I write this from a dark corner of my bedroom in my mother's holiday unit in Marcoola, Queensland, a room to which I have retreated in order to escape the scourge that infects this otherwise idyllic Australian holiday I'm enjoying this week. It's cricket, and I can't escape it.
Remember when I told you the national religion of Australia is sport? Actually it's cricket. There aren't many things that drive red-blooded Aussie men to the brink of orgasm, but I would hazard a guess and say Elle MacPherson, Kylie Minogue and Richie Benaud would rank in the top three, and not necessarily in that order.
I am Australian in so many ways. I love meat pies. When I'm tired and not on my guard you can hear my Queensland accent seeping through. But there is one thing that makes me stand out, and I'm not talking about my rugged good looks. I can't stand cricket. Try as I might, I cannot get myself aroused at the sight of 11 men dressed in white spending five friggin' days on an oval playing one single game. Hence the dark Marcoola bedroom, my PC ... and you.
I arrived in Brisbane on Christmas Day and had one day's respite before the start of the Boxing Day Test match between Australia and Pakistan. As I write this, at stumps (see? I even know the terminology), Australia was in a strong position having declared at 5 for 454. The Pakistanis were 4 for 109 in a match that plods along at the pace of slow-drying concrete.
During breaks my younger brother Egg wants us all to take the nephews onto the front lawn for a game of cricket. Meanwhile, my youngest nephew has just received, at the age of six, a board game called Test Match. It's like an Afghan child being trained in guerilla warfare since birth - how will either child ever be able to be reprogrammed later in life? TV, front lawn, board game ... a hat-trick of horrors.
I was born into a family of stark raving mad cricketers. I remember my childhood being a mix of worshipping Jesus Christ and some obscure New South Welshman named Donald Bradman, while my mother went weak at the knees at Max Walsh and the ubiquitous Chappell brothers. My older brother Stephen had a shrine to Dennis Lillee in his bedroom (or was it his bathroom?), while Egg spent hundreds of hours on his bed poring over cricket book statistics in an era long before TV threw them up in your face in a millisecond.
Then there was Andrew, strange dark Andrew, the Wednesday child, full of woe, desperately disinterested in cricket and favouring writing short stories and reading books instead. "He's a strange thing," it was whispered behind the melanoma-spotted palms of my extended family. It was perfectly ok for Egg to hole himself up for hours in his bedroom deciphering cricket statistics. Woe betide wacko Andrew who wanted to while away the hours reading Charles Dickens and Somerset Maugham.
Let me tell you, it was hard being the literary one in a family that put streamers up when Kepler Wessels announced he would bat for Queensland. Later I became a journalist writing savvy feature articles for the Queensland newspaper the Courier-Mail, even picking up an award, but on a scale of one to 10 my career rated a three next to brother Egg when he was selected for the Queensland second 11 for one brief week back in the early 1980s. He never went out on the pitch to play, but if I mention that I am accused of "always wanting to spoil things".
When we were barely out of diapers, my father registered our three names on the waiting list for the Melbourne Cricket Club. The MCC is the most hallowed of clubs to belong to for any Australian with a waiting list of 30 years.
"Just think," my father would say during our primary school years, "In another 25 years you'll be able to enjoy matches from the Long Room at the Melbourne Cricket Ground." Any reply from me such as "but we live 2,000 kilometres away from Melbourne, Daddy" was greeted with a clip around the ears.
"Not long now," my father would say as we hit senior school. "Another 15 years or so and you'll have that coveted membership in your hands." We had hit puberty so my brothers were able to orgasm on the spot, while cricket kept me in the quagmire of erectile dysfunction.
"Almost within reach," my father would say in our college years. By this stage I was writing short stories and even novels, not that anybody knew. Meanwhile, my family could recite Egg's latest score on the field as his cricket career blossomed.
Then, a terrible turn of events.
In 1984 I was sent down south as Melbourne correspondent for the Courier-Mail. It was a two-year posting and I had to send stories 2,000km back to Queensland. It came with a number of perks, such as free cab fares, subsidised rent ... and free membership to the MCC. Upon hearing the news, my family went ballistic.
The irony did not pass over their cricket-capped craniums that the one family member who loathed the game was the only one who was able to saunter in and out of the MCG whenever the mood took him. "Had a good night in the Long Room last night," I would say on one of my many infrequent calls to my brothers and parents. "Spoke to one of the Chappell brothers, not that I knew which one it was." More heretically, I was using the pass to fulfil my new-found interest in Aussie Rules - salt in the wound in my family's eyes.
Suddenly my brothers took an interest in me. Egg, who, had he been on the Titanic would have packed his favourite cricket ball and groin protector before going off to save the women and children, was down visiting me in a flash. "Where is it?" were his first three words upon my greeting him at Tullamarine airport, hand outstretched. I obediently placed the membership badge in his hand and didn't see him for the rest of his visit, except on rest days.
Two years later my time was up and I moved to Sydney. The MCC badge was handed on to the person who replaced me, and I was non-compos-Andrew once again in my family, since my Sydney gig offered no perks such as unlimited trips to the Sydney Cricket Ground.
In 1989 I moved to Thailand and it was around then I had the phone call from my father, a little older and perhaps not as sheepish as before.
"Just to let you know your MCC membership has come up." Then, a little sadly, he adopted his father-to-10-year-old tone with me. "And you know I think you should take it up. You never know when you'll be in Melbourne and ..."
"And what, Dad? Suddenly develop an interest in cricket? It ain't gonna happen, Dad. You have to face it - I just won't ever turn. Please. Understand that."
And then, really pathetically, I added: "I'm sorry."
Family dynamics can be extremely trying things. Just when I think mine is the most dysfunctional on the planet, I learn that just about every other family feels that way about their own. For me, I may continue to perform, write, host and produce things of unimaginable quality and distinction, but because I lack that all-important gene, I may as well just sit at home scratching my cricket balls. If I had any to scratch.
Happy New Year, dear reader!