Mortality, old dogs and hockey players

By Nicko

Fly Dog The Magnificent just briefly woke. She’s curled up on her bed, to the right of my desk. Waking involved staggering to her feet, blinking at me through a tangle of blonde fur, turning in a 360 or two and then settling back down, with a contented groan. Along the way, I could see her dodgy back leg was a little stiff, slightly favoured on the turns. Now, she’s gently snoring.

Sleepy Fly Dog submits to photo, in return for tummy rub.

I can see her ageing, my beautiful pooch. That’s the thing with pets (apart from maybe a turtle or a cockatoo – which, sadly, I can’t condone because they should be wild); they age even faster than us humans. I’ve long believed the most important function of a good cat or dog is to a) give kids unconditional love without judgement or complaint, and b) to die. Because for most of us, facing the death of a loved one is bewildering and painful and, well, just enormous. I know it sounds grim but pets are pre-season training for children, for all the deaths to come.

Four decades into my journey, death and I are acquainted, more than I would like, but then again, where does that line begin or end? Both my parents remain alive, and my sister, my sons and those I would regard as my closest friends, so I really can’t complain.

The thing is, Fly Dog and I are old dogs together, which is a reality I live with yet have trouble accepting. It’s come to mind a lot lately.

Looking back, there have been so many incarnations of me. There was the son of a TV executive who literally grew up on the rehearsal stage of “CountDown“, getting TV into my blood. There was the schoolkid and the weekend dishpig and the teenager trying to surf, endlessly riding a Repco prototype of a single speed bike around the coast, living in imaginary worlds, which much later would turn into novel-writing. There was the runner (cross-country and 800m/1500 m), the schoolboy footy player (wide-running left-footed wing), there was the casual tennis player and golfer and indoor cricketer, and boxer (not competitive), and triathlete (once – fun, though), and scuba diver, and mountain-biker, and … I’ve probably forgotten others along the way.

There was the teenage journalist, and then the international sports reporter, and then the comedy writer, and the TV producer, and the magazine editor, and the film reviewer, and the short film writer and the wannabe novelist and then, shit, the actual novelist, and the media company director, and the film festival founder, and … well others I’ve probably forgotten.

There were friendships that ruled my world then drifted away, or others that have broken for reasons nobody could control. Other friends who have risen or returned. Ones I still hope will come back. Losses, and gains, through the years.

There is the close-up magician (amateur but wildly enthusiastic) and the unlikely scientific research assistant on Project Manta, and the successful husband, then the unsuccessful husband, and the often unsuccessful boyfriend, and now the French language student, and, of course, the hockey player.

The point of this? Only that I was confronted by a significant birthday on the weekend (not mine) and it made me reflect on how much and varied ground I have covered. People say to me, wow, you’ve done so many things, but it could equally be said that I haven’t been able to do what others do: one or two things extremely well.

The latest incarnation: Old Dog Nicko in something resembling flight.

Right now, my obsession is hockey and I finally feel that I’m reaching a level that is competitive at the range of competition available to me. No, I do not think for a second that the journey is close to the end – video of a game on Friday showed my ponderous, straight-legged, inside-edge-heavy skating yet again, goddamnit. I know that I still have a million things to learn.

But mostly, there is the realisation that I can only go so far in hockey. I’m deep into my forties.

The fact is I am not my sons, and I’m jealous as hell.

I am not The Artist Formerly Known as Kittens Place, now known as Big Cat, or his brother, Mackquist von Wookie. Less than two decades each on Earth, barely shaving, and therefore with years, decades, to push themselves, to improve, to see how far up the hockey divisions they can climb.

I do not have their youth and balance and natural energy and strength, to improve and to push and to be fast and to pick up difficult balancing acts on skates, such as transitions. To look back at 35 and laugh about how crap they briefly were as a teenage skater …

Yes, I have some old dog tricks, learned over many years and many sports and many life lessons, and happily I don’t think I’m in bad shape for somebody of my vintage. In fact, I feel better than ever, physically, and bless that fitness and energy every day.

And best of all, the idea of playing Dev League or maybe Summer League forever appeals to me. I don’t need to be a Premier A player to feel good about myself. Being a hard-working, decent player in a Summer League team, playing with my mates? Heaven. Give me that, please, for as long as my legs can stand it.

I just hope I have enough juice in my old dog body to keep learning, to keep improving, to be the best that I can be. Until I’m not. And I can’t anymore.

At which point, I wonder what incarnations are still out there, waiting for me? What, if anything, is my next blog? Nickdoeslawnbowls? Nickdoesarealjob? Nickdoestrugo?

I groan. I lift my weary body, recovering from a weekend of hockey, plus footy on a muddy track and in a stiff breeze, from my chair for a meeting. I need a fourth coffee. But then I think of former Red Wings, like Vladimir Konstantinov, a brilliant defenceman until a limo crash days after the 1997 Stanley Cup win that left him brain-damaged and unable to play again. Or Ruslan Salei, a victim of last year’s Locotomotiv plane crash disaster. RIP. None of us know how long we have got on the ice.

Maybe I’m going okay, after all.

I tickle Fly Dog under her ear and she sleepily lifts a big floppy paw to give greater access to her belly, which I rub. She groans again, an old dog groan, and I smile an old dog smile. She and I have a few trails left to run together, before we’re done.

Worlds await. And deaths. And miracles. And adventures. And friendships. And disappointments. Hopefully lots of hockey.

It’s called living.

I try not to wake Fly Dog as I leave the room.

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