Finally, the official mug punter’s Melbourne Cup guide. By the biggest mug punter of them all.

October 31, 2011

Are you being laughed at for your lack of Melbourne Cup knowledge? Kids being teased at school because mum and dad missed the barrier draw? Friend, help is at hand.

Face it, we all want to back the Cup winner. Even for a dollar. Bragging rights can last for years.

You need something easy to digest, with no punches pulled. And here it is. The first annual Hold All Tickets Melbourne Cup guide.

I hear scornful giggles. Fair enough, my Cup record isn’t flash. Before the great Makybe Diva, we go back to Kiwi in 1983. There may have been one or two in between, but my memory of Cup afternoons is hazy at best.

Anyway, here we go. A highly researched document, some of which may or may not have been made up.

1/ Americain – Gerald Mosse (jockey). Won last year. Won’t win this year. Too much weight. And I can’t pronounce the trainer’s name.

2/ Jukebox Jury – Neil Callan. Big wraps overseas, but has never raced here. Would be like backing Meat Loaf to sing at a footy grand final. As if that would happen.

3/ Dunaden – Craig Williams (appeal pending), or some French bloke. Not for me. Won the Geelong Cup, now a popular form race. Except Geelong’s population is the same as Ipswich. I won’t be backing the Ipswich Cup winner either.

4/ Drunken Sailor – Dwayne Dunn. Nope. But anything with ‘drunk’ in the title on Cup day is worth a cheer.

5/ Glass Harmonium – Lisa Cropp. Should be leading early. Will be overtaken like there’s a sniper in the Flemington grandstand about 600 metres from home.

6/ Manighar – Damien Oliver. No chance. Only because he was my initial tip. Even the great D. Oliver won’t overcome that hurdle.

7/ Unusual Suspect – Nash Rawiller (appeal pending), or any small bloke with riding boots. A visitor from the U-S. Not even with help from NASA.

8/ Fox Hunt – Silvestre de Sousa. I think the jockey played for Portugal in the soccer World Cup. Can someone check that for me?

9/ Lucas Cranach – Corey Brown. Great run in the Caulfield Cup. And that was on three legs. Fully fit now. Will give this a shake. (Note, that’s a racing term).

10/ Mourayan – Hugh Bowman. The winner. Go and collect now. Order the Chinese for Tuesday night. Bowman’s riding so well he could go out on a rocking horse and still run a place.

11/ Precedence – Darren Beadman. Bart’s best hope. The horse hasn’t won since Bob Hawke was Prime Minister. Will have support from above.

12/ Red Cadeaux – Michael Rodd. The jockey is a Queenslander. At least that’s something.

13/ Hawk Island – Glyn Schofield. Couldn’t win if he started an hour early.

14/ Illo – Jim Cassidy. German horse, trained by Bart, and ridden by jockey who has won the Cup twice. No third time lucky.

14/ (a) – Mister Ed – Wilbur. Would give the best post-race interview ever. Might be a bit old now.

15/ Lost in the Moment – William Buick. Has all the pace of me striding home from an afternoon at the tavern. Possibly with better steering.

16/ Modun – Kerrin McEvoy. Jockey is another winning plenty of late. Just as well, because he won’t be saluting here.

17/ At First Sight – Steven King. Two jockeys tossed a coin to ride him. Nice throwback to ANZAC tradition. That gives him a chance.

18/ Moyenne Corniche – Brett Prebble. My outsider. Saw him score an amazing win in the UK before he came over. Jockey knows his way around the big track. Include him in multiples. (Note – another racing term).

19/ Saptapadi – Chris Symons. If you get him in a sweep you’ll get your money back for last. They might have to delay the start of the next race he’ll be so far back.

19/ (a) Phar Lap – Jim Pike. He’d lap this lot. God bless the mighty horse.

20/ Shamrocker – Luke Nolen. Black Caviar’s jockey. He’ll notice the difference.

21/ The Verminator – Craig Newitt. When did the Wyong Cup winner claim the Melbourne Cup? On the First of Never, that’s when.

22/ Tullamore – Chris Munce. Brisbane Cup winner. Queensland jockey. Trained by Gai. Will try his heart out.

23/ Niwot – Dean Yendall. Made the field with a slashing win last Saturday. Stranger things have happened.

24/ Older Than Time – Tim Clark. And will take his time to finish. Hopefully before sundown.

So, there we have it. You are now a Cup expert. Feel free to pass these expert comments on. Go and have fun taking on colleagues who pretend they know what they’re talking about.

Time now to look at the rest of the day’s races. Does anyone know if that Portuguese soccer player is riding in the last?

Are you a Phar Lap fan? Still angry about what they did to him? Then join our Derby Day protest.

October 29, 2011

Last night 25 years ago, we would have been gathered around the old VHS player.

Our favourite movie would be getting yet another workout. Phar Lap. What else? The perfect way to prepare for Cup week.

It was our routine to get ready for the Carnival. And no one could get us there quicker than Big Red.

Viewing would take place with several cool drinks, and delicacies from the local Chinese.

Like any classic of the cinema, heroes were cheered, and villains hissed.

We celebrated every time the great horse hit the front. Applauded the efforts of Tom Burlinson, as he battled cranky trainer Harry Telford. And wished we’d been around to back Jim Pike.

But there was one man we loathed. The boos would echo around our lounge room as soon as he appeared. I believe more than one spring roll was thrown in his direction. Lachlan McKinnon.

Remember him? The pompous, snobbish head of the Victorian Racing Club. I’m pretty sure the same actor played one of those Pommy generals giving the disastrous orders at Gallipoli. No one was more hated in our bachelor pad.

Back to Flemington. McKinnon wanted his own donkey to be in with a chance to beat the greatest galloper of all. After Phar Lap won the 1930 Melbourne Cup, McKinnon made it his mission to get our hero out of the winner’s stall.

The images replay in my mind now. I can hear his voice. See his scheming features. Ordering weights that would have crippled a lesser animal.

I can’t remember the pin number for my credit card, but I recall with ease scenes from a movie decades ago.

McKinnon and his cronies made Phar Lap carry 68 kilos in the ’31 Cup. Kim Beazley would have almost made the weight. It was the bravest 8th in racing history.

We couldn’t take it any longer. The screen was getting covered in too many Chinese entrees. Something had to be done.

My mate came up with the solution. A practice we follow to this very day.

It was decided that we would boycott the McKinnon Stakes. When the field jumped in the time-honoured event on Derby Day, we would turn our backs to the screen.

This would happen in the pub. The three of us were on self-bans. No watching the race. And no bet. After it was run and won, normal viewing, and punting, would resume.

None of our mates joined in this silent protest. We may or may not have been mocked. Didn’t worry us. If Phar Lap could lump the grandstand, we could take the barbs.

Year after year, we assumed the position. I took the stance with me when I moved on. The lads in Bundaberg thought I was mad. They would punt on the tide going out. Missing a race was unheard of.

I’m proud to say one of the boys did join in. He’s still part of our team. Rings me just before the McKinnon, every year, to make sure I’m facing in the honourable direction.

The beauty of our ban, is that the premise behind it has never been researched. Not once. Our stance was taken solely on the script of our favourite film. That was often viewed through one eye.

We refuse to contemplate that it could be false. McKinnon may have donated buckets of cash to orphans and baked cookies. But I doubt it.

So, the tradition continues. As they jump in race 5 this afternoon, I’ll be in my lounge room, facing the other way. So will a handful of other blokes, in various parts of the country.

If you worship Phar Lap like we do, feel free to join in. At the pub, or the TAB, or the track. Tell your mates you’re helping to right a wrong, all these years later.

Trust me, it will feel good. The punting Gods might even smile on you kindly later in the day.

If you know the real story, don’t bother telling us. Too late to change our ways now. We owe it to the memory of Phar Lap. And besides, it’s the one race of the day I can’t lose on.

Memories of getting it wrong at the school fete. If only mum had picked a different song for me..

October 25, 2011

There was a nasty incident at the Tea Cup.

One hell of a mess. That’s what happens when you go on rides with a mix of fairy floss and pineapple slushie.

It was this year’s school fete. Where kids have licence to run even wilder than usual. And parents secretly wish the committee had approved one of those terrible beer stalls. Or was that just me?

Daughter Two was breathless as she relayed the gory tale to us. Her friend had lost her lunch over a young man she’d been trying to impress. Mid-ride. The poor bloke couldn’t escape. He just sat there in the spinning yellow Cup, covered in a fair portion of the day’s meal deal.

That’s the fun of fetes. Reputations can be made with an impressive display on the scariest ride. And lost just as quickly with an ill-timed puke.

I can’t recall us having fancy rides at our school fetes. It was more about stalls, and games, and chasing girls.

There was one particular young lass who was a favourite of mine. We were great mates. In the old world, she may have been described as a Tomboy. And she could run like the wind.

Back then I had a fair turn of foot myself. Difficult to imagine now, I know. But I could gallop. Just not fast enough to catch her.

I would set off in pursuit across the school oval, and she would evade me with ease. Not too different to how my football career would pan out.

Our parents would laugh at their kids having such harmless fun. Her mum and dad thought I was a safe bet. They were right. There was no plan for what I’d actually do if I caught her.

Performances are also a major part of fete day. High-energy routines on the big stage. This year, the girls had to do dance routines. In front of boys. How embarrassing.

Even worse, it was all caught on cameras. About a thousand of them. No-one actually watches anything anymore. They just point their fancy phones, and watch later. So much easier than enjoying it on the day.

Thank God there were none around forty years ago. I endured several troubling school shows. But one stands out, for anyone unfortunate enough to experience it.

It was a concert, that all the kids were invited to participate in. Of course, very few did. But Mum, God bless her, thought it was a marvellous idea.

To make things worse, my dear mother selected the song for me. Rolling Stones? Beatles? Daddy Cool? Nope. It was a dreary track from her favourite act of the time. The Carpenters.

With any luck you’re too young to remember the brother and sister duo. The rest of you, enough of the thigh slapping.

The song was called “Close to You”. One of the sappiest tunes of the century. With the greatest respect to the late Karen Carpenter. Feel free to check it out on this YouTube link, that I may or may not have included. If it does work, I defy anyone to last more than 30 seconds.

With me at the microphone, it was way worse. Pure pain. Three minutes of vocal torture. Luckily the laughs drowned out most of my off-key screeching.

I’m not sure how I survived that episode. Maybe the audience thought they were watching the show’s comedy section.

I’ll check our video camera later, but I’m pretty sure there were no comparable efforts over the weekend.

Except for the girl who threw up. Nasty business that. She has two choices for next year. Either run fast or sing. My tip? Pick your own song.

Dreaming of Cox Plate glory. The old fashioned jockey and the country horse everyone’s given up on.

October 22, 2011

The first time I met the jockey, he wasn’t riding.

His weight had ballooned. From an injury, or suspension. Maybe both.

He looked big. For a second, I wondered if I’d been introduced to the wrong bloke.

We were in a pub, and he was doing his bit to support the publican. Friendly enough, but distracted. Like he was missing out.

My mate knew him well. Still does. Explained that he was trying to get back in the saddle, but it was tough.

He started riding again soon after. I watched with interest. Always easy to find in the form guide. Topweight, or close to it.

The talent was obvious. A true horseman. They travelled so easily for him.

He rarely found trouble in running. Horses relaxed. And he knew exactly where the post was.

The second time I met the jockey, we were at the track. He’d been back in action for a few years. Winning too. All over the place. Distraction was replaced by focus. And fun.

We had another beer. Mine was delivered by his outstretched skinny arm. And a big grin. This was a happy hoop.

He’d just ridden a winner, after being unlucky early. No matter. He was loving it. Excited about doing the job he was born for.

That’s the thing about Chris O’Brien. There’s nothing else you’d want him to be doing.

He’s been making horses run fast since he was a kid. In New Zealand. The one thing we can hold against him.

There are plenty like him, plying their trade on tracks from Cessnock to Randwick, and all points in between.

Tradesmen, if you like. Not superstars. The blokes who keep the industry rolling along.

But don’t be fooled. O’Brien is much more than that. It’s just that his body is constantly battling against him.

First, it was a terrible leg injury. Not from a horse, but a harvester. Sliced his heel off like ham from the bone.

They told him to forget about riding. Long odds to even walk. He ignored the experts, and did both.

There’s still a limp though. You’ll see it today at Mooney Valley.

He’s no lightweight. Far from it. And that bung foot means he can’t run. So he cycles for hours, all over the place, to trim down.

The bike has been copping a workout of late. Because the battler has been given a break. A career-defining galloper.

Sincero is O’Brien’s special horse. Gave him his first Group One. And today, together, they could add their names to the record books.

The Wyong galloper has been set for the Cox Plate all along. He was fancied early, but is now an outsider.

They’re hoping the spark returns today. Blinkers go back on. Like the day he flashed home to win the Stradbroke. Chris was no chance of making the weight that day.

It must have been a crushing blow, but he didn’t complain. The owners stayed solid, and had him straight back on. He’s been there ever since.

They think they can win today. On one of racing’s greatest stages. Those closest to the jockey will be at the Valley, cheering themselves silly. If Sincero gets up, you’ll hear them from interstate.

He gets to live the dream. All the struggles, all those bike marathons, will be worthwhile.

There’s something heartening about barracking for the underdog in the big event. Success, if it comes, is just that little bit sweeter.

Make no mistake, Chris O’Brien deserves his place in this field.

No-one has worked harder to get to the barriers today. And if Sincero triumphs, no-one will celebrate longer than the little bloke with the limp.

The day I went to the beach with Princess Diana.

October 18, 2011

When reporting on Royal tours, one should dress appropriately.

Apparently, that doesn’t include pink shorts.

It was 1988, and I had been given the role of covering part of Princess Diana’s trip to Australia.

A very small part. Just a few hours. On Terrigal Beach.

The newsroom policy at the time was to have me out on location as much as possible. Possibly to maintain the sanity of colleagues back in the office.

Being radio, there was no need to be dressed up. In my mind at least. And given the totally inadequate nature of my wardrobe, that was just fine.

I did lots of work wearing shorts. From courts to council meetings, and the local league match of the round. Pretty much any job that took the boss’s fancy. No one seemed to mind.

We were issued with shirts, that had the station logo proudly emblazoned on the front. What we wore below the waist was up to us.

So it was that on the morning of this historic visit, I dressed like any other day. Daggily. Possibly without the use of an iron. White station polo shirt. And those pink shorts.

All I can tell you is, it was the eighties. Pink was in for blokes. Or so someone said.

Not that I wasn’t excited. Charles and Di were here as part of the Bicentennial celebrations. Images of their trip to the sand and surf  would go around the world.

I had been given clear guidelines on what was needed. Waffle on a bit about what the Royal visitors got up to. Talk to some gushing locals. And stay out of the way of those who knew what they were doing.

It’s true that there was no-one else in the press corp wearing pink shorts. I’m pretty sure it gave the Fleet Street lads something of a laugh.

The guest of honour was striking. Everything you’ve ever read and more. I still remember that yellow dress. And the shy, dazzling smile. But I have only the vaguest recollection of Charles that day. I dare say the rest of those on the beach might be the same.

She had her photo taken with some Aussie lifesavers, looking resplendent in their budgie smugglers. They managed to take the spotlight away from my skinny legs.

I’d like to think Diana noticed me. After all, she was a fashion expert. If anyone could appreciate my unique dress sense, surely it was her.

If she did, she kept it to herself. No so much as a mention in any of the Royal biographies.

It’s a long time ago, and my memory has faded with time, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t need special security passes.

There were thousands of people there, all enjoying the spectacle, pretty much going where they wanted. Some even came out of the surf to catch a glimpse.

How different it will be this week, when the Queen comes to visit.

Security will be stifling. There’ll be screening areas, and sniffer dogs, and heavily armed officers at every turn. A different time.

Royal watchers will be out in force, happy to be herded like cattle into secure zones. Flags will be waving. But it won’t be the same as that wonderful day with Lady Di.

For starters, Her Majesty won’t have her photo taken with anyone in Speedos. Actually, that might be a good thing.

If you’re part of the crowd, keep an eye on the media gang. Let me know if you spot a reporter game enough to wear pink shorts. Male, not female. After all, these fashion trends come and go. Diana would be proud.

Mixed emotions on Caulfield Cup Day. Where have all the local stayers gone?

October 15, 2011

Caulfield Cup Day brings with it mixed emotions this year. One of our great races. About to be won by an international.

I’ve lost count of how many are running. Must be close to half the field. Some have their overseas trainers with them. Others have been adopted by our own.

The hot favourite, December Draw, was hand-picked out of Europe. Mark Kavanagh is listed as his trainer, but the horse is Australian as Scary Spice.

Anthony Freedman might win a Group One with Lucas Cranach. He’s from Germany. Try doing the form on his last four starts. You’ll need an interpreter.

The Poms are doing their best. At least Luca Cumani is a regular. Manighar and Drunken Sailor are genuine hopes.

John Moore wants to take the Cup back to Hong Kong. His topweight Mighty High has a bloke named Beadman on top.

There are others. Unusual Suspect comes from the U-S. There’s even a trainer here from North Yorkshire.

Nothing new, you say. The overseas raiders have been coming for years. Get used to it.

But this is different. They might be champions, these visitors. But only the hard-core punters know them.

Will there be passion in the cheering this afternoon? If you’re on the winner, of course there will be. But as an event? Not likely.

You can’t blame our top trainers for looking elsewhere to find a Cup hope. The industry has moved that way. It’s becoming harder and harder to develop a home-grown stayer.

The breeders know where the money is. Few want to wait for a horse to develop over ground. Two year old sprinters. Not six-year-old stayers.

You won’t hear the race clubs admit it, but distance races aren’t sexy anymore. Except that big one at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November.

As owners, we used to dream of Derbys and Cups. Many still do. But it’s becoming harder and harder to place distance horses through the rest of the year.

It’s a vicious cycle. The fewer stayers coming through, the fewer races that get programmed for them.

So we get to the Spring. A famous Group One race worth two and a half million bucks. And it’s full of imports.

Not everyone thinks that’s a bad thing. Some high-profile players believe it adds to our reputation. Helps to build prizemoney and prestige, they reckon.

Maybe so. It’s just hard to cheer for a horse you hadn’t heard of a fortnight ago.

I still love seeing Bart winning our big races. Or Gai. The Hawkes boys. Moody and Waller and Heathcote. With local horses. And Aussie owners, booking out a Chinese restaurant to celebrate.

I can’t see it happening today. Although I’m willing to take on December Draw. Not for me when he’s never had a go at the distance.

I’ve told you before how I struggle to line up the international form. So my tip  means even less than usual. But I do have a fancy.

Manighar is quality. I heard Luca give him some huge wraps a few months back. With that movie star Oliver up, and a track that won’t be too wet, I think he’s a big chance.

This may be influenced by the fact that I backed him at 40 to 1 at the start of the week. As much as it pains me, I’ll be cheering a Pom.

Have a good look at the field this afternoon. And get used to blokes here on passports taking more of our Cups. It won’t be too long before they’re the only ones running in them.

Does my beer gut look big in this? Shopping tips for a large fashion klutz.

October 11, 2011

The sales assistant reminded me of Mr Humphries from “Are You Being Served?”

If you’re too young to remember the comedy classic, let’s just say both were confirmed bachelors with immaculate fashion sense, and measuring tapes.

He had ignored me for the best part of half an hour. Not that Mr Humphries was busy. The giant department store was all but empty. Peaceful, except for one pesky customer.

I was searching for a decent shirt. A little number for the races. Anything but green, which we all know is unlucky at the track.

There are plenty sitting on coathangers at home, but few that I can wear a tie with. This is because someone has been sneaking in at night and shrinking my collars. I can’t get them to fit around my ever-expanding neck.

After searching the bargain tables, I found a few that seemed to work. By that I mean they had gigantic neck sizes. I asked if I could try them on. Just to make sure they wouldn’t strangle me. Mr Humphries was having none of it.

He wouldn’t take them out of the plastic. A waste of time. Instead, I was to try on the Sample Shirt. A garment that may or may not have been worn by every rugby front rower in town.

Unlike others in the family, I’m not one to challenge shop staff. Usually, I submit meekly to their demands. But not this time.

Resisting the urge to string him up by his tape measure, I informed Mr Humphries that I REALLY wanted to try this one on. And he would just have to live with it.

It didn’t work. This mature gentleman in perfectly pleated pants called my bluff.

“It won’t fit you,” he said calmly. “You’ve been looking in the wrong area. Those shirts are Slim Fit. It’s your girth, you see. I’d be happy to find you something more suitable.”

Yes, he actually said the word girth. Right there on the shop floor. As if I was being saddled for the last at Eagle Farm.

Any struggle ended right there. A points victory to the man with the name badge.

After trying on his stinky Sample Shirt, which happened to fit perfectly, I followed meekly to the Wall of Width. Together we chose a colour that he liked, and the deal was done.

To his credit, Mr Humphries spotted a tie that was a perfect match for my new purchase. He seemed quite proud of his work. It was like he had done me a favour.

Indeed he had. I ended up with a shirt that I could actually breathe in. And my new routine of sit-ups began the following day.

I won’t be shopping alone again in a hurry. That Men’s Fashion Department is a brutal place. Especially when Mr Humphries is free.

How you can be part of Team Black Caviar. Just cheer like a dizzy schoolgirl.

October 8, 2011

Have you ever been part of sporting history?

Were you there the day Cathy Freeman ran the race of her life in Sydney? That life-changing, golden lap.

I have mates who were. Magical, they called it. Bordering on a religious experience.

What about the tied Test at the Gabba? Back in ’60. Were you at the Vulture St end for the final over? The great game’s greatest game.

It was the biggest crowd ever. Around 400,000 that day. That’s if you believe everyone who said they were there.

If only I’d been around back in 1930. Phar Lap achieved the impossible. And then some.

He won the Cox Plate in a canter, then lumped more than 62 kilos to win the Melbourne Cup. He also won three other races that Cup week. Four wins in seven days. All that, after being shot at on the morning of Derby Day.

The cheap seats at Flemington would have been just fine. Anywhere, just to witness such perfection.

The huge crowds cheered themselves hoarse, over a horse. Most had nothing in their pockets. It didn’t matter. Big Red lifted their spirits like no politician could.

I reckon I heard a similar sound a few months back. The day the roof nearly lifted off Doomben. What might now rank as my greatest racing moment. The day Black Caviar came to town.

I wrote about it that night. Basking in the glory of a magnificent win in the BTC Cup.

This was one, furious, magnificent roar. The stands shook. Form guides quivered. Chills multiplied. Just before 4 o’clock, on Saturday May 14, sporting history wasn’t made. It was amplified.”

And so she’s back. We’ve been counting the days. Officially rated the world’s best. The mighty mare with the ability to make the most grizzled racegoer giggle like an X-Factor fan.

You don’t need me to explain what’s in store today. But I will, because it’s so damn exciting. Win number 14 is a few hours away.

They’ll be hanging from the rafters at Caulfield. When she surges past the post, with Luke Nolen sitting quietly, possibly doing the crossword, Black Caviar will equal Phar Lap’s number of consecutive metropolitan victories.

If you’re lucky enough to be there, savour it. Every sight and sound. Especially the sound. File that roar away.

The rest of us will be watching from afar. At the track, and in pubs and clubs. We’ll be loving it too.

If you’re at home like me, gather the kids. And Grandma. Let them feel that exhilaration. They don’t need to be race fans. That’s the beauty of it.

Enjoy today. Embrace a champion, and the wonderful, all-Australian cast around her. Play your part in sporting history. We all have a role. Cheer like crazy. You might never get the chance to do it again.

Memories of schoolboy survival. Why the back of the bus was a dangerous place.

October 4, 2011

Forget having your head flushed down the dunny. It was the bus that terrified me on the first day of high school.

I thought of this, as The Teenager whined to me about her travel habits.

Granted, she embarks on a fair trip. It goes via the absolute longest route, as buses tend to do. And she has to get up early to catch it, which is difficult for one who believes there should be no resting before midnight.

She could catch a train. I drive past the station every morning. But because her friends prefer the road trip, it’s a more social occasion.

Her complaint was more about other passengers. Apparently, ‘weirdos’ find the bus a handy way to travel. I assume this includes anyone over 25, those in suits, and the unwashed.

If only she knew. Back in the day, we risked life and limb just to get on board. Terror for a 12-year-old.

This wasn’t a private school. Public and proud. Rough and tumble. We knew no different.

The bus company had advised that it would no longer carry boys and girls on the same vehicles. Too dangerous, apparently. So while young ladies compared nail polish on one bus, we walked the gauntlet on the other.

Older boys were always up the back. For early morning fun, they would belt the tripe out of the Year 7 kids. A ritual that had gone on for ages.

From day one, we were warned NOT to get on first. Do that, and you were a sure thing to be pushed all the way to the back seat. And that meant you’d be fighting in the opening bout.

The trick was to let someone else get on, while you fumbled for your bus pass. It was always overcrowded. With an ounce of luck, you would end up in relative safety, jammed up the front.

It didn’t always work. So you took your lumps. Character building apparently. I can’t remember anyone complaining. I guess we thought the consequences would be far worse the next morning.

The bus bouts were a good incentive to ride your bike to school. It took a while, but I finally convinced mum it would be safe. If only she knew that dodging morning traffic was a breeze compared to backseat beltings.

My second-hand bike was a beauty. It had high, up-turned handlebars. I thought that was incredibly cool.

What wasn’t cool, was when those handlebars broke. As I was rocketing down a hill. I looked like a trainee unicyclist, waving the former steering device madly in the air.

I crashed, of course. Laughter echoed around the neighbourhood. I had to push my now bent and buckled machine to class, minus large chunks of skin.

A few years later, life became easier. While others had bus battles and bike bingles, I cruised into the car park in my trusty old Kingswood. There’s something very special about a Senior driving to school.

My new mobility had other advantages. It gave me lunchtime options. And every now and then, that involved a quiet flutter.

As ludicrous as this sounds, I would drive a few minutes down the road, to the local TAB. In my school uniform.

It all went well, until the Friday I bumped into a geography teacher, cheering home a favourite. Nothing was said. We were both caught out. He didn’t tell, and neither did I. The education system was different back then.

No need to let The Teenager in on any of this. She has her own problems. Until she gets her licence, she can stick to the bus, weirdos or no weirdos. She’ll be fine. As long as she stays away from the back seat.

Attention Coach Potatoes – I’m here to help. Your official guide to sporting glory this weekend.

October 1, 2011

It’s been circled on the calender for months.

The ultimate weekend. Forty-eight hours of grand finals and Group Ones.

If you haven’t warned the family, do so now. Strap yourself in. But be warned. This weekend isn’t for the faint-hearted.

I know what you’re thinking. What about handing out some tips from years of grand final weekend abuse?

Consider it done. Here’s my survival guide. Feel free to share with your mates. Just don’t blame me if it lands you in strife.

Saturday Oct 1st.

Morning: Ask loved ones to provide a hearty breakfast. You can enjoy it over the papers. The family is required to provide peace and quiet at this time.

10.30am. Get the scratchings. Double check multi-bets. This can be done with coffee or tea. No alcohol just yet. Unless you’re at the track. If so, you should be on your third by now.

11.30am. Consider yard chores. Don’t think family responsibilities can be ignored this weekend.

11.35am. Shout yourself a cool drink for all that hard thinking. Now assume the position in your comfy black chair.

12.10pm. Randwick on Epsom Day. Race one, and it’s the fillies having their first start. Back your favourite trainer at odds and hope you can jag some play money.

12.30pm. If you haven’t already, check snack supplies and beer fridge. There’ll be no time later. In an emergency, send a friendly family member to the nearest bottle shop/convenience store.

1.25pm. Sport Change #1. We’re off to the Rugby World Cup. That time-honoured clash between the Wallabies and Russia. Bad luck is guaranteed if you miss the national anthem. You’ll be standing, of course.

2.15pm. Sport Change #2. Get your tight shorts on. It’s time for the AFL grand final. And another crack at the anthem. Not my game. But I love their passion. Watch the crowd shots before the first bounce. These fans live and breathe their sport. A bit like Queenslanders.

Now, a word of warning. You need to display some remote control expertise here. Don’t get caught up in the excitement at the MCG. The Group Ones are about to start at headquarters.

3.20pm. Back to the races. After the three-year old stayers strut their stuff, it’s Epsom time. That famous Randwick mile. The highlight of my day.

Remember the play money you snared earlier? Get it on Sincero here. When he wins, stand again, and cheer his knockabout jockey Chris O’Brien. No-one is more deserving of a wrap this weekend.

Late arvo-ish. You now must swap between the remaining Group Ones, the finish of the footy, all with an eye on the Perth quaddie. This is for experienced players only.

With stacks of cash, announce to the family that as a celebration, you’ll be kick-starting the BBQ. Of course, they are responsible for salads, breads, sauces, potatoes and their own drinks. And the washing up. Won’t they be grateful.

Now, off to bed. We have a big day tomorrow.

Sunday Oct 2nd

Morning. Check last night’s bets, including the Perth quaddie. Inspect Sunday paper to ensure there wasn’t a late protest that may provide a surprise dividend.

9.00am. Suggest romantic interlude with loving and supportive partner. Be prepared for constructive criticism.

9.00am and 20 seconds. Return to papers. Do form for another day of racing.

9.30am. (Qld time from here on) Race One at Flemington. Yes, it’s Daylight bloody Saving in the southern states. You have no idea who to back, but it’s always great to have them running so early.

10.40. Race Three .. The Bart Cummings. You must watch this race in honour of the great man.

For the next hour or two, a nap in your comfy chair is acceptable. It goes without saying that no-one is permitted to change the channel.

1.00pm. Your first taste of NRL grand final day. The North Queensland Cowboys are in the Toyota Cup decider. Cheer them loudly and proudly. But not for long. Because….

1.05pm. We’re back to Flemington. Race Seven .. the Group One Turnbull Stakes. Some Cup hopefuls in action here. The very smart December Draw will be saluting.

From here on, times become flexible. You may need to increase your fluid intake. Rugby league lovers know what I mean. There’s nothing like grand final afternoon.

Mates and neighbours will join in. Strangers too. The family will have no problems with you opening your arms, and your esky, to supporters of the great event.

Now, you’re on your own. Enjoy the game, and in an ad break, reflect on how much you’ve achieved in the past twenty-four hours.

One more thing. If you get to do all of the above, can you let me know how it goes? Sounds like a fantastic weekend.