Living in LA LA Land

15 10 2012

“Anyone who imagines they can work alone winds up surrounded by nothing but rivals, without companions. The fact is, no one ascends alone.”

Lance Armstrong, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life

Lance Armstrong knew all about teamwork.

For every grimace in the face of an outrageous mountain gradient; for every second split in a bunch sprint; for every sinew straining in the race of truth … Lance Armstrong climbed to the top of the Tour de France podium seven times as part of a team.

Sportspeople rarely claim their spoils as individuals. Tennis players thank everyone in ‘their corner’, just as boxers do; some athletes have an annoying tendency to speak of themselves in the third person. Cyclists have their team on the road, and off it. Everyone from the soigneurs to the directeurs sportif is part of the team.

Last week, the world learnt just how far Lance Armstrong’s ‘team’ went to ensure their companion’s ascent, and what happened to those people who didn’t play by Armstrong’s rules.

On 10 October 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released this statement and its 202-page ‘Reasoned Decision’ on the Disqualification and Ineligibility of Lance Armstrong and supporting information to the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC).

Some of the language is hyperbolic:

The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.

I disagree. For me, that title will forever belong to State Plan 14:25, the systemic, state-controlled, barbaric doping of approximately 10,000 East German athletes. US Postal may have been more sophisticated in its methods, more professional at hiding the truth and staying ahead of the testing regime, but even seven Tour de France victories pale in comparison to the image built for the DDR by their ‘ambassadors in tracksuits’. Those in charge of the programme poisoned children; their experiments and drugs leaving wounds that have long-outlasted the Cold War.

That said, the statement from USADA Chief Executive, Travis Tygart, provides in one paragraph a great summary of the key issues and defences Armstrong, his cronies in the press and the peloton have used, repeatedly, to damn those who came forward before USADA built its case:

The evidence of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming and is in excess of 1000 pages, and includes sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 riders with knowledge of the US Postal Service Team (USPS Team) and its participants’ doping activities. The evidence also includes direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS Team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.

Firstly, anyone who reads even the 202-page version is living on the Planet Ignorant or the Planet Stupid if they can dismiss the evidence USADA has collected. A lot of it has been heard before, because people like Frankie and Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly and Filippo Simeoni had the guts to take a stand against Armstrong very early on. They paid a hefty price for breaking the silence against Dr Michele Ferrari or alleging Superman was a Supercheat. Ostracised from the peloton, careers crippled, businesses and reputations destroyed. I urge you to go further, and read the affidavits of all 26 witnesses. It was easy for Armstrong to take pot shots at Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. They were ‘known drug cheats’ and ‘liars’. It becomes more problematic when the list of witnesses includes names such as Michael Barry, Levi Leipheimer, Jonathan Vaughters, Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde, and the granddaddy of them all … Armstrong’s most loyal lieutenant, his ‘bro’, George Hincapie. Danielson, Leipheimer, Vande Velde and Zabriskie are still part of the peloton. It was Hincapie’s recent retirement which made me believe USADA had more than a couple of ‘disgraced’ riders and some ‘bitter ex-employees’ giving sworn evidence against Armstrong. Some of the stories are painful to read. Hincapie’s cold detail; I cried when I read Simeoni’s story – even though I knew it – of Armstrong bullying his way around the 18th stage of the 2004 Tour de France peloton to catch Simeoni in a breakaway, with the now infamous ‘zip your lips’ gesture (see 18 second mark, and between the 40 – 1 minute 40 second mark for the agitated encounter), a sign that Simeoni should not have testified in 2000 to doping under the guidance of Ferrari. Of Simeoni dropping back through the pack, crying and being spat upon by the group. Zabriskie’s affidavit is plain sad. A man who had grown up the son of a drug-addicted father, turned to cycling as a clean release, refused to dope and had his wages slashed in return, and then crossed the threshold to doper … some of them will make you white-hot with anger. No one covers themselves in glory by staying silent for all of these years, especially giants of the sport who could have made a difference, such as George Hincapie. The ‘omerta’ or Code of Silence was strong in these ones; yet none of them leaves me with any doubts that these events happened, and that Lance Armstrong was Doper-in-Chief. As pages 6-7 of the Reasoned Decision state:

“It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced. He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and re-enforced it.” (for more, see pp. 16-87)

The financial records – especially the payments to the good doctor – make me think I went into the wrong business. A million or so Euros? A lazy 25,000 Euros in cash? Give me strength. The emails between Armstrong and Stefano Ferrari (Dr Ferrari’s son) detail the financial transactions, and offer an insight into Armstrong’s attitude to his teammates and rivals and confirm he was in close contact with Dr Ferrari during a period he has previously denied.

It’s easy to make light of some of the ways Armstrong distributed performance enhancing drugs, especially “Motoman” (pp 30-35 of the Reasoned Decision), but the way Lance Armstrong and USPS avoided being caught (pp 129-139) is dark. The scientific data and laboratory tests (pp 139-144), stopped exaggerating the number of doping tests he’s been through, or claim (falsely) that he’s never failed one.

Together, the evidence – which USADA is at pains to stress was not provided by US law enforcement – making a bigger mockery of Phil Liggett’s bizarre old-man rant Skype interview with Ballz Radio and his fellow commentator and Armstrong-booster, Paul Sherwen’s tweet that he was, ‘not sure if (it was) Al Capone or Alien (he was) reading’. I truly hope SBS dumps them both from commentating on cycling next year. Firstly, because we just don’t need them anymore – we have our own talent; secondly, I can’t see either of them admitting they’ve been very wrong, for many years (NB: Liggett has finally tonight said on Australia’s ‘4Corners’ programme that ‘everyone was doing it … so I can’t see how Lance wasn’t doing it’. This investigation is no witch hunt, nor was it a waste of taxpayers’ money, as Armstrong claimed, somewhat despicably in light of the fact that US Postal took tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.

There are people who, despite all of the evidence presented by USADA, the personal testimonies of 26 people, the emails, the positive samples, the relationship and payments to the disgraced Dr Michele Ferrari, this weekend’s ‘parting of the ways’ between Armstrong’s US Postal Team manager, Johan Bruyneel, and his employer, Radioshack-Nissan Trek (for more on Bruyneel, see pp. 107-115) will continue to support Armstrong. Those people who read his books and are inspired by the ‘Big Texan’. It’s a compelling story – the comeback from cancer and the ‘unparalleled’ record in the grande dame of grand tours. Millions of people around the world to whom Lance remains a hero, the person who drew them into the Euro-centric world of men’s road racing, or insist that it doesn’t matter if he doped because the Lance Armstrong Foundation (or LIVESTRONG) ‘fights cancer’ (for the record, I don’t believe that raising $470 million and spending it largely on awareness campaigns helps ‘fight cancer’). I disagree with those who say you can separate the work of LIVESTRONG from Lance Armstrong. LIVESTRONG would not exist without Lance Armstrong. It may be a false equivalence, but do you think people would give money to the Floyd Landis Foundation? When you are so closely associated with good deeds, does it give you carte blanche to do so much wrong?

People are flawed. I am a huge hypocrite when it comes to doping in cycling. I love the sport. I still shout my support for many riders who have been caught doping. Unlike some, who demand apologies from dopers, I don’t want them to self-flagellate for my benefit. Anyone who follows my cycling tweets knows I am a huge fan of Alberto Contador. His ‘it was the steak what done it’ excuse for testing positive to clenbuterol may be pathetic, but I’ve never heard him blame anyone – not even the team cook. I like the irrepressible Alexandre ‘Vino’ Vinokourov. I get tingly over ‘Tommeke’ (Tom Boonen). I believe that as the size of the English-speaking contingent in the peloton has increased, a certain amount of prejudice has grown among cycling fans toward non-English speaking dopers, especially those who express no remorse for what they did, such as Alejandro Valverde; that unless you publish mea culpa after mea culpa a la David Millar, you’re forever a filthy drug cheat instead of a reformed drug cheat. Do I think there are riders who continue to dope, teams which find new ways of beating the system? Yes. Do I think there are riders who do it clean? Yes. Are there certain riders I would be devastated to learn had doped? Yes. The rumour mill in the cycling fraternity never stops whirling. Perhaps I would even admire Armstrong if he just copped the ban. I don’t want him to say ‘sorry’. If people want to keep buying plastic wristbands to ‘fight cancer’, in much the same way as you can stop child soldiering by buying a Kony 2012 pack for $39.99, then that’s their call. Just stop bullshit like this:

“To all the cynics, I’m sorry for you … I’m sorry you can’t believe in miracles. This is a great sporting event and hard work wins it.”

The Tour de France is a great sporting event. Hard work wins it; but the only miracle Lance Armstrong was involved with was the one that kept his myth alive for so long.

To bastardise his own words, Armstrong has chosen to descend alone.


7 10 2012

Sport strips away personality, letting the white bone of character shine through.

~ Rita Mae Brown

“I just wanted to sing the song one more time.”

My fellow Sydney Swans’ member and friend, Marc, is guilty of one of sport’s seven deadly sins (see p82 of my self-published ‘Almanac for all Sporting Fans’), in that he barracks for two AFL clubs. Guyanan-born, English-raised, Marc first lived in Melbourne when he moved here, and the Tottenham Hotspur man had fallen in love with the Australian football code … and a club named Hawthorn.

He stood there, singing their club song on our home ground. All game I resisted the urge to give him a good pinch as he cheered them. As he cheered when Shaun Burgoyne cleared the ball from the centre and the Swans lost, 102-95.

He stood, looking at me, waiting for me to grab my bag and go. Fuck him. I stayed seated, chin resting on arms folded atop the railing in front of my seat in the O’Reilly Stand.

“I just wanted to sing the song one more time.”

Round 22 of the 2012 AFL home and away season. Our last game at the Sydney Cricket Ground. All week I read the various permutations of where we would finish going into the finals. The Swans, forever ‘flying under the radar’ as they stood aloft the ladder, could drop to third, or fourth … or was it even fifth? I headed for the consolation of the lost, and sank bottomless schooners of Old at The Cricketer’s Arms.

Round 23: away to Geelong. The Melbourne pundits, salivating over the prospect of a Cats-Hawks Grand Final, didn’t rate our chances. Having been to Kardinia Park when it was Skilled Stadium (but before it became Simonds), I was nervous … and this is watching the game on television, kitted out as usual in full match-day gear, including lucky underwear (NB: there is more than one set). We lost, the commentators all but crowned the Cats as Premiers, and we would have to travel to Adelaide for the first week of the finals.

Father’s Day: “How are you?” Mum said as she picked me up from the train station. “Really well,” I replied, and for once, meaning it. “Except for the Swannies, though?” Mum replied.

I don’t know what was written on my face. I have so much other shit, real life total bullshit facing my family, & was a bloody game of football all that I was showing emotion about?

Mum: “What does that mean for the finals … do you still get a final?”

Me: “Not next week. They (not we) have to travel to Adelaide.”

Mum: “Are you going?”

Me: “Nah, can’t afford it.”

Mum: “I’ll lend you the money.”


AAMI Stadium, Week One: the bizarro choir greeting the squad at  Adelaide Airport; the allergy of Crows’ fans to queuing to get a beer; the, ‘oh, jesus … this was supposed to be the AWAY supporters bay, right on the arc of the back pocket’; the constant booing at every Swan taking a set shot or refereeing decision which went against the home side; the everything. It all disappeared in the beauty of the Swans’ 29-point win. We replaced them. I couldn’t see the tears of the man I call Mighty Mouse, Ben McGlynn, as he was subbed out of the game with a hamstring injury that would probably end his season. The unexpected text message. The missed telephone message from my Dad, a proud rugby league man converted to this game. There was only one person to call. From the glamour of the queue for the ladies’ bathroom, I phoned the number.

“Mummy, Mummy … WE DID IT! Thank you so much, Mummy! I love you for making this possible. It’s mad here but … Mummy, Mummy … we did it.”

NB: I wasn’t speaking to Shane Mumford. I call my Mother, ‘Mummy’ when I am  drunk (tick), child-like with joy (tick), or very ill (not at the time).

I had to get back to the airport. Again, the Adelaide allergy to queuing came to the fore. As I had done on the way to AAMI Stadium, I asked the Swans’ supporters around me if they could fit one more into their cab. Sure thing.

Walking toward the terminal, a man asked who had won the game.

We did! Are you a Port supporter?” It seemed like a fair ask. He wasn’t wearing any team colours.

“No,” the man replied. “How was it?”

Me: “We were magnificent. We stood up to everything. We stopped them … and we ran and we carried and we kicked straight and we were magnificent.”

Man: “Any one stand out?”

Me: “Oh, our defensive structure was outstanding and the midfield we killed them in the mids, and Mitch Morton kicked two – MITCH MORTON?!? I’ll tell you something: no one rates us a chance. No one thought we would win. I believe in these fellas. Goodesy’s coming on, and Teddy Richards, what a star. Bloody hell, my, ‘oh jesus ker-ist on crutches’ player, LRT, was strong … but you know the bloke who’s come into a rich vein of form in the last few weeks? Jarrad McVeigh. Goodesy gets all the attention, and I love him, he’s a bloody star, but McVeigh … he’s building each week.”

Man, stops, props: “Yeh, he was all right.”

Me: “So are you a Swans man? Or a Collingwood spy?”

Man: “I’m Jarrad McVeigh’s Dad.”

Me, stopped: “Really?”

Man: “Really.”

Me: (babble, ZOMG I thought it was amazing when I met Nic Fosdike’s aunt today, wow, can I shake hands, congratulations on fathering the freshly-retired Essendon player, Mark McVeigh; then the genuine but irritating tears of a drunken stranger sucked in hard as I try to put into words how we all shared his family’s happiness at the safe delivery of Jarrad & Clementine’s daughter Lolita, and mourned the loss of Luella).

The whole time our hands are clasped.

Made the flight. Made it? Slayed it. The flight was delayed. Then I saw Brett Kirk, dressed impeccably, accompanied by some Channel 7 commentator whose name still escapes me. It had to be done.

Me: “Brett? Look I’m really sorry to bother you but I just had to say hello and thank you for everything you’ve done for the Swans,” … more babble as from the corner of my eye I can see the prick from Channel 7 drop back, thinking, ‘poor Kirky’.

Kirky: (DISTINCTLY UNIMPRESSED) “Yeh, they were good today. Thanks.”

Me: (dying on the inside) “OK, thanks for everything you’ve done for the club. Sorry for bothering you.”


I had a little money left, so into the Cooper’s Alehouse for a bevvy it was. About 25 Swans fans watching the first quarter of the elimination final between Freo and Geelong. Or, to be more accurate, slack-jawed by what we were seeing and pretty bloody happy that the AFL media pack would be shitting themselves without more Geelong / Hawthorn yarns to write.

And then, a stream of men in red and white. Bags and beers abandoned, the still-standing stragglers bolted from the bar and cheered each player by name. We cheered the support staff, and we sang the song through an empty Adelaide airport. I looked at Ben McGlynn and the crutches and my heart sank. The players smiled and waved, Mitch Morton lapping up the love and enjoying the limelight at last after a year in the Ressies.

A week off. Home to Newcastle again for my friends’ joint 40th at a Newcastle pub … no AFL. Nervously checking the scores on my phone. West Coast couldn’t do it. We’d play Collingwood at ANZ in the preliminary final. Here we go …

The clichés tumble easily on the various football shows. Hoodoo. Ah, Collingwood. They were well beaten by the Hawks, but they’ll knock Sydney off the same way they did the Eagles. The unbeaten streak. Collingwood. Bloody hell. The Markgrook panel (except for Shelley and Leila) and the Footy Show panel: Crawf, Push Ups King, Milney, Garry Lyon … all backing the Pies; James Brayshaw, ‘The Swans have been chronically underrated since Round One’ … YA THINK?’, I tweeted. I re-watch the 2005 semi-finals. My favourite game – the night Nick Davis came to save us. The commentary as useful now: “That Davis goal, that was the freak of the night … you just can’t see it happening a lot more.” So tiresome. Still a team of grinders and grafters who had played uglier than everyone else to win a flag in 2005. I watch the world road racing championships. I refuse to see one of my oldest mates, a Pies fan, before the match because I knew I would be driven to boxing his ears. He’d never known what it was like to lose against us at ANZ.

I met up with fellow Swans and we board an Olympic Park train packed with red and white. There’s a big travelling Collingwood contingent, of course. As it became real, that this time we would catch that treno back to town victorious, I turned as feral as I’d ever been to the Pies fans leaving the stadium early:


We laughed at the sight of a miserable Joffa flashing up on the big screen, & jumped, wildly into the night as Jude Bolton kicked truly in his 300th game. Yes, Jude … 301 was going to be closer.


I met up with Andrew, who’s become a great friend, a true Collingwood person but always first to acknowledge a better team and analyse the game, not dispassionately, but with care and honour. The kind of person who should be a pundit.

“No, congratulations Kimbo, well done, you’re going to come down for the Granny aren’t you? Your boys were too good, they deserve it, it’s not our year.”

At a pub in the city, three renditions (possibly more) of the Swans’ club song, a bastardised version of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish song, he’d reached peak tolerance. I’d reached peak adrenaline-induced exhaustion. Time for home. Time to sort things out. After Adelaide, I’d booked flights and accommodation in Melbourne for Grand Final weekend, not because of some magic tingling in my toes (OK, maybe a little … it is called the big dance, after all) but because I thought, ‘well, I have a guaranteed ticket, I might as well, I can always cancel if we don’t make it … but we will’.

Everything is ready to go. I’m nervous and distracted on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday. People at work are driving to Melbourne on Friday night. I think of Richard Hinds’ dismissive tweet, “You’re a Swans fan. There’s a difference.” I smile. “Yes, I am. And we’re going to prove you wrong. Although we shouldn’t have to prove anything.” By Thursday, I feel calm. There’s nothing I can do, with all my lucky charms and blood-red pedicure. I can’t kick the bloody goals for them, or make the decision to handball. I can’t stop almost everyone saying we cannot win the flag, or that it wasn’t fair that Hawthorn had one less day to recover, or that Lewis Jetta hadn’t bounced the bloody ball often enough in a 90 metre dash to the goal. I can’t sleep so I do my tax and watch the footy shows and pack eight outfits for a two-day trip, and smile at the Facebook messages from a friend in Ulan Bator asking if I could get help get his boss a ticket, the good luck tweets and the texts.

Friday, 28 September: arrive in Melbourne. Freezing cold, pissing down with rain and I’m essentially broke. Drop bag at hotel, head out to watch the Grand Final parade. Run into Erin, who cried real tears at last week’s win. Trying to get good photos is impossible as the players are (sensibly) riding inside the vehicles. Weave my way up to Treasury Place, listen to the speeches, back to the hotel. I want to write this blog post, but the words won’t come. I’m still calm; beyond excited at being here, but not worried about the match. Meet up with some tweeps I’d been dying to discover in real life at The Corner Hotel, Richmond. Comes in handy that I learn to catch a tram as I’m due back there at 11.30am tomorrow. After a night of being shouted pints on an empty stomach, the better angels tell me to leave. I arrive back at the hotel just after midnight. It’s Grand Final day.

Saturday, 29 September: I really should have eaten something. I haven’t eaten since Qantas gave me a muffin and passionfruit yoghurt yesterday morning. I shake off the dust. It’s 9am. It’s Grand Final Day. The iPod goes on & I start bouncing off the walls like the 27 year-old disco-biscuit machine I once was. I’ve made up essential mixes, everything from Jamelia’s ‘Superstar’ for Lewis Jetta to Mr Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”, my Adam Goodes anthem. General jumping around and answering tweets. Then, oh gaaaah what am I going to wear goddamn it, Melbourne. Fuck it. Shower, dress & lucky t-shirt underneath. Lucky underwear, natch. I manage not to ladder my tights. Remember that I have short hair, & can spend a few more minutes dorking around to The Jacksons. Shoes. Hair. Stop dorking around. Ticket, ticket, ticket. Pack all of my lucky charms. My 2012 membership card. Redback Club pin. Got my scarf, time for the final secret weapon in my list of superstitions: my favourite perfume, handcrafted in the south of France & still safe in its beautiful bottle & original stopper. I bought it in Avignon in 2005. It’s called, ‘L’ensorceleuse’. I’m not nervous. My heart is singing.

It’s not raining as I head down to catch the number 70. There’s an older man in Swans colours standing next to me at the tram stop.

Me: “Up the Swannies! Are you down from Sydney?”

Man: “No, I came up from Tasmania.”

Me: “That’s fantastic! So much for the Hawks Tasmanian supporter base! Are you a South Melbourne man?”

Man: “Well, yes. I’m Roy Cazaly’s nephew.”

Me: “Can I shake your hand?” (not said, but tweeted) BEST OMEN EVER: I JUST MET ROY CAZALY’S NEPHEW

Tram approaches. “Up the Swannies,” we say in unison. Unlike every sign on Swan Street, Richmond, which some admittedly clever buggers have changed to ‘Hawks Street’, the tram reads Swan Street when I jump on, advertising the Basil Sellers Art Prize. The Swans’ Sydney office is in the Basil Sellers Centre at the SCG. Another omen.

Arrive at The Corner. A sea of brown and gold. A few people in Swans colours. My fellas are running late, so I have a pint. Should have eaten. One by one they arrive and ply me with more pints, with the generous-to-a-fault Andrew making sure that I eat something. The boys start talking about the game and I start to get nervous. Please, don’t talk about Hawthorn getting a three goal start and it being all over. There is only so much I can take. I’m buzzing, I don’t want to think about the game. My brain will explode. The special one makes his way up. Everything’s Turning to White: I’m reminded I want to see Paul Kelly. There’s no awkwardness. Thank god for that. We head to the ‘G, all in different areas, saying let’s meet here at half-time. I pass Molly Meldrum on my way to Gate 5. “Love you, Molly,” I shout (wearing Hawks’ colours … seriously?). Make my way up to N12 and run into Rhys Muldoon – I’d tweeted him on Thursday that if the moon and stars aligned we’d see each other. The omens were buzzing around in my head. Realised that for $390, I was sitting in an area with no public bars, only corporate entertainment rooms. Gave Michael O’Loughlin a big wave as he stood safely inside the glassed wall between the lucky ones and the so-called ‘platinum’ ticketed seats WITH NO BLOODY PUBLIC BARS. Rhys & I sang along to Paul Kelly and then it was too late to get downstairs for a drink. “Let’s meet here at quarter time and go and get a drink,” Rhys said … never to be spotted again.

It’s time to take it all in. I make my way to my seat. A lady behind me proffers a Swans cardboard clapper. “Oh, I didn’t think they had them here, thank you so much,” I reply. “They don’t. I brought them from home.” If I thought my head was going to explode, that was the moment my heart gives in to the emotion. I grip her hand. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” The countdown to the first bounce begins, and then the siren.

The game is surreal. A few shaky moments from both teams early on, but no absolute shockers. The Hawks kick four and all I can think of is the boys’ dire prediction. We go into the first break trailing by 19 and more than a little lucky.

Second quarter goes BOOM! I think I spent more time leaping out of my seat than in it. The jitters have gone. The structures are right. The kicking is accurate and the effort is outstanding. I know the heart attack kings too well to think this will go on, but it is sweetness itself to watch six straight majors sail through, and your opponent at a one-point standstill. We’ve not only staunched the bleeding, we’ve hit the front.

Half-time: Downstairs for drinks. The rest is redacted.

Third quarter … goes even more BOOM? Hawthorn start spreading the ball with disturbing ease. It’s a nightmare. Not because I thought they’d ever lie down, but because this part was also written in the stars. We kick 3.1 … Hawthorn kick 5.4. They’re inaccurate. I go back to my three keys to winning: effort, intensity and accuracy. We’re winning. We have a one point lead thanks to a Captain’s goal from the man who had run into a rich vein of form. I smile & think of his Dad.

Three-quarter time: I’m in my own head. I look towards the threatening skies. I close my eyes. Shake down the thunder, I pray, silently as the siren sounds …

Fourth quarter: you probably remember it more clearly. I haven’t seen the replay. I remember my badly injured co-captain kicking, just enough, a ball that sent the red and white sections of the crowd into a, ‘please, please, blow the bloody siren’ frenzy. I had dreamt it would be the final goal of the match. I’m glad to say it wasn’t.

I’m hugging people and practically mugging former club champions, and 300-gamer Paul Williams, softly says to me, ‘we’re a great club’.

We are a great club. It is our L’ensorceleuse (The Shining Hour). I sing the song, one more time.

Books That Changed My Life, Pt III: My Travel Guides

3 04 2012

I gave a clue in my last post that today I’d be writing about travel. Cheating here and including every travel guide I’ve ever read.

A lot of people scorn travel guides. You’re not a ‘real’ traveller if you have your nose buried in a Lonely Planet / Rough Guide to Wherever. I don’t subscribe to that view. Also, I don’t believe in rigidly following what travel guides set out. A lot of it is common sense and by the time the books hit the shelves, out of date.

That said, some guidebooks have changed my life. Researching my first ‘big’ overseas trip in 1996, I found a one way ticket to Amsterdam which came with a huge bonus: two free flights anywhere in Europe. I hadn’t really thought about where I wanted to go beyond the UK and the Republic of Ireland and figured I’d wing it from there on, but the flight deal was too good to pass up. I checked out my mammoth Lonely Planet Guide to Europe and hit upon an idea: why not squeeze the lemon for all it was worth? I went to the travel agent (hey, it was 1996) and we looked at a KLM flight map. Win. KLM flew to Istanbul … and the airport counted among its European destinations – so that was as far south-ish as I could get. Now for the second leg … just how far could I stretch the friendship eastward? Double win: St Petersburg was on the map. Booked the ticket. The rest I’d figure out as I went along.

The Istanbul leg was pretty simple at first … travel down the coastline and get a flight to Cairo. I’d always been fascinated by the Middle East (well, since hearing of Anwar Sadat’s assassination and asking my Mother if World War III would break out. Yes, she looked at me in a ‘what the actual eff is this child on?’ way). Pouring through my guidebook in my bedsit in Cardiff, Wales, another idea.  Why fly to Cairo when there was so much else to see? Result? Travelled overland from Istanbul to Ankara, got a visa to Syria and from there, worked south through Jordan to Egypt, south to Abu Simbel, north to Alexandria and south-west to Siwa before returning to Cairo and the minibus from hell trip across the Sinai to the border into Israel at Rafah. Well, crossing the border into Gaza. Talk about life changing.

I had to fly out of Istanbul and back to Amsterdam to fly to Russia. What the hell: get a cheap flight to the Turkish holiday resort of Antalya, skip around the Greek islands and head north from the Peloponnese. Athens, of course, but a guidebook convinced me that I couldn’t miss the Great Meteoron Monastery. What a thing of wonder. Mind you, there’s nada in a guidebook (as far as I can recall) about my hare-brained scheme of thinking I could walk across the Greece / Turkey border as I had done from Turkey to Syria. That would be USD10 in a taxi for a 50 metre trip.

Turkey for the third time. Did the pilgrimage to Çanakkale, returned to Istanbul and flew back to Amsterdam. Flew to Saint Petersburg. Utterly amazing city, so amazing you just wander around, slack-jawed, at its scale and grandeur. Time to turn west; a train ticket to Moscow was quoted at tourist rates (you can ask for things in Russian, but at that time, your shoes were a dead giveaway). Estonia was an unexpected delight and still one of my favourite countries; Lithuania will always be bittersweet for me. Beautiful place and people, but the guidebook made me curious to learn more about Vilnius’ past as the ‘Jerusalem of the North’. An elderly man guided me through ‘The Green House’ (the Holocaust museum). I learned more from him than I had at Israel’s Yad Vashem. Thinking about the room only brings memories of the commitment to honour the dead. The true horror of Vilnius (for me) was to come at the former KGB headquarters, now genocide museum, where we stood in line to be shut in a dank, pitch solitary confinement cell. I almost started screaming as the guide closed the door. The place was just as the KGB had left it a mere six years before.

This is becoming like a travelogue – apologies. The rest of that trip – Latvia, Poland, and the-then Czech Republic ended with me broke and needing to get back to England and find a job in a hurry. The great thing about travelling for that length of time is meeting people from all over the world. I stayed in a central Prague apartment thanks to a woman I met in Jerusalem. A Danish guy I met in Estonia made a trip to Copenhagen almost a freebie … and so my reliance on travel guides lessened. I didn’t buy books for a six-week sojourn to France and Italy in 2005, but I still bought a book for later adventures in India – mostly because the Indian tourism office’s range of free material was bloody hopeless. This time, I scoured it (and the internet) for at least a month, then left it at home.

The last travel books I bought were in 2010. I had a stack of leave and was ‘encouraged’ to take it. My entire office weighed in on my destination before I settled on New York, with a brief side trip to Washington D.C. My travel guides changed – I wanted to suck the marrow out of the ‘greatest city in the world’, so I bought books on architecture and a small moleskine city guide, with little maps of the different districts and plenty of space to plot my daily walks around Manhattan. After a few days, I looked purposeful enough for people to ask me the way to subway stations. I’ve seen a lot of the world, but never felt a city itself so alive. The streets hummed with energy. I rented an apartment in the West Village and felt at home. This was the place I was meant to be. My trip to Washington ended up as a mad dash between monuments. The only time I felt at peace was at Arlington National Cemetery. Armed with a map from the tourist centre, the best laugh I had in ages was trying to find the graves of the ‘Supremes’, in particular Chief Justice Earl Warren. I did, eventually, but not before asking a guard. “Justin Warren? Sorry ma’am, I’ve never heard of him.” Suppressing a scold and a giggle, I blamed my accent, which had never been a problem in NYC. In my hotel near the Capitol, I was asked by a fellow lobby barfly whether I spoke English after I quizzed the bar staff about the best bars to move on to. I probably did roll my eyes at that. The local tips were great, but I found the Washington bars cliquey, impenetrable, so I left ‘Marvin’ and a couple of other of the recommended bars before finding a home (and a friendly bartender) at The Saloon. Protip: tip early, and large. You will be richly rewarded. Free shots and straight out asking other patrons to buy the Aussie girl on her last night in America a beer. I barely remember the obligatory late night visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl and struggled, hungover and late, to make my train back to New York.

I haven’t travelled overseas since that trip. I probably won’t travel for a while (which KILLS me). What gets me through? Sometimes it’s scrolling through my travel guides (I’ve kept almost all of them) … but most of all, re-reading the best travel guides in the world: my journals.

Until tomorrow …

30 Books That Changed My Life, Part II: Cry, The Beloved Country

2 04 2012

Quelle surprise: I loved studying English at high school. Of all of my teachers, Greg O’Sullivan, who taught me from Year 8 through to 3 Unit English for the Higher School Certificate, was one of two who had the greatest impact on my life. Not every book in the 1980s school curriculum set my brain and heart on fire. This one managed to do both.

Cry, The Beloved Country: Alan Paton, Jonathan Cape (1948)

Written before, but published at the introduction of South Africa’s apartheid laws, Cry, The Beloved Country was a shock to the system when assigned as a compulsory text to my Year 9 English class in 1986. We were the best English students in a baby-boom bumper crop of about 200 students and had started forming our little views about the world. We had grown up knowing only an apartheid South Africa and that it was wrong. Miss Current Affairs Nerd watched riots in townships on the news. I preferred “Sun City” to “We Are the World”. Raised in a left-wing household, I knew that South Africa had become a pariah on the sporting fields, to our unions, activists, and that our Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, had taken on one of my most-loathed politicians, Britain’s PM, Margaret Thatcher over South Africa’s repugnant system of government. Paton’s book shook my little window into South Africa. By the time I put it down, Cry, The Beloved Country introduced shades of grey, even if they were extremely faint to my 15-year-old eyes.

I couldn’t grasp why the main character, Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo was so determined to save his way of life in rural Natal. The ‘black homeland’ policy seemed desperately evil, and with one purpose in mind – to deprive black Africans of land and opportunities. It reminded me of the system of Aboriginal missions in Australia. Then the grey tinge … is the greater evil to be found in the cities, where black men leave their families and tribes for permits to work in the gold mines building a new, unstoppable South Africa? The central refrain: they go to Johannesburg and they do not return.

A letter from Johannesburg drives Kumalo on the trail first trod by his son, Absalom – to the city, to find his ‘ill’ sister Gertrude. Kumalo is portrayed as the ultimate naïf in the city, a sort of ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington‘. For all its built wonders, Johannesburg is a place where people are killed simply crossing the street. It is dark and dirty, reflected in the life of Kumalo’s sister. Gertrude is a prostitute, not the Queen of Sheba but queen of the ‘shebeen’ (sly grog house). She agrees to return to Natal. Stephen Kumalo has ‘saved’ one soul – but there is one seemingly beyond redemption: Absalom.

If Stephen Kumalo is an ‘Uncle Tom’ – a compliant, ‘good’ black man, his brother John appears to be the opposite. He speaks, with great flourish, about the injustices perpetrated against black South Africans, but is careful never to go ‘too far’. He has benefited materially from the system, his narrative is estranged from the political voices and protests I knew – he is wary of black men gaining power, because power corrupts. Only the very good black man could gain power and not be corrupted. It’s interesting to me, looking back now on the veneration of Nelson Mandela, the living embodiment of John Kumalo’s ‘very good black man’. My apartheid-era hero is a man who died: Steve Biko (more on Biko to come in another post).

As the search for Absalom takes his father and his companion, Father Msimangu through reform schools, an unwed girl pregnant to his son, and finally, to jail: his son has been arrested for killing a white man. Worse: his son is accused of murdering a ‘good’ white man – Arthur Jarvis, the activist son of Kumalo’s ‘neighbour’, the wealthy Natal landholder, James  Jarvis. Arthur Jarvis is everything a liberal, white reader can associate with – a man whose social views are in no doubt; he sees racial injustice and ‘we’ are grateful for the life of such a man. His writings force his father to accept his share of the ‘white man’s burden’ and carry on his work, from his position of privilege. In the meantime, the other father, Stephen Kumalo, must struggle with the shock and anger that all of his ‘goodness’ has not been rewarded by God. His son will hang. His sister is a low woman. His brother is one lost to Johannesburg. Turning to an English priest, Stephen’s struggle is  the essence of the novel, and to a 15-year-old suburban white girl, of South Africa itself. Why love, fiercely, proudly, when that love is predicated on fear? Stephen Kumalo loves his God, his family, his way of life in rural Natal, and yet these things are under threat – not only from white men, but from urbanisation and the decay of the tribe? Why love Absalom – the son who represents everything that white South Africa fears of the overwhelming black majority – petty thief turned murderer? Why love this ‘beloved country’? Yet, in Stephen Kumalo’s reconciliation with his condemned son, and James Jarvis’ awakening to its racial cleavages through his lost son, this pre-apartheid novel may well prove an allegory for post-apartheid South Africa. Mandela, the good man, sought to heal the beloved country through ‘truth and reconciliation’, not retribution. As the book closes, Kumalo seeks small improvements to the village through the tribal way, through the Chief.  Instead, it is James Jarvis who helps Kumalo achieve his vision of better farming land. A new dawn? Yes, but the dawn of Absalom’s execution, and so we cry.

Cry, The Beloved Country changed me. It made me think hard and fast about race relations in Australia; the systemic, institutionalised abuse and marginalisation of Aboriginals, ‘our’ fear of the ‘other’, our pride, our love and our xenophobia. The next year, I spent my summer holidays on an exchange visit to Japan. It was my first time on a plane; but more about travel tomorrow.

Until then …

30 books that changed my life, Part 1: Watership Down

1 04 2012

First thing: this is not a list of ‘XX books you should read before you die’, rather a month-long meander through books of all genres and ages that make me think more, seek refuge in, and ultimately, helped shape the person I am.

Watership Down, Richard Adams, Rex Collings Ltd, 1972

A book about rabbits. Excellent. Where’s my Barbie? I think that sums up my reaction to my 8th birthday present from my Mum and Dad (1979).

I started reading, because that’s what bookish kids do. I didn’t like the frightened Fiver with his strange visions. His brother, Hazel, assumes (not quite so reluctantly) leadership of a small band of rabbits which escapes the destruction of their established warren, but as the journey to the ‘high, lonely hills, where the wind and the sound carry and the ground’s as dry as straw in a barn’ of Fiver’s imaginings results in the establishment of the Watership Down warren, he proves to be the one able to summon the best from each. Hazel is not the strongest, smartest, or most entertaining rabbit. Those honours go to Bigwig, Blackberry and Dandelion. His wisdom is questioned by the others when he befriends mice and the unforgettable injured gull, Kehaar. Hazel’s wisdom is not always explicit to the reader, either. To survive, Watership Down needs does. Yep, got it. Hazel sends Holly, Silver, Buckthorn and Strawberry to a big warren spotted by Kehaar as ‘ambassadors’, with a peace and love idea that they be allowed to take some does from the over-crowded Efrafa back to Watership Down … and plots a raid on Nuthanger Farm to free its thatched rabbits. Holly and the others  escape Efrafa with their lives but no does and the farm raid is almost a disaster.

Efrafa with its marks, regimented eating and shitting times, wide patrols and all-powerful Council and Owslafa is as close to the existence of Orwell’s 1984 as an eight year-old is likely to come. A dark, fearful place for all except a chosen few, where the population accepts its fate, to remain meek and unquestioning under the tyranny of General Woundwort.

Rather than cheer the rabbits the night before another attempt is made to infiltrate Efrafa and escape with enough does to ensure the survival of Watership Down, Bigwig insists storyteller Dandelion relate The Story of El-Ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inle. It’s in the rabbits’ speech (Lapine, as distinct from the ‘hedgerow’ talk of other creatures) and their fables that Adams gives another gift: introducing a new way of speaking of the sun and telling time, an acceptance of strange words and phrases – ‘silflay’, ‘hrududu’, elil’, ‘ni-Frith’ – which later made me treasure Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Similarly, Adams introduces each chapter with the words of other great writers, from Aeschylus to Auden, Browning and Belloc. It is only in adulthood that I drew the meaning of these paragraphs to the chapters that followed.

All novels have a character which the reader relates to, or aspires to be. I did not want to be the leader. I admired the ingenuity of Blackberry, of course, but my heart was set on Thlayli (Bigwig) from the moment he agreed, as a member of the Sandleford warren, to take the inconsequential Hazel and his brother Fiver, with their warnings of impending doom, to the Chief Rabbit. As a frightened, damaged child who needed to survive my own Black Rabbit, Bigwig’s valour and unyielding strength lent me some. His heart, bigger than the strange thatch of fur on his head. His hot temper mixed with his tender care for Kehaar. His wild, unrelenting fury in the face of Woundwort’s assault on Watership Down. All of these things taught me to be hard even when I had nothing to hang on to, no one to speak to, only myself to lick my wounds.

I received my copy of Watership Down more than 30 years ago. It’s the book of my childhood, a book that with every re-reading, imbues it with new values and qualities. That loyalty should not be blind. That it is right to question convention. That no idea, potential ally or friend is too stupid or small … and sometimes, there are things that are not worth dying for, but worth fighting for with your life.

Until tomorrow …

Quiet, please …

28 01 2012

As <insert commercial TV station’s name here> draws the net cord on another summer of tennis, I’ve let the 60,000 tweets coalesce into some sentences with too many adjectives to run through a few of my favourite moments of one of my favourite times of year:

1/. You say goodbye, I say hello: two Australian men reached the fourth round of the Open for the first time since 1976, when Mark Edmonson invented tennis (NB: I am inventing this. It is not true. I think.); one a ‘wretched child’ (copyright Bernard Keane) the other, Bernard Tomic. No, switcheroo. After giving many of us joy with his on court calm and the realisation that at 19, he has that something else that leaves you a little slack-jawed in awe, Tomic has reverted to being another Gold Coast dickhead taking road etiquette lessons from Shane Warne. The much-maligned (well, by me, for his entire Sorbent-endorsing career) Little Lley Lley bundled himself into the commentary bunker without so much as a, ‘jeez, my career’s almost over, what should I do?’. He’s a natural. He knows the nuances of the current crop’s game and adds value to the viewing experience. Do yourself a favour, son: announce your retirement and sew up a contract. Which brings me to …

2/. Seven’s commentary team: in the history of sport, has there ever assembled a more annoying, sexist, Captain Obvious bunch than this lot? OK, Channel 9’s cricket team has that trophy in perpetuity, and Versus’ coverage of the Tour de France, where they use on-screen markers to point out Lance Armstrong, is certainly the most brain embolism-inducing; but Seven’s whacky ability to combine cross-promos, ad breaks during games, the pointless Megawalls and crowd-o-meters, with new bullshit, such as ‘Get Jimbo to ask an open mic question’ writes itself. As Fairfax’s chief sports columnist, Richard Hinds, tweeted last night, ‘is it Marry My Kitchen or My Boy Rules?’ Enough with the South Australian princess, the endless shots of the WAGs, the fairly disgraceful promotion of gambling, Todd Woodbridge for being Todd Woodbridge, and the question on everyone’s lips (well, mine): why was Henri Leconte banished to the back courts this year? I love him. He brings the crazy, the passion, the ‘YES!’ courtside. Who cares that he’s biased toward French players? He’s French. It’s a given. My, ‘bring back Henri’ campaign starts Monday, 30 January 2012.

3/. The Twitspats: not so much a fight as my good friend, Melbourne journalist and friend of the game, Neil McMahon, retweeting obnoxious comments made by Bernard Keane. Bernard, you misanthropic old prick, if you can’t grasp the basics (i.e. Rafael Nadal is among the world’s most humble athletes, not a prick), and want to act like a giant ‘wretched child’, be my guest. Tennis is generally a game where even if you love a player who loses, you can say, ‘tennis was the winner on the day’ after a match the quality of the Nadal-Federer semi. It was, as the kids say, amazeballs, and a joy to watch.

4/. The Twitspats Mark II or ‘it’s all about me’: it began in Bris Vegas, where my tendency (ok, constant) references to yesterday’s Great British Hope and today’s Scotsman, Andy Murray, as ‘Andy Pandy Have a Fuckin’ Shandy’ drew the ire of the Andy Murray Fanclub of Buttfuck, Idaho in an exchange which went something like this:

Me: “Oh, fer fuck’s sake, Andy Pandy Have a Fuckin Shandy is on course for a title, if only because he doesn’t want to have a meltdown in front of Lendl.”

Andy Pandy Have a Fuckin’ Shandy Fan: “You’re just JEALOUS because Andy Murray is the second coming of Christ. You are PATHETIC.”

Me: ‘Have you never heard of The Thick of It? Oh wait, you’re from Buttfuck Idaho. That would be a no.” BLOCKED.

The bestest, everest, tennis twitspat of my summer was the advent of Bernard Tomic’s Twitter account. I am a Tomic fangirl, so I started following. My suspicions (and those of a fair few others) that this wasn’t Our Kid but a fake account set up by a 17 year old whose Twitter bio reads, ‘dancing in his garage’ started when he thanked said garage dancer for helping set up his account. When challenged to prove his Tomic-ness, he asked his followers to help verify the account. Um, yeh, right. Night after night of exhausting four-or five set matches, Our Kid was tweeting well into the early hours, not insights into his day, but RTs of people who asked for RTs. When asked to post a pic to settle the matter once and for all, he announced he was quitting twitter and went deep quiet faster than a South Korean submarine. The sad fact of the matter is he wasn’t a good fake. He failed to bring the funny; if done properly, say in the Fake Shane Watson league, it was the time and place to do it. I do like that he accused me of trying to make him feel worthless; a tweet that went around the true believers and earned me so much gold it was multi-platinum.

5/. The derp-domination of summer came to an end: the great twitter war of ancient Greek words for womb faded away. The King’s Tribune got a well-deserved write up in The Age, and I discovered that Juzzy and Jane have a child. Oh, there was also the great reveal of Paula Matthewson’s sekrit identity and the even greater reveal that Twitter has a ‘cool kids’ clique. I think it’s all a crock of shit, so ner, ner, ne, ner, ner, go and have a shandy the fucking lot of you. Mine’s an Old, because that’s what Newcastle Under 8s drink after a hard 7am training session on grass courts (it was the 70s) before taking it to the Merewether under 12s (and their poxy bitumen excuse for a competition court) and going down, bravely, 6-0 6-0.

6/. The derp-domination of summer did not come to an end: shrieking is not a feminist issue. The decibel-defying play of Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka drew Agnieszka Radwanska out of the locker room to say it did put her off her game. Things I do not agree with: tonight’s final being labelled the showdown of the grunters. Plenty of players, male and female, grunt on and off during matches. I put that down to sheer exertion. Sharapova and Azarenka shriek on almost every point. It’s not grunting, it’s screaming, and to me, pure gamesmanship. What I loathe is the idea that the on-court shrieking gives open slather to denigrate these athletes with the cheap Neanderthal crap of, ‘jeez, how would they go in bed?!?’ (yes, professional sports commentator for ABC Grandstand, Glenn Mitchell, I’m looking at you, you tool of monumental proportion). As we’ve seen throughout the Australian Open, gamesmanship exists in some really shiteous ways: Rafael Nadal’s 800 ball bounces before serve; Novak Djokovic wandering around court in second sets like he’s been shot and about to throw in the towel; players looking to their boxes for confirmation that they should take a challenge – but the shrieking takes the cake. Sadly, it detracts from the fact that they are in the final because they’ve played better tennis.

7/. Controversy Corner with Margaret Court: The Guardian reported that British teenager, Laura Robson, ‘walked unwittingly into a political row’ by wearing a rainbow hairband as part of the protest against Court’s abhorrent homophobia. I shit you not, this made The Guardian. Margaret Court’s hate-filled fundie fucktardedness is mind-boggling in its intensity, but she got a platform at this time of year because she is the greatest female tennis player Australia has produced and has a fourth court named after her. The Rainbow Protest to get the arena named after her changed fizzled, so we were left with a progressive newspaper arguing that a teenaged British player with a multi-coloured hairband was leading the anti-homophobic charge. In a sport where, arguably, homosexual women have said, ‘bring it on, we’re gay’, for a lot longer than any other pursuit, sporting or otherwise, I find it difficult to say that her king-size ker-azy deserves stripping changing the name of the arena. Court has been denounced for her reprehensible statements by former players and almost everyone with a brain. She’s a patently bat-shit crazy woman who invented her own church. Still, her record as a player is mind-boggling and unlikely to be repeated: she won more than half of the Grand Slam singles tournaments she played (24 of 47) She won 192 singles titles before and after the Open Era – an all time record. Her career singles win-loss record was 1,177-106, for a winning percentage of 91.74 percent on all surfaces (hard, clay, grass, carpet); also an all time record. She won at least 100 singles matches in 1965 (113-8), 1968 (107-12), 1970 (113-6), and 1973 (100-5). She won more than 80 percent of her singles matches against top 10 players (297-73) and was the year-end top ranked player seven times. (Source: Wikifuckingpedia). She is, statistically, the Don Bradman of women’s tennis. If we’re going to honour an Australian woman, may I suggest the Evonne Goolagong Arena; Goolagong’s achievements are right up there with the best (14 Slams in the Open era); may I also suggest a name change would give Court and her ilk a greater platform for their nutbag platforms, and a generation of people who laud her tennis achievements a reason to hate teh gays. I’ve never seen Margaret Court given the same respect the men hold for Rod Laver– a lesson for all of us? The locker room has spoken. Let the record stand, but shun the descent of a great into raving crank.

8/. #tweetlikeToddWoodbridge #tweetlikeaChannel7commentator #AustralianOpenfashiontweets … if it wasn’t a free three-minute ad for Nike in the guise of an exclusive behind-the-scenes interview with Serena Williams, we’ve been treated day-in, day-out, to the unnecessary commentary on what female players are wearing on court, down to the colour of the strapping on their lithe legs. Love the shoes, love the skirt, love the bag, love it all. Belongs in the front row of a Milan catwalk, not courtside or commentary box in a Grand Slam. The perfect comeback? …

9/. The Calippo Curse: it started with Fernando Verdasco. Retina-scorching clothing the colour of an 80s iceblock. Having never eaten a Calippo, I struggled for the name, and then it came to me, courtesy of a pointer from my mate, @iamtheoracle to the amusing twitter stream of a Collingwood player. As players fell – Tsonga, Dolgopolov, all of them decked out in #Calippo, it seemed appropriate to take on my nemesis, Todd Woodbridge, and play a few games of piss-taking fashion tweetage between score checks. #Calippo caught on between a few tweeps. I’ll get Woodbridge in the end.

10/. Finally, quiet please. It’s the most basic of rules: if you are in the crowd, you do not call out between serves. End of; no correspondence shall be entered into. For all of the gamesmanship, this is a game of etiquette and deserves to be treated as such. Tomas Berdych learnt a very harsh lesson when he refused to shake hands with Nicolas Almagro after defeating the Spaniard in the fourth round. He broke the code. In other matches, I’ve seen the victor not only pay lip service to the vanquished, but applaud the gladiator. I love that today’s top players are in touch with the history of the game; that Rafael Nadal treats a practice court visit from Rod Laver as a privilege, the iPhone cameras out to record the moment; these amazing young men childlike in his company; the great Roger Federer in tears on accepting the 2006 trophy from his hands. Does this happen at any other Grand Slam? I don’t know; but it melted me when I heard, ‘Mr Laver’ from Novak Djokovic after his win last night. It sums up why I love this sport. So, quiet please; acknowledge the mastery, the guile, the on-court IQ and the physical and mental will that prevails in the end. Thank you, Vika and Maria, Nole and Rafa for giving it everything. Let the finals of the 2012 Australian Open commence. My tips? Azarenka and Djokovic.