Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games: Round 21

Round 21

Essendon versus Brisbane Lions

Sunday, August 22nd., Etihad Stadium

Over cumquat toast and Sumatran coffee, me and Tommy put Essendon’s 98-point Friday night flogging by premiership favourites Collingwood into a context that might, just might, provide some sense of healing.  Or closure.

This is the shape of our dribbling, uninspired conversation.  Geelong beat the Western Bulldogs by 101 points, Carlton beat Richmond by 89 points AND KICKED NINE GOALS IN THE LAST QUARTER, and St.Kilda beat North Melbourne by 52 points.  So, the Round 20 trend was for mammoth, humiliating losing margins, and The Bombers fit perfectly into that trend.  (It’s that time of the year, dude.)  Moreover and hereunto, the margin of our defeat was not the biggest in the round.  There’s some comfort there: cold comfort, in need of a zap in the microwave, but comfort nevertheless.  Moreover (again) Carlton kicked nearly as many goals against Richmond in the last quarter as against us and their winning margin was only 10 points lighter than Collingwood’s over us.  Well, that’s a relief.  Phew.  Plus, there was only 23,000 people watching St. Kilda’s 52-point win at Etihad Stadium, but it’s difficult to place any significance on this, and I don’t even know why I said it, it just popped out.  Maybe if I’d added the additional statistic that Melbourne’s population is now about 2 million, it might mean something.

I reckon we must sound like George W. Bush when he was trying to make a case out of going to war in Iraq, creating something out of nothing.  Pooling ignorances, as my old man used to say.

“One thing I do know is, they are still fiddling with the team like I told them not to,” I assert.  “Basher Houli was left out last game.”

“It’s Bachar, B-a-c-h-a-r, Houli.”  Tommy makes the ‘ch’ a hard ‘k’ through a mouth-full of cumquat, and I duck for cover.

“Yes, but it’s pronounced Bash-ah, as in a bloke who goes around thumping people, which is the way the bloke at the IGA says it, and he’s from the Punjab so he should know.  Plus he says Bash-ah might not be going to Fremantle after all.”

“How does he know that?”

“He’s got a cousin whose friend works in the kitchen of the Social Club at Windy Hill.”

“Finger on the pulse then.”

“She gets to hear things.  By the way, there’s only two jars of cumquat left, and I’ve promised one to Mrs Sidebottom.  She was really down-in-the-mouth about the Tigers getting done by Carlton.”

“Okay.”  Tommy studies the Sports Section of the paper, and gives me the headlines.  “Ben Cousins is retiring, Akermanis is saying Brad Johnson is playing injured and is selfish, Chapman got off for fighting . . . Adelaide is angry that the Gold coast has signed Bock . . . ”

“I’ll read it all when you’ve finished . . . ”

Tommy suddenly lets the paper drop onto the table, and a light-globe goes on over his head.  (I swear it did.)  “I just remembered.  One other thing you could ask your mate up at the IGA.”

“What’s that?”

“Is there any truth in the rumour that Hirdy is sniffing around the coaching job at Windy Hill?”

“Of course he is, but I’ll check it out for you.”

. . . / / / . . .

When a call comes through on the work mobile to the Huntleigh Mews nerve centre, Tommy and me are on the leather couch, doped to the eyeballs with Maria’s home-made fettuccine, plus garden salad and Yarra Valley shiraz.  The television is muted while Julia Gillard explains why we should vote Labor, because we have declared a media blackout, election-wise.  (Tommy is fascist right-wing, I’m from the loony left and never the twain should meet in a two-bedroomed apartment.)

After I’ve taken the call – yep, yep, yep, be right down – I suggest to Tommy that a combination of his dignified self-control and my edgy, brooding physicality should have the problem sorted in a matter of minutes.

“It’s the little dollies in 26,” I say, as we shrug ourselves into our incident-response jackets.  (The Beaumont F.C. tracksuit just will not die.)  Tommy mutters imprecations about little rich bitches – with dignified self-control, choosing his words carefully – on the way down the stairs.

Clustered around the community barbecue is a group of young people, looking sullen and uneasy.  I imagine that earlier there was a party atmosphere – the smell from the barbie is rich and spicy, fairy lights twinkle from the gazebo, balloons bob on their table among paper plates, plastic cutlery and bottles of lolly-water and beer.  But the mood has soured, and what was probably comfortable, carefree conversation, has been silenced.

Tommy asks what’s happened, and a pretty girl who could be thirteen or thirty tells him, her speech measured, but she can’t disguise the tone, which is  sharp with annoyance.  They’re having a birthday party – she sweeps a glance around at the group of maybe a dozen young people – and the girls in that apartment over there – she points across the courtyard to the second level – have been out on their balcony in just their underwear, posing sexily and calling out rude words.

A thick-set boy, spiky hair, heavy-rimmed glasses, edges forward.  “They’re drunk,” he says.  “They made lots of shouting of these words towards us . . . ” He shrugs, his voice descends to almost a whisper and he adds, “. . .  slopes, ching chong, dog-eaters . . . ”

The words have left a foul taste in his mouth.  The way he says them, barely audible to me, makes them more obscene than ever.  But then, this situation is new to me – I’ve only ever read about this stuff, and I know I have to deal with the surge of anger that immediately blazes in me.

Tommy apologises, and tells the group to continue with their party.  (Fat chance of that.)  We move over to the courtyard, and look up at the  apartment, pink light seeping through the curtains and the dull bass thump of dance music.

“The mother of this lot has told me to ring her if there’s any trouble,” says Tommy.  “How’s that for lack of confidence in your team.”  He holds up the phone.  “Right now there’s no answer.”

“Wait till three o’clock in the morning, then ring her.  Set it on re-dial.”

We have to give the door panel of 26 a right belting before we flush out a spindly young woman who’s working her tiny tits off pretending to be sober.  She’s wearing a semi-transparent flapper’s dress over red lingerie, accessorising with earrings about as big as hoola-hoops, a jaunty feather rammed into a head-band and a hiccup.

Wednesday must be fancy dress night for hens at 26.  It’s as cold as frogs, but they wouldn’t care.  They’re feeling no pain.

Tommy does his dignified self-control routine, drawling on about Body Corporate rules, insofar as they refer to intrusive noise and insulting language and gestures of a racist nature punishable by law, not to mention this behaviour being totally tasteless and very un-Huntleigh Mews in character.  Quite out of kilter with the normal standards this establishment prides itself on . . . will be contacting your mother and the managing agent regarding the future of your tenancy . . . blah blah blah.

The flapper says sorry about a hundred times, tugs at her hoops, bounces off the architrave and promises to remain silent for the rest of her life.  She comes very close to joining the chorus of muffled giggling coming from the Bible-study group in the darkened room behind her, at which point I conclude that a good belting on her skinny, probably pimply bottom would be the way forward for our nation.  (I’ve been listening to Julia on the sly.)

We share a wing-ding and a can of VB with the birthday team on the way back to the incident room, and I can tell the stuffing has been knocked out of their party.  This, plus the fact I’ve eaten too much, makes me feel bilious.

I never get to sleep, properly.  I’m worried about leaving this job, and Tommy’s latest bizarre suggestion that the Czeh Republican, Ludmilla, might be a good replacement for me, seeing as how she hasn’t got work yet.  (I have this wild dream when I’m half-asleep of her getting Tommy in a fireman’s lift and dropping him over a balcony.  Splat!)

I worry about Labrini most of all.  I can’t hardly bear to think about waking up in the morning without the prospect of seeing her at some time during the day, and god I’m going to miss all that Collingwood crap in her apartment, especially the doona and the pillow-slips with bloody magpies on them, and damn it, I’ll beg her to wear her embroidered underwear when we do our next dancing lesson.  (That’s my mind-set in the dead of night, never a good time for rational thought.)

And the dancing lessons.  I’m up to new vogue, and I’m actually rocking through the Merrilyn and as for the evening three-step, it’s a doddle.  Rock my socks, we were cutting up a rug the other day, the Goddess and myself.  She was beaming from ear-to-ear and we went five minutes over our allotted time without even noticing it.  Maybe I could drive down from Tallerack for dancing lessons and the footy finals.  Maybe I could just drive down every day.

Have I got enough fire in the belly to make a go of the Tallerack farm-stay?  It was such a wonderful adventure with Linda, but now . . . your priorities change, don’t they?

I get back to being angry with those bitches in 26, and the effect they had on the barbeque group.  I mean, I walked by as they were setting up earlier in the evening, unlocked the community table for them.  They were relaxed, chatting, laughing, confident about their right to be doing what they were doing.  (I never thought this at the time – I’m thinking it now.)  But when Tommy and me went down after their phone call, they were embarrassed, cowered, insecure and resentful.  I reckon they suddenly felt like aliens.

The power of a few words and drunken gestures by privileged white trash.

At 1:30 I roll out of my Cleopatra-comfortable bed, slip into the long-suffering tracksuit, and take a look at the world from the balcony of No.12.  There’s no traffic – six hours ago, Huntleigh Road was a bumper-to-bumper gridlock, and stayed that way for the best part of two hours.  Now it’s a pale strip of tarmac, cold and deserted.  Right in front of the apartment, a plain tree has got a street light boxed in, completely surrounded, and the light has turned the tangle of leaf-less branches a ghostly orange.  Way beyond this magical sight, drifting around the corners of the faux-parapets of stately Huntleigh Mews, comes the sound of revelry, surging and dying on the night wind.


I call the local cop-shop, who tell me a van is minutes away.  I dawdle on the street, and sure enough the divi swings into view.  The senior sergeant is as bald as a badger.  I can see the bones of his skull.  He’s a good axe-handle across the shoulders, and taller than me.  The constable is shorter, with neat blonde hair.  I’ve seen her somewhere, possibly on The Bill.

I fill them in, and we devise a plan.

We move around the side of the courtyard and stand next to the stairwell door leading to 26, and the party performs on cue.  There’s a period of silence, then shrieking, followed by a rumble like a stampede of buffalo.  Maybe they’re playing poison ball.

I move out until one of the balcony smokers sees me.  A crowd gathers as word that Mr Rabbit the cleaner has made a public appearance.  (How does my nickname get into every nook and cranny?)  Scantily-clad, mostly anorexic girls, waving cigarettes and wine glasses, giving excited squeals and giggles, scamper and gather at the railing for the freak show.

I wonder if they’re old enough to vote.

I get invitations to join the party from the jiggling, whooping, go-go girls.  I accept, waving my bunch of keys.  “Coming up,” I say, which everyone finds totally hilarious.  Someone says for me to have a drink on the way up, and pours something over the railing.

Unfortunately for the party, most of it lands on the chrome-dome of the senior, who’s stepped out at the exact wrong moment to take the key I’m offering him.  He doesn’t bat an eye, except when he’s wiping it with his handkerchief.  When word sweeps through the party about what’s happened, the air is filled with coppers and ssshhhh-ing, it gets like a steam-train shunting yards.

The rest is a formality.  I identify the two bony flappers whose names are on the apartment’s lease who, after retiring to get something warm to wear, are escorted to the van by the senior and his side-kick with the threat of a restraining order ringing in their ears.  All the people who were so friendly towards me a few minutes ago, offering me drinks and smiling with their pearly-whites, are looking at me now like I’m a fresh dog turd.  I’ll guarantee they won’t sign the petition that’s going around, the one that says “Keep Peter Rabbit at Huntleigh Mews”.

I can’t hardly believe they would turn on me like that.

. . . / / / . . .

The week disappears like a rat up a drainpipe.

There are heaps of them around at the moment because, as Darren the pest-control operative tells me while re-stocking the bait-boxes, they’ve been flushed out of their holes on the block two-doors down where there’s a massive excavation under way.  Certain persons at Huntleigh Mews are nervous about them, including Thomas who instructs me to buy and set six traps to augment professional Hit-man Darren’s valuable work.  I catch a sparrow, a snail and a child’s Tonka toy.

My word for the week is ‘fraught’, because that’s what it’s like.  I mutter it under my breath, use it regularly in conversation.  For example, I tell Tommy not be so so fucking fraught about the rats, they’re bush rats, big, sleek buggers who live outdoors and who couldn’t give a rat’s . . . couldn’t care less about the interiors of apartments, there’s never been one inside since this pile was opened to human habitation, and people should just shut up about them.  When the weather warms up – if it ever does – they’ll go back into the wild and eat focaccias and souvlakis out of rubbish bins in the park like their cousins, the possums, do.

I’m fraught about the football.  This Sunday, thirteenth play fourteenth – Essendon versus the Brisbane Lions – unless they cancel the fixture for lack of interest.  The Lions are going to have a big enquiry as to why they have had such a crappy year, and the coach’s company is going to do the enquiring.  That’s a neat idea.  (They should ask me – I could tell them for nothing.)

My guess is the Essendon selectors will put Basher Houli back in the team, seeing as how they left him out last week.  Just to be consistently inconsistent.

I’m fraught about Labrini who continues to blithely assume Collingwood will win the premiership, and tells me so at every opportunity.  She assumes I will not be going back home, and I will accompany her to every finals game her mob are in.  (Two I hope, out in straight sets.)  Our dance lesson is fraught because of over-confidence on my part.  I get the new vogue routines horribly mixed up which results in one hell of a train-wreck, wherein I nearly fall over,  and The Goddess and Hilary the Hoot double up, clutching their rib-cages while pissing themselves laughing. (I did a mixture of the Merrilyn, the evening three-step, the gypsy tap and Parma Waltz.  My mind scrambled the lot, went into total melt-down in which new vogue steps swirled in a kind of syrup.  The result was an awful ten-second rampage.)

A feat unsurpassed, says Hilary, the little bipartisan upstart.  I seriously loathe that man.

When we switch to the quick-step, Labrini gives me what she says is an official caution, telling me while it might be called the quick-step, that doesn’t mean we career down the dance floor like an out-of-control Mack truck.

The fraughtness reaches a crescendo mid-week when the rumours about James Hird – Hirdy to Essendon people – not ruling out taking over as coach of The Bombers hit the big, sensible paper.  (Tommy reads most of it out to me, saving me the trouble.  It’s all much the same as my IGA contact told me.)  It’s all nonsense, because I know James Hird is a thoughtful, rational person currently making millions of dollars every hour, thanks to a highly successful sports consultancy business, which spreads its tentacles internationally.  (The sort of thing Tommy and me would be good at, if only we had a higher media profile.)   I just hiss and hrrrumph, and wait until Jimmy – as a lot of other Bomber people call him – issues a clarifying statement.

Meanwhile, I go and back the Lions to beat us to the tune of $100.  I need to recoup last week’s flutter.  (Not that I’ve got a problem, gambling-wise.)

Then I watch a bit of the ABC News while Tommy is over with Claudia Averling getting more elasticised supports retro-fitted, and watch two Liberal politicians, a big Maronite catholic called Hockey and a little weedy bean-counter call Robb (who needs a vitamin supplement) walk in front of the cameras six hours after they said they’d be arriving, and tell me and the rest of Australia they’ve had their financial estimates authenticated by a reputable firm of accountants, not the Treasury.  Their surplus is going to be bigger than Labor’s.

Snake-oil salesmen are reputable blokes, compared to this.

. . . / / / . . .

On election day, Saturday, when the nation decides, I ride a new orphaned bike out to my sister-in-law’s at beautiful Bundoora – Dual Force, flashy-looking but as heavy as lead – and narrowly avoid being terminated by Plenty Road traffic.  Traffic has moods, and the mood on voting day is, not surprisingly, aggressive.

When I’m level with Safeway on Plenty Road, without warning a black BMW turns directly in front of me.  To avoid mutilation and/or death, I apply all brakes, and scream “Cliffhanger!!” because this is the word of the day.  (On a non-election day I would go with “Your shit stinks too, idiot!”)

Changes have occurred at Lilac Street since my appearance at Kylie’s forty-first birthday bash.  There’s no sign of Norm the Nazi, so I assume he is handing out How to Vote cards for the Bundoora fascists.  For the Goth girls, purple and black predominate, but on a closer inspection, Rosa now appears to have metal in both eye-lashes, and Deidre has a ball-bearing in her lip.  (BHP must be laughing all the way to the bank.)  They’re calling me Uncle Peter, and there’s not a rabbit impersonation in sight, but it’s early days.

I find Kylie lying with her foot propped up on one end of the couch.  The foot is black and blue, with other bits a creamy, yellowy sort of colour.  It’s been bandaged, and now she’s airing it.

“I sprained it.  There’s a bit of ligament damage,” she says.


“Yes.  We were playing the Bundoora Allsorts.  Rough as bags.”

“Looks as though it should be amputated.”

“Thanks.  Give us a kiss.”

“I’m not going to kiss that.”


I find a plastic washing-up dish in the garage, which I fill with salty water for the bung foot.  I do a few jobs around the house – change light globes, clean out the guttering, prune a few bushes, re-hang a door and clean the windows in the sun-room.  Then I get the mower out, and do the lawns, dumping the fresh grass into Kylie’s neat little compost bay.  After that we watch Richmond and St.Kilda on television.  It’s a ripping-good game, an excellent standard of footy, and in the end the Saints prevail by 21 points.  I tell Kylie about Mrs Sidebottom, and how I’ve been sharing wine with her whenever her beloved Tigers win.  “I’ll have a farewell drink with her next week,” I say.

“You’re going back to the farm, then?”

“Yeah.  I need to crank up the farm-stay business.  I said I’d only spend the season down here.”

“What about your Greek girlfriend?”

“Well, you know . . . ”  I hum and ha around about Labrini while I rub some antiseptic-smelling stuff into Kylie’s bruised fetlock.  I tell her about my dancing lessons, Labrini’s flat getting flooded, her fanatical love of all things Collingwood, her attitude towards living in the country . . . I think I sigh a lot, and the stuff I’m rubbing on the bruised foot affects my eyes.

“You’re smitten with her, you idiot.”


“What are you going to do about it?”

“Dunno.  I’ll get over it.”

“Yeah, right.”

I change the subject quick-smart, and tell her about Bulldog being crook, and how they think he might have some muscle-deteriorating thing, like Parkinson’s or something, but he still has to have more tests at Cabrini Hospital.  I tell her that this is a kick in the guts for me, and it’s made me take stock of life.

“You never know what’s around the corner,” I say.  “It could easily be me.”

“Yeah, but it’s not.  So thank your lucky stars and do something about the Greek woman before you lose her.”

Then we move on to the Bombers, and what a shit sandwich the whole show is at the moment.  We agree that Matthew Knights is hanging on by his finger nails, and deserves some sympathy.  No-one could survive having three club legends – Kevin Sheedy, Matthew Lloyd and James Hird – criticise you, and after this week his status is hopelessly diminished.  Kylie’s a worrier – she tells me she doesn’t know whether she can cope with worrying about the footy club and the elections at the same time.  I tell her to get over it – Labor is going to get its arse kicked today, and the Bombers will get the same treatment tomorrow.

“Broderick will be around later,” she says.

“Really?  What happened to Norm the Nazi?”

“Irreconcilable differences.  He forgot how to talk.”

“The new bloke grow his own vegetables?”  (I’ve seen the fridge.)

“No.  He works at Safeway with me.  Gets stuff that’s gone off.”

Broderick turns up late afternoon.  He has a big blunt head, a close-cropped covering of stubble over it.  He’s a rusted-on Labor supporter, and he talks – non-stop – which puts him streets ahead of Norm.  He gives me a gruff nod and hands me several more tiny cannisters of the eye-watering ointment I’ve been rubbing into Kylie’s foot most of the afternoon.

“A Chinese bloke gets it for me.  Works miracles, he says.”

“How long before the miracle kicks in?” I enquire.

The Goth girls get picked up by a taxi to go somewhere to look bored and cool, Broderick the Bold dispenses beer and whips up a vegetable curry, I change Kylie’s water and we have a howl about Linda.  (Brod looks embarrassed.)  It’s going to be a big, emotional night in at 29 Lilac Street.

It’s not long before the voting patterns take shape – I’d say after ten stubbies of Cascade Premium, it’s clear that Queensland is a disaster for the ALP.  Brod’s speech is already getting slower, his vocabulary narrower and he even loses concentration during his massage duties and drops Kylie’s foot onto the couch when an inner-city seat falls in Brisbane.

Kylie isn’t impressed.  “Jesus, Broderick, watch what you’re doing . . . ”

“Sorry, love.”

He says he’d be happy if global warming drowned the entire state of Queensland, which indicates to me that his opinions are becoming as blunt as his head with each passing beer.  He tells us he has a mate in Brissie who drives a Safeway semi who’s been telling him the Queensland Labor premier is on the nose, and “that little micro-managing nerdish twit Rudd has done the rest.”  A few beers later and New South Wales is done and dusted.  Brod’s vocab has shrunk to the extent that Kylie – broad-minded Kylie – suggests he could easily clean up his act.  Things are a bit better in Victoria, but Kylie gives up and limps off to bed.  Tasmania and South Australia hold up for Labor, and me and Broderick sit it out, at opposite ends of the couch, ploughing on through the beer and waiting in dread for the Western Australian figures to come through.

Brod is wavering between dozing and sleep.  He’s had a long shift at Safeway Budoora, and it’s been a tough journey for him on the couch.

I slip out to the kitchen and the radio, to check what’s going on in the real world.  It’s all over – Sydney have flogged the Bullies, and Collingwood have scraped home against Adelaide.  Labrini’s knickers will be in a knot.

I tell Broderick the football scores, trying to add variety to the night.  “Who gives a flying fuck?” he says.  He hauls himself off the couch.  “I’m going for a slash.”  I draw the obvious conclusion – quick as I am, even with a bellyfull of beer – that he isn’t a football person.  Just the Labor Party, vegetables and beer.

You can sure pick ’em, Kylie.

The Goth girls arrive home, giggling and do the bunny-hop behind my back.  (I can see their reflection in the print over the mantelpiece.  Idiots.)  I ring Labrini and leave an hilariously funny message about the football, sink back onto the couch and doze off.  When I come to, and focus on the television, I see that the story in the West is no good for Labor, but I can’t share the misery, because there’s no sign of Broderick the Bold.

Some time later – one beer I think – I hear Kylie calling out to Brod to come to bed, so I say okay on his behalf, and go and look for him.  He’s not in the toilet, he’s not in the front yard, he’s not in the sun room, he’s not in the garage, and he hasn’t gone home because his car is still in the drive.  He’s not in the laundry or the back porch, he doesn’t appear to be in the back yard.  I put two and two together and come up with ‘slash’ and ‘lemon tree’.  But he’s not in, or under, or next to, the lemon tree.

He’s actually in the compost heap, sound asleep.  Warm as toast.

I give him a nudge with my foot.  “Brod, things aren’t looking good in the West,” I say, but he doesn’t move.  I add, “I’ll get you a blanket,” but I’m only kidding.  I wouldn’t leave him out on a night like this.

. . . / / / . . .

Essendon are as flat as the Labor Party on Sunday afternoon.  Once again, the opinion polls are right.

There’s something entirely appropriate that I should be massaging an ugly bruised ankle belonging to my dear sister-in-law while watching my team self-destruct in their penultimate match of the season.  But massage it I do.

The Bombers (and sometimes the Lions) scratch around in a lacklustre game.  We’re in survival mode, I can see it.  All our players want to do is beat their immediate opponent and hope a miracle happens.  We’re as tight as drums, petrified of looking stupid, and we’re up against a side that has won two of its last sixteen games.  They’re making mince-meat of us.

The Lions have 4 goals on the board in quick time.  Jonathon Brown looks menacing.  Brisbane are able to isolate him in one-on-one contests with Michael Hurley sooooo easily it nearly makes me cry.  A couple of our new players – Carlisle and Marigliani – kick a goal each to stem the bleeding, but Brown spoils the party with a goal right on quarter time.  Five goals to two, goodnight nurse.

It gets worse in the second quarter.  Some time, late in the quarter, when Dempsey gets possession on the wing and Monfries makes a good lead, Dempsey’s kick misses its target and goes out of bounds.  I say a rude word or two, to myself.  Tim Watson, doing the television commentary says that you just have to hit targets like that.  He’s hurting, too.

I’ve had enough for one weekend.  There’s only so much a poor boy can take.

The score is now 65 to 16 in favour of the Lions.

I ease Kylie’s blue and cream ankle off my leg, and place it gently on the couch.  “I’ll see you,” I say.

“You’re off?”


“They’re dreadful, aren’t they?”

“Yep.  Don’t get up.”

“Okay.  Thanks, Rabbit.  Take care on that bike.”

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