Pick a card, any card

I got asked to do some card tricks on the weekend. We’d gone to lunch at a friend’s place and he revealed that he’d pumped me up as a ‘magician’, which is almost as big a lie as telling people I’m an NHL player.

The thing is, I used to be pretty decent at some illusions. I have a close friend, Simon Coronel, who is world class, performs at the Magic Castle in LA, basically rocks after a lifetime, well, half-lifetime of training. I was his first student at his debut CAE close-up magic course years ago, and so we bonded. Worked on moves out of hours and learned that we both like drinking alcohol and talking about women and other subjects. I started carrying at least one deck of Bicycle cards (the magician’s air-cushioned card of choice) around all the time. I worked super hard at lots of complicated and difficult card manoeuvres, and would like to think I definitely rose abovethe standard of  ‘sad uncle at kid party’.

But then I realized that, while I adore magic and the paradigm shift that a truly great trick gives the audience, I was mostly working so hard on my card handling to avoid the deeper issue of a novel that I didn’t know how to finish. And so, regretfully, I put my Bicycle decks away, and swore that I couldn’t work on magic until I’d finished the manuscript. Once I finally did (‘The OK Team‘), I broke out the cards but finally realized that I simply didn’t have the time or dedication to put in the Gladwell 10,000 hours required to become a Jedi.

And so I sank to the level of amateur enthusiast (a group that, to be fair, has included names like Cary Grant and Johnny Carson, and still includes Steve Martin, Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Alexander – all active members of the Magic Castle), collected some cool old magic artifacts and then took up ice hockey, and became obsessed.

But I stay in touch with the magic crowd and they make me laugh as well as teach me things. In fact, I think the biggest lesson I learned out of my time as a wannabe purveyor of truly kick-arse card tricks was that you have to really, really want it, and you have to work at it. Magic is the ultimate example of 1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration.

Performing a trick for friends on Sunset Strip, LA, in 2011. Oh yeah.

Performing a trick for friends on Sunset Strip, LA, in 2011. Oh yeah. (Note: brand new Jimmy Hendricks recreation shirt)

I am endlessly impressed by the sheer dedication of my magician friends. The untold hours of experimenting, practising, sessioning, building, wondering, and then repeating and repeating and repeating the moves or the entire trick, to a bedroom mirror or an empty room or, occasionally, to a confederate, until it is ready to go public. And even then, working on it endlessly, to improve it, sharpen it, refine it.

If you can’t commit to that level, then you become like me; a keen enthusiast. With enough cool card tricks to please a Sunday lunch (yes, I survived) but that’s all. The deeper waters of illusion are too hard to swim.

But that’s okay. In life, sometimes, something has to give. Lately for me, hockey has edged into that territory. I worked out recently that I now have five main streams of work happening, three of which could pretty easily be full time employment if I let them, and two of which are unpaid for not-for-profits – actually, three, if you include the pissy money you get from writing a novel, which I’ve included in the first three paid gigs. Plus I have the happy job of building my relationship with Chloe, and melding my old family and my new family. And seeing wider family and friends. And getting stuff done, whether housework or shopping or just … stuff. Walking the dog. Checking my new cat is surviving. The list is a long one. Throw in Tuesday early morning pilates, and Lliam Webster work-out sessions at Fluid, both of which are finally enabling me to skate pain-free in my left knee (Oh, Thank God, less whinging! yells the crowd) and life is pretty busy. As I’m sure yours is. I’m not claiming special status here; just actually did an inventory.

Summer League threw a whole new level of hockey onto the hockey that was already there. For example, team training is on tonight, at 9 pm, but then there’s the usual Wednesday night dev league to think about – I signed for 8.45 pm and 10 pm to get skating miles into my knee, and then low player numbers meant awesome winter players have been allowed to drop into the 10 pm, which raises the standard hugely, and makes me skate like a motherfucker: it’s great – and then my team, the Cherokees, has a game on Thursday night this week. You can see the logjam already, huh? If I go to all three of those nights, when do I catch up with my son, Mackquist, who is deep in the Hell that is the end of Year 12? Or hang out with my partner and a crazy fun five-year-old?

I’d love to make some stick-n-puck or drop-in sessions to work on my skating which, as ever, needs a lot of work, but it’s just impossible.

So I’ve been forced to let go of some of the potential stress. Because I think I’m okay with stepping back a little. It’s social fucking hockey, right, at one of the lowest competitive levels you can play, even if we do all try our hardest. Happily, most weeks, team training isn’t bookending Wednesday night dev, so that eases the pressure straight away. If i make team training or dev,  I’m hitting the ice at least twice a week, which is realistically enough to not be trying to remember which end to hold the stick each time I step into my skates. My broken toe almost fell off after two hours of intense skating last Wednesday, so I need to nurse that too, to ensure I even make it to Cherokee games in one piece.

That’s about as much as I can hope for right now. Maybe when I finish the new manuscript I’ll have more elbow room? Maybe my NFP committees will go into summer recess and I’ll have breathing space? Maybe once Mack and Big Cat finish school and uni, we can more easily find time to mooch around together?

For now, it is what it is, as the entire AFL world took to saying this year for no apparent reason.

Yes, life is crazy busy, but almost universally in awesome ways. I’m flying in as many if not more directions than normal, and things like boxing and scuba have floated into the background for now, like magic, and like hockey could so easily if I chose to let it go.

Fly Girl gives my new #17 Braves jersey plenty of respect.

Fly Girl gives my new #17 Braves jersey plenty of respect.

But I’m not. I can’t wait for tonight. I can’t wait, even more, to don my own personal Braves jersey for the first time on Thursday and partner Big Cat, my son, for our first official outing as Cherokees. That’s going to rock. I can’t wait to score my first summer league goal of the season (this could take months, if ever) and I can’t wait for that unbeatable feeling of keeping your head in the frenzy of an opposition attack to angle the puck off the boards and safely outside the blue or, better, skating with the puck and managing to pass sweetly to a teammate’s stick, as they charge through our blue line and opposition defenders scramble and the goalie crouches, getting ready, and you charge for The Slot, searching rebounds.

Hockey rocks as much as it ever has. My love remains pure.

I just need to understand that it is one beautiful part of a large, complex jigsaw.

And I need to get back to carrying a deck of Bicycle cards around. Pulling off those tricks on Sunday felt good.

Then again …

‘Man, that ice hockey,’ said Steve the barista, as I hobbled into my favourite café, broken toe hampering my every move.

‘Well, sort of,’ I replied.

‘Not a hockey injury?’

‘More embarrassing. Got through all of the final Dev League scrimmage for the term, cursing my stupid knee which hurt and stopped me having any drive, as has been the way of it lately. But got through it. Went home and Chloe had gone to bed, so all the lights were off. I was creeping around, trying not to wake her, and fully kicked a desk we’d moved, so that I’d forgotten about it, coming from the bathroom. Little toe, left foot, smashed.’

‘Nasty,’ said Steve. ‘And not nearly as heroic as a hockey injury. Might need to work on that story. Coffee?’

‘Of course. Since when does not being able to walk stop me drinking coffee?’

A week later, still swollen and sore.

And with one more week until the next team training. Putting this toe into a skate will be a lot of fun, if it stays like it is. Listen for the screeches from Oakleigh.

Will this year of stupid injuries ever end?

But then again … then again … I’m just laughing now. In the lottery of playing sport, my body has drawn a few dud numbers in 2013. Hey ho.

Because no matter how gloomy you feel, it’s always worth remembering that there is a ‘then again, it could be worse …’ You can be sure that somebody somewhere is dealing with crap much more difficult than you are, and handling it well. (Good life lesson there, hockey fans.)

Like this one:

How we Wings fans want to see Darren Helm, after his endless injuries.

How we Wings fans want to see Darren Helm, after his endless injuries.

Then again No. 1… I’m still a long way behind the misery of Darren Helm, the Wings forward who has spent more than a year now hampered by an undiagnosable bad back and, more recently, a pulled groin. Oh, and that was after he recovered from an injury in the play-offs before last and almost instantly had his forearm slashed by a skate, requiring microsurgery …

I’m frustrated because I can’t skate properly for dev league and summer league, a social comp. Helm has his entire NHL future riding on whether he can get back on the ice.

Or shit, you want to go all the way? Then go for this one:

Then again No. 2 … I could be poor bloody Casey Tutungi, who was a star for the Lorne Dolphins,  almost made it to the AFL, playing for the Cats’ underlings, and then was playing for South Barwon FC earlier this season, when he copped a knock to the neck and fell backward, unable to feel his legs or arms.

A quadriplegic. Yet two weeks ago, Casey stunned his old teammates by showing up for their second semi-final, in a motorized wheelchair.

South Barwon and Casey Tutungi, before the Grand Final.

South Barwon and Casey Tutungi, before the Grand Final. (Pic: Geelong Advertiser)

Even better, he co-coached the team to the flag on the weekend, beating Grovedale by 20 points. The entire Lorne football community, fresh from a Dolphins flag, cheering South Barwon, for their boy.

Everybody around Casey, whose nickname “Spirit’ was the one word on South Barwon’s run-through banner on Grand Final day, says his positive attitude has been breathtaking, but, shit: from AFL wannabe to quadriplegic in one move. I can’t fathom what that must be like.

And yet pictured, smiling broadly with his team and the premiership cup, in the same season.

Casey Tutungi, you rock.

And yeah, you know what? I can handle a sore toe for a few weeks.

(Casey Tutungi donations here.)

The remarkable Casey Tutungi, and his South Barwon teammates, party hard.

The remarkable Casey Tutungi, and his South Barwon teammates, party hard.

The ruthless bastard.

One thing you have to understand if you’re going to play or even follow sport: it’s a prick.  It’s a heartless bastard. It’s ruthless and it’s probably going to break you, without conscience or regret.

For all the glorious moments, for all the wins, for all the friendships made and other highlights, you are going to be smashed. More than once.

Of course, this is also true of life – illnesses like cancer are random, and this morning I saw a cyclist get hit by a car outside my new house. That guy’s life just changed dramatically in a fraction of a second. But things like that are not to be dwelt on. You’d never leave your bedroom. All we can do is live life assuming we’ve got lots of life to live.

Shattered: Ice stars like Jason Baclig couldn't stop a semi turning to shit.

Shattered: Ice stars like Jason Baclig couldn’t stop a semi turning to shit.

Sport shines a light on this brutality of life, but thankfully in a way that isn’t often truly life and death. Yet the brutality remains: Melbourne Ice watching the fourpeat disappear in the puff of smoke that was a needless five minute major penalty, blowing an otherwise tight semi-final; Richmond being run over by Carlton the next day at the MCG, freezing as the nightmare unfolded in front of 94,000 people; all the AFL list players who will be called into a footy manager’s office over the next few days and told their dream is over, full stop. Or the failure can be a slow, frustrating, helpless fall. As a player gets a 50-50 chance ahead of you, and never looks back. Or you suffer a hamstring twinge in a crucial final. A puck or ball bounces this way, not that, changing everything. Or a thousand other things.

The Red Wings’ Dan Cleary rejected a pay rise offer from Detroit several weeks ago, and the Wings made a call that they couldn’t afford to pay him more. So they instead chased and won the services of a couple of other A-list players, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, eating up the cash set aside for Cleary. His agent got to work and Cleary pretty much had a handshake deal for $8 million over three seasons with the Flyers, much better than the Wings had offered, assuming he brained them at the Flyers’ training camp. But he never got there. Cleary loved being a Wing so much, he couldn’t go. He headed instead to where the Wings were gathering, at Traverse City, and begged the Wings management for a deal, any deal. He’s signed on less than $2 million, a hefty pay cut, just to be a Wing. He’s even going to have to wear No. 71 instead of his old No. 11, just to be a Wing.

Dan Cleary: battling fate, to be a Wing.

Dan Cleary: battling to be a Wing.

Which is great news for him* but bad news for the other forwards also trying to make the team. The Wings now have 17 players jostling for 14 forward spots, including sublime young talents like Gustav Nyquist and role-players like Jordin Tootoo and three won’t make it. They all deserve to, for different reasons. But three won’t be there.

Because, see, sport doesn’t believe in the word ‘deserve’.

I was talking to a guy at the Icehouse who has been on the border of making AIHL teams for several seasons. He’s so close, so so close, but hasn’t yet made it. He totally deserves a chance, but he might not get one. Because, if you remember, sport doesn’t believe in the world ‘deserve’. Unexpectedly, given my lowly standing in my chosen sport, I found myself turning into Old Father Time and pulled on my old sports journo hat while we were chatting. Because I’d seen it before in lots of team sports (AFL, cricket, field hockey, for starters). Some make it. Others don’t. It’s up to you, I said. Nobody cares if you make a team, apart from you. It’s harsh but it’s true: you’re the only one who truly, desperately cares.

So do the work to make a team. Or don’t.

This is something I know a bit about: it’s something that is also true in my novelist life. The one piece of advice I have repeatedly given aspiring novelists is this: the world doesn’t give a shit if they write a novel. Including me.

I don’t care.

I know … inspiring, huh?

But it’s true, and I am not immune from it. The world does not care if I write another novel.

Or if JK Rowling never writes again.

Or (insert the name of any author, or wannabe author, anywhere).

Plenty of people are writing manuscripts. Books will emerge. Will one of them be a Nick Place novel? Shit, I hope so but really, who cares apart from me? If I wasn’t writing novels, I’d have more social time, more time for my partner and kids, more time to concentrate on the job that actually pays me, more time for hockey training … I’ve had five novels published in 10 years. That’s pretty good going. The world owes me nothing.

But if I hadn’t had any books published in the last decade, so what? The world doesn’t care about that either. I have good friends who have written fantastic manuscripts that never found a publisher. I’ve read them and they absolutely deserved to get published. But didn’t.

That’s the way it is, and I’m ok with that.

Here’s the fact: I’m the only person in the world who truly cares if I write a sequel to ‘Roll With It’ – currently available in all good bookshops and online 😉

My publishers no doubt have many writers throwing crime manuscripts at them and I’m sure many are decent. They’ll be fine. People who read my book and liked it are not exactly lying awake at night, sweating on whether book two of ‘Rocket’ Laver’s adventures will ever show up. If it doesn’t, the world keeps turning.

Gustav Nyquist: deserves to be a Red Wing. Absolutely. But will he be?

Gustav Nyquist: deserves to be a Red Wing. Absolutely. But will he be?

As I said, my kids and partner know how much I love being published, but it’s only me who truly cares, bone-deep, to my soul, whether I can keep writing novels. And even when I finish the latest manuscript, it might not get published. No guarantees.

All I can do is write. Write the best manuscript I possibly can and then present it to the publishers or to the world. Do very single thing I can to make it a book worthy of seeing a bookshelf.

And so it is for the guy on the brink of an AIHL team. It’s entirely in his hands what happens from here, until he can’t control it, if that makes sense.

He can sit and wonder if a club will take a chance on him in 2014, even though they didn’t in 2013. Or he can work his arse off, and make it bloody hard for them not to pick him, just because he has gotten that much better.

It’s very pure, when you look at success or failure like this. Your job is extremely straightforward: do whatever you can to rock the world.

Way way way down the hockey food chain, a bunch of us are sweating and straining and trying to get better as summer season looms. Are you going to be competitive? Do you want to play? Do you want to earn a spot on the first line?

(To repeat: nobody actually cares whether you’re on the team, or on the first line. Except you.)

Personally, I’m loving being back in a team environment, this time as a Brave.

I had, before heading to France, been strangely flat about the looming season. I put it down to being depressed about the way things went down at the Jets, but I think that was only part of it. I finished last summer believing absolutely that I would skate like a maniac all winter, do power skating classes, get better, much better. Really learn to skate. And hit the 13-14  summer as a more lethal, genuinely competitive player.

Instead, my stupid knee flatlined me, as endlessly documented on this blog (which should be called nickdoeskneepain.com), so that I only now feel like I’m even vaguely getting back to being able to skate at full pace. I lost my window, while I nursed and nursed this left knee joint, which nobody can diagnose, let alone fix.

But does sport care? No, no, it doesn’t.

Did I deserve a better winter? By now, you know the answer.

I’m getting on with it. I’m skating. I even played footy for the first time in nine months on Sunday, welcomed back by my Bang brothers, and surviving my first kicks.

I’m going to be ready for summer and I’m going to enjoy my hockey again, with a fun team and the right attitude for a social competition.

And I’m going to finish a manuscript that simply cannot not be published.

Do the literary gods care if that happens? Nope.

Do the sporting gods care if that happens? Nope.

Do I care? Oh Hells, yeah.

So watch me go.

( * btw, I’m happy Dan Cleary is still at Detroit, in case it read differently. He was a really solid player last season, especially in the playoffs, and how can you not love a player who wants to play for the jersey like that?)

A weekend of impossible choices

And so I’m back. Head fuzzy from jetlag and no sleep. Getting my head around being back in the real world instead of in the dream land of a small island off Brittany, or way up in the French Alps, pushing my somewhat startled legs up huge mountains in the name of my own personal summer league altitude training (also known as trying to keep up with my partner Chloe’s French family, who it turns out are half French, half mountain goat) and drinking delicious hot chocolates at the refuge huts to be found at 2500 m or higher.

Braves altitude training in the French Alps. 600 m higher than Mount Kosciuszko, with a knee brace. Oh yeah.

Braves altitude training in the French Alps. 600 m higher than Mount Kosciuszko, with a knee brace. Oh yeah.

Now returned to Melbourne, and facing impossible choices, especially for my not-quite-working brain.

I faced my first impossible choice on Wednesday when I had not even been back in the country for 24 hours and 10 pm dev league was on.

Who am I kidding? That was no choice at all. Of course I played, loved it, was surprised that I skated ok and my knee held up, even had a couple of decent shots on goal. Even if I couldn’t then sleep until 5 am.

So, actually, that choice was easy.

But this weekend isn’t.

For starters, there’s the election from Hell: a Labor Government which has achieved a lot, including surviving the global financial crisis, yet has managed to be so unlikeable and apparently dysfunctional along the way that even rusted-on left-wingers like me are blinking at the idea of endorsing it with our vote. But up against a simply unelectable dickhead with a sour-faced, aggressive front bench. It’s not really an impossible choice – I still stand by the words of Margaret Whitlam, wife of Gough, when asked why she had devoted her life to the Labor Party. She replied: ‘Because ours is the party of compassion.”

Faced with the choice of Abbott and his heartless cronies, it’s a no brainer for me. Labour or Green. (And I don’t usually get political but I’m still pissed off with the death of objective journalism in the Murdoch press, so screw it. Something has to stand up against that campaign.)

Vote done, Saturday’s challenge over, will only bring me to the important stuff, and a potentially harder choice.

This weekend will see the Australian Ice Hockey League finals held at the Icehouse. As usual, the top four teams gather at one rink (Newcastle last year, Icehouse this year) for two semi-finals on the Saturday and then the grand final on the Sunday – a financially easier finale for the national competition.

Of course, my team, the Melbourne Ice, is shooting for a fourth straight title – which is an unlikely but actually achievable goal, the team having managed to finish the season in fourth place despite the turbulence of a new president and coach, and the controversial mid-season retirement of Joey and Vinnie Hughes, and other destabilizing factors, not to mention just the sheer fact of having a massive threepeat target on their back, when every other team shapes up for a face-off.

The semis are tomorrow – vote early hockey fans – and my headaches really begin if the Ice makes it past the top-of-the-table Sydney Ice Dogs into Sunday’s grand final.

Because that game is scheduled for exactly the same time as Richmond v Carlton, my footy team’s first appearance in the finals for more than a dozen years. A cut-throat elimination final at the MCG, with a crowd of 90,000 people, many of whom will be Tiger tragics like me, barely able to watch after all these years of patience and waiting and suffering and wanting and hoping and dying and agonizing and fuming and daring to believe and finally starting to actually believe.

So ice hockey or AFL on a September Sunday afternoon?

1980 Tiger celebrations, so long ago they wore lace-up guernseys: This was supposed to happen every year ...

1980 Tiger celebrations: This was supposed to happen every year …

I was 15 years old in 1980 when Richmond won its last premiership; my first attendance at a Grand Final. Best friend Shonko and I standing among so many hulking men, so much black and white, deep in the old Southern Stand of the MCG, as Richmond monstered Collingwood to win by 81 points. Walking out of there, floating out of the ground, and stunned by the groups of Magpie fans slumped on the grass in the carparks, crying, desolate, shattered. My teenage emotions overwhelmed by the euphoria mixed with opposition heartbreak. I’ve always been too empathetic, would be hopeless in a war, where the whole point is to dehumanize the opposition.

I bled for the poor Magpies, against every rule in the footy book, but also sang that mighty Tiger song all the way back to Burwood on the 75 tram. Have never forgotten the thrill of wispy-haired Kevin Bartlett running riot, Michael Roach in flight, Geoff Raines’ long bombs from the centre, Jimmy ‘The Ghost’ Jess dominating centre half back.

Barracking for Richmond was the best thing in the world. This footy power would never fade! Would it? Umm … actually, that was it. Mostly a wasteland since.

The point of all this is that I’m invested in Richmond. Yes, I’ve been a Red Wing fan for a while now, and am clearly passionate about Australian hockey – at summer league level, dev league level and AIHL level. But I’ve been bleeding yellow and black since I was knee high, so Sunday’s choice is a tough one.

Not least because I’ve paid for AIHL tickets and bizarrely I have never managed to be there when the Ice has won its three titles. Through a series of events best not recounted – especially the team’s second title at the Icehouse, when I saw the first half of the Grand Final – I have yet to be there as Big Cat and my hockey mates have, to greet the final scoreline, step onto the ice and congratulate Army, Lliam, Baxy, Tommy and co in the moment of glory.

I guess this weekend will play out as it plays out. I’ll certainly be at the Icehouse tomorrow, barracking hard for the Ice to make it to Sunday’s game, and then see where life lines up from there.

Assuming I can stay awake, that is. Jetlag is a killer. But it’s totally worth it.

Leaving town

I’m off overseas for a few weeks so the blog will be even quieter than it has been lately, where all I’ve done is hobble around, grumbling (sorry, again). I’m pretty sure where I’m going (a remote French island, named after a duck, with no cars and one general store) doesn’t have wifi, so I’ll be totally off the air. An adventure in itself.

Somehow, the hockey world will just have to survive without Nicko Place whinging about old age and bad knees.

Somehow, I think it will.

Skate well until I see you all again, hockey peoples.

Til soon,

Nicko

The French island of Houat, off Brittany. A long way from the NHL, or AIHL, or Dev League.

The French island of Houat, off Brittany. A long way from the NHL, or AIHL, or Dev League.

Oh, bring it!

Oh, bring it!

Maybe, just maybe …

I think maybe, just maybe, my genuine recovery has begun.

Of course, I’m talking about The Saga of the Knee and, trust me, I can’t wait for this blog to stop being about my knee either. But there’s potentially good news: especially when compared to three weeks ago, when I was hobbling as much as ever, barely able to climb all the steep stairs of my new house, and I was wondering if I would ever play hockey again? I think I went for three runs, as per a previous post, before things went horribly, horribly wrong again.

And so I spent weeks off the ice, not running, not doing anything. Hating it. Until my knee felt vaguely decent and I decided that was good enough.

But then I did play hockey, last Wednesday, and was mostly pain free. I went to Sydney, for work, and found myself confronted by endless staircases, everywhere I went. Each time, I would wince, bracing for the pain as my left leg pushed off a step, but the pain didn’t come. Even after Wednesday dev league, where I actually moved my legs, skated, for the first time in a few weeks and pushed my legs hard: no pain.

Still, this has happened before: a few days of reprieve and then wham. Back home, I climbed all the steps (50 from the front door to my bedroom) and the knee twinged. Uh oh, I thought, and then stood all night at a party at the Forum, until 3 am. The next morning? Agony? Nope. Felt ok.

And through all this, I had begun a secret training course; totally fed up with being inactive, of reading all the Facebook posts about how awesome hockey training was, how boxing was going over at Mischa’s, how Next Level Training Institute and Friday game day was fantastic and everybody was hurting and feeling fitter and feeling smashed but in a good way. I was only feeling old and fat.

As I’ve written before, I’d love to be part of the Next Level thing. Oakleigh, in terms of geography, is a bastard of a place for me to get to, and the key nights, Monday and Friday, don’t work for me. So I had to shrug and let Joey Hughes’ on-ice training and Martin Kutek’s off-ice training go. A bunch of my closest hockey friends are Next Level devotees and I have no reason to doubt their enthusiasm, plus I can see the improvement in muscle tone and skating.

I needed an alternative, especially while I couldn’t skate, and it turned up in the form of a big bearded bloke who wears #2 for the Melbourne Ice. Yes, one of my Wednesday coaches, Lliam Webster, mentioned that he was now qualified as a personal trainer but with a different training method, which is preached at Fluid, in Port Melbourne; one of the Melbourne Ice major sponsors.

Fluid is run by a bloke called James who apparently was a decent soccer goalkeeper in his day. It is based on a concept called Functional Movement Systems. In my first outing, James put me through a series of bizarre balance and flexibility tests. None of them hurt. Most just felt clumsy and stupid. I knelt on my bad knee, wincing, and tried to put my right arm in front of my head and my right leg out behind me, seeing how long I could balance for. Not long. James and Lliam squinting and taking notes.

The body is divided into quadrants, with one limb in each, and Fluid scores your achievement on the various tests. At the end, James noted that my left leg wasn’t doing its job and that my left shoulder seemed out of whack. Both direct hits on my ailments. He and Lliam worked out a bunch of “corrective’ exercises to get my body working in ways it has forgotten, hunched over keyboards or taking shortcuts to cover for hamstrings that don’t want to stretch and other such bad habits.

This is one of the whackier parts of FMS training: an idea that when you think you have a tight hamstring, one that won’t stretch beyond a certain point, they can prove that wrong in one session (and did, with me). In fact, you have to get other parts of your body working as well, which releases the hamstring to stretch further. It’s wild when it works and you see instant results.

But the long game is what I’m interested in. After my second session, the pinched nerve in my shoulder stopped hurting and hasn’t really bothered me since.

I’m three sessions in now and the training has intensified. Yesterday, Lliam produced the most fun, most hockey-specific apparatus early. It’s a slippery piece of Perspex (as per the Youtube clip above) with wooden blocks at each end, either 8 feet, 9 feet or 10 feet apart. (Yes, it’s from America.) You put little slippery booties over your runners and it’s just like skating, but completely side-to-side. The trick is to trust your stride, pushing hard with the skating leg and then catching the stride on the wooden block, before pushing off hard for the other end. Bum low, knees bent, chest up … every bad habit on the ice instantly being addressed on this slippery board in Port Melbourne. A few sessions in, I’m up to wearing a weighted vest while skating as hard as I can and then doing cowbell dead lifts between sets. Every skating muscle is killing me today in a good way. My gluts are sore, my hamstrings complaining, my stomach tight.

Apparently Martin at Next Level has one as well, so get on it, peoples. It’s a lot of fun and really works you over. In fact, it’s fantastic. Dev league is tonight and I’m actually sore from an intense workout. Like I haven’t been for a few months.

And guess what? Despite such an intense session, my knee feels fine. All the muscles surrounding it did their job during the dead lifts, worked hard without screaming. Just like the physio wanted a few months ago before things derailed again.

I shouldn’t get too cocky. I might step onto the ice tonight and feel the same pain as two dev league sessions ago.

But then again, I might not.

Next Wednesday, I head overseas for three weeks. When I get back, all roads lead to summer comp, with my new team, the Braves. I want to be fit and able to push it as hard as I can, to prove that I can match it in what looks like a far-too-serious summer recreational league. Mostly, I just want to be active without this now eight-month-old pain.

I think I’m finally on the road to that happening. It feels great. Bring on the night.

The Stavro Mueller edition

Mostly Harmless. Book five of the trilogy.

Mostly Harmless. Book five of the trilogy.

* Warning: there are blatant Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy spoilers in this post. But really, if you haven’t read it by now, then you only have yourself to blame. I mean, seriously? That includes you, Geoff Carstairs.

In that most brilliant collection of books, Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – well, specifically, in book five of the trilogy, ‘Mostly Harmless’, Arthur Dent finds himself on a random moon or whatever and comes across a shrine to himself. This is a strange development among the books’ many, many strange developments, and is made even stranger because this is not a nice shrine. The enormous idol at the centre of the shrine is a particularly hideous rendering of Arthur. It turns out that the shrine has been created by a creature called Agrajag, who, over the course of many, many reincarnations, had come to the enlightenment that every single time it was killed, Arthur Dent was somehow involved, either directly or indirectly.

We first met Agrajag as a bowl of petunia flowers who, when killed, have a last thought: ‘Oh no, not again,’ which doesn’t resonate at the time but only now, in the shrine, makes sense.

Other ways Arthur manages to kill Agrajag over the course of Agrajag’s many lives include swatting flies (including Agrajag); a newt Arthur stepped on; ants Arthur stepped on (included Agrajag); fleas Arthur picked out of his hair (including Agrajag); a fish Arthur caught but then decided he wasn’t really hungry for so left on the side of his plate; (possibly my personal favourite) as Arthur Philip Deodat, a man who had a heart attack at a cricket match when Arthur and Ford Prefect materialised on the pitch with a sofa; an oyster that Arthur ate live … and so on.

Oh, and as Stavro Mueller, the owner of the Beta nightclub who, as a brooding lurking now-aware version of Agrajag, tries to kill Arthur but gets accidentally fatally shot by somebody else also shooting at Arthur and missing.

Have I become Arthur Dent to Charlie Jiang's Agrajag?

Have I become Arthur Dent to Charlie Jiang’s Agrajag?

The point of all this is because I’m worried.

Charlie Jiang might, even now, be fashioning a horrible Nick Place shrine in his garage, only waiting for me to turn up so he can attempt to revenge many lifetimes of wrongs.

Well, two weeks’ worth.

You might remember that last Sunday night, in Nite Owls play, I had an Everyday Ninja moment, but only after giving away a blatantly obvious penalty by taking out an opponent’s legs with my sticks. He went down like a sack of spuds, hit the ice hard, face first, and I apologized and served my two minutes.

Turns out he was Charlie Jiang, the brother of one of my teammates, DeCheng (Johnny) Jiang. We all had a laugh. Charlie was good about it. These things happen.

So last night, in the crowd-pleasing 11.15 pm time slot at the Icehouse (running, inevitably 15 minutes late so that we hit the ice around 11.30 pm), the same Nite Owls teams went at it again.

Given the hour, numbers were down, and so the other side had loaded up with some C-grade players from the game before and so we got duly smashed, 9-1 or 10-1, I lost count. But with three minutes to go, just like last week … on the wrong side of 12.25 am Monday morning, having skated hard, shift-on, shift-off,  for an hour, I stuck a weary stick out, hoping to steal a puck and instead completely hooked the legs of an opponent charging out of defence.

Down he went, like two sacks of spuds. Yes, you guessed it. Charlie Jiang.

Sensible advice for galactic hitchhikers.

Sensible advice for galactic hitchhikers.

And so, for all I know, Charlie starts to join the dots. Over lifetimes. When he was a bee. Or a huntsman spider. Or that guy that time, in that incident we don’t talk about. The shrine begins to take shape.

I’m leaving the state for next week’s third meeting between the teams. No, really. You don’t mess with Douglas Adams’ universe.