My Olympic tradition. Getting that sick feeling every four years.

July 31, 2012

The Olympics make me sick. Not that I don’t enjoy the Aussies in action. It’s just that over time, the Games have been bad for my health.

The trend began in 1996. I was fighting fit, living in Cairns. With a connection to some wonderful Australian Olympians.

Atlanta was the host city that year. And for the first time, softball was an Olympic sport.

Before making their way to the U-S, the Aussie girls headed to the Far North for a training camp. I was lucky enough to cover their preparation, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive bunch.

I was ready to follow their plight with interest. Perhaps with a small wager on them winning a medal. Until I started to feel unwell.

It started with a headache. And no, cruel friends, it wasn’t self-inflicted.

This was a throbbing jolt. Like a sledgehammer. The only thing that took my mind of it was the fact that I was in pain all over, and sweating like the dodgy bloke in Casablanca.

Being a male, it goes without saying that I have incredible powers to absorb such suffering. And of course, not complain at all. But this was something else. I gave serious thought to the music they’d play at my funeral service that week.

It got so bad that I needed medical help. The doctor, also a male, offered his sympathies. His expert opinion was that I had come down with the dreaded dengue fever.

That was, however, until the first spot came out. An angry red blob on my head. Followed by others, across the length and breadth of my poisoned body.

Cancel the tropical fever alert. This was a case of the childhood disease, Chickenpox.

I’ve never felt so sick. And, when the spotting ceased, the feeling of death was replaced by an itch that could send the toughest of men to the rubber room.

The timing of my illness meant I was confined to the couch for two weeks. The very two weeks that the Olympics were on the small screen.

So I sat there, feeling sorry for myself, and scratching every dot of skin that I could access with untold vigour.

The only positive was that I could cheer the Aussie softballers at all hours of the day and night. They won bronze.

I managed to stay healthy for the next few Olympics, until the flame was being prepared to be lit in Beijing. Then it all went downhill again.

The surgeon’s knife was out. To fix a sinus complaint that allowed me to pick up any flu bug that was going. It also produced more of those headaches, when someone so much as uncorked a bottle of vino.

The solution was an operation. I was hesitant, until he explained that it would allow me to enjoy the odd wine tipple, without having to hide in a dark room the following day. Sign me up doc.

The procedure was done, just days before the 2008 Games began. So it was off to the couch again. To cheer the softballers in their final outing as Olympians. The sport was ditched, so we could all enjoy female boxing. Go figure.

A few differences to my suffering that time. Instead of an itch, I had several tonnes of cotton wadding up my snoz. I will spare you the finer, gory details. Needless to say, it was something of a horror movie when they produced the industrial pliers to remove it.

Which brings us to London. No dramas just yet. Although I do have a cough. I hear there’s a nasty bronchitis going around. TB even.  That would be just my luck. Getting sick, when there’s no softball to watch. I’ll keep you posted.

A man needs a hobby. Why not buy a racehorse?

July 28, 2012

A mate of mine is looking for something new.

Been a sportsman all his life. Played footy, and tennis, but his great love is cricket.

He was still involved up until a few months ago. When they won the local competition. At 45 years old. He celebrated like they’d won the World Cup.

After such a triumph, he’s decided to hang up the whites. Which means he needs something else to do.

As we chatted about the path ahead, he threw up the possibility of buying into a racehorse. He loves a punt, and reckons ownership could become his new interest.

My advice was simple. Get in immediately.

It’s such a wonderful, exciting, frustrating, painful, excruciating, yet thrilling ride. What more could a sports fan ask for?

Our horse is spelling. Again. Cruelled by an incredible run of wet tracks. Like his part-owner, he can’t lift his feet when called on to run in the mud.

So he’ll enjoy life in the paddock for a while. Again. This, after an early bout of colic, two rounds of shin soreness, and a cut from the bloody walking machine.

I did mention this ownership caper is fun, didn’t I? Well, as crazy as it sounds after detailing our present woes, it is.

Patience is the key. So they keep telling us. Wait for him to mature, to grow into his giant frame, and get on to a dry track sometime before 2020.

And wait we will. Because we love the involvement. It IS exciting, every time we hear that’s he’s going around.

A few weeks back, he stormed home at  Doomben mid-week, to just miss a place at odds. It was like we’d seen the Second Coming. That one run was enough for us to make plans for next year’s Cox Plate. Hope, however faint, keeps the owner alive.

We’ve seen precisely nothing since. Nought. Bloody rain is to blame. It will all be different after his spell.

I have other friends bitten by the ownership bug. Another great mate has two on the go. He’s driving all over New South Wales, as they progress through the grades. And he’s loving every single minute.

We see ourselves sharing favouritism in a Group One event in the not too distant future. Fighting out the photo finish. Winner’s shout that night. If you want to be a decent owner, you have to dream big.

He sent me a text yesterday. They were running at Newcastle today. Right up until the horse picked up a cold. Scratched with a sneeze. It’s enough to make a bloke sick.

I haven’t told my other mate about all these problems. He’ll learn, soon enough. The list of things that can wrong as an owner runs many pages. But none of it matters on the day they salute. The beer never tastes so good.

I hope he goes ahead with it. We might have to plan for a three-way photo in that big race. As long as he’s happy to shout.  Owners need all the help we can get.

Keeping it clean in a woman’s world. Why men don’t get spotless.

July 24, 2012

It’s a scientific fact that men have no idea how to clean.

Sure, we pretend to know what we’re doing. But deep down, there’s an admission to be made. We have absolutely no ability in anything that involves making a room look sharper.

There may be a few exceptions out there. I just don’t know who they are.

This has been brought home to me of late. I am more aware than ever that I’m missing the part of the brain that dictates sparkling cleanliness.

It’s important to point out here the difference between tidy and spotless. Tidy is easy. Swing a broom, wipe some plates, straighten the bed. Fully acceptable, in a man’s world.

Spotless, however, is what women do so well. For us, it’s a place that’s a universe away. And we don’t have the map.

It’s always been so. Many moons ago, when I shared a house with similar-minded young men, it’s fair to say that our cleaning cupboard was rarely visited. There was little use, because it was empty.

That’s right. Not a mop to bless ourselves with. The only bucket we had came with fried chicken in it.

Someone would clean the dishes every now and then. Usually when we ran out of plates. We washed when we ran out of clothes. If we had an iron, I have no memory of where it was kept.

Nowhere was the disaster zone worse than in the bathroom. It should have had official warnings on the door. Things were growing in there. And being the carefree lads that we were, we didn’t care.

Not once did we buy a bathroom cleaning product. Not a spray to be seen. We should have been struck down by all manner of illness and disease. But we survived. Today, they’d make a reality show about it.

I should point out here that I have improved since those grimy days. Now, the place is nice and … tidy.

I have a bucket, and mop, and broom, and duster. Even an old vacuum cleaner, that does little more than give me a sore back.

The bathroom cabinet now has basin wipes, and shower cleaner, and tile scrub, and other stuff I don’t understand.

Once a week, they all get a run. Enough to make things pleasant.

But try as I might, the shower always has one or two marks left in it. And I can never get to EVERY bit of dust.

I can’t complain. Not spotless, but tidy. It’s a man thing. If someone finds that map, let me know.

Getting the timing right. Should Black Caviar be retired?

July 21, 2012

When it comes to giving it away at the top level, timing is everything.

Champions deserve to go out as winners. But they don’t always get the chance.

Footballers want to finish with a premiership. Few do. Cricketers dream of a bagful of wickets or a dashing century. It rarely happens.

Of course, Warnie is the exception. He’s going to play forever. He’ll be the main man in Five/Five games in twenty years, rattling stumps. And the hair will still be perfect.

It’s different on the racetrack. Often, the stars of the show don’t get a say in calling it quits. Trainers and owners make the decision. Horses rarely get consulted.

Black Caviar’s time is almost up. The greatest mare you and I will ever see is just about ready for the good life. So the question is, when should she give it away?

Peter Moody insists his pride and joy WILL tell him. There’ll be signs. And he’ll be watching, and listening. He loves the animal. Would never think about making her have one run too many.

The owners have made a fortune from her 22 straight wins. They, too, have nothing left to gain. And an awful lot to lose.

The easy way out would be to pull the pin now. With a record that won’t be matched in our lifetime.

Fans will remember her final run, as one of her bravest. Out of sorts, she got home, on foreign soil. Just. In front of the Queen and some delirious Aussies.

They could send her off to make huge, expensive babies. And charge big dollars for the boys to get anywhere near the breeding barn.

Yep, it would be all so easy. Except for one thing. What if she has more left in the tank?

That’s the problem. The nagging suspicion, that it doesn’t have to be over just yet.

For all the glory of Royal Ascot, a hometown farewell must be mighty appealing. One final fling in Melbourne. With a country cheering.

Imagine the Spring Carnival this year, with Black Caviar involved. She’d run on Derby Day Saturday, and Flemington’s attendance record would be smashed.

The nation would come to a standstill on that afternoon, to farewell a champion. It might even end up bigger than the Cup itself.

Picture Luke Nolen bringing her back along the fence, with the crowd going wild. Moody might even shout the lot of them. XXXX Gold, of course.

Could it get any better? I doubt it. A sporting moment we would never forget.

One small thing though. She’d have to win. And therein lies the great trainer’s challenge.

He won’t risk her, regardless of how much we want to see such a finish. So he’ll be watching, and listening for those signs.

Maybe the great mare will get to decide her own fate after all.

Places you shouldn’t fall asleep #12 – A friend’s toilet.

July 17, 2012

I woke to various degrees of pain. In different spots.

Some was to be expected. The headache, for instance, was easy to explain.

The 50th birthday party the night before had been a howling success. Much love and laughter for the Birthday Girl. And the cool drinks flowed. Hence, the throbbing in my forehead.

The aching in my back was more difficult to explain. Had I been the victim of some random, senseless assault, by a gang of hooded teens?

As the fog lifted, it slowly came back to me. The police would not be needed. Unless the officers involved were able to issue tickets for stupidity.

I had made it back safely to the home of some dear friends. Even had a cuppa before bed. No, these injuries had been suffered some hours later.

There had been a need to visit the guest bathroom during the early hours. Not surprising, given the copious amounts of fluids that had been consumed.

This must have been an arduous task in the state I was in, because I managed to fall asleep. Right there, on the toilet.

I remember checking my watch when my unexpected slumber ended. Just after 2am. I have no idea if I’d been there for 2 minutes or 2 hours.

However long it was, it was enough to make my back feel like I’d been trying out for the Chinese gymnastics team.

If I’m to be truthful here, it’s not the first time this has happened. I have form for dunny drowsiness.

The first time was more than twenty years ago. I was visiting a mate I hadn’t seen for some time. His invited me to stay at his house, which he shared with his new girlfriend.

He’d been dabbling in home-brew. Just happened to have a few large bottles in the back fridge. What better way to celebrate my big move than with a few carefully crafted ales.

I’m not being unkind when I say that his product would have been illegal in several countries. I believe he had been using the finest water, yeast, hops, barley and kerosene.

After a few, we were singing Dean Martin. A few more, and I was ready for bed. His lady-friend had been kind enough to make up the spare room for me.

During the night, there had been an urgent need to spend a penny. Their modest house only had one toilet, which I found, somehow, in my dishevelled state.

This time, I nodded off for the duration. I would spend the rest of the night, perched on their throne, with my head resting gently against the woodwork. But there was a bigger problem.

Before I lurched into slumber, I had locked the door. And of course, it couldn’t be opened from the outside.

In the early hours of the morning, the lady of the house was also forced to respond to a call of nature. Imagine her surprise, when she couldn’t open the toilet door!

She woke my friend from his coma, and explained the situation. With some force. After finding my bed empty, they concluded that I was occupying the room she needed so badly.

They knocked, and yelled, and called my name with various expletives. All to no avail. His industrial-grade brew had knocked my head off. I would not be moving anytime soon.

As a result, his girlfriend was forced to go into her own backyard to relieve herself. All the while cursing me.

I woke when the sun came up. With that feeling that something wasn’t quite right. And that same bad back.

Little was said at breakfast. Which was just as well, considering our headaches. Sadly, they broke up soon after. Peeing on the roses will do that to a relationship.

Clearly, I didn’t learn my lesson. Whatever that is. If I come to visit you anytime soon, hide the home-brew. And maybe build an extra toilet. Just in case.

The rules for having a punt on your birthday. Champagne, laughter and ignore the tipster.

July 14, 2012

We’re off to a birthday party today.

Not just any gathering. A much-loved friend is celebrating one of the Biggies.

I’m too much of a gentleman to give her age away. Let’s just say her 40th was a LONG time ago.

I’m not on the organising committee, but I’m guessing she’ll have a few champagnes as we gather to mark the day. And a wine. Or two.

The other birthday activity I’m confident she’ll be involved in is a bet. Because that’s what we do.

I have lots of friends who don’t need a special occasion to join in the punt. Many will do so on any day that ends in Y. Let me point out that the Birthday Girl isn’t one of them.

She saves her punting for special days. And she has certain betting characteristics that will set her out from the crowd.

There’s every chance that she’ll have all her bets in the one go, at the start of the day. There will be a pile of tickets filled out early, ready to feed through the machine.

They won’t be big plonks. Just a few dollars each. A trifecta or two. A jockey she likes. There could even be some names that tickle her fancy. And definitely nothing that I tip her.

More often than not, she’ll get hubby to put the bets on for her. Allows her to keep chatting. Today will be one of those days. He’ll walk off with a large bunch of betting slips, and a handful of notes and coins.

This is always amusing, because it takes some time to get the tickets done and dusted. He’ll be standing there for an age, with a line forming behind him. There may even be a scratching somewhere in the mix, that will delay him some more.

He is one of those special blokes who’s spent his life keeping the rest of us safe. Decades in the force, taking great joy in locking up grubs. And dealing with pressure to solve horrendous crimes, that few others have to experience.

For him, holding up a line of anxious punters is a walk in the park. All those times he’s stood in that queue, I’ve never heard him complain. Not once. He’ll return to the table, with the processed tickets, and a smile. Although he may have kept the change once or twice.

The Birthday Girl will win this afternoon. You can bet on that. It will be a nag that the rest of us have dismissed out of hand. No chance. She will spot something that we missed.

It will pay a heap. Which will add to our pain. She’ll let us know, with a laugh that rattles windows, and is music to the soul.

Hubby will be proud as punch of her. And not just because he might get a sling from the winning kitty. It’s just how they are.

She deserves the very best of days today, and that’s what we’ll give her. There was a savage battle not that long ago, that she faced head-on, with incredible courage and class. A foe that doctors had to tackle, not coppers. She’s winning that too.

And so we’ll celebrate, and be thankful that we have such a wonderful friend. Sometimes you don’t need much more than mates, laughter, and a few bets. Happy birthday Jacinta.

Father v Trampoline. Another backyard nightmare. And how The Teenager saved the day.

July 10, 2012

I sat, and stared at the parts set out before me. In the hope that through some sort of backyard miracle, they would assemble themselves.

They didn’t, of course. The bits and pieces refused to assist.

The company responsible had given assurances that anyone could put this trampoline together. I would prove them wrong.

It should have been so simple. After all, I had done such work before. I’ve told you about it. When I put one together on Christmas Eve some years back, with the aid of a helpful neighbour and strong drink.

The proof of my labour that night was sitting at the other end of the yard. But it’s old now. Rusty, and frayed around the edges. With much less bounce. Yes, the similarities between us are striking.

The Teenager had been pleading for a new one for her birthday. She needed it to practice her cheerleading leaps and jumps. The key was the safety net, that our original work of art was missing. It seemed like a reasonable request.

I had spent the best part of an hour studying the instructions. Over and over. Panel One made absolutely no sense to me. I held parts up, twisting them this way and that. Nothing.

The deal was that I would have it functional by the time The Teenager came home from practice. A three-hour window. At this rate I would need three weeks.

The minutes ticked by. The winter sun was in a rush to depart. It would be dark soon. There was nothing to do but sit some more, and continue my pitiful staring.

When The Teenager finally made her way into the yard, there was not even the hint of surprise. It would seem she had expected to see the scene that was indeed before her.

I apologised for my lack of construction ability, and poured scorn on the makers. There had obviously been a mistake in the factory. Parts were missing. It may have even been the wrong model. We would complain firmly, and seek an immediate refund.

As I thundered my protest, The Teenager scanned the paperwork that had been baffling me. And smiled.

‘Dad, you’re reading the wrong instructions. That was for the safety net. THIS is the sheet for the trampoline.’

A simple mistake, it would seem. That lasted for several hours. Daughter Two giggled. She, too, had seen this before.

The Teenager is nothing if not determined. And incredibly talented. She decided to take charge.

‘Dad, this is actually quite simple. I think we can do it.’

And so it was that on a winter’s evening during school holidays, I became hired help for a fourteen year old girl.

Before I knew it she had assembled the base. Daughter Two joined in. We spread the mat, and began hooking up dozens of springs.

Still in a daze from being shown up so completely, and with the night wind biting, I was ready to complete the next phase in record time. But The Teenager cautioned against such haste. If just one spring was put into the wrong position, we’d have to start again. Where does she learn this stuff?

As a team, we took our time, and got it right. And just like that, the job was done. The Teenager squealed as she made her first jump. From foreman to birthday girl, just like that.

There’s something special about being taught things by your daughters. I get the feeling there are many more lessons on the way.

We didn’t have time to do the safety net. That’s the easy bit, she reckons. Maybe this weekend. Just let me know when you need me boss.

Handling the pressure. Winning Origins, Olympic Gold and Group Ones. Could you do it?

July 7, 2012

Have you ever kicked a field goal?

I have. A wobbly effort from in front of the posts, about twenty-five years ago. Before a crowd of around fifty.

I missed a few hundred others. Mainly at training sessions. Time and again, they’d go wide, or fail to get off the ground.

Try one yourself. Grab a footy, head down to the park, and have a go.

If you nail it, give yourself a pat on the back. Then imagine that you were kicking in front of 50-thousand screaming fans, at league headquarters. Minutes to go in the game’s biggest showpiece. With the hopes and dreams of a state riding on your effort.

If you are still on your feet, you may have scratched the surface of what Cooper Cronk achieved this week. A pressure situation that he’d been training for all his life.

Pressure. We all handle it in different ways. On different stages. Some run a mile to avoid it. Others, like the Maroons half-back, eat it for breakfast.

Minutes earlier in the Origin classic, there was another example of a bloke dealing with a pressure situation that would have turned others into quivering wrecks.

I’m no fan of Todd Carney. But his kick from the sideline to keep his side, and his state, in the game, was career-defining.

Miss it, and they would have had his head. He knew that. Easier kicks had been missed throughout the series. He knew that too.

So what does he do? Hits it sweetly. Never looked like missing. You won’t see too many more impressive efforts.

It’s what they train to do, these blokes. They want the big moments. They yearn for the play that will win the contest.

Plenty was made of Luke Nolen’s effort on Black Caviar at Ascot a few weekends ago. A winning effort, mind you. But one that almost ended in tears.

The thing about Nolen is that he has dealt with pressure like no-one else these past few racing seasons.

Time and again, he’s ridden the perfect race on the Mighty Mare. With a nation watching his every move.

Every win brought added attention. Which he handled with total professionalism, and a splash of humour.

Don’t under-estimate just how tough his job is. Trainer and connections expect perfection every time. The price of steering one of the world’s greatest ever racehorses. And Nolen wouldn’t swap the gig for anything.

Glen Boss was the same. Listen to his interviews about riding the great Makybe Diva into the record books.

When they stepped out to win their third Melbourne Cup, the weight of expectation was enough to suffocate mere mortals. Boss thrived on it. A moment he’d worked for his whole career.

Cathy Freeman could have identified with all of them. Very few can say they’ve carried the hopes of a nation. Phar Lap. Bradman. Laver. And our Cathy.

It was the event we wanted to win at the Sydney Olympics. Actually, it was more than that. We expected to win it. When the girl from Mackay lined up in the 400 that night, she must have heard every one of us cheering.

Can you imagine how that would have felt? What it would have been like to let us down?

She didn’t, of course. Because champions make that pressure work for them, not against them.

We’ll see similar efforts at the London Olympics. And we’ll see someone else step up in Origin next year. And at Randwick or Flemington. Those special people, who want to shine, when others are looking for somewhere to hide.

If you miss that field goal, have another try. And another. That’s what Cooper Cronk did. Funny how the harder you work, the luckier you get.

It’s great to be a Queenslander. Especially if you were born in NSW.

July 3, 2012

Blame Matty Bowen. It’s all his fault. If he hadn’t been so bloody quick, I might never have come clean.

Origin One, 2005. One of the all-time great encounters. At Queensland’s home of rugby league.

Scores locked at fulltime. Both teams spent. Fans hoarse. Extra time. The game’s finest, digging deep, searching for reserves that only the very best possess.

Legs like jelly. Lungs screaming for air. Eyes scanning for just one more opportunity.

It came, from a stray pass. Blues halfback Brett Kimmorley deserved better. He tried something, and it backfired. A state would never forgive him.

He went wide, searching for one last runner. The stocky number 7 fired off a pass, and immediately wanted it back. Because the ball was heading to a Maroon.

Not just any Maroon. A little bloke from Hopevale, deep in Cape York. With blinding speed, even in the 84th minute.

As soon as that Steedon landed on Matty Bowen’s chest, the Blues knew they were gone. The Maroons knew they were home. Wild, passionate cheering erupted across the state.

In the stadium, thousands leapt to their feet. Me included. Screaming for the little Cowboy to get to that line. Hugging the bloke in the next seat. Concrete foundations rocked by one giant Happy Dance.

It was only after I had unlocked myself from one of those manly embraces in Row 16, that it dawned on me what had just happened. My true feelings had bubbled to the surface. Confirmation, for me at least, that I was now a Queenslander.

For a few years before that night, I had been in the sporting Twilight Zone. I wrote about it on these pages twelve months ago. And plenty of readers told me that they had been there too.

That difficult, uneasy time when you don’t know where home is. Do you support your birthplace, or your home address?

It’s true, I was Blue when I first arrived north of the border 22 years ago. But the fire faded, gradually. The passion shifted, as I realised that the wonderful patch beyond the Tweed would be home forever more.

I couldn’t cheer for a state I no longer had feeling for. And was never going back to. Hence, the Twilight Zone. And I was stuck there for years.

That’s where you just enjoy the quality of the football. The ability of those involved. Without actually supporting anyone. Safer that way.

Friends down south accuse you of being a turncoat. Born and bred Queenslanders don’t want you, until you’ve served your time up here. What’s the timeframe? They won’t tell you.

Just when I thought I would never know, magical Matty provided me with the answer. By getting me so excited that night in 2005 that I forgot what the rules were.

Right about now, the predictable chorus kicks in. State of ORIGIN, you fool. How hard can it be? You don’t have a choice.

It’s that time when I have to explain to those who have trouble lacing up their own shoes, that Origin has nothing to do with it. For the players, and the fans. It’s a title only.

So here we go again. If it really was State of Origin, Peter Stirling would have been a famous Queensland halfback. The mighty Greg Inglis would be lining up for the Blues tonight.

Ken Nagas is a Bundaberg boy, who gave his all for the Blues.

Tenterfield lad Billy Moore would never have uttered the immortal ‘Queenslander’ call. He would have charged out of that tunnel, yelling ‘New South Wales-er.’ Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?

Can I be any clearer? All those players were born in the state they ended up doing battle with.

Big Petero would never have played an Origin game. Nor would Tonie Carroll, Brad Thorn, Ben Te’o or James Tamou. Kiwis and Pacific Islanders all.

For fans, the rules are even less defined. But trying to change sides is more difficult than mastering Chinese scrabble. And because there’s so much at stake, that’s probably a good thing.

The funny thing is, my true mates get it. They don’t care. Sure, there’s good-natured ribbing this time every year. But they know. And they’re happy for me.

I have great friends who live here in Queensland, long time residents, who’ll be Blues till the day they die. They’ve made the choice to stick to their birthplace. And I’m happy for them.

For some reason, my love of all things Maroon infuriates those who I have bugger all to do with anymore. People I’ve had no contact with in thirty years, track me down, only to get themselves into a lather. As if I’ve broken a family code.

Well, good people, let me clarify once and for all. I couldn’t care less. All that matters, is that I can sit with my daughters tonight, dressed in Maroon from head to toe. We’ll cheer like lunatics for Queensland. Their home state. My adopted state. And there’ll be boos for the Blues.

State of Origin is all about passion. For everyone involved. That’s why we embrace it like we do. But don’t be confused about home-town loyalty.

Home is where the heart is. And mine now pumps Maroon. Go Queensland!