By Jamie Bell
When you grow up in Otago it used to be that you had three options beyond high school: become a teacher, become a builder, or go to Otago University. The son of a teacher and a builder, in 2001 I took up the challenge of completing the family trifecta.
My era at Otago bridged the golden days, generally celebrated by Marc Ellis, and today, where all the student pubs are gone, no-one has any idea who Mr Tui is, and there’s no way you could bring a live horse to a bar in exchange for beer.
In first year, you found the freedom of escaping your parents, the despair of living from government payment to government payment, and the pant-stretching struggle of the fresher five. In second year, you experienced the most thrilling moment of your young life: moving into a flat.
Student flats are a wonder of the world: rooms so small the bed has to be braced above your head, hallway walls with paper mache patches over holes, we once took part in a study where we discovered our living room was 2 degrees colder than the outside temperature in the middle of a Dunedin winter. While many a parent has shaken their head at the state of the places their progeny have moved into, and out of, these humble dwellings become like badges for students to wear, part of their tertiary identity.
With that in mind, in 2002, we moved into our first flat: five boys who covered the country from Invercargill to Whangarei.
When we scoured the streets of North Dunedin for a flat at the end of the previous year, this flat was called Loch Ness, and we were honoured to be moving into a flat with a name. A badge with more status than an unnamed flat. But, when we took the keys, and moved into all the hand-me-down housewares our parents’ cars could handle, the sign and the name were gone.
It didn’t take long for us to rectify the situation, and The Bordello was born.
From the outset the flat was associated with sport as we sub-let it to my mother’s Master Games’ netball team before we’d even lost a screw to our flatpack furniture. That meant my first week of flat life was spent top and tailing with my flatmate on an old mattress – I have no idea where it came from but I can guarantee someone’s still sleeping on it somewhere in Dunedin. A week later, with a few extra dollars and a pack of penis straws in hand (a hell of a gift to receive from your mother), and the flat was ours.
February is a blur in my memory. I know it would’ve involved O-Week, kegs, gigs, and probably a couple of lectures. There is also the Speights-hazed memory of standing on the Terraces at Carisbrook as Nathan Astle blasted Freddie Flintoff over the roof of the Main Stand.
My next flat memory also involved Nathan Astle and there’s no blurriness with this one. It was March 16th, a Saturday, and we set about building what every student flat needs: a living room grandstand. By mid-morning it was in place and our new UHF Sky subscription was ready to be maximised at every opportunity. With a target of 550 ahead of them, we settled in to watch one of the most frustrating New Zealand cricket teams in a generation torment us once again. What unfolded was a moment of brilliance.
With Sky filling our days with classic matches and performances at the moment, there are few cricket fans who haven’t re-lived that day in recent weeks. Those lucky enough to be at Lancaster Park recall the sound that reverberated around the stadium. Others remember phone calls from friends, explaining the scene.
It was the day Nathan Astle played the most incredible knock many of us have ever seen: 222 of 168. 28 fours. 11 sixes.
It’s that student flat, The Bordello, that comes back to me when I think of that day. As the innings went on, the capacity of our flat had a constant rhythm as visitors stopped by, heading from one flat to the next, or to The Moa pub down the road. Such was the speed and ferocity of Astle’s batting, an impromptu drinking crawl had started – you wanted to get to the next beer, but you couldn’t afford to take more than an over break to get to it.
In the end, it was another classic New Zealand cricket performance: an epic from an individual, a moral victory for the team, but a loss where it counted. But it has become one of the great New Zealand cricket stories. It’s certainly one of the few that became a standalone DVD (and a VHS).
For me, it remains one of the great sporting experiences I’ve had, and certainly one of the best where I wasn’t actually at the ground. Astle and The Bordello are forever entwined.
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