Marcus and I flew into Melbourne on Saturday morning. He was very relaxed, considering how uptight he used to be about the idea of flying. I took the magnetic chess onto the plane, with the idea it would distract him from any worries. We played a few games but he quite enjoyed the flying, the way a small boy should. Before landing he confided "This is actually quite fun".
We whisked into town on the Skybus. The driver didn't charge me for Marcus, although a sign I saw after we were aboard said he should have paid $5. As this trip was on a definite tight-arse basis I didn't quibble. Grown-ups pay $15, which is fine I guess except that some people stood and hung from a strap the whole way, at freeway speeds.
We alighted at Spencer St and walked around to the aquarium. We were quite close to the Telstra Dome where Carlton would be taking on Adelaide later in the day. Adelaide supporters were on the street and outnumbering the home fans about 10 to one. I guess the Crows fans had flown/trained there in many cases, while the Carlton fans were still at home washing the Porsche or supervising the gardeners.
The aquarium was a huge hit with Marcus right from the start. He remembered being there before once we got inside, although he was about Michael's age then. The aquarium builds to a climax very nicely - or should I say descends gradually to a climax, as you move down ramps to the bowels of the building as you go. This means you are looking up at the big critters in the major tank, and you can even pass through their world by way of perspex tunnels. Having a big ray waft over you and block out the lights is pretty amazing.
My favourite fish in the whole place is the maori wrasse. He is an aqua coloured fish about the size of a slightly flattened sheep, very even-tempered and quite regal. We spent a lot of time with him, then went around the corner to have fish and chips for lunch.
We spent about three hours there, culminating in feeding time for the big guys. We saw divers in the tank feed the sharks and rays with squid, with a large supporting cast of snapper and trevally picking up everything that the larger creatures missed. It's pretty amazing watching the big mouth underneath a ray just going chomp, chomp, chomp. You imagine they are thinking "I wish my eyes weren't on top of this big flappy thing so i could bloody see what this stuff is I'm eating". One of the rays had a wagging stump instead of a tail.
Comic relief was provided by the green sea turtles. They have very poor vision, and occasionally chomp the hand or face of a diver. The divers have a special turtle-rebuffing stick, and also give them a backhander to go on with when required. The green sea turtles are so called for what you see when you cut them open. There are grey nurse sharks, school sharks and a primitive version called the seven-gilled shark. I prodded Marcus to go and ask a question after the feeding presentation, and he was given a range of shark teeth to hold. They vary greatly from species to species.
We walked out of the aquarium thrilled to bits, and a little footsore. I should have got us on a tram to go along to Flinders St station, but I always feel its a bit fiddly to wait for one, go two blocks and get off. With a quite large overnight bag and a tired five year old, I think it is the way to go. We finally got to the station and onto a train to Windsor.
Marcus is very funny company - sometimes he is quite pessimistic, but in a droll way. We sat on platform 4, while the train across the vacant tracks from us on platform 3 moved out. After a few moments Marcus turned and said, with the rising inflection of derisive youth, "Dad, we just missed our train?" He is quite convinced he's right a lot of the time, and that can be tiring.
Alex met us at the station and walked us the short way to his house. His wife Suparna was there with her dad whose name I think is Kailash. He is a lovely retired engineering lecturer, who was delighted to meet Marcus. (When Kailash first met Alex he apparently said of him "he is very jolly jolly, but I hope that's not all there is to him". Marcus showed off a bit and enjoyed the attention, then I managed to get him to have rest as we had a late night in store.
Alex's mate Andrew arrived with his 3 year old Will. We had pizza for dinner, then set off (without Suparna who doesn't do football) for the train to the MCG. Marcus and Will got on very well, and after less than an hour together Marcus whispered to me "William is quite a good friend, even though we've just met".
I was looking forward to the first sight of the MCG's column of light from Richmond Station - but for the pre-match entertainment the lights were actually off. This was the AFL Indigenous Tribute round, and the game we attended was the annual "Dreamtime at the G" between Essendon and Richmond. I like that the name "MCG" is not short enough for Melbourne people, and has to be abbreviated to the "G".
Alex teed up our tickets, and did a superb job. We had a great view, we were in a fairly ruly family area, we enjoyed the night immensely. Will went to sleep about halfway through, but Marcus was bright eyed and leaping with excitement for the whole night, even though the first bounce was just after his usual bedtime. His fist pumping dance moves and innocent, curious but very loud questions caught the eyes and ears of people in seats 10 to 20 and rows U, V and W. Best of all, when cruel fate dealt our team the Tigers a blow in the final minute, and they lost the game by a kick, he was philosophical and refused to get upset. Unlike Richo.
It says a lot for Australians and Australian Rules footy that there is no segregation of fans, even at the biggest games. The two cheer squads sit behind the respective goals, surrounded by a penumbra of hangers on, but the rest of the ground is a stew of opposing colours, often sharing the same thermos and sandwiches.
We somehow lost the other three fellas on the long sad trudge out to the station. I thought it best to just get on the train and meet up back home. They put on a lot of trains to clear the post-game crowd out of the city as quickly as possible. Andrew and Will got off the far end of our train at Windsor, but not Alex. Suparna let us in, and Alex showed up only five minutes later, off the next train.
Marcus still claimed to not be tired, but accepted bed as inevitable. He slept pretty well, and says he dreamed of football, football, football.