Preparing for my annual trip to the Australian Underwater Hockey Championships I found myself rummaging through my spare gear. Sitting on the floor in living room of our Carlton North apartment it dawned on me that a full twenty years earlier I would have been sitting in my parent’s house in Wonthaggi doing the same thing. In December 1993 it was a skinny little freckle faced squirt getting ready to play in his first National Championships. The butterflies in my belly have faded as the bats, fins and snorkels strewn across the room have aged and worn but the list below is a physical remainder of two decades spent chasing a lead puck around the bottom of a hundred different swimming pools across the world:
11 pairs of fins (three unbroken Breier Carbon Fibre open heels, one pair of Najade, four pairs of Technisub Ala – one good and three clapped out – one pair of Technisub Stratos FP, a pair of F1s shitboxes and two pairs carbon Leaderfins)
10 left handed gloves (three silicone Boney, four silicone South African, a latex TruBlue, one Slovenian and a latex Stu Parko special)
One right handed latex TruBlue glove
Five masks (two Reef teardrops – fuck! things are getting dire – one Cressi Big-Eyes, one TUSA SplenDive II and a Cressi SuperOcchio)
20 Waterpolo caps (1s, 2s, 8s, 10s, 2 pairs of 11s and 13s plus a singe 1 (red), 6, 9 and 11)
About 30 odd sticks (3 pairs of Arnold Piccoli endorsed wooden monster hooks, 1 pair plastic Dorsels (unused), 1 pair CamAm Gav Wise plastic (I tried them once), 1 black South African Sharkie (Unused), about 10 pairs of assorted homemade wooden bats and one right handed wooden Razor white ‘appropriated’ from Parko or Nick Martyn by the looks of it)
17 pairs of bathers
Four pairs of Victorian branded tri-vests (thank god those days are over)
Three pairs of Lycra socks
Three medium fin keepers
Four pairs of swimming goggles
Three gear bags (one Australian branded, one Hockeysub and one cricket bag)
20m of 3mm utility cord
Phillips head screwdriver
Bastard file (rusty)
Swiss Army knife (unusable)
Bag of zip ties
Three rolls of Quick Eze
Voltaren (both tablets and gel)
Two black Textas
One White paint pen
One and a half rolls of Duct tape
Three rolls of Electrical tape
Three orange Super Soft Trueblue pucks
Three green Trueblue pucks
One Pink Trueblue puck
One Simms puck
One Lead puck
Two Elite Men’s World Championship gold medals
One Elite Men’s World Championship Bronze medal
One Australian Nationals Men’s division gold medal
A shoe box full of Australian Nationals Men’s division bronze medals
Rummaging through twenty years of underwater hockey memories was an opportunity to reflect on my time in the sport. The act of cataloging my spare gear led me to the following realisations:
Nearly two-thirds of my life has been spent playing Underwater Hockey
I’ve had some amazing experiences and met a bunch of fantastic people along the way
I have enough spare gear to allow two teams of left handers to play on another
Review: Vampire Weekend, Festival Hall, Monday 6 January 2014
We should have known something was wrong from the door bitch. She looked at our tickets, looked at the three grown men waiting impatiently in front of her, then looked back at the tickets with a frown. Just checking that you’re in the right place. Eventually, she shrugged and waved us in. Once inside, Curly looked at us and asked that classic rhetorical question, Beer? Ads and I nodded. Even though he stood less than ten metres from the “bar” Curly asked a security guard for directions. Sorry pal, this is the dry section. He pointed to the ceiling and the three of us looked at the NO PASS OUTS sign and panicked. This is what can happen when pregnant ladies book tickets for a gig.
We made our way to our allocated seats in a daze. I was too bewildered to notice at the time but, in hindsight, it’s amazing how easily you can navigate cramped and crowded aisles when you aren’t balancing three plastic cups overflowing with beer. We sat down and I looked across at the sticky carpets and beer soaked heaving mass just twenty metres away, on the other side of a row of thin medal bars. I’d never been stuck in the unlicensed area of an All Ages gig. How had it come to this?
Curly had called around lunchtime. You heard of Vampire Weekend? he asked. Yep, they’re good, I responded. Just so happens, I’ve picked up a couple of tickets to see them tonight. Want to come? I hesitated. It was a school night, the first Monday of January and I’d decided to try for fewer boozy nights in 2014. Sure, I’m keen. Seeing more live music was my other New Year’s resolution. It turned out that Curly’s pregnant cousin, Ella, had bought three tickets but she’d gone into labour early. Earlier that morning, Ella had given birth to a healthy little boy but obviously she wasn’t going to make the show.
It was a Festival Hall gig with an 8pm start. I naturally assumed that meant: doors open at 8pm, support act at 9pm and Vampire Weekend would hit the stage around 10ish. Curly had managed to rustle up another mate, Ads. The three of us met at a pub, the Hotel Spencer, near the gig at about 8pm. We had a couple of pots before walking down the hill. We got to Festival Hall at 8:40pm making it far and away the earliest I had ever arrived to a gig. Unfortunately, that event had coincided with being stuck smack bang in the middle of the dry section of licensed venue with the band at least an hour off hitting the stage.
Surveying the crowd, I realised that we were surrounded on all sides by kids. Everywhere I looked the oily sheen of prepubescent skin was lit up by the reflected glow mobile phone screens held closely to naïvely optimistic faces. The bitter irony of my situation dawned upon me, I’d been worried about going out on a school night but given the number of fifteen year olds around, I could have been back at high school. I spotted a few other adults scattered amongst a sea of adolescent exuberance, parents chaperoning their children on first dates, pregnant couples and maybe a reformed alcoholic or two.
Determined to make the best of the situation, I tried to identify a weak spot in the barrier that separated the unlicensed and licensed sections in the hope that we could sneak across. Try as I might, I couldn’t see a weakness. It looked fun on the other side of the barrier. Punters laughed, drank and chatted beneath an abundance of signage directing people to a dozen different bars where money could be exchanged for alcohol. It was as if the signs had been strategically placed just to taunt us. My frustration increased when I saw a guy buy soft drink from a licensed bar. Had he no regard for our plight? As far as I could see the only advantage of the unlicensed area was the lack of people waiting to be served at the so-called “bars”. I’m not an alcoholic but I do enjoy a drink. I had a couple of beers under the belt and was keen to enjoy a few more (responsibly of course) while listening to some quality live music.
Thankfully, we had completely misjudged the schedule, the support act (Gang of Youths) had actually played before we arrived so we only had to wait about fifteen minutes before Ezra, Rostam and the two Chris’s hit the stage. The relative lack of alcoholic accompaniment became a distant memory once the music started.
Sitting there and watching, I mean really watching and listening, I noticed details that would have been missed from the middle of a sweaty, booze-fuelled crowd. I laughed during Oxford Comma when a clapstick thrown from the crowd nearly hit Ezra while he sang the line, “Take the chapstick, put it on your lips”. I noticed that there was something painted on a sheet that was thrown on the stage and Erza made a bandana out of. It was the reaction of the kids around us that was the most enlightening. For many, it would have been their first live music experience and they were pumped. I dawned upon me that All Age venues provide the gig going punters of tomorrow access to live music.
The boys from New York City produced a pretty solid set. Laid back melodic ballads such as Step and Obvious Bicycle suited a band whose frontman wears three-quarter length pants, boat shoes and likes singing with one hand planted in his pocket. Cousins, One and A-Punk where highlights. Their high energy percussion heavy tone was complimented by the happy hoping and double denim of bassist Chris Baio.
It wasn’t just gentle swaying and adolescent innocence in the unlicensed section either. Shit was getting loose by the time the encore rolled around. Kids stood on chairs willy-nilly for When Walcott. It looked like security was going to have to start grounding people. The set came to an end at 10:37pm and we made our way onto the street in an orderly fashion while discussing the relative merits of the gig and our seating arrangements. We were sober but had been treated to something different.
The unlicensed section had provided a novel vantage point that had given me a new perspective on the live music experience. I looked at the L-platers that surrounded us in the hope that someone might give us a lift to the pub on their way home.