Kebub

January 15, 2017 at 7:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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This is my first memory (so far) so feel free to skip it.

I’m lying on my back in a small bedroom in suburban Melbourne.

Beneath me the white, relatively rough toweling of a many-times-washed nappy.

Not one of today’s supermarket disposables.

An old, analogue version.

The type that began square and was somehow folded to approximate an infant’s pelvis.

With wrapping done, there remained the task of fastening.

For this there were enormous (to me) ‘safety’ pins – likely made in England.

Long, strong and sharp: to penetrate the many folds.

The ‘safety’ bit was a (baby blue) metal cap that slid over the workings once each pin was in place.

I don’t recall this device malfunctioning, but I feared it doing so.

I do recall strong fingers simultaneously holding a stacked fabric corner and striving to penetrate all layers without ‘overshooting’.

I remember worrying that it may be tricky to arrest a pin’s progress into my flesh should it pass through warp and weft with unexpected alacrity or ease.

I also recall two types of strong fingers wielding these fasteners.

This may be a manufactured memory.

Nor, of course, did I possess any descriptors.

The first type of strength was my mother’s.

Skilled. Determined. Busy. Efficient.

The second type was my father’s.

Coarse. Hurried. Annoyed. Not to be bested.

I feared both kinds of force – lest I be pinned to the bed.

But the first kind, less so.

I was thus much relieved when the ultimate pin withdrew,

freeing me for new

(though not always exciting)

experiences.

Big drama

December 27, 2016 at 8:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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My catholic high school (secondary college) had an approach to teaching drama that modern parents could consider … questionable.

In Year 7 (Form 1), I experienced this method at age 12.

It was 1977. Only now do I appreciate how odd it all was.

The classes were held in a bricked basement, with no view in or out.

The spherical, late-middle-aged man who controlled the (unsupervised) proceedings was known (modified for legal reasons) as ‘Prof’.

Prof never got out of his chair, but seemed forever rotating in it.

We were a gaggle of prepubescent boys – a world away from today’s knowing, sexualised offspring.

The only naked woman most of us had seen was in our black-and-white biology textbook. (And we had to draw straws for that one … but that’s another story.)

In light of our extreme callowness, Prof decided we needed ‘warming up’ before we could stride the stage in earnest.

He therefore announced that each of us would take several minutes to devise a ‘television commercial’

for our own underpants.

And perform it

in them.

This would occur on the dais in front of Prof’s desk.

Reactions in the group were mixed.

A few extroverts relished the chance and fled to corners to rehearse.

Others seemed bemused, but compliant.

I honestly can’t recall my response – possibly because I was fixated on that of one student.

He was low and slight, with a wig of jet hair shockingly matched to alabaster skin. He had buck teeth, red-rimmed eyes and thin limbs that seemed they’d snap in a breeze.

Let’s call him Damon.

Damon was bullied. Cripplingly shy. And at that instant, he looked like the last soul of a wrecked ship on a reef of pain.

By the time Damon scraped enough courage to ask if he could be excused from this ‘exercise’ Prof was already judging performances.

As boy after boy stripped and spruiked his goods, Damon writhed, wrung his hands and became ever more wretched.

Again he begged Prof’s indulgence, this time in tears, but was brushed off.

At last, Damon’s turn came.

Most of the undies so far had been of the jockette style – bought in multi-hued packs at the supermarket.

Damon’s ‘bog catchers’ were altogether different.

They were so white, they gave his skin colour.

They were so big, they shrank him by a third.

They were so ill-fitted, they looked like they could storm off the stage in protest.

All I recall of Damon’s maiden performance was that it was excruciating, and brief.

The mocking laughter that engulfed him from script to stage door lasted much, much longer.

Possibly to this day.

I’m pretty sure Prof marked Damon very low for lack of ‘presence’.

Other boys got glowing reviews.

And

money.

Yes. Prof produced a handful of currency that drew us like filings to his iron desk.

His fat fingers dispensed largesse to those who’d pleased him most.

We later learned this was Prof’s known modus operandi.

One senior teacher even extolled Prof for ‘generously motivating students out of his own pocket’.

I find this astonishing now.

But at the time, I was so in ‘need’ of funds for my next kit model that I got with the program.

Indeed, I once embraced the role of Female Nurse with such ardour that I rode the school bus sporting my mother’s nail polish – to my father’s chagrin and my future bullies’ delight.

Rumours persisted about certain students who pleased Prof beyond fiscal measure and were treated to private coaching sessions – in his home.

In hindsight, I’m extremely glad my best ‘review’ was $1.60.

I’ll say just one more thing about this unusual episode.

When Bing Crosby died, Prof assigned us to write a journalistic article about his life.

Now this was something to which I could turn my hand.

I spent days researching and crafting the perfect piece.

Prof marked it ‘C++-‘.

I asked where my real mark had gone.

He retorted that, while the article was extremely well written and presented (++) it was too good to have been produced by such a young auteur (C-).

In short, I must have plagiarised the whole thing from a source even loftier than The Sun.

You can imagine

my

disgust.

Further reading.


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Bee spoke

December 19, 2016 at 11:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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When I was a kid, I sang Silent Night differently to most.

I thought the line was:

Sleep in, heavenly bees.

(Note the early regard for punctuation.)

Bees are a paragon of industry.

Naturally (I figured) there’d have to be at least one etherial species.

And after a year’s hard work, it seemed reasonable that they’d get to rest on xmas day.

Indeed, who needs honey with so much other food laid on by front-end loader?

My faux lyric made arguably more sense than ‘yon virgin mother’.

And so I rolled with it for several seasons.

The repeated line, especially, seemed positively soporific.

Sleee-eeep in, hea-ven-leeey, beeeeeesszzzzzz.

Try it next time you’re at carols by candlelight.

I promise no-one will notice.

You might just get a warm fuzzy.

Or even

catch

a

buzz.

Uncle frightener

December 17, 2016 at 10:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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An uncle, to whom I was relatively close, drank himself to death.

Many years before this, we met at the Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne’s beachside suburb of
St Kilda.

We were celebrating the fact that he was 44 and I was 22.

I asked him why he drank so much, so often.

(This was three decades ago, so my memory may be flawed.)

He said that he’d been living with a beautiful and gentle girlfriend in New Zealand.

One day, they had a huge fight and he flew into a violent rage.

The girlfriend fled the second-storey dwelling and my uncle, still furious, spent considerable time throwing all her belongings through the window, to the ground.

These included a record player, which smashed to smithereens.

The girlfriend returned that evening, to find everything she owned strewn across the street.

Unable to climb the stairs to endure whatever further drama awaited, she disappeared into the night.

My uncle knowingly let her go.

That night, she was gang-raped by six men.

My memory fails here, but I’m pretty sure she committed suicide thereafter.

Who wouldn’t?

My uncle, not surprisingly, blamed himself.

He began his long road to ruin because he could neither forget that night, nor forgive himself.

The grog merely went some small way to dulling the pain in his head that never ceased.

As reasons for being an alcoholic went, I thought this one was pretty cogent.

This kind young woman used to collect and send me stamps for my childhood album.

I still have them.

After my uncle’s death, I helped pour his ashes into the sea, under the pier we’d looked at as he told his dreadful tale.

At the wake, his family and friends sat several tables from the plum bay window at which he and I had ‘celebrated’ in 1987.

It was his favourite.

Killing time

September 26, 2016 at 10:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments
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park-of-death_0001

Are you sitting comfortably?

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, child’s play was a serious matter.

At our disposal were instruments of death that required bravery and mastery.

Herewith a quick guide.

Pictured above is The Board: a device comprising a heavy wooden beam, bolted onto industrial piping, and covered in thick black grease.

For the uninitiated, it swung gently to and fro.

But for the seasoned practitioner, it could slice a careless cranium clean through.

park-of-death_0002

Warming up. (Victim cropped from right to retain G rating.)

The trick was to build momentum. Then keep going.

With practice, The Board could be swung high enough to smash into the supporting crossbar such that the entire apparatus shook and bellowed in a terrifyingly satisfying manner.

But before mounting this Jagganatha, kids had to be progressively desensitised to its destructive force.

park-of-death_0005

Farewell to arms.

Phase One comprised The Slide.

Having ascended to a height exceeding that attainable around the home, a (usually male) candidate was required to write his will, then cast it to the four winds to show contempt for Fate.

He was then at liberty to brave the mud, puddles, gravel, baked earth, broken glass, dog poo, dust or nails – depending upon the season and the perversions of other park users.

Not for us the sanctuary of chip bark or the soft, reconstituted rubber landings of today’s helicoptered offspring.

Life was elemental. Its lessons elementary.

park-of-death_0006

Descent to the unknown.

With caution spurned and Death scorned, the candidate embraced the road to ruin.

Those who survived their test progressed to Phase Two.

park-of-death_0003

A tentative beginning …

Moving from a passive to an active device understandably startled many.

In one’s hands, rugged chains of iron.

At one’s feet, enough heavy metal to brain a bison.

These, combined with speed, left candidates in no doubt as to where they were headed.

Like The Board, The Swing had lethal potential.

Progressive goals were to:

  1. Swing.
  2. Swing and jump off.
  3. Swing higher and jump off.
  4. Swing to the apogee.
  5. Swing to the apogee and jump off.

The Swing also had an ultimate goal which, in hindsight, was inherently Sisyphean.

This goal was to swing so high that the pilot described a full circle and returned to Earth – with chains shortened by the circumference of the device’s crossbar.

Contemplating the dispatch of his first victim, the candidate’s demeanour hardens with devoted application.

I never achieved The Swing’s ultimate goal.

Nor did I see it done.

But at every park, someone knew someone who knew someone who’d done it.

And it was never achieved without multiple broken bones.

Happily, despite my incomplete preparation, I graduated to The Board.

Only to find that, a few years later, all Boards disappeared.

At first, their empty frames stood in mute protest at an approaching age of innocence.

Next, they were converted to wholly unsatisfying monkey bars – replete with safety mats.

Then they disappeared completely, along with heavy hardwood see-saws and the always-rare three-storey iron rocket ship (with its improbable steering wheel at the top).

Instead, brightly coloured rocking animals sprang from the ground.

And The Swing?

Replaced by aerated rubber seats, so soft they couldn’t crack an egg.

Or worse, inverted car tires.

Or even worse, bespoke baby seats – with safety belts.

It’s scant wonder to me that today’s coddled, aseptic parks attract few children.

They’re all at home – playing violent games in cyberspace and learning nothing of the real world just outside.

I suppose one could argue that they’re safer.

For now.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire and Imagine Day.

News FLASH! (Ah-ahhh, saviour of the universe.)

One of my oldest and dearest friends just submitted the following words and images:

Hi Paul. Reading your last post about children’s play equipment and your reference to a 3 storey rocket inspired me to share these pictures from Benalla that my two boys have had the joy to climb on a number of occasions.  Keep on writing. Very best regards, David.

benalla-rocket-20130410-00111

The dream lives! And is that a steering wheel I spy?

benalla-rocket-tom

On inspection, the rocket could be said to have four stages, not three. I shall consult Elon Musk.

Thank you, David, for your wonderful, colourful bookend. I think it’s bulk ace in the extreme!

Kindest regards, as always,

P.


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Even a buck or three will keep me in the hunt. With many thanks, Paul.


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Dog gone

September 18, 2016 at 9:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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slide-001-young-paul-with-basil-dog-by-alder-tree

In harm’s way.

 

In remembering my dead father, one incident continues to trouble me daily.

I hope that writing it down will free me from it.

Note that I use the lower-case ‘dad’ to try to take the sting out.

Basil was our first (and last) dog.

dad described Basil as a ‘Heinz’ (i.e. a mongrel comprising 57 varieties).

I seem to recall Basil was a stray who simply hung around long enough to be admitted to our yard.

I have few memories of Basil other than this:

dad was proud of his garden and lawn.

He didn’t want holes in either.

Basil, being a dog, had other ideas.

But no idea of Dutch discipline.

When Basil dug his third hole, dad became suddenly apoplectic.

He strode to the tool shed and returned with a three-foot (90 cm) length of two-inch (52 mm) orange plastic pipe.

It was so thick, it barely bent.

dad then grabbed Basil by the ears, hoisted him aloft and beat the shit out of him.

I sat aghast near the Alder tree (pictured in the slide).

Basil’s screams still resound, half a century on.

The scene, dark against the summer sun, burnt into my brain.

I felt terror, then.

As did Basil.

I believe he left us soon after.

Hopefully of his own volition.

And under his own steam.

Henceforth, dad had only to look at me to strike fear and avert wrongdoing.

Mum summed up his behaviour several times over the decades as,

‘He gets wild sometimes … ‘

Being passive aggressive myself, I know about bottling things till they explode.

But I used to vent on ‘inanimates’.

Or myself.

And I’ve sought a lot of help.

Sometimes, I find myself praying to no-one in particular

that mum’s blood flows stronger

and I am not

my father’s

son.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire and Imagine Day.

 

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Footy legend

May 2, 2016 at 7:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Footy002

That empty feeling.

In 1971, when I was six, my parents went on holiday to Fiji.

Apparently, our church had a network of families that looked after each other’s children (I assume, in time of crisis).

I was thus deposited for two weeks, in a strange house, with a clan I’d never met.

They were nice enough people, but I wasn’t a happy camper.

It was an Australian Rules Football family.

The boys were early teens – a chronic chasm between us.

They were interested in nothing but footy.

My research suggests they went on to do very large things in the code.

The intense irony, however, is that my father despised footy.

Each time a team took the field, he loudly articulated his fervent wish that all players would sustain excruciating injuries and die.

I’d had years of this indoctrination.

Now, on my dad’s whim, I was accompanying future AFL premier players to endless practice sessions on cold, windswept ovals.

As I’d been bookish from the start, this was not a great match.

Each morning, Mrs Footy would impress on me her cure-all: a large mug of boiling water.

Meanwhile, Radio 3XY played Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool over and over – fixing this tale in time.

I was so unhappy, I couldn’t sleep.

I stood in the hall, which featured garish green arboreal wallpaper.

I wept for my absent parents, home, possessions and bed.

After some time, Mrs Footy heard me and rose to see what was wrong.

We were not confidantes.

And my behaviour was as un-footy as one could get.

So despite her efforts, I remained upset in the gloom.

The fortnight dragged. The house, to my best recollection, was book free.

Fourteen hot waters and 56 Eagle Rocks later, my parents collected me.

On arriving home, my mother gave me a Fiji T-shirt and a horse of woven straw.

She also gave me a book.

Even better, it was part of the Enid Blyton series I’d been avidly collecting.

The Folk of the Faraway Tree.

I was stunned. Books were BIG gifts, reserved for very special occasions.

Why then, already in receipt of Pacific largesse, would I also be given a book?

It turned out that my dear mother, foreseeing a poor degree of fit with the host family, had given Mrs Footy not one book, but two – replete with maternal messages of love and support.

These were intended to comfort me at trying times – such as crying at night, among strangers, in a distant, forest-themed scene.

Mrs Footy, in the immense excitement of footy, hot water and Eagle Rock, had forgotten all about these precious (possibly unfamiliar) items until my parents returned.

I got the second book, Adventures of the Wishing-Chair, on my next very special occasion.

(My crisis over, Mum reverted to her customary thrift.)

The Footy family’s name echoes in our media to this day.

And while I’m not completely sure that’s who I stayed with,

the stats back me up.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire and Imagine Day.

Regret a garbo

July 2, 2015 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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Dad and I were chatting on his terrace.

Having put a smashed concrete planter in his wheelie bin, he worried the ‘garbo’ wouldn’t take it.

As heavy vehicles approached, he wondered if each were the garbo.

I said that in the good old days, the garbo always came at the same time every week, and that today’s outsourced contractors were all over the joint.

Some time later, a deep roar murdered all other sound.

‘That’s the garbo’, said dad.

A leviathan hove into view, its dwarfed driver leaning out to peer at dad’s bin.

With a shriek, a mechanical claw swooped, plucked and tipped the bin into the bowels of the beast.

The speed and force were so great, I expected the bin to vault the road and slay a knot of schoolchildren opposite.

‘Well, dad’, I said. ‘You needn’t worry about bunging that bloke’s back with your blocks!’

Dad replied that in the good old days, there were three men to each truck: runner, tipper and driver.

I added that when I was a child, our garbos recognised me and were friendly.

At xmas, Mum left cash and a thank-you note for them.

In our letterbox.

Overnight!

‘That was before the drugs came’, said dad.

And though Doncaster wasn’t a noted 60s hotspot, I knew what he meant.

Driving home, I listed conditions that would have to exist for the good old days to return:

  • Public ownership of sanitation services.
  • Job satisfaction.
  • Job security.
  • Reduced (or no) key performance indicators.
  • Trust.
  • A sense of community.
  • Egalitarianism.

I seem to recall these used to exist in our society.

Yet time can colour our thoughts.

I also remember that dogs, kids, rust and wind wrought havoc with old tin bins.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

My father’s war

April 25, 2015 at 8:38 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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Not my dad. See Chris' comment below.

Not my dad. See Chris’ comment below.

In 1939, my dad was a kid in The Netherlands, just a few clicks west of the German border.

World War II had a profound effect on his  life – and mine.

Unlike many combatants, dad related his war stories often.

Probably better out than in.

At the start, dad chatted to Axis soldiers invading.

At the end, his house hosted Allied soldiers liberating.

One of them accidentally fired his rifle through an upstairs bed containing three of my young (lucky) uncles.

In between, dad saw a Lancaster bomber flying low – ablaze from nose to tail.

A Messerschmidt fighter out of fuel – gliding, gliding, gliding – only to crash in a local quarry.

During an air raid, a German solider snatched dad to the safety of a slit trench.

A shrapnel fragment sliced the head off a neighbour’s prize rooster.

Ravenous from rationing, dad once approached a group of soldiers boiling something in a cauldron.

On their invitation, he peered in … to see a cow’s head leering up at him.

Such stories, and more.

At war’s end, dad’s country was shattered; his prospects very poor.

He wanted to escape to Canada, but Australia was offered instead.

He arrived, built a new life, and helped give me mine.

Boat people.

Our house was full of books about Hitler and the war.

Dad seemed obsessed with the subject, and it rubbed off on me.

I once asked why he read and watched so many things about such a dreadful time.

He said he was still trying to understand how and why it all happened.

Now I’ve read every book and watched every film and documentary too.

And I don’t get it either.

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