We need to talk about the odour …

I’m not sure, in all 250-plus blog posts, that I’ve ever adequately addressed the delicate subject of Hockey Smell.

Put it this way: it’s fucking appalling.

Or to put it another way: things that probably smell better than sweaty hockey gear:
– an animal carcass in the hot sun,
– a municipal tip,
– off eggs that are, like, two weeks ‘off’,
– the Werribee sewerage farm on a bad day.

A constant, hopefully downwind sight in my pokey backyard: the big dry.

A constant, hopefully downwind sight in my pokey backyard: the big dry.

Or to put it another way: I was lucky enough to play in a social game on Sunday, to celebrate the engagement of two local hockey stars, Christine Cockerell and Nate Pedretti. He’s a goalie, but is somehow a good bloke, regardless. Yes, most people have a party to mark an engagement: these guys hired a rink for an hour. The teams were a mixed bag of friends and teammates from their years in Melbourne hockey and so a bunch of us started climbing into our gear in the Melbourne Ice rooms at Icy O’Briens, which was ironic because Nate has represented the Mustangs, and Chris (whose team was changing in the Clippyclops room down the corridor) plays for the Ice.

Anyway, those of us on Nate’s team were busy lacing on skates and pulling on armour when Veronica Ryan, from the Jets, wandered in with a toddler, and said something like: ‘Here you go, son. Breathe it in! Breathe in the hockey smell! Better get used to it.’

And we all laughed because this is the eternal truth of hockey: you will learn to live with an unfathomable stench. Like veteran cops attending yet another decomposing body. Or garbologists who seem to develop an impervious nose while running along the street, emptying garbage bins that have been fermenting for a week in 35 degree heat. It goes with the job.

Will Ong and I, ready to make our debuts for Australia* (*not actually playing for Australia) Photo: Limpy Wunderbomb

Will Ong and I, ready to make our debuts for Australia*
(*not actually playing for Australia)
Photo: Limpy Wunderbomb

My wife tolerates my hockey obsessions in many ways, but one iron-clad rule is that I have to have showered thoroughly, washed my hair and washed my hands, with soap, at least three times before attempting to climb into bed after a game (this is a rule that sucks, if I’m staggering home from a 10.30 pm or 11 pm puck drop). It’s the smell of gloves on the skin of my hands that is Chloé’s breaking point, which I regard as completely fair enough. I think if you gathered all the hockey gloves of Melbourne’s active players and put them in the middle of the MCG, it would be declared a potentially lethal biohazard disaster zone within seconds.

On Saturday, I took the concept of odour as a tactical weapon to a whole new level. We’d been camping down at Wilsons Promontory, and it had rained hard on Friday, mixed occasionally with strong grit-carrying winds. By the time I drove the 220 kilometres back to Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, I hadn’t had a surf, swim or proper shower for a couple of days. I’d hiked, worked up a sweat packing up the tent, and done other exercise. Dirt was caked onto my legs, and black soil was under my fingernails. It’s as straight-out filthy as I can remember being. Even when I clambered around for a night in the illegal catacombs of Paris a couple of years ago, and got caked head-to-toe in the yellow mud of those tunnels, it was a clean mud, and the water was part of the Parisian drinking system. Unlike camping filthy, which is the real thing.

Wilsons Prom: so goddamn beautiful. Pic: Chloé

Wilsons Prom: so goddamn beautiful. Pic: Chloé

And so I headed to Icy O’Briens, to take on the Mako Sharks team, straight from the drive and still unshowered. That’s right, I donned my stinky hockey gear over the top of camping stench, and headed out to play, working on the theory that none of the opposition would want to come within five metres of me all night.

It sort of worked. We had an entertaining, if chippy, two-all draw.

But I wasn’t finished. Sweating hard from the game, I got straight back into my grubby shorts and T-shirt, and headed home. Chloé had had hours to return to her usual highly hygienic state of cleanliness. I walked in like some kind of swamp creature from the living dead. But finally, at around 10.45 pm, I had the luxury of a shower in my home shower, not a dodgy campground shower, and shampooed and soaped myself almost out of existence.

Of course, it meant my gear had less than 24 hours to air before the engagement game, and so I was back in a world of dodgy hockey hygiene by mid-afternoon on Sunday, wearing an actual Australian team training jersey for what will certainly be the only time in my skating life. The engagement game featured a lot of veteran players, Australian women’s players, and skaters from divisions way above mine, and I felt well out of my depth. Luckily it was a social match. There was at least one moment where I tore down my left wing, pushing the puck, and eventually letting loose a shot (unsuccessful) on Stoney the goalie (normally a Cherokee team-mate) where I’m certain the opposition defender was just skating politely backward, giving me room and deciding not to a) kill me, or b) strip me unceremoniously of the puck through the entire sequence.

The moment before the long-awaited post-hokey, post-camping shower. Just before a crew of feds in hazmat suits descended.

The moment before the long-awaited post-hockey, post-camping shower. Just before a crew of feds in hazmat suits descended.

But I was on a line with Will Ong, who’s a mate and, more importantly, can really play, and I got some decent passes away and had some shots on goal. I love playing among players of such skill and experience. Passes are so crisp, positioning is so perfect, and man, some of them can skate! Oh, to have those wheels.

The game ended with the bride, Christine, taking a penalty shot on Nate, the groom. (This is the hockey world at its finest.) She skated in, deeked, beat him, and hit the sidebar. The puck stayed out, but Chris knocked the rebound in and celebrated wildly, even though, technically, that would be an illegal goal.

Care factor, zero. There’s no day-to-day, moment-to-moment referee to enforce the rules in marriage, my friends.

Suck it up, Natester.

Yes, the entire institution of matrimony summed up in one penalty shot. Yet another reason to love hockey, even if it smells like a bastard.

Nate and Christine's engagement classic, the after-game photo. They argued about whether the other had stacked their team, she bent the rules to score on a penalty shot. It was marriage, summarised,on ice. Pic: Veronica Ryan

Nate and Christine’s engagement classic, the after-game photo. They argued about whether the other had stacked their team, she bent the rules to score on a penalty shot. It was marriage, summarised,on ice. Pic: Veronica Ryan








A good week to be a bat

Fly on, my bats.


Heading to Icy O’Briens on Monday night for a death slot 10.30 pm game, against the Wolverines, I was blown away by the number of bats in the post-dusk sky above me. I’ve always loved bats and have even tried to write them into poems, without any kind of publishable success. For years, I’ve sat on balconies around Fitzroy or Fitzroy North and watched them flapping determinedly to the west, deep in the gloaming, so sure of where they’re going while it sometimes feels like I lurch along underneath their flight path. I’m so happy that they’re around in such numbers this year and decided it was a good omen for the game, given I occasionally find myself dressing up as Batman and getting stared at by worried parents as I sit inexplicably on a public playground’s swing, scaring the little ones. Look, it’s a long story. The tl;dr version is that I’m practically a bat.

I can explain, Your Honour ...

I can explain, Your Honour …

Big Cat has moved to the other end of town so the Icy O’Briens commute is now a solo-journey which still feels weird, but on Monday night, with the companionship of my fellow bats, I grinned and turned the radio up louder as I went past the zoo. Feelin’ Alright’ by Joe Cocker was blasting and the night was perfect. I was primed and ready to tear up my first competitive hockey game of 2017.

You guessed it. The Cherokees lost and I was reasonably ineffective, not managing to get any points.

Driving home, I clicked the music down a few notches: ‘One more cup of coffee’ by Bob Dylan. Nothing but hits and memories in my car right now. I usually listen to more new music than old, but lately I’ve noticed that’s shifted. Maybe it’s because the here and now feels a little threatening, a little daunting, off the ice more than on. Music is always an exceptional way of taking yourself back to better times.

On Monday night, just past midnight, as Bob took a last look at his lover and prepared to go to the valley below, I was driving through empty streets, dirty about the loss, dirty that I hadn’t done more with the puck, dirty with the world, but then I remembered, shit, it was only hockey.

I’ve had two friends my age smacked hard by cancer in the last year and I worry, and barrack, deeply for their health. Other friends are doing it tough for various reasons. I have my own off-ice trials, like everybody, but then I look to Manus Island or Nauru, and I read over Christmas about a legitimate refugee pleading with the Australian government for medical help and being denied, and dying, to very little community outrage, and I shudder and realise my trials, whatever they are, are honestly not so bad. I’m 51 years old, living in one of the greatest cities in the world, and healthy enough to play hockey with my son and a bunch of mates on a brilliant rink deep into the night.

The People's Champion: America keeping it real.

The People’s Champion: America keeping it real.

But if you have any kind of world awareness, darkness looms, just on the edge of our vision and it’s hard not to be spooked. Maybe the bats have the right idea, after all, flying away to who knows where? I’m following their lead, heading out of town on Friday and plan/hope to have no wifi or phone signal where we’re camping. I honestly don’t want to be plugged in on January 20 when a reprehensible human is sworn in as President of the United States. It all comes down to one thing for me: Trump just seems like a fucking horrible person. Forget Russians, forget whether Clinton was better, forget everything: what a nasty piece of shit ‘The Donald’ appears to be. Honestly. And he’ll be President. (Fun fact: I actually was once in the same room as him, at the Plaza Hotel ballroom, on the edge of Central Park, in Manhattan, surrounded by fake smiles and giant diamonds and a Tom Wolfe cast of glittering social creatures, a long, long time ago, but that’s a journalistic anecdote and has no place on a hockey blog. I hope I never have the same proximity again, given what I know now, about his views on women, disabled reporters, honesty, ethics, Muslims, Mexicans, and everything else.)

Save me, Betty Davis.

Save me, Betty Davis.

So anyway, I think next week is going to be a rough week, for anybody who cares about the world. And I’m glad I’ll be seriously unplugged on a remote Victorian beach, with very good wine and single malt whisky, with people who love me and even with a couple of my Bang footy brothers.

I might go surfing, or kick a Sherrin, then crank up the happy beats of ‘Hangin’ Out’ from Betty Davis – The Colombia Years. Push the camp chairs back and dance with my wife in the gathering gloom. And trust that life will get better, for ailing friends, for my hockey team, for the staggering Red Wings, for legal asylum seekers, for the wider world.

Stay safe, everybody, and try to keep believing the world remains a mostly good place, not mostly bad. Even when the evidence sometimes disputes that fact, like it will next week.

All we can do is play the long game. Peace.