Polyester, South American exotica and retro chic

The Australian U23 Men's team trying not to look like a bunch of poindexters.
The Australian U23 Men’s team trying not to look like a bunch of poindexters.

Team uniforms, Australian underwater hockey players are passionate about them. Everyone’s got an opinion and you can never keep everyone happy. Getting the uniform right can improve the awesomeness of any team. A decade of Australian dominance was built on over-sized florescent green and gold parachute tracksuits.

Still, a large group of people deciding to wear exactly the same thing at the same time is a little strange. You often see big groups from one sport or another, rocking out together in matching crop tops and short shorts. Sometimes they look good, most of the time they don’t. Irrespective, they always stand out.

Jack's happy being an athlete but imagine how much happier he will be when he's wearing the official Australian uniform.
Jack’s happy being an athlete but imagine how much happier he will be when he’s wearing the official Australian uniform.

This is especially true in our sport. A bright yellow t-shirt with UNDERWATER HOCKEY plastered across the chest is pretty hard to miss. Wearing an official looking uniform does have some upsides. For example, it adds credibility when trying to get an upgrade while flying. It might even trick someone into thinking that wearing budgie smugglers and flailing about on the bottom of the pool is a legitimate way to spent three weeks. Despite all of these upsides, something about wearing my team uniform on the plane over here just didn’t feel right. Wear your uniform while traveling by yourself and there is a fair chance that you’re going to look like a genuine squeezer. The “look at me” factor is just too great. Basic hygiene is another consideration. A competition like the World Championships is a long haul and your uniform is your home for most of that time. Wear the same clothes for two weeks and you’re bound to cultivate a decent stink no matter what you do. Soiling your uniform for an extra 40 hours on the plane on the way over isn’t going to help.

This year’s Australian team uniform seems to be going ok. Self appointed style guru Stewart ‘Parko’ Parkinson has been shooshing about with Catalina Chica Perez, Sandra Milner and Kirsteen “Chooky” Reid. They have managed to overcome Stewart’s passion for double denim to deliver a creative masterpiece that combines polyester, South American exotica with retro chic. Hopefully, it is a uniform to inspire another generation of Australian players to do great things.

All aboard for another weirdo convention

Underwater hockey?
“Yes, underwater hockey.”
“Really, never heard of it. How does that work?”

This conversation, and its many variations, is replayed over and over across the world. Every underwater hockey player approaches this situation differently.

My response has changed over the years. Early on, I would talk up the sport to anybody and everybody. Naive enthusiasm like that can only last so long. Cynicism and fatigue eventually crept in and I either ignored the question or directed people to look it up on YouTube. That kind of response doesn’t really promote the sport so I’ve been searching for a happy medium.

After a recent conversation I finally think I’ve found it. My reply went something along the lines of, “Get a bunch of weirdos together and throw them into a pool.” I wasn’t being derogatory. I’ve always considered myself a first class weirdo and the marginal nature of our sport has some big upsides. Underwater hockey isn’t really that much different to other recreational activities. It is no weirder than a bunch of blokes chasing a bit of leather around a field or people picking heavy stuff up then putting it back down. Less people play underwater hockey that’s all. One of the things I like about our sport is that it draws people from different backgrounds. I have traveled the world playing underwater hockey and have met all kinds of new and strange people. I wouldn’t have had these are experiences if I didn’t play underwater hockey.

The good times are set to continue over the next couple of weeks. The international weirdo convention that is the 2013 Underwater Hockey World Championships is about to kick off. Hundreds of like-minded people from around the world will converge on the little Hungarian town of Eger to scuffle about on the bottom of a pool.  I’ll be there. I’ll be going around with the Australian boys having a whole heap of fun in the process. It will be a chance to meet a whole new bunch of weirdos – people who found their way to underwater hockey just like I did. I’ll be writing some frivolous notes about my adventures.

Coffee in Carlton North

Mary Street, Carlton North

The boulangerie and patisserie on Nicholson Street is five minutes walk from our apartment at the leafy end of Rathdowne. The bike path that was once a train line isn’t far. A hip new café up there has good coffee and food but it’s busy. I prefer to walk the laneway. Skip the path, swing through the trees, I once read.

The walk takes me along a cobbled bluestone street cutting between Lygon and Nicholson. More lane than street, it is a backstage glimpse of inner city life. Thunderboxes lining the back fences have been converted into sheds and an old stable is now a loft apartment but they are a reminder of another time, a different city.

Rathdowne is busy in the morning. Office workers in flash cars looking to shortcut through the traffic sit bumper to bumper anyway. Fixed wheeled bikes zip along the inside lane carrying guys and gals with asymmetrical haircuts and the cuffs of their jeans folded up.

A catering company spans the entire laneway, a red brick warehouse on one side and the old barn opposite. Day and night people scurry from building to building loading food in and out of a white van.

A sixty-foot gum tree springs out of the cobbled ground between Ames and Canning. Neat cottages and terraces nestle beneath its leafy branches. It is cooler under there and the autumn sun filters down through a sea of green.

I think of the bush, then look down Canning Street and see a city full of possibilities. A wide boulevard dotted with palms and double storey terraces leads toward a city skyline reaching up to put its fingerprint on the big sky.

The lane gets its punk on at Station Street. Black, silver, reds and greens. Tags and pop references creeping across the walls and around windows guarded by metal bars. Tiny courtyards overflow with ashtrays, herbs and hard rubbish chairs. Late starters are still rising in the flats above the shops.

Step out on Nicholson Street and the Railway Hotel is on the left and the Empress on the right. They deal in pots, cheap grub and live music. Maria’s Deli is down the road a ways selling meats of all sorts as well as dips and cheese. There is a butcher, two souvlaki joints, a TAB, a bookshop and a green grocer. I could jump the 96 to St Kilda beach or East Brunswick but the coffee is there at the bakery on the corner. It costs $3.20. The service is shit but it is a strong brew. Life back in Melbourne is good.

Tips for finding a rental property

Hunting for a house is a shit fight of post-apocalyptic proportions. The ultimate test of stamina and rat cunning, it pits you against hordes of affluent working professionals, career renters, young families and well-financed international students. The stakes are high but so are the rewards. The chance to call a place home for the next 12 months beckons. Only the strong, ruthless and well prepared will survive. Following a few simple rules will give you the edge you need.

Waiting for an 'Open for Inspection' in North Fitzroy with eighty other punters.
Waiting for an ‘Open for Inspection’ in North Fitzroy with eighty other punters.

1. Before anything else, preparation is the key to success

The process should start in front of a computer. Take your time trawling the online rental listings. Many hapless souls have underestimated the importance of this task but the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff will save untold hours spent traipsing from one inspection to another.

“143 Park Street, Carlton North. Just a hiccup away from great coffee.”

“19 Station Street, Fairfield. High on lifestyle, low on affordability.”

“3/75 Brighton Road, Richmond. Just a shallow fart from public toilets.”

Are examples of the listings that you’re likely to encounter. Making sense of a well-crafted byline is crucial. Knowing that ‘comfortable’ actually means ‘claustrophobic’ could save you a trip to West Coburg. Seeing a grainy bedroom photograph for the broom closet it really is will help you avoid a two-hour ride on a peak-hour tram.

2. Enjoy the little things

Once you have your shortlist finalised it’s time to hit the inspection trail. You’ll be zigzagging your way across the city so it’s best to block out your evenings and weekends from now until eternity. To break the monotony, try to savor the little things. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the hope and optimism rising in your tummy on the way to an inspection that has a good location, reasonable rent and photos of a nice looking courtyard. The place may well be your home for the next twelve months. You might have amazing times there. But remember to guard your heart. You must be ready to face a mass of prospective renters skulking about on the street fingering their iPhones. Keep your head up. Don’t let the steaming shit dropping from the sky crush your fragile spirit.

A disingenuous but impeccably dressed real estate agent will be along shortly. Grabbing the ‘Open for Inspection’ sign from the boot of their shiny new Beamer they will shepherd the hapless would be tenants’ through the over priced, under maintained property. People will walk through the house, often in pairs, discussing the pros and cons. Good sized BIR (Build In Robes) but not much light. It has a dishwasher but the stove and oven are electric. The courtyard would be great for barbeques except when a ten-carriage train rattles past. Joining the throng, you will see the people from last week’s inspections in Northcote and Abbotsford. A nod of acknowledgement costs you nothing.

3. Prostitute your suitability

Make sure to take your turn accosting the agent. Prostitute your suitability as a tenant. Kiss arse shamelessly. Improve your prospects. Things like,

“We currently rent with your agency. Ruth Andrews is our Property Manager. Do you know Ruth? Is it easy to transfer from one lease to another via the same agent?”

or

“My brother in-law is in real estate. Says it’s a great job, he really enjoys the diversity. How do you find it? When is the place available?”

can work nicely. Or, if you are felling audacious, you can try bluffing the agent:

“This place definitely isn’t our favourite. The carpets are a bit tacky and worn, aren’t they? The dishwasher is old and there is only space for one bike in the front courtyard. You must be struggling to lease it. I trust the landlord is open to reduced offers?”

4. People are all the same

Don’t be disheartened when you realise that each and every inspection is full of people exactly the same as you. Young, working professionals and students need to keep their finger on the pulse. Gotta be in the action, live where things are happening. North and South are discussed as if the Yarra is a post-war stockade separating people of opposing ideologies but you won’t see any difference between punters looking at cottages in Prahan and those sniffing around the terraces of Brunswick. They are all the same. They’re just competition, a bunch of scaly charlatans looking to snake you out of your rightful claim to a decent and affordable rental property.

5. Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story

The only thing that will differentiate you from the bung-eyed hordes is your application. Pre-fill your forms. Fudge your rental history. Lie about your wage. Arrange bogus references. Fuck them all. It’s a jungle out there.

Is airport coffee hipsters’ kryptonite?

Taking an early morning flight means rising at 4am, minimum. At that unholy hour, sleep deprivation combined with airport lighting awakens a caffeine craving that rivals the walking dead’s appetite for human flesh. While airport coffee isn’t the most finely crafted drop it still satisfies a fundamental human requirement. We need it.

coffee2

Every time I arrive back in Melbourne after a morning flight I inevitably find myself in one of the many shrines to caffeine snobbery that occupy the city’s graffiti lanes and old warehouses. Waiting for my order, I always look around and wonder what the fixed-wheel bicycle riding hipsters that surround me would make of the takeaway coffee I ordered from the Dreamy Donuts near Gate 23 just hours before.

coffee

I’m sure that the discussion about whether to order or not would raise any number of interesting questions. Where does International Roast actually fit in the single-origin versus boutique blend argument? Is coffee with milk superior to an extra strong decaf soy latte with a shot of vanilla? Does ordering black coffee rather than a Long Black undermine the cred established by skinny jeans an asymmetrical haircut? Is coffee that tastes like twice-burnt monkey excrement filtered through used dishwater actually any different to Kopi luwak? Would a single sip of airport coffee render someone completely incapable of riding a gearless bicycle? (I think we all know the answer to that question is a definite yes.)

Don’t get me wrong, I like good coffee but I am also more than willing to drink shit coffee. Perhaps that is where I’m going wrong. Maybe I if swapped my taste for cheap burnt coffee for tribal ink, highly sculpted facial hair and body piercings, I’d finally discover that ‘track suit pants are not welcome here’ attitude that everybody seems so keen on. I could do that but where would it leave me the next time me and my clapped out tracksuit pants stand in the harsh fluorescent glow of the domestic terminal at 5am? Tired and caffeine deficient. That’s where. Nobody wants that, least of all me.

Making sense of the purple haze

The heat makes everything so confusing. Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology extended its palette range to include purple to deal with Australia’s current heat wave. Apparently, purple now represents the 50-52 degrees temperature range.

art-weather-620x349

It’s hard to understand how adding a colour to some weather chart has caused such hysteria. After all, purple is a pre-existing colour by all accepted measures. It is a colour which, up until this point, has been considered a king among colours. If this is no longer true then how do you explain the team at McDonald’s letting Grimace hang around in its ‘restaurants’? It’s all too much.

I can’t just ditch purple at the drop of hat. I need time and space to process this new information. I need to get comfortable to process something of this enormity. I’ll think about it tonight, when I get home.

I’ll pick up some imported juice from the open refrigeration display case of the most convenient Coles or Safeway on the drive home. When I get there, I’ll print the Bureau of Meteorology picture that everyone is talking about. I have some nice premium bleached A4 card that will do nicely. Then I’ll get comfortable under the split system and turn on the TV (hopefully something informative like Today Tonight or A Current Affair is on). At that point, having eliminated all environmental and seasonal variables, I should be able to figure out this ‘climate change’ mumbo jumbo.

Note: I don’t need to worry about any of this as it turns out. Since I wrote the post the Bureau of Meteorology has backtracked and wiped purple off the map.

Adelaide, it’s a good place for cricket

The Donald Bradman statue at the Adelaide Oval
The Donald Bradman statue at the Adelaide Oval

I have always wanted to go to the Adelaide Test. A good mate from university used to make an annual pilgrimage with the boys from the Panton Hill Cricket Club. He would rave about long hot days spent drinking in the sun on the ground’s famous hill.

One of the few upsides of my recent move to Adelaide is that I have found myself living not far from the ground. Now that I only have to survive a short walk through the well-tended rose gardens and reversing Mercedes of North Adelaide’s leafy back streets I have no excuses.

There is no doubt that the Adelaide Oval is a good spot for cricket. The ground is the jewel in the Festival state’s crown. Nestled on the banks of the Torrens, just a long throw from the CBD, it cuts a pretty picture.

Adelaide occupies a prominent position in the Australian cricket landscape. The oval has played host to matches since the 1870s and has seen some of the most dramatic moments in Australian cricket.  It was here, during the third Test of the 1932–33 Ashes series, that outrage over England’s use of the Bodyline strategy finally boiled over. The tactic created so much anger amongst the Australian public that Mike Brearley has speculated that the then English captain Jardine may have “won the Ashes, but nearly lost an Empire.” The game attracted 174,452 spectators, a record at the time.

Up until recently, the ground held around 34,000 spectators but with the current construction works, capacity must be around half that. It’s a shame I won’t get to see the ground in all of its splendor but the scene is still set for a cracking week of cricket.

Having rarely bowled a ball in anger I am nothing more than an armchair cricket punter. The extent of my cricketing knowledge is limited to listening to Kerry O’Keeffe, playing beach cricket and reading Confessions of a Thirteenth Man. Still, recent history has shown that the Adelaide Oval Curator, Damian Hough, tends to produce a bit of road. That, coupled with the batting performances of both sides in the first Test, means that there is a fair chance of a batting exhibition. It should give me plenty of time to brush up on my cricket parlance.

If nothing else, the cricket coming to town has meant that The Advertiser has dramatically reduced the space it can dedicate to its Kurt Tippett vilification campaign and for that I am glad. The weeklong battle of bat and ball is going to be great.

#qanda: Australia’s social media mecca

I write this from the smug afterglow of having seen my first tweet displayed on Q&A. My increasing infatuation with Twitter has led me to see the ABC’s current affairs panel discussion as Australia’s social media mecca. I am not alone, opinionated eccentrics engaging in a lively and live panel discussion moderated by the luminary presence of Tony Jones has captured the imagination of the Australian tweeting public. I, like many others, spend my Monday nights bombarding the Q&A hashtag (#qanda) with self-important and grossly uninformed witticisms. I was pretty chuffed to finally get one up.

Five years from now I will probably look back on this Twitter fancy with an embarrassment similar to that now experienced by the chatroom addicts of the late 1990s but for now I will continue my infatuation (and procrastination) with the little blue bird.

Twitter is lauded for providing unmediated access to breaking news in real time. One need look no further than the digital avalanche that has followed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to see this morbid phenomenon but the real time aspect of Twitter not what attracts me. I’m not somebody who needs their news right now. I don’t actually think there are many people who do. I can see the benefit for politicians, disaster response experts and M from MI6 but reading about something as it happens or a day or two later makes little difference to the everyday punter.

Twitter interests me because it allows serendipitous discovery of both the inconsequential and informative. I can follow a topic or comment down the rabbit hole into a virtual world of thematically interconnected articles and projects. It encourages reading on a broader range of topics from a wider range of sources. It also allows me to engage with likeminded people and participate in informed discussion. Like all social media platforms there is the narcissistic rubbish but if you can see your way through that then you can find gold on the other side. In some respects it is similar to skimming through a pile of newspapers and journals.

I still like to feel the ink on my fingertips but it is obvious that the news and journalism paradigm has fundamentally changed in the digital age. Much is being made of the rise of citizen journalism and the advent of social media has certainly changed print journalism as well as television news and current affairs programs. One-way communication is giving way to two-way engagement albeit on unequal terms. Here in Australia, the ABC and SBS have been some of the most innovative users of social media and multimedia to facilitate greater engagement with their audience. Like many other programs, Q&A displays tweets from the bleachers in the news ticker at the bottom of the screen but they also incorporate some of those tweets into the actual discussion. The Q&A format and its aspiration to demonstrate democracy in action, “where the audience asks the questions,” is particularly suited to this approach. They do it well enough for the #QandA hashtag to trend nationally and internationally throughout the broadcast. One broadcast during the 2011 federal election prompted more the 37,000 tweets. Many other news, current affairs and breakfast programs have incorporated similar approaches into their broadcast. It adds value in some cases but many programs do it poorly. Irrespective of the quality of its delivery, the trend to integrate social media into the television broadcasts means that interested citizens now have an unprecedented opportunity to engage and influence the news cycle.

The tweet that was featured on Q&A hardly fits into the category of citizen journalism; it merely reflected how impressed I was by Archie Roach and his contribution to the discussion. I was happy to have it profiled nevertheless. My delight is nerdy, frivolous and probably has something to do with Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps in the digital age this concept could and should be revised to encompass something about 140 characters of fame. That aside, the Q&A format and my use of Twitter provides me with a weekly opportunity to engage in informed discussion with some of Australia’s most pressing issues. I am glad that the ABC staff saw fit to take my tweet as a comment.

The power of the social media whinge

Twitter & Facebook

A decent whinge has always been an effective method to get your own way but some recent issues I had with a pair of Dunlop Volley’s shows that social media takes the reach and results of a whinge to a whole other level.

I recently posted a light-hearted, largely frivolousness piece outlining my disillusionment with the drastic drop in the quality of the Dunlop Volley. I also shared the link to the post on both Facebook and Twitter. The post itself wasn’t that widely read and didn’t generate that much comment so when my tweet resulted in a response from Pacific Brands I was quite surprised.

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