Male bonding over booze, a ball game and an amiable perusal of old crocks' tattoos.

Although the official Aussie rules season is now over here in country Victoria, it was felt a fitting finale would be an old crocks game between our village and the one next door.

The only requirement for participation - that you weren’t currently playing competitively - meant that the elderly, the overweight and anyone liable to get out of breath running a bath was altogether eligible and available for selection.

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Despite fitting the criteria on more than one of these counts, I decided to pass -- it’s bad enough to play a game you’re familiar with when you’re not in the first flush of youth, never mind one where you don’t know the rules and are liable to be battered senseless the first time the ball appears in your general vicinity.

Had it been football -- our football -- naturally I wouldn’t have hesitated.  But that’s different, I was born kicking a ball -- weren’t we all -- and anyway I’ve always been a goalkeeper, a position in which you can play till you’re 75 or thereabouts. 
(In my younger days, I was known as ‘The Cat’ a nickname I think I acquired due to my agility and reflexes though others said it was because I disappeared at night and was often heard yowling and screeching at 3 in the morning.)

Anyway, using the excuse that it ‘wasn’t my game’, I demurred from signing up for the old crocks and decided to watch from the sidelines instead, reasoning that one of the compensations would be the opportunity to drink beer whilst the match proceeded. 

I wasn’t alone - half the on field participants were also on the swally as the game raged on around them -- some of them were smoking too -- behaviour which might have led the casual onlooker to deduce that maybe this wasn’t destined to be too serious an affair.

But it was.  And really, no one should ever have doubted that it would be.  Get any bunch of blokes together, chuck a ball into the mix and the old competitive urges surface despite the presence of (you’d think) moderating factors such as blood pressure, baldy heids and beer bellies.

It was, as Arthur Montford used to say, a real stramash, which only abated when a couple of wise heads -- the local copper and the ambulanceman -- decided that the game should end early as they were both going off duty and didn’t relish the prospect of unnecessary overtime.

That decision made, it all settled down again as old geezers in football kit way too small for them male bonded over the booze and an amiable perusal of each other’s tattoos.

Tattoos are hardly new of course, but once upon a time, the go was either to be discreet about your body art, or if you did flaunt one, be prepared to be written off by all and sundry as a ned or a crim and probably both.

A forearm tat was all right -- ‘Scotland the Brave’, ‘Mum’ or the girlfriend’s name -- always a bit risky - but one on the face or the neck carried with it a significant stigma.  (I could be wrong but few individuals with ‘cut here’ tattooed across their neck were ever invited to the Queen’s garden party.)

But, in Australia and indeed at home, it’s now the norm - everyone has tats -- be they Chinese characters or Maori war symbols; it’s hard to find the footballer who doesn’t have an armful of colourful ink and loads of them seem to be happy enough to have weird stuff appearing on the neck and in the throat region. 

Wayne Rooney even has a small furry animal tattooed on his napper.  Oh hang on, that’s a wig.

Of course, tattoos stay with you forever.  And with the passage of time, don’t always seem such a good idea. 

That Oor Wullie tat you had done in your teens, primarily so you could pose the question of young women in pubs -- ‘Hey darling, d’ye want to see my Wullie? -- doesn’t perhaps fit with the image of a sober, middle aged businessperson. 

But on the other hand it’s a historical object, a reminder of a bygone age, a time when fun was more important than responsibility and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

A confession: I possess a tattoo myself.  The Chinese symbol for ‘justice’ - a seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time I had done years ago in Hong Kong.

At least I thought it said ‘justice’.  Till the day, whilst teaching English as a foreign language, when one of my students very respectfully wondered why Mister Teacher would sport a tattoo that announced in ancient mandarin characters, the unambiguous axiom -- ‘I’m a diddy’.

I’d always wondered why that tattooist bloke was smiling.