I feel great – refreshed from a swim and a steam. I’m in the members’ change room of the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, heading towards my locker after having a shower. I have timed my swim well, leaving as the lunch break members are arriving. I look to see if anyone’s changing near my locker and there is only one guy at the end of the bench. He’s fairly good looking and probably some kind of corporate dude as I can see he has a business suit zipped up in its casing on the bench. I unlock my locker with my green rubber wrist band that I prefer to wrap around my water bottle rather than my wrist. I then turn and attempt to slip the band off the bottle, pulling on the lid. But it wasn’t screwed on properly. The lid slides off. The bottle falls to the bench. Water spouts out like lava from a volcano. Some of it lands on the business dude’s suit casing . I am embarrassed. “Sorry mate. Didn’t see that coming.” He smiles. “No worries. It’s only water.” I think of something, then quickly quip: “Actually, that’s my vodka.” He laughs. “Well, even better.” I then think about saying something along the lines of: “Feel free to lick it off,” but thankfully restrain myself. Instead, I turn, undo the towel wrapped around my waist and proceed to get naked in the company of strangers.
My eight-year old son and I are heading home after kicking a footy in the park. As we walk past the building where he was conceived, I repeat what my wife and I have been saying to him for years: “There’s the Luke factory”. He doesn’t really respond, so I decide to ask him a question: “How do you think you were made?” I’m pretty sure his response will involve the word ‘sexing’, as he has for some weeks now been declaring that he knows what it is, slightly shocking my wife and I that he’s across the concept at his age. “You and Mum got me out of a box and I was put together by robots.” Wow! I didn’t see that coming. Suddenly he’s an innocent little boy again – with quite the imagination. “That sounds pretty exciting. But no, that’s not how you were made.” We walk in silence for awhile. I give it some thought and then decide to take the leap. “Do want to know how were made?” “Okay.” “Well, you know what ‘sexing’ is, don’t you?” “Yeah, it’s when the man puts his penis in the woman’s gavina.” “It’s actually called a ‘vagina’ but yeah, that’s right. Well, that’s how you make a baby. The woman gets pregnant and then nine months later, out comes the baby.” Shocked silence. Then, “Really?” “Yep.” More silence. Then, “Ahhh – I knew you and Mum must have had sex at least once.” I laugh. More silence. But this time, I can almost see the little cogs in his brain spinning around and I know what’s coming next. “So… you and Mum could have sex again and make me a brother!” “Unfortunately, no. Women get to a certain age and then their bodies can no longer make a baby.” He’s disappointed. But I can tell that he’s buzzing with this newfound knowledge and is probably busting to get back to the schoolyard (where he no doubt learned what little he did know about ‘sexing’) and share this bombshell with his little mates. What I fail to foresee, however, is that he will soon suddenly stand up in his afterschool-care classroom and declare to kids aged five to ten: “All your parents had sex at least once before you were born!”
There is no doubt that for six months of the year, I am obsessed with Aussie Rules footy. I watch the professional version at stadiums and the junior version at suburban ovals throughout Sydney. On TV, I watch games and shows about those games. I read about it all week on the net and even coach it at a fantasy level. I guess you could call it my thing. But there is another type of spectacle that, though observed far less frequently, could qualify as my other thing: modern dance. Sixteen simply clad bodies sweep across the stage. Their elegant movements mirror each other. Then half of them drop down to crouching positions, rising one arm and flicking their wrist with a spastic motion. The contrast with their elegant halves is stunning. Though in many ways worlds apart, footy and dance do share similarities. They both feature highly skilled bodies that can perform amazing physical feats. Each attempts to co-ordinate the motions of a group towards a common goal. The major difference, of course, is that footy players try to do so while others are doing their best to smash them; whilst dancers are choreographed free of interference. The music is moody, the light dim. Bodies swerve and whirl, narrowly missing each other. Suddenly the music switches to a chorus of banjos. The lights go bright. The dancers spin towards the audience with face stretching smiles and shake manically to the music, as if possessed. A switch is flicked and it’s back to moody dim whirling. For myself, both take me on a ride. Footy can be exhilarating and incredibly frustrating. Dance can be intense, increasing my heartbeat, literally bringing me to the edge of my seat. It also transports me in a way no other live performance can. There is no real plot to follow. No clever dialogue. Just music and movement. I love it. The two dancers split. The Belgian man heads to a podium at the edge of the stage. The Spanish woman wraps herself in a column of material hanging from the ceiling. Behind her, a dark screen suddenly comes to life and shapes form. There is a silhouetted tree. The wrapped woman rotates towards it. The tree then starts to interact with her. How is this possible? Another look at the man reveals that he is the master of the tree, using his hands to manipulate sand that sits on a glass panel with a video camera underneath. Pure genius.
The first time I saw him in public was a classic double-take moment. I was walking up Curlewis street in Bondi when a group of about four people were leaving the Brown Sugar café and started walking in front of me. One of them was unusually tall. Wow. He’s big enough to be a footy player. Then I noticed his curly hair. Hang on. He is a footy player! It was Shane Mumford – aka Mummy – the Sydney Swan’s enormous ruckman. I was a newly born again Swans fanatic at the time and was even wearing my prized black hooded Swans jacket. I reached for my phone and the nerve to approach him for a selfie. But I stopped myself. Here was a guy just hanging with his mates on the weekend. He didn’t want to be hassled by an annoying footy fan. So I resisted. The next time I saw him, he was no longer with the Swans. The shock signing of superstar forward Buddy Franklin had created the salary cap pressure to force Mummy out of the Swans and into the still fledgling Great Western Sydney Giants. And once again, I didn’t recognise him straight away. I was in the Bondi Vet waiting room with Nitro the two-toned cavoodle, who was worse for wear thanks to an encounter with a tick. A couple with a cute cavoodle pup entered, so naturally we started chatting about the virtues of cavoodles. After a little while, the penny dropped. “Uh – is your name Shane?” He nodded. “Right. I’m a huge fan. I saw you in the 2012 Grand Final in Melbourne with my son. You were great.” He politely thanked me but as I could sense a bit of embarrassment, I went back to talking about cavoodles. Once again, I didn’t want to be seen as an annoying footy fan. The third encounter, over a year later, also involved our cavoodles. I was taking Nitro for an afternoon stroll near the beach when I noticed another cavoodle he plays with sometimes. So I let Nitro loose for a bit of cavoodling. I then see another dog owner playing fetch his cavoodle. It’s Mummy and the now fully-grown Bella. I watch them for a while, wanting to say something but resisting. When Nitro decides to steal Bella’s ball, which I rescue, I can no longer help myself. “You guys were in a tight one the other day”, referring to the Giant’s last second one point loss to the West Coast Eagles. Mummy groans. But he then starts chatting about the frustration of losing such a close game. We continue talking footy – the form of other teams, the excitement of the Giants about to take part in their first finals campaign and the possibility of a Swans v Giants final. I am really enjoying the chance to be a footy bore with one of the AFL’s best players. And despite my dog repeatedly thieving his dog’s ball, Mummy also seems happy to chat. Finally it’s time to head off and we say good-bye. I’m buzzing and later tell my wife and son all about me and my mate Mummy. It’s maybe a couple of weeks later when I next spot Mummy and Bella. Nitro and I are on our way back from the north end of the beach walkway. Mummy is about twenty metres ahead, putting a lead on Bella. He sees Nitro and, without making it too obvious, sees me. He then turns sharply and starts walking in the other direction. His long legs get into gear and in no time at all he is speeding away, the curly haired Bella forced into a trot beside him. Ok – no worries. He obviously isn’t up for a chat today. Then it hits me – I am an annoying footy fan. Even worse – I am an annoying footy fan with an annoying cavoodle. A combination best avoided whenever possible.