Tuesday, August 22, 2006

rugger buggers

Was idling yesterday afternoon on the rank at Chifley Plaza - where stands an enormous cut-out of Our Ben, shot full of holes as his dream of a light on the hill - or maybe just rusting - when a giant of man came out of the government building that stands there. He had an aura and he was looking around as if he expected to be recognised. Jesus, I thought, it's Phil Kearns! And it was. Unfortunately - or perhaps not - I was one back from point, so he took the cab in front of me. Seconds later, another rugby player, as I thought, climbed into the front seat of mine. An expensive suit, a loud tie, the build of a 2nd five eighth, as they used to be known, rather than a front row forward. Going to Randwick. I asked him which way he wanted to go, because it was rush hour and it pays, literally, to implicate the fare in the chosen route, especially if you're likely to end up stuck in traffic together. He didn't mind. He wasn't au fait with Sydney traffic, he said, since, these days, he lived in Rome. What took you to Rome? I asked. I'm the Australian ambassador there, he said. You don't look old enough, I offered. I'm 52, he replied. What do you say to an ambassador? I wanted to ask him how he got the gig but it seemed too much like effrontery. I wanted to ask him about what a National Party staffer told me last week, that John Howard has a near perfect understanding of the dark underbelly of the Australian psyche. I would have liked to have heard a bit more about the fallout from the Andreotti affair that Peter Robb wrote about in Midnight in Sicily ... we talked of other things. Going up Oxford Street, his palm pilot rang with one of those old fashioned black telephone off at the hook rings. There was a brief discussion about the appointment of an honorary consul somewhere then we went back to talking about this and that. Via the Italian-Australian match at the (soccer) World Cup, we got on to rugby. Yep, I was right, he'd been a player. Knew his stuff. He said the Aussies can't win the (rugby) World Cup next year because their forwards are too young and their backs too old. But that the All Blacks will have to watch out for the French. You only want to play the French once, he said. When he got out in St. Marks Road, there was an odd hesitation between us. I had the sense that there were things he would have liked to ask me as well. But I'll never know what they were. Meanwhile, Phil Kearns was halfway to Mosman, driven by a perhaps oblivious, dour Pakistani with jihad pamphlets in his glove box.