Defanged and declawed – 16th January 2018

As I was walking from my desk to the kitchen in the office, I got this sudden urge to kick a football.  I almost took a swing at invisible ball mid-stride.  Do you know that feeling when the ball strokes your foot at the perfect point and shoots off ferociously towards an imaginary goal, avoiding the desperate stretch of the imaginary keeper?  Since school days I mostly did this by myself against a brick wall.  When I’m settled in Thailand again I’ll have to get a football and then all I’ll need is the brick wall.

I was on the school football team from middle school until I left high school, aged 16.  I was pretty passionate about it for a while there.  Actually, I was passionate about it until I came to Australia really.  There wasn’t much of a league going on at that time and there were no live games or much in the way of replays from England then either.  I got interested in cricket for a while, especially as Australia couldn’t lose a game for trying for a while there.  But Australian Rules football ended up being my new passion, but that’s another story.

In middle school, the best players from years 1 and 2, and from years 3 and 4 would make up the school teams.  This was a big honour if you were in the lower year of the two but, as is the way of school kids, everyone stuck to just being friendly with kids in their year.  Even though you had the privilege to play with the older kids against other schools, no one talked to you.

In the summer break between years 3 and 4, I had been picked to go to a soccer selection camp but as the date drew nearer I lost my nerve and told my mum I was too sick to go.  I’m not sure why I felt like this now.  Was I too shy, too scared, too insecure?  It’s possible I missed a great opportunity and my football coach at school was disappointed when I told him I didn’t attend.  I’d like to say I paid him back by helping us win every game and scoring lots of goals that year but to be honest I can’t remember now.

In high school, I maintained a place in the team as the centre-forward but I recall us losing more games than we won.  I don’t recall scoring too often either.  The worst, although possibly the best, memory is when we played another school that just didn’t give a shit. We tried so hard and they just kept kicking the ball back and laughing at everything we did and everything they did too.  They cracked up at each other’s mistakes and unbelievably ended up beating us something like 3 goals to 2.  I think I knew it was over then.  Football wasn’t for me.  Particularly as my only other memory is playing in a hail storm and though we stopped the game, there was nowhere to hide as those painful little pellets peppered our faces and legs.  Fuck that for a game of football.

Our inter-school games were on Saturdays and I used to ride my bicycle the 4 miles to town and then up the hill to school.  It was around this time I started getting into music very seriously.  Our tiny local record store, which still thrives to this day, would attempt to track down rare imports from America for me.  I would bring them lists of records I’d heard about in borrowed copies of Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll or that were occasionally mentioned in Sounds or NME.  I can’t clearly remember the day picking up Bad Brains 12″ on Alternative Tentacles and Black Flag’s ‘Damaged’ album on Unicorn.  Our football game was in the late morning this day and I picked up these records before riding up to school.  It was a bit of an annoyance to have to lug them around with me but I was so excited I couldn’t help looking at the covers as we travelled on the bus to our away game.

I recall nothing about the football game that day and know that when I got home I would hide the records under my shirt as my mother was sure to ask where I got the money from to buy them.  Well, mum, that lunch money you gave me….  never had a lunch in the whole 3 years I was in high school.  I would beg and borrow pennies from my friends and just eat a couple of lollies from the ice cream van.  This may explain why I became such a skinny-ass weakling and my lack of enthusiasm for playing sports so much around this time.

Those two records I bought that day had such a huge impact on me.  Black Flag spoke directly to me somehow, even though they were singing about getting beatings from the LAPD and I was sulking because my mother made me do my homework.  ‘No More’, ‘Room 13’, ‘Depression’, ‘Padded Cell’, the intensity, the passion, the violence!  I was 15 at the time – hearing those songs now will take me right back to then.

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With Indian ink, a needle and the aid of a mirror I tattooed myself the bars, smart enough not to reverse them in the reflection.  It wasn’t until years later in Australia that I got them tattooed properly and they sit proudly on my upper right arm, a reminder of who I am and where I am now.

I did a whole bunch of my own tattoos with a simple needle and ink, though all but a few have been covered over with more professional art since.  I was partly inspired by a heavy metal girl at school whose name I now forget.  She was mad as fuck, not to be messed with and had ‘666’ tattooed on her forehead, though hidden by her ginger hair.  I later heard she became a born-again Christian though I’m guessing that might’ve been someone’s idea of a joke.

My own dodgy work, including ‘LIFE IS PAIN, I WANT TO BE INSANE’ (again Black Flag-inspired, more specifically a tattoo that adorns their singer Henry Rollins) seems to have served me quite well in some instances.  Whilst they might’ve been a reason for a beating when I was younger, these days it tends to keep people at bay and an indicator not to mess with me.  Which is amusing because I generally will run a mile from any trouble anyway.  I’m also a pretty friendly guy too.  These days I tend to actually like people.

Thinking about tattoos also reminds me of a couple of experiences in China.  The first I was walking through some back allies in Beijing, just enjoying the experience of being lost.  I ended up a small square with just a couple of older folks around.  One guy was pulling a cart along and stopped to look at me out of curiosity.  As I got closer he reached out and grabbed my arm and just ran his hand up and down my tattoo, laughing in wonder.  I laughed with him for a minute before we both went on our way, realising we had no other form of communication to take this encounter any further.

The other time I was travelling with a bunch of Aussies from all walks of life, as part of a dragon boat team.  One of the ladies was an Occupational Health and Safety officer, hard to say how old she was, but she seemed much older than me.  Even now, I feel most of the people I meet are older than me, perhaps a refusal to believe that I am not in my early 20s anymore.  This lady looked at my tattoos and started asking questions about them and then finished the conversation with ‘You’ll regret them when you’re older.’  I was 41 at the time.

My tattoos are my own historical document.  Memories for me to consider, a past to ponder.  Anyway, as I often tell people, ‘They come off when you die.’

Amy is getting excited and it’s infectious.  We have some locals building our fences and as we’ve given them no time frame they’ve arranged themselves a party table in our garden where they can kick back after a days work with BBQ and whisky.  Apparently, around 5pm cool breezes waft across the valley and it’s a perfect indicator that it’s time for a relaxing icy cold drink of your preference.

The Burmese builders have finished building their shacks and have also set themselves up a party table, though for them it’s also their breakfast, lunch and dinner table.  Our house is a party house before it’s even complete.  I get the feeling the locals might still come around to party after they’ve finished here too.

Amy is choosing wall paint colours, inside and out and looking more seriously at bathroom fittings now.  It’s exciting, though as we discuss, a little weird as almost everything should be complete by the time I get there.  I can just breeze in and go to bed in a brand new home.  I hope, anyway.

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