Stuck in the mud and why AFL will do just fine in Sydney

Last year, my son (aka Mr 8), started to play Auskick, the version of Australian Rules Football for kids.

This year my daughter, Miss 5, has decided to do likewise, for the mighty Newtown Swans.

She’s very much a pink fairy sparkly butterly princess unicorn girl when she’s in the mood, so her decision to play football – boots and all – was odd.

But she decided to do it for two reasons. One is that she’ll probably get schlepped to training with her brother half the time, so might as well make the best of it.

The other is that Auskick makes it fun. The emphasis is all on participation, sharing and learning skills and it is done subtley so the kids have fun, rather than feel they are just doing drills.

The best example of this is the game of Stuck in the Mud at every training session. The kids love it, but as the coach explained to me the other day, the gameĀ  simulates an AFL game pretty well. Think about it: you run up and down the field, you dodge opponents, then if you find an obstacle your team-mates come to your aid, all while using your peripheral vision to spot threats and opportunities. That’s AFL in a nutshell!

Winning doesn’t come into it – the games are not even scored until under 10s. Every kid gets given AFL branded stuff – we got socks, a bag, a ball and a hat – to ram home the brand. And there’s a better than 25% chance she’ll be asked to play Auskick as half-time entertainment during a Sydney Swans game, and get the whole gameday experience.

It’s amazingly well organised. The registration form for new players even asks if we wish to be kept informed of the new Greater Western Sydney team and that won’t enter the competition until 2012. This level of support encourages and facilitates greater levels of volunteering, so the whole experience of being a part of the club is about ten times better than the experience we had with the local soccer team.

I suspect Miss 5’s AFL career will be short. But I also suspect that she will have very strong ideas about the code put into her head at a very young age, and that those ideas will stick there. This, I suspect, is how the AFL will grow and why it will do just fine in Sydney. Sure there is not a slavering horde of AFL supporters ready to support the new team. But give it 10,15, 20 years and all those kids who remember even the one or two seasons of Auskick they played will be more disposed to take an interest in the team than would otherwise have been the case.

I wonder if any of them will realise they’re watching grown men playing a complicated version of Stuck in the Mud?


Post 34:08 The difference between boys and girls

My three year old daughter, who is in pre-school, amazed me this morning.

I was eating toast and she paused her usual doodling and said “Daddy, I have spelled toast.”

And indeed she had: “ToST,” which is pretty damn good for someone her age.

When she showed this to her mother later in the morning, my six year old son interjected thusly:

“I can burp from one to ten, Daddy.” He proceeded to do so.

The funny thing is, the burping is perhaps the more precocious act. My daughter is a year or two ahead of schedule. The idea of counting while burping didn’t hit me until I was about 15!

Post 33:08 A long incoherent ramble about Rock and Roll

Warning: This post is long, illogical, self-indulgent and lacks narrative.

I cannot remember where I heard this piece of dialog, but it haunts me. It went a little something like this:

(Sounds of ‘Hotel California’ in the background)

Dad: I grew up with The Eagles.

Son: So I grew up with The Eagles too.

Dad: So when The Eagles came to Sydney, it was great that we could share it together.

Son: We both knew all the words!

To me, this sounds like hell. So far as I am concerned, it is necessary for kids to hate the culture their parents grew up with. Frankly, if my kids want to listen to the music I listen to, they can get stuffed. I want them to grow up with the most offensive music imaginable and I want them to think I completely fail to understand it, which I almost certainly will.

Why? Well … I think most contemporary music is disposable and that is its beauty. It’s still part of the overall and fast-evolving popular music narrative. It’s just that kids get in on the narrative later than their parents did and therefore understand the newer chapters (and their relationship to older chapters) better than those of us who stopped caring (or no longer have the time to spend enough time surfing the narrative and sort crap from quality) when we hit our thirties.

So I think that imposing your own musical narrative on your kids is, I reckon, a deadly crimp on their personal development because it coagulates their values around the art that formed yours.

That’s why we try to play our kids classic rock as an example, rather than a sample. So we’ll play them some Zeppelin so they get a grounding in music that underpins so much later music, rather than because we want them to listen to Zeppelin with us.

Which brings me to last week, when my wife and I saw The Jesus and Mary Chain. For those of you who do not know the Mary Chain, they are a Scottish Band most famous for matching classic rock melodies with the kind of noise associated with dissonant punk.

The Chain are most recently famous for:

The band broke up after an on-stage dispute between the two brothers in the band, way back in 1998. Which was at least five years after their last album of any note.

Last year, all of a sudden, after both brothers had experienced very indifferent solo careers, they reformed.

I saw them in Vienna (of all places, while backpacking) in 1992. They’re on all my favorite playlists – I love their guitar sound, which is quite beautiful to me – so there was no question about me going.

Now … for some back story.

For the longest time I have felt that Rock and Roll, as a live entertainment, is a terrible rip-off.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to hear Jazz played in New Orleans at the famous Preservation Hall. What struck me about that performance was that when the singer stood up to do his thing, the rest of the band played more quietly so he could be heard.

This is, of course, impossible with live Rock and Roll. I have long felt that there is a weird amplification arms race going on with rock. Because guitars are quiet things they need amplification (also because, of course, rock is a small ensemble thing. Classical copes with amplification issues by simply having LOTS of violins all playing the same thing). Pretty soon the guitars drown out the drums, which must then be amplified.

The eventual result of all this escalation is a live experience that is an aural assault and in which nuanced musicianship becomes bloody hard to detect or appreciate. It’s Mutually Assured Destruction.

The live rock experience is also barbarous in its Spartan comforts. I’ve been going to live rock for nearly 25 years now and the basics have not changed: you stand on a hard floor and hope no-one nearby is:

  • Much taller than you
  • Dancing aggressively enough to hurt you

At the end of the night your ears are ringing, your feet are sore and you are sweaty/bruised/wondering if your toes are broken (I used to wear steel-capped boots acquired when working in a warehouse to gigs). This is in a small venue, of course. Stadia have their own complications, offering the weird chance to be in the presence of an artist but being forced to watch a large TV to have a chance to get a richer experience than is available on DVD.

The big innovation in live music I have perceived over the years is air conditioning. 15 years ago, venues were unbearably hot. One venue, the Coogee Bay Hotel, was infamous for its internal rain as sweat condensed on the ceiling and then returned to sender in the grossest way imaginable.

These days venues have passable aircon and you can avoid showering in the collective sweat of your fellow concert-goers.

Aside from that, no change. It is still oddly loud and physically uncomfortable in other ways.

Thus endeth the back story.

So … if I hate Rock and Roll so much, why do I still (occasionally) go? And at that, why go to a concert of has-beens?

For affirmation.

The Mary Chain have a very particular guitar sound. Hearing it reproduced live somehow confirms, to me, the authenticity of their art. By making it possible for me to behold, in person, the same experience I have had through recordings I feel like I am closer to understanding the things that made me care about their work to begin with (even if they patently do not care about their audience: their stage show was pitiful).

It’s worth braving the various exigencies of live rock to have that experience.

But it is not worth forcing my kids to appreciate why I appreciate that experience. There may come a day when I hear the kids playing some precedent or antecedent to the Mary Chain. At that point, I’ll send them a song or three. If they dig it, good. If not, good.

By then, however, at least the idea of going to see the Mary Chain will be laughable. The band’s principals will be in their 60s, their significance hopefully dissipated by more worthy art I don’t understand.

Post 07:08 Celebrities are real, not just TV

My son is going to a sports camp this week, along with the children of a PlaySchool presenter/rather famous entertainer.

We were discussing his presence around the dinner table this evening when my daughter said she has heard of the entertainer in question and declared:

“They have one of him on Play School. He is real.”

Yes, dear. He is real. People on TV are real.

Funnily enough, a friend of mine used to be reporter on SBS news. His son apparently thought everyone’s parents were on TV all the time …

Post 03:08 Computer games and why I want my kids to play a lot of them

For Christmas we bought the boy Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii.

It is the first modern computer game we’ve had for a while. Our last console was the PS1 and although we have had the Wii for a few months, we persevered with Wii sports.

Now I’m starting to appreciate just what astounding creations modern games have become.

You can get a look at the gameplay here. What impresses me is that the game asks an awful lot of the player.

One level I have completed consists of a cylinder hanging in space (there is a pic of it on the official site labeled ‘moves’). The cylinder has a transparent surface, which immediately presents a puzzle as the player tries to figure out how to get inside it! When you are running on the surface of theĀ  cylinder, gravity pulls towards the center of the object. Once you enter the cylinder, gravity pulls towards its floor, but varies in certain zones with color coding and glyphs indicating the direction of its pull. That’s a lot to figure out and frankly if my kids can solve that kind of puzzle, master the spatial orientation challenges, decipher the glyphs and finish the level I imagine it can only be good for them.

That’s not to say they’ll get to do it all day. We’re not going to have the Wii raise the kids or substitute for other play.

But it sure seems to me that there is a role for games in their overall development that exceeds the entertainment and developmental niche I had previously imagined they would occupy.