Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blowie up the blower

Growing up in a small Aussie town in the 70s and 80s meant that the entire social life of the families revolved around playing sport: good old AFL or netball in winter and tennis or cricket in summer.

If you were too young, too old or too hopeless to play sport it still wasn't possible to escape it. You were instead required to offer your services in the club canteen, make the afternoon tea, be an umpire, run a meat-tray raffle or be a dedicated spectator either sitting in your warm car watching the footy or in your folding lazy-boy chair under a shady pine tree keeping an eye on the cricket game. Any person who did not play any sport at any time of year who wasn't clearly physically incapacitated or mentally unstable was considered a 'weirdo'. How could sport not be a major part of their lives, the rest of the townsfolk would wonder.

I dutifully played netball until university. Then I was in the big, bad city of Adelaide and didn't feel as though I needed the bitchy, pointless game of throw-catch-stop-start-throw to have a humming social life. I'd had enough of being the tallest player which always equated to being Goal Keeper: a thankless and boring task with only one third of the court to run around in and wearing a pleated skirt that would blow up in the freezing winds and give the local bogan boys something to snigger about.

Tennis, however, was my game. From my first coaching lessons at age eleven (and first inter-primary school relationship - with Steven from Murray Bridge North Primary and me, from Murray Bridge South), I loved it. A few years went by between formal coaching and of bashing the ball against the back wall of the house or with my brothers on our quiet, gutterless street which sufficed until I was fourteen and ready to join the local church tennis club.

It was intoxicating, especially being able to play a doubles match, a set of singles and mixed doubles all before lunch. I was fairly reasonable at it and for this I thank my two brothers. They taught me many things - not the least to give a good dead-leg, hen-peck and fart-in-the-face - but playing after-tea tennis with me in the long summer months was brilliant. Both of them were fiercely competitive, especially Rob who was (still is in fact) two years older than me.

His tongue-out, steely-eyed, battle-to-the-death determination inspired me also to put my face and elbows on the bitumen surface line in order to reach that fuzzy yellow ball at any cost. Apeing his tactics meant that I once beat a boy a year older than me - he was 16 and I was 15 - and in his anger and humiliation he hurled his racquet over the net at me. It was pretty damn flattering actually.

By sixteen I was in the adult competition, and the games were played from 1pm in the afternoon until sometimes 8pm that night. There were no heat rules then - if it was 43C, then it was 43C and you still went out to play but with a wet rag tied around the neck and took two willow drink coolers instead of one. Despite having the skin of an English rose and fluoro-tubes for legs, I was lucky enough to be able to stand the heat: often the only way to victory was to be the player standing and not in a dead faint from heat stroke.

What wasn't so much fun was being the team captain. Not surprisingly, a few more team members than usual used to ring in 'crook' on days that were above 38C and, again not surprisingly, anyone listed as a 'reserve player' weren't exactly overjoyed to be asked to fill in for them. "Errr..... (long pause)... errr.....I can't mate; I have a bone in me leg..."

The country courts we visited and played at were not the most hospitable of places but usually set in scratchy Mallee scrubland. If you happened to get a bit carried away and thwack a ball way over the fence it was likely to land in a sheep paddock or bush and coat itself in three corner jacks.

These evil little prickles were in plague proportions and studded the balls like randy cloves on a pickled egg. They took ages to pick out and you normally scored a few hanging on for dear life in the pom-pom hanging over your ankle socks as well. Dad once put a few in a matchbox and gave them to a mate, telling him that some baby Thorny Devil lizards were inside.

My mother had the foresight to see the impending dangers of sunburn, so I was always slathered in fifteen plus sunscreen, the highest 'factor' legally allowed back in 1984. When a dry northerly wind blew, I'd get double the sun protection when the red dust would land on the lotion and cover me with nature's version of cocoa on a truffle. I'd go home that night with white crow's feet around my eyes and only my teeth a cleaner colour than the rest of me.

In addition to the heat, prickles, dust and the fetching scenery were the flies.

Big, buzzy blowies that would never rack off no matter how angrily you waved your hands around your face: no, these buggers were so starved of food and moisture they'd intensify their attempts to land on human flesh and aim straight for the mouth, nostrils or tear ducts. This would lead to more angry arm and hand waving by the owner of the moist body parts but the flies would buzz even more insistently and start crawling slowly - almost insolently - over your lips and into the ears. Take my word for it: these tiny little insects have the power to make a person insane.

In fact one day I was called upon to umpire a mens' doubles match. These were my least favourite because blokes tended to take it all extremely seriously and this required more alertness than my usual, "Oh yeah, I think that shot was OK Michelle," or "Was that one alright with you, Shaz?"

On and on and on the rally went and just as Trevor volleyed a winner, a blowie chose that exact moment to fly right up my nose. (If you've seen my honker you'll realise that it's not a difficult thing to do - people have asked what price I'd charge if it was rented out as a warehouse). Not only that, but Malcolm wasn't so certain that Trevor's shot had landed in: "Well, Kath - is it out or is it in?"

I was too busy staggering around with an infernal insect ticklishly crawling its germ-infested way up my nasal passage with a belligerent buzzing sound bouncing around like ECT therapy in my head. "
Oooh ack, arck arrrgh!" was my response. By this time Trevor, Malcolm, Dennis and Wayne strolled up to the net and stood staring at me.

"Arck arck arck!"
Somehow the fly had manoeuvred its way through my nasal S-bend and ended up finding its escape route via my mouth. "Ooooh yuck - where's some water?"

~~ pause ~~

Malcolm asked again, in a slightly annoyed tone: "Well, what was it - IN or OUT?"

I might have only been a teenager but their lack of sympathy was annoying.

"Well Trev, the fly was in and now it's out. Toss a bloody coin and work it out yourselves."


River said...

Growing up in Port Pirie, the blowies weren't such a nuisance, showing themselves only at BBQ's and buzzing around backdoors when the roast was cooling on a Sunday. our bigger problem was the bush flies. Smaller than the common house flies they'd land on the back of your shirt in dozens and be with you all day unless you walked around swinging a gum tree twig with plenty of leaves on. If you sat still enough for long enough they'd be on your face crawling into your eyes and up your nose. Then at the ned of summer there would be the big "March" flies, they bit and boy did it sting. I once wanted to play tennis, but not for the sport itself, I just wanted one of those cute little short, short tennis dresses.

Kath Lockett said...

Ah yes River, the MARCH flies!

When we lived in Darwin, Love Chunks kept raving about Lake Bennett and how cool it was, and a fantastic place to swim, fish and camp. We finally went there for a picnic and it was a fetid, stinking, dank hole that buzzed with mozzies and march flies.

Those little buggers fell in love with my sweet, pudgy skin immediately and I ended up running around like a bimbo in a Benny Hill skit. Eventually I threw and tantrum and LC drove us home, sulking.

Oh and I never wore a cute tennis dress, just one of those pleated netball ones, with sensible black knickers for the inevitable 'flash' that'd occur during lunges for net shots or serving actions. These days I'd go for shorts I reckon.

Cinema Minima said...

..."randy cloves on a pickled egg".

Love it.

eleanor bloom said...

oh yuk ick ick ick!!!!!!! my nasal passages feel all weird now.

i agree with pub daddy, plus i loved the details re the prickles on the pom-poms of the ankles socks (ah, i remember them - actually quite practical too, kept those darn socks from disappearing to the toes, uh, the pom-poms that is, not the prickles... although...).

word verif: colderox. either an ox in the arctic, or a cold medication. (ah, it's monday. don't expect me to make any sense.)

Louise Bowers said...

I love the legs like fluoro tubes, that's priceless. In those days it was compulsory to be out of the classroom and in playground on all days above 40 degrees. Hats were for dolls, water was for washing and if you fainted you waited for a schoolmate to hit you in the head with a schoolbag to make you come 'round. And the mozzies were worse then. They ate everybody, not like the gluten, dairy free, vegetarian type we have today that only bite people with good DNA.

Helen said...

I never really got into tennis - I have a bad tendency to duck when people hit things at me...

But I played many games of netball, and I swam every year until it was almost midwinter and my parents cottoned on to our dipping the thermometer in the kettle (we were only allowed to swim if the water was warmer than 20 degrees)...

Baino said...

Randy cloves on a pickled egg! Well that's a new one on me! All I can say is that I saw some stats once where we apparently swallow an enormous number of flies in our lives. Can't remember the actual amount. You must have extraordinary eustacian tubes! We still get March flies . .usually in April.

Cat J B said...

I will never get used to Aussie flies, that is one thing NZ has over Aus for flies.

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Man, some of 'em work, most of 'em don't !!

You're right Lorna and don't forget how we all used to walk barefoot to school - at least ten miles and uphill BOTH ways - in the snow and hail and we were GRATEFUL!

Eleanor, go and see Simon's cat - - for possibly the cutest cartoon on swallowing a fly ever.

Helen, we had the temperature rule too, for our neighbour's pool. It had to be at least 22C - god, can you imagine wanting to go for a swim in August on the first 22C day now?

Baino, apparently we swallow about five spiders during our sleep as well ~shudder~

Cat, Aussie flies are the worst, especially in the outback where they Just. Do. Not. Give. UP.