“Life. Be in it.”

What a day! Five events on a single Sunday. Life in the ‘sham is certainly subject to cycles of compression and relaxation. After yesterday, I felt like hiding away at home, pulling down the blinds, vacuuming the loungeroom, having a bath, clipping my toenails. I was thinking to call up Lucy for a visit to her garden, but I’ve put it off for another day. I’m no superhuman when it comes to social interaction.

The Five Events of Sunday:

Pilates class up the road. Luciana has been going there for a while, and now I, too, am addicted to the mild abdominal pain that results from lying on your back with your legs at a ten degree angle from the floor. The division of gender is a bit of a worry, though. It’s a big class, maybe 25 people, and there’s only ever about two men. What’s with that?

Coffee with Bec and Luciana. Since the beginning of the residency, Bec and I have been spending more time with our nearest neighbour. We’ve begun to do more things together – things that previously we might each have done simultaneously in our own flats. The main activity that falls into this category is drinking coffee. Up on the balcony, in the late Sunday morning sun, the street was alive. The neighbour from across the way was out, vigorously washing her car. Chris and Marie had the doors flung open, spraypainting new chairs for Barbara’s place. Heaps of cars arriving and leaving for their char-grilled chicken. Meaty charcoal smoke billowing up and over the yard from the main street. The late morning tends to be the worst time for this fowl smog.

I hollered over to Chris, and took Luciana and Bec down to meet her. She told them what she’d told me: that a woman in one of the back flats at her block had been bashed by an intruder, after which the police came and held a little community meeting. The cops strongly suggested that the landlord install bars on all the windows. This was only last year. Luciana said she’s been having trouble sleeping at night since the break in.

And speaking of intruders: Chris brought up the “punk” that she had seen trying to jump over our back wall a few months back. I thought she was talking about my friend Mick. But it definitely wasn’t Mick, Chris said. She had noticed him visiting me last Monday. No, Mick was all in black with shaggy hair. This punk she had seen had a mohawk, and lots of piercings. Yes, he was a “traditional” punk.

Art in the Park. By the time I got down to Maundrell Park, things were already in full swing. I hadn’t realised that the park houses an “outdoor gallery.” By this we’re talking a series of pedestals in one corner, linked by a footpath. You can promenade up and down looking at the sculptures. I stopped and had a chat with Nick. I hadn’t seen him since we worked together on Lisa and Jo’s progressive studio collaborative kit-in-a-bag. He’s running a course at Sydney College on collaboration and sculptural casting. It’s a way to break the students out of the “one artist=one object” paradigm – to get them to loosen up and be a bit more playful with their art making. I thought it sounded like a great idea. Of course, it’s a shame that he has to reinvent the wheel so much.

And to tell the truth, Art in the Park could itself have done with a little more playfulness. The availability of a set of plinths to put objects on was probably too tempting to knock back, but it seemed like a pretty old-school default to me. The old “plop art” phenomenon in action. Not to take away from the inherent quality in any of the individual works, but if Marrickville Council were to solicit my opinion (and its obvious they should, since I’m such a widely published and highly respected expert in this field) then they could try and think about context and audience. There has to be some sophisticated re-thinking of the role of art beyond the appreciation of static objects – whether in a white space, or out in the open air. And for their part, exhibiting artists need to consider what kind of transaction with the audience is happening when they transport their carefully crafted pieces out of the studio and put them on display in a totally different context.

[NB: there were some pieces which transcended the plinth, notably Kelly Leonard’s woven matrix of shredded computer printout paper, and Sam Wittingham’s stuffed soft sculptures hanging like polyps from a lightpost. Nick Strike’s mangling of the ubiquitous mount franklin water bottle drew ironic attention to its own pedestal. And Rod Nash’s generator-powered mechanical bull, bucking back and forth, could hardly be described as “static”. So much for sweeping generalisations!]

We had a nice picnic, and kids were running wild, shaping clay, drawing with textas, making their own envelopes to post letters stuffed with autumn leaves to grandma. It just seemed to me that this part of the day – the getting together to eat, the mucking around with kids – was the crux. I thought of the fun we used to have with those “Life. Be in it!” activity trailers in the early ’80s (stilt walking, tug-o-war, fireman’s toss). Now that was some exciting, three-dimensional participatory action. By contrast, the sculptures in Art in the Park (no matter how good) merely provided the pretext for a pleasant picnic. Surely art can do more than that?

Ahem. Rant concluded.

On the upside, I finally met Sam (the mayor himself) who had come down to launch the event. Anna introduced us. I told Sam a little about what I’m doing here in the ‘sham. I explained my series of whimsical sub-projects. One of these is to “to go cycling with the mayor.” You see, Sam’s from the Greens, and upon his election, he famously relinquished his mayoral Fairlane for a bicycle. No joke. He said sure, why not, give me a ring and we’ll cycle the ‘sham. His business card is printed on brown recycled paper.

The Bowling Club. A group of drum and base DJs run this event called “Green Beats” where you can bowl all you like for five bucks, and drink beers on the green. We rummaged around in a dusty locker room under the clubhouse for balls. All the equipment down there is ancient. It feels like its been passed on by club members who have themselves passed on. Most of the bags still had the former bowlers’ names on them. I was bowling courtesy of Mr O’Callahan.

Ostensibly, this was a research trip. Lisa and I wanted to learn the rules, so we can plan for our North-vs-South tournament. With a little help from a young Irish fellow who was bowling next to us, as well as John (a member I found in the clubhouse who doesn’t actually bowl himself but has watched it a bit on TV), and a small yellow rule book from 1989, I here present The Rules Of The Game (Abridged Version).

The Rules Of The Game

The game is played on a “green” – and the particular bit of the green you play on is called a “rink”.

A bowling team can consist of two, three, or four players (“A Pair”, “Triples” or “A four”). In order of bowling, the players are called “Lead”, “Second,” “Third”, and “Skip”.

Any number of “teams” can go together to make up a “side”.

“Jack”: shall be round and white, and between 8-10 ounces in weight.

The aim of the game is to get your bowls as close to the “jack” as possible. The team with its balls closest to the “jack” will win the “end”.

“End” – an end consists of everyone in the teams rolling all their balls towards the “jack”. When there are no more balls to roll, that’s the “end”.

Each player bowls two balls per “end”.

“Bias”: all balls have “bias” – which means they are weighted on one side. As a result they tend to curve to one side as they slow down. You have to take this into consideration when rolling ’em.

The “mat” is placed down at one end of the “rink”. At the moment of delivering a bowl, a player shall have one foot remaining entirely within the confines of the mat. Failure to observe this law constitutes “foot-faulting”.

“Touchers”: a bowl which touches the “jack”, even though such bowl passes into the “ditch”, shall be counted as a “live” bowl and shall be called a “toucher”.

“Ditch”: the shallow channel at the end of the “rink”.

“Bowl accounted dead”: a ball which, not being a “toucher”, winds up in the “ditch”, is a “dead ball”.

If the “jack” is knocked outside the “rink”, the “jack” is “accounted dead”.

When the “jack” is “dead” the end shall be regarded as a “dead end”.

“Possession of the rink” shall belong to the team whose bowl is being played. The players in possession of the rink shall not be interfered with, annoyed, or have their attention distracted in any way by their opponents.

“The shot” – or shots – shall be adjudged by the bowl or bowls nearer to the “jack” than any bowl played by the opposing players.

Where it is necessary to measure between a bowl and the “jack”, the measurement shall be made with the ordinary flexible measure. Callipers may be used to determine the shot only when the bowls in question and the “jack” are on the same plane.

Spectators: persons not engaged in the game shall be situated clear of and beyond the limits of the rink of play. They shall preserve an attitude of strict neutrality, and neither by word nor act disturb or advise the players.

Bowls cloths: shall be white and may include a sponsor’s or club authority logo in one corner. Such a logo shall not exceed an area of 50 sq. cms.

Maimed, or limbless players: shall be permitted to use a support and/or artificial limb when delivering her bowl. Such support shall be suitably shod with rubber.

So there you go. I was joined on the “rink” by Sr Joan and Nobody (the only players in regulation white), Mayhem, Keg, the other Lucas, Dodo the husky, Lisa, Somchai and Josie.

Great potential was shown by Josie, who ignored the “bias” of the balls altogether, and simply barrelled them down the “rink”. She’d grown up ten-pin bowling in Penrith, and wasn’t going to change her style now. Josie, like me, lives in South ‘sham. We conferenced secretly about some of the possible pageantry, pomp, and costumery we could bring into play to deepen the pleasure of our unquestioned triumphant defeat of the North side, in the forthcoming tournament (dates TBA).

Keg and Sr Joan had bowled in school, and their wealth of experience was evident. Nobody, by contrast, was a newcomer, but displayed remarkable talent, or beginners luck. I’m not sure how many “ends” we played, but by about 5pm, the light was beginning to fade, and with several shandies under our belts, so were the players. The feeling was unanimous that drum and base music is not ideally suited to lawn bowls, being regarded by our “side” as rather too raucous for such a contemplative sport.

Towards the end of the day, Eric showed up with his family, who began playing soccer on the green in between the rinks. It is a testament to the flexibility of the Petersham Bowling Club that this kind of shenanigans was tolerated, and even encouraged. Then again, Eric and co. are locals, and most of the groovy young things doing the chicken dance to drum and base were clearly “not from around here”.

Trivial Matters. Bit by bit, our “side” drifted off home. Lisa and I decided to have a pub meal, so we found our way to the White Cockatoo. Things were in a bit of a bother there. There had been a tip-off from the cops, that the Cockatoo was going to be robbed that night. The nice young duty manager we spoke to was a bit on edge. “But,” she said pragmatically, “I just wish they’d get it over and done with early. I don’t wanna be down the station all night”.

There’s been a spate of hold-ups in the past few months, with sometimes several local pubs being “done over” in a single night. Lisa and her talked about walking around Petersham at night. Lisa doesn’t feel safe – there’s lots of dodgy men about. The manager agreed, but said she often brings her dog with her. Also, she tells any would-be assailant that she comes from Campbelltown. For some reason, that seems to scare ’em off. She recommended we go eat at the Newington Hotel.

Up at the Newington, a trivia night was in full swing. The place was packed, so we joined in with a team called “La Triviata” (groan). La Triviata were obviously pretty good – they were in the top five teams. We tried to help out. Lisa even got the answer to a question about Tina Turner (“what was the name of the hit song written for Tina by Mark Knopfler?” – a special ‘sham prize for the first correct answer posted in the comments, as long as you don’t use google to find out…)

I quickly came to realise that I am no good at trivia. The guys from La Triviata consoled me by saying that the best thing to do is to assemble a team with a range of special interests. At the end of the game, Paul the trivia master crooned:

Remember: whatever troubles befall you –
don’t give it a second thought…
For it will all turn out to be: Trivial.

The game was over, and the pub emptied out.

Lisa and I had another glass of wine. We began talking about our families, having children, getting older. I asked whether she was worried about getting old. She said she’s started to notice wrinkles, and that’s been a bit alarming. But in general, she really likes it. The wisdom, the confidence, the “having seen this one before”.

I also like these aspects of ageing. Certainly, I can’t be “the youngest one in the gang,” the precocious one, the promising young upstart, forever. And I did spend plenty of time playing that role. It’s just taking me a while to adjust to not being in my twenties. I guess I thought (rather illogically of course) that it was going to last forever.

Now, when I hang out with twenty-somethings, I begin to feel the gap in experience. It’s slightly alarming. How should I cope with this responsibility of acquired knowledge? What new role to take on? How to retain beginners mind when all I feel is “here we go again”?

One thought on ““Life. Be in it.”

  1. Mick

    heh, luca, you always seem to have trouble with the names of music genres. And you really start to sound like the old man you talk of becoming when you say, “The feeling was unanimous that drum and base music is not ideally suited to lawn bowls”. Not because it’s unsuited, but because it’s ‘Drum and Bass’ not ‘Drum and Base’ ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drum_and_Bass )


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