One of my favourite pastimes as a boy was cracking a tinny and watching cricket at my next-door neighbour’s home. Stanley was a tall and skinny 60-something with a Roman nose and a surly, pessimistic streak which ran from his toes to the top of his head, but he was as authentic as his 1950s haircut and the Brylcreem holding it in place.
I found pleasure in a man so comfortable in his skin he wore his faults like his favourite Stubbies, which he was always in – sun-mugged, emaciated legs sprouting shockingly from worn fabric. Or maybe I willed myself to enjoy his company because I treasured whiling away the hours watching cricket and sucking on icy cold, free beer and Camels. Whatever.
It was during one of these sessions of booze and ciggies, as the West Indies beat up on poor Sri Lanka in a Gabba one-dayer in early 1985, that Stanley gulped a XXXX, his face twisted and he said: “This bloody game played in pyjamas is a fad. It’s a flamin’ joke. Mark my words. It won’t last.”
“But it’s been going years, Stan,” I retorted. “It’s very popular.”
“Ah, what do you know? You’re just a stupid boy.”
Test cricket was Stanley’s game. He loved it almost as much as his old blue heeler, Prime Minister Holt, who was near blind, severely arthritic and missing a leg. (Stanley would chide anyone for calling the dog Harold or Holt or Harold Holt.)
“His name’s bloody Prime Minister Holt!” he barked at me the first and only time I made that mistake. “Treat him with respect. He’s earned it.” (Stanley never told me what the dog did to earn it, and I never asked.)
Sitting in an ancient reclining leather chair which resembled a mould of his body, Stanley would pat the dog and say: “You’re a champion, old fella.”
“You know who’s not a champion?” he said the day we watched that Gabba one-dayer. “Bloody Sri Lanka. Mark my words. If they ever play Australia in a Test series in Australia, they’re no chance of winning. Hell, they’d be lucky to win a Test, even with the crap side we’ve got.”
“Give ’em a few years and they might surprise you.”
“Ah, ya stupid boy.”
Sadly, I’ve got a feeling my prediction will soon come true, as Aussie cricket bottoms out.
So here’s to you, Stanley. Thanks for the great memories, you grumpy old bugger.
Mark Bode is an ACM journalist