A Hat On A Windy Day

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The tram ride into Collins Street was marked by people trying not to be blown into traffic and girls doing their best to maintain a bit of modesty as the wind was determined to show the world what colour underwear they had chosen for that day.

Sam often wore a hat, but not today.

He remembered the Dickens’ quote, There are very few moments in a man’s existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat.

Sam had enough problems — he wasn’t about to add embarrassment to the list.

When he arrived at Collins Street, there was a noticeable absence of pretty girls sitting at tables drinking coffee.

The wind had swept them away.

They sheltered behind glass and Sam didn’t like his women under glass, he liked them out in the open.

The elevator played its familiar rattly tune, and Dr Doug’s secretary gave her usual smile.

Sam had gotten used to her over the months, but this day he rediscovered her beauty. It’s funny how we get used to things we see every day. Sam’s detective senses were out of practice. There was a time when he observed through eyes that saw everything. It was one of the things that gave his writing such a sharp edge.

“We haven’t talked much about your writing Sam. Do you remember a time when it became clear to you that you would become a writer?” Dr Doug was having a good day. His first patient of the day showed a good deal of improvement from the previous week. Dr Doug’s ego was in full flight.

“No, I don’t. And I don’t mean that it is one of my lost memories, I mean that it was just one of the things that interested me, so I thought I would give it a try. It would make a much better story if there had been a Road to Damascus moment but that’s not how I do things. I just sort of find myself in it, and when I look back, it is difficult to see where it started. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to Scarlett; that was definitely a blinding flash.”

“I should think so. She’s amazing, and I really would have been disappointed if there was not a little lightening and thunder.

“Were you a stand out in English studies at school?” asked Dr Doug.

“Not at all. I guess I did okay. Mostly my marks were around the mid-seventies, which I guess were good but everyone around me was in the mid to high eighties, and beyond, so I didn’t stand out. I remember enjoying the subject, and I’ve always had ‘the gift of the gab’ as my mother would call it.

I had excellent English teachers all the way through high school, which helped. I liked them all, and I wanted to please them, so I guess that drove me on.

I remember one year in particular.

We were in a scholarship year, which meant that at the end of that year we would sit an exam and hopefully qualify for a government scholarship which would pay for some of our expenses for the next few years of schooling.

This was a really big deal as most of us came from working class homes where our tradesmen fathers were working overtime to put us through this private school. It wasn’t a private school in the sense that you see these days. It was definitely at the bottom rung, but we had uniforms, and there were school fees and books and sports equipment and stuff like that and most households were single income back then, so a scholarship was a big deal and our families were counting on the money. If we didn’t get it, there was a chance we would be out of school and placed in a trade. Most of the parents in that era wanted more for their kids. They wanted them to better themselves. These days ‘tradies’ make more money than bank managers but back then it was about moving up in society.

Middle class trumped working class, any day.

The school I went to might have been a private school, but it was full of boys from a very rough part of Melbourne. I’m amazed that the teachers were able to control us considering all that, but the reason it worked was that we were all terrified of our fathers. Dads didn’t take any shit in those days, and we knew that they were working all hours just to keep us at school, so we didn’t dare let them down.

The teachers would merely have to suggest that they might call in our parents and we fell into line.

This was a particularly tough era, and we had a long standing dislike of Preston Technical School, and the dislike was returned. The rivalry continues to this day and every decade, or so it boils up into a pitched battle. It happened when I was a junior. A couple of our students were walking to school [no one got driven to school in those days] and got jumped by a bunch of Preston Tech boys. The word went out, and a group of seniors and a couple of teachers went in the direction of Preston Tech and beat the shit out of anyone they could find. By the time the cops arrived, there were bruised and battered teenagers as far as the eye could see. We received our seniors back at the school as the Romans would have back in the day. Those boys achieved legendary status, as did the teachers who went with them. It was an amazing time to be alive.”

“So how did the scholarship year work out?” asked Dr Doug.

“Most of us made it through and those that didn’t left the school. That was how the school maintained its academic record, and I’m sure that it happens even today. If a boy were not achieving the required marks, there would be a meeting arranged with his parents and the next thing you know he leaves school and starts work at the Railways.

I lost a lot of mates that way.

It put us all on notice that we could be next.

I worked out that in year eight, the scholarship year, I had a wide circle of friends numbering around forty boys. By the time I fronted up for the first day of year twelve, they were all gone — every single one. I was the only one left.

We had a good teacher, but I forget his name. He was a big bloke, and I mean ‘big’. Teachers were allowed to cane you in those days, and many of them did. We liked this bloke, but he would get tough if he had to and the teachers we had in the scholarship year were under pressure as well, particularly the English teacher.

I’m sure that the only reason I passed that year was because the scholarship exam was in the form of multiple choice questions. We had never seen this type of exam before, and I loved them. I guess it was the future detective in me but if I didn’t know the answer I could still work out which was the highest probability by eliminating the answers that were obviously wrong.

Worked like a charm.

I romped it in.

Our English teacher would give us a passage from a book, and we would have to know the meaning of every word in that passage. Naturally, most of us didn’t study the passage, and if you were asked to define a word and couldn’t do it, you got the cane; and it hurt.

At that time there was a student in our class who had transferred in from another school (probably a posh private school which he had most likely been kicked out of). I liked him a lot. He was incredibly bright but didn’t seem to care much. He wore shorts when the rest of us would not be seen dead in them, and he loved to play marbles, again not something that our age group did anymore. He did what he wanted to and didn’t care what we thought.

I really liked that.

I sat next to him in some of the classes, and I was fascinated that he could name every sail on a fully rigged sailing ship.

We alway sat next to each other during these define the word sessions, and we had a Kamikaze pact going whereby we would not study for this exam but would instead ‘wing it’ and try and work out what the word might mean from the context of the sentence.

We also worked out that if we appeared eager to answer, we would not be called on straight away. So we put our hand up right from the start, even if we didn’t know what the word meant.

It worked like a charm.

Some poor kid, who didn’t have his hand up would get called on, would get it wrong and would get belted. We would put our hand up and admit that we didn’t know either but we thought it sounded like it should mean ‘this’ based on the context of the sentence. Even though we may not have gotten it right, we never got walloped. I guess he didn’t want to dampen our enthusiasm or he admired our courage.

This boy and I had our own competition going on. The first to get caned would lose that round. This never happened so we would then count how many correct ‘guesses’ we got and I remember keeping pace with this kid and beating him regularly even though he was heaps brighter that I was.

His dad was a doctor, which was rare at our school. No high flying dads to be seen, strictly working and lower middle class. Although one of my mates had a dad, who drove a Jag and worked in the city. But he didn’t have a mum so in our eyes that made him someone to feel sorry for.

A couple of my mates and I tried to tutor the doctor’s son because he was so far behind due to not caring, and he did make an effort, but he didn’t pass, and his doctor dad took him away from the school, and we never saw him again.

I still think about him, and I remember those word sessions with great fondness. I hope life treated him well.”

 

Hold My Hand

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Maybe it happened because I jerked off too much when I was a teenager — no, that’s crazy talk — there is no such thing as too much — except for that one occasion, but there isn’t enough time to tell you that story now — it’ll have to wait.

Fortunately for me, my wife remembers lots of little details. She’s good like that — good in other ways as well — a good person all round. Details are important. Very important. If I don’t make contact for a long time, details are all that matter.

I’m getting ahead of myself, I’m sorry. I didn’t want this to be confusing. Let’s go back to what the doctor said, “It’s a bit of a nuisance, but you’ll get used to it.”

“I’ve never fucking heard of it before now. How the fuck did this happen?” Apologies for the colourful language, but that was what I said, and in my defence, I was justifiably upset.

“Just because you haven’t heard of it Mr Jenkins doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.” He was right, but he was also an opinionated arsehole, and it occurred to me that he had worked quite hard to perfect his arseholedness — probably picked it up in high school.

“Seriously Doc, this is insane. Am I the only person in the world with this disease?” I asked.

“It’s a syndrome, Mr Jenkins, not a disease.”

“Thanks for the correction Doc, that makes me feel a whole lot better.” Doctor Numbnuts was trying to be helpful, at least he thought he was. He’d even chosen his most helpful tie that morning. “The blue one or the green one with the spots?” he said to his wife. “The blue one says helpful, dear, the green one says I can get you a good deal on a used car.” She was right of course, so he wore the helpful blue one, but just at this moment, its magic did not seem to be working on Mr Jenkins.

“Your syndrome is progressive, so you will notice that you need to recharge more often as time goes by and the duration of the recharge will get longer as well, but on the bright side, you will probably have passed away from some serious disease by the time this gets really inconvenient. You are getting on a bit Mr Jenkins. Pretty soon you will enter that age group when men of your generation start to succumb to all sorts of fatal illnesses. So, buck up, you may not live long enough for this to bother you unduly.”

“How rare is this syndrome Doc?”

“Not very. It’s just that there is such a stigma attached to it that people tend not to discuss it. For decades, the media has been under a self-imposed ban on reporting about the effects. It’s felt that reporting about it will encourage men to imitate the symptoms and take advantage of their wives.”

“What a load of bollocks!” My head was spinning from what seemed like a huge pile of horse manure masquerading as medical evidence.

“I see it all the time. Men holding their partners hand in public, unnecessarily.”

“Define unnecessarily.”

“I know you are angry Mr Jenkins, but this is getting us nowhere.”

“Humour me.”

“Okay, it’s Wednesday night, and I’m walking past McDonalds, and I see an older couple walking towards me. They are taking their cute little dogs for a walk, and they are holding hands — on a Wednesday night! I ask you, do you need any more proof than that — a Wednesday night. Now, if it had been a Saturday night, I might have bought it, but a Wednesday night? I don’t think so. Obviously, the man had read about this syndrome, probably on the dark net, and had convinced his poor innocent wife that he needed to hold her hand — disgusting. Nothing but male violence in its basest form.”

“He’s holding her hand for fuck sake. Maybe she asked him to hold her hand. Did you ever think of that?”

“Ridiculous. Decent women don’t behave like that in public. You don’t have to believe me, Mr Jenkins, simply read the research.”

“I’d love to. But as you so clearly pointed out, there isn’t any published research.”

“Not released for the likes of you Mr Jenkins, but for the medical profession there are reams of the stuff. I’ll have my secretary copy some of the simpler case studies for you, but you must return them when you are finished. We can’t have this information falling into the wrong hands.”

“Men’s hands.”

“Precisely Mr Jenkins. You’re getting the hang of this, well done.”

“So what is it that I’m supposed to do in all of this?” 

My wife had been quietly listening to us talking, but she couldn’t hold her peace any longer.

“Your role is very straight forward Mrs Jenkins. You hold his hand until his memories return.”

“That’s it. That’s all I have to do?”

“That, and not die. If you died suddenly, he would be stranded. His memories would leak away like a bath with the plug pulled out. He would have no past. Ultimately he would forget the basics, like the need to eat and drink, brush his hair and take the rubbish out. As it got more tragic, he would forget why he loved watching reality television. When that happens, the end is not far away. Eventually, he would forget to put his lottery ticket in and, probably while abusing a politician on the television, he would forget to breathe, and his life would come to an end.”

“So, hold his hand and don’t die — that’s your advice. That’s what we are paying a small fortune to hear?”

“I studied for seven years at university Mrs Jenkins; I know what I’m talking about.”

My wife gave the doctor one of those stares. She didn’t spend seven years at university, but she certainly had perfected that stare. He knew exactly what she meant  — his wife had perfected a similar look.

My wife reached over and took me by the hand, and I remembered where I’d put my spare keys. As she held tightly and squeezed my fingers, I remembered why my son no longer talks to me, and it made me sad.

“Come my darling; we’re going home,” she said.

I didn’t argue. I let her lead me out of the room, past the pretty secretary with the red hair and the green eyes and out to where the elevators stood silently waiting. As we rode down to the ground floor, still clutching each others hand, I remembered the time I sat in the hospital waiting room praying that my wife would not bleed to death. I remembered the young doctor smiling at me as he strode towards my seat. The look on his face said ‘I’m the brightest young doctor in this hospital, and I saved your wife from dying. Sure, a bunch of other people helped out a bit, but in the end, I saved her.’

We caught the number twelve tram and my wife did not let go of my hand. We sat quietly and looked at the world go by. A small boy was sitting next to his mother absentmindedly playing with a battered toy car. It was a lovely autumn afternoon, and the leaves were swirly across the footpaths and into the path of oncoming traffic — the leaves did not seem to care about their fate, and neither did I — not anymore.

It’s only a short walk from the tram stop to our house, and my wife held my hand the whole way.

“Let’s get into bed and snuggle up and try and forget this awful day,” said my wife.

“It’s only half past four. Are you sure? You know you will be wide awake in the middle of the night?”

“Get into bed Michael. Hold me tight.”

“I did as I was told. It was not a difficult chore. We had been holding each other in this way for many a long year. When my father died, she held me until there were no more tears left to shed.

“I’m not going to die, Michael. I’ll always be here, and you can hold my hand every night when you get home from work, and the memories will all come flooding back. We will be okay. I’ll keep you whole. I love you very much. You are everything to me.”

She meant it, and I knew she did.

“I love you too Mary, and as long as I can hold your hand, everything will be fine. I always loved holding your hand. I remember the first time you let me. We were just kids, and I was nervous as hell. I remember thinking how tiny your hand was, and how warm. You have always had warm hands. There are other parts of you I like better, but your hands are definitely on my best bits list.”

“You are a devil Michael, but I love you.”

“Mary, if you do die before me, I promise that I will forget almost everything else before I forget you. You will be the second last thing I forget — I promise.”

“Let’s not think about that now. Hold me tight.”

I fell asleep in her arms, and I remember thinking, just before I drifted off, this must be what it feels like to let go of Mary’s hand. 

The Recollectionist.

It’s a job like any other.

I get tired, and I get bored, but mostly I like coming to work.

When I was a young man, working my way through college, I worked at a shop that sold lottery tickets. I loved that job; the owner was a dick, but the job was great. People who buy lottery tickets are optimists, and they are my favourite people to be around; not always the brightest, but definitely the most fun. They believe that their time will come.

Which, by contrast, is the exact opposite of the people who come to my place of work.

When my customers come through that door, the one with the antique bell hanging off the inside, they come because they want to recapture something of their past.

I know that sounds mundane; everyone goes back into their memories looking for a happier time. All very well if you can actually remember those times, but if you can’t, that’s where I come in.

Not everyone walks around with a head full of brightly coloured memories. Some people blank their memories out and with good reason.

Some people, and I’m talking quite a lot of people, do not remember specifics about their childhood. They remember their childhood, of course, but only in a general way. Happy, sad, bored, excited, mad, elated, lonely, that sort of thing.

These days we have the technology to do all kinds of amazing things, and still, we are not happy.

People come to me because they want to reconnect with that happiness that they once knew. They want to experience it one more time, and in many cases, over and over again.

There are side effects, of course, but I can see their eyes glaze over as I read the list of things that might happen to them if they go through this procedure. The government makes me tell them, but I told them even before the small fat bloke from the Ministry paid me a call.

“I’m not sure how you slipped through the net Mr Williams [he pronounced my name as though he had just stepped in something nasty], but it seems that you don’t come under any of our regular categories. We’ll put you under ‘miscellaneous’ [that’s the catch-all category that makes sure that you have to fill in a form and pay a fee, even if they have no idea what you do].”

“What do you do with all the fees we pay Mr………?”

“Johnson, William Johnson, chief collector of fees for the eastern and southeastern region. I used to have the north-eastern region, but they said it was too much for me, and they gave it to Jenkins, the swine.”

“That’s a riveting story Mr Johnston, but where does the money go?”

“General revenue, of course.” He looked at me as though I’d just dropped in from another planet.

“Yes, but what does the money do?”

“It doesn’t do anything, it just is —— revenue.”

I could have kept this conversation going, but there was a serious danger of my head exploding so I just nodded and bit my lip — really hard.

.

William Johnson was not born a revenue collector. When he was young, he dreamed of being a train driver, back when trains had drivers. He loved the sound of trains, and the drivers were his heroes. His house backed onto the tracks of the Belgrave line. During the school holidays, he would scale the back fence and sit on the embankment and wait for the trains to pass. He’d wave at the drivers, and some of them would wave back. William longed to be the driver who waved back, but his father was convinced that working for the Public Service was the only life for his disappointing son who liked trains and talked of nothing else. ‘In the absence of a war, the Public Service will toughen him up.’

.

When you go into business, every bugger has got his hand in your pocket.

This bugger was only one of many.

When I wasn’t paying fees, I was dealing with customers.

They come in all shapes and sizes.

I had a bloke in here recently who had lost a lot of his long-term memory in a car accident. Naturally, he wanted to remember the accident in detail so he could work out what had happened.

Therein lay a problem.

If you are driving along and another car comes out of nowhere, all you are going to remember is that you were driving along and ‘bang’, the memory stops.

He was disappointed but not surprised. I helped him with a few other names and dates, but it didn’t seem to help his mood. He was frustrated and a bit sad.

This was an unusual day because I don’t get a lot of this kind of business.

People don’t usually come digging around in a forgotten past.

It does happen, and it usually ends in tears. The mind blocks out certain things — nasty things, and I can’t help thinking that the mind knows what it is doing — leave that stuff alone.

Of course, none of that is up to me. My job is to pinpoint the memory as accurately as possible.

They give me an approximate time and place and I ‘recollect’ it for them. Occasionally, it takes me a bit longer than I’d like, but that usually happens when people are not too sure about specifics.

You are probably wondering how I got into this business.

I just fell into it.

I was young, and my dad insisted that I work during the summer before I started college. My dad was like that. He felt that there were things that I needed to learn and more importantly, things I needed to experience.

We had money, as the saying goes, and my dad did not want me to grow up thinking that the world owed me anything.

I’d known I had this ability since childhood, and my grandfather made sure that I worked at it and got it better. This was back in the day when you had to be careful of who you spoke to about such things. It could cause you some problems, and I lost a few friends because of it, mostly because my friends’ parents were frightened to let their child play with someone who could access their memories. I didn’t understand it at the time, and I took it personally — I was hurt.

I understand now that, most likely, these adults were worried that their child would reveal some secret memory. As we have learned in recent times, some strange things went on behind closed doors in those days.

I went to work for old Doc Preston. My dad knew him [dad knew a lot of people], and he got me the job.

.

Doc Preston wasn’t a medical doctor; he was a doctor of psychology, and his credential came in handy in this work. All Doc Preston ever wanted to do was help people. It was amazing being around this man, even for an oblivious young eighteen-year-old like me. He lost the love of his life when they were both quite young, and he never married again. He had ‘friends’, but never anything heavy. ‘I’m married boy, [he always called me boy, even when I was in my forties], and I always will be. She may not be here with me in person, but I know we will be together again, and I’m going to remain faithful to her. It’s the only thing I can give her now, my loyalty.’ As I got to know him, I gave him the ‘she would want you to be happy’ speech, but he alway smiled and shook his head, ‘you will understand one day, boy.’

.

Doc Preston taught me heaps about the recollectionist business.

I jumped out of bed every morning.

When my mates urged me to take a day off and hang out, I told them that I had better things to do with my time. They thought I was nuts, and maybe I was, but it was in a good way.

I went to college, but I worked for Doc Preston on Saturdays and during the holidays.

I ended up with an honours degree, but I never put it to use because I had found my calling.

When Doc got too old to carry on, he sold the business to me.

I didn’t want him to retire. I loved being around him.

“How much do you want for the business Doc? I’m pretty sure I can raise the money.”

“Ten dollars and packet of Juicy Fruits.”

“Be serious Doc.”

He was, and he wasn’t kidding about the Juicy Fruits; Doc never joked about sweets.

You’ve probably guessed that Doc was not well. He knew, but as usual, I was totally oblivious.

A week before he died, he came into the shop, when he knew it would be quiet, and asked me for a favour.

“Can you take me back to the summer of ’88? That was our last summer together, and I’d like to remember it one last time.”

“Sure thing Doc, but none of this ‘one last time’ stuff.” Doc just smiled and gave me that look.

By the time the session was over the tears were rolling down my cheeks.

That was not like me.

I experience some very emotional stuff when I facilitate the ‘recollections’, but I usually keep a professional distance [Doc taught me that — ‘you’ll go batty if you don’t learn how to stand back and watch’].

The trouble was, this was personal. I’d heard him talk about her hundreds of times, but now, there she was and they were so much in love. I could smell her perfume, and I could see the look in their eyes and it broke my heart.

 

I don’t know what Doc would think of the industry these days.

He would probably say something like, ‘everything changes boy, get used to it and make the most of what you have in the here and now’.

I’m one of the last ‘old school’ recollectionists.

These days there are automated ‘remembering’ stores in most shopping centres, run by poorly paid young people who would rather be sitting on a beach.

If you appreciate the old fashioned service of having your memories recollected by an actual human, then you come on down to Melbourne’s last old time Recollectionist emporium.

Shop 22 in The Block Arcade.

We offer a discreet service and an experience that you will never forget.

Number 20

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When I was a very little bloke, one of my greatest joys was to run out and open this gate so that my dad, who rode his bike to work every day, could ride effortlessly through and into the yard without having to step off his bike. I had already unlocked the side gate so he would sail on through to the shed in the back yard where he stored his bike. I’d be diligently closing and locking gates behind him as he went.

It seemed like an important job to me at the time.

Dad arrived home at about the same time every night. Working men did that back then. He was a union man and that meant that you gave the boss a good days work and when it was time to go home, you went home!

A few years after my dad took this shot [this is an enlargement of a larger, wider shot] he pulled this fence down and built a shorter, more ‘modern’ fence. Personally, I like this one, and as fashions go, a lot of the houses in the area are putting back the original fences………. everything changes, everything goes in cycles………. and everything stays the same.

If you look very closely, you can see that one of the horizontal wires on the gate has been bent down. That is probably because I liked to swing on the gate when my dad wasn’t looking.

The house is still there but my family no longer owns it. It is now about eighty years old.

Every couple of years I drive up that street just to remember what it felt like to live my younger life. Every year it changes and becomes less and less like the street I remember. This is not a bad thing. Everything has its time.

Number twenty Erin street will always live in my heart.

Socks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA lot of things have changed since I took this photo.

Some of those socks have gone missing.

The deck has been replaced.

The ancient ‘walk around phone’, that my son is using was eventually ‘put out to pasture’.

The possum that made the scratches on the wall above the washing machine has been evicted from our roof and now lives in a possum box on the side of the house.

The roof has been replaced as well, but it is just out of sight in this shot.

Two and half grandchildren have begun their existence.

All of our children have moved out of home, and a second dog moved in.

We lost a neighbour and are about to gain a new set.

A lot of things haven’t changed though. We still live here, in this amazing little tumbling down house and we are very happy…………… oh yes…….. and the ghost moved on………. he loved the house as much as we do, but he had to go.

Wedding Party.

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I found this photograph the other day when I was going through my bottom drawer.

That’s the drawer I keep my important stuff in.

A lot of time has gone by since this shot was taken and it’s strange looking at us all back together again.

The first thing that strikes you is the uneven numbers.

Three men and four women.

Even before this shot was taken things had begun to unravel.

Bill didn’t make it to the ceremony because he was on the run, which was funny in a way because he was the least bent of all of us, but that’s how it goes sometimes. It’s more about luck than anything else, and Bill never had much of that. He ended up doing a fifteen stretch for taking a pot-shot at the copper who was trying to arrest him, which wasn’t too bright; they take a dim view of shooting at coppers.

He was out in nine and a half and drifted away.

None of us knew where he went.

The bloke on my right is Samuel or Sam to his mates.

He’s the one in the photo who isn’t looking in the same direction as the rest of us.

That’s Sam all over.

Always did his own thing.

I don’t remember what he was looking at; it was so long ago, but I’ll bet it was a pretty girl. The bridesmaid in front of him had already let him know that she wasn’t interested.

As you can see, Sam was a big bloke, but he pushed his luck once too often, and the farmer and his brother beat him almost to death when they caught him in bed, in the middle of the day, with the farmer’s wife. He gave a pretty good account of himself and put the farmer’s brother in a hospital for a week, but two on one was just a bit too much, especially since he was defending himself without the benefit of pants.

Apparently, the farmer grew cabbages and peas, and he just popped back to the house to show his brother the new carburetor he had bought for the tractor.

I stopped eating cabbage and peas for a while out of respect for Sam but eventually I went back to eating them.

Sam lingered on for a long time but after about eighteen months he succumbed to his injuries. Apparently he made love to one of the nurses on the night he died, which only increased his legendary status.

Personally, I’d rather be alive than legendary, but that’s me.

The bloke on my left was my best man, and he was, and is, a boring fucker.

There is absolutely nothing interesting about this guy, so I’ll bet you are wondering why he is my best man. It’s because my best mate dipped out at the last moment. His wife wouldn’t let him travel up from Bendigo. Can you believe that? I picked Chris because I knew I would not survive the bachelor party if Sam was organising it and I planned to make it to this wedding. My best man’s name was Nigel, and he went on to be something huge in the Public Service. He’s the bloke who suggested that all old age pensioners should have to eat stale biscuits. I don’t know why he suggested that but apparently it came down to one vote. The biscuit lobby probably had something to do with it. In those days, they had as much power as Big Tobacco.

I must say that I liked all of Lorraine’s bridesmaids, but a more diverse group would be difficult to imagine.

The lady down the front was not very popular at school, and Lorraine took her under a wing. Lorraine is like that; it’s only one of the things I love about her.

Her name is Betty, and she’s a hell of a cook, sings like a bird and plays a mean game of tennis.

Even though she is not a strong swimmer she once saved Lorraine from drowning.

This girl’s got guts.

The lady to the right is Jenny, and she is a little bit older than the others. Sadly, she was washed overboard during a storm while traveling on the Liner Fair Star on a voyage to London a few months after this shot was taken. No one knew she was missing until the next morning, and they never found her body.

They didn’t even turn around and look for her.

The authorities said at the time that it was pointless.

I imagine her clinging to a piece of flotsam waiting for the ship to come back.

There was never any hint of suicide.

On our far left is Susan.

She had style and then some, as you can see, and I can guarantee that my white-bread best man never got anywhere with her.

She was top drawer.

She was going somewhere, and her slightly exotic look was more help than a hindrance. She started her fashion label after moving to London.

She never married but instead took a large collection of lovers. Many of the men associated with her were the handsome and powerful of their day.

It is rumoured that she shot a man who was attempting to blackmail her.

It seems that her lovers came from both camps, and this poor fool thought he could extract some cash from her. Instead, he found that a 45 calibre round needed to be removed from him. He survived but refused to say who shot him.

Finally, the last two people in this photo are Lorraine and me.

We were married for a very long time, and happiness was a constant companion. We had our ups and downs, as all couples do, but we loved our two boys, and we watched them grow and successfully make families of their own. We rejoiced together in our grandchildren, and we looked forward to a quiet, peaceful retirement.

One morning my wonderful wife set off to ‘do a little shopping’ and never returned.

That was five years ago, and there has been no trace of her in that time, so I’m just sitting here surrounded by photos that map out our life together.

The most important photo is the one that started it all — our wedding photograph.

It’s boring to say it, let alone type it, but you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and photos only make it worse; all that you have lost in a passing parade of silver nitrate.

The Spotted Librarian: Somethings Don’t Change.

In another life (the 1970s) I was a primary school teacher.
When my wife sent me this headline, I just had to tell you this story.
Teaching was all I ever wanted to do.
‘Ever’, being after I gave up on being a train driver, cowboy, spaceman, truck driver or the bloke who cuts the grass in the park.
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I had to decide at the end of year 10 what academic stream I would take, Humanities or Science. I was pretty good at Science but Humanities was the course to take to deliver me into a primary school classroom. I never considered a secondary school career, I only ever wanted to work with little kids. It seemed to me that that was where the ‘teaching’ was.
It also seemed to me that that was where the learning began and I wanted to be in on the ground floor.
Teacher’s College was fun but getting out into the world was what I was yearning for.
NO STUDENT LOANS FOR US.
In those days there was a shortage of teachers, so the government paid us (a very small amount) to complete our diploma, and in return, we promised to work for them for three years. We had to teach wherever they sent us, and for males that usually meant a one-teacher country school.
In my case, it meant a school in St Albans which, at the time, was on the extreme northern edge of Melbourne and was full of non-English speaking migrants.
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I was just happy that it was not in the country. 
I really hated the idea of being stuck in some backwater and having to play cricket and football for the local team.
I’m a city boy and grew up in a tough suburb, and the city way of life suited me just fine.
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Sitting around listening to farmers complaining about the weather seemed like hell to me.
Naturally, I have learned that country life is excellent, but you have to remember that I was young and I had a lot to learn.
I had four wonderful years at St Albans East primary school but moving to Belgrave after we bought our first house meant a two-hour journey to St Albans every day. I left in the dark and came home in the dark, slept through Saturday and got up late on a Sunday and it all started over again on Monday!
For six months I wasn’t sure what colour our house was because I never saw it in daylight!
Something had to be done, so I organised a transfer to a school on our side of town.
The school, which no longer exists (Jeff Kennett had it demolished, and it is now townhouses) was called Warrawong and was the alternate Blackburn South primary school.
Talk about a culture shock!
St Albans East was full of migrants, and the kids were great. The parents were extremely grateful for anything that we did for their children. They valued education above almost everything else, and the parents worked themselves into the ground to make sure that their children had an education.
On the other hand, Blackburn South was full of struggling middle-class families who thought the world owed them a living.
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The staff were one click this side of brain dead, and my school principal was a back stabbing idiot.
My ego was such that I didn’t see any of it coming. I thought that everyone would come to understand how wonderful I was and all would be right with the world.
It didn’t work out quite that way.
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It was possibly the LONGEST year of my life.*
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MY WIFE STOPPED BELIEVING ME.
This school was so insane that my wife stopped believing me as each night I would come home with an even more amazing story.
I will not bore you with all the stories here as I plan to write a short book about my experiences, but I will tell you two stories.
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THE SPOTTY LIBRARIAN.
Firstly, just to get you started, here is the story about the school librarian.
I really should have worked out what I was up against right at this point, but I didn’t, I was too full of myself and my grand plans.
So, at our very first assembly the Librarian notices that the children are not lining up in straight lines, so she proposes that she be allowed to paint a white dot on the playground assembly area; ONE FOR EACH CHILD!
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One white dot for each kid.
I thought it was a joke, but no, she was serious, and everyone in the meeting agreed!
Everyone!
I was the only person who did not raise their hand, I was too stunned to speak.
It gets better!
The school principal gave her permission to paint the dots, and the Library stayed closed for two weeks while she completed the task!
No one was outraged; they all thought it was a good idea!
Now comes the story that I wanted to tell you that was suggested to me by reading the newspaper article quoted at the end of this story.
It’s forty something years later, and nothing has changed!
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THE GREAT SWAP CARD RAID OF 1976
By the time this story took place I was fairly shell-shocked by everything that had gone on.
Eventually I stopped going to staff meetings as I just couldn’t take it any more. I remember working out different ways to get out of the place on a Monday night (staff meeting night). I needed to be creative as the Principal saw my absences as a form of rebellion (which it was) and she did everything in her power to stop me from getting away.
Anyway, there I was, pre-rebellion at a staff meeting with drool coming from the corner of my mouth when I hear a motion put forward to ban swap cards.
Say what?
The kids at this school were really good kids, but the staff were afraid of them. Possibly they believed that the kids would work out that they were incompetent.
The kids didn’t care that the teachers were hopeless, they had never known anything else. They just wanted to get on with their lives and maybe have a bit of fun along the way.
So, the motion passed (big surprise) I spoke against it, but by now no one was taking any notice of me or anything I had to say.
A couple of weeks later there was another motion.
This time some bright spark wants to organise a lunch time raid in the playground to catch any kid with swap cards.
Naturally, the children had ignored the ban.
The dingus who put forward the plan wanted to have teachers at every door leading out onto the playground (there were a lot of doors) and at a precise time (yes we actually synchronised our watches) we were to burst through the doors (his words) and round up any errant card swappers. These children would then be sent to the assembly area (where all the white dots were) and would be made an example of in front of the whole school.
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 THE TIP-OFF.
I was friends with a lot of the children in classrooms other than mine, so I spread the word about the raid but even, so there were about forty odd kids who got caught.
The teachers were very disappointed that the ‘haul’ was so light.
I was amazed that anyone got caught.
How dumb do you have to be to get caught after the word has gone out?
This happened in the middle of the year, and by now my good wife had started to think that I was making up some of these stories. She wondered how these crazy things could keep happening.
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HIDING IN THE BUSHES.
As I mentioned, it was not long after this that I stopped going to staff meetings and I can still see the principal staking out the car park waiting for me to attempt my getaway!
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The newspaper article that prompted this post.

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/primary-school-bans-footy-cards-20130605-2npxk.html

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* The stress of teaching at this school caused a rash to break out on the side of my face which progressed to the point that it closed one of my eyes!

Brightway Corner.

My childhood was spent in Preston and against all the

odds, I survived.

This article has been published in Milkbar Mag

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These days it’s easier to survive and from the look of the street I grew up in, it is a happy place to be.
Practically every house in my childhood neighbourhood has been ‘restored’.
Unrestored and in many ways just the way it was when it first opened back in the 1950s is the ‘Brightway Corner’ Milk Bar.
There is a tram stop right out the front which was moved about twenty five metres a few decades back.
The reason for the move is unclear but now the trams block a side street when they stop, which is cool I guess.
Sixty years is a long time. No one seems to remember who built this tiny milk bar but it is still there selling all the things that modern convenience stores sell.
I do remember that the original owner ran the store for a long time; people did that in those days, unlike today where you just have time to learn the new owner’s name before they sell up in an endless game of ‘flip the convenience store’.
I remember going into this store to do what small boys do and choosing my favourite sweet, when mum’s budget would allow.
The inexplicably relocated tram stop was where I would stand waiting for a tram to take me to primary school ( the only form of school that was fun to be a part of). Much later in life it was the turn around point in my daily run as I escaped momentarily from the sadness of nursing my dying mum.
I still visit Brightway Corner a couple of times a year as it is very close to Russell Sports where the cheapest and best Asics sports shoes in the world can be found.
Brightway Corner stands on the corner of Gilbert and Oakover Roads and is directly across the road from one of my other favourite childhood memories, the building that was once a suburban cinema.
The Rivoli was built in 1936 and closed in 1961. I remember being taken to see a Mickey Rooney movie there in the late 1950s; in pyjamas of course.
The cinema would have had it’s own refreshment bar but I’m betting that Brightway Corner would have benefited from having it so close by and when it closed I can imagine the owner worrying about the effect on his business.
It survived and despite the decimation delivered upon the suburban milk bar by the advent of the modern convenience store, it still clings to existence.
Maybe it’s survival has something to do with the ‘old school’ gold leaf sign above the door. The sign would have been very expensive in it’s day and shows a kind of confident optimism from it’s owner that has proven to be prophetic.
Long may Brightway Corner shine.

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