My First AFL Match

Catriona’s boss very kindly granted us his tickets for an AFL match at the Etihad Stadium last week.  He has some sort of season pass but only bothers showing up to the Northern Melbourne games.  Seeing as Melbourne – just one city remember – has not one, not two, but NINE of the 18 AFL clubs currently playing (and that doesn’t count Geelong which is less than an hour away) there’s a lot of matches to see.  Fortunately, we had the best seats in the house for this one.

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LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT BLOODY PITCH!

Which was handy as we needed a good vantage point from which to try and interpret what on earth was going on.

First up, who was playing?  Well that was easy as the team names were on the big screens.  The Bull Dogs from the Western Suburbs versus The Saints from St Kilda.

Now who was who?

This was trickier as although AFL in Melbourne is the most tribal of all the sports, the opposing fans still sit amongst each other, so whenever someone scored the cheering or swearing was pretty evenly spread.  Calls of “ya bloody idiot!” could have been aimed at any number of vested individuals and they usually were.

It didn’t help that the players were all mixed up on the pitch as well, rather than restrained to their own halves like rugby or football (you know, proper sports).

On top of this, the pitch in question was marginally smaller than the surface area of Holland.  No wonder only Australians play this sport!  They’re the only country in the world with enough room to play it!   A field this size would actually be utilised as an agricultural field in other countries.  Huge swathes of the world’s rainforests could be saved from becoming grazing land if the AFL donated a couple of pitches.

Some players were so far away I was sure they must have been on some sort of adjacent training pitch but after a minute or so they’d run close enough to prove that they were in fact, playing the same game as everyone else.  Even then, their uniforms were so skimpy it required a sniper’s vision to determine what colours they were sporting.

After a few minutes of detective work, we’d determined who was who – The Bulldogs were in blue, red and white.  St Kilda were in black, red and white.  Easy.

Now to figure out who was winning.  This would’ve been easy if we’d been there for the first goal, but we were 5 minutes late.  A vast error.

There were three numbers under each team name on the big screen.  It took us almost until half time to understand what these numbers represented.  Let me explain.

The first number listed the number of times the ball had been kicked through the middle posts.

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Exhibit A

The second number was for kicks through the outside posts. 

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Exhibit B

The third number was the total score. 

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Exhibit C

Using trial and error we deduced that the kicks through the outside posts were worth one point, and no-one ever celebrated these kicks.  In fact people around us got really agitated if the ball dared to go through these posts, like one measly point was insulting.  People were “bloody idiots” if they kicked a goal through these stupid posts. However, a kick through the middle posts was worth an astonishing 6 points, and people were very happy indeed if this happened, approximately six times happier by my estimation.   Despite these extra numbers on the big screen, the only one that mattered was the overall score.  Why did we need to know how many times the ball had gone through various posts when only the score mattered?  I have no idea, but people needed to know. 

Aussie sports fans are a bit like American sports fans in that they need stats and facts.  And snacks and beers.  But less commercials.

On top of the 36 players on the planet-sized pitch there were numerous referees, I think about 6, which is understandable as they each had to police an area larger than an actual police jurisdiction.   Every time a player caught a kicked ball one poor ref had to blow his whistle.  This is basically all the players do throughout the game so the whistle had to be blown a lot, like every four seconds.  The constantly whistling ref had to run the most as well as he had to keep up with the action.  He clearly pulled the short straw.

The other refs’ main responsibility seemed to be throwing the ball back into play if it went out. Players weren’t allowed to do this, only the refs.

But you should see these guys throw!  They would coil themselves forward like a taut trebuchet then release the ball back over their heads with astonishing force.  The players would then compete for this neutrally hurled object after it had re-entered the planet’s atmosphere.  Surely these refs missed their vocation as Olympic hammer throwers?  Or maybe, in Australia, this is what kids with good throwing arms aspire to.

The final rule involved catching a kick that must be over 15 metres in length within a specially designated 50 metre bubble near the goal posts.  A giant stopwatch then appears on the big screen and counts down from 30.  I’m not making this up.  The player must take his kick before zero or something will happen.  We never got to find out.  The refs threw hammers at them presumably.  Just as I was configuring the tackling laws and the weird non-specific ‘running-with-the ball-in-hand’ rule it was full-time and the stadium was empty.

Really what this demonstrates is that AFL is a very odd sport. But all sports are weird.  Religions and manners are weird too.  We’re just used to the ones we grew up with.  I guess what infuriates me is that huge swathes of Australia obsess over a game that no-one else on the planet plays and yet they still find time to be really good at cricket, rugby league, rugby union, swimming, cycling, rowing, netball, BBQs and swearing.  Fair play.

Hopefully, we’ll be catching another match before our visas expire so I can start heckling with confidence.

Another day, another drama.

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I’ll float your boat

I was stationed on the small boat, waiting patiently on the wharf for passers by to be persuaded to become passengers when the unthinkable happened.  Our larger boat broke down!  To give you a sense of scale it is the largest boat on the Yarra, admittedly not a spectacular bragging right, but in comparison to the river itself, it is a lumbering juggernaut.  It’s roughly the size of a tennis court and the height of a goal post from the water.  And there it was, in front of all the other ferry cruise stalls, floating aimlessly like the feather in Forrest Gump, other boats maneuvering around it like the inconvenience it was.  My captain on the smaller boat knew we’d be required imminently, but knowing this would mean dealing with ‘The Captain’ on the bigger boat in crisis mode was an awful sensation.  Like waiting for the whistle to blow in the trenches.

Sure enough, The Captain somehow squeezed his upper half out the improbably small engine room hatch and waved at us frantically for help, dozens of passengers flanking him with varying degrees of anxiety.   Now our boat is much, much smaller than his.  It’s about 15% of the size.  Yet here we were, sidling up to the behemoth (while The Captain screamed at us to move faster like we were concealing a jet engine to spite him) and attaching lines to her starboard bow as if planning an attack.  My captain then expertly shepherded the Titanic to a safe berth as people from the riverside bars and restaurants laughed and jeered at The Captain’s frenzied verbal assaults.  It wasn’t over though.  We now had to fix the engine and fix it fast because 48 passengers would be shortly demanding refunds, which on a public holiday (Good Friday) was not an option.  The Captain and the captain seconded themselves in the tiny cave of the engine room.  They would yell orders from the abyss at me and I’d relay them to the other deckhand, who with as much boat handling experience as me – zero – was now sitting at the wheel.  Orders like, “Keep trying!!!” and “Oh!  Turn ignition off NOW!”  The passengers were having a royal time of it.  Some of them started singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.’

Needless to say it took almost an hour to get the engine running again, flooded thingy and a jammed whatchacallit apparently, but in that time we only lost 7 passengers.  By lost I mean they demanded to get off the boat and get their money back.  Our rivals watched this unfold with unbridled joy.  As the newly fixed juggernaut sailed blissfully upriver towards the untold delights of Herring Island and the Parks Victoria Depot, The Captain’s screams still ringing in my ears, I took a moment to reflect upon how I had reached this point.  Then a group of 11 Indian tourists boarded my boat and their kid did not stop screaming for 45 minutes.  It was like a tiny air raid siren.  Happy Easter.

Tiger Tiger

I was describing the exhilarating landmarks of the upper reaches of the Yarra River when a large brown snake swam into my purview.  Its head was popped above the surface like a snorkel with eyes, while it’s lithe body did the gymnastic ribbon routine below.  About 1.5 metres long it seemed pretty intent on getting to the nearby bank, probably to kill a duck or a jogger.  With Google activated I determined that we had just witnessed a Tiger Snake, native of Tasmania but often spotted in the wetter reaches of South Eastern Australia.  And it’s venomous!  My first brush with actual dangerous Aussie wildlife, what a rush!

With all the European architecture and Manhattan sky scrapers, it’s easy to forget where in the world you are in Melbourne.  Just cockatoos, occasional snakes and the organised chaos of AFL to remind you.  Another good indicator is the non-stop parade of festivals and events that are held every other day.  Construction teams spend so much time assembling and disassembling temporary stages and stands it’s a miracle anything made of brick has actually been erected.

Last weekend we had the Moomba Festival, which involves water skiing and extortionate carnival rides.  I’m instructed to tell tourists that Moomba is Aboriginal for ‘let’s get together and have fun.’ According to my colleague who looked it up it actually means, ‘up your bum.’  So every March you are cordially invited to the River Yarra for the annual Up Your Bum Festival.

Before this we had White Night, whereby the city’s museums stay open all night and various buildings of note are illuminated by elaborate light displays.  The Exhibition Centre in Carlton Gardens hosted an Aboriginal interpretation of the seasons, complete with massive crocodiles and flocks of birds cascading across it’s façade.  It was jaw-dropping.  We took the opportunity to hit up the NGV and pay half price for the Ai Wei Wei and Andy Warhol retrospective.  Poor Andy didn’t weigh up too well to his Chinese contemporary.  Ai Wei Wei’s pieces were more intricate, more striking and had a lot more to say.   His art comes from a more angry place, I suppose because he has a lot more to be angry about.  By the end of the exhibition, Warhol seemed indulgent and unnecessary.  However, the overlying impression was that without Andy we wouldn’t have gotten Ai Wei Wei, and in fact the art world, for better or worse, wouldn’t be the same either.  Even at 3am it was a welcome dunk into modern art.

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Warhol portrait – auctioned for $4.50

But enough of the culture, the single best thing about Melbourne is Messina Ice Cream and I am still working out ways to extend my visa so I can keep stuffing my fat, red face for eternity with it.  We took our Argentinian mate Jo there recently and his face was a picture, like a war-stricken child tasting chocolate for the first time.  Incidentally he had chocolate ice cream and made a noise that can only be typed as, “oooooooohhhhhhhhhwahhhhhyjaaaaaajaaawaooooo.”

The Tiger Snake is an easy trade-off.

The $100 Question

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At the end of a quiet shift selling tickets from the booth, I returned to the office next to the wharf to cash up.  Despite a dearth of customers over the day I was somehow $100 short.  Exactly $100.  A very convenient figure, so I returned to the booth to check for any missing $100 notes, possibly a couple of $50s down the back of the desk perhaps?  But nothing.  Recounting the money, going through receipts and adding the ticket sales up repeatedly I returned to the same specific figure of $100.  My colleagues were loving this.  The Captain had been in a foul mood all week and this would surely be the sour cherry on the Croats cake.  He was due to return any minute from his last cruise of the day and I was told in no uncertain terms by those who’d worked for him longer than I, that to be missing $100 was quite possibly a sackable offence.  Would I risk his wrath, ride the storm of his anger and hope I’d have a job by the end of it?  I had mere minutes to play with, so I frantically recounted everything again, praying this $100 would appear from the ether and magically solve by insolvency.  But no luck.  The great boat lumbered into view, slowly approaching the dock like a giant P45.  “It’s now or never,” my work-mate urged, “he’ll be here any minute.”  Realising I couldn’t risk unemployment at this late stage of my working visa, I bowed my head, reached into my wallet and begrudgingly took $100 from my own wallet.  I had worked in the booth for six hours.  I was now only going to be paid for one.

Cycling home, still deducing whether my stable job status was worth an essentially free shift, a baby bird flew out from behind a parked car and straight into the spinning vortex of my front wheel.  There was a swish of spokes on feathers, a muted shriek and a lump of semi-conscious animal slumped on the tarmac.  I couldn’t stop as there was so much traffic behind me.  That baby bird was about to find this out the hard way.

I’m not sure but if I’d stayed and explained to the Captain about my loss of funds he would have yelled at me for a while, maybe sacking me in the process.  This would have probably taken long enough to ensure that helpless chick would have flown unobstructed across the road.  As it happened, I lost $100 and I killed a bird with my bike.

Melbound and Down

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Over Christmas and New Year, I was lucky enough to have the parents over for a visit.  They had a look around Melbourne, went for a sojourn round Sydney and most importantly got to meet the fabled Catriona for the first time.  Luckily, all three went down well.  From what I hear, mum has been boring everyone within earshot of the Australian adventure and the official Jayne Thurlow endorsement certificate is winging its way to Catriona’s post box as we speak.  Phew!

So anyway, with that in mind, I thought I’d do a wee run down of things to do in this corner of the world, through the prism of parental escorts.  It’s easy to write negatively about places so I’ll aim high.  There’s a lot to cover too, so I’ll go with a couple of topics first:

Best Day Out:

Pretty much everyone goes to Philip Island when they visit Melbourne as there’s a squad of Little Penguins that raid the beach every night.  They’re officially called Little Penguins, I’m not being derogatory.

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Like clockwork, they emerge from the surf at dusk and cautiously make their way to their burrows where their starving kids keenly await some regurgitated anchovies.  Stadium seating is arranged on the banks of the beach as hundreds of tourists await the nightly avian re-enactment of Saving Private Ryan.  Chinese tourists disregard the frequent pleas for no flash photography and then leave en masse as soon as the critters appear.  The rest of us wait around and scope around the bush to spot mum or dad being accosted by her famished sprogs (I’m talking about the penguins here, not the Chinese tourists).  It’s pretty violent stuff.  Still in their downy feathers, the children appear bulkier than their beleaguered parents and virtually mug them as they stagger through the dark to their burrows, ramming their beaks into their startled mouths.  In hindsight, we shouldn’t have gone on Boxing Day, as it was unbelievably busy with tourists.  Trying to catch a glimpse of this nocturnal phenomenon was almost as violent as the act itself.  Fortunately, our guide for the day was exemplary.  On the bus he regaled us with a mix of local history and vaguely duff dad jokes.  On the way to the penguin party we stopped off at a koala reserve where we saw the lazy bastards sleeping in various poses on various trees.  koalas rank almost as high as pandas in the useless animal league.  They sleep up to 22 hours a day and only eat specific types of eucalyptus leaves, which offer next to no nutrition.  These leaves are highly toxic though, and the koalas have evolved such strong antibodies in their digestive systems to combat and dissolve these elements that there’s serious research underway to realise their potential for fighting human contagions.  Eventually, one koala woke up, did a scratch and wandered along a pole.  It was very cute indeed.  I remember seeing a panda in China and it couldn’t even climb a tree.  It was pathetic.  So the koala has some way to go before gaining the Most Redundant Animal Award.  We also saw some wallabies and ate some pretty useful fish and chips.

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Lazy.

Best Free View:

Climb the top of the Shrine of Remembrance on the corner of the Royal Domain and you’ll get a straight shot right down the throbbing artery of Swanston Street.  You’ll also notice there’s a 31 storey building with the giant face of indigenous leader William Barak etched on to it.  I did have to look this up though as the face is so massive and spread over a series of balconies it’s pretty nondescript.  Underneath the Shrine there’s a museum sitting amongst the pillars that make up the old crypt.  There’s the usual telling of World War Two, told through the eyes of the country that’s telling it.  I think the only way to get the whole picture would be to visit every country in the world that fought in the War and find somewhere in the middle.  You could open the museum in Switzerland.  Failing that you could read ‘All Hell Let Loose’ by Max Hastings.

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Best Cycle Route:

The Capital City Trail!  30km loop through the inner suburbs, the parks, alongside the river, through the CBD and out the other side!  I say 30km but if you have the directional sense of a bluebottle like me, add a good 5km to the total for wrong turns.  I counted mine and made specifically seven.  I may write to the Melbourne City Council and request more signs, a few hundred should do the trick.

Most Tenuous Claim:

Come to Fitzroy Gardens and see the OLDEST BUILDING IN AUSTRALIA! Hmmmm.  The building in question is ‘Cook’s Cottage’ – not belonging to bedraggled ex-Labour prawn-face Robin Cook, but Captain James Cook, discoverer of the New World, well the one other than America.  The building is very old by Australian standards for sure, except that it wasn’t built in Australia.  It was built in Yorkshire.  In the 1930s it was dismantled and shipped over to Melbourne where it was reconstructed brick by brick.  This is a bit like saying you’re drinking a 30-year-old malt when actually you’re drinking Bell’s from an old bottle. I’m not sure where you’d draw the line.  I assume there’s a street in Yorkshire with a cottage-sized gap in the middle of it, just a sign reading, ‘Here Lay the Oldest Building in Australia.’  Tourists can dress up in period clothes and pose in front of the cottage, like they’re maids in 18th century England, in a park in central Melbourne.

Best Bar:

I think Melbourne might have the greatest collection of bars that fill specific niche markets in the world.  If you like beer and retro computer gaming, you have two options (Bartronica and Pixel Alley).  If you like beer and ten pin bowling, you have Strike next to the State Library.  If you like unlimited beer and electronic darts you have iDarts next to Strike.  Luwow on Johnston Street is an incredibly themed Hawaiian bar with a weekly karaoke night featuring a velour-suited host that fills time between songs with his own Tom Jones renditions.  If you like beer, tacos and skateboarding, Beach Burrito can serve you the best liquid and food from Mexico around a giant skate-bowl.  If you like Seinfeld, there’s even a bar entirely devoted to George Costanza!

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The Evelyn Bar wins the award though because A) they have happy hour every day that means $6 pints of Fat Yak, and B) they’re attached to an off license (or bottle-o) where you can buy a bottle of wine for $14.  They’ll even stick it in an ice bucket for you and you can enjoy it on the bar terrace watching the oddballs of Fitzroy waddle by in their skinny jeans.  City Slickers.

The Booth

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I’ve been demoted or promoted depending on your perspective, to The Booth, which is the ticket stand beside the train station.  Only once or twice a week, but to begin with I felt snubbed.  This was until I realised it featured in its own cartoon series: ‘The Booth.’  Quite humdrum at first appearances, much of my time in The Booth is spent directing lost pensioners to the Information Centre over the road.  There was an upsurge in activity recently when a disabled busker stationed himself 10 feet from my face and fired up his mobile karaoke machine.  He then put ‘Hey Baby’ by DJ Otzi on repeat and screamed over it.  Occasionally he would sing the correct lyrics, like ‘Heeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyy Baby!’ but predominantly he would just scream.  He was having a great time.  I wasn’t and neither was anyone else.  People shielded their ears and their children’s as the incoherent wails ricocheted down St Kilda Road.  But of course I wasn’t going to say anything as the guy in question was disabled.  Fortunately, a bald bloke from the casino next door wasn’t so principled.  A few well-placed words later and the shrieking busker was moving on.  I immediately felt sorry for him but suddenly a customer approached The Booth looking for a cruise.  I realised in the two hours the Otzi tribute act had been in the vicinity I hadn’t sold a single ticket.

I still work on the boats of course.  On the big boat the worst aspect of the job is scraping off the seagull shite with the hose.  In The Booth it’s human waste you have to worry about.  Tramps use the stairwell and the wee nook belonging to The Booth as their own gigantic toilet.  It’s a true olfactory experience when you go to open up your place of work for the day and the tramps have been going heavy on the grog all night, pools of fresh urine steaming in the morning sun.  We don’t have a hose in The Booth unfortunately. 

There was added drama on the big boat last week when an old lady collapsed.  I was working on the small boat so was a bystander on this occasion, thank God, so I only got the whole story from the deck-hand on duty and a few understandably upset passengers.  The Captain, never in contention for the Nobel Peace Prize, was visibly annoyed by the lady’s collapse.  He called the office and told them to call an ambulance as a lady was “unwell”.  He hung up after this detailed diagnosis, leaving the bloke in the office with a fairly vague description to pass on to the emergency services.  Relatives of the stricken woman asked The Captain how long it would be before they could disembark and get her to a hospital.  “As long as it takes!”  Retorted the unsympathetic Croat, to general dismay and disbelief.  Upon mooring at the wharf he then continued to let passengers on to the boat, who had to shuffle awkwardly past the prone lady who was splayed in the recovery position.  Disembarking passengers exclaimed their shock at his lack of empathy to us on shore.  But what could we do?  Paramedics arrived on motorbike and boarded the vessel, tending to their patient with due care and attention.  The Captain complained loudly that they were taking too long, delaying his next precious cruise to the hallowed grounds of Herring Island.  Thankfully the poorly pensioner was taken to hospital fully conscious and on the mend.  The Captain greeted this news like he’d got two numbers in the lottery.  Astonishingly he then held up the next cruise by over 20 minutes so he could eat lots of sushi.  The man is not a Roald Dahl character.  He is real. 

He’s a cycle-path

 

I cycle to work every day.  It’s free and it’s fun.  On my commute I have to weave through varying angles of lane-changing traffic and try to beat amber lights before they turn red.  My main source of amusement is other cyclists though.  Blokes who pedal through the CBD every morning in lycra and clip-on shoes.  Clip on shoes they have to unclip at every junction as they await the green light.  And then clip on again as they attempt to regain momentum before unclipping 15 seconds later as they reach the next junction.  They spend so much time clipping and unclipping they forget to actually cycle.  They are among the slowest cyclists on the roads.  Tourists with the chunky hire bikes merrily cruise past these huffing clip merchants, while their lycra sags with sweat produced predominantly from frustration.  And why the lycra?  It is not saving you time.  It is making you look like a toothpaste commercial.

I have worn both lycra and clip-on shoes but that was for long distance rides in the countryside.  This is a ten minute chug in rush hour.  And then there’s the guys (it’s only ever guys) who decide to cycle down the pedestrian walkways near our boat along the wharf.  It’s teaming with tourists, lost old people and confused foreigners squinting at maps.  Suddenly a neon helmeted blur flashes into view as some chubby bloke on a road-bike with tyres as thin as pencils careers along the riverside in bottom gear like he’s trying to catch the peloton.  Ringing the bell repeatedly he screams things like, “Watch out!  Heads up!” as the masses are forced into evasive action, diving out the way, children split from their terrified parents, a bolt of pink and green dividing them.  Why don’t they slow down?  If they are truly in a rush, why don’t they use the roads?  I assume they don’t as there’s less clipping and unclipping on pedestrian walkways, just excessive panic and fear instead.  And as for the ones who have earphones in while they demand walkers to take heed of their frantic yelling, please do us all a favour and cycle straight into the Yarra.  I finally snapped and yelled at one the other day who had the temerity to berate some Asian tourists for getting in his way, “In Australia we overtake on the left!”  He screeched, the confused muddle of selfie sticks and smart phones failing to part appropriately for him.  It was just asking for a witty retort, so bloody-minded and casually racist it had to be dealt a swift biting blow.  “Just slow down you idiot,” I shouted instead, swiftly averting my eyes as the clipped crusader turned to me.  He zoomed off, hopefully into a ditch somewhere.  The Asians didn’t understand what I’d said and carried on taking on selfies.  “Excuse me,” I said as I pushed my way meekly through to my bike.

Oh Captain, My Captain!

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That’s me in the shirt trying to control the baying masses.  We’re clearly the hottest ticket in town.

 

Been a while!  I should set the scene: I’m sitting in our compact wee room on the first floor of a dishevelled pile of bricks called 5 David Street.  The roof is made of tin so we’re slow roasting at 6pm, under the latent heat of the 3pm sun.  The swivel fan, last used on the set of JFK, gingerly puffs warm air around the room like a series of disappointing farts.

Despite these humble surroundings, Melbourne is a gift that keeps on giving.  My job as a river tour guide continues apace and it’s still like living in a water-based sitcom.  The Captain’s hatred for our bitter rival boat cruise company flared up again recently.  They were advertising ‘2 for 1’ vouchers on our patch near our ticket booth at Flinders Street Station, which they don’t have a permit to do.  Usually in these instances, the Captain phones some local authority and they’re told to move on.  This time he dragged his incredible frame up the stairs and across the road where he set upon the voucher seller, in this instance an unsuspecting Scottish backpacker.  He enveloped the poor Scot’s neck with his sausage fingers, throttling him in front of dozens of alighting train passengers.  The illegitimate voucher seller promptly phoned the police who were waiting for the unperturbed Captain as we docked after a late afternoon cruise.  There were three cops, stern looks all around, and I had visions of the Captain being hauled into some sort of reinforced police van.  But a 15 minute chat at the riverside later, it was the cops who were thanking the Captain for his time, queueing up to shake his hand as they bid him farewell.  “Thanks very much for your time Captain!” They piped one by one.  The Captain lumbered back on to the boat, glanced round at me and the throngs of impatient passengers checking their watches for the next cruise, and gave a very rare smile.  I’m not sure but I think I detected a wink as well.  There is not another human on earth who gives less of a shit than this man.  Needless to say there’s been no follow up and our rivals continue to push vouchers on our Flinders Street Station patch, so there’ll no doubt be another throttling shortly.

Earlier this week, a couple of rowers were obviously so ‘in the zone’ they didn’t notice our boat honking it’s horn repeatedly as we reversed away from the wharf and into their path.  I was yelling off the back deck alongside a few concerned passengers for them to stop but on they came, seemingly intent on reversing their slender boat and bodies into our churning propeller.  At the very last second one of them realised their predicament and  jammed their oars into the water, nudging themselves into us harmlessly rather than crashing violently and being stirred into rower puree.  While we all checked everyone was alright, the Captain decided to throw his hat into the ring: “Are you deaf as well as stupid?!  Next time I run you over no problem!”

He’s not a big fan of rowers in general.  After another close shave with a solo Redgrave wannabe, the Captain unloaded such a tirade of abuse all we could hear from the perspiring paddler was, “You give ferries a bad name!”  I’m almost certain he does.  And he couldn’t care any less.  All hail the Captain!

Upside Down River

There’s two boats I’m a tour guide on, a big one and a small one.

A wooden section of the small boat blew off in the wind the other day. Not an important part, just a two foot square piece that fits into the roof over the captain’s head, only ever required if it’s really sunny (for shade) or rainy (for dryness). Mid-way down the Yarra a freak gust dislodged the wooden square and it hurtled into the brown river behind us. My job was now to retrieve it.

Two German tourists had to hold my feet while I dangled over the side, their respective partners whooping with delight. My fingers could just about touch the water so to fetch the wood from the ferment required precision steering from the captain. On the first pass it bobbed just out of reach, the passengers sighing with frustration like they’d just seen a double fault at Wimbledon. On the second go, I was aligned perfectly and retrieved the square to great jubilation. I was hauled back on to deck, my face purple from being inverted by Germans for so long and held the wood above the baying crowd, a soggy trophy snatched from the void, their applause bathing me just like the Yarra almost did. The Germans shook hands and slapped each others backs, while some Malaysian tourists took some celebratory photos. Remembering my duties, I placed the wood down and picked up my fact sheet – “Did you know the Westgate Bridge was meant to be built in four years but actually took eleven…” It was back to business. Silence descended on the boat once more.

Cruise Control

Catriona and I are enjoying life in Melbourne now, after the main articles of living were located, Article 1 being a house (a lovely wee spot 5 minutes from Fitzroy) and Article 2 being jobs. Catriona got herself a temporary number processing orders for a Christmas hamper company and has already been scoped out by the boss to do the overtime hours, so she’s raking it in. I now find myself as a tour guide on a riverboat cruising down the Yarra in a city I’ve been in for 3 weeks. It’s an interesting job.

First up, the captain of the boat is a bloated 72 year-old Croatian guy who turns up 20 minutes late every morning. I spend this 20 minute period apologising to passengers and promising them of his imminent arrival, like a Second Coming Evangelist preacher. “Do not fret folks! The Captain is coming, I just know it! And he’ll take us to the promised land!” The promised land being Herring Island, which sits next to a council cleaning depot and a freeway.

Second up, I spend the period before all this scraping seagull shite off the roof of the boat. The boat has become an unofficial seagull sanctuary. There are several dozen of them waiting for me every morning. I look around and there are literally none on any other boat, just mine, where they’ve apparently been having some kind of dumping festival. It’s unbelievable how much 60 seagulls can shite in a night. The roof of the boat looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. There is more shite than visible roof. I hoist myself up there with the hose and squirt aimlessly at this vast panorama of poo, it’s enormity stretched before me like the opening credits of Eastenders, black and white spires towering over brown smears and yellow smudges, my trickle of water the lowly Thames snaking impotently amongst them. But after about 45 minutes the roof is passable and I go prepare the complimentary tea and coffee.

Third up, people go really wild for complimentary tea and coffee, especially Chinese tourists, who spy the free beverages as some sort of challenge. My commentary on the cruise might as well stop after the introduction, where I say, “and please feel free to help yourself to the complimentary tea and coffee.” From hereon in, the Chinese tourists have formed a kind of human chain where paper cups filled with hot liquid are passed back frantically like they’re bailing water from our stricken vessel. The kids end up tearing at the sachets of sugar and knocking them back like shots. No notice whatsoever is made of the passing scenery. They do a selfie at the end and then presumably spend the remainder of the day on the toilet or getting checked for diabetes. Honestly, if we were offering complimentary anthrax I don’t think there’d be any less enthusiasm.

Needless to say, it’s a people watching paradise on the wee boat. I’ll try to write everything down.