Balthazar is the second volume in Lawrence Durrell’s : “Alexandria Quartet”.. The exclamation mark is mine.
When I first read Durrell’s quartet a long time ago, I remember Balthazar being the most intriguing of all .. the reading of it left me with a feeling of sensuous delight in the language so astutely manipulated and managed .. For language as a written experience is,in my opinion one of the greatest and most acclaimed achievements of the arts of humanity .. and while painting as art is devilishly skilled, it is still a copy of many natural surroundings, likewise music is imitation of nature’s beasts and birds .. wind and storm and song the cry of an estranged soul familiar in tone and pitch to a rising tumult of mild zephyr to wild wind.
But to take an alphabet of letters that are assembled into accepted words and then to arrange those unfamiliar nouns, adjectives and verbs into sentences of not just legible script, but to frame them in descriptive design that can capture the sound and imagination of a reader to direct them down a road toward adventure, horror, love and desire demonstrates the dexterity of pure mental discipline to build, word by word, paragraph by paragraph that mood picture that we would wish to describe. I have written many articles and stories .. some of which have appeared on this blog. Loving the fluidity of the written word, I find delight in just the sounds made in the pronunciation of those words .. I always have from a long, long time ago .. Some names of places have caught and held my awe in the wonder of place names .. : Samarkand. Where is Samarkand? Is it cry of bird strangely, Or is it man? And Byzantium? A pealing of great bells, where The name; Pliny, is but a tinkle. And Jerusalem, Jerusalem … syrup, As sticky as a bruised sugar fig. Dar-Es-Salaam … a command? If so, then consider its neighbour; Like the last whispered word From an unsettling dream …. …………. Zanzibar! ……….
So it came as a surprise to me a while ago when a young refugee, Samad Abdul, posted his story on a “left-wing” blog.. where he opened with this sentence .. : “ That’s such a moment of blessing when you are with your best friend but that’s such a horrible moment when friends get separated forever.”
And which brought a cavalcade of accusation and degradation upon the spirit of his plea and the generic hopes of so many desperate peoples wanting a feeling of that “moment of blessing”.. The disgrace that was inflicted upon that young man’s story through nothing more that I can see than a envy of his desire for a dreamt of future whereas those who would deny him are trapped in a mire of mediocrity and drudgery unforgiving but materially secure .. no longer do they seek , having become satisfied with such mediocrity, they are quick to condemn those who still hunger for life’s promises.
In the novel; Balthazar, the search for truth demands confronting some rather unsavoury imagery and realities..this demands an unflinching courage to stare at and stare down such in the face of sometimes social adversary. As the paragraph below says.. ; From the Marquis de Sade’s story of Justine :
“Yes, we insist upon these details, you veil them with a decency which removes all their edge of horror; there remains only what is useful to whoever wishes to become familiar with man;….Inhabited by absurd fears, they only discuss the puerilities with which every fool is familiar and dare not, by turning a bold hand to the human heart, offer its gigantic idiosyncrasies to our view.”
Backing up the young refugee’s article, I posted a story of another refugee from another time : “Saying Goodbye to Ferrucchio” ( https://freefall852.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/saying-goodbye-to-ferruchio/ ).. It also was in reality a love story .. A love story between the travails and sorrows of humanity that can come together in adversity and tragedy. We love as humans, we embrace as lovers, it is the continuity of life itself that neither work, duty or politics can stop .. So it was a kind of weird moment when I read of many twitterers demanding of the “Barnaby Affair” that we please make it so that ; “It is about the rorting, not the rooting!” .. weird … as if such salacious dollops of metaphorical body-fluids could be overlooked for the everyday garden variety of possible rorting behaviour.
And it was this hypocrisy where the story of the young refugee was met with accusations of misleading, deceit, possible lying and being requested to “prove” his legitimacy of persecution … and yet, in the Barnaby affair, we get the demand that we not ask about his private behaviour or life and do not inquire or require him to explain his tangled relationships … ”Leave his private life out of this!” we are admonished .. yet demand the most intricate details of the life of a refugee, any refugee from the time of their first fears of danger to how, what, when, where and why they fled their homeland .. and not ANY subsequent explanation by myself or others who had witnessed or experienced such fears could or would be accepted by these criothans of the self-elected “truth police” who in the face of so much detailed explanation stubbornly refused to shift ground.
‘Truth is what most contradicts itself in time.’ Said Lawrence Durrell .. I would add that “the telling of a truth gives strength and power to an argument, whereas a lie weakens the most legitimate claim”.
I’ll leave the last words in their sensual beauty to Mr. Durrell .. :
“ Profligacy and sentimentality … killing love by taking things easy … sleeping out a chagrin … This was Alexandria, the unconsciously poetical mother-city exemplified in the names and faces which made up her history.”
“Any concentration of the will displaces life and gives it bias in motion. Reality, he believed, was always trying to copy the imagination of man, from which it derived.”
But it is the blind, merciless cruelty that I find most offensive and disgusting, particularly from such whose greatest woe in life would be in equivalence to that which is lost by the refugee to the suffering of a mild toothache!
We have traded a dreamtime that promised no more than a frugal if colourful existence for a civilisation that promises us no more than a frugal if “colourful” existence…In the horse-racing game of betting, that is nothing better than a low-priced “odds-on” to win….but it will take an expensive gamble to profit from those odds.
As a person who deplores medical intervention at the worst of times, I have to wonder what we have gained with all this “civilising”…certainly no improvement on those seven deadly sins..perhaps a bit on convenience and technology, but nothing on happiness levels and contentment..let alone on wealth and well-being…a longer life perhaps..if you can dodge the traffic as you cross the road to do that bit of shopping.
The Tank Sisters were a couple of voluminous and weighty ladies (not related in any family sense) that hung around the front bar of the Seacliff Hotel..why, was anyone’s guess..as there was little prospect of linking up with any respectable males in that establishment..at least not this side of sobriety..which, of course led to this little tale.
Overheard conversations of lurid desires between the two ladies had been reported at different times, but the reproduction of those intimate details is best left to more scurrilous publications.. sufficient to relate that the general complaint between them was that if they didn’t get some sexual satisfaction soon (they didn’t say it QUITE like that!) , “It would heal up”…whatever the “It” was.
There were rumours that Little Johnny, the SP. (starting price) bookie was running a tote on which of the ladies would anally absorb a bar-stool first…such was the broad beam of their backsides!
My old mate , Mark..you have heard me mention him in that story of ; “To the Lighthouse”..well, Mark had a Saturday morning routine he would rarely swerve from, and that involved getting to the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel just at opening time, claiming his favourite spot at the bar with an uninterrupted view of the television set to watch the days footy, open his copy of the Saturday paper at the horse racing page and settle in to a good days exercise.
This one morning, rather than being the first to the bar, he had to share his place with Tim the plumber….who, Mark noticed was sitting sombre mood, slouched, arms crossed on the bar encompassing a pint of beer…further, Tim appeared to be in some kind of trance, staring at the rising bubbles in the amber fluid.
“G’day Tim..” Mark greeted “How’s it going?”
“Huruumph!..fuckin’ shithouse!” Tim growled out the corner of his mouth.
“Why..what’s the matter?” Mark inquired as he snapped open his paper.
“Well, I got pissed last night, didn’t I ?” Tim took a long draught of the’hair of the dog’.
“So..” Mark shrugged “You get pissed every Friday night”.
“Yeah, well..” and here, Tim tossed and fiddled with the coins on the bar-mat…he finally confessed ; “..I..I woke up this morning , at about one o’clock , on the beach , with one of the Tank Sisters hanging off my dick !”
Mark lowered the paper down , turned his head slowly toward Tim, wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the seriousness of the situation.
“JeEEzus, mate!…wadidyado ?…”
At this moment of reflection, Tim gave one of those involuntary spasm jerks of the arm..making his beer spill a tad.
“ Fuck it!..waddya think I did ?! ” he angrily spat..
Now, neither Mark , nor anyone else of that front-bar clientele has ever inquired to Tim for the answer to that question….nobody wanted to know…
Steve was a local for many years down at “The Cliff”..he circulated on the periphery of the more sordid goings on between us hard-core boozers…nefarious substances was more his genre of tripping out, his delicate physique not given to drunken fights or falling flat on one’s face at any given time late in the night..Gambling also did not attract him…but he did have ambitions for the higher realms of Krishnatic enlightenment..and he tried to role-play the part.
He was a study in tragedy…because of what he had become from what he once was. In the early days, you’d see Steve sitting in a tatty, stuffed lounge chair in one of the many dives and squats he frequented down “The Bay” (Glenelg) , his acoustic guitar cradled in his lap, a wide smile on his fragile delicate featured face, and he would be engaged in an enthusiastic esoteric analysis of the meaning of life with any young lass nearby…these young women were usually itinerants passing through the squat and were themselves in search of that elusive “me”…most of them were in reality middle-class hippies escaping from stultifying pre-war generation parents who wanted to see them betrothed and off their hands and into a “good marriage” w/kids before they were 25 yrs old…So they were out for a bit of adventure armed with bright eyes, an experimental nature and a regular supply of the pill.
Steve was keen to assist in all facets of their education.
And so he cultivated this air of the “wandering minstrel I ” with a repertoire of light, airy conversation, a mix of rote-learned poetry, a permanent smile and keenly agreeable nodding head with a rising crest of wavy hair brushed so it resembled the southerly break of surf at Boomer Beach…and a regular supply of nefarious substances he was willing to share to these “soul mates”.
Steve always had that guitar handy and now and then he would pluck…not a complete tune…but bits and pieces of chords…he’d place that rolly-ciggy in between his lips, squint his eye from the trickle of smoke and concentrate on striking up a bar or two from a known song..but that’s all he’d do…a bit of a recognisable chord or a bar or two…and then he’d interrupt his “playing” to extract the cigarette and place one palm over the strings and extrapolate on the musicology of the unplayed piece.
He really was impressive in his knowledge of the deeper meanings of those songs.
He drove from squat to pub to dive to party in an old Austin A40 convertible..and it suited him..the paint was faded, the bumptuous shape contrasted against his willowy youthful form, and the fact that it was a convertible meant that he could place that guitar in a conveniently visible place in the back seat…just in case it was needed.
This lifestyle continued for some years, right up until the mid-seventies, when both grotty squats and free-wheeling hippy girls started to be hard to come by, and Steve now a tad older and showing his age, never being the most employable type of person, was reduced to couch surfing on friends benevolence and trying to chat up the girls who frequented the bars in the Seacliff Hotel..His fortune in both categories was soon exhausted and he started to take more drugs and in consequence look more seedy.
His once-brushed wavy hair grew more lank and he substituted brush for Welsh-combing..His once boyish laughter now became more a hardened shrill and that wide smile a cruel grimace..the end game was approaching.
One of the last times I ever saw him, was at the front bar of the Seacliff Hotel..he’d been living in a distant suburb so had not frequented this side of town for a while..Now here he was sitting on a bar-stool in that girly cross-legged manner he always had, the rolly in hand and the other arm pressing down on a slim leather satchel on the bar top…I said my greetings and passed the usual idle chatter with him, but the leather folder drew my attention..
“What’s in the satchel…sheet music?” I pointed.
“This..” he said in a secretive whisper “Is my evidence”. He smiled his “new smile”.
“For what?” I persisted.
“For a claim I intend to bring against my ex-landlord..” and he gently tapped the folder “It’s all recorded in here..every leaking tap or faulty door lock..I’ve got them all listed down…oh yes..he won’t get me that easy…”
And he proceeded to relate to me the ongoing conflict he had with his last landlord and why he was thrown out of the old shack he was renting…It was a sad tale of the obvious..and Steve ticked off on his grubby hand, every perceived insult, every incriminating action, every bit of “evidence” that he was sure would secure him a hefty compensated win in any court of law..of which it was only a matter of time before he would “consult his lawyer” and . . .
Steve had almost lost his mind…and that guitar he would always have by his side was nowhere to be seen…I remarked upon this anomaly later to Mark..
“Nah…he pawned it to buy some “gear”…”
“That’s bad luck, he must miss the playing.” I whimsically observed.
“What playing?…” Mark snorted “ He was lucky he could put those chords together that he did!..I was there when he first bought it from the pawn shop..he never could play a full song, it was just an image he projected for the girls..”
I nodded a disappointed face and went back to my beer..it’s never good to see anyone fall from grace..
And there was that androgynous person called by the bar clientele ; “Toothless”. She was what we called a “Floater”…one who floated in on the tide like a lone thong washed up on the shore and stayed for a length of time..Many of these wanderers came with a ready-made character study and very quickly established themselves within the working core of our little group..
Toothless wasn’t really toothless…it’s just that she had a plate that filled the gap of three missing front teeth, that she would click and clack and sometimes push out with her tongue …an unfortunate habit that gained her the nickname of “Toothless”.
She was ahead of her time for those days, as she didn’t carry a purse with her and kept her money in a wallet like a bloke..she had a comb that she would now and then pass through her page-boy hair cut and replace to a back pocket of her jeans. But she did seek out the company of males, which would contradict any presumption of ; “batting for the other team”. But hey!..who cares..
But she was a hell of a drinker!…Christ!…could she knock ‘em back…and she wasn’t above shouting her round. I sometimes wonder if she was a kind of “neuter” in the sexual stakes…a sort of “neither here nor there” kind of person..you do get them..I remember one such young chap in my experience..he never dated, and would spend more time admiring his own looks in a mirror or passing glass window then even consider anyone else.
Bruce got on quite pally with her and he even scored a date to meet at her flat for a few drinks.
“I’ve got a half dozen long-necks , a flask of Bundy, and a packet of weed!” He announced gleefully…”If that doesn’t soften her up, nothing will”…he informed us frankly.
Actually, such a volume of narcotics was a big investment for Bruce, seeing that he was on unemployment benefits at that time, so it must have eaten somewhat into his savings.
“Wish me luck!” he winked to us as he headed out the front bar doors.
You can consult the archives of the “Seacliff Hotel Sports and Social Club” for a report on that night’s events…the short of it being that Toothless drank, smoked and kicked Bruce under the table!…She not only polished off all his booze etc. , but then pulled out a supply of her own and proceeded to tuck into that! Bruce confessed that he gave it best when she played that unbeatable hand. ..and it took him a week to recover both his sobriety and manly pride from such a beating!
Toothless hung about for a while until she tired of the wimpy blokes there and moved on to greener pastures…She was last heard of ripping through the male egos of the northern beach hotels…; The Henley, The Pier and Larges Bay….and good luck to her I say!
I have “history” with that other establishment; The Esplanade Hotel…lesser so than my old “alma puttana” ; The Seacliff Hotel…it was There that I forged an alliance (however accidental) with Beelzebub!….ahh!..the “demon drink” did for all us youth in THAT den of iniquity!
But beside that, the three hotels that formed a triangle in the suburbs there near the sea nick-named ; “The Pollywaffle Triangle” as a foil to “The Iron Triangle” of Spencer Gulf ; The Esplanade, The Brighton and The Seacliff, had thriving membership to their respective “Sports and Social Clubs”….mind you, speaking for the members of the Seacliff Club (of which I was not a member ref ; Groucho Marx and ‘clubs HE would not join!)..but I was quite familiar with those said members, while I would not for a moment doubt their capacity to “socialise” with hard liquor, their capacity for sport of any kind was limited to “elbow bending” and channel surfing with the remote….and I am reminded of a Nelson Algren story (“The Captain is a card”) where the Captain of police asks a suspect why he was running a house of ill repute:
“It wasn’t a brothel, it was a sports and social club” the reprobate defended… “So who were the scantily dressed women?” the capt’ asks… ” They were the social part” the man replies… “Oh that’s good” the Capt’ says ” For a moment I thought you were going to tell me they were lady wrestlers!”
But besides that, the three hotels thought it good fellowship to join in a joint-hosting program where they would take turns, once a month, to host the other’s social club for dining at their premises. This went on for a while till a small mishap involving Errol “the drunk” and member of the Seacliff club. I heard it from Mark, a fellow imbiber at that hallowed trough….
“So how come the event was cancelled ?” I asked. “It wasn’t cancelled, it’s just the Seacliff has been banned for the near future from participating.” “Why…what’s the dirt?” “Errol!”…..Mark’s eyes lowered and his top lip curled.
Errol was one of those homosexuals of the seventies who seemed to slip under the “Aussie Poofter Radar”…; acceptable because they were amusing even though high camp!…as a matter of fact, I remember the owner of the pub in those days, a retired footballer (of course!) addressing the crowded front bar thus..;
“Listen youse blokes…I don’t want anybody picking on Errol or Stevie (Errol’s occasional partner)….They’re good blokes…not like you an’ me ..p’rhaps…but they’re alright…..ALRIGHT!?”
Truth be known, Errol and Stevie drank enough between them to lift the pub’s profit margin above “respectable” on a good night!…..Errol was in his mid-fifties w / comb-over and was a quite disreputable person regardless of ANY sexual proclivities!
I recall a moment when I was next to them along the bar and I distinctly heard Erroll addressing a petulant, Stevie :
”Jeesus..Stevie, you’re really up-tight tonight…you should try farting..it’ll loosen you up a little”.
I took the accompanying moment of silence to slip away from that location at the bar.
Anyway..this night it was the turn of the Brighton Hotel to be “Mine Host”….Errol had been tossing a few down at “the cliff” before he went to the dinner….At The Brighton, in the dining room, quite full of family diners, it being Fri’ night, Errol took a shine to the bay-marie bowl full of big, fat prawns….he gourged himself…GOURGED himself!…and drank another couple of pints…then he decided he’d go for seconds..(you just know where this is heading, don’t you?)….eyewitness accounts state that Errol unsteadily approached the bay-marie side-table…a miniature, mock wagonette in the “Oklahoma Musical” style, replete with the “fringe on top”… plate out-stretched..he stood in front of the prawn container momentarily…he swayed a tad, his eyes widened somewhat and he then delivered what has been described as a “Guinness Book of Records” quality “technicolour yawn”….all over the prawns, all over the chopped carrots and the three-bean mix and the sweet corn (off the cob)….finishing in a dead faint flop onto the lot, then sliding, slipping, unconscious to the ceramic floor dragging the entire bay-marie potpourri and waggonette down with him…one witness remarked that his inert body slipped over the tiles like a dead fish would on an oil based tray.
Of course, such action did not go un-noticed and the consequences were felt right up to the highest echelon of The Seacliff Hotel Sports and Social Club management….ie ; Col Penny and Joe Phistus!
The “night to remember” has gone down in the annals of Seacliff front-bar mythology…along with other memorable moments…of which, if you like, more later!
Getting on to “Sos” though.. He was in a different category due to his “condition”.
You had to feel for Sos…He was one of those people raised in an institution from a very young age…”Minda Home”…that’s what it was called once, but the name was changed to “Minda Incorporated”…there was a personal slur in this state by using that original name…ie; to call someone a ”minda” was to imply that they were simple-minded…Minda Home being an institution for the disabled.
The first time I “met” Sos, was when he was coming out of the double doors at the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel one night…I was crossing the esplanade with a couple of friends, headed to the pub for a beer or two. Sos had just pushed the door open rather roughly…he was a bloody big bloke, so he filled the entire door-space up..and his shadow stretched in a jagged elongation out onto the expanse of Wheatland Street. He suddenly turned and yelled back into the bar..; “ I can dream!…” he stabbed his finger into that space and repeated..: “I can dream!”….he let the door slam shut and turned down the verandah when he spotted us and he repeated the fact that he yelled into the bar..; “I can dream”…though this time not as forcefully…he then took a push-bike from where it leant against the wall and awkwardly mounting it, pushed off clumsily onto The Esplanade heading toward Brighton jetty….we could hear him repeat the “I can dream” mantra a couple more times as he rode away.
I remember I said the obvious to Mark (I think it was him) .;”I wonder what that was about?”…”Dunno” he shrugged “ But I’d hate to know of Sos’s dreams…be a pretty wild trip more likely.”..It turned out Sos was standing near some group of blokes and one had told another in the course of the conversation that ; “ You’re dreemin’ mate..you’re dreemin’ !”….but that was Sos…he could get the wrong end of the stick anytime…it was his mental health…you had to feel for him…but he never got into any trouble that I can remember, though he could have a “dark scowl” look after a few too many.
But boy!..could he eat!..talk about a trencherman!..I remember once seeing him sitting at the front bar, drinking pints of Coopers Ale…now, I’m talking about that old Coopers Ale…back in the days when it was real ale…with twigs and sediment in it , as they would say…but cloudy…then the cook brought out this huge roast-platter…you know those big oval platters they’d serve up the Christmas turkey on…one of those big platters with three complete “T-bone” steak meals on it, replete w/ roast pratties, carrots, onions and sweet-potatoes….the salad was in a side dish, it wouldn’t fit on the main plate….and about half a loaf of bread to mop up the gravy!….AND all the while he was eating, he was tossing back those pints of Coopers Ale….THEN!..after he had finished that platter, he got stuck into his own packed lunch he had there with him!….Mark once told me that Sos had challenged him to an eating contest…Mark declined the offer.
There was a reckless side to Sos…Once, when I came down the road that led from Minda Home, toward Brighton Road (Brighton Road is a main road carrying most of the traffic from the southern sea-side suburbs), a very busy road. I was on my motor-bike and had stopped at the intersection waiting for a break in the traffic…when suddenly, this “maniac” on a push-bike swept right past me straight out into Brighton Road…his bike bell tinkling like Christmas chimes and he laughing his head off….cars were going every which way!….braking and sliding all over the place….Sos (yes..it was he)…just roared with laughter and crossed lanes and peddled away like mad!….bloody crazy!
Oh yeah…that push-bike he rode off on that night I first saw him?…..it wasn’t his, he stole it as it was just there…the owner..a bit of a misery-guts who had won some money in a minor prize in the lottery came wandering wide-eyed into the bar later that same night calling out in surprise..: “ Me bike…me bike!..someone’s stole me bike!…” of course, no-one ever told him it was Sos……it looked like a heap of shit anyway!
The last time I saw Sos was about fifteen years ago, in Goodwood…he was still riding a pushbike..I called out to him, but he was heading in a different direction to me and he didn’t hear….gosh!..He was old then..I suppose he’d be “gone” by now
“Nan” had that androgenous look about her…never one to take up with any local fellah or seen to bring a man into the establishment upon her arm..though she did mix and drink with her favoured collection of men every Friday night, eagerly partaking in the raffles of chooks and meat trays on those nights…their section of the front bar would resemble a spread of a supper table with bowls of chips, snacks scattered among their boisterous conversation.
Getting on to that “Last Supper” thingo…you notice (as have many others) one of the “Apostles” looks remarkably like a woman…well, that’s because she is!…It’s no secret that whenever a group of “alpha-males” gather, there is always one token female allowed into the group. She is there as the “straight- man” for their confabulations (yes..I looked THAT up…)….for their double-entendres, when they say a sexist or vulgar comment and it’s …”present company excepted…” or…”If,’n you’ll pardon my language”….or ” in the company of a lady…” It’s the only way the Alpha M. can have “uncommitted sexual contact” and still be plug-ugly!
I remember in the coterie of the “Seacliff Hotel Sports and Social Club…inc.” there was one….they called her “Nan”….which is telling…although she was younger than most of them.
The “Seacliff Hotel Sports and Social Club!” used to have a fri’ night happy hour fund-raiser w/ meat-tray and chook raffles, called ; “The Clang-Bang” (don’t ask!!)…and the coterie would congregate at one corner of the front bar and make whoopie…Nan, (who was a hairdresser by trade) would be in the middle sitting high on a bar-stool (the “Wheatland St. Madonna”? ) sipping her Bacardi’s and…she sported an enormous (of the day) blonde Farrah-Fawcett bouffant…so you couldn’t miss her there every Friday night….
All this went well, until one fateful day, being kept back in the salon tending to a rather demanding ‘blue-rinser’ she was late getting to the clang-bang raffle draw for the chook….her regular number came up, and by the rules stated..; “no claim, no game”..although there was a degree of hiatus sympaticus for the person involved as she quite often professed her desire for “something fowl” ( bring on the guffaws!)…but all debate was silenced by one half-shiggered Jim Tuffin when he took a moment of pause in the conversation to call out slurrily..:
“Ahh, f#ck her!…if she’s not here, it’s her hard luck”…and of course, he was just voicing the feelings of the majority..so away with all sentiment and a re-draw!
Nan, did not take this news well when she arrived all flushed from the hurry and keen as mustard for the night….
“Well f#ck you too” was her parting words and she decamped to the Brighton Hotel, never to darken the doors of the Seacliff again….She was soon replaced by another blonde…they called her “Norah?..Dorah?…” anyway after that blonde woman in the TV. series of the times..: “Prisoner”.. She ended up marrying a Flats Bookie who ran the SP. (Starting Price) bookie, one ; Little Johnny in the front bar..I remember because the no-nonsense wedding reception was held there in the front bar and a Jeroboam bottle of champers was passed around for the patrons to have a swig in congratulations for the happy couple..It was a good night..
But who were the heroes in this little passage of time?…What merit was gained from the learned wisdom of hard experience?..How many of us actually collect, collate and sift through the adventures of our youth and discern what is reckless abandon of hedonistic desires and what is a lesson on life?…There was one of our little group who managed to do just these things and come out the other end of chaos and wasted work-ethic with a full quiver of arrows and a contented look on his dial…in my book; a true working-class “warrior”.
Let me present to you an image of an aged man, rather heavy-set, sitting deep in a relaxed posture in a large, plump, rounded sofa purchased “unused” from an eBay seller five years ago that was gifted to this same man sitting in it from his children on Father’s day. The sofa is large and the man is content. You can see he is content by the fact that he is looking plump and relaxed with a remote control for the CD player in one hand and a stubbie of “West End Draught” beer in the other….there is a smile on his lips not dissimilar to that which plays on the lips of the “Mona Lisa” painting currently held in The Louvre in Paris.
Mark Price is a contented man.
Wisdom, according to the ages is a thing learned not with education, but rather accrued through pragmatic experience. That experience can be one personally lived..the most instructive method..or one witnessed with the actions or situations enacted upon others. Mark was a witness and experiencer of both methods of instruction from a young age.
Mark Price was a learned man.
But Mark Price held no trade, no profession, no specialised employable skilled base or self-employment record at all. In this world of “market-based” consumerist demand, Mark Price was never “in demand”. Oh, yes..he worked..at menial labouring tasks, applied when requested or required to put shoulder to the wheel for family sustenance and need..but never was he recruited for any specialised skill or trade application. And that was precisely the way he wanted it, having learned by witness at a young age just what a consumerist society really wanted from those most willing to give their precious time of life to the wheels of industry..the consumerist society did not want your intelligence, your applied skills, your hunger for promotion or “recognition”, it wanted your blood!..pure and simple, along with the many disposable items consumed by society, the “market society” wanted to consume YOU…for body and soul has a value to be bought and sold.
Mark Price had learned this from a young age. In high school, he would see his teachers drive in everyday with their aged cars..step out in their workaday clothes..the same ones for quite a few days..holding that same brown-leather satchel…lock the car and if chance placed them near a favourite colleague, they would flirt whilst on their usual way to the staff-room. They did not see Mark, but he saw them..he did not make a habit of deliberately watching the teachers or anyone else for that matter, they were just acting out their everyday roles and Mark saw them..and in seeing them and other people and family acting out their everyday roles, he began to recognise a pattern of social behaviour.. a pattern of conversation..and a pattern, eventually, of a predicted ending.
Wisdom is a learned thing..and through his growing years, Mark was being pragmatically educated by the practicalities of his impoverished upbringing. Mark was learning.
He learned the meaning of “losing with grace” from his friend at school when the friend was chastised by the station master of Brighton railway station when the friend, who was captain of the school baseball team tried to re-position some of the hopelessly inept players in the team to different positions so as to improve their chances of winning at least one game…”You are the captain, NOT the coach..and I will decide who plays where!”…his friend was scolded. “But we can’t win a game” the friend complained “It is not all about winning”, the station master lectured, “it is also about losing with grace…one must learn that when one loses, one should show dignity.” The collector of the Sunday Catholic mass plate collections informed Mark’s friend.
Mark saw examples of “dignity in losing” amongst his family and friends as he grew.
He saw the working men down at the Seacliff Hotel drink themselves drunk on a Friday night to alleviate the pain of strained muscles and arthritic joints..he saw them make fools of themselves whilst in this drunken state..trying with their limited vocabulary to explain what was missing in their lives…when what was missing all the while was that love of self that had been beaten out of them with labouring or war so many years before..He saw the dignity in losing on the bruised face of Ruth Holmstrom around the corner of his street, after being beaten once again by her drunken husband while herself also drunk. He saw the dignity in losing in the lonely eyes of Jack Mitchell who lived out his loneliness with his old spinster sisters, the three of them sharing the same family home they all grew up together in…He saw Jack slowly drink himself to tears down at the Seacliff Hotel, always dressed in a salesmen’s suit, polished shoes and tie..the last vestige of his respectability..oh yes, Mark learned from witnessing others the dignity in losing. He saw a friend’s father drunk on the train coming home after the day’s work at the building site, drop his ticket and the smirking porter give the workman surreptitiously, a nudge with his knee as he struggled in his drunken state to bend down to pick the ticket up, sending the old bricklayer sprawling onto the floor of the carriage in front of so many laughing passengers…
Mark Price saw the lifetime of honest work be debased in the dignity of losing.
Mark Price was learning that there was something remiss with the promise told him so many years before by his school teacher that hard work and an honest forbearance was what “got a man through life with success and happiness”….Mark was learning that there was a war going on between those who HAD and those who NEEDED…it was very difficult to get what was needed from the hands of those who had. There was a lie being told that was never being voiced..a lie that was being heard but never audible, printed but never read..there were those who would be warriors and those who would remain slaves.
Mark Price saw what slavery looked like..and he didn’t like the look of it.
Mark had by now reached an age where he developed a philosophy to guide his steps through this battlefield of demands upon his time and his own needs to survive without falling into slavery..His learned experiences and the witness of others attempts at suburban security has shown him that there being so many variables that await to ambush the best laid plans of mice and men that it was almost impossible for someone like himself, with absolutely no assets available and no working skills to sell to gain material possessions without resorting to thievery or skulduggery, but seeing those who had tried and failed through no real fault of their own taught him that in most cases of making a decision one way or another, the best thing one could do was to do nothing and await fate to direct his hand. This was the most wise and fortunate philosophy someone of his position in an uncaring society could attain. In a world where “doing something” was wasted value, Mark Price succeeded most well at doing as little as possible.. so that having time to see opportunities arise while others were too busy “achieving”, he was able to place himself in the right place at the right time. Some would call it luck, but Mark knew that it was a strategy that allowed him to move about freely to pick up many rewards that a lack of time and availability denied to so many of his friends. Mark built a network of job-sources with foremen and hiring staff of different industries so that he could always find casual employment in a menial job with local councils or a building project..he never took a job that demanded higher responsibility..Mark had no interest in contributing to the good or welfare of a society that respected only profit and materialism..he only had interest in maintaining his and his own family’s needs, for the rest, they could go to hell!
Mark learned the price and value of many things..He knew what was most valuable to himself..; Time…”You can always make money but you cannot remake time.” He would say.
Fortune smiled upon Mark in the companionship of marriage. It favoured him that his future wife knew of his behaviours before she even started going out with him. Mandy frequented the Seacliff Hotel regularly and was able to notice Mark’s more exuberant behaviour..she didn’t mind his behaviour and she accepted his invitation to accompany him. Mark was wary of marriage..he had witnessed close friends, tradesmen in the building industry marry and build the family home…several family homes in fact, for disgruntled women…unhappy wives who resented even the name “wife”, who resented the idea of being a companion to a male..who resented having to defer to the husband to make, repair and structure a home for their benefit. A society that profited from the separation of the sexes MORE than the unity of the sexes would promote dissention between men and women, even in the case where both parties were of the same working class, the same level of struggle, the same struggle to improve their and their children’s lives…anger, dissent, distrust…these were the tools of divide and rule in the world of middle-class profiteering..TWO adults needing double the housing, furniture, whitegoods and cars made for a more profitable bottom-line…divide and rule it will be, even if both parents be impoverished and the children denied…A happy wife is a happy life was the theory that guided many men…now it made many men despair of ever attaining such.
Mark had no intention to build many houses..he only wanted one home and fortune had placed Mandy inside his realm of satisfaction..they both were content with what they had.
And what they had improved as the years went by and children graced their table. Five healthy children grew by Mark’s table and garden shed, Five healthy children grew and did in turn find partners of their own and produced grandchildren that grew by Mark’s table and garden shed..Now, secure with an aged pension, Mark could look back on a life well managed, on fortune envious of nothing and no-one, for here with the evidence of so many arrows in his quiver, could the suburban warrior arm himself against a future that would be denied some of the more industrious, worked to the bone for little gain save the bitter gall of seeing their hard-earned possessions snatched away from them when old and care-worn..to be left to rot in the ironically named “aged care” facility…to be forgotten by those children that a quarrelling world of men versus women made resentful of the feeling of being abandoned when the administration of divorce forced them to take sides. No, this was not the fate of Mark and Mandy, laugh if you will of their seemingly comical circumstance that a more “sophisticated” person might spurn, but here they were and deny them you cannot, surrounded at every celebratory event by generations of caring children and grandchildren, Mark would revel in idle appreciation of fuss and touch of his tribe. The noise of laughter and delight a song of assurance for the continuing health of the family.
Mark realised the blessings of good fortune and he worshipped at fortune’s altar with suitable penance.. for deep in his soul and spirit, he was sincerely grateful…Mark had the Pagan’s respect for chance.
It was Christmas day, the entire family with grandchildren..all ten grandchildren..were in the house making merry and preparing the Christmas dinner. Mark had one grandchild on his left knee as he sat deep in the club lounge chair given to him on Father’s Day by his children five years before. He sat in a contented state with a stubbie of beer in one hand and the remote for the CD player in the other..under his instructions, his grandchild that sat on his left knee had just inserted a CD of Mark’s choosing into the player and awaited Mark to select the track and press the play-button…which with great satisfaction he now did and turning up the sound so the music bellowed out over the cacophony of Christmas noise, Mark smiled his “Mona Lisa” smile and wallowed in the pure saturation of Jimi Hendrix’s “All along the Watchtower”…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLV4_xaYynY
Wisdom is a thing learned not with education, but rather accrued through pragmatic experience. That experience can be one personally lived..the most instructive method..or one witnessed with the actions or situations enacted upon others. Mark was a witness and experiencer of both methods of instruction from a young age. Mark Price was now a wise man.
That was it, the “Decree Nisi” had come through, the “estate” divided down the middle…but the ex got the Family Ford, the big Blackwood dining table, most of the kitchen utensils and the family dog….she could have the dog..a hairy, aggressive Jack Russell bitch…she could have the dog!
A full year and a bit had already passed since that final separation, and now the divorce was finalised..I hadn’t even seen the ex for more than six months..I didn’t want to…the memory of so many trying years was enough to turn me away from ever wanting to see her again!
I retained the house as it was central to the final straw of that marriage..Meg didn’t like the house…or the postcode..both were too “low brow” for her..but then I suppose my enrolling in a mature entry course at the university to study Roman History/ Classics didn’t endear me to HER wishes of continually attending ad-infinitum many New Age Workshops run by this Eastern suburbs Guru tosser that while being rather vague about just WHAT was her central philosophy, knew for certain the value of modern currency!
But anyway, I kept the house…or rather, the bank let me stay in the house for the duration as long as I kept up repayments…I was having trouble studying at the university AND keeping up with the mortgage…There was only one thing to do…choose between Classical Studies and the mortgage…I put the house on the market.
This involved the necessity of preparing the property for the inevitable open inspections..now, I am not an expert on the subject of property desirability, but I do know that a vase of pretty flowers always makes the most drear room look so much brighter..and since it is an old adage that ; “A house without a woman is like a lantern without light”..flowers it would be.
I told you that the family car went with the missus, so I was reduced to Shank’s Pony for the short trips to the shops and the bus for the trip to the University..now it happened that right next door to that bus stop was a house that had in its front yard the most brilliant display of sweet peas I had ever seen..so bright!..so brilliant!…and totally overflowing the trellises and beds it was displayed in…I had to have some! I had seen the incumbent of that house pull into her driveway several times as I waited for the bus..and we did exchange smiles at different times..ok..I’m not a sorry looking character, I have kept my shape and condition from those many years as a carpenter in the building trade..and the lady in question was quite a looker herself..; rich, full, dark hair past her shoulder, full woman’s body, Italian, I thought..around fortyish..soft breasted with those Italian hips that would fill out with ageing…but for now SO rounded and full…a delight!…I had never seen a male attached to either the woman or the property.
So it was with some anticipated pleasure that I knocked on the front door to ask if I could please have some of her gorgeous sweet-peas to grace the front rooms of my house.
I was not disappointed.
Maria-Rosa ( for that was her name I was to learn) opened the door a little and instantly “looked me up and down”..having satisfied herself that I was relatively harmless and recognising me from my standing at the bus-stop, she smiled and with a sensuous wry tone said..
“Hello..fancy seeing you here…let me guess..you’ve missed your bus and you are asking for a lift to town?”…and she broadened her smile with the tip of her tongue protruding cheekily between her teeth. I gave a bit of a giggle at the instant humour.
“A lift to the university would be good, but no..not now…I have come to ask if I can have a bouquet of those lovely sweet-peas you grow in your front yard to put into my front room..”
“Entertaining, are we?” Maria-Rosa inquired.
“No…selling up.” I gave my truncated reason.
“Oh…” Maria-Rosa’s face dropped a little..”..that’s a shame, I was beginning to set my clocks to your standing there at the bus stop”….The lady had a sense of humour that I found much to my liking..but I was here “on business”…
And those multi-hued flowers did wonders to brighten the place.for Maria-Rosa was more than generous and clipped off enough stems with her secateurs and gloved hands to let me place a vase full in both the lounge and the kitchen..not only once, but several times over the period of ‘open display’ times…
My house was on the edge of a park and a path wound past my front fence across the expanse of parkland..I was not far from Maria-Rosa’s house and sometimes she would make her way across the park to the delicatessen over the other side..One day as I was turning over the soil under the hollyhocks, Maria-Rosa leant on the fence…
“I thought you didn’t have any flowers?…these look nice”. And she stroked the hollyhock stem.
“Yes..they are nice, but better here in the garden as a show than inside..Your sweet-peas are so bright and delightful..thank you very much.”
“Well, perhaps you can thank me by inviting me in for an afternoon coffee?” Maria-Rosa smiled..and of course, it seemed like a good idea to myself also..We sat at the kitchen table with our instant coffees and Maria-Rosa had a good squizz around at my kitchen, which I thought was neat and tidy..ready for inspection.
“Your kitchen smells funny”. She commented, with her nose wrinkled.
“Oh..” I was surprised and sniffed the air several times.
“I don’t mean it stinks” she explained “I mean it smells stale and…uncooked in”..
“Yes, well..I have been avoiding cooking here as I don’t want to dirty the place up before the inspection”.
“How many inspections do you have?”
“Once a week.” I replied.
“So what have you been eating?” Maria-Rosa inquired..I had to drop my eyes a tad shamefacedly at her question and hesitatingly replied..
“Maccas..among other things”…….Well…the look she gave me!..she then trulled her fingers on the table-top and looked at me disgustingly..
“Why cannot you men look after yourselves?…” she leant toward me “Look, I’ll do you a favour just this once and invite you over to my place for dinner tonight…the kids will be with their father for the weekend and I will cook you up a good pasta meal..you’re looking thin and underfed…” She stood to leave..”bring some wine..” she commanded, then raised her eyebrows in mocking inquiry and asked ; ”Shall I wash my cup for you too?”…and she smiled that beautiful smile she has and touched the side of my face affectionately with her hand..”Addio until this evening…six o’clock sharp!..and hey..”and she waved her finger “no funny business.”
At precisely the appointed time, I knocked on Maria-Rosa’s front door…there was a pause of several seconds, then a shout from inside.
“ ‘Round the back!”…
Upon that exacting instruction, I looked for the gate to the back yard and made for it unhesitatingly. Upon entering Maria-Rosa’s back yard, I was instantly overwhelmed by the sight of a profusion of home-grown vegetables..all that could be named of the season of local fruit and veggie shop produce was growing in that back yard..
There were thick, dark fronds of cavollo nero, still heavily laden broad bean plants looking toward the end of their season leaning over rows of lettuce interspersed with herbs of basil, coriander and several other unrecognisable condiments..New, half grown tomato plants hovered under halos of bamboo bracing stands ready to stake-tie the growing stems..Be-headed artichokes towered next to a side fence of wooden palings, a well mulched bed of asparagus stems pushing their inquisitive phallus skyward carefully kept separate from other plantings over the eastern side of a garden path, while fresh plantings of what must be the Summer vegetables filled the remaining area of a carefully tended garden…I was impressed..and I instantly recalled and recoiled from a disparaging comment made by an Australian teen I knew back many years ago who wrinkled her nose at the suggestion of growing one’s own vegetables..
“Oh no!…only wogs grow their own vegetables!”
“Hello!..” I called toward the house..Maria-Rosa’s head poked out through some sliding doors.
“C’mon in.” she gesticulated with her head “I’m here in the kitchen..”
I entered through those sliding doors into a world of wild, sensuous aromas, heavy with voluminous smells of heated olive oil, garlic, onions and tomato sauces…a steaming stainless steel pot of water stood slowly on the boil awaiting it’s burden of apparent pasta that I could see lying nearby on a cutting board.
But this wasn’t your ordinary spaghetti pasta that you can buy for a couple of dollars down the supermarket…these were obviously the home-made job…thick as and with what looked like a hollow centre…
I put the bottle of chianti (I had presumed on her nationality in a rather gauche way, I admit) on the side bench of the kitchen and went to gaze at the pasta there. Maria-Rosa picked up the Chianti bottle, turned it around and touched the reedy-husks type wrapping on the body of the bottle..she didn’t exactly wince at the pastiche of the product, but I could sense the scorn!…
“This is too good for now, let’s save it for another occasion…” and she placed it on a high shelf..”here, I have a bottle already opened…it is home-made by Franco, an Italian friend I know…he has really perfected his style…” and she poured some dark, rich wine into an ordinary drinking glass with fluted sides..” Salute!” she cried and we chinked glasses…I could see that Maria-Rosa was a no-nonsense woman…and as a recently semi-retired carpenter tradesman, I was very impressed with her “workmanlike” manner..
“What sort of pasta is that?” I asked.
“ It is Calabrian fusilli ai ferri..Maria-Rosa replied..what we in Australia would call “knitting- needle fusilli” it isn’t the same as those short corkscrews of dried pasta that most manufacturers produce. These are spaghetti noodles with a hole in the middle, created by rolling and stretching the dough around a very thin dowel…or perhaps a knitting needle..I use the long piece of a metal clothes hanger that a friend cut for me”.
“And you make it yourself?” I stupidly remarked..Maria-Rosa paused in her action of placing an onion into a small muslin bag and frowned at me…
“Of course I do…I have to..no-one else is going to do it for me.” And she relented her frown and turned it instantly into a broad smile to me..”Tonight I am making it for you”.
“Oh..I wouldn’t expect you to go to that much trouble for me.” I protested.
“But I am not doing it JUST for you…I am doing it for US both!”…that smile again..”If I am going to cook, I am going to enjoy WHAT I am cooking…eh?” and she pointed to a chair at the end of the kitchen table she was working on and upon my seating pushed a shallow plate of antipasti toward me..” Here nibble on these while I prepare the dinner.”
My word!…upon that large, shallow dish were several delicious looking helpings of home prepared hors d’oeuvres…there were artichoke hearts in olive oil, small bocconcini balls, some flans of chargrilled capsicum also in olive oil, broadbeans uncooked but prepared heavens knows how but tasting so wonderful!..there were olives, both green and black..small cuts of proscuito, rolled around small asparagus pieces and several other un-nameable treats that just washed my mouth with saucy flavour and thrilled the senses with promise of delight..there were slices of ciabatta bread to soak up the flavours of the olive oil and I was left wondering if this is the appertiser, what foundation of paradise would the main course be!
“don’t fill up on the hors d’oeuvres” Maria cautioned..content that I was gorging on her creations “leave a little space for the pasta”.
“But this is so beautiful!” I exclaimed..
“No…you must not say “beautiful”..in Italian, we do not use that word to describe food..that word is used to describe a beautiful object or person…like a woman…for food we use the word ; “buono”..: “good”…for food is good..good food is good for you..it is just that ..good.”
“Well then THIS food is very “buono”!”and I smiled to Maria…we smiled to each other. Maria-Rosa leant close to me and plucked an olive from the dish and slid…yes..that is the best description of her action..she slid that olive between her soft, red lips and while looking into my eyes closely, slowly masticated the olive then let the pip drop from between her lips onto a side dish…I did note that gesture most carefully.. after all, I convinced myself..I’m not a slouch.
“But tell me why you put in such work just to give a meal to a neighbour as myself?” I was indeed intrigued at the obvious spread of preparation in front of me, for while I appreciated the effort, I was quite amazed that Maria would make such an effort just for me.
I sat there in my chair for an extended silence from both of us after I had asked that question…Maria-Rosa’s face displayed little emotion and she kept at the preparation of the meal..she did turn to me after a short time and just looked to me and gave me one of those elusive smiles that women are so good at…what did it mean?…that sort of smile..
Maria-Rosa then took a medium sized red onion and placed it into a small muslin bag with a tie-string and placing it on a stout chopping board, took up a wooden meat-tenderiser mallet, smashed down on the onion in the bag several times with some force…She then opened the bag, extracted what looked like the skin and husk of the onion and tippled out the now shredded pieces of that onion…she had “cut” the onion without using a knife!…I had to admit I was amazed…I had never seen such a thing before.
“Why didn’t you just use a knife?” I asked…
Maria-Rosa again gave me that elusive lift of her lips…then she leaned upon her hands upon the table and explained the whole business of the meal and her and me.
“Do you know that in Italy..in Calabria where my grandmother came from..pasta is called the meal of love..because everybody loves pasta…everybody..but it has another connection where my people come from..My Nonna told us about the men of the village there on the coast whose working life was as fishermen…They would leave their homes and go to sea on the trawlers for months at a time…it depended on the catch as to how long they would be gone…plenty of fish meant a short season…less fish, longer out at sea…there was no point returning with an empty hold..the village depended upon those fishermen for both food and pay.”
Maria-Rosa then became busy with her hands breaking up and stripping the vegetables with her fingers while she spoke..never once did she pick up a knife to cut the food..even with the soppressa salami, and the cheese, she broke a large piece off and crumbled it in her fingers..all the sauce preparation and condiments were measured and done with only her fingers..
“Turns were taken by the old people to watch from the cliffs to see if the boats were returning..and when the cry went up that the boats were seen coming over the seas, great preparation was made by the women to welcome their husbands and sons home..and the food that was most prepared was pasta…and my Nonna always cooked the one meal to welcome my grandfather home..for as my Nonna said of those times and I suspect it is still relevant for these times..perhaps even now to yourself..When men are away from the home and their families for such a long time, living in cramped and wild conditions..catching, killing, gutting their kills, blood and guts and waste all around..not that clean or conducive to love and affection..living among only men..they go back to a wild state and become detatched from the needs and comforts of home life..they become brutal..as is their nature..so my Nonna..and the other women in the village welcome their men back into the life of home and family.
And it was this meal of fusilli ai ferri..that re-introduced her husband to the joys and comforts of home..and she cooked it with the touch of love…that is, she would not use a steel blade to cut the ingredients, as the taste and smell of steel was so familiar to those fishermen with all the fish they would cut and clean, they were sick of even the sight of it…and she showed me one day with a piece of chicken..she tore off a piece with her fingers and fed it to the cat, who gulped it down..she then cut a piece off with a knife and offered it to the same cat…and the cat smelt it and refused it as she could smell the steel..so to prepare the food with just your fingers, was to do it as an act of love..So also tonight, I prepare this meal for us with my fingers as I am making it for the love of good company..for is it not good and proper that a woman should enjoy the company of a man as much as the man for a woman?”…and Maria-Rosa smiled again that beguiling smile.. Maria-Rosa had already prepared the ingredients for the sauce and was adding such to a concoction of scented delight would make an alchemist writhe in ecstasy!
“You see so many food dishes served up that look very photographic and tasty, but in so many of those well-presented meals there is the one important ingredient missing that makes all the flavours an eating delight..and that is love..one cooks for those one loves with love..” and she then placed her index finger to her lips and licked the silken sheen of olive oil off it..she saw me look at her in this action and paused with her finger still between her lips..then spoke..”There”..she softly said.. “you will get to taste a modicum of me with each bite, but I am only to be satisfied with just gazing at you..”…again she teased me with her cheeky eyes.
I suddenly realised Maria-Rosa’s objective for inviting me to share this meal with her..this sultry woman, this gourmand of gorgeous sensuality was using the food, the preparation of , cooking, taste, smell and feeding to me as a vehicle of seduction….this Italian beauty was seducing ME with the taste and language of cooking..between the rich odours of the food, the appertisers, the sights, colours and the second helping of that rich, fruity wine, I couldn’t think of a better way to be seduced..”Press on!” I subconsciously concurred..and it was in this soporific state that I first noticed the music in the background…a soft but rhythmic beat along with a kind of soft wailing chant by some women..
“What is that music?” I asked Maria-Rosa.
“The Tarantella…a cultural thing of the region..the music accompanies the dance of the Tarantella..” and while Maria-Rosa tended a shallow pan of hot oil, she explained to me “The Tarantella is an excuse for women of the village to display their young bodies to potential men of the village…their suitors…the theory is that having been bitten by a Tarantula spider, the only way to rid oneself of the poison, was to dance in a voluptuous frenzy till in a state of delirium to drive out the evil poison..”..Maria tippled the onion into the pan and stirred the sizzling pieces…”Of course, in the process of dancing, the young lady would contort her body to show all her best curves and attractions to the man, particularly to her chosen man, watching…perhaps to even make him jealous of the other men seeing her body and so drive him to a frenzy of want of her…which, of course, he couldn’t have unless he wed the lass”…Maria-Rosa then threw in some more ingredients into the pan…I could see small pieces of the sopressa and the pancetta and along with these she tippled in a measure of whisky..she let these cook for a while to, as she explained, let the alcohol evaporate..when the meats were crisp, she added some peeled tomatoes and a rich paste-like tomato sauce she had preserved from the last season’s crop..Just watching the dexterous actions she was using to control the level and sight of those cooking ingredients was mesmerising…add to this the warmth of the wine and the soft-heavy drumming of the music of the Tarantella, I could feel myself being lured into a sensation of embracing delight.
To the simmering pot of boiling water, Maria-Rosa added the pasta..and from that deed, instantly switched back to the sauce and added some fresh porcini mushrooms that she had soaking in water..she stirred this sauce and waited for the pasta to cook..
I took this moment to examine this womanly delight here with me..and I couldn’t help but compare those dancers of the Tarantella to the svelte Italian body of Maria-Rosa..for I could now see she had prepared herself just as diligently as she had the ingredients for this meal..her tights sculptured her legs a curvaceous delight from the delicate, leather sandals that graced her slender feet to the firm, muscular thighs that disappeared under a light cotton shirt with a tail that modestly covered a full bottom and sweeping hips just made to be held in tight embrace…the shirt was buttoned just high enough to let the décolletage reveal the full, soft volume of her breasts and cleavage did draw my eye to that most inviting of a woman’s treasures..her long hair falling around and sometimes into that deep attraction between her bosoms…and I have to admit it was a difficult job to drag my gaze away when it seemed Maria-Rosa was doing her level best to display those choice mammaries to me.
Several times during this period of concentration on the cooking of the meal, we would top up our glasses of the rich wine and smile affectionately to each other..I could see where the evening was heading.
After the pasta was cooked “al dente” Maria-Rosa drained it and added it to the sauce..she mixed it in well and added basil and diced provolone…she let the dish rest to melt the provolone..then divided it so I had the greater measure…which she delighted in letting me see the favour to myself..and to the separate dishes, she then added the grated pecorino with a sprig of basil and placed that sumptuous feast in front of me…the scents that wafted from the meal into my nostrils was both sensational and sensual..
Maria-Rosa marked well my reaction and then whispered in a most instructive manner..
I confess to filling myself with that meal and then accompanied the taste with another glass of Franco’s wonderful fruity wine..I was totally consumed by the entire process of what had passed since first arriving at the kitchen of Maria-Rosa..and whatever her intent for this evening, I was fully prepared to satisfy her every demand and that demand was soon to transpire, for once the meal had been fully consumed, the residue sauce scooped up with spoon and finger from my plate and I fell back into my chair with that glass of vino in a most, well almost satiated appetite, I could see Maria-Rosa smile again that ever beguiling smile to me so that it lingered so sensuously on her lips for such a long moment that I could be certain she had a finale up her sleeve
And then it came just as the street lights turned on and one could become aware that the noises of the suburb had ebbed and mellowed so that a kind of peace descended over the penumbra of light.
Maria-Rosa looked to me with the hunger of a loving woman in her eyes, tossed down the last of the wine in her glass, placed it upon the table and leaned over to me to kiss me on the lips and to whisper into my ear..
But I hope I have not given the impression that the only intellectual activity in the front bar of the Seacliff Hotel was “bending the elbow”…and getting inebriated?….I would like to assert that, like many front bars dotted about this great country, a good deal of instructive and philosophical comment was conducted by the plebian clientele on any given night of the week in that establishment…I would like to assert that..I really would….why, it would not surprise me in the least that the great discovery of the healing mould from which Florey extracted penicillin was not in a Petri-dish in his sterile laboratory, but rather scraped from the underside of a drinks-coaster surreptitiously slipped into his hip pocket by the very same Florey from down the local hostelry.
The front-bar of “The Cliff” had it’s own level of curious and investigative clientele right there on the spot…amazing revelation was not a stranger to that den of iniquity…there were things….strange things.. For instance, there was the night of Mick’s discovery of anti-gravity. It happened like this..:
Mick, in the middle of a discussion group deeply debating the case of whether the Morris Minor 850. was the better than the Datsun 120Y. in both acceleration and cornering capability, suddenly felt the urge for “ablution”, excused himself with a polite “gotta have a leak” and made for the men’s toilet there just behind them…taking his pint-glass of beer with him because he was too lazy to place it on the busy bar, he alone, fronted the porcelain…the old ceramic urinal was in the corner, and as every male knows, you have to go to the least exposure risk place while “shaking hands with your first love”…there, while doing his business, Mick leaned with his pint glass held pressed into the corner of the walls..the plaster there being softened from years of warmth and steamy urinic moisture had become somewhat softer, so when Mick leaned his weight against the pint-glass pressed into the corner the plaster “gave” a tad so that the glass became “wedged” into the corner..at least, that is what a “novice” like myself would have concluded..A curious and investigative mind such as Mick’s concluded differently. When he zipped up and pulled away from the urinal and the wall, the glass stayed there, suspended, unaided by anything visible to the naked eye…almost like anti-gravity!….Now, Mick was already given to occult-like sympathies..”the paranormal” was normal to Mick…to inform that he once gaily announced to his mate ; Mark that when he and Tracey have a child they will call HIM “Andromeda”..well?
“Have a look at this!” Mick announced loudly from the door of the men’s toilet to the surprised audience there..and indeed, there was hesitation…then as the imagined horror faded and curiosity took over the crowd surged toward the doorway…there being room only for a small number to enter, the crowding was extreme, the interest also…the general hubbub of opinion on “what was the power?” suspending the pint-glass of beer mid-wall, mid-air as the case may be was discussed…many worthy theories of the paranormal were put forward and rejected with equal intelligence…until, in a moments pause in the hubbub, the high, falsetto voice of Jeff Otto sang above the crowd…
There was a gasp of wonder at the obvious simplistic truth of this explanation that solved the puzzle and the crowd, in accepting the obvious resolution quickly drifted back to their previous conversations at the bar.
And throughout the rest of the night, in those curious hushes that every now and then descend upon crowd chatter, Jeff Otto’s attractive falsetto could be heard to pronounce in a now more confident assertion to a lesser enthralled Jasper, sitting cross-legged at the bar…
“Yep!…that’s what it was…static electricity..simple, when you think on it !”
Jasper was a “Balt’ ”..ie; he was of those states centered around the Baltic Sea..perhaps he could have been Estonian…he was a tall ponderous sort of chap…with a long serious gaze, with one of those what are called “lantern jawed” faces. He always spoke in a slow , carefully chosen word way..I don’t wonder many philosophers came from the Baltic States..Jasper appeared to put a lot of thought into what he said before he said it…but then he didn’t ever say much of great import.
“You gotta watch those ‘Balts’ “ Jack Mitchell warned..’Ooo..they’re trouble..those bloody Balts”.
Jasper always wore shorts in the summer..not short shorts like a footballer, but loose baggy ones to the knee. He would sit at the bar pint in hand with legs crossed in a peculiar effeminate way..that is; with his legs entwined like women do…and he would stare incessantly at one person or spot before delivering some profound statement.
“Michael”..he announced out of the blue one day “Michael..would you tell your girlfriend to stop staring at my legs…I know I haff good, manly legs…but could she please not to stare at them so ?”
Of course , Mick was astonished and choked on his beer…Tracey, Mick’s girlfriend, was outraged and put on one hell of a show…Jasper was nonplussed by the whole affair and just commenced to roll a cigarette with his slow ponderous methodology.
Jasper had huge hands…big fingers more suited to blacksmithing or a farrier for draught horses than what he did do…but no-one knew quite what that was as he was an awful liar. Jasper’s toil at rolling a cigarette was something to watch..he was so clumsy with those big hands that it was quite a chore that exasperated him at times.
One day a “airy” young lady sitting next to him at the bar took out of her dilly-bag one of those automatic cigarette rollers where you place the paper then the tobacco, then lift or flip the lid and a perfectly formed “rolly” appears to greet you. Jasper, ciggy-paper stuck to his bottom lip watched this magic with deep concentration, his big paw all the while shoved deep into the pouch of tobacco…as he watched, the ciggy-paper fluttered with his breath on his lip…he detached it and addressed the young lady.
“That is a cleffer machine…a vonderful machine …where did you obtain it?” he asked in his slow deep voice.
“Well I didn’t steal it if that’s what you mean?’ The young woman replied.
“ I vas not accusing you, madam…you look like a honest young lady..an honest AND attractive young lady…perhaps later I would like to get to know you in a more familiar way..I like you..and I like your machine..I am asking where you haff purchased it”…
The following week, Jasper was seen to have one of those machines ..it would sit at his elbow on the bar next to his pouch of “Drum” tobacco…Jasper now had a contented look on his face, and he would gladly demonstrate the marvels of that machine to anyone who asked..and many would take advantage of his hospitality of the proffered resulting cigarette until he woke up to the fact that he was being taken for a ride…philosophers are like that, they learn fast!
Jasper disappeared out of our lives as quickly as he appeared..Late one night he asked Mick for a lift home on the back of his 1000cc. Suzuki motor-cycle…Mick delighted in putting the fear of god in anyone silly enough to ride pillion with him..Jasper had no sooner settled himself on the trembling machine and informed Mick to drive carefully as he, Jasper, was…and that was the last we heard of Jasper as Mick took off full-throttle and it was impossible to tell if it was the roar of the motor, the squeal of the tyre or the Joe. E. Brown howl of despair from Jasper as they disappeared down Yakka Road toward Sth. Brighton.
But he never came back.
It’s funny, you know…; the image of adults one has as a child, compared to the actual reality known by the adults of the time around you. Mrs. Hancock used to cut our hair when we were children…the four of us ; from the oldest brother (about 10 yrs) , down incl’ to my sister, then myself (the youngest about five yrs). We would be marched down across the railway-line by the eldest (“hup-two three four”), each clutching a bob (one shilling) in our sweaty little hands to get that one generic haircut for which Mrs. Hancock was infamous..: “The Baseoh”…about once every couple of months, it seemed, most of the kids in the district would sport a Mrs. Hancock “special”…and we’d be lined up on the railway station going to school, looking like a lot of miniature “Moes” (as in The Three Stooges!) waiting for the train….girls incl’, you know!..I wonder that some social science person didn’t do a study on ; “Demographic by haircut” kind of thing for those days?..there must have been a “Mrs. Hancock” in every suburb…truth be known, I believe most barbers..like most architects, have one basic style..and everything else is a derivative there-off.
The image I had of Mrs. Hancock as a child was of this frumpy old lady, dressed in ‘lop-sided’ cardigan and dress, living in this dreary old fibro house, with creepy shadows and dull lighting…she would sit us in an old stuffed, armless chair next to one of those “side tables” of dark timber and curved legs and armed with scissors, a smelly fag and the endless glass of water, she would attack our tangled locks with all the tactics of “Tojo in a Zero” coming out of the sun!….the fag-end would send an endless swirl of smoke past her wincing eye…she’d take a gulp of water, vice-clasp our head unceremoniously with her left hand and her right hand would start with the then continuous…”snipsnipsnipsnip…snipping” as she dove into the job, to come out the other side in an undisturbed arc, the arm ascending upward to hover above our heads somewhere “sit still child!”..mechanically, continuously, snipsnipsnipsnip snipping !….one sat in a horror of anticipation for the next “strafing” (and you know, I can’t stand being “dive-bombed” by mozzies to this day…I don’t mind so much the bite…it’s the hovering, whirring, buzzing that drives me crazy!). Her house was the last one on that side of the road..behind the train station…I think it was called “Cygnet Terrace” before it was pushed through and became “The Cove Road”, thereby cutting off the notorious Emma St. Crossing that cost the lives of a young couple whose car was hit by the train coming out of the blind cutting there at the crossing…a cold wind would cut down through the barren gullies there in winter.
But it wasn’t till years later, when I first started going to the pub as an older youth, that I realized that the “glass of water” always at her beck, was gin and tonic…..Yes, poor old Mrs. Hancock was a gin-soak….and , going by her familiarity with her fellows in the front bar of The Seacliff Hotel ; an old hand at the game. I suppose that is why her front parlour where she “scalped “ us kids always had the curtains drawn…but , you know…my mother would have heard of that..but then again, many in that “fringe district” where we lived were escapees from reality….my old man bought there because it was cheap land…not now though!….It was at the end of the railway line…hang on, that’s not quite true…there was one more stop..”Hallett Cove”…but that place only got two or three trains a day then and it was the refuge of bankrupts, hermits and criminals….I got to meet quite a few in later years, so can confirm the statement!
Back to the mistaken image of adults one has as a child…I remember also being taken into the front-bar of the Brighton Hotel by my dad as a very young boy..he having a beer and me a raspberry..and this man bending down to me and saying in a beery voice..” hello little fellah..what’s your name…eh? eh?” and I got real scared, but my dad was just smiling…I couldn’t then understand why he didn’t chase the ugly man away!…poor old bastard was just another drunk saying hello to a kid……but then..I was a sensitive child!………………………….still am!
Henry Lawson once said the if you were drunk more than twice a week, you were never sober…using that as a premise, I can confidentially state that many of us boomers in the seventies were rarely sober!
The story goes that Jim, on visiting the dentist to have his mouth-full of rotten teeth attended to, promptly told the dentist they would all have to come out…
“I’ll be the judge of that!” the dentist hastily replied. Then asked him to open up….”Good lord!..They’ll have to come out!”..and Jim smiled..not for the fact that he was going to lose all his teeth, but, you see, Jim was right again!…he regaled us with this knowledge that same night at “The Cliff” (The Seacliff Hotel)..Jim was a specialist at “regaling” people with his stories, for that’s what they were, fictions of a very fertile imagination. But getting back to his teeth for a moment. It was a good job he attended to them when he did, he was fast losing friends from the mere sight of that “cavern of broken and blackened stalactites” as someone (I forget who) once said…..”It’s enough to put yer off yer finking” someone else (I forget whom ) remarked…(maybe it was Jeff Otto..it sounds like him!).
Jim was of dark-haired medium height, but he looked taller than he was through being rather lanky…he was one of those blokes who could hold their pint of beer and cigarette in the one hand while gesticulating a point with the other…he was always there on the fringe of a discussion, willing to make his contribution whenever he could…not by butting in, but by picking the right moment…for good yarn-spinning demands a damn good sense of timing…it is in using the accoutrements around one as props..like long-drawing on a fag, or pausing to lick the paper when rolling a cigarette, or polishing off the dregs of a beer and calling to Noela for a refill…it gives the listener pause enough to “get ahead” in their minds , of the story-teller….but the story-teller is really always in control…..Jim was a natural.
However, as much as I can make out, Jim’s career as the local bullshit artist began when he was employed with the district council on an unemployment relief scheme. Jim and his mate ; Mark, with whom Jim used to board, were both working up near the old golf course, widening the road. A lot of the local riff-raff of the community were employed on these schemes and this project was no exception. There were a few members of the notorious “Barbarians” motorcycle gang working the same stretch of road as Jim and Mark. These “youths” were known to possess a rather cruel streak within their ugly facades of greasy , unwashed grottyness….otherwise they were rather nice chaps!
One day at smoko, Jim decided to endear himself to the nearest “Barb’” with an example of his fiction…we’ll take up the thread at the ending…
“…well, there I was..broken down truck, no food, no water, no road out…the middle of the desert…the middle of summer….I knew I was in a fix, so I started walking south..(a drag on his cigarette..slow expel of smoke)..I walked for three days, no food, no water..on the third day I was standing under a gum tree resting..when suddenly an aborigine appeared before me…I thought I was hallucinating, I don’t know where he came from as there was nothing but desert all around..but there he was…a full-blood..dark as a pint of stout and armed with spears and things..(pause for meaningful reflection and another drag)..I couldn’t speak his dialect and he couldn’t speak mine…he gave me a drink and some chewy-meat stuff..then we sat down cross-legged in the red sand and he drew some wriggly lines with his fingers which I took to mean water..and he turned his head to the sunset and pointed…he then made three strokes in the sand….and sure enough, I walked three days in that direction and came across water.”
All through this extraordinary tale , the gruesome bikie was suitably impressed with Jim’s courage in the face of such odds and his calm demeanour in the retelling of the adventure, so that with every pause , he would punctuate the story with ; “yeah!”, or ; ”really!?” and even a proud ; “bloody hell!” so that Jim returned to work a hero in one man’s eyes..that is until the bikie repeated the yarn (replete with amazed interjections) to Mark.
“Oh, he was just bullshitting to you…he’s never been further north than Wheatland Street !” ( the street leading to the Seacliff Hotel).
“ Yeah!!..” the bikie raged..” I’ll kill the bastard!!”..it took Mark another half hour to calm the man down. Mark frequently had to follow behind to undo the damage that Jim innocently wrought. For however outlandish were his stories, he never meant any harm by them, They were as I said ..figment of a very fertile imagination.
But there was method to Jim’s madness. He would mostly relate these Munchausenish adventures to someone of influence …and as Jim spent a good deal of time in the clutches of poverty…and the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel, that “influence” usually centered around the financial capacity to purchase more beer, or as in the case just mentioned, a toke on a joint or two of “Barbarian” weed!
To keep up his supply of stories, Jim would clip out obscure articles from newspapers to file away in this little notepad he kept he kept in a top pocket. Occasionally, he would be seen to write something in this pad, but never was he known to show anybody it’s contents. I suspect there was little to show, but was “played upon” to increase the “mystery “ surrounding his person…there was a rumour (no doubt started by himself), that he was in South Aust’ as a kind of modern-day “remittance man” from a wealthy family back in Sydney. Jim would draw upon those clippings and notes with suitable embellishments to concoct another outlandish tale with himself as hero to impress whoever had the generosity to maintain supply…
An Example …
You may have read in the papers many years ago about the discovery in the sea north of Darwin, a sunken Japanese submarine from the second world war that contained a fortune in mercury. However, the Japanese government pressed for the wreck to be left alone as a “war grave”..which, eventually it was. Well..a couple of evenings after that story broke in the papers, Jim had buttonholed some unfortunate and was relating to him the details (between draughts of the old amber), of how he ; Jim..and some others had dived for and retrieved canisters of mercury from a Japanese sub sunken out in St Vincent’s Gulf .. ”…if you follow that sunbeam on the water there straight out ‘bout five mile…” and sold it for a fortune which was used to buy arms for gun-running to Timor….oh!, pardon my slip, I forgot to tell you that Timor was at that time in conflict with Indonesia, which also made the daily’s..and Jim’s notepad.
Most of these tales were good entertainment and people didn’t mind paying the price of a beer or two for such. However, Bruce (The Pinball Wizard), made the mistake of believing one of Jim’s creations and he never lived it down!….
It went like this…
Bruce was known as The Pinball Wizard because that was his occupation ; hiring and maintaining pinball machines. He ran a very successful business at it too…until the electronic video games made their appearance on the scene. Bruce failed to take these first crude machines seriously, thinking they were a passing fad. They weren’t, and failing to “take the tide at the flood”, missed the boat. Nobody wanted his machines in their shop anymore and he couldn’t get rid of them nor borrow against them to upgrade…he had left his run too late! Anyhow, he walked into the front bar one evening, looking for company and maybe a sympathetic ear to chew ( a problem shared is a problem halved) not to mention a cool beaded glass of beer to smack one’s lips over and who was there on the next stool?….Jim !
“Hello Bruce, why the long face?”
“O…g’day Jim.” A pause to sip his beer and weigh his reply “ O..a few problems with the business..y’know.”..and Bruce told Jim the whole sorry saga of his missing the gravy train and light-heartedly berating himself for not seeing the obvious. Jim sat through this narrative in unusual silence, just swilling the dregs of his nearly (and ruefully) empty pint glass. Jim’s contemplative silence, Bruce later confessed, may have been more to do with this fact rather than his ; Bruce’s enlightening story. Then, however, Jim had an inspiration that many consider his finest moment. For when Bruce had finished talking, Jim stared at him open mouthed as if to say something…he then swivelled his whole body around on the bar-stool to gape into the bar severy…he nodded his head several times as if amazed and then slapped his hand down smartly and sharply on the bar-top turning back to Bruce as he did so….
“Now that’s fate!” he announced with nodding head to Bruce. Bruce finished sipping his beer and looked sideways to Jim.
“Huh!…What is?” Bruce asked.
“Why, meeting you just at this moment!” Jim didn’t give Bruce a chance to question him, but took up the conversation. “ Just today I received a letter from my uncle’s trustees..(my uncle died recently, you know) telling me that he had left me some property in his will…(he had a tidy packet tucked away I can tell you..but no kids!) a two-storey building in Bankstown!” Jim’s eyes were fairly popping out of his head.
“What’s that got to do with me?” Bruce asked, but now interested in this suddenly wealthier Jim.
“Well !!..it’s an amusement parlour…TWO HUNDRED MACHINES !!…and I was just sitting here lamenting how in the blue blazes I was going to manage the place…I was thinking to best sell the whole lot!”…Now you or I would’ve squinted one eye at Jim and perhaps left it at that..but as I just told you, Bruce was a desperate man staring bankruptcy in its’ ugly face…also ( if I might add ), the gods had at that moment chosen to punish Bruce for being too successful at wooing women!….so had endowed Jim’s story with a cloak of irresistible attraction..Bruce looked smilingly at Jim’s credulous expression and spoke the very words Jim wanted to hear..
“Care for another beer, Jim?”
Let me just go off on a bit of a tangent an tell you about Bruce . How many times have I said : “If only I knew then what I know now”…Bruce was what would be called these days ; “A chic magnet”…attractive young ladies adhered to him like rouge to a mummer..He didn’t work at it, he wasn’t a mongrel nor presumptuous bloke..he didn’t put on airs or con anybody…he was what he was…and that is : calm…Bruce exuded what the Italians call ‘tranquillamente’ …and in a climate of frenzy and hurry, that was all that was needed…and he had it naturally..I remember a conversation amongst a group of us tradies about rising early for work and how lousy it was some times…Bruce listened, sipped his beer (he always sipped..he was in no hurry) and commented to the attentive gathering that he like to wake “naturally”.
“Oh..and what time is that?” someone asked…Bruce casually lit up a cigarette before replying..
“About one pm.” He replied…..a low whistle came from somewhere……but back to the story.
So the remainder of the night was spent examining ; a;- the layout of the premises (Jim), b;- Machine maintenance and upgrading (Bruce) c;- staff requirements / management policy (combined effort), d ;- wages …here, Jim’s benevolence came to the fore.
“Well..that’s very generous of you Jim, but fifty – fifty seems a little too good….” Bruce stared glassy-eyed into his beer..” BUT…if it’s alright with the boss…who am I to argue?” and they shook hands on the deal and I might say that Bruce was so overwhelmed with this stroke of good fortune when all looked blackest that tears of happiness nearly, I say ; nearly, welled up in his eyes. And Jim WAS generous, because that is what he would have liked to have given…had he got it !!!
Closing time came and the two partners separated with more handshaking and effusive congratulations on the promise of a glowing future etc, etc.. and Jim reminding Bruce to meet him here at the pub at ten o’clock in the morning and they would go to the airport to get a standby flight to Sydney to look the joint over.
“Righto ,Jim”. Bruce slurred.
“Righto, Bruce”. Jim slurred.
And they wobbled away to their respective vehicles.
Bruce standing at the front bar sipping a Angostura bitters and soda. There is a discarded “Bex Powder” wrapper at his feet. Next to it stands a light, traveling suitcase containing the necessities for a short stay in Sydney. The time is ten-thirty am. …no Jim. Bruce makes a phone call from the booth.
“Hello Mark…It’s Bruce….er..where’s Jim?” ( Jim boards with Mark).
“In bed ..why?”
“What’s he doing in bed?..He’s supposed to meet me here at the pub at ten!”
“He’s in bed because some fool was buying him drinks all night and now he’s hungover to buggery!…anyway, what’s he got to meet you for?”….Bruce suddenly got a shakey feeling and hesitated to answer.
“Well…” he drawled uneasily..” We’re supposed to go to Sydney to look at this pinball parlour that he had inherited from his uncle……..” Bruce didn’t get the chance to say any more as the guffawing laughter at the other end of the line drowned all further communication. It also made it useless to proceed as Bruce had suddenly become enlightened ….he just quietly hung up.
To his credit, Bruce never held any animosity against Jim for the con-job. He saw the ludicrousness of the proposition and laughed at his own folly. Jim , of course never even considered it a “con”, to him it was just another good yarn…”that was yesterday..this is today” was his philosophy.
Though I will let you in on a little secret I discovered with Jim…I buttonholed him one day and asked him ( carefully choosing my words ), if there was ever a risk of over-egging the details in his “explanations”…his answer surprised me for it’s unspoken depth of understanding of that basic human weakness…he looked intently at me for a longer than comfortable time and he said ;
“My father had a small dagger in scabbard…middle-eastern, very ornate handle with emeralds and rubies ..the scabbard with gold inlay, looked good…all fake of course…he used to bring it out when people came to dinner..said he won it from a sheik in a marksmanship competition when he was serving in the army during the war….really , he bought it from a stall in the Prahran Markets when we were on a holiday in Melbourne when I was very young….and he was only a supply clerk in the war and never went overseas…but everyone marvelled at it….rarely did anyone take the dagger from the sheath..they just loved the jewels and the gold…I thought that strange ..considering that the blade is really the most important part, since it must do the real “work”…so I learned at a very young age that people will always admire the bling rather than respect the blade ”…
…and the cheeky bastard then gave me a wink!!
The last time I saw Jim, was when I was working with my brickie mate ; Frank, on a job at Brighton, just off the esplanade. I’d heard Jim was threatening to return for a visit from Sydney where he had gone a year or two before to live. I was riding my treadly home one afternoon and had just reached the Seacliff Hotel when I chanced to glance over to the car-park and there was Jim’s car with the NSW. number plate on it and Jim sitting in it. I quickly glided over the road on my bike, alighting to one pedal as I cruised up behind the car. I was just going to call out when I noticed he was sitting in a trance-like state staring out to sea. He was wearing a “combat” style jacket, “C.I.A. sunglasses” and a camouflage baseball cap. There was a book open on the steering-wheel, I crept up and peered over his shoulder at the title…” Submarine Command” Hello! I thought…here’s tonight’s story…I stepped back a couple of paces out of respect to his daydreams , then banged on the side of the car..” Jim! “ I called ..”hey, Jim!”
But I have a soft spot for ol’ Jim..you see, he’s a loner..a dreamer..one must respect dreamers, they’re our only salvation. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I have jotted down a few lines of verse to celebrate his audacity…
“It is only in the harbours of our mind
That we reach our full potential,
Where images of reality and fantasy mingle,
Where drunkards and kings are equal…”
I have a relative who is keenly looking forward this year to a hip replacement…he needs it because he has carried so much weight over so many years that his natural one has worn down with the effort..of course, he will say otherwise..but that is the awful truth..and likewise are many of us “blessed” with such medical interventions that prolong an aged existence. We really have little choice..there is the suffering..here is the solution..what madness to refuse?
But I don’t think I need to extrapolate on the “long, winding road” that led us to this place. If we can’t identify it distinctly, we have good intuition of the what’s, why’s and wherefore’s that brought us here. The over indulgence of that relative of mine to the gluttony of a whole epoch of humanity has brought us here, where there is no longer a time for dreaming…of imagining…of procrastination while we relax on the laurals of our hard work..For it has already been costed and if there is not an algorithm already that calculates down to the last cent every individual citizen’s capacity of a lifetime’s contribution to the treasury coffers of the middle-class and gives a rating on that citizen’s worth to the middle-class..then there soon will be!
There were the regulars there every boozy Friday night.. This haven of familiarity and drug-induced bonhomie was our community contact and our neighbourhood home every Friday night through to Sunday morning when we would crawl our way back to familiar beds and table to sober up. The hotel was the station of our own self-imposed cross which supplied that outpouring of relief from the labours of the week for the working men..Beery, boozy, sweaty cacophony of noise and drunken swearing that marked the intensity..like the rousting cries of birds and wild animals when one enters their territory..which marked the intensity of expectations of the night..the height on the decibel scale pumping the adrenaline through the system in expectation..and then there were the women “on hand” ..not for personal pleasure, but rather as “footsoldiers” or perhaps “backgrounding” to the drinking clientele whose demands upon the tirelessly serving barmaids elevated some to a kind of hagiographic status.
So..ok..let’s talk about barmaids…When I think back on the subject, and I have to “think back” because I no longer inhabit the locales where barmaids are to be found!…age HAS wearied him..and I am no longer haunted by strange, unrealisable fantasies! But I have to admit, as a once keen drinking man, that the barmaid holds a special iconic position in the drinking male’s itinerary of desire. the perfect barmaid is a rare person..a species so valued that physical harm can befall those who abuse or debase such in public. They are not really “personality”…they are …: “elan” personified……vivacity….creating a hunger for something promised but never delivered..and indeed…never really needed to be delivered …no!..wisdom tells us the journey is most times better than the arriving…a desire wanting more fulfilling than the actual reality..this was Ulysses dream..the Sirens on the rocks, the musicality of their voices enough to spark conversation and a vainglory heroism in the wanting and drunken clientele.
I have known three perfect barmaids. : Shirley (at The Brighton Esplanade)…Diedre (the Postal Institute Club, Darwin) and Noela (The Seacliff Hotel)…
Ever the women..
Come the morning, come the play, Ere the sun comes upon the day, Ere the first shots begin to stray, Here are the women with a cry to say, Ever are there women..at the break o’ day!
Shirley was quite mature when I met her by accident, dropping in for a cool beer to the saloon bar on the corner of Jetty Rd. and The Esplanade there by the Brighton jetty. She had that sharp, dry wit of an experienced woman that could cheer highly or cut deeply depending on the occasion or the person…I used to go to the TAB., drop a few bets and then listen to the races there on a quiet day when work wasn’t busy or just to break the day up a tad…I remember I was there at the bar one day…while Shirley was wiping the bottles in the fridge and this too obvious “high-camp” chap in full gay regalia rushes in and buys several cans of UDL. pre-mix and then just as quickly rushed out, a trail of fragrant scent wafting in his wake…
“What do you make of THAT?” I casually commented. Shirley just leant on the bartop staring blankly out at the chap crossing the road.
“What’s TO make of it? …these days, what with the surgery they do, a couple of clips and snips and bango!..Bob’s your aunty”….she swished the cleaning cloth at an idle fly and went back to work. I could imagine her getting home and her old man asking her how the day went.. “Oh..the usual…five drunks, three proposals, two-on-a-promise and too few tips!” But she was sensitive to the dark soul…I.ve seen a bloke come in to the bar..a local…not looking good (and you’d bet Shirley’d know the problem), order a first beer, put some coins on the mat and Shirley put her finger on the coin and pushed it back into the pile with a knowing wink…it doesn’t take a grand gesture to prop a fellah up…a good soul was Shirley.
There is this little secret that ,
I’ll not share with other men.
It’s deep, it’s dark , it’s truth rather stark.
Though the wording mostly unseen.
You may know it or at least sense it,
For it was whispered you at birth.
You wear it as a heritage,
You shed it at your death.
Though you may not explain it fully,
There are times , I think you know..
When the call of men and children,
Must need your attention most of all.
I promise I will never reveal it,
Because that secret is held you see..
In a knowing look , a furtive wink,
exchanged in passing,
Just between you and me.
Diedre was a different woman entirely…buxom, bubbly, sharp as a tack redhead..in her early thirties and real womanly….you could say one thing to her and she’d twist it about like a cryptic clue and leave you open-mouthed working it out…never to be trapped or cornered, but always smiling…She was the bar-manager of the Postal Institute Club there on the hill over-looking the Botanic Gardens in Darwin…a prime position…I would go there Friday nights for a meal…Earle, the cook there in a side kitchen next to the bar would serve the best Barra’ and chips in Darwin on a Friday night…I would front the counter there and call to him..
“Fancy a beer Earle?”…”
“G’day, “Chris’”..one for me and one for (he had a woman friend there helping out, I forget her name now!)…” and he’d serve the best Barra’ that melted in your mouth..and you’d take your plate straight to the bar and Diedre would serve you a handle of the amber fluid with a smile and a bit of coquettish cheek so that you thought you had joined the angels and they were ringing the Angelus just for you. She was a shorty, but wore those platform shoes that were the fashion in those days (I’m talking the early seventies)…and when she came out from behind the bar to collect glasses, she would swish about the tables like a dancing girl..like a diminutive Isadora Duncan!…god she was beautiful!..I swear, any number of blokes would’ve thrown themselves under Vishnu’s Juggernaut just at her command….and I do believe I may have joined them!
If you were one of the last there at closing..and I confess that I sometimes was!…she’d call out with the voice of Mary Magdalene..”I’m clearing the lines…anyone want a beer?”…..
The Siren’s Song.
The Siren sang her song.
Irresistible in her comeliness.
And yes..I answered..
Along with others,
The clues were numerous,
The seduction of her face,
The perils of her warm embrace.
Small things ; gifts and trinkets
To secure her exclusiveness.
Along with mine..
Shipwrecked upon her palliasses.
Now, behind cold glass,
I touch her face,
My fingers hesitate on lacq’d plate
Of the silvered frame.
She smiles out at me.
Again the Siren song my heart fills.
She is calling…!
She is calling…!
I cannot resist..does she love me still ?
I am falling…
I am falling…
I am falling…
Noela…The barmaid at “The Cliff”…It’s a crying shame that medals of valour are only struck for war combatants…otherwise Noela’s shirtfront would be heavy with ribbons and polished brass! But she was not a striking person in any memorable way…she was what mean-spirited people in those days called “plain”…no great witticisms passed her lips…droll was her humour..as a matter of fact one couldn’t be sure if the humour was not an accident of language…for instance, I once fronted the bar on a quiet Monday night, got my beer and when Noela returned with the change I asked her if anything interesting happened over the weekend while I was away….She placed the change there and while looking to someone fiddling with the drawer at the cigarette machine quite casually noted that : ” Oh..Zero’s beer went flat while he was making a rolly.”….and walked away…that was it…droll, very droll. Of course, you’d have to know “Zero” and to have witnessed him rolling a cigarette…He had the nickname “Zero” because it was considered by those who knew that it was the measure of his IQ…..he was a heavy drinker and had the eternal shakes, so that to watch him fashion a rolly was a temptation of patience…he once bragged he could get 90 rollies from one 2oz.packet of Champion Ruby…but the damn things were so skimp on tobacco, and so loose rolled, he’d light it up, then choke on the first drawback to spit to the floor the loose bits of baccy that came with the inhale. I do recall once seeing Noela, in a quiet moment, elbows on bar, face in her cupped hands, staring intently at a completely unaware Zero, head down in concentration, busy rolling one of his cigarettes…was it satire on her part or just bored interest?…that was it with Noela..you couldn’t tell. But one thing she was…reliable..unflappable..and a patient ear for the lonely drinker….and believe me..there can be no lonelier place than sitting by oneself with a heart full of hurt and a skinfull of booze and an empty hotel bar.
No…give the woman a medal, I say.
A shaft of sun through the Parthenon glows,
Upon a wild, white Athens rose.
The blossom of that tender bush,
Is tinged at heart with a gentle blush,
When held, ‘tis said, ‘tween lovers fingers twined,
Would, with age-old chant, their voices bind;
“Oh Sun who gives the blush to thee,
Grant her cheeks may blush for me,
And with the passing of this day,
Grant the wish I wish I may.”
On that extraordinary musical delight by Santana..: “Abraxas”, there is a poem from Hermann Hesse’s book, Demian, quoted on the album’s back cover:..the painting on the front is : “Annunciation”…
“We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion.
We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it:
We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas….”
I cannot think of a better dedication to the mysterious relationship males have to such an extraordinary institution…: the barmaid.
There was our little gathering of compatriots and there were the “others”..there was us..: Mark, Peter, Mick, Steve, Christopher, Mick’s girlfriend, Tracy, Jim the bullshit artist ( I’ll tell you about him later) Bruce, Jeff and Lindsay…and several hangers on who drifted between the front bar and the “Lifesaver’s Saloon Bar” and The Lounge..and there was the older generation still clinging on by the skin of their livers..There was Jack Mitchel too..a buyer for one of the biggest department stores in the state..he was there every Friday night, dressed in suit and tie with polished shoes…old school..sipping on a “pony glass” of beer…as so many of the more “genteel aspirants” did in those days..never to be seen swilling a pint of beer down with gusto to the egging of their mates…THAT was much too much “working-class”..
Many young men “came of age” in this environment..the seedy example of other drunken young men giving spectacular example of the bad direction to go in if one continued down that track…and then too was the finished product of several of the older men who DID go down that track and were now irreconcilable to a straight life..the demon drink being the pillar of support propping up their lives…….something went wrong..
Jack Mitchell shared the family home with his two sisters after the parents passed away..none of them ever married. Not that there were ever any suggestion of dubious behaviour amongst them one way or the other, it’s just that they never married..though I was told by a person who knew him,years later that “Joking Jack” was a very lonely man.
Jack was full of jokes..he would drop one every few minutes in any conversation there in the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel..He was never stuck for a word either..He used to work as a buyer for one of the biggest department stores in the city..:
“I just started as a youngster there with socks and stockings in lingerie and worked my way up!”..was his usual gag if any one asked about his employment. He was always snappily dressed in smart suit and tie, no matter what the night…which was nearly every night at the hotel. Whenever Jack told a joke, you could see he was dying to laugh at his own joke..this would be bad form, so he pinched his lips together as tight as he could..but that was rarely enough and a slight splutter and a bit of foamy spittle would cover his lips after.
One month, Jack, with a couple of other older blokes from the hotel, took a trip to Bangkok. Now, the only reason many men went to Bangkok in those days was for sex..sex in any shape or form..Bangkok was notorious for it..so when Jack returned to the front bar after the “holiday’ a couple of younger men there started to take the piss..:
“Jack!” one called out across the other side of the U-shaped bar. “Tell us Jack..; How was the hol-i-day in BANG-KOK!?”..and then followed a spot of laughter..
‘Well boys” Jack began after sipping the foam off the top of his beer “ Well, boys..you know there’s an old saying that if a balding man..much like myself..was to rub his pate against that most tender and private part of a young lady’s body..then his hair would grow back..”..and here Jack took a slow draught of his beer, wiped his lips with the back of his hand and with wide-eyed surprise announced in a loud voice to the lads: “Well it’s a lie!!”
This admission brought laughter all ‘round.
But Jack was always a conservative voter and a ‘boss’s man..he could be seen on some occasions in deep conference with the manager of the hotel, looking about with suspicious eyes…we believed he was the management’s watching eyes to detect and report on the young dope users and sellers in the hotel..we never trusted him..
He has passed away many years now, and according to the one young man who did have his confidence, Jack Mitchell was a very lonely man..and I had to tell you about that person..he had to be recorded in name and location..also ; situation, for the continuity of my lived experience demands that I put in sequence, as best as I am able, those characters that stick in my mind..it is the basic NEED for my storytelling as a raconteur..it is my basic argument for writing..; to show my disappointment at the dearth of apparent interest in the posting of working-class stories and tales on certain “left-wing” blog sites pages specifically reserved for stories and tales. I based this on the sad lack of follow-up commentary and others contributions to that page. Eventually, the page was shut down due to this lack of interest. A disappointing end to a good social direction and a sad reflection on the state of imagination from the “Left” side of politics.. So much promise, so little delivery…in those days I wrote this..: “I am going to put another story up on “The Lounge Bar” page ( on a blog site named “The Pub” that I used to contribute to..sadly incorrectly labelled as : “The Depository of Ideas” page, a smart-arse slight by the owner toward my writings, slightingly referring to a notorious comment by a politician who blurted ; “A suppository of ideas” instead of the above word)…I have to concede that it is somewhat of a disappointment that it has not yet attracted a greater variety of posters all keen to tell those little bits and pieces that make up ours and others lives.
Sure..we are all busy or are more distracted with the politics of the moment to bother with what may be seen as “distractions from the main game”.. or maybe we shy away from exposing our lack of confidence with grammatical correctness or expression…for I believe everyone has a story to tell and within even the most innocent of tales, there is the germ of conviction of the teller’s integrity , ”…as we gaze into the abyss “ and all that..What I failed to realise in those days..on THAT blog and subsequent so-called “left-wing blogs” I came to know, was that the blog was run and moderated by middle-class people for their own middle-class sensitivities and those others..even some working-class folk who aspired to be a part of the middle-classes…a hopeless situation.
If there is one difference (amongst a legion of political differences) between us of the “left” and those of the “right”, it is that sense of awareness , of sensitivity toward the trials and tribulations of what we witness in the joy or the sufferings of our fellows. Not that ; “blind to shades of black and white judgement” , nor that braggadocio of sneering “success” in status or wealth. With the socially aware, there comes a learned experience of cause and effect.
This state of awareness , translated to a sympathetic “there but for the grace of Fate go I ” understanding comes, I believe from a well-read background into classic and contemporary literature as much if not more than that from the well-informed news sources. For it is from the nuances of interpretive writing, the “fiction” if you like, of the retold story of contemporary events and peoples that give us the deeper insight into the story behind the story…without which, we would be reduced to that black and white interpretation so favoured by the less informed on the ‘right’ side of politics.
After all, surely it is less from the “histories” of Herodotus and more from the plays of Euripides that we understand the psyche of the ancient world. It is more from Shakespeare and less from Whitcombe and Tombs ( publishers of school history books) that we understand the mind-set of medieval English history. It is the colour on the canvas that captures the eye and it should be noted by those too shy or too concerned for how their writing would strike the critical eye of their readers.; it is not angular perfection that is always the most attractive, but rather we often turn to gaze at the flaw in the glass…for it is always the “weakness” of a person’s character that attracts the most comment, so it can be that the innocent frailty of one’s writing can be the sweetest joy to the reader.
So let it be marked as a modern maxim..; “ The flaw in the portrait most attracts the curiosity of the watcher”.
Now go forth to “The Lounge Bar” and partake of life’s banquet!…(and bring a small plate of something literary with you).”
And THAT was the end of that thing!
November 3, 2018 at 6.30. pm.
(To the owner of “The Pub” ).
“Ah, well, Joe…I have to give you credit for the ownership of the site..but as you and many, many others are aware who also have access to “WordPress”, it is of little effort to kick a site off…and it has to be admitted that ownership of a site is in no way the credit of how much a site is regarded..and if memory serves, it was from the good and excitable nature of many posters, bloggers and commentators that gave “your site” a certain amount of Blogging Kudos which light you obviously bask in!…and good luck to you!..The credibility of a site has to have good management..and while I would not, I suspect be giving any secrets away, and long experience of your political astuteness has shown that while you hold sympathy to the centre-left dogma, your whole written political philosophy could be contained in the one sentence : ‘I don’t know much about historical political ideology, but I know what I like!”
Joe…admit it..you’re a yob.
And as for the site being “fine just the way it is”..I can see from a quick archival search that if we go back a couple of years there was at least double the number or more of posters and commentators would use and give views on the site..NOW it has become the play-thing of the cognoscenti and aficionados of the half-dozen or so regulars..Yes..it is fine now…like a knitting club is fine…like a small cluster of boozers at the local front bar talking about the hey-days of the Fitzroy football club is fine… Well…good luck to you and yours..go suck your beer..but DON’T dare call this zombie site a relevant discussion site for left-wing politics..you have to be prepared for innovation and progress for THAT, AND have more than half a dozen or so regulars..this site will have to sober up first! Goodbye, goodnight and good luck!”
And with that cheerio, they kicked me off the blog-site for good!…So let us change the subject!
But say! Did I ever tell you about Mrs. Wright and Glenn?..no?..Well, they were two “locals” down at the Seacliff Hotel…back in the old days, some of the last of that “war generation” that were retired or on the point of when we younger folk came along and taught them how to drink!
Mrs. Wright was a spinster, retired teacher..who was always called “Mrs.” ( out of deference to that sometimes unearned but bestowed respect given to a married woman and denied to older un-married / “barren” women)…who drove what I reckon was one of the last registered Humber Super Snipes…A big black beast she parked in her “reserved ” spot just out the front of “the ‘Cliff” when she went for a quiet drink at night…almost every night…looking back on it, and her being a local, I wonder if she bought that Humber off the deceased estate of Mrs. Herreen…now THERE was a tartar…a wealthy widow who lived opposite the Primary school I went to…I know she was a widow because she always wore black and wealthy because she was chauffered around in a big black Humber Snipe…She donated large sums to the convent school I attended and in return, she was sometimes given “control” of a class for an afternoon…she would stalk up and down the aisles of us fifty-odd kids swishing a cane into her cupped hand and looking threatening…she had the physique of Hatty Jaques and the eyes of Myra Hindley….but I’m getting off the subject…
Glenn was a council employee, whose job for the last years of his working life was seated on the council’s ride-on lawnmower…all day every day…out in the sun, which is why he got such a ruddy complection..and more melanomas cut off his face so he looked like a clay-stick scupture..though it was a rumour that it was not at all to do with his affection for “poor-man’s port”..he was a very tall bloke who developed a kind of stoop which some tall people get from leaning down to listen to people and perhaps a self-conscious compensation to not look too obvious…
Now, you wouldn’t think two such diverse characters would meet and become a “unit”, but they did..it happened like this…
There came to pass that Don Dunstan increased the tax on beer which raised the price of a ‘pony’ glass beyond what Mrs. Wright (we’ll call her Betty!) could budget in her retirement…BUT!..there was salvation.; Ron, the barman, informed her that there was no increased tax on wine, therefore the price of a “hock, lime and lemon” was now cheaper than the “pony” of beer she was used to having…
“Righto”, she decided “I’ll give it a try”….the first drink was “on the house” said Ron…a kindly chap…and she liked it and would have another thank you very muchly!
Of course, wine is a very different alcoholic beast than beer, and so by the twitching hour of ten oclock, Betty was seen sitting, glazed eyed on the bar -stool, a cheroot-cigar stub hanging loose in her fingers..eye-witness accounts state that the cheroot first slipped from her fingers, did several somersaults to the bar-step in a spray of sparks…a close acquaintance stooped to pick it up , but was stopped in his action by a “teacher’s command” to “LEAVE-IT !!”…which were the last words she spoke that evening as she then slid ever so gracefully off the stool, gathering her heavy skirts modestly around herself and sunk to the floor…Ron, the barman witnessing this, to him so familiar ; “float to oblivion”, leapt across the bar in what must be termed “the Barman’s Flop” for it was equal to an Olympic effort and calling for assistance carried her “wheelbarrow style” out to place her on the back seat of her Humber to sleep it off…it must be mentioned that Ron took her arms while the only other sober-ablebodied man in the front bar ; Glenn took her legs…”In a kindly and gentlemanly way” as Betty later assured all who would doubt otherwise.
When Glenn retired, they sold up their respective houses and moved to Kangaroo Island…Betty drove with the Humber and a huge trailer of their possessions to take the ferry across..Glenn, waving goodbye to all his mates, set sail in his restored clinker-built fishing boat to “chug-along” to the island…In days gone by, you would see several of these boats chugging out on the sea past the hotel, trawling the grounds between Brighton and Kingston Park, their owners standing aft of the boat, the tiller controller by their legs while their arm did that back and forth sweeping motion with the lure for snook..
It was a long afternoon in the front-bar while he said his farewells..it was a long “goodbye” drinking toasts to all the good times…and it was noticed that one particular old mate..little Johnny, the SP. bookie, in a teary moment, slipped a ruddy flagon of “Rovalley Rich (poor-man’s) Port” into the prow of the boat before he set off…”in case it gets a tad chilly in the ‘passage’ (Backstair’s Passage)” he comforted…then Glenn set off for Kangaroo Island..a delightful island just off the coast of Fleurieu Peninsula, approx 100 miles long facing the mainland…You can’t miss it.
It DID get chilly out on the water….Glenn DID consume the entire flagon, fell asleep in the bottom of the boat, was swept through Backstairs Passage which flows like a river with the tides…and missed Kangaroo Island, to end up on “The Pages”..last stop between Sth Aust’ and Antarctica…but that’s another story.
Wild weekends of partying, gambling, mad, car or motorbike rides from party to party, pub to pub sometimes carting a partly consumed keg of beer in the back seat of the car..these were the great days of a bachelor’s life…the endless delights of hedonistic living..a marvellous decadent existence…while it lasted..This one character, Mick..was in the middle of it.
Mick..A character study..
It never ceases to amaze me how some people can compress the whole spectrum of human emotions re. disgust, despair, weariness etc. into a short, sharp comment.
Bubblehead passed his hand wearily over his eyes. Mick had just that minute walked through the bar-room doors. It had been nearly one year since Mick had crossed that same threshold, albeit at a difference pace and mood. Absent now was the fearful glance quickly over the shoulder and duck! look so memorable in Bubblehead’s mind. But that one year had done little to obliterate the insidious deed committed by Mick against his (Bubblehead’s) establishment…to wit ; the negotiation ON PREMISES!! to purchase the notorious “weed” in contrast to purchasing AND imbibing (copiously preferred) the amber fluid legally available over the front bar of said establishment….such insults were not to be tolerated!
It had been nearly a year since Mick had been “BANNED FOR LIFE!” (these sentences were occasionally inflicted on regulars for misdemeanours, varying from periods of one, two and three months, to “life” for the more extreme offenders. Mick’s insult fell solidly into the latter )and now, here he was in all his glory..indeed.. never had the patrons of the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel seen Mick so well attired! Wolf whistles followed his every step toward where Bubblehead slouched on his bar-stool..both parties steeled themselves for the encounter.
“Mr. Francis…” (Bubblehead’s real name) Mick began….and so ended that penitent time of denial for both parties (Bubblehead knew which side of the bar his money came from!) and Mick was welcomed back into the fold with the stern warning ; “…that if ever again…” so the excuse for another booze-up was offered and accepted by all parties concerned….another Friday night at “The Cliff”.
Actually, Mick featured heavily in the adventures of our little group holed up there in the front bar..trouble and mishaps followed him like the faithful mutt his master. Mick fed disaster till it wouldn’t leave his side…but I’ll say this in his defence..: He was never daunted by any set-backs..not even after twenty eight car crashes in two years (“none of ‘em my fault!”) could depression be seen to enter his psyche..his old-man nearly went bananas..but Mick held steady to his merry way.
He was not a big youth..a tad on the shortish side, bandy legged, round, smiling face with a shock of dazzling red hair on a forever bobbing head when he talked..which he did more than listen and the eternal ‘reefer” dangling from his fingers or his lips, sending a curl of smoke up past a wincing eye. A pint glass of beer could always be found clutched in those same fingers, as tenderly fidgeted as the rosary beads in the hands of a nun..
At any rate, “Mick’s Glorious Return” was celebrated in a piece of doggerel and displayed in the men’s toilets for the patron’s pleasure..this verse was written “impromptu” (in the true ancient Greek tradition) by a cagey little character appropriately nick-named ; “spatchcock” …so named because of his rolling into the campfire on the beach while drunk one night….”Leave ‘im there”…old Johnny, the SP. Bookie said in disgust..” He’ll cook up nicely..like a young spatchcock!”….I have a copy of that doggerel on hand and I’ll print it out just so you can “place” the sort of clientele that used to frequent that pub.
“Mick’s Glorious Return”.
Realising that time had come to pass,
(Notwithstanding the desire for the odd glass!)
I thought it best to broach “The Bubble”
And take him to task for all me troubles.
So doffing me best suit of clothes,
(I must say; those “Op-shops” have much to choose!)
And emptying the pocket of “bong and hose”.
I dressed myself “to the nines” and
Waited till dark to practice me lines.
“Now, Mr. Francis” I spoke to the mirror bold..
“We’re both grown men..(or so I’m told)
There’s a certain matter I would discuss,
Concerning you an’ me and all that “grass”
The truth of the matter , matters none,
Though I still maintain I’m the innocent one!
Betrayed by fate and addicted fools
Unable to abide to social rules.
But after it all, here I stand,
One year older..a changed man.
So I come to you on equal terms
To forgive and forget a man whose learned!”
But as I fronted the barroom doors,
My courage failed me (as never before).
I got my mate to sneak me a glass,
To prime myself for this awesome task!
Then through the doors I stolidly bounded..
“Gor’ Blimey..What’s this!?” Jack Mitchell shouted.
Through laughs and whistles I was derided
But courage steeled me for the task decided.
“Mr. Francis..I spoke with quaking breath,
(like a man speaking to warmed-up death! )
“I come to empty me heart of its load,
And, pray, spend me money in your humble abode”
I dropped to my knees under his wrathful glare,
(a balloon, scorched and besieged with anguished hair!)
“I beg you forgive this wayward youth,
That wandered from your “elixir of truth”.
Please let me enter your bar once more,
An’ let me drink as I did before.
An’ let me prove I’m a changed man,
An’ let me for Chrissake have a can!”
“Arise, my son” his voice boomed out.
“Arise and sup with me a stout!
Then join your friends and have good cheer,
An get off the “grass” and onto the beer!”
And that was how one man learned,
That a “banned for life” can be turned.
It takes truth and courage and..and all that stuff..
And, oh!..I might suggest ; kneepads…(in case the floor is rough!)
I copied this tedious, childish rhyme down to show you the sort of low wit that appealed to the patrons of that infamous hotel…But that memorable date would have soon been forgotten if not for another spectacular entertainment that occurred later that same evening…to wit..: The torching of the notorious “Astoria Apartments” over the road (Wheatland St.) from the Seacliff Hotel….
The Astoria apartments started life, I believe, as the weekend residence of some well-heeled family. It moved from that idle occupation to the more congenial employment of guest house for holiday makers intent on inhaling the invigorating sea air. Once that clientele took its child-like laughter and kiddies with yellow plastic sand-buckets and spades away to more exotic locations, it fell back on to “taking in boarders” and from there to the inevitable breaking up into separate flats for long term rental.
The maintenance on the “Astoria Apartments” (as it was now so grandly named) gradually slipped till the outside paint peeled and fretted away, the gutters dipped and dropped rusting in places and seediness blotched its once grand facade. By now, the clientele residing within matched in description the appearance of the building outside. Both contributed to the final destruction of the once proud Astoria.
It seems the current owner, intent on evicting .a poor- paying tenant, went to pay a visit to the aforementioned tenant (a rather fierce man with a fierce reputation), to keep himself company he took along two relatives with big fists and also a couple of shortish lengths of stout jarrah,(presumably to do a little long overdue maintenance on the premises!). However, pre-warned is pre-armed, and fierce men seem to keep company with birds of the same ilk, so the good landlord and his ex-relatives were “sent packing”, along with the pieces of jarrah whistling past their ears and expletives echoing in them!
That same evening however, the landlord snuck back to cut off the power to the offensive man’s flat, thinking this would drive him away. But he didn’t just remove the fuse, he fiddled with the wires thereby causing an overload on the circuit that those ancient, groaning wires couldn’t take. The result; fire! Some rooms, they say, burnt faster than others! such was the reputation the Astoria had by now achieved.
The landlord was contacted at his home where he had retired smugly satisfied hours before and he arrived in an anguished state, striding up and down the footpath over the road outside the pub rolling his hands over each other and lamenting his misfortune (and no doubt secretly aware that he had caused this misfortune!) when he bumped into a short, bandy-legged individual with a reefer in one hand and a pint of “Bubbleheads’ Best.’ in the other and looking terribly overdressed in a garish “op-shop” suit. “A problem shared is a problem halved” goes the old saying.
“Ah!” the contrite landlord began “a terrible misshap, a terrible misshap.”
“Yeah.” agreed Mick.”I left me dad’s bike in the hallway.”
“You lived there?!”
“Nah!” Mick shrugged.”But me mate Wayne does with his girlfriend.”
“But they are not there now surely?” the landlord’s eyes as big as saucers! Mick glanced sideways and saw a chance to impress upon a stranger (Mick was unaware this was the landlord), his “nonchalance in the face of tragedy”, an act all pretentious people like to adopt.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, he was up there with her an hour ago,..” he snorted and ‘tched’ his tounge, ”probably grilled like a snag on a barbie by now!” and he turned abruptly and went through the front bar doors leaving the distressed landlord trembling on the footpath (Mick, we hasten to add, was well aware both Wayne and his girlfriend were safely propped against the bar with Mick-paid celebratory drinks firmly grasped in their hands)
“Yeah!” Jeff Otto’s’ reedy falsetto sounded over the conversation, “dropped down dead as a doornail right outside there on the footpath while the fire was on, Yeah!, the landlord, seems he thought there was someone trapped in the flats,..poor bugger!..er,..two brandies, Noela.’”
Jeff turned to Lindsay, his drinking mate and sighed…
“Oh well, more work for the office.” Jeff worked for the local undertaker.
The only person who profited from the fire was Matt Waters, who shimmied up a drainpipe to rescue “Puffy” (known within the bar clientele as “Poofy”) the licensees’ wife’s pet cat! This heroic act was rewarded with generous libations from the besotted woman much to our envious disgust! But Matt’ would still “humbly” accept her gifts of ambrosia with sickly obsequiousness then throw us a wink across the bar! (accusations of gross illegitimacy were mumbled amongst the serfs!).
Mick’s moment of glory, however, was yet to come and when it did it was short-lived but long remembered: That despotic clique known collectively as:”Bikies”, seem to make a habit of “discovering” quiet watering-holes ( pubs) then invading enmasse till the whole tribe, their machines and other potpourri and hangers-on turn even the most sedate establishment into a realistic collage of a desperate refugee camp, or rather; question time in the federal parliament! This goes on, with the accompanying brawls and shrieking till the police are called in to restore law-and-disorder.
Such an event was taking place one afternoon at the Seacliff Hotel. Scene: Twenty or more bikies and their “molls” with assorted motorcycles lolling outside the plate-glass window of the lounge-bar. Leather jackets, crash helmets and empty bottles lay about in no discernible order. Police officers moved methodically through the throng, defecting one machine after the other, thereby removing the cause of disturbance from the road (temporarily!). A gathering of young clientele watched this pantomime through the lounge-bar window, a hum of sympathy for the bikies permeates the crowd.
Enter Mick: Pint of beer in one hand, reefer in the other. He pushes his way to the front then drags on his smoke. He is several years older than the majority of these spectators, (and he realises it) and enjoys a small degree of respect that is automatically bestowed upon those more experienced in obtaining (and distributing) those childish intoxicants so sought after by gullible youth.
He gazes steadily and disgustedly at the proceedings outside. He throws his cigarette butt on the carpet and grinds it slowly underfoot. He holds pint in one hand and places clenched fist of the other on his hip. He snorts:
“The fucking bastards, those coppers can’t leave anyone alone we ought to sneak out and slash their tyres! ”
Suddenly, a great hairy fist attached to a great hairy arm reaches over the heads of nearby youths and grasps Mick by the scruff of the neck, lifting him clear of the floor!
“Right” a thunderous voice boomed out “I’ll have you, me of china!!” and Mick was frog-marched unceremoniously away and thrown in the paddy-wagon.
Neither cries of misunderstanding nor innocence availed, Mick was “pinched!” on hearing of this disrespectful allusion to the constabulary, Bubblehead bestowed upon Mick the dreaded “BANNED FOR LIFE!” (again!).
There came the time about then when I moved interstate for work so lost touch with the local goings on. The last contact I had with anyone connected with the “crowd”, was Mick’s old man. I was driving out to go north and he was coming back toward the suburb and we crossed paths at the roundabout, he on one side me on the other. He had a car-trailer hooked on the back with the wreck of a familiar looking car lumped on it. He wearily lifted his hand that dangled outside the car window to acknowledge my questioning glance :” Yeah!… bloody Mick,…done it again!” and he drove away shaking his head.
It was the mechanics of the thing, you see..the lifestyle oscillated around the practicalities of living a working life…what cars we had, what reliability those cars had and what were the other mechanics of our lives..the physical necessities that shaped the esoterica of a suburban life..and our suburban culture grew and flowered out of such fertile soil.
Any skills I have as a raconteur I have learned by careful observation of those I met in my youth..as my skills in the trade of carpentry were first taught by the tradesmen I worked with and honed by experience, so were those oral storytellers in my formative years..in front bar and camp they would tell tall story and tale, with either exaggerated excitement or subdued laconic humour or cynicism…Most could very well be script-illiterate, hence their falling onto the oral telling of their lives…or their audience could be likewise complex language unlearned and the use of gesticulation and voice inflection a necessary ingredient to tale and verse…and in those time of youthful enthusiasm, I listened..and listened closely..and watched, because in those times it was not the place for a youngster to interrupt or talk over an older person…certainly NOT if they were telling a yarn..for the teller of such things were a valuable commodity in a working camp, far away from family and home..
In these times of higher education, it must be seen as ironic that the passing of both the front bar style of oral storytelling and the raconteur to be then replaced with written word which itself has now fallen into disuse and the mainstay of story telling is the visual media..so lazy have we become that even the listening of tale that may demand some intelligent deciphering and interpretation of nuance with experience, so we have given over such method to the simple viewing of situation drama on television or movie-screen.
Verily have we come the full circle from the days of the Coliseum and Hippodrome where participation in the action or drama required little more than attendance and the turning of a thumb up or down..much the same as “channel surfing” with the remote controller on the television.
So let me take you on a journey into my learning of the tricks of the trade of storyteller which I picked up alongside my adventures as a journeyman carpenter, where our whole generation abandoned our parent’s set ideas of work and lifestyle to go on one fucking hell of a wild ride to an uncertain destiny without a single adult in the game!
Raconteur, raconteur tell another tale,
Oh please old raconteur, never one to fail.
Tell us of your olden times,
Tell us of your time in jail,
Tell us oh tell us, old man…
Those times of such travail.
I wrote this piece quite a few years ago. It was an attempt to both explain and understand that moment of decision in my late teens, in the later years of the 1960’s when the urge for revolution was so explosive in our Boomer generation. The thing is, while we were full of the life and want for a new social beginning, AND were keen as mustard to get started in it, we really didn’t (or at least ..I..didn’t !) have any flamin’ idea where it was going to take us!..It was one crazy, hell-raising ride into adventure, with not one adult around to give guidance or example..just partying on for years and years!..the old rules were torn up and the new ones had yet to be written..and when they finally were, it was on the shredded shirt-tails of what was then a conservative Australia.. Well..the job was done and still is done and all this old boomer can say is ; “ Goodbye to all that!”!”
An interesting phenomenon can happen to a young person when they reach their mid to late teens, there is a moment of awakening to the situation around them, the life they are living, the social circle and familial surroundings that guide their every-day movements and decisions. They can have a sort of psychological awakening and either fall totally in-line with the accepted dogma of society, or they can totally rebel and reject the “boring-as-batshit” lifestyle of their parents and peers and go off in a completely different direction. Some of the “baby-boomers” famously did just the latter….I was one of those.
Now, to my mind, there were three different phases of baby-boomers…There are those born directly at the end of the second world war, the more inflexible of these grew up with the mind-set of their parents : Conservative, militaristic, socially servile.
The second wave from the start of the fifties to the middle fifties were expected to follow such sentiments as their older siblings, but they did not..Oh!, they did for a while, as tender youths, but then they rebelled, even against their brothers and sisters!
The third wave, till the early sixties, are the misguided conservatives we have in power now! They have leap-frogged back to the fifties in a caricature of what they perceive as their parents control mechanisms and are an exaggerated version of that conservatism.
I am of the middle set of boomers…and man!…did we ever rebel! It wasn’t just a case of :”Oh, I think I’ll go in a different direction”…It was an emphatic…”I’m outa here!”..and I can remember the exact moment when I stopped being the aspiring apprentice carpenter and became the son from hell!
There were three things that awoke the liberating spirit within me, the first was a book, the second was music and the third that sealed my fate was an incident.
Let me explain.
I was an avid reader of books in my early teens…you probably know the type of books..: Crime, mysteries, war, adventure…that sort of thing…I was a regular “young boys own” kind of fellow, till one day, in the mid sixties or so, whilst about to catch a train, I was looking at a book-stand for something to read, and in a hurry, I bought this book that had on its cover a war theme…I bought the book and caught the train….the title of the book : “Catch 22″…I fell in love with that book…I still love it! I’ve consumed it so many times, like one consumes a lover, a hunger insatiable till you next see them! When touching is not enough and total immersion is demanded..a beauty!
In 1967, The Beatles released their “Sgt. Peppers” album…Talk about a bombshell!…Never, never before in my own world of music had such a magical mix of bizarre and sublime sounds been cast upon the airwaves. You cannot honestly tell me that you can listen to that album and not be swept away with the mesmerising musical magic….and that moment when the calliope lilts in “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”…”…and of course Henry the horse dances the wALTz…”…..glorious! magical!, marvellous! To HELL with Elvis!…and then came Hendrix and The Stones.. who wants the crappy crooners? Just turn up the volume!
The third incident was the defining moment, when the combination of the first two awakenings jelled with the third and I went home to sleep on a new and exciting desire.
Again, it was 1967…the end of that year, I was nearly seventeen…it was Summer…….I don’t suppose the name ; Bodo Skrypek means anything to you? Why should it?…But just roll that name around and off your tongue a couple of times….obscure? abstract?…..intriguing isn’t it?…But I kid you not..it is a real name. As a matter of fact, he nearly got into a punch-up with a copper one night who thought he was having him on giving a name like that!
Bodo was a “Rocker”….you know?, in the days of Mods and Rockers…Bodo was a Rocker of the first order..The BSA Golden Flash motorcycle with the cow-horn handle-bars, the black leather jacket and chrome shoulder-chains, black stove-pipe jeans and stud-belt with “ripple-sole” shoes, the tats, the snarl..blonde, “flat-top” crew-cut and the sartorial exactness of a Jimmy Dean, but with all the aggro of “Chopper Reid”, if Chopper was around in those days!
You’d understand what I mean if I tell you that he cultivated a meticulousness of both dress style in matched sleekness with his motorcycle..he used to clean his motorcycle, that fetish of masculinity, engine and spokes, with a toothbrush!…that machine was a black and chrome beast, an android extension of his physical personality, he could toss it around like it was a coin in the twirl of his fingers. It was totally phallic… Bodo WAS the fifties personified. We adored him…. We feared him!
One summer night, at the top of Brighton Rd. and the junction of Schofield terrace and Ocean Boulevarde, three of us gathered near “The Monument” ; a tall, cylindrical column with three rifles triangulated and propped to each other on top of the column, still in-situ but moved a little to one side of the road, a testament to war. Three of us were there..: Pommy Len with his Honda, Ron Parker with his 350cc. Beeza..and myself, the youngest by a couple of years, with my Yamaha. It was the early days of the emergence of the Japanese motorcycles…themselves a bone of contention amongst the motorcycle purists who mostly scorned the “Jap-crap” for British machines, of which, amongst the Rocker brigade, Triumphs and BSA reigned supreme…Norton was acceptable, but just,: the intellectuals choice…the rest were, in the vernacular of the times..:”poofter bikes”!
We were there, at the S-bend in the road, at the monument, just milling about, dead-still night, nothing to do and no intention of doing it! And then Bodo rocks up on his Golden Flash Beeza…sees us, does a U-ee and pulls up and parks with one automatic quick-flick of the side-stand whilst simultaneously dismounting…He lit up a cigarette…(where did it come from..magic! there it was, the lit match already somersaulting away into the night). He stands, we gather around to the “flame”…moonlight and streetlight phosphorose man and machine, memory fixed to time and place..did I know it was the end of an era…
Jacta alia est!
My senses were alert..I don’t know, something was stirring in me, a portent?..Did we talk? I don’t remember, did we animate? I don’t remember..But next thing, another motorcycle comes around the S-bend and pulls up. I do not know him, but Bodo does..even some sort of respect…he rides a Suzuki “Hustler”, the quickest bike off the mark for those days…his pillion is a blonde girl, long..blonde hair…they are both about eighteen, no crash helmet, no shoes, just “T” shirt and casual denim jeans…but maaan!, they looked so cool and relaxed, they didn’t get off the bike, just straddled it and conversed with Bodo, who, after some little time in discussion on the merits of particular motorcycles, tired of the conversation and tried to “hit on” the blonde girl pillion who, with a disdaining toss of her blonde hair, seemed to scorn him!…a new ideal, a new generation!..I saw it, the vulnerability, the loss of attitude….
The young man started the motorcycle and with a casual adieu..and that’s what it was ; an adieu..They turned and accelerated down Brighton Rd with such amazing speed and unity of line, that even Bodo paused in the action of putting his cigarette to his lips. I Iiked that look of cool denim, the girl, the bike the attitude….an Epiphany! I wanted it!
There seemed like a long, long silence between the departure of those two prophets and any action on our parts…That machine and its’ passengers just went…whoosh, no thundering roar of engine, no aggro from the young man toward Bodo’s attempt on his pillion, just a swift, smooth departure from the point of disturbance toward serenity..the red tail-light a point of distinction fading into the distance.
“I wonder”, said Bodo suddenly,”How fast I can get up to coming down that road?”
He was turned gazing up the new stretch of bitumen of Ocean Boulevarde…None of us commented, it was a rhetorical question, for he had no sooner said it than he had flung his smoke away and mounted his bike and still with the kick-start at the nadir of its stroke, the motor throttling, the side-stand snapped closed as he leapt the bike out onto the road, wheel spinning in a smokey arc while the bike aligned itself to point up the open road.
We three moved our bikes and ourselves down the road a little to where the bend straighten out toward Seacliff. We stood on the edge of the kerb and waited.
You could hear him before you could see him as he came thundering down that boulevard like a summer storm barrelling down…that Beeza was screaming, a throaty howl. Christ, he was flying!…then he appeared just as the road went into that long, broad sweeping bend of which we were at the zenith. He was already pitched at a low angle as he went into it at a speed of at least a hundred plus miles an hour….as he floated toward us, the bike howling with a spraying shower of dazzling sparks shooting from the muffler and foot-pedals as that big, beefy, Beeza bounced, bottomed and scraped on the bitumen.
Len and Parker leapt from the road edge to the back of the footpath….I stayed where I was…I don’t know why, except I was mesmerised in the theatre of this performance..for that ‘s what it was ; a statement of braggadocio in the face of rejection…Bodo had lost face with that girl, with that young man…with us..certainly with me, I wanted nothing of it, no more big-noting, no more aggro, no more warrior tactics….I wanted liberation from that whole social network , screw them all! Though of course, I couldn’t voice those specific thoughts as I stood there rooted defiantly to the kerb. I wasn’t going to respond to the automatic fear….I know now ; with mortality being the only certainty, the whole world runs on bluff.
Sure enough, Bodo swept past so close to me I could smell the engine oil and feel the heat of that motor. He was still braking as he neared the Seacliff junction..but I couldn’t care less, for I had already mounted my Yamaha and was quietly making my way home…I had a lot of thinking to do.
As I lay abed, thinking about that young man and the girl, the fact that they didn’t get upset or angry, they just “walked away”…and that is what I did to that life back then..to my job, to my parents, to my home, to all the expectations of that boring-as-batshit society…it’s what we all did, a whole generation almost, spontaneously, I didn’t get angry, I just..walked away!
Those times marked the beginning of a new world of opportunity for social and metaphysical change..the big building companies that ran multiple trades within their construction contracts came to an end..the old family industries built up by an older generation had reached the end of their days with the passing of that old generation, the younger inheritors made drastic and unsympathetic changes with the challenging of the unions and the long-held principles of wages and conditions…
Saturday mornings then were a special moment for us youth in our little group. This was in the days of our mid-teens, too young to go to the pubs but old enough to have a motorcycle licence. All of us, to a lad, were apprentices…most of us were in the building industry.. a couple in the Auto industry. Our take-home pay was such that we had to make our own fun, fortunately, petrol was at such a low price (relative to our income) we could go tear-arseing through the hills playing at boy-racers, like our heroes on the Isle of Man TT. Circuit.
What has one gained
When a tally done?
Are pelf and possessions
Worthy of time gone?
If a smile is lost
And bright eyes grow dun.
We would meet at a certain cross-road and take off into our favourite “runs”. If it was a short run, we would go through Coromandel Valley / Clarendon…if it was an all-day affair, it would be the Murray Bridge run on what is now the “old road”, through Mt Barker, Nairne, Kanmantoo / Callington. With long straight stretches where you could unwind the bikes to see how fast they would go. On the winding roads, we’d make a single file, snaking through the corners on what was understood as ; “The Right Line”, after a short film of the era that featured a racing bike on Oulton Park, with the camera fixed to the front and it took you through the “line” most suited to the fastest speed in the corners…I believe the bike was a Manx Norton…I remember the throaty big-piston sound that they had….a thrilling ride ..then!
Sometimes , on those long straight lengths of road we would ride side by side and exchange chatter, my Japanese two-stroke a higher pitch than Ron Parker’s BSA or Russel Hamby’s Triumph…those British bikes had a certain smell of hot oil and a distinctive hum of chain driven gears…those Brits loved chains!…But I loved that smell of burning oil…it also was prevalent on the old steam trains, a smell of steam and oil would sometimes shisssh out from the front drive of the train as you walked past…shishhhwhoosh!..and there was that smell.
So I am now clasped in a hold,
I cannot stay young,
Dare not grow old.
But cannot stop feeling
What my heart be told.
And all its promises,
But a Judas kiss !
This idyll went on for several years in my youth, work was there, a sense of permanence was there, routine was in place and the reward of the inviolate weekend to relax permeated through the whole of society. Mums and dads were at home, doing things in the garden or the house, dinner, mundane as it sometimes was, was always there. Kids were climbing trees or running over paddocks and we teens were going to the beach or the pictures watching banal American “teen-flicks” with Annette Funnicello, Gidget, Eric Von Zipper and a host of rhinestone cowboys and other ghastly indoctrination pieces. We were being shown “the good life”, the “American Dream”, like when television came along and we got “My Three Sons” or “Leave It To Beaver”, ”Father Knows Best” ..then those series of “Crime doesn’t pay” gumshoe-detective genre I believe was in the mix also. One is inclined now, with the wisdom of age, to ask ; “What were the adults thinking!!?”
But now, we do know just what “they” were thinking.
They were showing us “The Contract”. An unwritten agreement that “all this” could be yours if you stick to the line and the terms of the contract and just do as you are directed. It was the age of wall to wall Conservative Liberal Governments…Federal, State, Local, one great big broad church of conservatism with a capital “C”. The endless long-weekend with work aplenty, radio, tv, the flicks, sun, surf and an endless horizon that seemed as if it could have gone on forever….an endless ;”Come Saturday Morning”..and it wasn’t us workers who broke the contract.
Bring me no roses.
Bring me no roses, on this sad day.
No fancy words, no bright eulogy, pray.
Bring nothing but your tears,
Your regrets and fears..for what has gone awry,
And what is now come into play.
My people are dead, their works repealed,
Their strikes, their rights, their hard-won wages reviled.
Their lives of toil and camaraderie forgot,
Traded away as an auctioned lot,
Along with their “crude and clumsy jot”.
Their fumbling demands for rights at work,
Dismissed by “class-less” finishing-schooled jerks,
With soft, crème’d hands and a tongue that is forked.
No..bring me no roses on this, such a day,
For I am still weeping for my lost comrades..
Give flowers to the “pretty people” as they go about their play,
The soft, sweet scent will hide the stench as they betray.
I was apprenticed to a builder who held a major contract with the then Housing Trust, and he ran one of those old family businesses, a Latvian whom I now suspect of being one of those Nazi collaborators in the 2nd. WW. I worked in the joinery / machine shop. I was in my third year of the apprenticeship and I was keen to extend my carpentry knowledge with a stint on the job with roofing and wall structures. I asked if I could leave the joinery shop and go on the job.
I was told ; no, as there was only sub-contractors on the job, not company employees.
I then asked if I could be assigned with one of these subbies so I could learn more about carpentry. I was told no, and that was the end of it. ..I was to stay in the shop.
I then started to wonder how this system worked.. Why were there so many apprentices in proportion to tradie joiners?…Were these “joiners” really tradesmen or just bench-hands? I soon worked out that not only were the workers there not tradesmen, but that there were more apprentices as that was the cheapest labour…and when I queried both the “apprenticeship commission” and my union on the situation, I was told to shut-up and not to make trouble.
That meager kitchen light
Cut his reflection on the glass.
He looks…the collar of his overcoat tugs,
A fumbling with the latch.
Another dawn interminably,
The workplace calls him down.
The trains, the jostle, the silent journeys
Through winter’s cutting edge.
Though visible within my memory,
No touch, no talk, no sound,
But an awkward gentle smiling,
That baleful knotted frown.
The evening family rosary;
Pray God maintain our health.
HIS prayers I’d say were directed
To stay the creeping stealth
Of years, that cut a swathe
Through the patience of the man,
The blocks, the bricks, the working tools
Raised welts of callouses on his hands.
When the cup of love went empty,
Would do to fill it up with wine.
He drank to forget the future,
He drank for Auld Lang Syne!
The weakness was his, they tell us;
The drink, the swearing, the hand
That struck us fiercely stinging…
But I see the courage in the man.
And though his “achievements” were empty,
And poverty enriched our band,
I’d do worse than esteem his persistence,
Nor prefer I memories of “better” men.
So there it was..; the perfect fool’s paradise..; The factory filled with cheap labour churning out a product for a conservative govt’ being run by a conservative opportunist with the permission of conservative govt’ authority overseen by a conservative / right-wing union.. As long as the status quo was maintained, all would be sweet..; Work would come in, wages would go out, “The Real McCoy’s” (with Walter Brennan) or “Rawhide” (with Ward Bond and Clint Eastwood) would keep repeating and every weekend would be another ; “Come Saturday Morning”.
But the bastards got greedy, they got away with the shit wages and conditions for so long, they saw it as their privilege, so that when the workers did finally get some unions with balls and did kick up about it, they got heavy and then the shit really hit the fan! It was called Vietnam and protest songs and freedom!
In the end, it was the “mechanics” of the life we lived that called the shots on how we behaved..shop-floor working lives that filled the working week and allowed us the weekend to binge on entertainment..whether that be wild rides through the winding hills roads on our motorbikes or as we came of age to drink, the bingeing on booze on Friday / Saturday nights to recover on Sunday ready for Monday..Such a life style became routine.
“One must forgive the young their foolishness, for without them, there would not seem so much wisdom in old age.”…Socrates.
Ah!..Friday nights, didn’t we look forward to them. But we were young and carefree in those days. A group of us young bucks would meet after work at the Seacliff Hotel on Fridays and imbibe of the amber fluid and see what came of the evening. We were mostly working lads, so our thirsts were dry and encouraging.
I happened to be the first there that night, so I’d only taken my first drought of beer and settled back one-arm-on-the-bar surveying the scene, when in walks Mark. Mark was a big stocky fellow then, before the years and a beer-gut increased accordingly.
“Another schooner please, Noela.” I said to the barmaid before Mark reached me.
“G’day mark..How’s the land lie?” I greeted him.
‘Hrmph!..not much better than yesterday..ta, Noela.”
“Why the long face?…Say!..I heard you bought yourself a car!”
“HAD, you mean..past tense…an’ I only had it three days!”
“Righto then”, I turned and put both my forearms on the bar-top..”out with it..what’s the dirt?”
‘Bloody Mick!” Mark spat the words out.
“More!” I demanded.
“Last night we were in here having a drink”, he started..( I motioned to Noela for a beer for myself and nudged the coins on the bar and gave her the wink and a sign to keep refilling them). ” You know then that car I got from one of Mick’s mates who was going back to Sydney or somewhere and it had a “yellow canary” on it for bald back tyres?…Well, Mick suggested I buy the car ’cause I could get it for a song.” Mark paused for a drink and a sigh, then continued…
” But I haven’t even got a licence..I said to him..’You’ll get one one day’ ,said Mick ‘ and until then I can drive you around, since I don’t have a car.’….Mark rolled his eyes..”Say!..have you heard about Mick’s car?”
“I have not” I replied.
“Ah!…it’s another story..I’ll tell you later..he smashed it anyhow….again!” Mark waved his hand as if to erase the thought from his mind.
“Well,” he continued “I’d had enough beer by then to be a little bit foolish, so between one thing and another, I bought the car….’ 64 Falcon…green…..I think!”.
Mark sighed and plonked his hand down on a packet of smokes which he flung the lid off in an angry gesture and lit one up ecstatically.
“A man’s a fool!” he philosophised.
“Well, we were in here last night, me, Mick and Jim….You know Jim..the bullshit-artist?…yeah, that’s him!…me and Jim and Mick, just where we’re sitting now..and the car’s there outside the window in the street and I was feeling a little proud, I admit it, I’d never owned a car before, you see?…”
“Anyway..(yes thanks, Noela)..we’re sitting here an’ Mick leans over to Jim and me and whispers like it was a national secret…: ‘I know where I can get a good “deal” tonight’…”
“Oh yeah!” I said “Where; The Brighton?”
“Yeah..good heads..good price too!”…Mick was keen. Suddenly, there was “Brain’s” face hanging over my shoulder..”How much?” Brain asks.
I tell you, if there’s even a sniff of dope within half a mile of Brain, he’s on to it. And God!..doesn’t it look like he’s full of it ! If it can be smoked, drank chewed or injected…..but then I ‘spose that’s why he’s called “Brain”….oh God!…his eyes!!”
“How much?” Brain repeats himself..he’s standing there trembling like a distempered dog..anyway, between the long and short of it, we scrape our money together… I lent Brain his share..and we send Mick to buy a bag.”
“He gets back about an hour later lookin’ like he’s smoked half of it away. He gave us the nod from the door and we all finished our beers and went out to the car. He showed us the “deal”.
“And the rest, Mick!”, Jim said…He knew Mick like he knows himself, eh?..After a good deal of threatening from us he handed over some more he’d kept ‘ for commission’ he said.”
“Well, we decided to go up to the lighthouse and have a couple of joints. Mick’s driving like he usually does, so he does a few ‘ring-a-rounds’ on the grass and we park and smoke away……When we decided to go, Mick does another bunch of 360’s just to make an idiot of himself and then goes and slides the car into a ditch on the slope and gets stuck…of course, you know Mick..; plants his foot till smoke’s pouring off the tyres!”
” ‘Hold on dickhead!’..I shouted, ‘ we’re not going anywhere like this…we’ll have to get out and push’…we were standing at the boot, all off our faces as it was…’ No, Mick….YOU..stay in the car and steer….ok?…yeah, right ‘….Well, there we were, an the stars were shinin’…shinin’ an’ the lighthouse light is goin’…blink..blink…FLASH!!…jeez, y’know..it was a beautiful night….so it took us a little while to notice the grass had caught on fire under the car..probably off the muffler..up it went!…WHOOSH!…’ Mick, Mick’, we yelled (shoulda’ kept our mouths shut!) an he got out just in time. Man..we were panicking. Brain was freaking out, he just stood there moaning, ‘ Oh man, oh man’..and staring.”
“I’ ll go to a house’, I shouted, ‘and call the fire brigade’. I tell you I went to four houses over the other side of that gully before someone would listen to me. I don’t blame them on reflection, I dunno what I was sayin’..and the people in the forth house could see the problem without me babbling a word. He just looked over my shoulder and the grass on the whole side of the hill was on fire. I heard the sirens then and it was all over bar the shouting….When I got back to the fenceline, Jim, Mick and Brain were standing there silhouetted against the flames. Jim went into bullshit mode and started to detail about how it reminded him of “when he used to burn the sugar-cane crops up in Bundaberg….”..I told him to ‘ shuddup, Jim..just shuddup!’.
“Well, that was last night. This morning, I wasn’t feeling too good, but around comes Mick to pick up me an’ Jim an’ we drive up to the lighthouse to see the damage. The car’s a writeoff, gutted except the rear-end and the boot…you know those new tyres I put on to get the coppers to wipe off the “yellow canary”?…well, someone stole both wheels… must’av been the only thing on the whole car worth saving….and to add insult to injury, I’m standing there, really depressed an’ thinkin’..; ‘ well..at least I owned a car for three days! ‘….suddenly Mick makes this gasping sound, like a sharp intake of breath, leaps to the passenger-side door, throws it open and flips open what remained of the glovebox.”
“Oh SHIT !”…Mick cried painfully..”There was a whole “deal” in that glovebox!!”
“Man…I coulda’ wept.”…Mark shook his head disbelievingly. His hand plopped down again on his smokes.
“Words fall from our lips like cherry-stones into waste-bins..words of no serious content nor of any consideration..Without wisdom, we are but drones, without emotional feelings we are but beasts of the fields.”
I first “met” her…or at least I presumed it was a “her”..after all, one can never be sure when one first chats to a gravitar on social media…on the Twitter board, but I had to take her moniker for what it was worth and that was “Salutations Sally” (@SalSal)…and I have to confess that I liked her “in your face” posts that now regularly appeared as retweets or replies on my twitter stream…I decided to ‘follow” her, which to my surprise she reciprocated and “followed’ me back…There began communication on the board ..at first cautious as is proper between a male and a female..and, yes..Sally was a lady..on the public Twitter streams..between herself and myself over several months as topic and opinion agreed..I found myself hitting the “like” heart quite regularly in satisfaction.
It was on one of her outbursts of opinion where she challenged another poster in claiming she acted as an “independent thinker” on a particular subject that I thought to introduce “Salutations Sally” to some of my writing..for I do confess to being an amateur scribbler who posted stories on a blog of my own…and this particular piece was a new variant of my usual story-lines, those being of a local colour or historical content..a different tack from my usual stories..I had decided to delve into my own subconscious self and I realised that I had for many years been a closet voyeur with a taste for the erotic..and so I lowered the bucket into my own personal well of my soul and pulled it up to see what I would see..I wrote an erotic story about a man who had lost his wife through a long illness and the meeting of the lovely lady next door..they meet and match over the subject of a pear tree..and I was a little reticent as to how it would be received in this day and age of political correct bowdlerism..so I challenged her “as an independent thinker” to read the story and give me a critique.
To my surprise, she accepted my challenge, so I sent the link of the story on my blog…here is the tale for your own assessment..; https://freefall852.wordpress.com/2022/03/18/the-pear-tree/ ..indeed, Sally enjoyed the tale and we started to have chats via the direct messaging service on twitter..and I have to say that after a short time..around a month or so of congenial messaging, it became..if I can create a new expression..”the start of a beautiful Twittership”.
And by Christ, she turned out to be more than just a gravitar image…for “Sally” (if that be really her name) truly was an independent thinker…and if I might add…doer!…for one of Sally’s amusements was coincidentally, like my new realisation of myself..a thrill with eroticism.
Have you ever been aroused via the electronic media..and I don’t mean brutal pornography over the internet, anyone can access THAT dross..I mean having a lady send you sensual pictures of her own erotic creations..of her own body..with deliberate intent to arouse you..?..It was after one of our discussions on the power of erotica as a body/mind health stimulant that I received Sally’s first…”gift” as I came to call them..to myself, such beauty given with sensual intent to me..to only me..was a gift supreme..a gift I had no appropriate words of gratitude for…I could only swoon at the erotic pleasure..
“Good morning, Sally…I hope you slept well…I have to say you took me by surprise last night..I came as usual to see your “night-night” farewell and there was your delightful gift shining into my eyes like a full moon in clear skies..it took my breath away I must say…and yes…yes..I did open the pic up for a quick and hungry glimpse..and yes…I did kiss it!..and admire it…as I will always now..such a sight of pure beauty!”
I did kiss that image of her proffered derriere there in voluminous beauty on my computer screen…I even confess to running my tongue over that incandescent “moon”…for that is what it was to me ; a full moon with the most modest cover of her lace G-string underwear covering her womanhood..It was a thing to adore! Truly, an erotic presentation…Sally was a very proficient photographer.
I complimented her..: “I was going to come to see your “goodnight” and to sook a little that no-one was talking to me on the Twitter board and no-one was reading my stuff..but then I saw the pic…..and…….swoon!…I wasn’t expecting a gift of yourself… I now confess to becoming hungry for another glimpse of your body naked…but I think you well know that…I think you well know me like an open book now…I don’t mind…I trust your judgement…you won’t spoil me..keep me just hungry enough…I adore it!..tease me..taunt me! ”
And tease me Sally did..once, in the middle of a political discussion, she did “interrupt” the conversation with..; “I brought this body-suit yesterday..do you think it fits me well?”..and there was a picture of her lovely, full breasts squeezed into a partially unzipped, black, wet-look body suit whose zipper was only just able to control the force of those glowing mammaries trying to escape that body-suit…simply a glorious sight!
“My stumbling, bumbling words do no justice to the beauty of that image you have sent me, Sally…how does one tell of the personal warmth ignited in me with such a gift…I treasure it and hold it to utmost privacy…it is a beauty above so many others….I worship the thought that produced it..Your long, blonde hair falls just right….I will spend long moments dwelling over those curves…”
But it was not the pictures themselves that aroused the spirit of eros within me, it was ‘the gift given”…for I truly believe that erotica is a thing contained within a person…and pictures of the body are but gateways by which to enter to that pure emotion.. I have opinions on that creation of the erotic moment… In the appreciation of an erotic image, three phases or moments are traversed..The first is the immediate impact of the photographic image itself..the sudden jolt onto the psyche of such beauty…and while beauty it is, it is not really erotic..sure it can be a shock with its immediacy, but not so harsh that we cannot gaze upon the image in mesmerising attention and sensual delight of one form or another so that we become aroused.
The second phase is in the swift analysis of the image as the eye “traverses” the image and the intellect assess the mood…the photographic purity and skilled depiction..the camera angles, light and pose of the body image, colours, backgrounds, props etc…all absorbed into the eyes in split-second appreciative respect of skilled display.
The third….ah..the third…this…is the crux of erotica as an art form and psychologically implanted beauty..a beauty perfected in the imagined process of the making of the erotic moment.. One looks to the image..and one imagines the thinking that went into the making of that image..The subject (woman in my case) deciding just what image she will show to the camera and the viewer..and here there is pause enough while the voyeur re-creates in their imagination, the actions of the subject model..Having decided, she prepares her clothing..undressing or putting certain sensual clothing on..the choosing how much flesh to show…what part or whole of sexual organ to allow to be seen…then the preparation for the camera angles..the adjusting of breasts or buttocks for best image..adjusting the lace cloth to cover that most pure part of a woman’s genitalia.. what can be described as the “personal touch” of creative erotica……..all this is contained in a swift imagined cameo playing out in continuous loop in the voyeur’s mind…and in that imagined preparation, the experienced male can “join the dots” to see quite clearly those hidden delights of the sexual woman judicially covered for the erotic photograph…so the two dimensional image becomes three-dimensional “reality”…a silent sigh of pleasure and delight……take my breath away….take my breath away…oh woman, thy pure delight.
This give and take of erotic stimulus continued with several more beautiful pictures of Sally in provocative poses…her full breasts or bottom gracing my computer screen in sensual delight..I was at one point lost for words to describe the sensuality of the moment..
“It is why I look for, find and treasure the inner beauty in your feminine beauty…..and to myself, there is no more beautiful thing than to hold that beauty to myself…it is that place I speak of between a man and a woman…I don’t want to sound schmaltzy about it..but it really bites into me…” Somewhere.. Between the soul and the Divine, Between that love you seek and the love you find, is a place of absolute beauty,”…..I adore it!…”
In reciprocation of Sally’s “gifts” of erotica, I would compose poetry solely directed of, to and for herself…I would compose my gift of elocution celebrating her beauty ; inner and body for both of us to soak our souls in..and even if I say so myself, those eulogies to Sally were of a quality equalling the best of any lover’s poetry..for they were composed with honest and humble dedication of my affection toward herself.
“A shaft of sun through the Parthenon glows,
Upon a wild, white Athens rose.
The blossom of that tender bush,
Is tinged at heart with a gentle blush,
When held, ‘tis said, ‘tween lovers fingers twined,
Would, with age-old chant, their voices bind :
“Oh Sun who gives the blush to thee,
Grant her cheeks may blush for me,
And with the passing of this day,
Grant the wish I wish I may.”
I even wrote a story centred around our social media escapade..for escapade it was, an adventure just between Sally and myself..we were like two strangers within a cocooned room..: “You know…I like this “reality” that you and I are the only “people” in this virtual room…yet we are invisible to each other..we are like two blind people feeling our way around the walls..and occassionally we bump into each other….and say “hello”….”
Sally had several men friends she would see and go out with..and I was in no way possessive of her trysts and sexual fantasies..on the contrary, I would encourage the enjoyment of such..am I not a voyeur?.. and then ask..in the most polite way of her evenings..I would ask what she wore and Sally would in kind post a pic of her outfit..and if she was in a sexy mood, would expose one of her breasts out of the garment for my voyeur’d delight..and yes..I would almost weep with joy for the secreted excitement of our social media liaison.
Knowing Sally’s domination side, I would sometimes make humble appeals to her controlling nature just to have her “chastise” me in playful language..
“If I appear crass, vulgar, impertinent in my desiring to see you naked in sexual erotica, forgive me…it is of a man who has basked his eyes upon your vision splendid and desires more, if in desiring to drink in more of your decorated bodily delights it is of a man who has drank thirstily from your well of commanding sweet water, if in desiring to taste more of your full, curvaceous body, it is of a man who has feasted hungrily from your banquet of a gourmet body…and yes..I confess to being all of those things first mentioned…and more!…but of these and other weaknesses..forgive me…I am but a weak man hungering for the absolution of your woman’s sexual blessings….forgive me..forgive me…”
This and other such fantastical sentences we gladly and keenly exchanged and indeed, I had a long-term vision for an “online virtual relationship” that we could hold in secure confidence of each other giving and receiving an exchange of gifts of “equal value” in precious feelings to each other.
And then came the covid virus epidemic..
And then Sally went down with the virus..
And that was about when it all went to hell..
And the fault was mostly my own..I had underestimated the reach of that deadly virus, and Sally, being the “crack hardy” she portrayed herself as, gave little evidence of the extent of her illness…and then thirdly, I am one of those more fortunate people who very rarely fall ill enough to warrant medical attention of any serious nature…as a matter of fact, on my having to have a kidney stone attended to, the nurse taking my details and cross-checking them on her health directory computer, raised her eyebrows and exclaimed ; “Oh!…a cleanskin!” meaning that there was no medical records against my name..and for someone of my age, that appeared unusual..
So the extent and gravity of Sally’s illness escaped my serious attention and my consequent demands on her person became, I should imagine, more of a burden than a pleasure to herself…which culminated one day with an outburst accusing me of being puerile, petulant and using herself as little more that an object for my own selfish sexual fantasies…………of course I rejected the first, but had to upon reflection, accept in the light of the bleeding obvious interchange between ourselves over the preceding months the second and third accusations were correct…correct yes, but with conditions…” A part of me is “petulant child”…another part; wanting child…then also a wanting man…then again a hungry man…as well as a loving man, a sensitive man…and perhaps deep in there also the angry man…I hope I have revealed all these to you at one time or another…as that is me at one time or another…what else can I be…
When the only way to communicate is with an inadequate vocabulary..without voice inflection or body signals/language…so many intentions can be misconstrued…sentences run over each other from one post to the next and the eye-signal that tells when one ought to cease and desist is not there…mistakes are made…I make many..but they are neither intentional nor insidious…” …for I had never just or only seen Sally as a sexual object and I pleaded my case that I had viewed the eroticism of her nakedness as a whole physical/emotional experience…never separating the one from the other, never viewing her eroticism as an either or either situation..
But it was to no avail as her anger escalated and her scorn poured forth to me…it got to the stage where I had to ask if she had taken up religion and became soaked in the “purity of the Lord”…which, thinking back on it, was NOT the best thing to ask..
At any rate, it was about then that the friendship started to dissolve and the “chats” slowly became a conversation between myself and one or two word responses from Sally..I could see the end of those delightful days approaching..
“I have for a long time in my life had this awareness that I seem to come into things..jobs, organisations, groups etc.. just before they end…and now since I have ‘known’ you, we have gone from casual conversations of “life in general” to have this pandemic bear down, the situation of your health…YOUR health with this covid thing and your friends also..and I had stitched my wellbeing onto our “tapestry” so that my balanced functioning depended somewhat on our regular contact..but now everything almost has been turned on its head…and I ponder how things will end…
Oh Sally….How things have changed since we had our first “chat”….who would have thought so much would bear down on our lives…hope you are keeping warm….”
But it got to the stage that I was the only person now in that “room”..Sally had gone away from me, indeed, it appeared she had also abandoned those men-friends and had taken to the Twitter board seeking to establish new gravitar friendships with so many other likewise strangers on Twitter…becoming a part of that matrix of formulated electrical energy that makes up the ”identities” of so many on social media..I had to consider giving it best..
“Dunno any more.
Ah..I dunno, Sally…should I persevere?….perhaps I should give it best and just leave it all go…block you and put it all behind me..or perhaps you’ll soon tire of the episode and block me anyway…Others, I suspect would have given it away long ago..I DO think you have misconstrued my intent and my language..perhaps it IS a tad old-fashioned..sadly..but I do treasure your company and perhaps I look upon it now philosophically in that I have, after all, kissed that pic of your gorgeous bum on my PC screen so many times, I might as well kiss it verbally here some more and at least post some poetry to serenade you..I still enjoy that..anyway…”
And so it came to pass that we fell out most finally and Sally went on to while not fully blocking me from her stream, but she did “unfollow” me and also “muted” me from her timeline….But after consideration of the situation and the current list of followers I saw she had..and the joining in of the banal and facile commentary that Sally does and which constitutes the most considerable portion of “deep-thought” of the Twitterverse, I have to conclude that with the covid virus illness and recovery, there came also time for her to reflect on her own situation and future and in doing so decided there was more compatibility in joining in with the great status quo than the isolation of singular ecstatic eroticism…for it has to be accepted that mediocrity does have its attractions and rewards…can be a safe harbour in times of stress..to fade into the blancmange background of acceptability of the general dross of humanity..but I don’t know if it can last…for mediocrity itches like a hair-shirt on the broad shoulders of the creative body and mind…
I finished the “relationship” with what I hoped was a simple truth to the memory of the wonderful time we had together on social media..
“I dreamt that time was in reverse,
And never came that ending tryst,
I hold you still in night’s embrace,
And never came that ending kiss,
And never stilled that loving fire,
So very near to my heart’s desire.
Let the masses throw flattery and accolades at thy feet..but I..and ONLY I, will EVER serenade thee with such force and volume of sweet, sweet eulogy..”
I did a lot of work out in the Murray Mallee Country..one job we built a house out around Sandalwood ways, on a bit from Borrika…that’s the name of the location, not talking about the tree..though it stands to reason there may have been a lot of those type of trees there…but we built this most beautiful log-cabin place there on a farm..It was on stumps about two foot off the ground ..Australiana style with wide verandah with decking all around the house.. and over it there hung two tall mallee trees kind of embracing the whole house and making a picture of it all..and it was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen…But it didn’t end well for the husband and wife there..He was a dominating sort of chap, who worked in the cement mills down the Port and when he retired, they shifted to the mallee onto a property they had farmed for many years before, but it had no house and they camped out in caravans while the did the cropping etc…and when he retired, they sold up in the city and came holus-bolus to the mallee..but it didn’t end well at all…His wife fell in love with the local windmill mechanic and they eventually left the district together to start over interstate…and they were both not young either..I wrote a piece about it…:
The Exile of Celia Adamson..
I’ll tell you a story..A story of two people who became lovers when of an age where one would little expect such an event to ever again enter one’s life…Two people from that older generation that we had come to think of as staid, conservative and settled.. emotions suppressed under an obligation and habit of domestic duty. Our two lovers, for that is what they did become and they did forge a new life together for the rest of their lives..were in their mid fifties, neither were of what we would call ; “The beautiful people”…nor given to extravagant lifestyles…in short : Plain, everyday people…but do not those same people, those “plain people” desire, dream, want for that elusive satisfaction denied in a mundane lifstyle..should the mystery and pleasure of love be lost in the hum-drum of domesticity?
“For even Madam Time is paused and her dead-hand held fast as the women sly pass..with but a glance and wistful smile to those who adore..touch not vain blade lest the moment spoil to but gaze upon and weep with desire.
Oh women!…thine eyes alone would tempt a greater God than man’s humble creation and thy beauty even if only in the beheld eye enough to blind the honest to thievery and if thou desires; let thee accrue the price or the cost , beholden to no man’s pitiful measure..for it is thy cup that pours the bouquet and let know but that you will choose the bloodline..and your body the time and place….no disgrace!
Your choice ; glory or vainglory, let time grow jealous and men grow old while you can choose to look to either, for heaven befits a granted grace and beauty will reach even the heart of a stone, but the moment loaned of a woman’s touch can be for a wanting man enough to satiate the longing hunger for heaven’s gate!”
I knew them well..I am a builder. I built the house for the people in this story a long, long time ago, and that building over several months allowed me to learn about the personalities of my customers. I lived in the district as I built the house, so I also was able to study other people and trades as they came and went on the farm site. I met and was known to the protagonists of the tale..how they fell in love is their own private concern, I can only relate what I learned from observation and what was divulged to me in quiet conversations at a later date .
Then, a couple of years ago, I was asked to attend as an observer, a workshop on alternative crops for arid area farming. It was to be held in the district where the story below is based. There, I asked a couple of local farmers if they had heard of the couple since. Well , it seems that after twenty five or so years away farming in another state, they had returned in their old age to the district..I did not enquire any deeper into their circumstance..nor health…I would wonder if they were still “of this world “ now…
The Murray Mallee is a vast area…it is sparsely populated and the farms of huge acreage. The loneliness of those places can consume a person and create a hunger for company as ravenous as the real hunger of a starving refugee! So too can the hunger for love haunt and drive a person to seek comfort in a lover’s embrace…so it was for our two lovers in this story.
It was evening, the sky had darkened to a voluminous pitch with the encroaching night, and only a thin shim of glow under the umbra of the sun from the approaching storm clouds threw a veiled, pasteled light onto the vast paddocks of the farm. Celia strolled out to the home paddock windmill to get away from the house and her grumpy husband. She walked out over the gibbered paddock to see the approaching storm. There is a wildness within thunderstorms that both frighten and thrill, and Celia liked to feel that release of the power within the storm. The cool wind slipped about her arms as she stood at the base of the windmill-pump and listened to its creaking and groaning. She climbed the ladder to the top of the frame and gazed out over the purpling endless mallee scrub.
The rumbling of thunder made her catch her breath a little and suddenly two simultaneous stabs of lightning made her heart jump! jump! with their frightening power and their following roll of thunder tumbling over the trembling crowns of the mallee trees thrilled her senses! She felt so insignificant in the entire scheme of the world around her, so powerless, as if swept along a frightening rapid river. All her life seemed to be a series of decisions made for her outside of her control, outside of her wants and considerations : Her education, her marriage, her domesticity and now, the farm.
Lightning struck closer now and the cracks of thunder positively scared her and she climbed back down the ladder just as the first spits of rain dappled onto the dry paddock. She shook her hair as she ran to the house. It was so refreshing, the rain, that wet-hay smell that comes with that first wash of rain after a dry spell in the mallee..life reborn!
“Celia….Celia” Gilbert Adamson called impatiently from the interior of the house.
“Coming, coming” cried Celia with weary frustration.
The Exile of Celia Adamson.
“That which is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil.” (NIETZCHE)
One day, many years ago, when Celia was in her late teens, nearing twenty, her mother came into the lounge-room and saw Celia reading a book. She moved over and with her index finger tilted the book back to read the title:
“Carmen and Calomba”, she read out softly, she knew the stories, she had read them herself as a young woman.
“Yes” said Celia “I found it in the bookshelf, it’s quite interesting!” she spoke enthusiastically.
Celia’s mother dropped her hands down and clasped them together in front of her skirt. She gazed down at her daughter and sighed and went over to the bookshelf. After a quick perusal she picked out a small Gideon’s Bible that had fallen into her ownership years before. She moved back over to Celia with a wry smile on her face and with index finger and thumb, as though picking fluff off some material, plucked “Carmen and Calomba” out of Celia’s hands and replaced it with the stern lessons of the Bible.
“It would do better with you, my young lady, to learn patience and fidelity through the Bible rather than whoring and conniving through literature. One will serve you well for marriage while the other.. well…it can serve you, that I won’t deny…but it can also hurt you more than you can realise.” Her mother’s eyes softened here a little, for she could already see her daughter’s weaknesses and for all their apparent simplicity to their children, a parent has the opportunity to watch the child grow in both body and personality. So much did her mother presume to know of her daughter and so much was she dominant in that relationship, that when told of Gilbert Adamson’s proposal of marriage, she set her lips in a determined smile and without so much as a serious discussion with Celia set about organizing the wedding arrangements. Celia, by the authoritive powers of a matriarchial dominated household, was now betrothed.
What nature had denied Celia Adamson in physical beauty, she had endowed with adaptability. Celia Adamson grew to be a very capable person , she ran “Flora Downs” station with all the expertise of a seasoned farmer and when they lived in the city had raised three children to boot! As per beauty, well, any sensible man will deny there is such a thing as a “plain woman”..there’s a certain mystique as any mature man would know ,surrounding what foolish persons call ;“plain” women, perhaps from those secluded years of bashfulness as a teenager, when a cutting remark can hurt so much, the downcast eyes in company, that shy tone of voice and the with-drawn shying away from crowds all combined, it seems to create an attractive aura of personal mystique and inner strength and intellect that can compete on any platform with physical beauty.
Gilbert Adamson nurtured the illusion that farming was a profitable and healthy lifestyle. This illusion grew from the childhood miss-perception of a family tale of a forefather back several generations who had been a successful farmer before moving to the city to try his hand at commerce, which duly failed miserably and therefore the family belief that “he should’ve stuck to farming, he was successful at that!” So Gilbert Adamson wanted to be a farmer. After serving his apprenticeship to industry for twenty years in managing a cement factory, he bought a farm in the mallee district of Callaran. When the last of their children left home so did they.
He worked the farm part-time for a number of years till they set up the farmhouse, then they sold the house in the city and moved lock, stock and barrel to the mallee to run the farm full-time. There is an old Italian saying: “When you have achieved your goal in life, beware, for death is not far behind!” Gilbert had reached his goal with the farm and no sooner had he harvested his second season of grain there than he was struck down with his first heart attack…this in the days before the surgical heart “by-pass” was freely available.
Celia, after a time of adjustment to her husband’s stricken state, took over the running of the farm. Although somewhat incapacitated, Gilbert would advise on schedules of fertilizing and cropping and shearing etc. But Celia would hire the labour, arrange the servicing of the farm machinery, the care of the livestock and a hundred and one other things necessary in running the farm. It was such a necessity that brought her to meet, for the first time, the windmill mechanic ; Jean Gameau.
Jean Gameau was one of those congenial Frenchmen who appear now an then in the most remote areas of Australia with a fragile smile and an endearing personality that seems to adjust to the hardships of that area with fatalistic aplomb. As familiar with the landscape as though that desert township street was the Champs Elysee that he was strolling down!
The name “Jean” presented a bit of a problem to the townsfolk of Callaran, in that they just couldn’t seem to roll their tongues around it to pronounce it in the French manner. But then they couldn’t bring themselves to call a man by a girl’s name. So they fell to the comfortable habit of anglicizing it to “John”, “Jack” or “Gammo” or simply “The Windmill Man.” Jean Gameau came to the mallee to escape a doomed marriage. Celia Adamson, came in compliance to her husbands desires, each in their own way in exile.
Now, it happened that the windmill that served the water trough in the east paddock, two kilometers from the homestead, had it’s blade damaged by a windstorm the previous week so that Celia couldn’t move stock into that paddock for feed.
“I want you to move those wethers into the east paddock as soon a possible.” Gilbert spoke one morning as Celia was preparing breakfast.
“I’ll have to get the mill fixed first.” Celia said.
“What! When did it get broken?” Gilbert demanded.
“Oh last week.” Celia replied casually.
“Last week!” Gilbert yelled “Well why didn’t you arrange to get it fixed last week?”
“I’ve been busy and simply put it down the list.” Celia replied as she licked her fingers of a spill of marmalade. Such casual tones of voice can be very annoying to invalids whose perceptions of moods and attitudes heighten with the length of convalescence. Celia’s casual attitude at such “catastrophe” annoyed Gilbert to the point of almost curing him, and with an acid tongue he drove Celia out of the house to arrange the repair of the damaged mill “immediately”.
Jean Gameau’s farm was a “dusty little spread” two kilometers down the road from the Adamson’s. Celia drove through the permanent open gate up to a fibro “transportable” dwelling with a little porch carefully built around the front door. The porch with it’s wooden deck added a gentle charm to the otherwise plain cream house. A few well tendered pot-plants on the porch daubed it with geranium reds and pinks and greens.
Celia stepped out of the utility and with hands on hips surveyed the yard. It was untidy as mallee farms tend to be in such vast countryside. An ancient plough, seeder and harvester, were parked at various positions and angles in the yard. She didn’t take notice of these things out of any curiosity of the contents of another persons yard, for nearly all farms in the mallee have the same sweated wrecks both in the yard and in the house. She stood there looking for a sign of life. Celia heard a shriek of abuse from around the back and walked over to the corner of the house.
“Grab the bastard!” She was ordered as soon as she turned the corner. But too late, she was bowled over by a rollicking great wooly, black sheep that careered around the house straight into her, sending them both sprawling onto the dusty yard.
“Shit”, cried Celia as she realized the inevitable.
“Oh bloody hell”, cried Jean as he saw the sheep regain its pace and disappear out of the front gate and head down the road.
Jean “galloped” up on his long striding legs and stopped next to the sprawled Celia. He didn’t look at her so much as gaze after the disappearing sheep. He dusted his hat against his trouser leg.
“Hello,” he offered his hand to Celia to help her up. “Sorry about that,” he spoke as he dusted her off. Celia saw a slim,strong looking man, in his mid fifties, going toward bald in a tidy balanced way. He was tallish but not over height. There was a casual gentleness in his nature that took trouble to dust Celia down as she stood in front of him. He held her left arm while with his hat dusted her off like one would dust a small rug or an article of clothing. He moved her this way and that and, when satisfied that the article before him was restored to its former cleanliness, let her go and stepped back.
“Hello”, he said again “I’m Jean Gameau, I don’t think we’ve met.”
“No,” Celia shook his hand mannishly. “I’m Celia Adamson…from Flora Downs ” she added as if to put an identification onto her name. Jean motioned after the lost sheep.
“I was cleaning it of a bit of strike and it got the jump on me.” he spoke as if apologising.
Jean was one of those people who can gaze straight into ones’ eyes and seem to see into the bottom of your soul. Such people can be uncomfortable, but strangely, it made Celia smile.
“It’s black,” she teased. “Is it the family pet?”
Jean laughed softly.
“No….But I might have to make a meal out of it one day.” They both smiled.
When compatible souls meet there is no need for idle chatter, the eyes do the talking, indeed, perhaps we only talk at such moments to hide or distract ourselves from too close a contact, for the world of humanity can be a lonely place, a world of fear, fear most of all of an intimate contact of touch for, I’m sure, all of us have met some-one, strangers, that at the very first introduction we would like to, if not embrace, at least hold gently, for they are what could best be described as soul-mates, but such is the life of a structured society that we cannot, dare not become so familiar with that other stranger in our world…a human!
Celia and Jean looked into each others eyes and simultaneously turned their glance away and talked of the business at hand. Jean would go and look at the mill the morrow.
Over the following couple of months a friendship grew between the windmill man and Celia Adamson, a platonic friendship that drew him to the farmhouse of the Adamson’s for lunch some days. After Gilberts initial suspicions had been overcome by the enjoyment of the company, Jean became a familiar face at the dinner table. He would gladly do some small jobs about the farm that were beyond Celia’s strength, and he had no ulterior motive in mind. Although he enjoyed Celia’s company immensely, his person had not yet awakened to the reason of his delight at her voice in greeting, or farewell of an evening after dinner as he climbed into his truck and swept out of the Adamson’s gate into the pencil brush landscape of the mallee.
Let us reflect that we are talking about two people in their fifties. No great beauties either, as I have described before, but what can you say..for surely, one person will see as much beauty in the petals of a sour-sob as another will in a rose….for it is certain that as we all grow from the child to the adult, do we not seek that love most denied? Here were two souls anchored in a vast landscape, of no significance and of little interest to any but each other. Yet in their private lives there grew a common bond.
Quite often when meeting on the road they’d discuss affairs of the district or farming problems each while leaning out of the windows of their parked vehicles opposite each other on a sandy back-road, or if in no hurry and in need of deeper discussion, would stand outside the car, on the road, and talk in attentive tones while sweeping the blowflies away with a grimace and wave of the hand. The jokes and chiacking would fly on parting never realising they were each other peeling off layer upon layer of social protocol that was holding them aloof from their true desires.. each talk, each meet, was bringing them toward the start of their journey into exile. An exile from social correctness into an exile of love.
It happened one morning while Jean was repairing the gearbox of the mill in the “home paddock” only a couple of hundred yards from the farmhouse. Celia had watched Jean wrestle with the blade of the mill and hoist it with pulley and rope toward the top of the mill frame. He looked so small and pitiful against a backdrop so vast of parched plain and black-line mallee bush. The frame of the mill like a child’s toy and Jean a foolish ant fussing around a hopelessly impossible task, both of them jellying in the rising waves of heated air. Celia left the breakfast dishes for a moment and with the tea-towel dangling from her left hand at rest on the sink, gazed hypnotically out at the scurrying figure of Jean. A fleeting wave of loneliness for them both swept through her.
“Celia”, Gilbert called.
She was wrenched back into her world. Gilbert wanted his smokes and a light. Celia tended to his needs and fussed over his side-table then announced:
“I’ll go down and see how Jean’s getting on with the mill.”
“Tell him to finish it by this weekend or we’ll die of thirst!” Gilbert grumbled as he snapped the pages of a stock journal. Celia felt her world shrinking smaller and smaller.
She walked past the grove of mallee gums toward the windmill where Jean was working. The bent and twisted trunks of the trees threw crooked shadows over the rubbled ground.
“Hello Jean”, she said slowly “How’s it goin’?”
Jean glanced over his shoulder, he was holding a rope with both hands that stretched to the top of the windmill frame.
“Oh Celia, just the person…give us a hand could you?” Celia start clapping “Don’t be silly” he laughed.
He was bathed alternately in sunshine and shadow as he moved and turned while he held the taut cord and glanced around looking for something. His workman’s shirt was streaked with sweat at the chest line. He attempted to wipe the sweat off his brow with his forearm. His hat fell off. Celia bent down, picked it up and scrunched it back on his head.
“There,” she teased as she fashioned it onto a different slant than he usually wore. “That makes you look sort of rakish like those young bucks at the stockyards.” she giggled.
“Knock it off Celia…and give us a hand with this rope.”
“What do you want me to do?” She queried as she held her hands ready.
“Just help me here…I’ve got the blade balancing up there on the end of the rope here so if you can hold it so’s I can get my spanners it’d save me a lot of trouble…”
“Is it heavy?” Celia asked.
“My oath,” Jean replied “for a fragile girl.” He smiled teasingly “But you’ll be right.”
Celia slapped him playfully on his bicep, she felt it hard and moist with a film of sweat under her palm.
“Get on with you” she laughed “Give it here,” she took the rope.
“Now it’s balanced up there on that lug so it won’t go anywhere… so just steady it…keep the rope tight an it’ll be right…ta.”
He lifted one arm and she slipped coyishly under and with cautious manoeuvring they exchanged places.
“You right?” Jean asked.
“As rain” Celia replied with a grimace.
Jean moved to his truck to get some spanners. Now, fate always selects it’s moments for mischief, a gust of wind snatched at the blade at the top of the mill and it twisted off the supporting lug. It jumped and slipped down the frame.
“Jean!!” Celia yelled as the rope burned through her hands. She didn’t let go though.
Jean leapt to her and reaching around her with his strong arms grabbed the rope and planted his foot against the bulwark at the base of the mill. The blade, in it’s swinging descent caught in one of the bracing bars of the frame and jammed. Jean was braced there with both arms around Celia and holding the rope. She had disappeared inside his encompassing body. The muscles on his arms and legs were solid with the tension. Celias’ face was brushing against his chest while his upper right arm pressed against her forehead. Celia let go of the rope and clasped her hands together.
“Oh bugger!” She sighed.
“What’ve you done?” Jean asked as he stood there still in his braced position. Celia looked up, she was only inches from his eyes and she saw the deep concern reflected in them. She became aware of the warmth of his body, his arms, his manliness around her, his scent, not the scent of sweat, but rather the scent of man, of work, of that unfathomable allure of man to woman.
“What have you done to your hands?” Jean repeated. Celia snapped to her senses,
“My hands,” she softly said, “they hurt so.”
Jean raised his right arm and Celia reluctantly, for all her pain, slipped out of that moment of non-conditional bond of belonging that she felt she owned of Jean’s personality. She slipped out of his cushioned embrace and edged over to the truck. Jean reached down and double looped the rope around a spike at the base of the ladder and eased the blade secure. Then he went over to help Celia attend her injury. She stood at the end of the tray of the truck with her lips pinched, holding her hands cupped and not quite knowing or daring to touch one or the other.
Jean took her arms gently and turned the palms upward and they put their heads together gazing at the injury like two children gazing open eyed at some strange object. The skin of both palms had been burnt red by the coarse rope.
“Oh dear,” Celia sighed.
“Hold on a minute, I’ve got some salve in the glove box.” Jean said. He steered her over to the truck cabin, opened the door and reached inside rummaging around till he reappeared with a tin of golden salve. He wiped his hands clean and with clumsy fingers, as gently as possible, spread a thin film of the ointment over the burns. Reaching behind the drivers seat he pulled out a bag of clean rags and tore two strips off a piece of white cotton and placed the squares over the wounds.
“That’s about all I can do here, Celia.” He spoke apologetically. Celia looked from her poor hands up to Jean’s eyes, they were looking deep into hers too, though but a moment, it seemed a long time for silence between them and they both knew then, but could not acknowledge it to themselves yet; the thrill of each others touch.
“It’s enough…Jean.” Celia softly replied. She turned her eyes away and stepped from Jean’s nearness. His hand slipped from her arm in silence. She turned back to his glance and ran her tongue over her top lip. “Ta.” She added softly and turned toward the house. Jean watched her walk away over the gibbered paddock, her feet sometimes slipped, askew as she trod on some of the many small rounded stones.
Oh how he would have loved to have carried her, he imagined for a moment, like some chivalrous knight in a romantic story..( for is it not in the better nature of a man to desire to protect women..to shield her from hurt and harm? )..he was feeling, but then he chastised himself for the foolishness of his silly thoughts..juvenile desires..and anyway..what was he really, but a grubby worker..a lowly mechanic. Celia stopped by the backdoor and looked back toward Jean who was still staring after her. She bit her bottom lip and went inside.
They didn’t see each other for a few weeks after that incident; such was the mutual discomfort of their discovery toward each other. Each of them too, at this voluntary separation was surprised to learn that they were quite casual at not seeing one another. Neither was distressed at the others absence, amazing, it seemed, though in fact they each had reached that phase of longing so that denial was bonding their egos together. They each knew with joyous delight that the other was thinking of them so the physical contact was not at all necessary.
One afternoon Jean was working on a mill near the road on the McDonalds property, just south of the Adamson’s farm. Celia, on a stock check saw his silhouette at the top of the mill framed again the limitless azure sky. She decided to stop and say hello, “after all,” she told herself “I haven’t even spoken to him for weeks.”
A light breeze tossed the golden tips of the mallee trees and two corellas chortled overhead. A strange elation crept into Celia’s body. The world around her embraced them into that secret sphere of isolation where only lovers go. Of course he had seen her coming out along the plain, so had climbed to the top of the windmill and was hanging out with his right foot on the last rung of the ladder and his right hand grasping the pivot of the tail of the mill and waved with his hat in his left hand , calling out at the top of his voice so it seemed to echo back off the curve of the sky.
Celia pulled up at the gate about fifty yards from the windmill and laughed at his silly antics “what a curious feeling, that laughter” she thought, it was a young girls laughter and with it felt a softening glow sweep over her till it tingled and the cool morning breeze lifted her hair and wrapped soft sunshine around her body.
“Silly bugger!” She called back and her voice careered across the distance and bounced off the open fields up to the sky like an echo.
“It’s such a beautiful day!” He cried, like a call from some wild free bird; “Come with me to Paris and we’ll dine like royalty: a la carte!” he laughed boyishly.
“Horse and cart?” She laughed and the two corellas careered overhead screeching in symmetry to their laughter and he called to her again in a deep, deep mannish call and it swirled around her and the early morning sun glowed softly in her hair and she called back in competition with her hands cupped to her mouth and they laughed at each other for nothing but the feeling of it and he swung his hat round and round calling and singing bits of songs and she sang back to him and laughed till she felt so full and giddy like being spun around blind-folded, ’round and around and the corellas cried out with the wind and she laughed within and without and the feel of it all swept her away and she cried out amongst a rollicking laughter that had her hands on her knees with her bent laughing and she cried out from the bottom of her lungs as she straightened up so very happy…
“O’ I love you!…”
And the words hurled over the plains , crashing against the very perimeters of the sky, roaring in her ears in sustaining peals like the toll of some great bell and the corellas ducked and weaved overhead screaming in ecstasy silhouetted again the pristine blue sky. Celia gasped ..why did she say that?.. She flung her hand to her cheek and froze in her stance. Jean’s hand stopped waving and hung out as if frozen also in the action and they gazed at each other silently over the acres of paddock framed in an eternal frieze of mallee-bush collage.
Celia turned and jumped into the utility, reversed back hastily and sped off down the dusty road, a trail of smoke-like dust rising behind the utility. Jean squatted on the top rung of the ladder with only the clonking steel against steel blade of the windmill to background his thoughts. He gazed somberly after the fading ute.
“That I had the courage to say the same, Celia” he said wistfully.
The afternoon had been so hot and sticky and it carried over into the early evening. Celia had been restless all afternoon. Joy had risen in her heart only to be suffocated by the mundane repetition in her life. Gilbert called raspingly from the bedroom as she was washing the dishes.
“Celia,…Celia give us a light will you?” Celia moved to get the matches “The very things that kills him, he nurtures,” she thought. Then she reflected on her own years and the words she had just spoken sent a shiver over her. When she returned to the sink, the doleful clatter of dishes and pans seemed to drum inside her head. She could stand it no more, she threw the dishcloth into the tepid water.
“I’ve got a bit of a headache” she told Gilbert. “I’m going outside for some fresh air.”
“Count the bags of “super” in the shed while you’re about it” called Gilbert.
A cool evening zephyr lifted a sigh to her lips. She blew a long expiring breath and strolled to the gate and walked out onto the deserted sandy road. Although unaware of it, when she walked out of that gate, Celia crossed a boundry..and with the shutting of the gate, her world there back in that farm also closed. Celia gazed to the right and then turned and looked down the road in the direction of Jean’s little farm about two kilometers away. She started walking in that direction. The sunset drooled lilac over the vast expanse of the mallee, nestling birds syrupy chatter spilled into the evening air and every now and then some small creature would disturb the underbrush.
What was this affection she felt for Jean? Surely she couldn’t love another man while her own husband was so ill? What was this joy of affection that she felt so keenly for the first time in her life? Do others feel love at all but just dismiss it and go about their every day jobs as though it didn’t exist? And if they can do it why can’t she dismiss her emotions, her hunger, like everyone else? She wasn’t a young girl any more, why should she fall for that old trickster love at her age? “You’ve turned fifty Celia, fifty.” She repeated to her self as if such words could reverse her feelings and all would go back to normal.
She thought of Jean, his manliness, his tender eyes when she had hurt her hands, his joy of song today on the windmill so bright against the blue sky. His face, his body, his strong gentleness.. but it wasn’t exactly all those…she strolled along the dusty road thinking these thoughts as the sky slowly yielded its light over the somnolent bush and over the hills away across the plains night shadows crept slowly nearer. A cool breeze lifted and curled her cotton dress about her legs and her sandals squelched in the soft dry sand edging the road.
She stopped to gather her thoughts:
“What do I see in him?” She reasoned with herself.
“I see his confidence in his work, his manliness, his strength (she smiled), his lovely eyes.”
“What do I hear with him?..His singing voice, so soft, so sure. His tenderness in his
touch . ”
“How do I feel with his presence?”
“My skin trembles at his touch. His strength of body at his age is healthy and virile. His chest is so strong I want to hold him against me,” (she blushed at the thought).
As Celia was ticking these boxes for her own assurance..she was making a decision this time on her own terms, her own decision…for she was not going to rush into a new life without consideration..why would any grown person?..a realization came to her:
“He’s the only person I’ve never felt shy with. From the first day I’ve felt certain of myself in his presence, almost as though we have been apart all our lives and now we belong together.” She strode on purposefully, certain of her actions now..and she pondered on whether THIS was the love she ought to have pursued rather than obeyed her Mother’s and society’s command. She was certain also of Jean’s love for her, for as much as any woman can read a man’s heart, Celia felt certain of Jean’s .
What would she do? There was no going back home now, she had cast her lot into exile, for exile it must be, for both of them, her children would not understand and certainly the district of Callaran would not tolerate such rebellion to duty. But what was all that opposition in the face of love and for love even death must stand aside! Celia walked on in the plumed penumbra of night.
Jean turned the truck into his farm gate and swung the steering wheel left to drive to the shed. As the headlights swept past his front porch he noticed someone sitting on the step: Celia! He stopped the truck quickly and jumped down. He walked warily over to the house. Celia rose slowly as he approached, her hand moved to straighten her dress as she rose. They gazed at each other in the pressing quiet of the night.
“Jean” Celia looked into his eyes “Jean, I can’t stay with Gilbert any longer.” Jean stepped up to her, they gently and deeply embraced.
And there you have it..the end of one thing but the beginning of something new and who could deny the couple probably the first unrestricted taste of love in an otherwise controlled life..I repeat that quote from earlier in this missive..: “Now, for the love of love and her soft hours, let us not confound the time with her conference harsh. There’s not a minute of our lives should stretch without some pleasure…”
Before their departing for places unknown, Jean and Celia called into the builder’s yard to say cheerio and it was there I saw in Celia’s eyes the plea for me to understand her desire..I’m sure I saw that in her eyes..and on my part, though it had nothing to do with myself, I smiled to her in I hope a signal that indeed, I understood..I have long understood what was missing from most people’s lives..that want of belonging to place or person..in us all..in myself as well and I have tried to tell it to others for so many years..
Out here in the Murray Mallee where I live, between the eastern face of the Adelaide Hills and the Murray River, on what is called ; “The Murray Flats”…or : “Break-heart country”..at the end of the second world war, there was a distinctive “cut” in a cultural tie with the methodology of farming…particularly in regards to the older families of the pioneer Germanic farmers in the area.
Before the 2nd. World War, and indeed right to the end of the war, horse-drawn implements were the most common form of ploughing, seeding and harvesting…perhaps in some locations tractors had been introduced, but they were such cumbersome technology, that it was a risky and expensive proposition to do a major “tooling-up” in cost and farm layout to change over. But it did happen, and with that event, there was not only a “cut” in ties from old technology, there was also a severing with the connection between the farmer and his soil….between “Man and his touch to Earth”..
Where once, with the horse era, the connection between philosophy of mind, religion of heart, to callous of hand was a real and tactile thing..The farmer rose in the early morning, praised his God, saw to and fed the animals, groomed and attended to the health of both himself and his beasts of burden…the harness of leather and steel, the equipment of cast metal and timber..the feel of earth under foot and hoof…was it soft, hard, moist or too parched…the entire process was “ of the senses, of the touch”.
Then, in almost the blink of an eye…it was gone…all that old expertise..redundant, along with an entire generation of horsemen farmers…the sound and scent of preparation and harnessing….of horse-feed, stabling and manure was gone…no longer were these hardy pioneers “dirt farmers”, they had now needed to graduate to become ; “chemical farmers”.
And so that was the end of something.
Another thing I believe has ended – right now – with an older generation is the understanding and/or sympathy in the writings of a younger generation for the reality of the Human condition…NOT to be confused with the living standard..or material comforts..or the trysts of social relationship..but rather; that uncertain something that gets us out of bed in the morning to give touch to the start of the day…the hunger of physical contact however slight or intense with our fellows…our (female in my case) opposites…the moment of embrace to start the day..a gentle ; “Good morning, did you sleep well?”.
The haste of the post-modern lifestyle, that celebrates the “individual” rather than the couple to fulfil those material needs, driving many to fore-go that moment of space necessary for human contact and relationships to co-exist..After all, we can only fill one pair of shoes at a particular time, or stand on one patch of soil underfoot…it is our mood that makes us, and I feel there is a mistaken association with the sweeping mood of “instant” communication technology via the internet or mobile phone hook-up that is making, shaping and dominating and in the end ; replacing the mood of so many people so that the above understanding of the making of the Human condition from another age..another generation of post war people, is being lost or thrown aside for a new-fashioned personality that has little time to look into either the eyes or the soul of humanity..and like those post war farmers who adopted the new technology to up-the-ante in both speed of the deeds of farming and the output for profit that resulted in the further decimation of an already fragile environment, so too will a past generation’s experience of the pain and what is gained from that pain, will be shunted aside for a more “profitably expedient” if tactile poorer outcome in human relations.
And that too, I fear..will be the end of something.
I make this claim because after years of writing story and tale, essays and poems on example after example of situation, devastation and humiliation of so many good folk and their moments of life, I have to conclude that it has to the greater extent been to no avail and the grinding of those most vulnerable underfoot has continued almost unabated…and this saddens me…NOT to the point of actual depression, but rather in that way where one has to sit by and watch a drama unfold and yet not be able to do a thing to stop it…like the proverbial train wreck in slow motion.
And there were our grandparents and parents who saw it, lived it and told oral story after story about those times which we, of a better educated generation..perhaps the BEST educated generation of an eon of years, has put down in word on page those lives..and yet the carnage goes on…Perhaps, like that generational change from horse-power to tractor, it cannot be stopped and the maxim of ; “Live for the moment”…better suits the times than the old ; “Work like you are going to live forever and pray like you are going to die tomorrow” ..which is..like this author..just too wordy to be called out of a swiftly passing window.