Tales from the Boundary
“No Worries Mate!”
I once heard Australia described as a land of half-a-dozen large cities separated by thousands of square miles of arid desert and scrub, all of which was infested by snakes and spiders. A little harsh perhaps but I know where the author was coming from. Caught up in the euphoric excitement of England’s thrilling Ashes victory on home soil in 2005 my wife and I embarked on a month-long trip ‘down under’ eighteen months later where the plan was to combine some sight-seeing with a healthy serving of Ashes cricket at Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. Two Test matches had already been played, and lost, before we set off on our adventure and from the very first ball of the contest at Brisbane, where Harmison had warmed-up second slip’s fingers without any intervention from the batsman, we Poms were on a slippery slide to an embarrassing 5-0 whitewash.
When an Englishman holidays in the Australian summer he fully anticipates that much of the time he will be battling against the heat. How strange then, that apart from when we were in Perth – where the 'Fremantle Doctor' provided some welcome afternoon respite – the weather should disappoint in such a spectacular fashion. Just one of those things, perhaps? Maybe, but I think it was more than that. I believe it was all part of a conspiracy between the Aussies and the Fates to kick the poor cricket-loving Pom where it hurts when he is already down. How else could one explain the catalogue of mishaps and aggravations that bedevilled our stay?
Even for someone as hopelessly accident-prone as me, many of the irritations suffered might normally be dismissed as being hazards of everyday life, such as when I dropped a toilet roll in the loo, when I trod on my glasses, when the chain on my hired cycle jammed solid or when a dog ate my hearing aid, but in the context of the almighty thrashing our cricketers were receiving wherever they went these negatives were brought into sharp focus.
To the embittered Pom, who would shortly suffer the embarrassment of surrendering the Ashes in feeble fashion and in record time, the average Aussie’s gratingly cheerful bonhomie, employed with a gushing enthusiasm at every opportunity and accompanied by the jingoistic sign-off “No worries, mate”, was particularly annoying when coupled with his blatant gloating over his nation’s sporting superiority. It was rather like being offered the hand of friendship by someone who is planting his boot into your groin at the same time. I comforted myself in the conviction that at least my own country offered the world something more tangible than warm sunshine, affordable property and cold beer!
So to the cricket in Perth and to the crux of my story. The match is famous for three Australian centuries, including the second-fastest Test century of all time, by Gilchrist, and a 90 – all in the same innings. The one bright spot for us was a century by the young Essex left-hander, Alistair Cook, still in the process of establishing himself as an international player. Although it proved a false dawn in the context of the match, his innings did inspire the English supporters into believing that we were making an effort to retrieve lost ground: but once our fortunes again began to dip, this time irretrievably, some greater force encouraged me to indulge in a period of typically crass stupidity.
Having sat through what for her was the torture of the first two days’ play my wife decided to take herself off to the beach for the remainder of the match so was not present to witness any of the following. The lunch interval was approaching on the fourth day and the searing heat dictated that I needed to get a cool drink, so I left my seat in the John Inverarity Stand and joined the 10-minute queue for refreshments. When I reached the head of the queue I duly asked for a beer and was told “Over there, mate: you can only get a hot drink here”. Glancing ‘over there’ the queue looked to be twice as long as the one I had already been in, so I thought it might be prudent to cut my losses and have a coffee instead.
“You pour it yourself from the machine in front of you, mate” volunteered the idle catering assistant. I pulled a paper cup from the stack, placed it in the groove on the dispenser and pressed the button marked ‘coffee’. “Where’s the milk”, I wondered to myself; “Ah, this button here must be the one”, - famous last words. I had actually pressed the button that supplied boiling hot water until instructed otherwise by the pressing of another button that I didn’t locate until the counter and concourse were awash with steaming water.
“I’m glad you did that and not me”, said the next chap in the queue. “Not your day, mate, is it? – the milk’s in this jug”, said the irritating assistant who was doing very little to assist and whose attitude had by now convinced me that he was anything but my ‘mate’. I quickly topped-up my paper cup with milk, paid my dues and sheepishly slunk away.
As I made my way back to my seat I glanced to one side and spotted a pretty young face amongst the crowd – as you do! Just as our eyes met I tripped over a step I had not seen and lost most of my coffee and all of my dignity! Grateful to recapture the comparative anonymity provided by my seat in the stand I started to tackle my packed lunch. Since I had been sitting down all morning watching the play I decided to stand while I tucked in. As I took the first bite from an enormous chicken and salad baguette a large amount of the filling cascaded over a young female sitting in the row in front of me.
I then spent several minutes plucking bits of food from her tresses, much to our joint embarrassment and to the amusement and curiosity of several onlookers, one of whom said to me darkly, “There’s a word for people like you”. Conscious that there were probably several words for people like me I thought it was best to quit while I was ahead (even though by now I was behind!) and endeavoured to keep a low profile for the rest of the day. I did, however, contrive to miss the fall of an English wicket later in the day as I left my seat to pay a visit to the nearby convenience.
Typical of my luck the paper-towel dispenser, having served the chap in front of me perfectly well, decided to jam as it saw me approach. By this time I decided that I had had enough aggravation for one day and so headed fore the exit. When I reached the haven of our hotel room I self-effacingly recounted the tale of my day in the sun to my wife, who had only just returned from her own day in the sun on Cottesloe beach. I offered by way of a defence my in-born tendency towards being accident-prone. “Accident-prone, my foot”, she scoffed, “your problem is you’re just plain stupid”.