Photo – Alastair Cook, Michael Clarke, and the invisible Jimmy Brandt at the SCG.
What do you think happens when the invisible man goes onto the field during the Ashes cricket test in Sydney?
Those of you who have read The Vortex Winder will know that in one scene, Jimmy Brandt gains the power of invisibility. Australia are playing England in the Sydney test of 2011. The invisible Jimmy spends a day on the field, lending the occasional ‘hand of God’ to tip things Australia’s way.
The 2013-14 Ashes series is upon us. It is timely then to revisit this memorable cricket scene now that The Vortex Winder has just been released as an e-book on Amazon Kindle.
So, let us revisit this scene from chapter 11. First some background for those who haven’t read the book. This novel details the adventures of Jimmy Brandt, who has come into possession of the ‘Vortex Winder,’ a device which grants him a different special power each week.
In the previous chapter, Jimmy has wished for fame, only to find it far more a curse than a blessing. To escape the unwanted prize, he wishes for invisibility. Now he wanders the streets of Sydney like a ghost.
His first hazard is to negotiate his way around a crowded shopping mall. As he adapts to his new condition, he attends an opera, then the cricket test.
To skip directly to the cricket scene, go halfway through this extract to pick up the story. However it is best if you read the whole chapter to see how Jimmy adapts to being invisible.
Link to Amazon
To find this e-book on Amazon Kindle, follow the link below or simply type ‘The Vortex Winder’ into the Amazon Kindle search field.
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Extract from The Vortex Winder – The Invisible Man Goes to the Cricket.
To become invisible was like stepping into an air conditioned room on a summer day in Queensland. The fiery rays of accusing eyes stopped their assault upon my skin, and I could once again breathe freely.
I did not at first realise what had happened, but simply felt a change in the atmosphere. The sense of being burned by hundreds of hostile stares receded. I looked up and noticed the bewildered expressions of a few onlookers who found that they could no longer see me. Some of them left their tables in the food court and came over to see where I’d gone. But as they advanced, not one of them was looking directly at me. They were gazing to my left or right, or over my shoulder, and from this I quickly deduced that they could no longer see me. Remembering my muttered wish for invisibility, it was clear that I had now squandered my third wish in the hope of fixing the disastrous consequences of the second.
As several people blundered towards my unfinished lunch on the table, I darted a few metres to the left to escape their clutches. Not a single eye followed me. From this, it was plain that the wish was operational. Yet as I looked down at my own body, I could still see my arms and legs. My face was also reflected in a silver panel at one of the shops in the food court. I was not invisible to myself, at any rate. As I edged through the dense lunchtime crowd, however, a series of collisions and gasps of surprise showed that I was invisible to everyone else.
The first priority was to escape the hordes of hungry humanity. With some footwork worthy of Nureyev, I left the crowd behind and escaped into a Myer department store. The relative space was a relief, and I headed for the furniture section and sank into a velvety armchair.
My next concern was to experiment and try to gauge the extent of this new power. I conjured up memories of the old ‘Invisible Man’ movies about Griffin, the insane scientist who had made himself invisible. Although Griffin’s body had been unseen, any clothes he had been wearing were quite visible. That was clearly not the case with me, as my fully clothed body seemed to be outside the perceptive range of anyone around me. With a sudden intuition, I speculated that perhaps my ‘invisibility’ was not the result of a literal rendering of my body into nothingness, but rather some kind of perceptive trick in which I no longer registered in the minds of other people. That was probably why they couldn’t see my clothes, or what I was doing.
Seeking to test this theory, I went to the menswear section and changed into a set of expensive trousers and a sleek shirt and jacket. Rather than entering the change room, I found a quiet corner of the store in which to undress. While admiring myself in the full length mirror, I was startled by one of the shop assistants. Yet he paid me no heed, merely muttering to himself at the sight of my discarded old clothes heaped on the floor. After looking left and right for their owner, he picked them up and departed, presumably to dump them in lost property.
So much for clothes, what about other external objects? Moving to the sports department, I picked up a golf club and lined up a drive right in front of the sales desk. Now, if it had been old Griffin from the movie, the golf club would have been seen moving spookily through the air by itself. Yet as I lined up my shot a few feet in front of him, the salesman at the desk seemed unperturbed by any such phantom golf club. Thus, I reasoned that as soon as an external object was connected to me, it entered into my personal realm of darkness beyond the ken of mortal man.
In that case, I’d now be able to finish the lunch that had been so rudely interrupted downstairs. I found the Myer cafeteria, and helped myself to a few items from the buffet. No one batted an eyelid, and I sat down at a nearby table. This was all turning out to be very easy, and as long as I kept an eye out that no one else came to sit at my table, I’d finally be able to finish my meal.
The lunch was good – a few choice samples of everything, along with some token salad. I became lost in the comfort of eating and only woke up when a waitress appeared and thrust a wet dishcloth into my lasagne. What an appalling breach of service standards! But when the poor girl shrieked and did a double take at the strange tactile sensation, I darted away to the next table.
That was close. I’d better be careful. After a few more minutes, I was able to get halfway through my meal, before spotting the same waitress bearing down on me again. This time, I’d checked that the table was spotless so that she had no reason to wipe it. Even so, I stopped eating and sat up in my chair to wait until she had passed. But in another appalling breach of service, she picked up the plate holding my half finished lunch. ‘What a waste,’ she muttered disapprovingly, before walking off with it.
Aha! It seems that I had to be in direct physical contact with the external object for it to be invisible. When I’d let go of the plate, it had been no longer under my protective aura, and had re-entered the world of the seen. That would be a point worth remembering from now on. I returned to the buffet for seconds, and keeping a firm hold of the plate this time, finally managed to finish eating.
What now? Maybe a short break at the movies. At least I wouldn’t have to pay to get in. I wandered down to the nearby cinemas and walked straight past the door guy at cinema one. I wondered what was on and decided to take pot luck. Some film with De Niro, as it turned out. After about fifteen minutes, I changed cinemas to take in some of a Jack Black movie, then moved on to a Scarlet Johansson.
The novelty soon wore off. I’d gotten into the movies for free – big deal. Surely a better use could be found for the power of invisibility. The theatre would be much more interesting. There was bound to be something on down at the Opera House. I’d just have a short nap upstairs in the closed off part of the cinema, then bus it down to Circular Quay.
The bus ride posed a challenge. I’d have to wait until a fairly empty one came along. In a crowded bus it would be too hard to avoid the other passengers. After finding such a bus, this turned out to be quite easy, and I merely had to keep a sharp eye out for people getting on and off and heading for where I was sitting.
It was by now nearly 6pm but still light, so I had a casual stroll around the harbour. No one paid me the slightest attention, of course, but that’s pretty much how it is in the city at the best of times. It was only when I ventured right up close to someone – and I did this a couple of times to experiment – that the person seemed to become vaguely aware of me. I could see them frown and do a little double take, as if they could sense something just at the edge of their vision. Then they’d dismiss the idea and go on with what they were doing. Again, I had the impression that I was not physically invisible, but merely under the protection of some kind of perceptive shield. It reminded me of a hypnosis show I’d seen, in which the people were bewitched into perceiving things that were not there, and not perceiving other things that clearly were there. In my current state, it was as if the entire human race had somehow been put into a state of hypnosis in which my presence had been erased from their perceptual range.
Making my way up the steps of the Opera House, I took the time to appreciate the virtues of this beautiful and world famous building. Tonight, I would have full access to its splendours, both architectural and theatrical. It turned out that ‘Madam Butterfly’ was being staged tonight, a work with which I was unfamiliar, but could now experience firsthand under my cloak of darkness.
Taking a glass of champagne from a passing waiter’s tray, I mingled with the well dressed patrons in attendance. Thanks to Myer, I was stylishly attired myself – it was only a pity that no one else could see it. Never mind. I’d just commandeer a couple more of those champagnes, then make my way backstage. As it turned out, the backstage entrance was nowhere to be found. There was nothing for it but to enter the theatre and go there via the stage itself.
Backstage was the proverbial hive of activity. Production crew were fiddling with props, pulleys and ropes; the director was giving orders, chorus members were milling about the place, and the higher cast members could be heard warming up behind their dressing room doors. The buzz rose in intensity as show time approached. Then it stopped abruptly as cast and crew alike prepared for the opera to begin.
The moment arrived. The orchestra began to play, the curtains parted, and I made my way onstage in front of a rapturous audience. I proceeded to turn in a captivating mimed performance for the rest of the first act. Unfortunately, there was a selfish diva or two who insisted on stealing my limelight by prancing around the stage singing arias, but I supposed they’d put in the hours at rehearsal and had earned the right.
One thing I had not reckoned with was the volume with which these opera singers perform. These divas certainly knew how to blast it out. I couldn’t get too close, having left the old earplugs at home. With all the lyrics in Italian, I had no idea what they were singing about either, but the whole thing was more spectacle than story anyway. It’s hard not to be satirical about such a melodramatic vocal style, and I made a point of swanning around the stage miming the overwrought theatrics.
At interval, I went off stage with my supporting cast members and tried to score a drink from the head diva, Patricia Racette. Sadly, she was too damned professional and had confined herself to water, so I had to go and steal some booze from one of the orchestra members.
I returned to play a starring role for the duration of the second half, and finally took my bows before that adoring audience. Some romantic in the front row tossed up a few roses, and must have been bemused to see them vanish into thin air when I caught them just in front of Patricia. No doubt she was quite startled as well, but she showed no sign of it, the old pro.
It was easy to find an empty bus home at that time of night, and I caught a 378 to Bronte. I got off just before the cemetery, which to be honest wasn’t the best choice of stop. I felt like a ghost myself at the moment. I had the uneasy suspicion that having joined the ranks of the invisible hordes, if there were such things as ghosts, now would be the perfect time for one to appear. I walked through the graveyard with a degree of anxiety, but was relieved to find that such fears were unfounded.
The next morning, I checked my answering machine to find several calls from journalists from the morning before, but nothing at all from after 1pm. The whole Chica Boom sensation was ‘so last week’ now that I would no doubt have been fully invisible to any journos regardless of any magical powers. The public is certainly a fickle bitch. Today, however, I had bigger fish to fry. I was going to fulfil a boyhood dream and take part in a cricket test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The sold out Ashes test between Australia and England was due to start today.
On the cricket field, Australia had been at war with its old imperial master, England, since 1877, the best part of 150 years. Cricket is a bizarre sport in which a single match can go on for five consecutive days. It is incomprehensible to nearly all Americans and Europeans. They do not understand that cricket was one of the best products of British imperialism, and that it had taken a firm hold in most of the old colonies – India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand.
Australia had been winning the war with England for most of the last twenty years, thanks to some of the all time greats of the game – Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Ponting, Border, and the Waugh brothers – but the tide had turned, and the old enemy had gotten the upper hand. England was one win away from clinching the ‘Ashes,’ the fabled prize which symbolized supremacy. Australia’s position in the series was dire, so I had resolved to get along to the ground and witness the battle up close, maybe lending them an invisible helping ‘hand of god’ if the chance arose.
The buses would be too full today, so I might have to cycle down. As a test, I had a ride along the footpath straight at a couple of pedestrians, turning aside only at the last moment. As neither of them batted an eyelid, the bike was obviously invisible to them. It would be dangerous riding under those conditions, but really it was nothing new. A few times I’d ridden at night without lights, and the basic assumption to make at such times is that you are fully invisible to all other traffic. So in fact, the ride down to the ground today would be exactly the same, only in broad daylight.
Another conundrum was whether to take sunburn cream. It was a question of whether I was literally, or only psychologically, invisible. If I literally had no visible presence, then the sun’s rays could not burn me. But if I was still visible, and merely hiding behind some mass hypnotic shield, I could end up as red as one of the Poms you see walking round Coogee Beach with their shirts off. To be safe, the sunburn cream had better come, along with a good hat. And for you Americans and Europeans, ‘Pom’ is an Australian slang name for the English.
I made my way to the Sydney Cricket Ground, riding on the footpaths and in the gutters for safety. After locking up the bike, I slipped through the gates of the ground, and ducked and weaved my way through the buzzing crowd. As it was empty of people, the safest place to be was on the field itself, so I hurdled the fence and bounded onto the grassy turf of the famous old ground.
It was a thrill to finally make my way onto the ‘hallowed turf ’ which was the scene of so many battles in the past. As I made my way out to the centre of the arena, I performed a slow pirouette to take in all 360 degrees of the stands circling the field. The old stands were the best. The Bradman and Members’ stands were still pretty much untouched. Less impressive were the arrays of plastic seating in the newer stands. It was a bit tacky, really, and it was criminal what they’d done to the old Hill. Back in the good old days, the Hill was a wide, grassy, unseated area where anyone could take a picnic rug, a basket of food, and an esky full of beer, and sit there watching the cricket all day. Now, it had been demolished, replaced by a boring stand, and violated with plastic seating.
Those were the days! That golden era of the mid seventies will never be topped. I was just a boy then, but I remember it well, at least by reputation. It was like the Wild West back then, a hedonist paradise. Anyone could walk through the turnstiles with an esky full of ice and beer cans, then sit in the summer sun and drink from noon til night, while watching the most charismatic bunch of cricketers ever assembled in one era. Thomson and Lillee terrorizing the Poms with 90 mile thunderbolts; the Chappell brothers all class with the bat; Marshy and Gary Gilmour despatching balls into the stands; and Doug Walters sneaking a sly smoke in the gully, still half pissed from the night before. And all the while, the drunken crew on the Hill cheering them on.
Nowadays, it was all sanitized, family fun. You had as much chance of taking beer into the ground as you would a samurai sword onto an aeroplane. Instead, you lined up for the privilege of paying six bucks for a plastic cup of low alcohol beer. The only place you could get a decent drink was in the Members’ stand, which was where I was heading now. I made for the stand, climbed the fence, and walked straight past the fat security guard at the entrance.
It was still only 9.30am, so perhaps the bar wouldn’t be open yet. But the Members’ stand knew its clientele, and already had a barman up to service the early starters. I helped myself to a double rum and coke, for I needed a stern drink for what was coming next – a visit to the Aussie dressing room.
I made my way through the stand, past the media boxes, past the English dressing room, and finally into the inner sanctum where the Aussie boys were getting ready to go out and bat. The current team was nowhere near that side of the seventies, but it was still a thrill to be in amongst them. There was the captain, Ricky Ponting, nursing his broken finger, sidelined for this game, giving new boy Khawaja a few quiet words. Not far away was the youthful Clarke, his deputy, running through the game plan. There were the fast bowlers Siddle, Johnson, and Hilfenhaus looking frustrated at not being able to bowl first. It wasn’t quite clear how Hilfenhaus had made the cut. Five wickets for the series at fifty plus, and no wonder Bollinger was looking rather flat at being named 12th man on his home ground. Bolly looked like he wanted to go out and bowl a few bouncers at whoever picked the side.
Before long, the Pommy side began walking out onto the ground, with the Aussie opening pair, Hughes and Watson, not far behind them. Hughes, the loose cannon of the side, was fidgeting like a man on his way to court, while Watson was more relaxed, knowing that his bowling and golden tresses would keep him in the side for a while yet no matter what happened today. There was no doubt Watson could bat, though. He had a classical technique, and could usually be counted on for a solid 40 or 90 runs before unfathomably throwing his wicket away in sight of a half century or a century. Enigmatic, my dear Watson.
It looked like old Watto was fired up this fine morning for the game at his ‘home ground.’ Watto, of course, was such a gypsy, that he had about three home grounds to his name so far. The IPL would probably bestow upon him a fourth. Now, as he took strike against Jimmy ‘Job’ Anderson, I could see the steely resolve in his eyes from my vantage point at mid off. Even when Anderson sent a couple of balls whistling past his bat, Watson, in a Stalinesque re-writing of history, tried to imply that his misses were deliberate ‘leaves’. That is, that he had missed them on purpose. The English cordon of slip fielders behind the bat weren’t buying it, and they made a couple of comments to that effect. But their exaggerated sighs of excitement at Watson’s near misses were over the top, and got my dander up as an Aussie and a colleague of Watson.
For the next ball, I moved a bit closer to the stumps at the bowler’s end, and just as Job Anderson was running in to bowl the next one, I gave him a firm slap on the bum. Anderson stumbled, bowled a rank long hop outside off stump, and Watson pulled it to the mid wicket fence for four!
Anderson’s bowling became a bit erratic at that point, and he was replaced by the tall, skinny freak, Tremlett. I wasn’t game to give Tremlett the same treatment, because that Frankenstein monster’s flailing limbs could go anywhere within a six foot radius. Instead, I wandered up and took my place among the English slips cordon. There they all were. Prior, the wicketkeeper, Strauss, the skipper, then Swann, Collingwood, and of course Pieterson poncing around in the gully ready to drop another catch.
With each ball, they’d bend down, eyes peeled, ready to apprehend any stray catch that came their way. Yet their overdone gasps of disappointment every time Hughes played another streaky shot to the boundary began to get on my nerves. So I decided to have a little chirp myself, to square the ledger for the sly remarks they were directing at Watson and Hughes.
‘Darby McGraw. Darby McGraw. Fetch aft the rum Darby,’ I croaked in a hoarse whisper as Tremlett blundered in to bowl another ball. Strauss looked round, but couldn’t see anything, so I said it again next ball.
Again, Strauss glanced round angrily. ‘Was that you, Colly?’ he said to Paul Collingwood, standing at third slip.
‘Not me, Johann,’ Collingwood replied, using the captain’s old nickname.
‘Right then Swannee, stop mucking about, or you can fuck off to backward point and you won’t get a bowl til tea time. The Ashes are on the line here.’
‘It wasn’t me – I didn’t say a word!’ Swann protested.
I fell about on the grass, laughing my head off as silently as possible. But not for long, because I had to have my wits about me. Those bowlers look fast on TV, but believe me they are three times faster live and up close. If one of Tremlett’s fast balls had hit me, not even the Vortex Winder could have saved me. In fact, the slips cordon was too dangerous a place for an invisible man, so I wandered back out behind point again.
It wasn’t long before Hughes rode his luck once too often, and he was on his way back to the change rooms. Young Khawaja replaced him, and thrilled the crowd by pulling his second ball to the boundary. Meanwhile Watson was making a steady start, building his innings, and was still there at lunchtime. I walked back with him and Khawaja to the dressing rooms, and we had lunch together with the team. All the boys were happy with the start, although Hughes was disappointed and Bollinger was still far from bubbly.
After lunch, Watson continued to build his innings and looked good for a century. But when he was in his forties, and for reasons best known to himself, he took a wild swing at one of Swann’s tempting off spinners and heaved the ball straight up in the air. It was another promising innings thrown away, and Watson dropped his head and began walking off even before Anderson had taken the catch at mid wicket.
It was time for a little divine intervention from the ‘hand of God.’ In a flash, I jumped up from where I’d been lying down at square leg, some twenty meters away, and sprinted in the direction of Anderson. His face seemed strangely poised, like Schrodinger’s cat, between the expressions of smugness and fear. I launched myself in a flying leap like that of a soccer goalkeeper, and tipped the ball out of his grasp just as he was about to catch it. Watching the TV replays later on, it looked very odd indeed. The ball seemed to drop down from the sky, then make a little loop in the air as it bobbed out of Anderson’s grasp. The fielder looked shocked and mortified as he picked the ball from the ground and angrily threw it in to the keeper. Funny game, cricket!
I’d done my bit for the side, and felt I deserved a drink, so I headed back to the Members’ bar and helped myself to an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels, which I took back onto the field for a few quiet sips. As I took in the unfolding game, I gradually got fairly drunk, and felt I had rarely had a better day at the cricket. To be honest, I didn’t quite last the full day, and there was an awkward incident in which I fell asleep late in the day and let go of the bottle of Jack Daniels. The English fielder, Alistair Cook, noticed the bottle, which was visible now that I was no longer holding it. He handed it to one of the umpires, who looked completely mystified as to how it had got there. I woke up in a hurry when Cook came near, and decided it might be wise to scarper before the crowd left and started to make its way home. With a heavy head and blurry vision, I dodged my way out of the ground, unlocked the bike, and rode unsteadily home.
The next day I woke with a bad hangover, as I don’t normally drink that much liquor. It was accompanied by a shade of depression, as the events of the last few weeks started to catch up with me. What now? I’d done the opera, done the cricket, what would be next? Well, breakfast first at any rate. I caught the bus over to Bondi Beach to see what pickings were to be found today.
The beach was already crowded, thronged with tourists at the cafes and shops near the beach. As I wove my way among them, I was suddenly beset with an incredible sense of loneliness. I was not a human being like the others around me, but a mere phantom, unseen and unknown, with no place in this world. Then another realisation hit, more devastating than the first, that this was exactly the way I felt in my normal life anyway, even when I was fully visible.
It was an awful feeling, and in my weakened, hung over state, the futility and emptiness of my life became clear. I was suddenly sick of it all. Was there really any point going on in such an absurd world where fame was as shallow as a You Tube video, and fate as arbitrary as a win on the Black Art? A world in which I, personally, could not hold down a job, a relationship, or find any recognition at all for my artistic endeavours. Perhaps I should just cast myself into the ocean, and let the waves wash my invisible corpse into oblivion.
Taking an orange juice and a roll from a cafe, I sat down on the grass above the beach and had breakfast, if you could call it that, considering it was nearly midday. Feeling a little better, I wandered around the cafe area, looking at all the people and some of the buskers. There were certainly a lot of bikini clad girls around, and it was tempting to stare at them closely. Yet it felt wrong to take advantage of my current position, so I abstained.
However, I could not help looking at one young woman busking near one of the cafes. She was a strikingly pretty girl about five feet tall, with long raven hair, a pale complexion, and some stylish glasses. She was just my type. Or rather one of my types, to be honest. There is more than one perfect type. The stunning young woman was playing a classical guitar to which she’d fastened a strap which allowed her to play standing up. Most surprising of all was her choice of material. As I approached, I was startled by the strains of an old song I’d not heard for twenty years or more. After a while, I finally placed it as‘ Killer of Giants,’ an obscure Ozzy Osbourne song from the eighties It was the last thing you expected to hear from a 21st century busker at Bondi Beach.
The girl whacked a capo onto the fifth fret and played Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises,’ a more conventional choice, but still a sign of remarkably good taste. Then, removing the capo, she followed with a medley of Sabbath’s ‘Orchid’, ‘Children of the Sea’ and ‘Sign of the Southern Cross.’ Here was a woman after my own heart, and no mistake. The next one was the showstopper. ‘Spanish Fly,’ Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso acoustic piece off Van Halen 2! I was by now very much in love, and stared in wonder at this astonishing woman. Yet none of the onlookers were paying her any heed. It was unfathomable. People were just walking past, ignoring her, or standing around yakking on their mobile phones. What was wrong with them? This girl was a genius. Fortunately, I was invisible, so she couldn’t see me gawping at her.
She tuned down to D and played a Spanish piece called ‘Torre Bermeja,’ one of the best pieces in the whole Spanish repertoire, before segueing into an old David Lee Roth tune named ‘Damn Good.’ Wow. Tuning back to E, she played the intro to ‘Seasons in the Abyss.’ And then she played something that chilled me to my very bones – a song called ‘Spark.’ A song which had been heard by only three people in this world – my drummer, my producer, and myself. This was impossible, completely out of the question.
The girl turned to look at me, and smiled.
Link to Amazon
To find this e-book on Amazon Kindle, follow the link below or simply type ‘The Vortex Winder’ into the Amazon Kindle search field. To celebrate its launch, this book is for sale at a special low price for a limited time.
Use Control / click to follow the link
Michael Clarke, Alastair Cooke, and Jimmy Brandt at the toss during the SCG test.