Wednesday 30 June 2010

Dying to say no.

This true story has no funny twist or punch line. It is a tragedy, the telling of whch was prompted by Gabrielle Brydon's posts on mental illness.

Going back a bit and omitting names to spare some good people pain, I recall the many suicides, all men, tragedies that happened during the twenty-five years I spent in the small and to me, supportive community of the Dooralong Valley.

This one triggered a long period of reflection and I pass on my thoughts for your consideration.

My story concerns a young man who seemed to have it all. He was famous, commanded huge fees for his daredevil motor cycle show and seemed to be the master of his destiny. I met him when he called in to see his father, who was working on my property at the time.

When he stepped out of his Corvette, I was surprised to see how petite he was. Almost feminine looking with features, had they been on a girl would have been pretty. His persona was in stark contrast to his father’s big bluff English Midland. I was surprised by his gentle manner. It did not fit the daredevil image but it was the stress in his sad young face that came back to haunt me a week later.

His dad had just signed him up for a very lucrative tour of England to follow his current commitments. Then the headlines shocked Australia. I read that he booked into a hotel in Melbourne, bought a gun and shot himself dead. His father was devastated. He had lost his child, always tragic for a parent, and was totally at a loss to understand why his son, with so much to live for, had become so depressed he blew his brains out.

So, why did he do it? Nobody knows for sure because he said nothing and I think that is the clue. Here is where my ponderings took me.

Imagining myself jumping a motor cycle over twenty one buses night after night for years, I realised there would come a time after yet another close shave, when the bike did not quite hit full power and with the target ramp coming up a bit short, fear would replace exhilaration. Doubt is death to a daredevil. At that point I think I would have been over it and retired.

But wait a minute. I remember as a child doing dangerous things for my dad. I trusted him to keep me safe and in retrospect much of that trust was misplaced, so I do understand how it could have been, that this young man with the soft face and shy personality and with the stakes so high, could not say no to his dad.

Years had been invested, as his backyard jumps grew from fantasy fate-tempting tests of his worth into a marketable asset. It was fun to begin with and for a kid who craved approval, his fear of danger was probably less than fear of paternal disappointment. Then, as expectations grew into millions of dollars, the little power he had over his own life was abandoned. Calling a halt was no longer an option. He feared death less than her feared disappointing his father.

I am not blaming his dad here. Had he suspected his son’s mental state, he would have cancelled everything immediately. But like everyone in the team, he was carried along by euphoria and saw no reason to question his own motives at the time. The kid had always been a daredevil and apparently loved it. To see past that into his son’s psyche was beyond his ability or experience, so he never pondered why this inexplicably brave boy did what he did, apparently welcoming each escalation of danger. He could not have realised his son could have been risking all for fear of losing his dad’s approval.

So what is the message here? I guess you are ahead of me and maybe always were wiser. Although he is still alive, I lost a son too, not to suicide as we define it, but to the long drawn out suicide of heroin addiction. I can’t say which is worse; losing a child to sudden violence, or watching his slow destruction over days, weeks, years and decades. It is a sadness I carry always, along with the suspicion, that had I listened more then, things might have been different and now it is too late. Hindsight may be a wonderful thing but it can be exceeding cruel.

Monday 28 June 2010

‘Ware you sit!

Wearing false teeth has its rules
And here’s one for silly old fools:
“Don’t leave your dentures
On chairs, seats or benches.”
You could lose the Family Jewels.

Saturday 26 June 2010

Second bite

The Magpie Tales toothbrush came at a bad time. So much guilt. If I’d known I could live this long I would have taken better care of my teeth! This picture is of a foot pedal operated drill, similar to the one used by my first dentist who visited my school to see to the teeth of poorer students. See the notice explaining its use and imagine a dentist jigging around, pedalling energetically while trying to perform delicate caries removal in the small mouth of an eight year old. That was me. The eight year old, not the dentist!

In case you were wondering, he stuffed up and had to remove four teeth. Then he sent me back to class with a note that I should be sent home. What they all forgot was that our farm was four miles away and there was no transport, so in the heat of sunmer I walked home with a mouth full of bloody cotton wool. Mum was not happy. She hated me missing lessons!

Many many years later, only two years ago I lost my first permanent tooth, a very expensive root canalled/gold capped molar that had reached its use-by-date, and was offered a referral to a specialist who could do an implant for $5,000. Although I could have scraped it together, I put it off, knowing I could never afford a second one, and barring my prior demise, would finish up with one implant standing ‘like a tombstone in a ghost town!’

I digress to tell you that a four year old once told me, oh so seriously, that a cemetery is: ‘A place where dead people live.’ I assure you I did not laugh… not until later.

So with three teeth suddenly giving me merry hell, crunch time has arrived. Now there is no choice. Dentures it will be. So, I will talk to Dr Dan on Monday and arrange an end to the pain as soon as possible. Wish me luck and join me in thanking science for anaesthetic!

(Pic from Wiki)

Friday 25 June 2010

Quit while you're a toothbrush..

When I was young I cleaned the teeth of little boys and girls.
I kept their molars squeaky clean, incisors bright as pearls.
But now I’m old I’m given only yukky things to do,
Like ridding tiles of mould and grime and clots of birdie poo.

“You think that’s bad!” said Toilet Brush, in tones of fear and dread.
“You should see the mess they make and where they put my head!”
So now when I’m unhappy and my life I would amend,
I think of poor old Toilet Brush, all flushed and round the bend.

The end.

Inspired by Magpie Tales

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Sniffer dogs

'Dogs are the best friend of man,
So they say, but I'm not a fan.
Their raison d'etre?
To wee, shit, etcet’ra,
And smell every anus they can!

(Response to Lena's and Gabrielle's dog blogs).

Monday 21 June 2010

Diva in a dive.

At South Sydney Leagues Club in the Will Dower Sounds band with Ricky May, late sixties, I witnessed something that was to me at once amazing and sad. Carmen is a name that has been adopted by generations of strippers, but Carmen Christie, appearing that day was unique. She was a stripper who sang or a singer who stripped depending on the eye and ear of the beholder.

Well, it was a Sunday, so I guess what happened was not totally out of place. Carmen finished her routine of sensual undressing, a garment coming off at the end of each song, bawdy ditties all, until at last, completely nude, she was chased off to thunderous applause from her appreciative audience of music lovers and pervs. But then, completely unrehearsed, she came back, placed a chart on each music stand and hurried back to stage front and the microphone.

She was no longer nude. A ring had been clipped around her neck from which hung ankle length strings of beads. Of course her pink nippled and medically enhanced breasts protruded dramatically from between the cascade of blue baubles as she moved up to thank her audience while we boggled at the title of her chosen encore.

Les Dempsey on piano offered an arpeggio to give her the key. She paused for effect then started low and built the tension while the room hushed, first in surprise and then in awe as her voice swelled to fill the room. We were all caught up in the totally unexpected as she emotionally, dramatically and sweetly seduced us into her story of the semi-classical and totally religious song, Jerusalem.

It was bizarre. But at the end, with the audience ignoring her semi-nudity and applauding her musical talent, I watched her leave, round undulating buttocks peeping proudly between swirls of tinkling glass and wondered what might have been.

Friday 18 June 2010

Cockney doc en France.

“Puncture marks, clear as a bell!
Snake bite!” the doctor said. “Well,
Without a knife,
We can’t save ‘is life.
‘Ee ‘asn’t an ‘ope in ‘ell!”

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Thursday 17 June 2010

Before SWAT.

It was the year De Havilland built its first jet fighter in Australia. Thunder shook my body for minutes as terror mounted while I scanned the horizon for its source. A tiny speck appeared, streaking downward in a dive that pulled out too close to the ground, broadcasting its waves of shock to rattle crockery and spook cattle. Weeks later, after waiting and watching for a repeat performance, I judged the pilot must have been spoken to rather harshly because it never happened again.

I was thirteen and we were blasting stumps on the new farm, me hammering in a piece of water pipe and withdrawing it to leave holes around stump roots while Dad crimped detonators onto fuses and pushed them into Dynamite sticks. Each stick was lifted gingerly from its wooden crate while he complaining ‘they were sweating’, apparently not a good thing.

But we had great fun lighting the fuses and while they hissed and spluttered, we ran faster than necessary, to hide behind trees where we involuntarily closed our eyes to the detonations then watched as bits of stump and soil flew past. But, with the job only half done, it all stopped when we ran out of caps and fuse. So Dad sent me for more.

Now, I don’t mean I went to the shed. I was given a note, a signed cheque and two shillings for the train fare to Parramatta. First a bike ride the three miles to Cabramatta Train Station, change trains at Granville then a long walk from Parramatta Station to Murray Brothers in Church Street where I presented the note and cheque.

Two boxes of caps and a roll of fuse in a hessian bag (with receipt) were passed over the counter and I was off. The only advice I received was to not open the boxes of caps. But on the train while nobody was looking I slid back a lid and picked out one bright brass cap as carefully as I had seen my father do, turned it gingerly in my hand, examining it for signs of hidden harm, then guiltily slipped it back into its sawdust nest, none the wiser.

My safe arrival home three hours later was barely noted. It was expected, as was every other event of that day, except the breaking of the sound barrier, in an age when trust was assumed.

(Pic courtesy Wikipedia)

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Floating cows through St Albans.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Having exhausted all sources of finance to buy the farm, there was no spare cash to hire a float. So my old Falcon ute became a mini cattle carrier. I built a wooden frame with a rear gate, hinged at the top that closed to be secured by the tail gate. Knowing nothing about buying cattle, I called on Cousin Wally to buy for me. He bought and sold at Camden, over three hours by main road, so when he bought three young pregnant cows in one lot I had a dilemma. They had to be taken home in the ute and I doubted they would fit.

But they walked aboard quietly enough and the gate was dropped, jamming them in. Then we noticed rear tyres disappearing into mudguards hinting that one and a half tons of beef on a half ton ute was probably illegal. So we decided to take back roads through Wisemans Ferry and St Albans to avoid Mr Plod on the F3. I had never taken that road before, but Wally assured me it was ‘a piece of cake’. He should have said mudcake!

Both kids were with me, crammed into the front seat together bags and all, so we were really loaded. Wally assured me cattle on the move are a too busy trying to stay upright to cause trouble but I wondered what would happen on the Mangrove Creek Ferry. So while the kids stood at the rail watching the water go by, I was up on the cab talking to my girls. Cattle are funny people. They like being talked to. I told them how beautiful they were with their gorgeous big eyes and kept them enthralled until we were over. Vanity trumped the urge to stampede.

As darkness fell we crept through St. Albans past the Settlers Arms, believing our worries were over. But in the Common north of the village, the road had been graded so often and its surface lowered so far, it was now the de-facto creek bed. Sheets of water hid the road and as is their wont, four wheel drivers had discovered the mess and ripped around making a bad road just about impassable.

So we unexpectedly found ourselves up to the headlights in serious pot holes. But the old ute kept on, in and out, in and out until the road lifted above the waterway and wound its way higher up the hillside. Suddenly and thankfully we were on bitumen. I pushed the speed until we were humming along in top gear for the first time in a while. Then Julia screamed.

Around a bend, right in front, the road disappeared into water, wide and still.
‘Boat ramp! I yelled, and pregnant mothers be damned, hit the brakes, skidding hard. Cows whumped against the cabin as the whole rig lurched from side to side threatening to topple. We stopped with front wheels in the water, still rocking as six human and six bovine eyes stared through the dark at forty metres of river. We just breathed and stared as the cows adjusted their balance, bellowing complaints. After a few seconds of recovery, I switched to low beam. High beam had bounced off the water, hiding its depth but low revealed no more than two inches of clear water over a smooth concrete causeway.

For years afterwards, every time we saw a boat ramp I was reminded.
‘Hey Dad! (ha ha ha) Do you reckon that’s a boat ramp?’ Kids are shits.

Friday 11 June 2010

Boom boom! in Buckinham Palace

George was nothing like his brother. Edward had the advantage of 'knowing' Mrs Simpson, a divorcee who could show him what went where. With war brewing and Mr Hitler rolling his tanks around Europe in his version of ethnic cleansing, poor stuttering, bed wetting George was pushed onto the throne. He had two lovely girls but seemed to have stopped breeding. The country needed sons and he was advised to ‘get cracking’ as the saying goes.

Of course no well bred Englishman would express such an idea as crassly as we colonials would, like 'Listen George, old mate, you need to dip the wick, hide the frankfurt, let go the legless lizard, you know, get old Liz up the duff!'

But his advisors did get the message through eventually.
'I-I'm not sure I can,' Geo VI stammered, excruciatingly embarrassed. 'I-I can't seem to get it up!'
His advisor thought for a bit then whispered his advice.

Next day, there on his desk in his coronation mug sat a brace of sharpened pencils.
'What are they for?' asked the advisor. 'They weren't there yesterday.’
'N-no', said George, 'I rang the palace shop and told them what you said I needed and they sent them up.’ He looked puzzled. ‘I don't see how they can help.'

'No, of course not,’ laughed the advisor. ‘I didn't say you needed more lead pencils, I said you needed more lead in your pencil!'

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Wednesday 9 June 2010

Samurai in Cooma

When I was just old enough to understand, Great Uncle Owen told us he had been driving his T model Ford along Church Street Parramatta, when a red faced copper jumped onto the running board and demanded he ‘follow that car’!
I mean, didn’t every boy dream of the day? And Great Uncle Owen, at least sixty, still a boy at heart, excitedly told us how he depressed the second pedal. The second pedal was the one that got Henry into the higher of her two gears. Then, despite his terror, he put the pedal to the metal and raced in pursuit of the offender at over twenty miles an hour!

So, with that bit of family lore stowed away, imagine my surprise when I saw it re-enacted in 1970 in Cooma. We were there with Tokyo by Night, a sophisticated show with an all Japanese cast. ‘Sophisticated’ back in the early seventies meant nudity and we did have topless dancers. To round out the show in the age of Shintaro the Samurai, two young men performed acrobatic sword fights worthy of Iga Ninja Tombei the Mist and the evil Kooga Ninja!

Into this mix came our piano player, a single and normal red blooded young man, tormented nightly by beguiling smiles and the tantalising proximity of a cornucopia of secondary sexual characteristics! Well, he began paying attention to one of the girls, sitting beside her on the bus, helping with her English-Japanese phrase book and basically flirting, as you do.

What our young piano player did not know was that one of the young acrobatic swordsmen was enamoured of the same topless dancer. So when the warrior entered her room early one afternoon, he found the master of the keyboard there, in the process of liberating her chesty lumps to get a closer look, or maybe perform a digital examination. The Japanese lad took one look and let out a cry that could have been surprise, anger, or embarrassment and took off.

Digital Dave continued his attempt to undress the patient while she gesticulated in the direction of her departed colleague and tried to pull out of the clinch. Eventually, she regained control of her shirt and pushed him away, convincing him it was not a good time and he should leave. He was almost to the door when Shintaro burst through, sword raised, yelling an ancient Japanese battle cry which, roughly translated, meant ‘fuck off you mongrel bastard’ and brought the sword down where Busy Fingers had been a moment earlier

By the time Shintaro had jerked his sword free of the door jamb, Liberace was diving head first through the window, taking the fly screen with him into the garden shrubs. He rolled to his feet and was up and running just as his assailant came through the door and the race was on.

Meanwhile, Barry Stewart, legendary Sydney drummer and I were enjoying a quiet lunch together at nice Cooma restaurant, happily relaxing over a bottle of Chablis when we saw a blur of presto piano flashing by the picture window, then a long curved blade, a screaming Japanese warrior and last of all our leader, Gerry Goodwin, trumpet player, and President of the Musicians Union Sydney Branch, in hot pursuit!

Samurai was gaining and Gerry was fading as a Police F100 Black Maria came abreast. By the time Barry and I had reached the street, glasses of white in hand, Gerry had veered into the traffic, leapt onto the running board of the police vehicle and frighted the shit out of two young constables, as he yelled through the open window ‘follow that samurai!’

Cameras should have been running as the Keystone Cop sequence continued. The startled driver jammed on his brakes, throwing Gerry to the ground where he lay until the two Plods rushed up to see if the mad man was OK. Meanwhile, Lothario and Tojo had disappeared up the hill and around a corner.

Epilogue: Barry and I returned to our meal and our wine, realising there was nothing we could do and left it to fate. Fate was kind. Hirohito must have calmed down because the whole cast turned up that night with no sign of injury and all seemed to have returned to normal. Well, not quite.

From then on, the seat beside Tokyo Rose remained vacant all the way to Canberra and beyond.

Pic courtesy
Well worth a visit.

Monday 7 June 2010

Flash the Wonder Horse.

I don’t know what it is with teenage girls, but if there is any hint of a possibility, they all want a horse, and so it was with Julia. We had the space and the accommodation so there was no excuse. Well, there was but we didn’t know it then.

Pouring over SMH classifieds, we found the perfect horse. ‘Pony, gelding, good with children, trained and quiet. Ideal first horse’, so we drove down to Mona Vale to the riding school to see him.

Julia was helped aboard and led around the yard, then given the reins to drive herself. He was responsive, obedient and so pretty that she had to have him. We paid up and took him home.

Valium is a wonderful thing. That afternoon Julia rode Flash around the property, walking then trying a bit of trotting, eventually canterting, flushed with success. I am no rider, but I hopped on and did my usual gate checks and shunting of steers around the paddocks on horseback like a real cowboy. He behaved impeccably.

Next day I saddled him up expecting the same but the moment my bum hit the saddle, he was off. No amount of heaving on the bridle could stop him.
Eventually a gate loomed up. I leaned forward preparing for an attempted leap but he propped and I kept going, over his head, hitting the gate and bouncing back to bury my face in a fresh cow pat.

My next move was a call my mate Bob to send down one of his boys to ‘check out a horse I had bought’.
‘Where ja buy ‘im?’
‘Riding school?’
‘Yes, why?’
‘Ya bloody idiot! Why would a riding school wanna sell a good ‘orse?’
‘I dunno.’
‘I bet the damn thing hurt somebody. The bastards pump ’em full of valium long enough to sell ‘em and twenty four hours later it’s your problem!’
‘OK, so I’m a dickhead. Now what?’
‘I’ll send young Bert down.’ Click went the phone cutting off a sigh.

Bert came and the horse looked great under his expert hands and heels, galloping, turning, spinning and jumping. Finally he slid off next to me.
‘Good ‘orse! He c’n go, but he’s a nasty bastard of a thing, he’d kill a kid.’
So that was it. She couldn't keep him.
No point in trying to sell him locally, so we sent him to Wyong sales where nobody would know him. But to be fair, we gave the valium a miss and he sold at a good price, almost what we paid. We thought that was that.

But no, a week later at Mel’s, as soon as Bob saw me, he was out of control, laughing.
‘What’re you laughing at, dopey?’
‘Orr mate, ya won’t believe this!’
‘Ya know that bloody ‘orse a yours, the one ya sent all the way down to bloody Wyong? Well the mongrel of a thing’s back!’
‘One of those silly city buggers bought ‘im there an’ as soon as he was outa the float he took orf ‘n nobody c’n catch ‘im!’
‘Shit! What should I do?’
‘Yer could start by buyin’ me a beer?’
So that’s what I did.

Friday 4 June 2010

Magpie 17

Going Bust.

More please!
What would you like now?
Rocky Road please.
But you're already had rock lobster.
Yes, and rock candy, but I'm still hungry. Do you have any rock cakes?
You're bottomless! Oops! Sorry, I know you're sensitive about that!
I've got some nice fresh concrete. That'll fill you up!

Read more at Magpie Tales


Echko Namazawa.

Stage doll of Nipon
Dancing through my
Nights of magic.

Body of grace, her
Exquisite face
Beyond lust.

But while I slept, she
Came once unbidden
To my room.

Waking to soft hands, I
Should have, but could not
Send her away.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Delltones, take two.

Donald Mills was the last of the original Mills Brothers, the four part harmony group that set the standard in the thirties. Unlike their contemporaries, the Ink Spots, they really were brothers.
Through his later years, despite losing part of a leg (a cruel penalty for smoking), Donald kept performing and his rich velvet voice never faltered.

He toured Australia with his son John for G’day Hollywood Productions in 1999 and fortunately, I was chosen to be in his backing band. Over eighty then, he sang, conducted and imitated his way through lovely 'trombone' solos in their jazz hit Opus One, an antidote to their saccharine Paper Doll and kept the energy flowing through the hour long show.

He died later that year, but the legacy had passed to younger groups and for a time in the sixties, singing groups multiplied. We had the Lettermen, Hi-lows, Beach Boys, The Supremes, Howard Morrison from NZ and many more but in Oz, the Delltones were our favourites, identified by the tall, long faced Pee Wee Wilson. I last saw Pee Wee in 2006, heading out of Rosslyn Harbour near Proserpine, Queensland on his big fishing boat when he yelled across the water, directing me to the fuel wharf.

He didn’t recognise me of course. Forthy years earliker, I was a young and faceless studio musician at Festival Records doing the best I could to make my way, anxious, determined and in the end, relieved to have survived in a world where one bad session and the phone stops ringing. That recording, Get a Little Dirt on Your Hands, became their best seller to date..

About then, their manager approached Dennis Wong, owner of Chequers, the most famous night club in Sydney and the place to establish credentials. Dennis had no experience of singing groups and I got the impresssion he was guided more by overseas fame than his own judgment but he agreed to an audition.

So, there we were at rehearsal with the four young singers along stage front and sitting at the nearest table were Dennis and Bill Watson, their manager. We launched into the repertoire and they did sing well. But they were not the famous Mills Brothers or Ink Spots so Dennis was not sure what to make of it all. He was clearly impressed, but his verdict floored us.

He got up from the table giving every impressison he would hire them, smilingly nodding his approval as he looked over each of the four, then turned to Bill.

‘Velly nize!’ he said in his Chinese accented English. ‘How much you wan?’
The fee was quoted and Denis thought for a bit then pointed to Pee Wee and Noel.

‘I take two!’