The Dangers of Going Back

Yesterday, I went back to Narrogin where I spent a lot of my early years, and as I was looking about the town and thinking how little it had actually changed, it occurred to me the place damn well should have changed a little more  than it has.  It was 50 years ago that we lived there after all. 50 years, my God! How had that happened? We left in at the end of 1964, and it often still feels like it was a few weeks ago.

What has changed, however, was the Narrogin Drive In Theatre, my most special place in the entire town. It has been totally devastated. As a ten year old boy this was my most sacred site, and is still one of the fondest places in my memory.

As I was leaving town I saw it off to take right and for some reason, probably nostalgia, decided to pull in and have a look about. It had been the Melody, I think it was called, but there was no faded sign to remind me, and, in fact, there was now a whole lot of nothing. The entire place looked like Osama had Bin there.  The sloped parking spaces, like a sheet of enormous corrugated iron, were completely pot-holed and overgrown with grass, while the white posts, that once held the sound speakers, stuck up just like so many grave markers.

The brick projection box and kiosk looked like they had been just missed by a 747, and there was no evidence of the swings and slide that were once located in front of the screen. Even the huge white screen had been toppled over and now lay forlornly on the ground like a twisted metal blanket. In the booth three solid stands that once held the projectors, and painted in 1960s green paint ,but obviously too heavy to shift, stood empty, waiting , as if by some miracle , for  the huge 35 mm Bell and Howells to return with their flickering magic.  Huge holes had been kicked in every panel of the building and I noted, with a touch of karma, these were asbestos, so any kick-happy vandals; I’d start watching out for the breathing in a few years.  Wouldn’t that be so ironic? And while wearing an oxygen mask on your face,  you can’t smell the delicious scent of deep frying Chico Rolls. Or much of anything else, and it will be all your own fault, I’m happy to say.

It was perfect weather, like all of my golden childhood, and as I walked about taking photos, I wondered why it was all so much better then. The scratchy old speakers that you hung on the glass of the car window in reality, probably sounded like a $19.95 K-Mart baby monitor, but I remember the  sound of the movies being far, far sweeter than any of that put out by my modern expensive computer sound system, or my stereo CD player with ultra-base.

And the films were better too, to say nothing of the full-blown show that you got at the Melody. As soon as it grew dark it started with advertisements for local businesses like Jeff’s Tyres, the national Anthem ( the British one), than several Loonytoons or Mighty Mouse cartoons, then a serial like  The Shadow or the Adventures of Kit Carson, followed  a Movietone Newsreel , with that followed by a full-length black n’ white B Grade film noir. After this marathon was Intermission, with ice-creams, then came the Technicolour feature. It being 1964 it could have easily been any of these made that year:


Mary Poppins

A Fistful of Dollars

Zorba the Greek


Carry on Cleo

The Long Ships

My Fair Lady

A Hard Day’s Night

Pink.Panther  – Shot on the Dark

Cheyenne Autumn

or Father Goose with Cary Grant

No wonder I was more often than not mesmerized out of my tiny mind with happiness. I ached to go to the movies every night, but we only went every second Thursday, on  pay days.

I stood there feeling just a touch sad (sobbing like a baby, actually)  at seeing a favourite part of my childhood laid to waste and looking  like the desert in Lawrence of Arabia, but the memories soon came flooding back;  of peering over the plastic front seat of my parents’ Morris Major, and not caring that the windscreen wipers could be  going full bore, the car misting up, my mother telling me to go to sleep, because,  above all, over the baby monitor speaker came a wonderfully cynical Scottish accent:

Q: Now this one I’m particularly keen about. You see the gear lever here? Now, if you take the top off, you will find a little red button. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.
James Bond: Yeah, why not?
Q: Because you’ll release this section of the roof, and engage and then fire the passenger ejector seat. Whish!
James Bond: Ejector seat? You’re joking!
Q: I never joke about my work, 007.

Now, until I find me a script writer with that sense of humour, or such a well developed feeling for adventure, I think I might be destined to stay back in 1964, aged ten.  And why the hell not, Miss Moneypenny? Back then people didn’t smash up other folks dream factories and leave them standing out in the sun on perfect days feeling like they had just faced an onslaught of 3,000 Zulu warriors, or an hour and half  with  Mary Poppins, or had just been fired through the roof of an Aston Martin DB5.

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Rottnest Island Defences

This lovely photo by Bill Hatto from Thursdays’ West newspaper is of 100 year old Mrs Rae Hussey, wife of Captain Frank Hussey, commander of the WWII defences on Rottnest Island. In ‘Jacks Island’ I changed his name to Hurley and promoted him to Colonel. In the article that was with this photo I saw that Captain Hussey  was eventually promoted to Brigadier General, without any help from me.

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King Canute, or Cnut, or Knut. (Not more bloody history!)

Viking King Canute the Great, known as Cnut in Denmark and Knut in Norway, was the son of Svein Forkbeard and grandson Harald Bluetooth and great-grandson of King Gorm. I told you last time that Vikings had great names. Harald Bluetooth went on the become saint of techno-nerds.

In 1013 Svein and Canute decided to conquer England, and were extremely successful at it, soundly defeating the army of King Aethelred the Unready. Having lost the battle Aethelred immediately fled to Normandy, probably very quickly indeed considering the Vikings unpleasant reputation. Canute’s dad, Svein died soon after and so luckily for Canute he became king of all England, Denmark, Norway, and part of the Sweden. Result.

In 1017 Canute, being ready, married Aethelred the Unready’s widow, Emma, and they had two children, Harthacnut and Gunhild. Canute was a Christian and very religious-minded, however, like many religious maniacs in history, his religious beliefs didn’t get in the way of him behaving badly, including having two sons, Harald and Svein with his English mistress, Aelfgifu.

Canute had great respect for the old English laws, other than the ones about adultery, obviously, and he tried to repay for the bloody wrongdoings of his Viking forefathers by building churches and making many generous gifts.  He is remembered too for trying to teach his courtiers humility, saying on the beach one morning, ‘not even a king as great as me can hold back the tide’ – then proceeded to get completely soaked.

After ruling successfully over a huge yet peaceful kingdom for twenty years, Canute died in 1035 aged about forty. He was buried in Winchester, where he normally lived when not touring his kingdom, or down at the beach.

Canute’s sons, turned out to be weak and not that sturdy. In fact, Harthacnut died only two years later, remembered for nothing at all except for the huge taxes he imposed. There are few governments who could benefit from that lesson.

None of Canute’s sons had any children so Emma’s son, Edward, by her first husband Aethelred, returned from Normandy in 1042 to become King Edward the Confessor. On his death he became the saint of difficult marriages, and, coincidently, the British royal family.

Canute tended to fade from history for many years, but now his rein is being re-examined by historians as one of the great success stories of British history. He did also stop the Viking raids, even if he didn’t hold back the waves.

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Simply Shocking

Why is it that I can’t think up a single headline for this news clip that is suitable for a family based Facebook? Can you come up with one without exposing yourself as a a puerile, carry-on-esque, smutty, grubby-minded, bennyhillish  sleeze? God, that sounds so much like me, no wonder I’m unable to do it. The poor unlucky bugger (in more ways than one)  being called Mr Frick is not helping either.

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Too Much Ganja, Mon?

You have got to  be kidding? Who in their right mind would take potshots at a fully armed, high speed, hi-tech US warship? And from a skiff? The pirates are lucky the Captain didn’t lob something very  loud and extremely unpleasant on top of them.  They must have been  seriously tired of living, or as high as very high kites.  Laugh? I nearly choked on my porridge when I saw this in this morning’s West Australian newspaper.

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My Grandparents in the Great Depression

To my family and friends who are feeling a bit down because things are going too well or they can’t afford a new car or a 50″ TV,  I’d like you to meet my grandparents, Norm and Nell , a real decent couple, seen here in in the 1930s. Like 30% of all Australians, they were  casualties of the Great Depression, and they couldn’t buy stuff either.  Instead, they made the best of what they had and simply got on with it and worked hard, really hard, made the best life they could for their kids, and left some fabulous memories for the rest of us. We could all learn from them.  Miss you Nanma and Bong.

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France. Another travel story where things go wrong…

Heading off to France was probably not the best idea considering the only French I have ever learnt is courtesy of Inspector Clouseau and Officer Crabtree, that dorky policeman in ‘Allo, ‘Allo, so my command of the language is limited to, “Is thet a bermb, Kato?” and “Good Moaning, Renay,” oh, and also, “Leesen vary carefooly as I weel say thees only wunce.”

We went with Ian and Cindy, long time friends who live in Crowborough, a most green and pleasant spot in East Sussex, leaving at 5am (!) in the morning to catch the Chunnel. The Chunnel train is a most disconcerting experience as you drive into a train carriage, stop, undo your seatbelt, sit back and …and then … gradually fall asleep because there is nothing at all to look at except the back of the driver’s head or the numberplate of the car in front of you. You then wake up in Calais, having sped under English Channel at about the same amount of time it would have taken Captain Webb to get up the courage to put his big toe in the water for that first swim.

We began with a picnic in a pleasant French meadow with lashings of rosé, enough brie and ham to cause an EU shortage and other assorted French delicacies. Jan, Ian and Cindy mellowed in the sunlight but being Australian I was a bit uncomfortable with the thought of sitting in long grass in summer. Logically you know for a fact that in France a rustling noise behind isn’t likely to a six foot dugite about to strike or a nest of soldier ants or plague of locusts or a swarm of mosquitos as big as budgies, or even drop bears, but subconsciously …

Monet’s garden at Giverny was first stop after lunch and what a crowded little spot that was too. It was most attractive and the green bridge looked just like his paintings but we had, unfortunately, picked the Bastille Day long weekend and so every patriotic French person must have taken it as their civic duty to visit and soak up the Frenchness, in an impressionistic sort of way. And it was hot. No, not European hot but Marble Bar hot – 36c hot, even at 8:00 pm.

We spent that night nearby at the Normandie Hotel, a well named place if ever there was one, and then next day headed through gorgeous countryside and past rolling fields and quaint houses towards Honfleurs, stunningly beautiful old medieval port. It was on the way that things started to go slightly wrong. The computer that controls Ian‘s brand new Saab suddenly decided to switch to Safe Mode, Limp Home with accompanying frantic beeping and flashing dashboard lights. We ignored it even though the car would now no longer do more than 2800 revs and limped to Honfleurs instead.

At lunch in a waterside restaurant Jan, Ian and Cindy tucked in moules and frites but I decide to try “our world famous Special Honfleurs Sausage.” Imagine my delight when what arrived was a little red cocktail frankfurt covered in tomato sauce. Merde, I thought, I would have had better food at Stevie-Leigh’s 8th birthday party. At least then I would have had fairy bread with it as well. It would not have been that bad if the French didn’t continually pride themselves on their gastronomic excellence.

After a long lunch – it is amazing how long three people can take to eat a bowl of mussels each – we headed towards Deauville, another big mistake, as Bastille Day celebrations were in full swing and every bugger who wasn’t at Giverny had come to watch a concert on the beach and a fly-past by the Rouge Arrows, or what ever the French Air Force acrobatic team is called. The traffic jam was truly impressive. If we hadn’t been stuck in it so long it might have been something to write about but being trapped in an endless line of cars while expecting the Saab to explode at any minute sort of made it less amusing.

Hours later we finally arrived at the hotel Ian had booked with an Internet agency. From the outside the hotel looked wonderful. It was an ivy-covered château at the end of a sweeping drive, with coloured shutters on the windows, magnificent gardens…you get the picture. It was so gorgeous Cindy went into overdrive of superlatives, and we were convinced Ian was on a promise that night. Inside the château was just as attractive with tapestry lined walls and antique furniture. The only small hitch was at the reception. The Internet booking company had stuffed up and there was no record of our reservation, and, of course, no room at the inn. By this time it was 8:00 at night and the odds of finding another hotel empty on that weekend were less than nil. Cindy tore several strips, in a most lady-like Southern Belle sort of way, off the after-hours person at the booking agency and they eventually found us a room at a hotel by the station in Rouen, several hundred kilometres away.

Rouen is the remarkably preserved town where Joan of Arc was toasted and it hasn’t changed much since then. The crooked old half-timbered streets are narrow enough for a tumbrel and not much else. There is a carpark behind the station but the entrance is so cleverly disguised that Ian spent ages circling the station while trying to find it. Thoroughly hot, tired and exasperated by this time it was race to see who would explode first, the Saab or Ian, the poor bastard? He eventually parked in a restricted zone, fully expecting to be hauled away by the gendarmes and burnt at a stake as well. I still can’t see how he remained so calm. At 10:50 PM, even more tired and starving hungry and dying for a beer, we found the only restaurant in Rouen still serving dinner. The fine establishment also had ice cold Stella. Marvellous. And their special of the day was, “our world famous Rouen Special Sausage!” How could I resist? I bloody well did. I ordered stake instead.

Jan and I eventually crawled into bed exhausted but just to finish off the ‘perfect day’, at 3 AM I woke suddenly from a dream where someone was splashing water on my head to find the ceiling was leaking directly above us and water was being splashed on my head. Jan, in her best schoolgirl French, tried valiantly to explain to the concierge that the ceiling was about the come down on our hotel room and could he do something about it. “Quey,” he said, with a Gallic shrug over the phone, “I’m from Barcelona.” Eventually, as his testicles flew out the window, he realised it was not a good idea to ‘mess with Mrs Nicholls’, and thought he’d better do something about it, and so at 3.15, with both of us feeling more than a little wet and worn round the edges, we had to pack our bags and move up several floors to the only dry room they had left, the broom closet. And in the morning did they offer us a free breakfast or a discount for the inconvenience? Be buggered they did.

Now this sounds like it was just one long episode of the Pink Panther – it was! But inspite of that, the scenery was gorgeous, the buildings fantastic, the locals friendly enough, the rest of the meals wonderful and the Anjou Rosé, Stella and champagne chilled and delicious and we were with fabulous friends. What more could a homme ask for? What else could go wrong? Nothing. Nothing, until we were heading home and we were pulled over by a gendarme. When Ian wound down the window, fully expecting to be hauled out and tied to the nearest lamppost and set alight for parking in a restricted zone, the gendarme took off his sunglasses, peered into the car and said, in his best English, “Excuse me, Monsieur, may I see your Driver’s Lee-sonse?”

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Taking Ad Vantage (A Boys’ Own blog today)

I’ve never really wanted an Aston Martin. No, that is a downright lie. Of course I’ve wanted an Aston Martin, just about ever since diamonds were forever; a DB5, DB7, DB9, a Vantage or even a Vanquish please, since that moment in Dr No back in 1964 when Sean pushes the James Bond’s ejector seat button and the evil henchman shoots up and out through the Aston’s roof, presumably to land very badly.  One of those seats may have come in very useful this morning while I was driving and Al was on gate duty.

‘Do I really have to go and open the gate?’

Press the red button. Kerpow!

‘You may as well, as you are now out in the street sitting on your arse beside the bloody thing.’

Today I need a Vantage or perhaps even a Vanquish, probably in burnished silver, with cream leather seats and the one with the 17 inch wheels. Why I hear you ask? He’s been away from Jan too long and needs to top up the sex appeal?

I bet it would work too. We are heading to Scourie across the North West Sutherland Moor in the far North West coast of Scotland and the A837 road is unbelievable great. It’s wide, by British standards, as smooth as silk and winds its way across Scourie Moor like a black ribbon, banking and sloping like a rally track, and I’ve got it all to myself. I’ve cranked up the car for the first time in ages and I love it.  Richard Hammond would be been left gaping at my motoring skill as I throw it about like the Stig in a red Ferrari. Imagine how much more fabulous I’d have been had I had the gas-guzzling, roar-throated, mighty V12s under a Vanquish bonnet, sounding like a whole squadron of Merlin-powered Spitfires pounding away like a Dark Satanic Mill under the bonnet.  Dar, dar, dar, dar, dut, dut, dut, dar…

Sutherland is always a place I’ve wanted to go, but I’m starting to wonder why. If Prince Charlie had thought Skye was the Devil’s country then surely Sutherland has been created by the God, Thor, on one of his bad tempered days, hammering the landscape with smote, malice and fire until it stuns you with its barrenness. It has literally been wrought from the rock of ages. The signs say it’s the work of glaciers of thousands of years, but I know better. Nature does not have this much imagination. Thor with his thunder and lightening bolts surely does.  Not a tree grows, great, dark grey rocks litter the ground like fallen gravestones and the grass, where if once dared grow, in every shade of yellow and brown imaginable, is as dead as straw.  Living, breathing mountains surround and dwarf you and around every bend lakes the size of your entire suburb reflect the mighty mist-covered peaks, reminding you that even though you may be riding very fast indeed in England’s coolest car, you do not matter very much at all.  Thor may look down from Valhalla and smile benignly, this time, but be very aware that at any moment he can turn Sutherland into a landscape that kills you as dead as the rocks he has torn asunder.  Creating this landscape wasn’t for the benefit of one foolhardy tourist who wants to keep stopping in the middle of all the fastest bits to fill his camera’s sensor with shots of not another bloody reflecting lake. I don’t why Al still bothers as I took the best shot at the very beginning of the A837 anyway. Now where’s that red button for the ejector seat again? Or the rocket launcher. That’d fix the snap happy bugger.

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I have decided that as soon as I retire, or have a bestseller, whichever comes first, I am out of here and off to Ireland to live. I’ve seen the castle-like fortress that I fancy. It is a derelict Templars’ Church dating from 1187 and sits on the edge of small cliff overlooking the Irish Sea. Although it needs a little work; it has no doors, windows, running water, electricity, kitchen, bathroom, toilet, floorboards or roof, and unfortunately, there are all dead folks buried in the front lawn, it does have plenty of character and would just suit me as a bolthole from the madding crowd. (You can tell I have just been to visit Thomas Hardy’s house.) I can just imagine myself on up on the battlements of my private castle-ette spitting in ze general direction and pouring boiling oil down on any children’s book critics who come to visit.

While we were in St Davids in Southern Wales Jan and I both had plenty of practice at a medieval fair with original yew longbows, as you would have found at Agincourt or Crecy, so if any nobles, knights, peasants and librarians attack my castle in their multitudes, we could rain down on their number arrows from a great height, causing great anguish and misery and a gnashing of teeth.

My castle is located not that far from a small village with more pubs than houses and not that far from the other 10,999 pubs dotted across the Emerald Isle. And although there are no cinemas or shoe stores located nearby, it has other compensations. Other than the scenery, Jan can’t actually think of any – but I’m working on her.

Like all tourists arriving in Dublin, after we had been to see the statue of the hugely busted Molly Malone, the Tart with the Cart or the Trollop with the Scollops as the locals lovingly and cleverly call her, we went immediately to Temple Bar, a cobblestone street and site of more pubs per square inch that anywhere in the world, and what a great place it turned out to be too. Smoking has recently been banned in pubs so all the patrons spill out into the streets to puff away and socialise while doing that. The folks in the streets seemed to be having more fun than those inside, not that the others seem too upset by it.

We lined up to see the Book of Kells and the famous Long Room Library at Trinity College as well as several tourist traps, like the Guinness Brewery, where the tour of the old factory was underwhelming and the ‘free Guinness’ (included in the price of the crappy tour) was the worst tasting pint in all Ireland. And we did a have a good few to compare. It sort of reminded me of the Cadbury factory in Hobart. The idea sounds fantastic; the reality was a hot, dull, one-way passage herded past a load of big green machines that made a lot of noise and regurgitated out chocolates at one end like the chicken pie machine in Chicken Run. They gave you plenty of freebies but as it was so hot you either had to eat them there and then or watch them melt through your fingers. After half an hour, when you are dying of thirst, you are bored rigid, the air stinks of something sweet and fermenting and you still have another hour to go with no escape, chocolate turns very unappetising – and remember this is me talking here, a serious sweetaholic.

Anyway, back in Guinness, after watching a lot of black coloured water swirl about, climb seven scary staircases of industrial age ironwork to the crowded, glass walled Gravity Bar, 100s feet above Dublin, you would think you had earned a decent pint. Pity they didn’t think so as well. The view, however, was good.

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The coward was shot at dawn, Sir.

Now I have to admit to extreme cowardice in the face of the enemy, or at least in the face of my beloved.  We are in Northern Ireland,  and a pleasant drive around stunning coastline, not far  from the famous Giant’s Causeway, is Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This is a  bridge originally built by salmon fishermen hundreds of years ago across to a small island so they could catch salmon swimming in the channel between the mainland and the island. Over the years this rickety old bridge has, for some unknown reason, become a tourist attraction, and, true to form, the National Trust has located the carpark a long, long walk from the bridge.

All keen and virtuous under gorgeous summer sunshine and soft breezes ready to ‘do’ the bridge, we set off up the hill, along the path, turned the corner and there it was below us, in all its sinister majesty. It really is made of ROPE, I kid you not, not steel wire or anything sturdy like that but real honest to goodness breakable sisal rope. It is a bridge just like the Rosella Patrol would have knocked together at a Boy Scout Jamboree. And, to make matters worse, it swings precariously hundreds of metres above jagged rocks. I went pale, my heart started racing and I could feel myself starting to look inside, in vain, for reserves of courage. My beloved, God bless her and every fibre of her beautiful body, said, “You don’t like heights that much ( she’s good at understatement ) so why don’t you stay on this side and take the pictures of me crossing.”

“No, of course I’ll come with you my love, “ is what I meant to say.  What come out of my mouth instead was, “Okay.”

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