We grew up together in the way that cousins do.
We sometimes visited her house, but I don’t remember them visiting ours.
Mostly, we met up once a year on Christmas night at our grandmother’s house in North Fitzroy, just down the road from the Fitzroy Cricket Ground and even closer to the Lord Newry Hotel, although we were way too young to see the inside.
An added ‘meet up’ bonus would be the numerous weddings and christenings that my family were famous for, but mostly it was Christmas night.
While the aunties would do their best to outdo each other with a staggering array of food including cream cakes that were probably shortening our lifespan, we young ones would play and talk.
There were two waves of cousins.
The slightly older ones and us slightly younger ones.
One Christmas night sticks out above the blur of all the others.
It was probably 1968, and we were huddled in the small front room of my grandma’s double fronted Italianate Victorian house which, legend had it, was originally built for a doctor in the 1880s.
My grandfather bought it for his new bride from the profits generated by two fruit and vegetable shops. The house had two concrete fountains in the front yard which we climbed on when we were a lot younger. I harboured a desire to restore these fountains to their nineteenth century working glory.
Sitting in that small front room us cousins talked about our hopes and dreams and the phenomenon that was the TV show ‘Laugh In’. I was off to Teacher’s College the next year, and I was full of excitement, and I’m sure I spoke about my ambition.
Therese was a couple of years behind me, and of all the cousins she was the only one to go into teaching as I had.
Unlike me, she stayed in the profession and, by all accounts [her’s included], she loved her job. I can imagine the children loving her as well.
As the aunties and uncles died off, the family ‘jungle drum’ went quiet. Family news no longer reached me. Therese’s mum died quite young, and I missed the news of her father’s passing. He was probably my favourite uncle, and this made me sad.
I made an effort and tracked her down earlier this year, and we exchanged letters.
Yes, letters; she was distrustful of the internet and preferred ‘snail mail’.
Her handwriting was impeccable, as you would expect from a lifetime of teaching children how to write.
Unfortunately, our correspondence petered out after a while, and I left it at that as I felt that she wanted her privacy.
I planned to try again sometime this year, and possibly arrange to meet up for coffee.
On the way to visit our grandchildren, my wife noticed an entry in the newsletter that she receives from her old secondary school.
She did not want to leave it until she got home, so she texted me.
Therese had died suddenly in early November.
An email to another cousin revealed that she had been dead for three days when they found her.
This created a lot of questions which will only be answered after a Coronial inquiry.
I guess I missed her funeral and I could not find any reference to it in the newspapers.
The ‘jungle drums’ don’t reach me anymore, so my relatives live their lives and deal with their triumphs and tragedies without my participation.
In my head, we are still young and still sitting in that little room at the end of the 1960s, with our whole lives in front of us.
Therese never married and I have no idea if she had any near misses.
She leaves behind a brother and a sister, and she is reunited with her mum and her dad and a sister who died when she was twenty-one.
Sleep well cus’, I remember you.
My very talented friend John built this little retreat at the bottom of his garden. He lives on an ordinary suburban block but he has transformed it into a wonderland. This is one tiny part of that wonderland, and it is my favourite. I have not visited for a couple of years and I’ll bet that there are new wonders to behold. John is one of those blokes —– always on the go. His house is just as amazing as his garden and it is a place to renew your soul.
This photo includes my talented son before he grew his beard
For more than twenty years I was associated with Albert Park Basketball Stadium. It was started in the 1950’s as a way to promote the sport in Australia. American soldiers had brought the sport here in the 1940s and European migrants, fleeing the devastation of WW2 formed the backbone of the sport for many years. The late Ken Watson and his wife Betty were the driving force.
My family and I arrived at Albert Park in the early 1990s. Our sons were keen to stretch their skills and I quickly found myself coaching for the famed Melbourne Tigers, the most successful junior basketball club in Australia. I loved it and so did the boys.
As the years went by we got to know many of the characters around the game.
Even when the government decided to pull down the amazing old basketball complex and build a shiny new soulless complex the game continued on. I took up refereeing which extended my time long after our boys outgrew junior basketball.
The bloke in the photo was around for all of this time. He came from one of those war-torn countries and when this photo was taken, his hip was so bad that he could barely walk but he turned up every Thursday night to coach his team. They were a pleasure to referee. They were tough but they were successful even though they were not young. They did it with skill and knowledge and discipline. Their coach had a lot to do with their success.
It was sudden, at least it was for me.
Tony was old and each time I saw him he looked older and a bit slower.
Eventually, I guess, life caught up with him.
He came to Australia a very long time ago and when we first met him he had just taken over a large old milk bar in the heart of Belgrave. He quickly turned it into a cafe by day and a restaurant by night.
He lived at the back of the cafe with his family in the way that families have done for generations.
For many years he employed a belly dancer to entertain his customers on a Saturday night.
Tony had been there for so long I was beginning to think that he might live forever. Of course he didn’t, but while he was alive he worked hard. ‘Jean Claude’s’ was open from early morning till late at night 365 days a year. On Christmas day I took the dogs for a walk to Belgrave and the only shop that was open was Jean Claude’s.
I never did ask him why he named the cafe Jean Claude. I would like to think that there is a cool story behind it about his life in a war torn part of the world, but I suspect that he just thought that it made the place sound classy.
Tony’s home country had been racked by a prolonged civil war and he had brought his family to Australia to escape the fighting. This was a long time ago. He made a life for himself here and he supported many members of his family though his cafe. We watched them grow up around this happy chef.
You could never get a small meal when Tony was the chef because he would always insist, “I cook something special for you.” And he always did. He loved my two boys from the first time we ventured into his cafe and the last time I saw him he asked me how they were getting on, he always asked. Family was very import to Tony.
When my boys were little we would sit in the window of the cafe and play ‘spot someone who you know’. One point for each recognised person. My eldest son was usually the winner but he was not above cheating.
When Tony died the cafe closed and stayed closed. It would not be the same without Tony. A little notice appeared in the window thanking people for their kind thoughts and after many months a ‘For Lease’ sign also went up. Tony owned the building and rather wisely the family has decided to lease it rather than sell it.
In an era when cafes only open during the peak earning times Tony’s cafe was always open. In recent years there was the addition of a pizza section which operated at night. More work for someone who Tony knew, probably family.
I took Tony for granted while he was with us but I hope he knew how much I admired his devotion to his family. I’ll miss his delicious food and his broad smile. We knew and liked each other and I’ll bet that wherever he is he is not letting his friends order from the menu, instead I’ll bet he is “cooking up something special.”
I don’t remember the first time I met him and, as often happens with people you lose touch with, I don’t remember the last time I saw him either.
He had a creative eye and worked in the business that his father had founded.
His dad was a builder but somehow ended up with a business which made decorative patterns on glass via sandblasting.
His business gelled with the business I was in at the time and we worked together.
Before he took over his dads business he worked as a shopfitter and I worked for him for a few weeks during my holidays when I was still a classroom teacher.
I loved it and I enjoyed his company.
Sometimes creative people have a loose relationship with sanity, and this is how it was with him.
I remember sitting in a car with him while he told me fantastical stories in a language only vaguely associated to English.
In my naivety I thought that I could keep him calm and when he got better he would remember that I had been there for him.
He didn’t, of course.
I found out recently that he had died a few years ago and I still don’t know how.
His brother and partner in the business died just recently and the business that their father had started is now shuttered and closed for business
I feel sad about all of it; the losing touch, the untimely unexplained deaths and the ending of a dream.
Of all the conversations and all the adventures we had the thing that keeps coming into my mind is a story that he told me about his dad.
Apparently, his dad built their family home with his own hands and every hinge in the house had only one screw in it.
The promise to return and screw the rest of them in was never kept.
It’s funny; the things you remember.
It looked like an ordinary train but it was much more than that.
It’s the 12:04am; the last train to Belgrave departing from Flinder’s Street station and if you miss it it’s a long walk home; about 40 Kms.
We had been refereeing at Albert Park Stadium for more than a decade and, most of the time, there was a car to get us there, but for a couple of years after the cops put my old Kombi off the road we were down to one car. My eldest had stopped refereeing by then but for my youngest and myself it was our sole source of income.
Poorly paid but all cash money and as long as we got to the stadium early enough [most games started at 5:50 pm] we would be rostered on for enough games to make the night worthwhile.
My wife got home too late for us to take the car and she got first dibs on it because she earned more money than I did.
For a variety of reasons the last game could finish quite late and we had to hang around to get paid and either get a lift into the city or catch the last tram.
The 12:04 was legendary and no one in their right mind wanted to willingly catch that train so there was always a mad scramble to catch the the 11:47, the second last train.
The journey took about an hour followed by a fifteen minute walk in the dark so we didn’t need any additional complications.
After running up and down for six games we were pretty tired. We were both senior referees so we usually got the difficult games. By the end of the night we just wanted to go home.
It was inevitable that one night there would be enough complications to force us to catch that train. As it was, we were so held up that we nearly missed it.
The train was packed.
Four minutes into the next day and it was packed!
We were experienced public transport users so we were on our guard. We headed for a group of young ‘suits’ who had obviously stayed back for a few drinks. They looked reasonably harmless and I figured that if anything kicked off the hoons would go for them first leaving us to duck for cover.
The atmosphere in the carriage was was light and happy but I knew that this could change as we went along and picked up more people along the way.
The first surprise came in the form of an accordion player who got on at Richmond and stayed with us till Camberwell. He played his accordion and sang the whole way. Whenever he picked a song that people knew the whole carriage would join in.
It was excellent.
When we got to Camberwell he took a bow and got off the train. He didn’t ask for any money and he got off so quickly that no one thought to offer him any.
The whole carriage waved to him as the train pulled out.
That pretty much set the tone for the journey and new people getting on joined right in.
Now, there is an unwritten law that no one speaks to anyone else on a train in Melbourne but that rule went out the window [so to speak] on this 12:04 to Belgrave.
The conversations were all friendly and mostly in depth. There were some seriously dangerous people on this train but it seemed that the normal rules that applied to the universe had been suspended, just for this journey.
Eventually the train reached Ringwood, which was then and still is a dangerous suburb at night.
The train sat in the station for what seemed like forever and eventually the roughest looking bloke on our carriage leaned out the door and shouted to the driver, “Can we get this fucking train moving before we all get killed.”
That wasn’t his exact words but that’s what he meant and I guess the driver thought that if this particularly tough looking bloke was worried, it was probably time to move.
After Ringwood our happy little bad of misfits started to thin out until we reached Tecoma, the second last stop on the line and there was only Matt and I left in the carriage.
By the time we made it into our home it was nearly 2o’clock in the morning. We were hungry and tired but we talked about our adventure while we ate and finally made it to our beds.
We have often talked about that train ride and the story of it has gone into family folk law.
Sometimes the universe manages to combine certain elements so that you end up with a story that you tell over and over, and so it was with the 12:04 to Belgrave.
If you don’t believe in an afterlife now would be a good time to stop reading.
I was about 19 and although I had been out with girls I had yet to have a serious relationship, and all the things that go with that type of relationship.
In other words I was inexperienced, but I did have a car and in those days that was a big deal.
Cars drove you to girls.
This young lady, who shall remain nameless because I cannot remember her name, and when you have finished reading this you will understand why I so desperately want to remember her name!
It was my first year at College and I was just starting to get over the shock of meeting girls; heaps of them! In my course there were seven blokes and twenty two girls and there were seven other groups just like mine. It was heaven for a young man but also a bit of a nightmare for a boy who had been at an all boys school right through high school.
The year was moving along nicely and at mid year our College had it’s annual College Ball. It was a big deal and absolutely everyone was going. A lot of the students had boyfriends and girlfriends outside of college and a few had paired off from within the student body.
I did not have a girlfriend and this nameless young lady had just split up with her boyfriend and during a long conversation some two days before the event I asked her if she would like to go with me. We got along really well and she was easy to talk to so I thought, why not?
To my pleasant surprise she said yes.
It was a very long time ago but I do remember buying her a corsage for her ball gown and I remember that she looked stunning.
There was not a lot of pressure on either of us because at some level we were just helping each other out because we both wanted to be at the ball and we did not want to turn up alone. We sat together and we had a few dances together and I remember having a very good night.
I remember taking her home, she kissed me and I asked her if she wanted me to pick her up on Monday morning and give her a lift to College.
She said yes; I guess she thought it was better than taking the tram.
I asked her out to the movies and we took a few Sunday drives and things went well but my inexperienced heart did not see the opportunities that were being offered and after a few months I told her that I wanted us to stop seeing each other and I asked her how she felt about that.
She was kind and let me off the hook.
She was a little older than I was, but just by a few months, and she was repeating her first year at her own expense [the rest of us received an allowance from the government in return for three years of service in the State system].
She was beautiful, worldly and sophisticated, and way out of my league. Part of me could not understand why she was with me and in the end the pressure wore me down.
She had no trouble kick starting her love life and I used to run into her at parties and at College and she always acknowledged me which was strange as I think I was probably the only bloke who ever broke up with her, most other guys had more sense!
Over the next eighteen months I saw her with a succession of older males and her association with them was always passionate.
She was a cut above the rest of us but she never rubbed it in.
She finished her course a year before I did and I never saw or heard from her again until about a year ago.
I was having a reading with a famous local medium [who worked all his life as a crane driver] and among an assortment of deceased relatives I heard from my first girlfriend. She did not identify herself by her name [some spirits do and some don’t in my experience] but as she told her story [spirits seem to me obsessed with ‘proving’ to you that they know you] it became obvious who she was.
I have heard from a few people when I have had readings with this medium but this one rocked me.
Firstly because she was obviously no longer alive [I was too stunned to ask what had caused her to die] and secondly because of what she had to say.
She said that she chose me way back then because of who I was, not because of how I looked. She also said that she was trying to give me the hint that lovemaking would have been more than okay but I was missing the signals! She went on to say that it had probably worked out for the best because we would have been a volatile couple and it may not have worked out well for either of us.
She recalled me buying her popcorn and bringing her a red rose whenever we went out together. So long ago and she remembered these details, and from the ‘other side’ as well.
Making contact with someone who has died is an amazing experience and I have a string of interesting stories to tell from the readings I have had but I have to say that this one was special.
I was touched that she described me in such tender terms.
My mum [who has also come through on a number of occasions] taught me to have respect for everyone [this has been hard at times] and to always have respect for women. It sounds funny to say that in this day and age but back then it was not universally accepted.
Like all young men I made mistakes in my dealings with the opposite sex but it seems that I got this one right.
I’m at an age where some of the things that have happened to me were so long ago that some of the details are sketchy.
I have read that some people believe that groups of souls sometimes travel together and play different roles in each other’s lives. They do this by choice and sometimes they play a bit part in someones life and another time that soul will return the favour.
I would like to think that this soul was part of my story, and maybe I was part of hers as well.
It troubles me that I cannot remember her name and there is no one around who can remember it for me.
She will always be my first attempt at a serious relationship; my first girlfriend if not my first love and I will always remember that she chose me because of something she saw in me rather than some shallow surface image.
As often happens in life, if I had that experience over again and she came through in a reading I would ask her a heap of questions but in the end they would just be details, she told me everything that was important, and even though I cannot remember her name I doubt that I will ever forget her.
One of my very bestest WP people asked to see the car mentioned in the Reflection post.
So here she is.
She wasn’t with us for very long but she did get to be a wedding car for a couple of young friends who were saving their pennies.
5.3 litres of pure V12 grunt. Built in 1986 one year after Jaguar stopped making the series Three. The XJ40 that replaced her could not fit the massive V12 engine so they kept on making the Series Threes just for their V12 customers until the XJ40 was updated. The back doors on this model open wider than on previous models to make it easier to get in and out of the back seat [especially in a wedding dress].
She looked magnificent but she had not been well maintained. In short she cost me a lot of money to bring up to scratch.
The air con packed it in on a particularly hot trip back from Adelaide and V12s generate an enormous amount of heat and a lot of it travels under the floor through the exhaust pipes…… it can get unpleasant! The cruise control stopped working on this same trip also.
A couple of days before Christmas I had all of the water hoses replaced [there are a lot of them on a V12]. We got to Ballarat on the way to Adelaide and the Big Cat emptied the contents of her radiator into the carpark at McDonalds. It’s a long ride back to Melbourne on the back of a tow truck. I managed to get the mechanics to repair the brand new burst hose and my son and I tried again. This time we did not get as far as Ballarat. We stopped at a roadhouse to eat and when I put my son behind the wheel he turned the key and engine made a strange noise and dropped a valve.
The cost of rebuilding the engine was close to half of the cost of the car and I had spent a small fortune up till then so I sold it to my mechanic who put a second hand engine in it and sold it to someone else.
A few weeks later I found the Jag I have owned ever since and she has not missed a beat.
I suppose you are wondering why I bought a car with so many expensive faults?
Good question. I know a fair bit about cars so there is really no excuse except that I bought her in haste, which is probably the worst way to buy a car. Also I trusted someone………. don’t say it, I know.
The person who sold her to me also sold my first Jag to me and that had been a very happy event. In my mind I figured that he would work out that if he looked after me I would buy a series of cars from him over time, whereas he was only interested in selling a car.
I was in pain when I bought her having been involved in a high speed freeway accident from which I had not fully recovered. Never buy anything when you are in pain!
It was not all bad, the V12 was an experience to drive. It’s the only car I have ever owned that did not notice if the car was full of people. The gearbox never kicked down because the engine had so much grunt that it didn’t need to.
She was only in my life briefly but she is fondly remembered. Money aside, I loved that car, but all love affairs must end.
BTW she was exactly red, the official name was Cranberry.