iDad the Eighth

Move over Maradona.

By the time I had become a proud father of five I was nearing my late thirties. Unfortunately I had gained weight with each and every child that came along and my physique was no longer the bronzed Adonis of my early adolescence. My body had matured, like a fine wine or mouldy cheese and had slowed down to the speed of a turtle wading through treacle. I was in shape though. ‘Round’ is a shape after all. However, at the insistence of my partner, I returned to the sporting arena.

Standing in the Colosseum as rambunctious Romans bayed for Christian blood, shortly before the lions were let loose, was an exhilarating experience.  A crisp breeze dispersing the scent of blood before fear and defiance set in. At least that’s how I imagined it. The indoor soccer grounds at the local gym smelled more like old sweat and dirty socks, and the kids had come along to laugh at poor iDad as he waddled around breathlessly trying to compete with men not much more than half his age.

I lasted twenty minutes that first day.

As I stopped and spun anti-clockwise so as to kick the ball back into the field of play I heard a muffled gunshot. A millisecond later and my left knee could no longer bear my weight. The referee’s whistle blew and the young official approached me.

“Are you ok mate?”

I had no idea. Pain hadn’t set in yet. Nausea on the other hand…. Something was wrong.

“I don’t know. What happened?”

“Your knee popped. I heard it from over there. You need to go put ice on it.”

As I hobbled off the pitch for my ignominious exit I saw the man from the food shop walk round from behind the counter. He was carrying a bag of frozen peas, which he threw towards me.

“Get this on your knee quick smart mate or it will blow up like a balloon.”

“Did you hear it pop too?”

He grimaced at me before replying.

“Everybody heard that mate.”

He was right. The entire gymnasium had gone silent, and I was off to hospital.

Glory, Glory to South Sydney

Being an armchair athlete and the son of a Rugby League referee helped instill a passion for sports, and my favourite team is the South Sydney Rabbitohs. To date I have never seen them play in a grand final, let alone win one, but with Russell Crowe on board as the owner, iDad is quietly confident.

Rugby League is the dominant winter sport played across the eastern seaboard of Australia with the local competition boasting clubs from Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and New Zealand. It is played in over thirty nations throughout the globe with annual Test Matches between international sides and a Rugby League World Cup competition, with fourteen representative nations, held every four years or so.

It is a full contact, tribal game with some teams (and their fans) harboring grudges that go back over one hundred years. The annual State of Origin series pits New South Welshmen against their Queensland rivals, many of whom play in the same local sides together. Friendships are forgotten once the athletes walk out into the cauldron and the punishment these men put their bodies through needs to be seen to be believed.

The South Sydney Rabbitohs are the most historically successful Rugby League team of them all. Unfortunately our glory has been few and far between in recent decades and it has become a sad reality that our supporters seem to have a mortgage on disappointment. This is reflected in our club mottos including:

The very popular, ‘oh well, there’s always next week.’

The seasonal, ‘oh well, there’s always next year.’

And the most frequently used of them all – ‘bugger’.

The love we have for our team can never be questioned though and in the year 2000, a crowd of 80,000 people marched on Sydney Town Hall to protest the way News Limited were treating the game and to demand that our club be reinstated back into the national competition. No. 1 was there with me. God Sakes and Granny had stayed at home. Fans wearing club colours from new teams, old teams and extinct teams vented their frustrations to the media; and the Rabbitohs went to court with a fire in their belly. We have not enjoyed much success since winning our case and resuming our playing status in 2002, but a true supporter never gives up.

One day, after a particularly bad beating at the hands of the New Zealand Warriors, three sad little boys came to have a chat to me. No.1 was the spokesman,

“Dad, we love you.”

I could tell right away that this was not going to go anywhere good. God Sakes and Granny looked at their shoes as No.1 continued.

“But do we have to keep going for Souths?”

iDad was speechless.

“They never win dad.”

God Sakes was right.

“They suck dad.”

Granny was too. I nodded sagely.

“No boys, you don’t have to keep following Souths if you don’t want to.”

It hurt for me to say it, but I felt I had no choice. Then they delivered the coup de grace.

“We’re also going to start going for Queensland in the State of Origin. New South Wales never wins that either.”

As the terrible trio toddled off to cause chaos in the rumpus room I slumped back into my armchair and watched wistfully as another Warrior was congratulated for his part in decimating our once beloved red and green footy team. My knee throbbed from the recent reconstruction and I wondered how I would tell their grandfather of the betrayal.

Then a cunning plan formed in the grey matter of my cerebellum. Time for a Chinese meal.

Power to the People.

Stuff of legend...John Sattler, suffering a broken jaw, is chaired off by Bob McCarthy after Souths beat Manly in the 1970 grand final. Source: The Daily Telegraph

The South Sydney Rugby League Club in Redfern had arguably one of the best Chinese restaurants around. Nothing flash or fancy, just plenty of prawn cutlets, gow gee and fried rice. It was inexpensive, tasty and kid-friendly, which made it the perfect ‘westwomp’ as the boys had come to call it. Generally we would go as a family unit with uncles, aunties, cousins and grand-parents. Our table was large and round, and the Lazy Susan was kept incredibly busy.

Outside the restaurant, but still within the building, was the South Sydney Football Club Hall of Fame where photos of players that had gone on to represent their state or country, were hung with pride. The most memorable of all was the picture of John Sattler, South Sydney’s captain in the late sixties and early seventies, being carried off the field after wining the 1970 Grand Final against Manly-Warringah. Blood coursed down his chin from a badly broken jaw he received in the opening minutes of the game. In spite of his horrendous injury he not only played on, but captained his side to one of the most courageous Grand Final wins of all time. As I told the story to my boys their eyes widened.

“Souffs are cooool!”

Once again Granny was right.

One Little Girl hadn’t arrived yet and Mini Me was still bottle fed, so it was just the five us at the table this night. The staff were amazing in spite of the mess Granny made with the ‘chomp-stinks’. God Sakes had given up on them ages ago. He just couldn’t stuff the food in quick enough.

By the time dinner had ended there was a fine layer of rice coating the carpet like sago snow and no more talk about supporting rival teams. To this day my boys are all still members of the football club, waiting patiently for success.

As my boisterous boys embarked on another brouhaha in the brasserie, possibly high on monosodium glutamate, I noticed that there was a minor commotion in the kitchen. Curious onlookers peered from the double doorway as the head-waiter approached me with a purpose.

“Are these all your children?”

For one horrible second I thought we may have finally outstayed our welcome.

“Yes, they’re all mine.”

He turned to the scullery and nodded prompting ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’ and eyes widened with awe. Then I was posed another question.

“They are all boys?”

“Yes they are.”

More vigorous head bobbing evoked a round of applause from the chef and his crew.

“You must be a very powerful man.”

With that last comment he left to process my credit card. He was right you know, but he still got a big tip.

Ambrosia

I’d like to preface this post with a brief apology. This is not the most brilliant piece of literature I have ever penned to paper (or pawed onto the iPad as circumstances would have it), but I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the good people at the Park Café on Chalmers Street.

You see, I have been sitting in the stands at Redfern Oval since 8ish this morning with my red Rabbitoh hoodie pulled over my head and silently regretting the decision to go for that short haircut last week. The clear blue skies and bright sunshine belie the fact that the temperature is struggling to get above eleven degrees and my shivering fingers are making it increasingly more difficult to type.

As the under sixes swarmed around the paddock in font of me, and the buffoon two rows down decided to argue with the ground staff over the placement of the rubbish bin, my grumbling gut delivered the message,

“I’m hungry! Time for breakfast.”

Now I have become something of a connoisseur of footy food, having spent the last four months sampling the finest fare from fields all over Sydney’s southeast. The BBQ put on by the Botany Rams at Booralee is absolutely brilliant, as is the pie and chips from Pioneers Park. For sheer indulgence though you cannot go past the Rover’s Special at Erskineville Oval. This elongated, yeasty extravaganza is crammed with crispy bacon, plump sausage, al dente onions and an egg that oozes a river of rich orange yoke down your forearm to dribble off your elbow. It is absolute drool fuel, unequalled anywhere outside of a five star resort.

So it was with mixed expectations that I decided to wander over to the Park Café on Chalmers Street to peruse the breakfast menu. Any apprehensions I had to the available victuals were quickly put to rest as I rounded the corner. The snap, crackle and pop of the pork fat and the sizzling of butter soaked albumen was second only to the wafting aroma of roasted Arabica beans. My esophagus concurred with my duodenum with its declaration of,

“Oh yeah baby!”

The morning munchies arrived in the form of a crusty focaccia filled with smokey bacon, swimming in barbecue sauce and topped off by a fat, fluffy egg. The golden goo exploded in my mouth eliciting rapturous applause from titillated taste buds before my stunned tongue was sent to ambrosial nirvana. Pan fried pig flesh peppered my senses with a salvo of savory scrumptiousness, delicately complimented by the herb encrusted Italian masterpiece.

Unfortunately it was over all to soon so, with my arteries suitably clogged, I headed back to the frosty stadium with a large cappuccino to warm my soul. As I sipped the second best brew in Sydney (number one being the All Press coffee shop in Epsom Road, Rosebery) I was grateful that my cholesterol check was not for another few weeks. Having said that I am resolved to return to the Park Café on Chalmers Street. Their tummy tempters would satisfy any hungry man and for the girls there is the chance you’ll catch a glimpse of League hunks such as Sam Burgess and Roy Asotasi 😉

Bon appetit.

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Booralee

Booralee

The early morning dew twinkled from the orb weaver’s web like a thousand tiny rhinestones in a disco cowboy’s jacket. The remnants of last night’s meal hung lazily by a single sticky strand, the mummified remains no longer resembling a fat and juicy moth. With grey clouds threatening to disgorge their voluminous contents the ants scurried about in a frantic attempt to dissect their breakfast, a long brown earthworm that was too early for the birds.

The gentle precipitation that sprinkled softly onto the grass failed to dampen the Magpies spirits as the monochrome marauders perched low in the tree, daring each other to steal a sausage from the sizzling grill. Brightly coloured Rosellas argued with the Rainbow Lorikeets for a space on the dry branches and the old mother possum discreetly moved her babies to a safer place in the hollow trunk.

Pig flesh popped and spattered while the blunt butter knife scratched it’s wad of low-fat yellow chemicals over freshly toasted bread and the noise of human chatter began to drown out the gentle sounds of nature. Children, in jumpers as garish as any parrots plumage, gathered in giggling groups as the lone adult fruitlessly explained once again the importance of protecting the little leather ball.

The ants hid deep in their hole.

Load, colourful humans continued to invade the solace. One by one their large metallic pets arranged themselves in symmetry whilst simultaneously belching forth a poisonous stench that overwhelmed the aroma from the greasy hotplate. The magpies gargled in derision at the offensive mammals as the cacophony of verbal pleasantries and mobile ring tones silenced the Lorikeet’s debate.

The baby possum coughed.

Pointed, leafless weapons of mass destruction tore at the spider’s home, dispersing the sparkling jewels and dislodging the Bogong’s coffin. Hairlike threads, for their weight as strong as steel, repelled the assault as best they could until a third of the arachnid’s masterpiece became adhered to the toddler’s hand. His mother led him away. Admonishing the little boy in a high pitched squawk, not for the carnage that was wrought upon the orb weaver’s home, but for the dog faeces squished into the grooves of his shoes.

Then, as the little pea splintered and exploded from the tin whistle, nature left Booralee.

For hours on end herds of multicoloured minions battled their way up and down the paddock. Sauce splattered, eggs shattered and the empty bottles of isotonic sports water choked the over crowded bins. Orange slices, lightly seasoned with grass clippings and sand, were consumed in vast quantities. Adults questioned the pea blower’s decisions as the clash of tiny bodies brought forth tears and cheers.

Mechanised noise from the soulless devices increased throughout the day. Water churned and spat from large silver drums and was mixed with the dust from ground brown beans. Translucent sarcophagi regurgitated a cooling mist as they displayed their gruesome contents of ground beef, reconstituted fowl and flavoured bovine excreta. But it was the digitised plastic receptacle that was kept busy the most. Constantly expelling its tongue to eat the paper and tin offered to it in exchange for the goodies stored in the human’s den.

Gradually the clatter began to subside.

Autumn leaves of yellow, red and orange danced in the breeze with the chocolate wrappers and empty chip packets. The round-footed flatulent beasts broke wind once more as they departed and, finally, the electronic commotion ceased.

With the sun dipping well below its zenith, nature began its migration back to Booralee. The ants had found a new prize in the discarded sausage skins and bacon fat. Their queen would feast tonight. Old mother possum had graciously accepted some sweet Valencia from a generous little girl with only a small nip and a slightly bloody finger as payment. The Lorikeets and Rosellas returned to their nests fat and happy from a banquet of nectar and the fruits of the nearby date palms; and the Magpies laughed at the flightless four-wheeled Falcon that was caked in seeded excrement. With the temperature dropping the orb weaver left his sanctuary under the paperbark and began repairing his web.

All was back to normal at Booralee, at least until tomorrow.