After the Cup

Now, about those horses.

Was Green Moon really a dark horse or did I just back the wrong horse when I put my shirt on the favourite which came, well . . . it didn't really, did it? After all, I got my advice straight from the horse's mouth - yours - and it's all very well to complain about locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. It's too late. I've lost my money, haven't I? So it's no good you flogging your dead horse about how good he was supposed to be. And stop whinging about "horses for courses" just because the rain made the track so wet. I could just as well say to you: 'Now, hold your horses'. I mean I was up there in the grandstand yelling: 'Home James, don't spare the horse'. You can get on your high horse as much as you like telling me how the grey mare was the better horse. It still didn't win! I might have done just as well backing a hobby horse or the wooden horse of Troy. lt was not Maluckyday. Hobson's choice would probably have given me a better result - the one nearest the rail! Or Pegasus, he would probably have flown in. I guess he would have had some horsepower. Pity he wasn't running. Gee - next year I'll back Phar Lap. At the very least I'll be able to say the horse was a winner!

Excuses! Excuses!

Of course, I did try to get some writing done this week.

I started early on Tuesday morning, turned on my computer - at least that's what I intended - only to discover the power was off. Won't be long I said and started scribbling a few notes. Well nothing had returned a couple of hours later. And then the phone rang! Bad news. My sister-in-law somewhat distraught, sobbing into the phone that my brother was really sick and might even die and wanted to see me. Soon. Like NOW! That was all very well and I needed to go but he lives in South Australia. So the rest of the day was absorbed booking an airfare for Wednesday. Expensive at short notice, of course, but direct to Adelaide. And packing a bag for a few days - or longer, perhaps.

The flight on Wednesday morning arrived in Adelaide about
1 pm. But Pete doesn't live in Adelaide. He's in Port Augusta another 300 km north. Well actually he's not even in Port Augusta, he lives outback near Quorn another 30 odd km. Next task: car hire, luckily from the airport. By the time I got to Pete's place it was 6pm, time for dinner.
"He's hanging on," said a tearful Sally. "He'll be pleased you've come."

Next day, Thursday, Pete was barely conscious. Sally said, "Look Col hope you don't mind but we're going to need a priest quite soon and his wife says he's out of town and she can't raise him but thinks he's in Hawker doing his pastoral duties. Would you mind going up and tracking him down. Oh and if it's not too much trouble we need some shopping as you come back." She gave me a list.

So I got into the car again and set off for Hawker about 60 km to the north. It should not have taken long but things happen don't they? About ten km along the track, a bushy part of the Flinders Ranges, a huge roo comes bolting out of the scrub, no stopping, straight into the car. Panic! Emergency braking. Bang! I slithered off the track and into the bushes. Have you ever been hit by a kangaroo? The damage was significant: smashed front wing and wheel looking very dodgy. I stood disconsolately by the side of the road. No one in sight and not for another hour. The lift into Hawker was a slow truck ride. So by lunch time I started the search for the vicar and eventually found him. He was staying overnight but would give me a lift back on Friday. I booked into the hotel.

I woke early on Friday to the smell of smoke. From the window I could see that a bush fire was circling the area. The few locals were already organising hoses and pumps. The pub was in imminent danger.
I had to help. That's a long story in itself but it took us all day to save the pub and the houses nearby. I was pretty whacked by sunset as we watched smoke still drifting in the distance. Another night in the pub.

On Saturday, discovered the vicar had left on Friday evening so I hitched a ride back to Quorn arriving mid-morning. A tearful Sally met me at the door. Pete had died on Friday afternoon and she'd arranged the funeral for two p.m. The vicar was back in town but couldn't do it on Monday. So you know what I was doing on Saturday afternoon. It was all very sad and I felt I hadn't been there when I wanted to be.

Come Sunday morning I had to ring the car hire firm and explain why I'd left their damaged vehicle on the side of a country road 350 km from where I'd hired it. I decided it would be safer and quicker to take a bus back to Adelaide. Needless to say I missed the only direct flight to Hobart and had to go via Melbourne arriving in time for the last Virgin flight which got in last evening at 9.15. So by the time I got home tired, sad and a bit dishevelled it was working towards 11 pm.

I still haven't done any writing but I've got enough ideas for a raft of short stories.

Silence in the Night

I wake from slumbers: dreamscapes, warmth.
It is silent.
Almost.

Darkness absorbs me with soft gentleness;
I feel its surrounding blackness:
it is near, but distant;
warm, yet cold;
strong, but weak;
strange, but familiar.

The Silence whispers, uncertainly;
soft breaths beside me;
quiet hums from the kitchen.

I wait, listening
and then, stealthily, as a cat in the blackness, comes the Rain
pattering softly,
tapping loudly,
strumming insistently
as the giant sweeps in from the sea
brutally beating the weatherboards,
hammering the house;
fierce, frightening and furious;
torrents of water descend;
a deafening deluge,
gurgling in gutters,
echoing in downpipes,
overflowing the eaves.

The darkness continues
but Silence hurriedly disappears.

Le Tour

The snake slithers gracefully downhill, its sinuous tail curling through countless hairpin bends; its increasing speed exhilarating the freewheeling, braking, pedalling riders.

Each one determined and passionate, their faces etched with excitement; then agony, sinews strained, dripping sweat; aching muscles, bodies pained, hour upon hour; up,up, up; down and down again, to the limits of man and machine.
A maze of passing colour: multicoloured flashes; blues, reds, oranges, whites and blacks; one yellow.
Endurance: rain soaking, wind beating, clouds descending, visibility poor, slippery surfaces.
Sidelined body of humankind: yelling, encouraging, running, verging too close, partisan, irritating, annoying.
Errors of judgement: collision; accident; disaster; jumble of bikes, bodies, hard road, broken spokes, blood, agony and curses; anger, frustration, delay; end of a dream; new bike, up, supporting push, away.
Time, distance: How long? How far? How fast?
Panoply of drama: mayhem, mystery, magic, excitement, amazement.
Race to the finish: utter exhaustion.
Arrival.
Triumph.
Le Tour est finis.

Future Visions

43 AD
Southern Britain

Marcus: How long have we been in this wild, god-forsaken country, Sextus? Seems like years but my reckoning says it's only three or four months.
Sextus: You probably work things out more carefully than I do, Marcus. Tribune officer rank means you have more thinking to do, eh? More strategic planning than I do as a Centurion.
Marcus: That's true, but doesn't change the fact that these Cantii Britons have fought harder than most tribes do. And while that rugged leader, Caractacus, wills them to fight we'll need all the skills we've got. But eight legions will be enough.
Sextus: I, for one, didn't expect them to destroy the bridge over the river at . . . What do they call the place?
Marcus: Durobrivae.         [Rochester = "bridge of the stronghold"]
Sextus: Yes, the cavalry swam across with their horses. But our infantry had to find the ford further south. All in the day's slog for a Roman legion.
Marcus: Of course, there'll come a time, Sextus, when armies won't have to march everywhere.
Sextus: Not march! How else will we get to places?
Marcus: Oh there'll come a time when chariots will get bigger, stronger and move by themselves. And you know how we form the testudo - the tortoise - when our shields make a solid five-sided barrier as we move in to attack: there will come a time when an iron-clad machine looking like that will move forward by itself. A big box made of iron. Can't you imagine how good that will be? It might even have a very long javelin spear mounted on top. Of course, we'll have to put chariot wheels on it. I can also foresee spears shooting into the enemy ranks by themselves from a single firing point.
Sextus: You're joking. You might be a good soldier but you've been dreaming again.
Marcus: Maybe. Same with the galleys. Imagine a trireme, three banks of oars all moving by themselves, no slave rowers required.
Sextus: How d'you work that out?
Marcus: Well, think of a fish. It doesn't need anyone to move it. It just swims by itself - fins and a good tail. Our ships will do that one day.
Sextus: Hard to believe, Marcus. I like your jokes.
Marcus: In fact I can even imagine a fish-like machine swimming under the water.
Sextus: A machine that swims! You've been drinking too much of this cheap British ale.
Marcus: I also happen to think that the legionaries won't always have to dig the trenches for the forts and the roads. No, there'll be a huge iron digging machine. You'll just point it and it'll dig by itself.
Sextus: And I suppose the legionaries will just stand around and watch. Some hopes!
Marcus: I'm afraid it won't be in our time, Sextus.
Sextus: Where do you get these mad ideas from? No one else talks and thinks like you.
Marcus: Perhaps I just observe the natural world more carefully. Take those great bolts of fire and light the gods throw down at us when there's a storm. Now everyone says it's the power of the gods but I think there's a special sort of magic happening there. Have you seen how those bolts sometimes bring down huge forest trees?
Sextus: Yes, they crash mightily.
Marcus: So what if we could use that sort of power to drive machines.
Sextus: Good idea, but how?
Marcus: I'm not sure yet but I'm thinking about it.
Sextus: The gods would get angry, wouldn't they, if you tried taking away their power?
Marcus: Maybe, but it's a chance you have to take. Courage, you know. I got to tribune rank because I'm courageous.
Sextus: That's true but who gave you such ideas?
Marcus: When I was young in Rome I went to the forum and listened to the speakers and philosophers. They talked about ideas, and living, getting an education, thinking about things, what the Greeks had thought. Seneca was one I remember. A wise man, I thought. And another thing. About ten or eleven years ago when I was a young legionary I was in Jerusalem with the Tenth Legion. The Jews were always making trouble but there was a teacher there named Jesus. His followers also called him Christos. They thought he was a god. But he caused such a stir, the governor, Pontius Pilate, sentenced him to be crucified. I was one of the guards on duty at the time. I watched him die. His death was different from all the others I'd seen. Hard to put a finger on it. Just a different person. Even in death he seemed very powerful. And afterwards they said he'd risen from death. I don't know if that happened, of course. We were moved on soon after. But it's just made me curious about gods and power, that's all.
Sextus: You mentioned the Greeks. They had some bright ideas, didn't they? I remember hearing a story about Icarus who stuck feathers on his arms and tried to fly. He came to grief when he flew too near the sun. Or so the story says.
Marcus: Exactly my point, Sextus. It should be possible to fly like the birds. Really fly. Once the gods tell us their secrets. It will happen you know. But I see you're not convinced.
Sextus: A machine made of iron - flying! It would be much too heavy. Anyone knows that. How would you get it into the air? Don't be stupid, Marcus:.
Marcus: Maybe it won't be made of iron. Wood is lighter. And while we're talking about big heavy things I've heard that our divine Emperor, Claudius, has arrived from Gaul. And guess what he's brought with him: elephants.
Sextus: Really. Why would he bring elephants to the back end of the Empire?
Marcus: For show, perhaps.
Sextus: Now that's a creature so big and strong it could never be replaced by a machine. You must agree with that, Marcus.
Marcus: I'm thinking about it.

Colin October 2010

A Passionate Interest

I got up early on the morning of July 12th; about 4.15, much as I had on most mornings for the past month. It was the World Cup Final between Holland and Spain. As a football fanatic I was excited. This was the last of the 64 matches in this year's tournament, held every four years; this year in South Africa. True, the final was not the best of the games, but for me there's excitement in most games, even those played by school kids. And of course I recorded the result of every game played.

My interest in this truly world game - it's played in every country - started in primary school; I played for all my school and college teams. At 10 I spent most Saturday afternoons kicking a ball around in the local park and many hours practising after school. This is where I honed my skills learning to shoot, dribble, tackle, trap and all the goal keeping skills. One day I scored a goal from the halfway line. I had a kick like a mule!

By age 13 I pledged my allegiance to the Arsenal club in north London, in the English Premier League. The team had its origins at the munitions factory in Woolwich, hence the Arsenal, nicknamed the 'Gunners' where both my grandfather and great grandfather had worked, but I didn't discover this till later. So on many a Saturday afternoon I found my way to the ground to stand on the terraces, sometimes shivering in winter, swaying with the crowd. Even today I still check their results first. My major disappointment is that in this era of multi-national player teams there are hardly any English players at Arsenal - most of them are French!

People ask why I get so excited about teams kicking a ball around. It's not for the ridiculous salaries professionals earn. It's the recognition of the incredible levels of skill required to control the ball and when you've played you understand this better. It's also the beauty of the pattern work which good teams exhibit. There's a skilful aesthetic at work which satisfies my soul.