Robbie McEwen v Stuart O’Grady

Several people have asked what I make of Robbie McKewen using his head and shoulders to try and muscle Stuart O’Grady out of his way yesterday. Stuart O’Grady = Good; Robbie McEwen = not so much. I’m pleased there are consequences for that kind of behaviour.

That is all I have to say on the matter.

Tour de France (updated)

At least there’s one epic non-US sports event I can watch live in the USA: the glorious Tour de France. The first stage began today and the yankee, David Zabriskie, is warming the yellow jersey for Lance Armstrong. I’m not saying Armstrong’s gonna win overall, but we all know he’s going to be seeing a lot of yellow time. There goes my writing schedule!

This is where I’ll be getting my online coverage. Thanks again to Christopher and Gwenda for introducing me to the glories of the daily peloton.

I Wish I’d Seen It!

Sometimes the pain of being so very far away from live coverage of the cricket is just too much. Australia and England tied the one-day finals. The match sounds mind-blowingly good. Now I’m even more excited about the Ashes series.

Stupid non-cricket loving USA. With its stupid games that make ties an impossibility. I’m grumping off to continue writing the great Australian YA cricket Elvis fairy mangosteen novel. Talk amongst yourselves (yes, both of you!). (Oh, and Margo? Amongst, amongst, amongst, amongst, amongst!!!)

Ah! That’s more like it! (updated again)

England have to make 35 runs an over in order to win. They have but one wicket left. I’d call that a pretty difficult situation. Though, they could hit a six off every remaining ball, so it’s not technically impossible.

I feel so much better. The world is not spinning out of control. The curse has been lifted. Yes, it’s only pyjama cricket, but I’ll take it! I just hope this Australian victory doesn’t mean the Pistons will lose tonight. Nope, not superstitious, me.

Life is good.

Update: now it’s 61 runs an over. Yup, that’s impossible. And now it’s 73. And now, 120. Now 177. Aren’t numbers fun? And then the match was over. Woo hoo!

Update 2: My superstitious fear was correct: the Pistons lost. Sigh. I have to be honest, though, I wouldn’t trade an Australian victory against England for the Pistons taking the NBA finals. No way. I wouldn’t even swap Australia beating England at tiddlywinks or snap or twister for a Pistons victory. Sorry. England are the age-old, mortal enemy. They must be destroyed! (On a sporting arena. In a fair sporting manner.)

Basketball Good

Once Daughters was banished from my life, yesterday was all basketball all the time. First up: off to Madison Square Garden to watch the Liberty make easy work of destroying the San Antonio Silver Stars. We invited two friends of ours who’ve never seen the Liberty play. I believe we have a couple of converts. Yay!

And then home to watch the final quarter of the sixth game of the NBA finals where the men’s San Antonio team was also beaten. Dee-troit! Bas-ket-baaall!

Now if only the cricket would start doing what I want it to!

No Mentioning a Certain Country that Begins with the Letter ‘B’

And I don’t mean Burma or Bolivia or Bulgaria.

There’s some heavy black magic being worked against our baggy green boys over in England. You lot better take your spells off Ricky and the other lads immediately. If this keeps up I may have to reconsider WorldCon. Gloating poms? (Yes, I mean you, Andrew and Cheryl!) No, thank you! My sister‘s living over there and it’s not been pretty for her of late. And, oh, the hassling she’ll get come Monday! Ouch.

Not that I have lost faith. Once we get rid of the bad mojo, all will be fine.

This is My Blog

and I’ll write about sports if I want to! So stop emailing to tell me to post about “more interesting things.” The very idea!

But there won’t be much posting about anything—interesting or not—over the next few days. This is my last day to fix Daughters of Earth and the copyedited Magic Lessons just arrived and has to be back with my publisher by Tuesday morning.

Bye for now.

Deee-troit! Baaas-ket-ball! (Part 2)

I love the way basketball makes a second seem like a really long time. The game is so fast it makes time slow down.

I love that tonight seven Detroit players were in double figures. No stars. Lots of sharing the ball. Just like the WNBA.


I adore the way the oz media runs articles on sledging for the sole purpose of repeating some of the choicer examples. This one’s my current favourite ’cause it doesn’t bother pretending to be against it, plus it repeats my favourite anti-W. G. Grace sledge.

What do you reckon my chances are of getting some sledging going on science fiction panels at this year’s WorldCon? That’d liven them up quicksmart, not to mention preventing Gwenda’s death declaration from coming true.

This and That

Interwebby thingies I read and enjoyed today:

Tingle alley has some flittering thoughts about how fascinated she is by other writers’ acknowledgments here and here. Me too!

Some more Australian gloating about the coming Ashes series.

A cool review of David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy.

Lesson learned today: sometimes google is definitely not all that, and a trip to the library is required. My attempts to find out more about the recording, publishing and reception of Bill Broonzy’s”Get Back (Black, Brown and White)” inspired by Josh’s comment here yielded close to nothing. Anyone out there got any leads please to let me know!

I finished up with the oz version of magic or madness—damn it’s hard to read through your own book a gazillion times. I honestly don’t think I can look at it ever again. But I’m dead pleased to be that much closer to having the book out in my own country! Now, back to the monster that is Daughters of Earth.

Give it a Rest

Australia is going to win the Ashes this year, okay? So all you over-excited pommy journalists and bloggers can just take a deep breath and get over yourselves. No, Australia would not select any of the current Pom players were they available to wear a baggy green. No, not even Andrew Flintoff.

Right now Australia is—by a wide margin—the best in the world, with lots and lots of depth. But it wasn’t always that way. I’m old enough to remember the horror that was the eighties. I remember the glorious West Indies of that period. I confess that back then I barracked for them (come on, people, Michael Holding was so beautiful, er, I mean, such a fabulous bowler) even against Australia, but I have always backed my homeland against every other team in the world. And since the West Indies fell from the heights of heaven (and Michael Holding retired) I’ve only supported the baggy green wearers and I will continue to support them no matter what.

But our supremacy can’t last forever. India, Pakistan, South Africa & England all have much bigger populations to draw from (Australia isn’t much bigger than 20 million). They’ve already, or will in the future, started their own national cricketing academies. They’re already hiring us to coach them. What happened in tennis will happen in cricket. There are fewer Aussies in the top hundred, not because we suddenly suck, but because there are more people in the world playing tennis then ever before. Back in the years of our domination there weren’t any Thai, Japanese, Argentinian, or Indonesian players in the top 100. Now there are.

The only way Australia will stay on top in the long term is if cricket loses popularity in India, Pakistan, South Africa & England, and if that happens you can say goodbye to cricket as a world sport. I want cricket to grow, not stagnate and if it grows the days of Australian supermacy will wain.

In the meantime, we are still the very best in the world and I’m going to enjoy every last second of it. On ya, boys! Thrash those pommy bastards.

Hoops, Reading, Signing, Talking

I’m finally back in New York City. My brain has at last caught up with my body. This weekend we went to the first Liberty game of the season. Well, okay, not first of the season because the season proper doesn’t start for a week or two. First game of the pre-season. (Nope, this stuff doesn’t makes any sense to me either.) The Liberty played great. Up against last year’s WNBA champions, the Seattle Storm, we won! And we didn’t just win, we did it convincingly, spending most of the game at least five points ahead. They were a gazillion inches taller than us, totally outrebounded us, and we won the game with solid defence. Happiness. (No, I don’t care that it was only a pre-season game and thus doesn’t count.)

The Artemis Fowl and Co. ("Co." being me and Scott) event was fab. Its fabulousness was clear from the very beginning when the praise monster (all hail!) manifested itself in the form of Peter Glassman, the owner of Books of Wonder, who greeted me with the most amazingly effusive gush about my book, which he was three-quarters of the way through reading. I caught the words "brilliant" and "writing" in close proximity to each other. Blush.

The event consisted of me and Scott doing a short reading from Magic or Madness and Midnighters 1: The Secret Hour respectively. I read the scene where Reason steps through the door from the summer of Sydney to the winter of New York City and sees snow for the first time; Scott read the scene from the first Midnighters book where Jessica discovers the blue time and rain for the first time. We hadn’t planned to read such similar scenes. Actually until we read them out loud side by side we hadn’t realised they were similar. (For those wondering, that would be me plagiarising Scott.)

Eoin Colfer didn’t read from any of his books, instead he told a very funny story about why you shouldn’t tease six year olds, even if they do have big heads, not all their teeth, and in their swimming goggles resemble Golem from Lord of the Rings. He also explained in detail how "hurling" and "jumper" don’t mean the same thing in Ireland as they do in the US. This gave me an excellent later segue to promote my book as educational because it has a glossary of Australian English at the back.

Next there was Q & A. All the questions but one were asked by the actual demographic of our books. This was very exciting for me because I spend a great deal of time thinking and talking about children’s and young adult literature, but almost always with adults, hardly ever with the people for whom it is written. My first and only question was the first asked: "Is there really no snow in Australia?" To which I answered that yes there is, just not a lot, and mostly in places like the Snowy Mountains and Tasmania. It’s very easy to grow up in Australia without ever seeing it.

Scott’s one question came towards the end, "When is the third Midnighters book coming out?" You’ll find the answer here. All the other questions were for Eoin and they were all asked by kids (mostly boys) who displayed an intimate knowledge of his books and a huge thirst for more: there were many variations on the when-is-the-next-book-coming-out and will-there-be-more-books-in-the-series questions. For a writer those are very sweet indeed.

After the questions were all asked, the astoundingly large audience (given that it was mother’s day) formed a very long queue and we signed lots and lots of books. This was a big surprise because frankly I was expecting to sign at most four or five books (for my friends who came: Hey Liesa! Hey Eloise! Hey Tui! Hey Barry! Hey Will & Alice!), but for over an hour there was a steady trickle of people I didn’t know who wanted me to sign for them. Astounding! Wonderful! Happy making! Most of my signees were girls who looked incredibly young—twelve at the very most. One of them had already started reading my book and was impatient for me to hurry up and sign it so she could get back to reading. Happy sigh.

Next to me all the Midnighters fans had emerged to get Scott to sign their books and ask why they had to wait such a long, long, long, time for the next Midnighters book? And why were there only going to be three books? Scott was able to placate them by pointing to Uglies, and So Yesterday as possible substitutes while they waited.

Eoin (turns out it’s pronounced "Owen" not "Ian" as I had guessed—oops!) Colfer signed and signed and signed and signed. He was charming, entertaining, and wonderful with his fans, spending time chatting to every single one. There were a lot of them and most seemed to have every book he’d ever written, held in teetering stacks supported only by their small, wee, tiny, little hands. In fact, one kid came up to Scott and me after having his mountainous pile of Colfer books signed: he let out a weary sigh, slid our books onto the table, asked that we sign in exhausted tones, and explained that his back hurt from carrying so many books.

Quite a few of the kids who’d come to see Eoin Colfer also wound up buying Scott’s and my books. When the event was over we gave Peter a list of all the other writers we’d be more than happy to do an event with: Diana Wynne-Jones, Ursula Le Guin, Garth Nix, Phillip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, Jonathan Stroud etc. etc.

In the pauses between people wanting me to sign, I signed for Books of Wonder. First the lovely staff brought about thirty books, which I duly signed. Then they took those away and brought thirty more, which I also signed, expressing surprise at how many there were. "Oh," Sarah said, "these are the mail-order books. There are plenty more. We haven’t even got up to the store stock yet. I love your book, we’ve been handselling it like you wouldn’t believe." Were ever sweeter words heard from the mouth of a bookseller? A brief pause while yours truly blushed, coughed, and thanked Sarah profusely, then returned to signing. I have never signed so many books in my life. I loved it!

Another huge thrill was meeting Cassandra Claire. She’s just gotten a big, prestigious, three-book deal, agented by Barry Goldblatt, but much more importantly Cassie is the author of The Secret Diary of Aragorn Son Of Arathorn (and other secret diaries) which was circulating all over the internet a few years back and completely cracked me up every time someone sent it to me, which they did a lot. It continues to crack me up every time I think of the phrase "still not king". It was grouse being able to thank her in person and to sign a copy of Magic or Madness for her. Cassie Claire bought my book!

Oh, and Eoin Colfer showed me the worm in his eye ball which is exquisitely gross. I want one too!

It were a good weekend.

New York City, 9 May 2005

A Brief Respite from Deadlines

It’s 7:30AM on Thursday morning and I’ve been awake for an hour, lying on the couch, watching a repeat of yesterday’s cricket in New Zealand (NZ versus Sri Lanka) and reading C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary. I watch Jayawardene batting beautifully, lots of lovely attacking shocks, including some quite exquisite cover drives while C. L. R. James (I love using all his initials) bitches about defensive, boring batting in the 1950s. (His theory: it was because the 1950s was boring.)

I’m having a lovely morning, not just because of wall to wall cricket (I’m also checking scores around the world on my laptop), but because I don’t have to feel guilty about it. The last few months have been work, work, work. But now I’ve met all my deadlines. I turned in the anthology last week and the latest rewrites on Magic Lessons (sequel to Magic or Madness) last night. For the next few days, before my pesky editors get back to me, I can do whatever I damn well please and I choose cricket.

Especially as it’s just this second gone live: the fourth day of play has begun. And even more especially because in just over a week I’ll be stuck in that cricket-free zone: the US of A with little hope of getting to England to watch Australia destoy them in the Ashes. So here’s to inswingers, yorkers, googlies, cover drives, front-foot play, back-foot play, silly mid-on, short square leg and french cuts. And to W. G. Grace, Ranjitsinhji, Learie Constantine, Peggy Antonio, Sid Barnes, Weekes, Worrell and Walcott, Keith Miller, Garfield Sobers, Dennis Lillee, Viv Richards, Micheal Holding, Bruce Reid, Zoe Goss, Makhaya Ntini, Adam Gilchrist, Steve Bucknor and Belinda Clarke. How I shall miss you all!

Sydney, 7 April 2005

Twenty 20

Twenty 20 is a brand new form of cricket, which I—having spent most of 2004 in various non-cricket playing nations (Mexico, USA and Argentina)—had only barely heard of before coming home and hearing about it everywhere. Twenty 20 gets its name because each side faces only 20 overs (in the one-day form of the game they face 50). It’s a streamlined version of the game that takes a bare three hours to play, and that includes the 15 minutes in between the two innings. As opposed to the five days of test cricket match and eight hours of a one-day (pyjama cricket) game, that’s insane. That’s backyard cricket. In England, where Twenty 20 was invented, games have been selling out, and a third of those attending have never seen a game of cricket live before. New converts to cricket? Sounds good to me.

There are some nutty rules: the punishment for a no-ball seems extreme (two extra runs and the batter gets a free hit, ie, for one ball can’t get out except if they’re run out). Why is a no-ball so much worse than bowling wide? But the fielding restrictions make sense, encouraging free scoring, and I love the time restrictions. Each batter has to get to the crease within 90 seconds and the 20 overs have to be bowled in 80 minutes. This prevents cricketers using feet-dragging and procrastination as a tactic and it’s great to see. (Not that Shoaib Akhtar’s use of such tactics isn’t frequently hilarious.)

Yesterday night I got to watch Twenty 20 for the first time. Pakistan versus Australia’s second string team, Australia A. The first innings was a ripper. It was like cricket on crack (or "cracket" as Scott dubbed it). Australia A batted first, scoring fast and furious with a run rate of 9 an over, employing some of the most unorthodox batting I’ve seen in a while. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was entertaining. There were some speccie wickets taken, with Shoaib Akhtar exploding the stumps several times (including once on a free hit when, tragically, it counted for nowt). Seeing stumps cartwheeling and bails spinning through the air. Sigh. One of my very favourite things.

The second innings sucked. Pakistan just couldn’t be arsed actually batting. They looked like they thought Twenty 20 was beneath them, scoring at a rate that would have been slow for test cricket. Running between the wickets as if they were going for a gentle evening jog, not running flat out to save their lives (or, rather, their wickets). The four year old next door runs faster. And the result of their half-arsed running? Run out twice. On neither occasion were the services of the third umpire called upon. The only reason I didn’t switch channels to watch the test match between South Africa and England (c’mon South Africa!) is because I was determined to watch a whole Twenty 20 game no matter what. Australia A won easily. It was dull.

However, I don’t blame Twenty 20; I blame Pakistan. I imagine a game played between two sides who give a toss, who bat and run like they mean it, would be two innings of fun, not just one. It’s a game that addresses the problem with one-day cricket: the predictabilty and boring middle twenty overs. I hear yesterday’s game between WA Warriors (what a dumb name—why not the Sandgropers?) and the Victorian Bushrangers (Bushrangers? Please!) was fair dinkum. A ripper of the first order. Wish I’d seen it first, instead of last night’s fifty percent affair.

And anything that gets more people into watching cricket is just fine with me. Now I’ll get back to ridgy didge cricket: the test in South Africa.

Sydney, 14 January 2005

One More Week

It’s almost summer back home in Australia and in just one week I’m going to be there. Home in Sydney where the jacaranda and flame trees and wattle will be in bloom and the cricket season already started, filling the air with the sound of leather on willow (cricket ball against cricket bat). New Zealand and Pakistan will soon be touring and I’ll get to sit in the stands at the SCG and scream my head off. Or more likely: remember not to scream my head off cause that’s more of a basketball thing than a cricket thing.

The water temperature is already rising to bearable levels and in just one week’s time I’m going to venture into the ocean at Clovelly to snorkel in search of the blue grouper. Well, okay, it’s not that much of a search given that the grouper is almost always around, but I haven’t seen him in well over two years.

In just one more week I can walk from Annandale Street to the Bicentennial Park admiring the gobsmackingly beautiful view of the city on the way. Then I can walk into the city or catch the fabulous light rail and go to the Botanical Gardens and pay homage to the flying foxes and native ibis. I can do and see and hear all the things I’ve been missing.

I’ve already said my goodbyes to New York City, stood on the roof and blown kisses to the Brooklyn Bridge, Chrysler and Empire State Buildings, the church next door, Tompkins Square Park, the East River Park, gone one last time to all my favourite restaurants and bars. Given my very first New York reading. Done the full round of farewell dinners, lunches and brunches with my friends. I am so so so ready to be out of here. It’s too cold already and everyone (including myself) is way too gloomy.

Now all that’s between me and going home is admin: getting my taxes together to file when I get home, figuring out what to take and what to leave, packing, finishing off all the work that must be done before heading to warmer, happier and homier climes. Then twenty-hour hours in two planes and I’m home. I can’t wait.

New York City, 8 November 2004

Keith Miller, 1919-2004

Keith Miller is dead.

One of the the greatest cricketers of all time is dead. He could bat, bowl, field like the devil, play brilliant cricket while completely hungover, and charm the crowd whether he scored a century, got five wickets, or out for a duck.

He was unbelievably physically gifted (he also played Aussie Rules brilliantly), gorgeous, funny, charming, and rebellious. He had Elvis hair that flopped across his forehead when he bowled, causing women (and, I imagine, not a few men) to sigh. He was tall (188cm) and built. The adjectives most frequently used about him are dashing, larrikin, and swashbuckling. Everything I’ve ever read about the man, makes me suspect that those writing about Miller were either in love with him or wanted to be him. His playing career was over long before I was born and yet I’m not sure which of those two camps I fall into. Probably both.

Miller had been a World War II fighter pilot. When asked about dealing with the pressure of playing international cricket he laughed. That’s not pressure, “pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse.”

Some say he was the best captain New South Wales ever had. He was never given the Australian captaincy because he had not mastered the art of sucking up to the cricketing establishment, and they took a dim view of how much fun he had on and off the field. (Bastards.) Ashley Mallet wrote of him that, “He loved tradition, but hated convention.”

Here’s the cleanest of my favourite Keith Miller stories. It dates from when he was captain of the New South Wales side. I have no idea if it’s true or not (for starters Harvey debuted with Victoria, not NSW):

Neil Harvey is playing in his first match, very young, very excited, very nervous. New South Wales is fielding. The team is walking out onto the oval when young Harvey notices there are twelve men. In cricket only eleven of the twelve play, the twelfth man is a glorifed fetcher-of-things. Tentatively Harvey points this out to his captain pretty sure that he’ll be the one demoted, “Er, excuse me, sir. But there’s, ah, twelve of us out here.” Keith Miller looks around, verifies the number of men, shakes his head, and yells out so everyone can hear, “Will one of you lads bugger off?”

He will be missed.

New York City, 11 October 2004

O Happy Day!

I have discovered the cure for homesickness: watch the New York Liberty live at Madison Square Garden come back from nowhere to beat the Detroit Shock (last year’s WNBA champions) and win the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Apologies to my Texas relatives, but: we BLOODY won!!!!!

I cannot tell you how badly we played in the first half. We sucked. Almost none of our shots went in, we developed a deep seated fear of going into the paint. We were beyond timid and into cowardly in defence. Nobody was hot, nobody was defending well, or making shots. They out scored us, out rebounded us, out pretty much everythinged us and the only reason they were only 13 up at the end of the half was because they also turned over the ball way more than we did. That first half was truly horrible.

And for most of the second half things weren’t looking that great. We were better than the first half, but we were still missing shots, our defence was still wobbly, but Detroit started to crumble—by the last five minutes they could not bribe their way into making free throws. Our field goal percentage started to inch its way up from an abysmal sub thirty per cent. We started to look decent, Crystal Robinson and Becky Hammon started making shots when we really, really needed them, helping to claw our way within four points of Detroit. And then in the last few minutes tie it, and then lead. And then it was tied again . . .

The final miracle, Bethany Donaphin, who had buggered up a whole series of plays for most of the game and missed ridiculously easy shots made a turnaround jumper in the last 0.5 seconds to put us two points ahead. Unbelieveable. We won!!!

Here’s what really made the difference: we, the crowd, screamed ourselves hoarse. I’ve never ever seen us go nuts like that. Everyone was leaping up, yelling, applauding, screaming, singing, stamping our feet. It was unbelievable. My ears are still ringing, my hands hurt and my heart is beating way too fast. If it hadn’t been a home game the Liberty would’ve lost, for definite. But it was and we didn’t.

We were home in time to watch the end of the LA Sparks v Sacramento Monarchs game. The Monarchs slaughtered them and are now through to the Western Conference Finals against my favourite West Coast team, the Seattle Storm, starring the divine Lauren Jackson. I am not fond of LA, not as an idea, not as a place, and definitely not as a women’s basketball team. Seeing Sacramento beat LA made a perfect night even perfecter. Here’s to a WNBA final between Seattle and New York.

Right now, I’m not feeling homesick at all, me.

New York City, 29 September 2004

Good Weekend

I am in the middle of writing a new novel and rewriting an old one. My mornings are spent in the Magic or Madness universe; my afternoons in 12th-century Cambodia; the rest of the time I sleep. Both books must be finished scarily soon. So musings here? Not so much.

For those complaining about their lack, and my shocking tardiness in responding to emails, here’s what I did on the weekend:

I helped Scott put together this very cool site: the first three chapters of So Yesterday with New York City photos. If you like any of them, those are most likely the ones by the very talented Robin & Trish Cave. All hail Simpleviewer!

A recommendation of So Yesterday was posted on causing a HUGE improvement in the book’s ranking. All hail boingboing!

I wrote a vast deal, read large chunks of it out loud to Scott for critique, and there was much praise, and much happiness.

Scott cooked me a dinner of angel hair pasta and black truffles with a salad of farmer’s market greens and heirloom tomatoes. Decadent and delicious. I do adore autumn here. I’ve never eaten better tomatoes in all my life.

I saw the New York Liberty vanquish the Washington Mystics at Madison Square Garden (so, so, so good to be back there!) and vault into second place in the Eastern conference, securing them homecourt advantage, and cementing their place in the playoffs. Shamika Christon, our incredibly promising rookie, finally got beyond promise and did, did, did. My happiness is beyond measure: Let’s Go Liberty!

New York City, 20 September 2004

A Splendid Day

(Sometimes this is a blog.)

I had an epiphany this morning as I sat in front of our new flat screen TV (one of us finally got paid, we had a rush of blood to the head, and spent weeks eating bread and dripping), laptop on my knees, gazing raptly at the live coverage of the Tour de France, I finally realised why I’ve started spending Northern summers in New York City: I can follow the Tour LIVE at a reasonable hour and still get some work done. In New York the Tour doesn’t make me lose any sleep. Well, except for that scary, God-hates-all-Aussie-cyclists first day.

Other than any cricket test ever, the Tour de France is my favourite sporting event in the universe. Actually, it has a lot in common with test cricket: a long history, it ebbs and flows over the course of many days, strategy and skill are everything, but then so is luck: one nasty prang or cricket ball to the face and you’re gone.

The Tour is also unlike any other sporting event ever. It’s both a team and an individual sport. A contest that is between nations and also not. It combines endurance with sprinting with strategy. It’s everything. I only wish we had more than two hours of live coverage.

I started following it years ago back home in Sydney when there was only a half hour of coverage daily before the SBS news. That’s when I was first introduced to the dulcet tones of Phil Ligget. Bless him. He’d better not die, the Tour won’t be the same without him.

On my laptop I follow the Tour coverage of the Daily Peloton with its gorgeous Le Tour Delicieux reports by Crazy Jane. We do not share the same taste in men (Lance Armstrong delicious?) but she’s wonderful all the same. Today I emailed back in forth with my friend Gwenda watching in Lexington, Kentucky. She managed to do some work while watching. Not me.

Once the Tour was over for the day, after checking out all the online commentary about the Tour, Tingle Alley and my other favourite blogs, I wrote a thousand words of Magic or Madness II. The first day since I started that I’ve made my quota. This called for a major celebration. So Scott, who’d written 2,500 words (he doesn’t follow the Tour, okay?), said he’d watch my favourite movie of all time with me: Out of the Past.

He loved it and agreed with me about the superlative performances of Jane Greer, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Paul Valentine, and Dickie Moore (in that order). We’d just seen Murder My Sweet and the contrast in acting styles between the two films was, well, stark. Felt like they’d been made twenty years apart, not two.

Every film noir has at least one plot point that makes no sense, for Scott it was how Jeff knew where to find Cathy in San Francisco. After a couple of drinks at one of our favourite Italian wine bars, where we learned the origin of the Bellini (a World’s Fair in Venice made with seasonal white peaches), Scott decided not to worry about it. We concentrated on the dialogue, rejoicing in the screenplay by Geoffrey Homes (Daniel Mainwaring) from his own novel, with additional writing by Frank Fenton and James M. Cain:

“I often wondered what happened to him, then one day I’m breezing through here and there’s his name up on the sign.”

“It’s a small world.”

“Yeah, or a big sign.”

Sigh. Wish I could write dialogue like that.

We decided to go see a late session of Spiderman 2, bought two of the last tickets for the 10:30 show, and only then noticed the queue to get into the cinema curving around the block. We sold the tickets, then strolled home, enjoying the steamy weather, talking about Out of the Past (I hadn’t remembered it being so dirty), looking forward to the Liberty game tomorrow with our friend Chris who doesn’t even like basketball (he was only convinced he might enjoy it when I told him Joan Jett sits opposite us).

We got home to discover that Scott’s website is now up and running, thanks to the amazing efforts of Deb Biancotti. Looking good too. Scott’s already gotten his first fan mail to his brand new email address, from an actual member of the young adult target audience. Very exciting. The deluge next (we hope).

In the morning there’ll be more Tour de France and with luck another thousand words, I’ll get to hang out with Chris, and hopefully the Liberty will win. Another splendid day.

New York City, 5 July 2004

A Beginner’s Guide to Cricket

People from non-cricketing countries (poor, sad souls) often ask me to explain cricket to them. Here in San Miguel I have lost count of how many times I’ve sat at a bar using glasses for batsmen and coasters for the fielders. It seems to me more than past time to set my simple principles of cricket down for the greater world to enjoy. It disturbs me that so many of those sad souls labour under the misapprehension that the blessed game is an arcane and difficult one into whose mysteries you must be initiated from birth, otherwise understanding is impossible.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Cricket is dead easy to understand. Like the world’s greatest board game, Go, the principles are simple, but the variations endless. Anyone can learn to understand, enjoy, and ultimately, love, cricket. Quite simply it is the world’s greatest spectator sport.

Plus you have me, the mistress of easy (er, but not in that sense) to teach you how.

Cricket, of course, is not for everyone. Those readers who have zero interest in spectator sports should stop reading now. Run off to your yoga class, go walk your dog, turn back to that book you were reading. This musing is not for you.

For the rest of you here are the basics of cricket:

Cricket is a team sport. The team which scores the most amount of runs, and gets the other team out, wins. Nothing simpler.

There are two forms of the game:

1) Test cricket—which takes place over five days. Think of it as akin to the novel with all the running dramas, climaxes, anti-climaxes, intrigues and counter-intrigues of that artform. Test cricket is the original and only true form of cricket.

2) Pyjama or One-Day cricket—the shortened form. It is to test cricket as a bad TV advertisment (wheredyagedit?) is to a superb film. Loud, noisy, predictable, wholly lacking in subtlety and eye-jarringly colourful. To be watched only if there is no test cricket available.

For obvious reasons, I will largely be discussing test cricket.

Cricket is played on an oval. A large expanse of green grass usually surrounded by a white picket fence. The grass is kept at a specific height by the groundsman. In the centre of the oval is the cricket pitch (or wicket) which is a strip of paler grass. The wicket (or cricket pitch) is also carefully presided over by the groundsman, but once the game begins grass is left to grow and the wicket to deteriorate. Thus the conditions for playing change over the five days of a test. The condition of the oval and pitch has a large effect on whether the cricket played on it will be high or low-scoring. Some afficionados argue that the groundsman is the most important person in cricket. I think this is going a tad too far.

At either end of the cricket pitch (or wicket) are the stumps (or wicket). The stumps are a wooden constuction of three stakes (Buffy would have plenty of weapons available should she have to deal with a nest of vampires while attending a cricket match) impaled in the ground, with two smaller pieces of wood, known as the bails, balanced on top. In front of these stumps (or wicket) at either end is a white painted line which marks the crease.

Two teams of twelve people play (though the position of the twelfth man is that of gofer. They don’t actually play unless one of the fielders needs to leave the oval for a short amount of time). The two teams take turns fielding and batting. In test cricket each team has two innings. In pyjama (or one-day) cricket they have one innings each.

The team batting has the job of protecting the stumps (or wicket) and trying to score runs. Two batsmen at a time are on the field (unless one of the batsmen is injured in which case they have a runner and there are three batsmen on the field). One batsman is at either end of the cricket pitch (or wicket) defending the stumps (or wicket) and trying to score runs.

Runs are scored by hitting the ball (made of cork covered with red leather) with a cricket bat (traditionally made of willow—thus the expression "the glorious sound of leather on willow" which sound dirty if you’re thinking of a certain character from Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and running up and down the cricket pitch (or wicket). Although only one batsmen can hit the ball at any one time, both must run and get safely behind their crease. If the ball is hit all the way to the boundary (typically a thick white rope, not the fence) it is deemed to be four runs. If it is hit over the boundary it is six runs. The batsmen need not run for these boundaries.

Once a batsmen has run safely from one end of the cricket pitch (or wicket) to the other they have scored one run for themselves and also for their team. The batsman who is facing the bowling is said to be on strike. You do not have to hit each ball. You do not have to run if you do hit the ball. Hitting the ball to the boundary is the most efficient way of making runs because you accumulate runs faster and you don’t have to exhaust yourself running.

Getting fifty runs is good for an individual batsman, getting one hundred (or a century) is better, and getting more still is even better. The most amount of individual runs ever was 380 scored by the Australian Matthew Hayden. (Update 13 April: it’s now Brian Lara with 400 not out. Woo hoo!) The highest ever career average for a batsman is that of Donald Bradman (also an Australian): 99.94. Of course cricket is a team sport and individual feats and statistics are rarely mentioned and of little importance.

The job of the fielding side is to get the batsmen out and prevent them from scoring runs. This is achieved by standing in positions where the team captain thinks they are most likely to get a catch or prevent runs. Only one of the fielders, the wicket keeper, wears gloves to help catch the ball (unlike, say, baseball). The wicket keeper stands behind the stumps (or wicket).

All fielding positions have specific names that indicate their relationship to the batsmen on strike. A deep position is one that is a long way from the batsman and closer to the boundary. A short or silly position is one that is closer to the batsman. Leg or on side positions are closer to the back of the batsman’s legs. Off side positions are closer to the front of the batsman.

When a batsmen gets out they leave the field and the next batsman in the batting order comes out to replace them. The batting order usually runs from best batsmen to worst (the exception being the nightwatchman). There are cricketers who are specialist bowlers, cricketers who are specialist batsmen, as well as that rare beast, the all-rounder, who is good at both. Regardless of batting ability every one on the team (save the twelfth man) must bat.

There must be two batsmen for play to continue so once the tenth batsman is out the innings is over.

The Play

The game begins when the captain of each side walks out on to the oval and a coin is tossed. The winner of the toss decides whether they want to bat or field first. Their decision is based on the weather, the conditions of the pitch, what they know of their opponents and of their own team.

Test cricket play typically commences at 11AM and continues until 6PM, with scheduled breaks for tea and lunch and unsceduled breaks for drinks. It continues for five days, or less, if there is a result sooner.

Results of a test match are win—your team scores more than theirs and gets theirs all out; lose—your team scores less than theirs and is all out; draw or no result—one team scores more than the other team but fails to get them all out; tie—both teams get the exact same score and are all out (exceptionally rare—this has happened only twice in test cricket history).

Once the matter of who bats first has been decided, the two umpires, the fielding team and the two opening batsmen (or openers) walk out onto the oval. The batsmen take up their positions in front of the two sets of stumps.

Opening batsman is a specialist batting position given to the two batsman on the team who are good at accumulating runs, not prone to throwing their wickets away, and work well together. It is essential that the openers have a mutual understanding of when to run and even more importantly when not to run.

At the same time, the fielders take up their positions: the wicket keeper behind the stumps (or wicket) of the batsman who bats first, the opening bowler at the other end of the cricket pitch, and the rest of the fielders in positions determined by the captain and the bowler which they deem to be best for getting this particular batsmen out and preventing them from scoring too many runs.

Some of the factors they take into account when determining these field placings are: whether the batsman is right or left handed, whether the batsman is known to be fond of particular strokes, how the batsman proceeds to bat in this particular innings, and how fast or slow the wicket (cricket pitch) is.

The opening bowler, usually a fast bowler (or quick), bowls an over from one end of the oval. Usually the two ends are named for their geographical locations. At the S. C. G. (Sydney Cricket Ground) there is the Paddington end and the Randwick (or University of New South Wales) end. One of the ends at the ‘Gabba (the major cricket ground in Brisbane) is known as the Vulture St end which has always seemed remarkably ominous to me.

An over consists of six legitmate bowls. If the bowler bowls a ball the umpires deem to be illegitimate (a wide or a no ball) the bowler must bowl another ball and the over ends up consisting of more than six balls (and thus more than six opportunities to score runs for the batsmen). Some overs wind up being 17 or 18 balls long, but this is uncommon. Each time there is an illegitmate delivery the batting team is given an extra run. These are called sundries.

If the batsman hits the ball and gets a run, the two batsmen change ends and the bowler finds themselves having to reset the field (change the positions of all the fielders) to accommodate the new batsman. If each ball results in a single run the batsmen will change end six times, resulting in frequent changeovers of the field.

After the first over is finished a second bowler bowls an over from the other end. At the completion of that over the ends change again and the first bowler bowls another over. The two bowlers thus rotate the bowling until they begin to tire, or bowl badly, or annoy the captain, who replaces them with a different bowler. A bowler can only be replaced once they have completed an over.

In order for a batsman to get out they must be dismissed in one of the following ways:

Bowled. The bowler bowls a ball which goes past the batsman and hits the stumps (or wicket), dislodging the bails. Common.

Caught. The batsmen hits the ball (or it comes off their gloves) into the air and a fielder catches it before it hits the ground. Common.

Handled Ball
. The batsmen picks up the ball. Uncommon.

Hit Ball Twice
. The batsmen hits the ball, it doesn’t go anywhere, so they take a second swipe at it. Uncommon.

Hit Wicket. The batsmen hits their own stumps (or wicket) dislodging the bails. Uncommon.

Leg Before Wicket
. The batsmen does not offer a stroke to a ball that would have hit their stumps were their pads not in the way. Common.

Obstructed Field
. The batsman deliberately tries to prevent a fielder either taking a catch or throwing down the stumps. Uncommon. I’ve never seen this happen.

Run Out. The batsman fails to make it back behind the crease before the opposing side has dislodged the bails with the cricket ball, either thrown or held in the hand. Common.

Stumped. The batsman steps out of their crease to strike the ball, misses, and before they can step back the wicket keeper dislodges the bails with cricket ball in hand. Common.

Timed Out. The batsman fails to come out to bat within three minutes of the fall of wicket. Uncommon. I’ve never seen this happen.

In addition to being caught, bowled or any of the other possibilities listed above there must also be an appeal. An appeal consists of the fielding team leaping in the air screaming "howzat?" and staring at the umpires with a fierce expression that generally means "you’d have to be barking mad not to give the bastard out". If the umpire agrees they will raise their index finger. If they disagree they will do nothing, or shake their head. Umpires are universally known not to be intimidated by the antics of the fielding team and their decisions are always just and fair. Particularly those of Steve Bucknor.

Once a batsman is given out by the umpire they slowly trudge off the field looking miserable (particulary if they have scored a duck [no runs]). Batsmen never look happy getting out even if they have scored a double century. Someone would say particularly if they have scored a double century, because they were deprived of the chance to knock over the world record for number of runs scored. Though of course cricket is all about the team and not about individual statistics.

The score is represented thus: number of wickets taken followed by a forward slash, followed by the number of runs scored. If one wicket has been taken and 23 runs scored the score looks like this: 1/23 which is read as "one for twenty three" (except in England where for some bizarre reason they do it like this: 23/1 or twenty-three for one). As more runs are scored and more wickets taken the score changes. However you will never see 10/ because once ten wickets are taken the innings is over.

The next batsman then comes out, jogging up and down on the spot and generally giving the impression of being raring to go and ready to knock every delivery far, far out of the ground. That is if the next batsman is still an actual batsman and not a bowler masquerading as a batsman. In that case they will walk out somewhat unsteadily holding the bat as if they aren’t quite sure what it’s for or how to hold it. They will stand at the crease and stare up the other end at the fast bowler who is hurtling towards them faster than Phar Lap and they will valiantly try not to panic and run.

Such a batsman is known as a tailender. My favourite spectacle in cricket is when there is only one genuine batsman left and they are in the position of having to stay on strike and thus protect the tailender from getting out and possibly injured (in that order).

Because the strike automatically changes at the end of every over (or every six balls). The real batsman tries to end the over by hitting a single thus ensuring that they keep the strike and the tailender doesn’t have to deal with that scary red thing hurtling towards their body and/or wicket (stumps). This leaves the good batsman in the awful position of sometimes having to resist hitting a boundary for fear of handing the strike over to the incompetent, afraid-of-the-ball, not-quite-sure-which-end-of-the-bat-is-up tailender. Meanwhile the fielding side is doing everything it can to give the tailender the strike so that they can then get them out. Mostly by terrifying the poor bastard into treading on their own wicket. It is most gratifying to watch.

Once the tenth bastman is out the innings ends. The innings total consists of the combined total of all the individual batsman plus all the sundries (illegitimate deliveries) conceded by the bowling side. Let’s say for example that the first side to bat, who we’ll call Australia, score 456 and still aren’t all out. The captain might decide that 456 is a very solid, good, defensible total and declare. A declaration means that the captain has decided to end their team’s innings before they are all out.

The new batting side, let’s call them England, will be aiming to get that much and hopefully two hundred or more besides. So that when Australia bat again in their second and final innings they will have a difficult target to achieve. (Second innings totals are almost always smaller than first innings totals.) If Australia are all out before they reach England’s first innings total then England has won (and pigs would start to fly).

A much more likely result is that England would go out for their first batting innings and tragically (though predictably) make only 123 runs and fall well short of Australia’s first innings total. This means that Australia has a choice: they can now go out to bat and make an even bigger total for England to get in their second innings or they can enforce the follow on. The follow on means that Australia postpones their second batting innings and forces England to bat twice in a row, gambling that they can get England all out before they reach, or get very much further than, the first innings total of 456.

Australia does this and gets England all out for 234. Sadly the two totals 123 + 234 is still less than Australia’s first innings total and England lose by an entire innings and 99 runs. Not an unusual result for either side.

And there you have it. Enough cricket knowledge to allow you to follow a test match without any difficulty. Before long though you’ll find yourself thirsting for more so you can follow the intricacies of the game and not just these bare basics. Don’t despair! Coming soon:

The Slightly More than Beginners’ Guide to Cricket. To be followed shortly after by the Moderately More than Beginners’ Guide to Cricket, and not long after that, by the Substantially More than Beginners’ Guide to Cricket.

San Miguel de Allende, 16 February 2004

Esteban el Centauro

I just finished reading a novel in Spanish, Esteban el Centauro
by Gilberto Flores Patiño (Atenas, Mexico, 1985). My first
ever. Admittedly it’s a very short novel: only 82 pages, coming
in at around 25,000 words. Barely a novella really. But as someone
who’s only managed to struggle through kid’s picture books, and
short simple stories and poems, it felt like a major achievement.
I read the whole thing through without an English translation by
my side. I read it and I understood it and it made me weep. I cried
and cried and cried and cried. And books hardly ever make me cry.
Except for Wide Sargasso Sea and Bridge to Terebithia
and Pride and Prejudice and In Cold Blood and,
okay, lots of books make me cry. But they’re all really good ones.
(Except for the really crap ones which make me cry for different

Esteban is the perfect book for someone with my level of Spanish who can’t cope with reading badly written exercises for people with my level of Spanish. It’s written from the point of view of a small boy, Esteban, talking to his constant companion, his wooden horse. (Hence the title Esteban the Centaur: half boy, half wooden horse.) There’s lots of first and second person (yay, my favourites). Hardly any subjunctive. Not a lot of new vocab, except for all the stuff to do with horses. And lots of repetition: "Because the sea is very big very big very big. Bigger than anything! It has lots and lots of water".

The clause structure is not complicated either, barely a "which" or a "who" in sight. It’s all this and then this and then this. Open any page and it’s littered with "ands", even more visible in Spanish because "and" is "y". An effect I will attempt to duplicate by using "&" in place of "and":

My mum & her friends & their girlfriends were walking & looking at the sand & they were picking up shells & one woman put a shell to her ear & she said she could hear the sea. Then I thought that the sea was talking & the voice of the sea came out of the shells, because all the señores & señoras & my mum were putting the shells to their ears & they started to laugh & say yes yes yes, I can hear it too. & because no one told me what the sea said, I looked for a shell & I put it to my ear, but I didn’t hear anything, & because they were all saying that they could hear the sea I thought that my shell was no good & I threw it away & looked for another & I still heard nothing & I looked & looked & looked, but none of the shells that I put to my ear had the voice of the sea.

I don’t remember the last time I read a story from a small kid’s point of view that so gorgeously captured the rhythms of a child’s speech, the endless stream of questions: "Who invents the words in dictionaries?" and their view from below—looking up at the grown-ups—trying to parse that strange adult world.

And to help my comprehension, Esteban el Centauro is partly set here in San Miguel. Esteban walks down streets I know, goes to Mama Mia’s looking for his mother, sits in the Jardin, looks at the Parroquia. Esteban’s childish eyes capture, too, some of the complex interractions between the Mexican and gringo inhabitants of this fine city. Something else I’m increasingly familiar with.

I’m not sure there’s another book in Spanish so perfectly designed for me. Following my teacher Alejandra’s suggestion, I tried Aura by Carlos Fuentes which also has the virtue of shortness, but it’s wham bam straight back to adult land: complicated structures, zillions of words I’ve never seen before. I can barely read a clause with even partial understanding. Fortunately my edition’s bilingual so I can cheat.

Still, I read a novel in Spanish! And I will keep trying to read others, the way I keep trying to have conversations with people, even though I stumble over verb conjugations, pronouns, masculine and feminine, and haven’t managed to fully erradicate my lisp. But if people don’t talk too fast or use too many unfamiliar words or phrases, I can understand them. And, on occasion, I can even manage a long conversation about tricky subjects, like the relationship between servants and their employers in San Miguel. I even had a shot at explaining cricket. Not recommended. But then I’ve never managed that successfully in English either. Amazing how many otherwise intelligent people fall apart when confronted with phrases like Hit Wicket and Silly Mid-Off. I shall never understand it.

San Miguel de Allende, 22 January 2004

World Fantasy Convention, Washington DC

Halloween Weekend 2003

Kelly Link and Lena DeTar look on as Justine Larbalestier and Gwenda Bond argue over who the real mastermind is.

Steve Pasechnick, Gwenda Bond, Cecilia Tan, Scott Westerfeld and Christopher Rowe dissect strange matter on the bed.

Tragically, Gwenda Bond and Kelly Link are unable to resolve their differences.

Kristen Lindvahl, Rick Bowes and Bill Shunn discuss their shared mormon past.

Season Tickets to the New York Liberty

Since 18 May 2003 I’ve been to nine basketball games, which is about as many professional sporting events as I’ve been to in my entire life. Back home on the rare occasions I’d go it was mostly to see the cricket: test cricket.

Going to Madison Square Garden up to three times a week to see the New York Liberty play is a very strange cultural experience for this non-USian. All sport everywhere in the world is about rituals, but I’ve never encountered a sporting event with quite this many.

There’s the orchestrated chants. The most complicated of which goes: "Let’s Go Liberty!" (Might be worth it to employ the Barmy Army to come up with some better ones. Those boys know their chants.)

Then there’s Maddie the Liberty mascot (who I discovered only recently is meant to be a dog). Everyone wants to dance with Maddie (he’s not a bad dancer) or at the very least get a hug or shake hands. So far I’ve not had the honour. Though at the Connecticut game (1 July 2003: the Liberty destroyed them 90 to 64) we brought along a friend, and while I was in the bathroom, Maddie came up, hugged and practically sat in the lap of Scott and George and left just as I returned. No fair.

I’m thinking of writing the ACB to suggest the adoption of a mascot. On second thoughts the 2000 Olympic mascots were pretty dire. Maybe not. Be cool if they could have a Keith Miller cool-dude fifties-guy mascot. (Would love to have a link to show you all how gorgeous Miller was in his day, but couldn’t find one good photo of him online. Not one. Nor could I find a link to the excellent-anecdotes-about-Miller-the-archetypal-larrikin site. What’s the point of the WWW, people? Why do these sites not exist?)

The Liberty have not one, but two, cheerleading squads. The grown-up Torch Patrol who do all sorts of dance routines adorned in fabulous you-must-rush-to-buy-it-for-yourself Liberty gear. On the weekends there’s the Li’l Torches who are really really wee. One is so very tiny you could easily hold her in the palm of your hand. Very cute. Very disturbing.

I like to get to the Garden early to make sure I get my free giveaway (best one so far: a New York Liberty oven mitt. Worst one: a crappy promotional poster for Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle—uggh) and so I can start screaming when the Liberty come running out of the tunnel. I love to scream (happy screams). But, hey, who doesn’t? I bet there are heaps of people at sporting events who go solely cause it gives them an excuse to scream their lungs out.

The next highlight is the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner". Singing the national anthem is not de rigeur at sporting events in Australia. Practically the only time you hear it is during medal presentations at the Commonwealth (where you hear it a lot) and the Olympic Games (not so much). I can’t say as how I’ve ever looked forward to hearing "Advance Australia Fair" sung. It’s a funeral dirge with less-than-captivating lyrics that I and most of my fellow Australians seem incapable of remembering beyond the second line. Many have tried to arrange "Advance Australia Fair" to make it more appealing. All attempts have failed.

We Australians made a grave error with our choice of anthem (and, no, "Waltzing Matilda" wouldn’t’ve cut it either). We should have chosen a song that’s full of unbelievably tricky bits only a trained professional can sing without breaking their vocal chords.

It turns out that the performance of the "Star Spangled Banner" is not just about patriotism. There’s way more to it than that. Singing the US national anthem is a sometimes uncomfortable spectacle (like watching a tight-rope walker). Will the soloist reach the high notes? Will they reach those notes without sounding like crap?

American crowds whistle and stomp for those who hit the scary notes with clarity (often while they’re hitting those notes—just like at a jazz concert). They even applaud those who don’t quite hit them but make a decent effort. Encouragement applause. Failure is indicated by embarrassed silence. No-one says a word. It’s like the audience has decided to forget the whole thing instantly.

After the singing contest the baddies are introduced. And they really are the baddies. There’s hardly ever any polite applause for the visiting team. None of that humbug for your New York crowd. Nope, they boo. Particularly if it’s Lisa Leslie or, even worse, Debbie Black (awesome players both of them). I have to confess that I booed Lisa Leslie too, but in a mellow I-don’t-really-mean-it kind of way. She’s the US Olympic basketballer who was mean to our Lauren Jackson in 2000. All because nice Lauren accidentally pulled one of Lisa’s hair pieces out during a game. An innocent mistake! And, honestly, what’s with wearing hair pieces during a pro basketball match?

Not only do they boo the opposing players but they don’t applaud the good plays they make. This sits oddly with me. I’m used to cricket. If an opposing player does something cool you clap. Maybe not as loud as you would if it were one of your guys, but you still clap because, well, it was a cool shot and coolness must always be applauded. Not in New York City you don’t. Not unless you’re actually supporting the baddies in which case it’s okay. You can expect to be joshed about it, but gently (unless, of course, your side has the audacity to win, then the kidding gets a little less gentle).

My compromise is that I applaud all the Australian players (sadly there aren’t any on the Liberty). I’ve cleared this with the other season ticket holders nearby, who’ve agreed that as long as I’m not busted applauding non-Australian baddies that’s okay. This is a bit tricky when Janeth Arcain is playing. She’s a fabulous Brazilian player who I can’t help but applaud. So I lied. I told them that she used to play in Australia, making her practically Australian, and they’ve agreed I can cheer her too.

Then they introduce the goodies: the NEW YORK LIBERTY!!! (The announcer has an all-caps, many exclamation marks, kind of announcing style.) Lots of screaming at this point and by now almost all of the crowd has filed in, which could be 12,000 or more. That’s a lot of noise. The crowd is very mixed. Black, white, brown. Predominately female, though in a 60/40, not 90/10 kind of a way. Many dykes, and handfuls of old blokes who can’t afford Knicks tickets. There’s lots of dyke and straight families, so you get to see wee little boys and girls running around in Teresa Weatherspoon and Becky Hammon jerseys. A few too many celebrities: Joan Jett, Rosie O’Donnell, Judge Hackett, Matthew Modine, famous retired Liberty (yay Kym Hampton! Sue Wicks!) and Knicks players (nice to see the boys supporting the girls).

We scream ourselves hoarse for the starting line up: Vickie Johnson (shooting guard), Tari Phillips (centre), Crystal Robinson (forward), Teresa Weatherspoon (point guard), and Tamika Whitmore (forward). I scream loudest for my favourite, Tamika Whitmore. She’s kind of a heart-breaking player to love cause she’s so hot and cold. But when she’s good, damn, but she’s good. Plus she looks unbelievably great in her civvies. When other team members are injured they show up resplendent in pastels. Uggh. Tamika’s all black and olive and cool as hell. I love that she always looks serious. If some jerk-off bloke on the street told her to, "Smile, sweetie", I like to think she’d deck him. The rareness of Tamika’s smiles makes them even more excellent.

Everyone cheers Theresa Weatherspoon cause, well, she’s T-Spoon and everyone (who isn’t insane) loves her. Crafty as a fox, leads the league in assists, sets up plays like you wouldn’t believe, and when you least expect it—scores! A legend. (I also like that she’s older than I am.)

After the introductions, all eleven players on the roster throw free T-shirts into the crowd. Including my other favourite, Elena Baranova. Elena is superb and has a very complete game. She’s 196cm (6ft 5in) so naturally she blocks and rebounds, but she can shoot jump shots, even threes! Elena’s been a pro since she was sixteen and has been on the Russian (or Soviet or whatever it was called in any given year) National Team like a gazillion times.

Cause she’s so fab I started wearing my Russian T-shirt (it’s actually a Nom D T-shirt from Dunedin, NZ) with the word RED (KRASNY) printed on it in Russian (pardon the no cyrillic alphabet). One of my Russian friends, Valeria, taught me how to say Elena so I sound Russian. Every game I’d wave my arms and yell "Elena!" and generally try to attract her attention in hopes of scoring a T-shirt from her.

Sadly, the first few times she didn’t hear me and was intent on setting some kind of distance record with her throws. Then, and this is another very cool thing about Madison Square Garden, on the one hand, it’s vast and you’re sitting there as part of a crowd of 15,000, and on the other hand, there’s a strange kind of intimacy. One glorious day Elena heard me, she saw my Russian/NZ T-shirt, and threw a Liberty T in my direction. It arced through the air, headed straight for me. I reached for it, felt it brush my hands, thought I had it, then watched in despair as it sailed through my stupid traitor hands to the people several rows behind. Oh the agony! Oh the unco-ness of me.

Two days later, at the next home game, I tried again. I yelled, I hollered. Elena smiled and threw the T-shirt. A little softer this time. Too soft. It was snagged by a bratty boy two rows in front of me. Elena shrugged and kind of half-smiled.

I had to wait five days for our next attempt. This time Elena came straight up to my end of the court. She gave me a broad smile and made no mistake about throwing it directly to me. At last! I didn’t flub it and no brat leapt up to snatch it from me. Elena grinned and gave me the thumbs up. Third time’s a charm. My new mission (gotta have a mission) is to get her to sign my brand-new courtesy-of-her-fine-throwing-arm fetching green Liberty T-shirt. Then my life will be complete.

Then of course there’s the actual game. Liberty are a heartbreak team. They win most of their games at home (so far this season they’re 6-2). But individually they’re erratic and injury-prone. You never know who (if anyone) is going to be on song. By far the worst moment this year was in the game against Detroit on 27 June 2003. They were on a winning streak; we were not. Becky Hammon, our top scorer this season, came on a few minutes into the first half. She’d barely been in the game a minute, when she made a routine pass that went shockingly wild. I turned to look and she was clutching her right knee and then she was on the ground. It looked really bad. (Tamika helped carry her off.) And, naturally, it was her ACL, so no more Hammon for the rest of the season. I’d love to say we rallied and took that game, but Detroit won by five. It was agonising.

I am less destroyed by our losses than Scott. I guess it’s because I’m still revelling in seeing so many unbelievably strong and amazing women week after week. I know it smacks of hokey seventies feminism (I’m sure you can hear Helen Reddy’s "I am Woman" swelling up in the background) but seeing all those players (the baddies as well as the Liberty), who come in a vast array of sizes: tall, short, really really tall, skinny, strong, big, and even bigger, with their tiny tits, big tits, huge arses, no arses, it really gets to me. It’s so wonderful.

Their ball skills are incredible. Not just on the court, but when they’re standing around during timeouts, twirling the ball idly in their hands, behind their backs, bouncing it off their knees. They walk like women who’ve never been hamstrung by high heels. They stride, they don’t mince. They make me so happy.

When I was growing up my relatives (never my parents) were always telling me that there were operations available to slow my growth. If I was too tall I’d never get a husband (uggh, who the hell would want one?). I was 172.5cm (just under 5ft 8in) when I was twelve. Sadly I’m still 172.5cm. Tamika Whitmore is 188cm (6ft 2in). The tallest woman in the WNBA is Margo Dydek at 218cm (7ft 2in). One of the shortest is Debbie Black at 160cm (5ft 3in). They’re all fabulous players.

I spent most of high school avoiding PE, particularly organised sports. We girls were not much encouraged in sporting pursuits. I didn’t find out until much later that there are quite a few sports that are fun (fencing, climbing, tennis) and that I’m not too foul at them.

I love being part of a huge crowd that loudly and overwhelmingly values these women, that thinks they’re beyond-words awesome, and worth supporting, worth paying money to watch, worth getting obsessed about (in a non-stalkery way).

It’s sublime when the Liberty actually get their shit together like they did against Connecticut on 1 July 2003. For the first time all season, everyone played great, from the lowliest rookie who’s barely had ten minutes all year, through to the stars like Tari Phillips and Crystal Robinson (who, still nursing an ankle sprain, was only allowed to play cause she begged and begged the coach, and ended up being most valuable player). We won by 26. It were poetry, I tell you.

Scott and me, we’ve developed our own Liberty viewing rituals. We’ve gotten to know the other season ticket holders near us. Before each game the folks in our row all discuss how the away games went (mostly badly, the Liberty don’t thrive away from the Garden), who’s injured, who’s back from injury, and who the danger players are on the other side. When the game starts, if there are free seats in our row, we shift across so that we can sit closer to the centre line, and then we all grin sheepishly, and shift back, when people actually show up for those seats.

Even if it’s raining Scott and I walk to and from the game. Full of anticipation on the way there: what will our lucky surprise be? Another bottle jersey? Will the Liberty explode or implode? And on the way back we relive the entire game (though Scott never dwells enough on my T-shirt saga with Elena).

The last ritual of the night is dinner at Counter. Not only does it have fab food and wine and the most comfortable, inviting bar in Manhattan, but the owners, Donna and Deborah, are Liberty fans always eager to be told about the game.

New York City, 8 July 2003