xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Winning is a street car named Desire.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Winning is a street car named Desire.

Recently five Scandinavian scientist admitted to plagiarism. Plagiarism is regarded as a very serious offence in journalism, literature and science. In this case, however, the revelation of plagiarism was greeted with mirth. It seems the five scientists made use of Bob Dylan’s lyrics in some of their writings. They did not do so in any of their serious science papers, but they had a competition of sorts, between themselves, to see who made the most use of Bob Dylan’s lyrics in some of their general science writings for magazines or newspapers.

I cannot recall the examples given in the news story but it was along the lines of “The belief that man is affecting climate change has been blowing in the wind for many years.”
How many roads must a man walk down before he can take a stand on climate change?
“How many years must some people exist before they can accept the scientific reality of climate change?  

 It was all pretty light hearted and amusing. Nobody, apart perhaps from Bob Dylan, took any offence. It reminded me of a time in the 1970s when I tried mightily to get Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire” into my writings for the South West Times newspaper.

Actually, I need to go back to the 1960s to put my story into perspective. From 1962 to 1964 I was teaching in Toronto, Canada. At that time Canada was about 50% Catholic, however, I quickly learned that the main religion in Canada was ice hockey. It was preached by the National Hockey League (NHL) on TV each Saturday and Wednesday evening during the season which, from memory, extended from November to March.

To give some idea of the hold that hockey had on the populace of Canada, nobody would ever think of having a dinner party when there was a hockey match on. People used to have dessert parties to which you would roll up about thirty minutes after the hockey game concluded. If you happened to arrive while the game was still on then you would not expect a warm welcome from your hosts. What you would do is let yourself in as quietly as possible and sit down with the rest of the group and watch the conclusion of the game. Then it would be time for fond greetings and dessert.

I quickly became a confirmed and fervent follower of the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team. Their coach in the early 1960s was an interesting character named Punch Imlach. I am not sure if Punch was his real name or a nickname, but Punch must have been a very good coach. The Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, the Holy Grail of the NHL, in 1962, 1963 and 1964. In fact, in March of 1963, I was in the packed arena at the O’Keefe Centre to see the Leafs win the Stanley Cup against the Detroit Redwings who were led by the legendary Gordie Howe.

Apart from being a great hockey coach, Punch Imlach had a very colourful turn of phrase which flowed freely off his tongue in his post-match press conferences. In 1961, a young Frank Mahavolic burst onto the ice hockey stage and played a crucial role in the Leaf’s Stanley Cup win in 1962. However, in 1963, young Frank, or The Big M, as he was known, had what could be called the “second season blues” and his form was patchy.

At a post-match press conference a journalist enquired, “Punch, what is the matter with The Big M, he is not very consistent this year?”

Straight off the top of his head, Punch replied, “Winning is a streetcar named Desire and sometimes Frank doesn’t catch that tram.”

Now, I have followed sports all my life. For well over sixty years I have heard lots of coaches talk about lots of players and lots of teams, but no coach, not one, has ever made a comment that comes anywhere near that polished gem from Punch Imlach. It is the rolled gold, Guinness Book of Records, Olympic Gold Medal coaches’ comment of all time.

About twelve years later I was working in Donnybrook, a picturesque, rural town, about 220 kilometers south of Perth. In my day job I was the Primary School Principal at the Donnybrook District High School.

However, in a concerted effort to demonstrate that a man can do more than one thing at a time, I was also General Manager of the Donnybrook Football Club (The Dons) and the sports correspondent for the South West Times, a large regional newspaper based in Bunbury. 

My family enjoyed our life in Donnybrook from 1975 till 1981 and in all of those years I wrote the football report for all of the home games that The Dons played at the local oval. That would have been about 80 matches that I covered. Sometime in 1976 I started inserting Punch Imlach’s immortal words into my match reports.

“But winning is a streetcar named Desire and Donnybrook rode that tram to victory in a goal filled thrilling final quarter” would be a typical example of my florid prose.

Each week, along similar lines, I would write about the team or an individual riding to victory on that tram named Desire. Sometimes of course, I wrote that Donnybrook, like The Big M, had failed to catch that streetcar named Desire. I didn’t do it every game, but I did it a lot.

During the matches I used to sit in the elevated press box on the roof atop the members clubrooms and make notes on the game. I would be kept company by the two official match timekeepers and from time to time by two radio commentators from Bunbury out to broadcast The Match of the Day.

After the game, as General Manager of the club, I had quite a few duties to perform, not least conducting a thirty minute presentation where I would welcome our supporters, make some comments on the game and inform them of upcoming events. Then I would invite the club president and the coach to address the members and make various match day presentations. After thanking our various sponsors, I could sign off and relax with some mates at the bar before joining my wife, Lesley, our three girls, and some friends at one of the tables for a spot of tea and some more liquid refreshments. As General Manager I was also the Licensee of the premises so, when the bar closed at eight o’clock I had to remain to see that everyone had left the building and that everything was securely locked up.

This meant that I did not get home until after 8-30 or 9-00pm, at which time I could start referring to my notes to write up the game. Writing the story could take up to three hours, during which time I would enjoy a glass of beer or two or three. I felt that the beer helped me to relax after the stresses of a long and busy day. I also felt that it helped me write more fluently. It was generally during these more “fluent” phases of my writing that that Streetcar Named Desire rolled into my match report. 

I used to finish writing the story around midnight and would leave it near the telephone because Lesley had to phone it through to the paper before 10-00am the next day. That was the deadline for the next edition.

Lesley observed, on more than one occasion, OK, OK, on almost every occasion, that while drinking beer may have made me think that my writing was more fluent, it also made it more illegible. My handwriting was not too legible in the first place. I had a primary teacher once, who told me my writing was so scrawly that I should become a doctor. Lesley said that she could tell my rate of beer consumption on the Sunday night by the sad deterioration of my handwriting, generally halfway down page three of the seven page story.
Nevertheless, each Monday morning, Lesley would, with some difficulty, read my scribbled football story over the telephone. Over the seven years she developed a friendly relationship with the journalists whose job it was to type up the story as she read it out.

Invariably, she would read something along the lines of, “In the final quarter, Donnybrook’s outstanding ruckman, Keith Bedford, demonstrated that winning is a streetcar named Desire. He kicked three goals which inspired his team mates to a thrilling eight point victory.”

“Oh, no” would come the jaded reporter’s voice over the phone. “He’s done it again”

Lesley would say something apologetic and continue reading. Needless to say, the references to winning and that streetcar named Desire would never get a guernsey, to put in football parlance. Not once in seven years. I got to know the editor quite well and we spoke often over the phone. He was an excellent editor and he told me that he liked my stories. But he didn’t ever print my flowery lines about winning, streetcars and desire. It became a bit of a joke between us.

In 1996, Lesley and I were in New Orleans. Lesley was browsing in a shop on the main street and I was standing out on the footpath, or the sidewalk, as the locals called it. At one point I looked up at a bus that was pulling into a nearby stop. In bright green electronic lights it had DESIRE printed boldly on the destination board above the windscreen. Although trams still operated on the famous St Charles line they had obviously been replaced by buses on the route to Desire. I quickly pulled out my camera and took a picture. Unfortunately it was around dusk and the light was not good. My flashlight just made the green letters paler. My picture showed a faded destination that, like my handwriting, was very hard to decipher. 

My immediate thought was that Tennessee Williams was very fortunate to write his play in the 1950s when trams, not buses, were running out to Desire. Williams had Blanche DuBois say in the very first scene of his play that she had been told to catch a streetcar to Desire in order to reach her sister Stella’s apartment. He used that line as the title for his famous play. I don’t think “A Bus Named Desire” would have had quite the same dramatic impact.

So life goes on and life changes. Despite my best and repeated efforts, the editor at the South West Times, in his wisdom, never once included my homage to Punch Imlach and Tennessee Williams in my football stories. I sweated blood, and some alcohol, over those stories. 

It did teach me a life lesson, however. It showed me that even when you are on that streetcar named Desire you do not always arrive at your desired destination.

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