her name is Yvette.  As soon as I hit the chair and have a sheet thrown over me I’m told I have lovely, thick strong hair, and questioned about what I have been up to this morning.  But I’m not in the mood for chat, especially as Yvette starts on about the Melbourne Storm stuff-up, and she gets the message after I grunt a couple of times, and concentrates on giving me a make-over, hair-wise.

When I eventually get back to Huntleigh Mews, zinging with coffee and hair product, conscience demands I do something.  The gazebo on the lower terrace has been screaming at me for weeks – bird bombs, cobwebs and the gutters choked with leaves – so I clean it to stop it making me feel guilty whenever I walk by.  It’s a bugger of a job best done from a ladder, all angles and sharp edges and difficult-to-get-at bits near the top.  But I do it, uncomplainingly as usual.  Also, it makes a change from sweeping leaves.

We have lunch in the gazebo, Tommy and me, and my work draws a compliment from the boss, unprompted, although I have been hinting by inclining my head heavenwards and gazing through the crystal-clear glass panelling for just on five minutes.  He has brought down a container of egg sandwiches and a thermos of coffee.  When he sees my new hair-do, he kind of recoils, and says, oh!, as though I have sustained a wound that leaves part of my brain exposed.  After several egg sandwiches he has acclimatised himself: “I’m sure it will look better when it flattens down a bit,” he says.  Then later he adds, “It’s very Huntleigh Mews, Peter.”

When I tell the boss I won’t be in for the evening meal, because I have been invited out by the lady in unit 77, Tommy does another recoil.

“Oh yes,” he says.  “Sabrinia Something-or-other.  The one you didn’t fix the toilet for.”

“Labrini Houdalakis.”

“Well.  I got the impression you were thinking of going back to your farm.  Anyway, what’s she got that I haven’t?”

“Where do I start, coach?”

The afternoon can’t disappear quickly enough.  I push the broom machine around the carpark – I’m still not sure how many levels there are – clean a few windows, change light globes and clean more bird bombs, this time off garden benches.  Later, Tommy suggests there’s a couple of rubbish bins that need attention, and perhaps I could give them a squirt.  When I’ve finished that, we could sample one of the pinots Jonesy’s left for our sampling.  I can’t argue with that, but he still says nothing about going over the team he’s picked, or the email he’s sent to the coach.

The embargo holds.

. . . / / / . . .

There are three bins on the nose, in fact.  It smells like fish oil, although one of them has an upside down plastic bag spewing out month-old vegetable peelings.  (Idiots)  I remove the crap and line them up to discipline them with the pressure hose.  I direct an experimental squirt into the exhaust fan ducting directly above the car wash.  Too narrow, but the duct is filthy, so when I adjust the nozzle I give it another squirt.


There’s another duct opening further over, equally clogged with gunk.  I give this a squirt too, a longer one, because I’m doing Good Work here, and using my initiative.

“Fuck you!”

I haven’t seen or heard the stairwell door open, so absorbed am I.  It’s the Carlton terror from the upper terrace, done up as a waitress – neat black skirt, long-sleeved white blouse and sensible shoes.  She’s even combed her hair and tied it back with a polka dot ribbon.  She looks a treat, despite the plastic bag of rubbish she’s dangling from a finger.

“Sorry,” I say, as contrite as possible.  “I didn’t hear you come in.”

Now she’s taking evasive side-steps and looking up at the duct to avoid the tiny black globs of dripping water like they’re radioactive.

She strides past me with a hostile stare, pulls open the lid of the closest bin and lets it fall against the side with a bang, and drops her bag of rubbish in with a resounding thump.  For added effect – I case I haven’t realised she’s upset – she flips the lid closed with an ear-slitting crash.  She strides past again, glaring.  If I were her drama teacher I’d have given it 7.5, losing points for being one-dimensional.

I think about giving her back a blast with the pressure hose, but the waitress uniform causes me to mind my manners.  I call to her, before she gets to the door: “I was going to wash that bin,” which is a totally stupid remark to make, but it’s what comes out.

“Tough titty,” she sneers back.  Her fingers flick moisture off her shoulders.  “You’ve wet me clean uniform, and I’m due to start work.”

“I’m really sorry.”  I sound pathetic, I know, but it’s true.  I am sorry.  “I have long since stopped deliberately squirting people with pressure hoses on their way to work.  I would only do it if they were on fire, or if they were smelly.”

Maybe the snarly face softens a tiny bit, but not to the point of a smile.  I reassure her, like I’m her old man, “You can’t tell.  It’s hardly wet at all.”

“Humph!”  She turns to go.

“Hang on.  Listen.  I want to tell you something.”

“What?  You’re leaving?”  She’s got hands on her hips, doing the slow burn thing.  Maybe she is doing an acting course, and waitressing to pay the fees.  I’ll bet that’s never been done before.

“Just calm down, yeah.”  Now I have her attention, I inform her that I have gone ahead and arranged a key for her to the electrical room where she can store her bike.  “So long as you don’t lean it against the meters along the wall, which will make the guy from the power company have my guts for garters.  Put it along the opposite wall, it will be fine.  You’re not to interfere in any way with the . . . you know, stuff in the room.”

The hands have left the hips.  The face is calmer.  “Hmmm.”

“Hmmm what?  What sort of a bike have you got?”

“A two-wheeler.”

I lift the wand and direct it at her.

“You wouldn’t dare, pervert.”

“I’ll give you the key tomorrow, right.  I’ll buzz you at ten.”

“I’ll have already been buzzed by then.”

“You should have been in the Comedy Festival.  There’s still time.”

“You sound like my mother.  You look a bit like her, too.  Did your hair get caught in the microwave?”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She curtsies.  “Thank you kind, thoughtful rabbit-man.  You must come to my restaurant, so I can spray you with cappuccino froth.”

“I look forward to it.”

But she’s thought of another barb before she goes.  “You going to watch your pathetic team get slaughtered on Anzac Day?  You know, Essendon suck and they don’t deserve to play in that game.  It should be a more successful team, like St.Kilda, or Geelong . . . ” and to shut her up, I let go a jet of water, just near enough to give her a fright.  But she’s not fazed, and takes her time leaving.

. . . / / / . . .

“Oh, Rabbit . . . Rabbit . . . Rabbit . . . ”

The sound is from the shore and there’s longing, and urgency in the voice.  I open my eyes with difficulty, because someone has attached weights to the lids while I’ve been dozing.  There’s a silver crescent of moon careening around the sky, making me dizzy.  There’s a rustling noise – has the wind has sprung up again? – causing the boat to bounce on the chop.  I feel squeamish, and suddenly the pale sky goes black except for that extraordinarily bright silver moon, which is now going to crash on my face.


“Shhhh, Peter Rabbit.  Shhhhhhhh.”

“Oh god, Labrini, it’s you.”

I’m not on the lake in a boat, and it’s not my brother calling.  I’m on Labrini’s bed.  It is her silver slash of hair that’s in my face.  She has planted her bum on my pelvis and her knees rest tight against my hips, and she’s leaning over me.  She breathes a draught of warm boozy breath on my face.

“Oh, Mr Bomber Rabbit,” she purrs and continues with words I can’t understand but they sound filthy, so I guess they’re Greek.  Now that it has fully dawned on me I’m not out fishing with my brother, I lift my head and kiss her.  It takes an enormous effort.

It has been a long day/night.  I was that excited at being out on a date with a woman – my first since Linda’s passing – I drank wine like water.  Tommy’s one bottle of red after work extended to two, and there was plenty at the restaurant, where I ate enough dips and chunks of piping hot bread, saganaki, tabouli, chargrilled calamari, blue-eye, lamb, goat-and-potato-roast, tabouli and feta cheese to sink a small vessel, similar in size to the one I was having my recent nightmare in.  Labrini was vivacious company, and I egged her on.  She told me about the politics of The Dance Palace for the last five years, until I became totally confused between the good guys and the bad guys, the gays and the straights, the full-timers and part-timers, the permanents and the temps, the lovelies and the creeps.

And that was before we moved on to the Collingwood Football Club.  Starve the lizards, I thought I was a passionate supporter.  This lady sounded like she is embedded with the Pies.

We just got on like a house on fire, the two of us.  Interspersed with it all, we did a huge number of toilet jokes, particularly about flushing mechanisms, then we did twenty minutes on my nickname – a lot of which was lost in fits of uncontrollable giggles – and just before I called for the bill – holy hell, what a bill! – the mood changed.  Labrini had a serious confessional about her parents.  Her eyes flooded with tears and I reached for her hand and squeezed it, so I knew this was serious stuff. To cut a long story short, it’s not been easy for either party.  I will say no more.

But she confided in me.  We’d come a long way in a short time, Labrini Houdalakis and Peter Schofield, two lost souls swimmin’ in a fish bowl . . . .

We moved on from the restaurant to a nightclub in the city where I met several hundred of Labrini’s friends, and threw back numerous boutique beers.  Most of the women I met were what I’d call elegant and beautifully dressed; most of the blokes were cool customers who looked as though they worked out at gymnasiums pretty regularly.  But light on their feet, I’d say.  They were probably her dancing mates, but the place was too noisy to have an in-depth conversation and it was too crowded for dancing.  Absolutely, there’s no way Labrini and I could have done the social foxtrot, despite me being aware of the basic pattern.  The music was what I’d call electro-techno-funk.

Being in the company of that many people of Greek descent in such a confined and noisy space, I minded my manners despite my extreme intake of alcohol.  I said not one disparaging word about soccer – arguably the most boring game in the world – nor did I mention the Greek nation’s current account deficit.  City life is rounding off some of the sharper edges of my personality.

Now I am here in apartment 77, with horizontal dancing in the offing.  Ms Houdalakis’ underwear is a dazzling white contrast with her olive skin.  She purrs: “Rabbit, I always get horny before Essendon games.”

I had forgotten all about the football.  I have never before mentioned football to any woman while making love.  But she’s right: it is the night before the Anzac Day blockbuster at the “G”.

“Right.”  I acknowledge the significance of the timing of the event about to take place.  It’s time for action.  I make an effort to remove her bra.  “No wait, Mr Horny Bomber boy,” and she takes my hands and places them on her breasts.  So I caress her through the taut, silken material, and she tells me how lovely my strong hands are and wants to know whether I like what she’s wearing.

I do.  Really I do.  “You look lovely, my sweet,” I tell her.  “Beautiful olive skin, beautiful white material . . . these are so hard . . . ”

“You like the little hard bits . . . ”

“Hmm, of course.  Come on.”  I’ve forgotten fishing and football, and I’m well and truly in the forward zone, inside fifty and ready to convert, but Labrini is still holding my hands firmly against her pillows and still wondering if I fully appreciate the hard bits.

“I do.  I do.”  I can’t put it any clearer.

“Slowly, Rabbit.  This is my favourite, my very special underwear.”

“It’s lovely.  Lovey-dovey lovely-dovely.  Are we ready?”

“I had it specially made.”

“Woh! Really?”

“An old school friend.”

“Lovely again.  Dovely again.  You want to stay up there or . . . ”

I’m tiring.  There’s an emphasis on football and lingerie to which I am unaccustomed, but I remind myself that I understand women’s needs.  It’s instinctive with me, always has been, but Linda put the icing on my cake, so to speak.  I must be patient and meet the needs of my partner.  To give and receive pleasure, the art of love . . . take your time, Peter.

“Can you feel them?”

“Yes.  Yes.”  I am becoming less urgent.

“Work your fingers over the hard bits again, Bomber boy.  What do you feel?”

“Hmm, sexy bra, lovely big boobies.  I can’t see.  Let’s have it off . . . ”  I’m even more less urgent.

“Tell me, Bomber boy.  Tell me.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t see the hard bits, Labrini.”  I can hear impatience in my voice, and I hate myself for it.

Bomber boy.  What’s going on here?  Does she need a siren to sound, or is she going to hold my balls and blow a whistle before we can get on with it.  Should I hum Good old Collingwood forever?  (I only know the first line.)  But this is Huntleigh Mews, and perhaps hair-dos are not the only thing they do differently here.

At last she reaches behind and releases the garment which has been delaying the whole shooting match, and I immediately begin kneading her magnificent hooters.  But she seems indifferent to the work I am putting in, which would put a pastry cook to shame.  Instead she dangles the bra in front of my face.

“I will always wear my wicked undies before games against the Bombers.”

I peer at the cups. I can’t focus.  Is it a Playboy bunny – oh, I get it, Rabbit Schofield – or are they chocolate and do I bite them off?  Do they play a tune, or say something?  I blink hard, and look again.

“Oh shit.”

It’s out before I can stop it.  There are magpies embroidered on the points of her bra.  It isn’t her nipples I’ve been working on for ten minutes, it is Collingwood Football Club emblems.

I place the bra across my chest, trying to be playful about it, chuckling and muttering about what a sensational idea it is – why doesn’t she go into full-scale production, she’d make a fortune – and how clever her school friend is.  (Is this the one whose husband pinches cars?  What a household!)  Wonderful.  I giggle, a kind of high-pitched giggle.  Oh Labrini, teeny-weeny Labrini.

I’m as limp as a lettuce leaf.

Now the lady is muttering my nickname over and over, wanting to get the show on the road again, but apart from dealing with a flock of magpies in the bed with us, there’s something off-putting about hearing “Rabbit” muttered endlessly, no matter how enticingly.  It sounds like we’re out spotlighting.

“There’s more,” she hisses, her mouth against mine.  “Only the two of us will know.”

Jesus, what now?  A black and white condom?

“Here.”  Suddenly she is up on her knees and her groin is hovering over me like a  zeppelin, and I am staring at another proud magpie, centre front stage.

“You’re covered in them,” I say, now not even trying to get the resigned tone out of my voice.  “Like a rash.”

As she settles her backside onto my stomach, I set to on a recovery program.  After all, I am a proud man scarcely of middle age and I do not want to blot my copybook.  I will squeeze magpies out of my mind, first by squeezing Labrini into my mind.  I roll her this way and that; I mutter the most obscene things I can think of.  I put them to music and sing them.  I think of other birds, of eagles, the amazing albatross that follow ships across the ocean and the poem that Bulldog Nankervis – Essendon Essendon Essendon Essendon supporter, read to us in Year 11 English, And a good south wind sprung up behind; the Albatross did follow, spring up, spring up, spring up, wind, see those Bombers fly up, up, UP, UP . . . then there are finches darting like arrows from tree to tree, and sulphur-crested cockatoos in the paddocks of Tallerack and they fly way UP UP UP into the sky, and now I see  a pelican whose bill takes more than his belly-can . . .

“I’m sorry, Labrini.  I really am.”

“Don’t worry, Peter.  It’s the night before the biggest game of the year.”

“I drank too much.”

“Me too.  Peter, I don’t normally, like . . . you know, I’m not usually as in-your-face with the Magpie thing.  I just thought it would be fun.  I had no idea it would affect you so . . . seriously.”

“I’m surprised too, but I’ve got a second effort.”

“No.  Let’s just cuddle, and talk about tomorrow’s game.”

“Oh, must we.  I’m worried about that, too.”

. . . / / / . . .

Anzac Day is an autumn masterpiece: warmth plus sunlight plus breeze combine in perfect sychronicity to suggest something memorable will happen for The Mob before the day is out.  We gather, not by the river, but at the Gilbert Hotel in Brunswick, a faded, blowsy old madam of a pub which is a second home to Bulldog Nankervis.  We are zinging with anticipation as we sink pots of Stella in the main bar, draped in our club colours proclaiming our unwavering loyalty to the Essendon Bombers, and doing a line in mischievous repartee with any of the other patrons adventurous enough to take us on.

Jonesy is supreme in this department.

However, when it comes to purchasing and validating a ticket on the rollicking tram that carries us down Royal Parade and into the city, he is completely lost.  On his last tram ride he bought his ticket from a conductor.  Most of the rest of the tram think this is highly amusing, especially the Collingwood supporters, confirming for them that we Bombers are all lost in the past.

There is a minor dent in our buoyant spirits when Jonesy hands out the tickets.  They are standing room – his secretary forgot to book, and she was lucky to get these.

“You mean we stand up for the whole game?” I ask.  No-one bothers to answer.

We enter Gate 3.  We’re on Level 1, in Bay M55.  I look carefully at the rest of the ticket in case Jonesy is taking the piss.  It says STANDING ROOM.  It’s fairly clear he’s not.  Our standing room companions are a drinking team consisting of a group of young men, a stocky couple in front of us in constant, passionate embrace – she’s got legs like pier pylons and is wearing a scrap of frayed denim for shorts – and what looks like an extended family of Collingwood supporters, because they’re all rather large and have lots of chins.  I’m standing next to a very attractive young woman in black-and-white who is drinking bottled water.

The Anzac Day formalities are as impressive as ever.  We take our caps off and think of those people who sacrificed their lives for their country.  There are over 90,000 people in the stadium and you could hear a pin drop during the ceremony.  It makes me feel proud. Tommy joins in the National Anthem very loudly.

The game starts.  Then it finishes, very soon afterwards.

Collingwood kick seven goals to nothing in the first quarter.  The young lady next to me smiles and takes a huge swigs of water.  Bulldog says he’s tired because he took a group of kids from his school to the Dawn Service this morning.  The drinking team is arguing about whose shout it is.  The bloke in front has his hand up his chunky girlfriend’s back, and they’re tongue-kissing.

We kick our first goal about ten minutes into the second quarter.  There’s a huge roar from the Essendon supporters.  Sardonic, Bulldog says, then adds that he thinks he’ll go home.  We kick four for the quarter, so do Collingwood.

We are getting smashed everywhere.  Bulldog leaves just before half-time.  He whispers to me as he leaves, “If those two in front of us have sex, let me know, yeah.”

It gets worse in the third quarter.  We were hopelessly outclassed in every department.  After Collingwood’s fourth goal for the quarter, Jonesy leaves.  We end up with two for the quarter, the Pies kick six.  The lady next to me buys another bottle of water and keeps smiling politely.  When one of the drinking team flops down on the step and says he feels like chucking, I leave.  (I’ve dealt with enough vomit at Huntleigh Mews for one week, plus my knees are killing me.)  Tommy tells me to warm up some of the left-over leek-and-feta pie, and make a green salad for tea.

“What about your arthritis?” I ask.

“It’s killing me.  So’s our team.  Of you go.”

When I get out of the ground, it’s raining.  I get moderately wet.  When I arrive back at Unit 12, I flick the television on and find we lost by 65 points.

Our season is in crisis, and there’s no leek-and-feta pie, because I ate the last of it for breakfast.

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