The Eyes have it. Or not. Why does getting old mean I can’t read the menu?

May 29, 2012

Not that long ago, I could see all. Perfect vision. Unlike George Costanza, I was spotting letter boxes, not raccoons.

At my age, this was a rare thing. My friends were all needing help. In restaurants, and at work. Someone was dimming their lights.

It’s one of the things I now notice at funerals. Blokes you haven’t seen in years, wearing glasses to read the program. Looking older, just like that.

Everyone around me was getting reading specs. Of course, I teased them no end. As mates do. Until my day arrived.

Actually, it was my night. I’ve read the form guide on a Friday night for the best part of 30 years. Sad, but true. But this particular evening, I hit a snag.

Things were blurry. Eyes itchy. Was it Race 4 or 5? Had this nag won first up, or second up? I was either having a stroke, or my peepers were giving out.

Thankfully, it was the latter. Not long after, I was sporting my first pair of glasses.

The girls gave me great support. As soon as they stopped laughing. Colleagues told me earnestly how nice my frames were. I was chuffed by this. Until I realised that this is code in the optical world for ‘You look like my nerdy uncle.’

Any self-doubt disappeared, when I found how much they helped. Words jumped out at me again. No more headaches. I may have looked like Mr Magoo, but I could see.

There’s history here, too. Mum, bless her, battled serious sight problems up until her death. That awful condition, Macular Degeneration. Towards the end, she was unable to do her beloved crosswords and puzzles. So cruel.

The condition wasn’t without a laugh though. On one of her visits, we decided to have a seafood lunch. At the counter of the local fish shop, I asked her what she fancied. After some serious study, she announced that the large prawns looked delicious. They were indeed. Except they were lobsters.

Another time, we were at a Christmas concert. One of the big churches had organised an elaborate festive show. Complete with dressed up kids and camels.

Mum thought it was wonderful. She hugged the girls, who were much younger then, and pointed to centre stage, where the desert beasts had just wandered through with a crowd of helpers.

“Look girls, there go the Three Wise Men,” she exclaimed with excitement. They were, in fact, the blokes picking up the camel poo. That’s not to say they weren’t wise. Just not terribly blessed.

I’ve been tested for the dreaded disease, and so far it’s all good. Not even a hint that it could be around the corner. But there are other dramas.

Until recently, I had only used my glasses at work, and when reading newspapers or books. Everything else was fine. Not any more.

I’m struggling when it comes to preparing meals. The print on the packages coming out of my freezer is unreadable. Obviously the work of sadistic people in a Chinese lasagne factory.

Seriously, can anyone actually read that stuff? I can’t. After getting my microwave times wrong the first six times, I’m now wearing glasses in the kitchen.

The lighting in restaurants I go to is obviously on the blink. It’s kept so low you need ropes and handrails to find your table. This must be the reason I can no longer read the menu.

Can’t see a thing. So I go with ‘I’ll have what he’s having’. Which is fine, except if the fellow to my right is a fan of pickled herring.

The glasses now accompany me to any lunch or dinner engagement. I’m told it even looks sophisticated, whipping them out of my top pocket, to have a crack at the plonk list.

I’ve come to terms with my condition. There are plenty of others just like me. Don’t laugh at us. Your time is coming.

If, however, you are putting off the inevitable, remember these golden rules. Take care if the prawns look too big. And never applaud men who walk behind camels.

Your chance to pat a champion. And help him retire in style. Why we all love Chief De Beers.

May 26, 2012

Imagine if Matt Hayden had scored all his test centuries at the one ground. Hundred after hundred, at his beloved Gabba.

What about if Dawn Fraser had only won gold in the one pool? Picture Cathy Freeman streeting the opposition time and again, at just the one stadium.

I hear you. It could never happen. Unless, of course, you were Doomben’s favourite galloper.

Racing fans know the story of Chief De Beers. The Chief. I’ve heard it a dozen times, and it still amazes me.

The great horse won twenty races. All at the one track. Something we’ll never see again. He was simply unbeatable at Doomben.

Send him to Eagle Farm, or anywhere else for that matter, and he lost a leg. Yet a few hundred metres up the road, they couldn’t get near him.

Why would that be? I’ve heard plenty of theories. From old punters, and sports psychologists, and modern-day horse whisperers. And none of them have a clue.

I reckon it was all about being comfortable. We do our best work in a happy place. Maybe it was the view from his stall.

He was even happier, when the Doomben 10,000 rolled around. The great sprinter won it twice. With the crowd cheering his name all the way down the straight.

The best horses can take ownership of our biggest races. Makybe Diva made the Melbourne Cup her own. Super Impose was forever linked to the famous Doncaster Handicap. Won it back to back. From impossible positions. Find one on YouTube, and watch it again. Simply breathtaking.

The Chief did the same thing for the 10,000. The mere fact that the race was at Doomben gave him a few lengths start. Today, old timers will recall the link with a smile.

When they retired him, the Chief became an equine copper. The most famous of police horses. Patrolling the streets, always just in front of his four-legged colleagues. Old habits die hard.

A policeman I know reckons that whenever they used the Chief to patrol late night party districts, violence from drunken yobbos would reduce. Someone in the crowd would know the Chief’s story. A crowd would surround him, and tempers would calm. They weren’t game to cause strife on the Chief’s watch.

He left the force last week. It’s a young horse’s game now. I’m hearing he received a golden hoofshake, involving buckets of carrots. Every one deserved.

He’ll be back at Doomben this afternoon. Special guest at the track he made his own.

You can go and pat him. Get a photo. The old boy will love that. And when he parades for the crowd, cheer like there’s no tomorrow.

When the great day is over, the Champ will leave his favourite place, possibly for the final time. And he needs a new home.

His fans at the Brisbane Racing Club club are on a mission. They’re raising money, to allow the Chief to spend his final days at the Living Legends facility in Victoria. A 5 star retirement village for racetrack superstars.

He’ll be the first Queenslander to be retired there. Sharing paddocks with the likes of Might and Power, Saintly and Fields of Omagh.

You can help him get there. They’ll be raising money today at the track. If you have a win, give a little back to help one of our best.

Racing thrives on tradition, and memories. The exploits of Chief De Beers will be remembered for generations to come. Especially at Doomben. He only needed one place to shine.

Tips on how to enjoy State of Origin night. Wear a beanie, avoid other people, and give me your ticket.

May 22, 2012

A bloke’s life story can be told through his viewing of Origin.

There are phases we go through. Early on, the experience could last for days.

Now, the smart money suggests I’ll be asleep before they announce the man of the match

So many ways it can be done. With huge crowds, or home alone.

As you chill the drinks and prepare the dip ahead of tomorrow night, let’s reflect on how to make the most of the big event.

#Go To The Game – (highly recommended).

Everyone has to experience at least one Origin at the ground. It’s the ultimate for any footy fan. And I’m talking all codes here.

You will breathe in the colour, the noise, and the passion. Come kick-off, your heartbeat will match the players.

If you’re lucky enough to watch a win, you will be overcome with a desire to celebrate, as if you scored the winning try yourself. On the way out of the ground, you will share that joy with fellow fans. And make life hell for the opposition. Like I said, everyone has to do it once in their lifetime.

#Go To The Game And Sit In A Corporate Box – (very highly recommended).

If you’re lucky enough to jag an invite to an Origin box, we officially hate you.

You’ll enjoy all of the above, as well as sampling free drinks and lashings of decent tucker.

There is also the added bonus of boasting to workmates before, during and after the event.

A word of warning though. You might end up with people who have absolutely no interest in sport. They are easy to identify, because they have their back to the field, and talk about things that you don’t care about.

If this is the case, you have permission to ask security to eject them. Or, if the discussion moves to shoe shopping, do the job yourself. No court in the land will convict you.

#Go To A Pub With A Huge Crowd Of Drunks – (recommended only for the young and foolhardy).

There was a time when this option held great appeal. In fact, it’s how I watched many Origin games in my youth.

We would be stuck in the middle of hundreds of drunken, sweaty fans in footy jumpers. Of course, the availability of cool drinks played a part.

These days, I would rather remove my toenails with rusty tools while listening to Andre Rieu’s latest CD.

The problem is, you can’t hear the game. You’ll be bumped. And have a colourful cocktail splashed all over you.

There will be a fight nearby, you’ll spend the first half stuck in a line for the bar/toilet/hot chips, and when it’s done and dusted, you have absolutely no chance of finding a taxi.

If all that appeals to you, good luck, and see you next week.

#Go To A Party Hosted By A Neighbour Or Friend – (recommended if you have no food left at home, or your tv is on the blink).

Some people think Origin is the ideal evening to host a party. They invite lots of people, who have to rush home from work and put proper clothes on.

The problem is, most of those people will want to talk to you throughout the game.

They’ll see it as the perfect opportunity to discuss the latest Walk-to-School initiative. Just as Billy Slater crosses for his second try.

In this instance, you are well within your rights to order everyone out of the room, except for those who are former State of Origin greats.

#Host A Party For Neighbours And Friends – (seriously, are you nuts?)

Don’t do this. Under any circumstance. You’ll see none of the game. Someone will drink your beer. And you’ll have to do the washing up when they finally go home.

#Stay At Home, Take The Phone Off The Hook And Eat Nachos – (if you’re REALLY lucky).

Yes, it’s come to this. If you can’t be at the game, the perfect Origin night is in your very own lounge room.

No disruptions. You can wear your warm pyjamas, and no-one will know. Just make sure you add your Queensland beanie.

Heat up the nachos at the end of the national anthem, grab a cool drink, and hit your comfy chair. You won’t miss a second of the action. And you can yell mindless insults as much as you like.

Wherever you plan to watch the game, good luck, and enjoy your night. Just don’t disturb me.

There’s something about Doomben. Mid-week or Cup day, you’re not trying if you can’t have fun.

May 19, 2012

Every punter has a favourite racecourse.

Like others have pubs they swear by. Or pie shops. Places that make you smile. Especially if there’s free sauce.

For some, it’s the first track they visited.

My debut at the races was in Gosford. Not quite Royal Ascot. It didn’t matter. What a thrill for a young bloke, to see bookies and barmen, all on the same patch of dirt.

I know folk who grew up on racetracks. A great mate tells me of spending wonderful Saturdays at Eagle Farm as a kid. It doesn’t matter how much they change things. He still remembers the glory days, nearly half a century ago.

Others are fond of the course where they had their biggest win.

Obviously, that doesn’t apply to those of us who can’t remember their last decent collect. It may or may not have been ridden by Mick Dittman.

It’s true, that a special bond is created with the place that they hand over bundles of crisp fifties. Or so they tell me.

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the buzz of the track across this great land. They all have their attractions.

A bloke has had more fun at the Gold Coast than is legally allowed. Randwick and Flemington still take my breath away, with the ghosts of the greats hovering near the gates.

I won money at Cairns one day, and then listened to The Angels near the stables. A bunch of us lost all but the shirts on our backs at Bundaberg years ago, when the favourite in a big Sydney race fell in the back straight.

We mingled with Queensland’s biggest race crowd on Ipswich Cup day, and shivered in the freezing cold of Toowoomba in winter. Rums are compulsory to keep the blood pumping.

Eagle Farm on Stradbroke Day? It doesn’t get any better for a Queenslander. Extra points if you can make the walk back to the Hamilton Hotel.

But for all that, there’s something about Doomben. I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly what it is, but I love the place.

Maybe because it’s a bit more compact. Always feels like there’s a crowd there, even on a quiet day.

Before they upgraded the old girl, you’d still find a decent spot close to the action. Food, drink, toilets and tote, all handy.

Unlike headquarters up the road, where Members rule, Doomben gave me the feel that the boys and girls in the public stands were having just as much fun.

It’s even better now. The new Members’ area is as good as you’ll find. If you can’t have a good time there you’re not fair dinkum.

My fondness for the place soared to new heights, fifty-three weeks ago. The day Black Caviar came to town. A day every one of us who saw her up close will never forget.

And so, to Doomben Cup Day. It’s not the highlight of the Winter Carnival. But it’s always hugely competitive. This year we have a Moody superstar, and a Kiwi hot shot. And the sentimental favourite Scenic Shot, with the inspirational Shane Scriven up top.

Don’t expect a Caviar roar if the old bloke salutes, but it won’t be far off.

Whatever the outcome, everyone there will have a bucket of fun. That’s what Doomben does to you.

Home ground advantage. When it comes to footy fans, the louder the better. Teeth optional.

May 15, 2012

There’s nothing like home town loyalty.

And nowhere is the passion for a place more obvious, than at the footy ground.

Stadium or cow paddock with posts. Doesn’t matter. You’ll get a fair read on what the locals stand for, by the way they support their team.

I saw it first hand on the weekend. Ventured south, for a weekend with some old boys. Mates who know more stories about me than I’ve forgotten.

We met while involved in rugby league in North Queensland many moons ago. We’re ancient now. But we catch up in a different place every twelve months, and will continue to do so until we walk with frames, or forget our own names. Meaning we only have a few years left.

This year, we followed the mighty North Queensland Cowboys to the Hunter Valley, for their clash with the Knights. And in Newcastle, we found a city bursting with pride.

You can tell something about a town by how excited folks are on the way to the game.

Walk with them, or share the bus, and listen. No better way to discover the heartbeat of their home.

These Knights fans, they’re hard-core. Just about all of them are decked out in the colours of their team. A few from the club’s early years. They wear them, some unwashed since the first premiership, like a badge of honour.

Inside the stadium, the loudest message comes from the kids. The young ones wave their flags. Teenagers not the slightest bit embarrassed about proclaiming their loyalty. Here, it’s cool to be involved.

One of the great things about being a supporter, is that everyone’s the same once they take their seats in the stand. No-one cares what you do, or how big your salary is. If you’re sporting the right colours, you’re ok.

Strangers bond. People who might have little to cheer about for the rest of the week, suddenly find their voice. Life might be tough. But giving the ref a blast from Row G is a wonderful tonic.

For some reason, the member of our party responsible for tickets decided it would be handy to be high up in the stand. This meant we were a picnic rug away from disturbing air traffic.

When I wasn’t attending to my nose bleed, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the loyalty of those in blue and red around me.

On the same night, in that other code, the Collingwood faithful headed north, and turned the Gabba black and white. They set up camp in Brisbane, and made it look like a home game. That’s what passionate supporters can do.

I’ve heard Lions fans say that they were made to feel uncomfortable in their own ground. Hate the visitors all you like, but give them points for having hides like rhinos.

They also don’t care what others think of them. Joke all you like about their lack of dental care. Who needs front molars when the boys are kicking straight?

Even our giant modern stadiums can’t dampen the enthusiasm. Suncorp Stadium is one of the world’s best. But you’ll still find Broncos fans making life hell for anyone wearing opposite colours.

All that pride and passion will be on show in coming weeks, as State of Origin consumes us once again. The only thing better than cheering for your home town, is screaming for your home state.

If you’re an over-the-top fan, I take my coloured hat off to you. Keep waving those flags. I’d whistle with you, but I can’t find my teeth.

Please let me in, you P-plate pain. Frustration and near-misses on the highway to hell.

May 8, 2012

I need to get in that lane, and you’re doing everything you can to block my way.

I’ve done nothing wrong. My lane is about to end. I came to this position via a bridge, giving me no choice but to merge. My indicator has been on since you first spotted me. I’m being as patient as I can. But you won’t budge.

The arrows are directing me right. I’ll soon be heading for another state. You know this, because you travel this road every day too. Still, you are protecting your patch like it’s a family heirloom wrapped in bitumen.

I now have no choice. I must enter your precious lane. Of course, you will leave it until the last available second, forcing me to brush your front bumper. You’ll wave your arms or flash lights. And wait for the next sucker who happens to cross your path.

Is it just me, or are drivers getting more aggressive behind the wheel? Why is it so hard to let someone share the road?

I’ve had a licence for 31 years. Driven on busy city highways and empty country lanes. Never, in all that time, have I seen such frustration out there. And nowhere does it happen more than in merging traffic.

The scenario I’ve described is something that happens to me most mornings. I start out, hopeful, that my fellow road user will be kind. Time and again I’m disappointed.

On those rare, joyous occasions that someone does let me in, I give them a cheery wave. A thank you through the rear windscreen, to show my appreciation. In the hope that they might repeat the act to someone else.

Drivers of all ages and sizes will squeeze you out. But there’s one bunch who seem to be the worst.

At the risk of enraging a great many of you, can I be so bold as to suggest that young female drivers are on a mission, to make life hell for the rest of us.

They are easy to spot. The custom number plate, sometimes pink, courtesy of Dad. Their car is usually small and speedy. What these sweet things have in common, is an aggression behind the wheel usually confined to the racetrack.

They won’t give an inch. Like backing off is admitting defeat. Get out of my way old man!

I have no idea why. It could be another example of showing up the blokes. Or an ignorance of the needs of others. People doing no more than trying to get to work, or school, or footy training.

It wasn’t always like this. Their mums and grandmothers have always been the careful ones. Waving their fingers at males going too fast.

There are exceptions, of course. My niece, for one. Possibly because her parents gave her thorough and lengthy training. So many others seem to be missing that vital grounding.

The battle will resume this morning. Hopefully I can acknowledge some kindly soul, who understands that we don’t really need to be in that much of a rush.

Try it yourself. Between us all, maybe we can make some room on our roads. And if you let me in and you’re sporting a pink number plate, I’ll wave twice.

Working out those sneaky Kiwis this Winter Carnival. Any help to find their winners greatly appreciated.

May 5, 2012

I go ok with Kiwis.

They were side by side with us in the war. Nothing about being across the ditch then. They were warriors. Helping their Aussie cousins.

Now there are cousins on every street corner. Cheering the Warriors.

In the racing world, there’s an affinity between New Zealanders and Queenslanders.

We share that laid back attitude. And a love of sticking it up those good folk south of the border.

That’s all well and good. But how the hell do I know what the visitors fancy for the Winter Carnival?

Kiwi Raiders are everywhere. They bring their best over, to pluck our riches. That’s fine, as long as I know the sting is on.

It’s not confined to the feature days. They’ll be winning in the coming weeks. On the Gold Coast, and at Caloundra, and all points in between.

Few will tip them. And connections will be invisible until they strut their stuff at Eagle Farm in a few weeks.

The Kiwi jockeys will be heavily involved. They’ll all be trying to book my man Damian Browne. Larry Cassidy will be engaged for an outsider with form that features duck eggs. His brother Jim will come up, saying he needs some sunshine.

The NZ trainers will say nothing meaningful. You’ll get more out of Easter Island statues. They’ll attend breakfasts, and expensive lunches, and praise Aussie runners that couldn’t beat time with a stick.

I heard John Wheeler at Queensland’s Breakfast with the Stars a few years back. You wouldn’t meet a nicer bloke. Need a tip? Get in the queue.

The rest are the same. Roger James. The mob that trained Ethereal.

They hide around corners, hoping to get an extra point from the bookies.

Beware the smokescreens. Their charges always need another run. They come from the land of mud, but they won’t handle the track. The competition is too hot.

Forget the form over the ditch. They run their best hopes in races on the South Island that we don’t understand. A win by seven lengths is written off as a canter against ‘ordinary opposition.”

Make no mistake, the mob with black and white caps are here to plunder. Ignore them at your peril.

It’s all part of the Winter Carnival fun. Makes it even more special when you find a winner. And that’s the other thing. They hate it when we find them out. Discover their secrets.

Let me know if you’re onto something. It’s the least you can do for a cousin. Thanks Bro.

Making the footy more than a game. Getting that winning feeling with ponchos, pies and the kids.

May 1, 2012

Daughter Two did a quick count of available umbrellas, and frowned.

There were two on offer. And three of us. She knew being the youngest in the flock was going to cost her dearly.

We were about to set off on a walk to watch the Brisbane Lions. A ten minute stroll, that would allow us to embrace the excitement of our fellow supporters.

Not today, however. Any pre-game buzz had been washed away, in a near cyclonic rain storm.

Normally, this would pose problems. But not on a footy night. For the true supporter, it all adds to the experience.

The girls huddled under the green umbrella, with The Teenager doing the holding. This meant two things. That Daughter Two would get saturated on one side, and that I would be continually stabbed from the other.

To make things worse, the normally placid footpath that would take us to our destination, now resembled a raging river. Both girls managed to step in every available puddle within our first 200 metres. Shoes were officially soaked.

As is their way, the soggy situation prompted much laughter. They managed to disrupt every other fan trying to find cover. The angrier those around them became, the more they giggled.

The bloke selling the thin plastic ponchos was doing a roaring trade. We added to his bulging money belt, in the forlorn hope that his flashy coloured garbage bag would somehow become a protective shield against the wild weather. It didn’t.

Soaked, but with spirits intact, we found our seats, thankfully under cover. As the girls hit their phones, to alert a breathless social media world of their whereabouts, I reflected on how cool it is for a parent to take kids to the football.

It can be any code. As long as there’s a crowd, and cheering, and a pie stand. Even in the rain.

Dad was a mad rugby league fan, but for some reason, it was rare for us to make the trip to city grounds. Too far away, and too expensive. We did our watching on tv. Not quite the same.

My first memory of attending a big game is my uncle taking me to the Sydney Cricket Ground, about 100 years ago.

Uncle Tom was a member of the SCG. Still is. To be invited to the big smoke with him was a huge thrill. I had to dress up. No doubt Mum would have made a fuss about that.

From memory, it was Wests and Newtown playing in a semi final. Before a capacity crowd. For a country kid, it was an experience to cherish.

With a lifetime spent in and around league, I’ve been lucky enough to attend plenty of wonderful games in the years since. Origin classics, and Grand Finals. Even a Challenge Cup decider at Wembley. But there’s something extra special about joining the crowd with kids in tow.

I’ve been to games of all kinds with cousins, and nephews, and friends. Always enjoyable, especially the first time.

But when it’s your own children, well that’s something again. A rite of passage in the family relationship.

The girls have gradually developed their appreciation of big time sport. It’s taken a while. Now, they love being in the crowd.

They’re mad Titans fans, and have been to a handful of games. Sit near them in the stand at Skilled Park, and you’ll have industrial deafness before half time.

This night, we’d changed codes. Some tickets landing in our lap prompted an unexpected foray into the world of AFL. The torrential rain made things tough. But it was still thoroughly enjoyable.

What made me even happier, was how the girls appreciated the spectacle, even though they knew little about the game. That attitude will allow them to appreciate major events the world over.

We ate plenty of food. The Teenager even wolfed down a pie. Cheered the local boys. And ignored the drunken clowns a few rows back, who thought swearing as loud as they could was an amusing way to pass the time. My glare did the trick. They stumbled off towards a bar by the third quarter.

We left with a few minutes remaining. It was a thrashing, but the girls didn’t mind. We’ll give the new game another go, hopefully on a dry track. And we’ll be back to watch the struggling Titans soon.

There’s so much to occupy young minds these days. Just about all of it with a touch screen. Sometimes, we need to be reminded how enjoyable the simple stuff is. With or without a plastic poncho.