Seasonal Substitutes

8th December 2018.

Street dazzles

Hankering for an icy Euro-Yule this wilting pom can hear the night tinkle of a solstice bell. The mog with the tinsel collar’s abroad. Mousing. Other timely hints – perhaps the thrumming cicada racket and the purple blossoming jacarandas – have Ricky and Izzy at the end of the street draining the Victoria grid. Their weatherboard home and garden festooned and twinkling. Coloured lights, blinking stars and plastic dazzle trees all reflect in Hobnails the brushtail possum’s peepers.

I’ve no wish to sound pernickety during these heated days of festive cheer, however I do tend to wallow in the traditional. Like shopping malls resounding to ‘The Fairytale of New York’ or ‘Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer’ rather than some dude wearing a Nazi-style hat and a gas mask whanging harsh chords on an electric axe, offering passers-by heavy metal lessons.

Heavy metal Yule

Such ruckus aside, Melbourne’s seasonal efforts are most admirable. But there’s always a ‘but’. And today the ‘but’ has been huge from the moment, clutching a Evian water and cheese heavy shopping basket, I emerged from behind a Woolworths display of Aussie festive trees that imitate car wash brushes. Clocking me, Chirpy Pete, stocky in employee carrot-nosed snowman T-shirt, took a time-out from rough-chucking bags of spuds. “Hey brother (in a figurative manner of greeting), wish these were heads of management!”

“Those Sebagos make a good substitute, eh?”

We’d grinned conspiratorially before I wandered out into the thirty-eight degrees, in which the shrieks of parrot-kind were interpretable as bush fire warnings, and went in search of both city and the missus. We’d agreed to share in an annual Melburnian custom. Us and an estimated million and a half others.

On CBD’s Bourke Street, a sweaty puddle of swaying Santa-hatted office party wassailers giving ‘Good King Wenceslas’ hell didn’t seem as incongruous as a certain individual being passed-off as ‘Carroll’s’ at Christmas. Behind a pane of shop front glass, a nattily dressed animatronic critter in waistcoat and tie sagged hunched at the Mad Hatter’s table. Because of it the lengthy street queue gawking at the beautiful-gorgeous Myer ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Christmas window display hit a small bottleneck.

The cause: a bratling aged about seven or eight pointing between Hatter and March Hare. She chewed her bottom-lip out of indecision. “What is it, mum? An anteater?”

“Love, I don’t know… Going by its pointy Piglet ears, could be an aardvark.”

“Mhmm-mhmm. Nose is too funny.”

Wonderland’s Dormouse…

… in Tea Party reflection

Next in line the missus and me couldn’t help but overhear plus notice the bratling had a point. “How about an armadillo?” I suggested.

“Ssh. You and and your armadillos,” the missus chided. “Our new neighbour’s mega nine-candle Happy Chanukah menorah stuck to the family car roof wasn’t reason to ask him where his armadillo suit was.”

I defended myself. “It was in harmless jest. Didn’t mean Jacob to get hot under the kippa. C’mon, everybody remembers ‘The Holiday Armadillo’. Classic ‘Friends’. Ross dressed-up as an armadillo for a kiddies Christmas party ‘cos it was the only fancy dress left. ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ Immortal. Chanukah, Hanukkah, same thing. Anyway, armadillo or not, that should be a dormouse. You know, small, furry-cute? Ears round and delicate?”

Dormouse of tradition

Mum and bratling turned to face us. “No way it’s a dormouse!” exclaimed mum. “Look at the claws poking out it’s cuffs. Reckon Myer’s gone and scraped the barrel of their props department.”

“Agreed. That dormouse pretender is…,” I brain-wracked for the right word, “a simulcrum.”

“What’s a SIM-milk-crumb?” asked the bratling.

“It means an unsatisfactory substitute.”

The mum grinned like a Cheshire cat, “The man means a crap understudy, darlin’. Like… like a weedy seadragon playing Chopper… or your dad playing baby Jesus.”

Surely, in the sixty-third consecutive season of Myer Christmas Animated Windows the prop wallahs and window dressers couldn’t be so lame. Not when flamingoes were clearly flamingoes and dodos, dodos. And not when a narrator’s voice on loudspeaker pushed the notion that the Myer Dormouse was ever so a dormouse: “March Hare and the Hatter were having tea… a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head.” Pushed into a corner I had to contemplate a slavish replication of someone else’s artistic licence.

“Come on. Come on! Keeping moving along, please!” came the impatient plead of a Constant Security yellow jacket. The missus and I did as told, dripping away to Google-sleuth.

And there, on the web, she was. Rébecca Dautremer. A creative forty-something. A French lass. Seemingly neither a naturalist nor giving a fiddler’s about rigeur, her take on Carroll’s classic arrived in bookshops a mere three years ago. The ‘dormousey’ clawed thingamabob that popped into her noggin might, however, fit better in ‘Wizarding World’. Only in my humble opinion, of course. Even odds Lewis Carroll aka the mathematical Charles Dodgson would’ve applauded madame. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ isn’t to be read as a logical tome.

Rébecca Dautremer

Maybe, regarding substitutes Aussies are simply mould breakers. Shane Warne, for  example, is probably dead chuffed ‘The Gatting Ball’ has morphed into a racehorse now trundling the country’s gallops.

The undisputed truth, spuds or not, the Twenty-fifth promises to be a roaster. Ring out that solstice bell, cat, I say, as I go kick out the Christmas beetles merrily decking the hall.

Happy Christmas, indeed. Happy Chanukah. Happy Whatever.

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

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A Geelong Cat’s Cologne

1st December 2018.

The Geelong Cat’s Cologne

On the tin roof above our heads Hobnails the brushtail possum was doing his warm night thing when the missus turned to me showing a sad face. “Hubhub, my dad says sorry but they’ve lost the second boomerang. In the snow. Says he’s numb with cold from looking.” She was on the phone. Long, long distance. To Germany.

How we actually came to buy that particular whazz-stick last August is a tale unto itself and serves to illustrate what the legally trained mind can aspire to. Particularly when existing cheek by jowl with the Rhine in Cologne. The birthplace of scented toilet water in itself sounds iffy, although it’s my in-laws home patch of choice.

The Romans, busying themselves with mattocks and trowels, first laid the city’s foundations. Those Latin natterers though could never have imagined the like of chap doing business on Lindburger Strasse squidged between the Vietnamese restaurant and the gasthaus. I mean, in the name of the goddess Diana, legions would have judged the beastie above Colin Truslove’s emporium ridiculous as a faun.

Limburger Strasse, Cologne

Indeed, distracted flicking through social media messaging from his lady adorers, my friend Georg, a regular WDR TV news face and sleuthing journo, muttered Colin’s place, off the beaten grockle track in the Belgian quarter, was worth a gander. That Georg did so in the same breath as mentioning Claes Oldenburg’s ‘Dropped Cone’ (“a cornucopia of consumerism”), an ice cream sculpture atop a Newmarkt shopping mall and Gerhard Richter’s ‘Symphony of Light’, the Dom’s iconic mosaic window, glaringly hinted Colin’s was a must. Plus the ‘bonzer fellow’ sold ‘Sullivans Cove’, a wunderbar Tassie malt. At the drop of an Akubra I, and the missus too once encouraged, felt duly tugged.

The dropped cone, Neumarkt

The mimicked kangaroo warning sign in the shadow of Volksbank Köln Bonn HQ gives playful meaning to a bounced cheque. Which, after hurdling two boxes of ‘Speight’s Gold Medal Ale’ and one of ‘One Fifty Lashes’, is what I pointed out to toothy-grinner Colin, desk sat under an upside down world map in… the Australia Shop, selling everything from didgeridoos to tea tree oil, fluffy koalas to Tim Tams, jackaroo jackets to passion flower seeds. Even nosy kiwis have sneaked in. A few, anyway.

Signage and boomerangs

Kiwis sneak in

Pleasantries exchanged and my quizzing infernal he confessed to being a Geelong Cat.

My knowing the term meant an impressed eyebrow rose towards his bald pate. This fostered me to show off. Course Geelong, I remarked, was the original home of AFL. A game dreamed up in an alcoholic haze by W.M. Mills as something to keep cricketers supple during a Victorian winter. I achieved scrutiny.

Yet on I prattled. Most from Geelong, I understood, high-tail it only as far Melbourne, get eaten alive by Buruli ulcers in the Bellarine or, as in W.M.M.’s case, ’twas said, do-themselves-in with a pair of scissors trimming a cuff thread. I had to ask the sixty-six year old: “But why choose Germany?”

“Oh, lor!” was what I initially thought he replied. He actually said ‘Law’. Seamlessly, class of ’78 Monash University, law, German studies, and romance languages and literature melded into class of ’79 University of Cologne, law pure and simple. What transpired between ’79 until becoming the first in Germany to offer foodies low-fat kangaroo ham in ‘97, seems rather a grey area. A nifty sidestep, though, into a field of economic development in cahoots with Australian interests led to, well, everything.

Safe to say, the German bug had bitten him early as ’69 – a scholarship winkling Colin away from a Geelong weatherboard to the lavish baroque and rococo styles of Bavarian Würzburg. Returning the favour by offering Aussie culture to the Germans might mind-boggle a missionary.

“Anything you recommend before I head off again to Melbourne?” I asked.

“Aye. If you crave the rarity of Vegemite this side of the planet go suck a bottle of Maggi (the thin, concentrated dark brown liquid food flavour enhancer. Swiss). Taste’s similar.” Fascinating.

“And given you sell it, is there any other taste you can describe crocodile meat having apart from the half-fowl half-fishy smack?” I interpreted Colin’s narrowing eyes and smirk for myself. Namely, don’t go forgetting the odd human aftertaste. Of pom irritants.

The missus smiled sweetly, paid for the booty she’d collected whilst I’d rabbited, and bade Colin “Tschüss” before shoving me out the door with a departing “Danke jeune!”.

“But, but, but…” I protested.

Back at the in-laws she and I did tests. Item one, the boomerang. On first chucking we felt diddled. The genius thing didn’t return. Vanished in to the aether. AWOL. Somewhere between the rusted woodwork clamp on the rotted stump where squirrels hang out and the neighbours hazelnut tree. Confiscated by the ‘Vice Squad’, I hazarded. Item two, the box of ‘Little Creatures Pale Ale’ disappeared less mysteriously. Of items three and four, thankfully the roo balloon, string-tied to a gardening fork, bobbed merrily above the runner beans, eliciting the odd pigeon coo and magpie chack; what could possibly happen to the pot planted macadamia nuts was anybody’s guess.

Maybe it would have been safer to plump for the passion fruit seeds. No worries. I suggested ‘morgen’ we’d go shopping again. The boomerang did need replacing and I really, really wanted a dram of ‘Sullivans Cove’ to share putting the world to rights with Georg. Bounced cheque, nothing. But debit card? Ouch. The rightful term, even to the legally minded in a Geelong Cat’s Cologne.

“Lovey,” I said, “tell your dad to hit what’s left of the whisky. It’ll warm the cockles of his heart. And say, blast the squirrels.” Hobnails too for that matter. There was nothing more to add. For sure the roo, long limp, would have been binned.

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Bum Snakes and Fur Sausage

24th November 2018.

 

Fur sausage

This month, far from a silly sausage, Somerset’s Jack Leach conquered his Crones and helped spin England to twin Test wins in Sri Lanka. Here snags of all sorts stuck out. Rather than confuse, I don’t mean like rubber snakes not scaring possums shitless as they’re supposed to. Instead, I declare, the nation’s stressed judiciary’s oppressive workload’s being dubbed “a sausage factory”. Carly Schrever, scribe of an Australia-first study on law and order heard it so.

Bang on top of which comes the weekend’s Victoria election. Downfalls imminent as the next Melbourne squall, Liberals and Labour are both bigging-it-up on crime. So a case load, then, growing stuffed as a Loukaniko. And that’s turning a blind eye to deleterious possums.

Which I might add our local barn owl hasn’t been. But the shrieking slaughterer can’t be everywhere causing possumly habdabs. This left the missus and I party to pondering a sausage enterprise amongst mates while mixing with Oakleigh’s gossipers. It was the time of day when that Melburnian Greek enclave, a sweet tooth heaven of bougatsa and galaktoboureko, positively thrums.

At our noshery table little Petrina, Hellenic from neck to toe, specs magnifying her eyes round as pitta breads, clearly had a eureka moment after having flipped topic from semolina custard and scented syrup to her diabetic husky and, crucially, Anush stopping by with a bee in her bonnet. A large one.

She slapped the table top, instead. Cappuccino slopped. My fat warm bougatsa wobbled where it sat. “I did not bring my Nazeli to Australia to chop sausage!” Anush lamented, her accent Russian, her first language, although home was originally Yerevan in Armenia where the Hrazdan River pales in comparison to the Yarra. By ‘sausage’ she wasn’t meaning ‘sojuk’. Daughter Nazeli had landed a job behind a Coles deli counter. Clearly her mum hoped for higher aspirations. Prodding to discover what, my missus invited Anush to join us. How could she dare refuse?

“You can help us cheer Petrina up,” said the missus. “She’s feeling a bit down. Cute bothersome possums in her backyard are munching fig and pomegranate leaves. The grapevine, too. And worrying nesting birds. And Blade, one of her huskies, is ill.” From my knowledge Blade earned his moniker thanks to Wolfman. Marv Wolfman. The Marvel chap who created the infamous vampire slayer played by Wesley Snipes the tax dodger. It had nowt to do the poorly pooch having sharp intelligence.

“He is. He is.” Petrina piped. “It’s so sad. I’m having to inject insulin into Blade’s bald patch the vet shaved. My other dog’s Acura – she’s named after, you know, the luxury American car. That one’s never normally still. Always buzzing around. Must have ADD. Now she’s moping. Feeling it for Blade.”

The missus and I tutted sympathetically.

“Huskies stink,” said Anush. “Like Samoyed. My friend has Samoyed. She put stinky hair in bird box. Make possum go away.”

“Because possums hate the smell?” I asked.

Tochno.” (‘Exactly’, my Russian smidge translated.)

Cute bothersome ringtail pair

“Wasn’t there a Moorabbin lady selling dog hair in nets for that reason?” mused the missus. She rubbed her schnozzle thoughtfully. “I’m sure, she ran a dog grooming business. It was in the paper two or three years ago.”

“Well, Petrina,” I said. “Surely, even a mite worse for wear, Blade and Acura can now make themselves useful. Help repay those hefty vet bills.”

Which brings me to Petrina’s moment. “Ooooh! Yes! Blade’s always moulting. So’s Acura. They leave fur everywhere. Loads. And it combs off in mega lumps.” Her growing excitement was a joy to behold. “But what shall I put it all in?”

A surreptitious stroke of the missus’ knee and I had the answer. “Ladies tights,” I said.

Petrina grabbed at the idea. “Mum’s got plenty of old tights!” She giggled. “They’ll stuff in to giant snags. Imagine them hanging in the trees! What’ll the neighbours think? Ha! I’ll make a start tomorrow.”

“Good. Wonderful.” My straight-face was blessed hard to keep. “Bung the missus one if you can. Might make Hobnails the brushtail bugger off our tin roof. And allow the visiting barn owl’s claws to stick to mice.”

“Fur sausages have gotta be better than my bum snakes,” said Petrina, convincing herself. “The possums think the snakes are toys.”

“Same as a boomerang?” I offered. “Bet a pair of ringtail juniors could balance one on its edge and seesaw.” A fairly stupid notion, I admit. Then another thought occurred and again I put the idea out there. “Petrina, listen. I’ve a idea. Why not go into business with Nazeli? Could be lucrative. And instead of cutting sausages she’d be making them. Huge, soft and… smelly. A great Christmas prezzie. What do you say, Anush?”

Anush stared at me, puzzled. “Ya nye paneemayoo (I don’t understand).”

I explained. Very simply. Her jaw dropping, I quickly added I was joking.

Slava bogu (Thank God),” she said, the relief self-evident, the Coles deli counter become a magnificence to behold. Although, in truth, her dream of Nazeli demure in a designer dress shop stayed preferable. About to leave us Anush had a piece of advice: “If you want best Christmas you must shop at Aldi.”

“Really? Do you shop there?” I asked.

Kanyeshna (of course)”

After the election results should I say “stuff and nonsense”? Perhaps it’ll be a crime not to. If that’s courting an extra snag, let me be the judge. Best I elect to keep shtum. First, while the missus smoothes her tights and gently tells Petrina an Acura’s actually Japanese, I’ll finish my bougatsa.

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/ Charles Wood.

Bunged Up and Pricey Poop Gobbling

18th November 2018.

 

Cafe Pom

My respect of the feathered locals taste has taken a bash. A pity, since Cafe Pom was just for them and offered a varied enough menu: healthy fruit and nut sprinkled seed mix, crumbs of stale sourdough, manky grapes and mouldy blueberries, and oat cluster cereal dust. Don’t get me wrong, all’s gratefully gobbled.

But, oh Lordy Lord! My chuckabouts come cheap weighed against the Sunday special, hiked up further by Melbourne’s weekend surcharge. Something that afflicts even a takeaway small coffee. Which, Monday to Friday, my favourite street hatch shoves out for four bucks twenty loose change. Come Saturday, it heaves fashionably to four bucks sixty. A rascally uppage of naff cents.

For the grubbier occupations it’s a case of praise be to calamity, for jolly are the surcharge spondulicks. Enough, indeed, to prompt prayer to some jobber’s patron saint. Like say, St. Vincent. A Dominican, some believe, who fondled a plumber’s rates book.

St Vincent and, maybe, his rates book

The essence of this matter arose on Friday evening. When, inside Guernsey’s farmhouse, my missus and I, as fresh tenants, wrinkled noses at our Bayside nest. How malodorous it smelled! Of course, the letting agent assured Tobes the landlord cherished his investment property. Trouble was Tobes lived in fancy-pants South Yarra. Forty-minutes away, heinous traffic allowing. Meaning the cosmetic foibles of his darling nineteenth century pile, smooched back and sides by 1970s suburban throw-ups, was rather out of sight out of mind.

Understandable then that Guernsey’s centrepiece, a brick, yawning fireplace, was cold as a snowman’s heart. An unpleasantness the missus took upon herself to remedy forthwith with an on-line click – DIY warmth and cheeriness in a ton of red gum logs. Three hundred and twenty bucks worth. Sustainable. Choppings from Murrumbidgee (which incidentally means ‘big water’), somewhere west of Wagga Wagga. Unhappily, making space beside the chimney breast, the missus’ peek and pry found, snuggled to a web old router, snoozy hairy flower wasps. Big beasties. Brilliant.

Hairy flower wasps

That aside, the piggy-bank had squealed. So a simple supper. Bean paste laced with organic cider vinegar bearing floaty iffy bits known as the ‘mum’, helped down by toast and lettuce. Fibre fodder to keep the morrow’s motions tickety-boo, so to speak, aided by exercise – the dunny being way in the booay beyond the laundry room.

Trotting there had springy corridor floorboards boing worthily of a Trappist heart attack and make unseen wildlife trebuchet. Where rank slop lay puddled in the dunny’s corner I imagined the odd slug on boogie board, and failed to see the ruddy great hint. Without drawing attention to itself Guernsey’s was having a snaky attack of playing silly buggers.

A punctual tumble of firewood from ute tray to Guernsey’s driveway greeted Saturday morning. The ton making a cubic metre of obstacle course. Getting weaving on the stacking task brought on nature’s ‘yoo-hoo!’.

Minutes later, I summoned the missus. “Hey! C’mere! I’m in the laundry room. Come feast your eyes on this.”

“What creature have you found now?”

“Not a creature, my love. Go stand by the sink. When I flush the loo, watch the plug hole. Don’t get too close. Ready?… Goody-good.” I pressed the thingummy-whatsit.

A shriek and the missus was in need of a dab down. From her nose to the knees of her Armani long johns.

I gave a pat of comfort. “A bonza impression of the Kiama blowhole, don’t you think? Summat’s deeply amiss in the drains.” I whizzed a solemn text to South Yarra. The reply was punchy: “Cant be helped But shit mate its Sat”. After which Tobes arrived with commendable alacrity. Donnie the 24-hour plumber, a sprightly second, the rumpled sixty-something old rooster conjured away from gym bench presses.

Manoeuvring his smeary mechanical crankum of suck and shove over the log hurdle toward the yuckity-doo-dahs Donnie enquired the firewood’s cost. I told him. His response: a chuckle. “I always order delivery for mid-week. Only two hundred bucks. Here, I’ll make that back in a half hour.” He admitted though to having major tugs on his wallet. In a blink of eye his mail order beauteous young Thai wife, whom Donnie loved to bits, had ‘taken’ him for an awful, awful lot. And still there’s a villa in Greece he hadn’t got around to showing her. Small wonder he might beg St. Vincent for surcharge grip.

Donnie’s crankum

Trying to prove himself the very opposite of a ‘Trappist’, two hours Donnie foofed and faffed before trumpeting he’d got stuff burbling. Only he wasn’t sure quite where to. I had an inkling. The rank grey sludge splotched in the bathroom shower bottom had Tobes call for reinforcement. Of hi-tech. His proposed: an attack from the road end. Supplied by fledgling Jake. To whom drainage clearance by gizmo was a new venture. And opportune. The archetypal plumber he wasn’t. More a musician who’d taken an enriching hidden turn. Keyboard playing since a five-year-old, he boasted a record contract in Europe. However, undertaking to keep his Russian wife in designer shoes and handbags Jake reminded himself of the difference between a pizza and a musician. The answer: a pizza can feed a family.

“Problem’s bog roll,” he explained. “Years of clogging. See it on camera.” I peered at his in-van monitor. “Look, I push the rod through, pull back and the mass closes up again. Neat as you like. It’s not for budging.” Though actually, with a gurgle and glup, it was.

“Yay!” cheered Jake, time-glancing his phone. Smugly now. Surcharge blessed, the amassed could half meet something Jimmy Choo. After a hose down scatter-splatter he and Donnie simply went with the flow. Their totalled tab? Heavens!

Hence, in Sunday’s sun, Cafe Pom’s special – poop and paper mash globs – got baked. Enticed speckled doves sashayed from their canoodle corners. Indian mynas prowled like gunslingers and gorged. Magpies bullied and binged. Blackbirds simply should have known better. Passers-by, the causers of startled wing explosions, scooted. Forget Guernsey’s low profile, dammit.

Best I crumble that sourdough on a macaroni cheese. Lunch for the missus. Something tum-warming to peck at. Her extremities waiting on me for a blazing log fire. Just had to shift those hairy flower wasps.

Birds of the world, eh?

Sense or not, I’m so craving a coffee. Maybe quit bean paste for a little while, though.

Zum Beamer’s Bean Paste.

Serves a few

Ingredients:

Two tins of butter beans, well rinsed,

Quarter of a red onion,

Four glugs of olive oil,

Two dessert spoons of organic apple cider vinegar with the mother (the floaty iffy bits),

A triple grind or more of coarse sea salt.

A slosh of water.

Method:

Bung everything into a bowl and whizz-whizz with a mixer until smooth. Scrum!

 

Illustrations and text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood

Feathered Frets and Mornington Wine

11th November 2018.

Ian the Gordy

The Mornington Peninsula, near Arthurs Seat, on a November Sunday. The sunny spring day turned to mizzle. “Here’s us, the only dorks in shorts,” said the speckless Son-of-Calcutta, he and I, a Pompey born Hampshire hog, heading for his friend’s winery where the general populace is banned.

Beneath towering gum trees the rutted dusty track, enough to give the Joe Blakes, ended at two green tin sheds. The right hand one, a recent addition. Beyond, pinot noir grapevines sloped away in immaculate rows. The Bellingham Estate, a boutique affair, has been lovingly tended for the past twelve years since being bought by the grafter Ian the Gordy, whom Son-of-Calcutta’s smartphone summoned away from a humming tractor.

“You tarted up your bottle labels yet?” Son-of-Calcutta asked, a reference to a logo of nowt but two letters of neat calligraphy: B E.

“No. A farmer doesn’t tend to be creative,” said Ian, his accent pure David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, the summer voice of pom cricket. In contract to those on us day trippers Ian’s shorts were practical. They complemented a dishevelled appearance of grimy cap, sweaty T-shirt and grubby work boots. At 56, his round face stubbly and weathered, the overall effect was rustic. His plagues of woe: bacteria, fungi, bugs and slugs. Knock his dad down with a feather one could, had the fella been alive. It was a ‘Shaw’ thing.

Shaw, Lancashire

I mean blimey, Ian’s dad was a Gordy. It’s what they call people who hail from Shaw, a place joy forgot in England’s urban north – the most deprived bit – trapped like a fart between the bum cheeks of Oldham and Rochdale. True, when Lord Haw Haw’s mum was born in the town the place had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. Cotton was King. The mills and the pub snug, Life. Not no more. Fat cats became thin as the needles of today’s downcast shufflers. Bright spark Ian, seeding a spirit of adventure, escaped. Early. Up the road. The call of engineering. The tickle of entrepreneurship saw him to Oz, making aeroplane parts in Port Melbourne. Where the wine itch replaced warm beer stoicism. The chap was clearly adaptable.

“Ever thought to loosing runner ducks amongst your vines… against the naughty slugs?” I asked, spotting a progressing slime trail whilst searching for something to say.

“Hmm. A winery in Tassie tried that. Wedge-tailed eagles snatched every duck bar one. The last wouldn’t come out it’s barn. There’re wedge-tails here. So anything taking uncommon interest in me vines’ gets sodding sprays. Which is a bloody science. Barring the odd snooty bugger, the neighbouring winegrowers are kindly with their advice. And I welcome it doing most stuff meself. Maintenance contractors cost me ten thousand bucks a year. Ten thousand! That’s per acre. That on top of the thirty-five thousand bucks to plant an acre of vines in the first place.” They were figures to flabbergast. Enough to have almost made Ian broke.

The last runner

Son-of-Calcutta was quick to change the subject, his own winery dream having hopped the twig a while ago. “So what’s new?” he quizzed.

“Come see.” said Ian, keen to usher us inside his latest erection.

In the gloom, behind beloved wrenches and carpentry tools, huffed a mustard coloured sports car super sorry for itself coated in the smut of neglect. “A Porsche,” sighed Son-of-Calcutta sniffily.

“Wrong. It’s a Jensen.” In fact, a 1974 Jensen-Healey Mark II. An iconic mongrel. The design wrapped up by Aston Martin’s William Town. A 1973cc Lotus engine. The chassis and steering bits and bobs, Vauxhall. The gearbox, Sunbeam. “Found it in a ramshackle barn. Been there twenty years. My gal (a Motherwell lass) said it’ll be where’s it’s now in another twenty. Can’t have her saying ’told you so’!” He gave his cap’s peak a tug as was his habit.

“Just now though it’s a task firmly on the back boiler. More pressing is banging together wooden bird boxes.” The reason shot shrieking overhead in flashes of green and red as fast as any Jensen can aspire. The good psittacines of the Mornington were losing a battle royal for gum tree nest holes. The baddies, starlings and Indian mynas, had the box seat. “Aggressive little buggers,” Ian growled. Parakeets and lorikeets, indeed any blinking ‘eet’ desperately sought alternative Edens. Which, out of the kindness of his heart, had Ian multiple times teetering on the topmost rung of his longest ladder juggling bird box, hammer and nail a judicious seven metres – a rat being what it is – above terra firma. An iffy place for a Lancastrian but for a parrot, tail feathers crossed, bijou and secure.

Like the mynas Australia suits starlings. In their blooming murmurations, the thriving descendants of 1850s arrivals a fair wind behind the convict ships, were proper pests. If it wasn’t for their thievery Ian wouldn’t have the agro of netting his vines. “If only I had an air gun,” he mused.

“Anyway let’s attack some wine. It’s why you’re here.” I entered his sanctum: the older shed. Where, on their sides, oak barriques nestle. Watching over them, a nudie lovely, the photo black and white. Her image gleeful. Vat stomped grapes bursting skins, releasing juices, beginning fermentation. Ageless.

“Have a pew.” Ian gestured to white plastic chairs at a trestle table before producing two bottles of pinot, three glasses and blue bucket. A novice to protocol I eyed the latter with trepidation, Although I’m sort of up to speed with the tasting lark: the vigorous wristy swirl of wine in glass followed by sniff and swig, the bucket was a mystery.

My tipple, Ian’s 2017, poured, ‘down the hatch’ it went. Rapidly. “Yum,” I said. My companions meanwhile swirled some more, sipped small, spoke of fruit notes, Ian calling his effort “flabby” but “worthy of pizza” before he and Son-of-Calcutta sloshed what lingered into the bucket. Ah. And so to the pièce de résistance. The 2016. A pinot concurred fit for haute cuisine eateries. Judges palates going so far as to consider it competitive. Ian was chipper. Seems the latest buzz was all about fruitiness rather than the smack of oak and charring. What Ian called out as “shonky” was key to past successes of pinot from a nearby posh estate.

Glug went my ration of my host’s elixir. Bucket again ignored except by the chums. Son-of-Calcutta tugged out dosh for half a dozen bottles of the stuff. At mate’s rate. For me, the impecunious freeloader, my tasting etiquette was in definite need of work. Acceptant of winging it I too had adapted. From Hampshire hog to old country cuckoo. And no escaping it.

 

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Fair Dinkum Veteran and Backyard Swing Bowling

2nd November 2018.

Backyard swing bowling

About where I’m sat gawping at a confusion of tea chest packing boxes Aboriginals made a fine fist of it growing nutritious edibles in unforgiving sand dunes. Ones that stretched square kilometre upon square kilometre up from the sea. Mr Guernsey, a pom and wannabe farmer, rudely told those mortals to shuffle off elsewhere. In 1868 he built a dinky double-gabled house, a tad of status, beside a dusty track. That same year the Fourteenth Amendment, the one about birthright, got adopted in the US, and HMVS Cerberus, the rusting heritage hulk and gull-perch in Half Moon Bay, got it’s earliest iron rivets at Jarrow, on the faraway Tyne.

HMVS Cerberus and assorted birdlife

House done the intrepid Guernsey set about a market garden – a nod to the Aboriginals and a gobbet of nous, him having first pitched up with lost-looking sheep and goats. Trotting a fair way behind those ungulates came opportunistic developers and golf course planners. So in the manner of Dire Straits ‘Telegraph Road’ was born Melbourne’s Bayside. Brighton, the poshest bit, is thought of as ‘The Bubble’. Shane Warne lives there. My missus and I no longer do.

With its botox-smug, run-along-a-ding-ding, beach-huggers The Bubble doesn’t agree with everyone. The missus and me counted our gripes on the fingers of more than one hand: The hoity-toities looking down their schnozzles. The Porsche eejit asking whether a small temperamental Fiat was the most I and the missus could afford. Ferrari and Maserati infusing our boudoir with morning high-octane carbon perfumes. The jogging gym rat, tugger of a compliant designer pooch, sneering at my ginger nut bicky. The partying possums chomping the blooming roses plus at the mains power supply. The fat cockroach using my shaving cream suds to imitate Santa. The list went on until, lease expired, me and the missus had our marching orders, our single year flown fast and colourful as a lorikeet.

The without frills middle of row town house, a tired, echoey art deco survivor – its defunct flame-effect gas fire last serviced before the millennium – now shudders from modernising jackhammers and shrieking drills, outcompeting the neighbours’ potty leaf blowers and the municipal giant-scale sewage pipe laying. Ornamenting the front garden and spoiling the neck-craning sea view are rubble piles and a blue portaloo. After renovation a hefty price tag will ensue as sure as Port Phillip’s waters support flesh-eating nasties.

Next door, locked away safe from dodgy lifeforms, nervy Marge had twittered through the wire mesh and steel bars of her porch’s security gate. “You’ve been such lovely neighbours,” she said. “Where are you moving too?”

“Only up the road,” I replied. “About 5Ks. To a farmhouse. Amongst higgledy-piggledy suburbia. Amazing, innit? It’s an absolute treasure. Even has corbels – corbels! – and stained glass widows. And no possum legions ‘cos a barn owl hunts the garden. Street lights burn night and day saving Bayside staffers unearthing a switch. And for chilly nights there’s a proper fireplace. Huge it is. Perfect for a gorgeous red gum log fire.” Turning on her heels Marge snorted disbelief. I felt the urge to count another finger.

Downsized by the tractor barn and hay barn being hived off to adjacent plots when 1970s bungalows replaced the brassicas, Guernsey’s seemed peaceable and snug behind its paint-peeling picket fence on what’s an unremarkable avenue. The frequent siren wails on the Nepean highway and the rumble and whistles from the Frankston line close by carried bearably.

“Oldest house in the area,” the rental agent assured.

“Possibly in the whole of blimmin Australia,” I’d enthused, utterly beguiled, absorbing the cricket wicket daubed on the side of the decrepit backyard shed. That and the narrow wooden seat rope-dangling from a high jacaranda branch presented a pitch ideal for swing bowlers.

The houses’s cracked and water-stained inner walls, the heavy sweet whiff of the landlord’s strategically placed frangipani incense sticks which masked the unlived-in fustiness, and the very pretty fossil – an utterly useless Rex cast iron wood fired kitchen oven – were mere details.

“We’ll take it,” blurted the missus.

“Absolutely we will,” I’d seconded,

So here we are rattling around a fair dinkum veteran, tea chests awaiting rummage. Above our heads a large possum thunders across the tin roof.

Out of the frying pan…

 

Illustration & text © Zum Beamer/ Charles Wood.

Skylarks And Sparks

3rd June 2018

Skylark for a muse

“Got a sore throat. Don’t bother turning up tonight,” This was the advice of Grammy-winner Kurt Elling gave to his drinking pal Cameron. Something Cameron in turn passed on to Son-of Calcutta. Who passed it on to me in Bunnings. Too jet-lagged, traumatised and marrow-chilled from home disasters to care I told nobody and went along with the missus anyway, both curious to hear the bod the New York Times reckoned “the standout male vocalist of our time”.

A good move, for after an hour every man jack crammed into Bird’s Basement jazz club’s inky schmooze clamoured for an encore. Dapper suited, the tuft of arty fuzz snug to his bottom lip spot lit, Kurt obliged. With ‘Skylark’. Originally a Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer number. From 1941, I think.

Kurt Elling

At over 8-minutes Kurt’s rendition was in keeping given that in wild skies the skylark and a lengthy song come hand in glove. John McLean’s breathy guitar and Stu Mindeman’s tinkling keys accompanied Kurt’s soaring octaves to transport the missus and I again to a sun-warmed wooden bench edge-perched on precipitous Devon sea cliffs where hovering skylarks sing, each a budding muse.

Devon sea cliffs with skylark spotter

The hot breath in my ear was the missus catching my thought. “This song reminds of the Valley of the Rocks,” she whispered.

I forced back a nostalgic tear for the tranquil, the Exmoor cream tea, the wildflowers, the feral goats even of 4-days ago. Gawd, it’d only been 48-hours since the kangaroo mob alongside the twilit freeway had blanked our Melbourne return during the taxi journey home from the airport. And the short time since had been eventful.

Kurt singing the line “Haven’t you heard the music in the night?” kind of rubbed it in.

“Think he knows about your ‘broken cicada’?” I muttered. “Ouch!” The missus had thought me deserving of a rib-dig.

“Did sound like a broken cicada,” she whispered, defensively.

“And what did I say? ‘More like crackle of sparks.’”

“Still can’t understand how you could laugh.”

“Had no blimmin idea I was right, did I? You spotted the spewing firework fountain.”

“Was hard to miss, my love.”

“True that.”

A cliché pork pie hat sharing our table tore his rapt gaze from a svelte lady’s plunging neckline to shush us. The inclination fluttered to inform him an outer wall junction box can assume a worthier spectacle.

I relived gawping in the front garden of my rented home, lugged luggage abandoned to distraction. Where public mains electricity supply cable met household wiring sparks leapt higher than boing-de-bounce marsupials. Mesmerising blue arcing was value added.

Braving the inside of the house, I admit to trying the switches. The flickering ceiling lights worthy of a B-movie haunting I found I could pacify by turning on the oven. A short-term fix, though. A minute later: blackout and a sudden deathly silence from the dodgy, hulking central heating appliance. Jack Frost hooted hoorah.

United Energy (the equivalent of UK’s National Power) arrived promptly after an anxious phone call. Melbourne homes burn down all the time with a fault like this, they said. Not their problem to fix, they said. It’s the house owner’s wiring that was faulty – a house owner who happened to be holidaying in Russia. So UE disconnected their power cable and left us with a sheet of paper – an official incident notice giving warning there’d be no reconnection without a certificate signed by an approved sparky. Every local then received a “Power outage may impact” SMS. The impact on the missus and me was no light and no heating. The upshot meant sleeping in our clothes and pootling 6-kilometres to a kind friend’s for hot showers.

Chug forward to mid afternoon the next day. Repair electrician Andy pitched up and looked at the height of the junction box. The job, he judged, needed the long aluminium ladder off his van roof. But fiddlesticks, his padlock code was “not responsive”. Refusing to use a metal grinder, he called the cavalry, which was his mate. Who arrived an hour later. His ladder, the twin of Andy’s, achieved a silliness far short of sea cliff perpendicular. It was returned to the van roof with the cavalry’s comment: “I find it so funny they make ladders out of the same stuff I wrap my sandwiches in.” Followed by: “Reckon what we need is a step ladder.”

“Hey, got a one of those inside me van,” says Andy.

Wrong ladder choice…

…right ladder choice

Ten minutes later, the melted junction box was replaced with a natty new one. “You told me it’d take 3-hours,” commented the cavalry.

“Hadn’t seen the job,” Andy retorted.

“You charging for 3-hours?”

Andy turned to me. “Well mate, we’re off.”

“Woah,” I said. “I need a certificate.”

“No, you don’t. It’s like for like. I do a dozen of these a year.”

I waggled UE’s sheet of paper and finger jabbed a sentence. Andy read it in daylight’s ebb. “Oh,” he said. “Haven’t got any certificates on the van. Have to drive to the wholesaler. It’ll be least an hour there and back. Let me ring UE and see what they say.”

He did. I earwigged. Keenly.

“Can I photo and email a copy? … no? … Can’t I give you the number and send a photo of the certificate? …  no? …  You need the actual original copy? Shit.”

I began worrying about candles and matches, and a further Bunnings visit.

(“Skylark, I don’t know if you can find these things,” sang Kurt.)

Andy left on his mission. Hurriedly. Fifteen minutes later, surprise. Andy knocked on the door. “Had to get a win today at some stage,” he grinned sheepishly. “Found an old certificate in my book. It’s part filled out but not signed. Can I borrow a pen? Promise I’ve called UE. They should arrive soon.”

And they did. Reattached once more to the national grid the pity was despite a renewed surge of steady current the heating system obstinately refused to do a whoomph of Lazarus.

The specific cause of the affair remains a mystery. But I have a suspicion. Up to skylarks itself, the possum had glared at me from the wretched junction box. The stamp on which said it all: ‘Manufactured in Australia.’

‘Manufactured in Australia’

Perhaps Son-of Calcutta can pass it on that as songs go I can compliment Kurt on his choice of encore while I dream of that sun-kissed wooden bench. “Oh skylark won’t you lead me there,” Kurt closed. Well done, throat. As Stu Mindeman fingered a last few tinkles, the missus and I sought thermals of our own.

 

Text & illustration © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Barber And Marsupial Peg Thief

21st May 2018.

Marsupial peg thief

Live YouTube streaming of the neat and tidy Royal Wedding attendees filling Windsor chapel prompted the missus to flick at the unruly mop flopping weightily over my eyes. “My Prince Scruff,” she said. “Soon you’ll be needing Irish Gegan’s crane.” It was a nod to the doody gadget the inventive local 90-year-old cyclist had knocked up helping lift his carbon-fibre pedal bike into his car boot.

“Okay, okay, I’ll go find Grant’s clippers and scissors,” I said, the twenty bucks in my wallet assuming better purpose than the usual two almond croissants and small tub of soba salad that left only an echidna and a lyrebird worth of cents. “Won’t be long… hopefully.”

Grant Ellis is a man who loves his job and whose barber’s shop snuggles slightly to the left of Gardenvale station’s city bound platform’s down ramp. Inside hang portraits: Greg Norman, a shock of blond hair falling beneath a straw hat, and Bernborough, once the outstanding Australian-bred Thoroughbred racehorse. An old fashioned till shows ‘$2’. A price from a past age when garages were practical because cars were smaller. Like Grant’s MG midget traded for a Toyota sedan, a more practical carrier of his golf clubs since he won Tatts Lotto.

His shop’s a gossipy blokeish sanctuary where ‘footy’ forms a probable part of every second sentence, separated by grumbles politic. While offering among the best value for dollar haircuts in Melbourne. Period. Judges to ex-cons, architects to tradies, are united in agreement, patiently browsing the daily tabloids waiting their turn in the worn, 1930s leather-upholstered, oak embossed Koken chair, a veteran of the Great Depression. Which makes Grant a whippersnapper. He’s been shearing and bantering in Gardenvale since the year after his adored St. Kilda last won the premiership and England the World Cup in 1966.

Martin Street, 1960s Gardenvale

More noteworthy than my leaning towards ‘The Saints’ is Grant noticing we’ve something else in common: matching pairs of Spanish made, comfy Pikolino loafers. Mine from Middlesborough, his from a Mountfords’ Melburnian shoe store, making for a particularly small world.

One in which, at mid-day, I found Grant’s tools idle. A stoic white walrus moustache occupied the customer bench observing the barber otherwise absorbed. In sharing. Fervidly. Finger-stabbing at his smartphone. Aided by a silver fox. Both flummoxed how to send a super important photo via satellite to the phone in the silver fox’s palm. The subject: the tattooed ‘Tiger’ Dusty Martin, celeb of current AFL champions Richmond. Him nipping across the coincidental Martin Street from Sons of Mary, a convivial bar cum restaurant owned by his mates, to bid “gedday” to the legend that’s Grant, had left the barber wowed by the player’s size. Dusty having to “kneel to get through the door’ was perhaps though an exaggeration.

Dusty Martin

I settled beside the walrus and picked up the Herald Sun. A quick riffle tickled my chuckle-box. Teddywatch, Mount Buggery and Titwobble Lane, I learned, were odd places in Victoria. Then came further distraction.

“Hey, Grant! That heist in Brighton. It was Bint Street.” said an agitated voice appearing from the door. “Police are after a 5-carat ring. Can I be done by 1.00?”

“Hi, Vern.” Looking up Grant gave his wall clock a glance. “No. Try again this afternoon. Thank you. And it was Bunt Street.”

“Reckon mob money,” said the walrus tapping the nose upon his ruddy face. “Must have been a stake out. Knew what they were after.”

I nodded in unison with Grant and the silver fox.

Even I’d caught news of the two million dollars worth of daylight robbery. Apart from the bling ring, Cartier bracelets, Rolex watches, a 100 kilo safe and a security camera’s SIM card of incriminating evidence had gone walkies. “Could easily have been Wyatt,” I offered, meaning Aussie crime writer Garry Disher’s popular, enigmatic anti-hero creation. Flinty. Totally criminal. The true cool pro.

“Me grandparents pet kangaroo kept in the back yard was good as any bloody Wyatt,” declared the walrus, straight-faced. “Called it Joey. Ate five carrots a day. From the veggie plot. Stole clothes pegs off the washing line. And them having twelve kids meant lots of pegs for the sneaky bastard.”

The walrus, real name Russell, a former union official and coach to Collingwood juniors, took the opportunity to reminisce about life in Longwarry. A bush town of nothingness a decade ago, it’s now within an hour’s drive of  Melbourne’s east and boasts 600 new commuter houses, a roundabout wreathed in flowers and a street named after Russell’s family. Selling his grandparent’s plot had made him “flush”. Auctioning other clan properties off to developers was his latest wheeze, he said proudly. At which point he too glanced at the clock.

A revisit to the topic of the family milk cow was interrupted by a whoop. The silver fox. Dusty had achieved heaven and back. “Brill! Thanks so much, Grant mate. Sorry for the wait, guys.”

“No worries,” said the walrus, heaving himself upright only to plonk down again. Presenting a task beyond the powers of Gegan’s crane.

After a quick broom sweep Grant had vanished behind the saloon-bar-like swing-doors of his inner sanctum. Then an almighty sneeze. Hair up his nose, perhaps. Or was it just Dusty? A grumble politic as time passed. And more when his phone burred. The call about besting a par and a tee time.

That sorted it was back down to serious business: Russell slumped draped with the barber’s cape. The missus would wonder where her Prince Scruff had got to, I thought, as Vern took a perch. Forget Teddywatch. My patience though, I knew, would be rewarded. Such is the legend.

 

 

Text & illustrations © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Gassy Leaks And Movable Feasts

5th May 2018.

An Aussie mockery of legend

Son-of-Calcutta’s chuck-away snippet over a bowl of fries about Prof Swiggit’s travel plans had put me in a right pisser of a mood. Even Somerset County Cricket Club beating Yorkshire – yes, Yorkshire! – thereby winning their initial two Championship games of the season for the first time since 1993, couldn’t snap me out of it. So if not that, what could?

Our amiable Muscovite had the answer. Escape Melbourne for a day trip west. Go see the belly up iron horse, the work of sculptor Joanna Rhodes. Enjoy a glass of wine. Maybe discover a little grub with an Asian twist. Surely distraction enough to conclude a mixed week. Simply dodge Geelong, and the dreary salt pans and reeking fishing shacks of Avalon that mock the Arthurian idyll, until hitting the opposite rim of Corio Bay, a bulge of Port Phillip.

Quest achieved, the missus and I lolled with our comrade in Terindah Winery’s ‘Shed’. A structure as unfitting for humble solitude as for a gardening fork. Hangar-sized, it’s an okayish Bellarine peninsula eatery of floor-to-ceiling glass. Where the radish flavour’s daikon and the mint, shiso. Brill.

Terindah Winery’s iron horse and ‘Shed’

Lunch tabs readied to tumble

Hoof level to vines and sea

But drat my chosen Shiraz. Nothing wrong with the bouquet. The sniff of black fruit and the hint of tobacco was gorgeous. What set me off grumbling again about the freelancer’s lot was the first sip – the surprise palate kick of white pepper. So cheeky. Like, um… Prof Swiggit! He who, I now knew, had an invite to London. To personally present his wonderful thesis. The one that from its first draft saw me graft a whole summer month red-penning punctuation, syntax amendments and referencing Harvard style in ‘Operation Polish’ (as in floor, not pierogi). A backtracked pledge on dollars meant the prof’s pan searing a few Moreton Bay bugs became my only reward. “Pooph-tooph,” I said, ire again raising its head.

Moreton Bay bug

“I worried from the start,” admitted the Muscovite, frowning at her Zinfandel. “Swiggit has… form.”

“Sometimes you have to go on trust,” I replied, meaning penury’s curse rather than the local red of iffy Californian ancestry.

“You were too trusting,” the missus chided. “Eat up your raw kingfish. You’re dampening the day.”

I pointed out a better job about to be done. Upon the sea were narnu ngawurrwurra – the cast shadows of chasing clouds – headed fast our way.

The deluge splashed on the iron steed’s rust. Residents Poppy and Tess, two podgy labradors, waddle-loped for cover. Finches in a persimmon tree quit their bickering. Five bucks worth of quince dropped from its bough to perish.

Terindah persimmons

Plenty bucks worth of quinces

Only when the triple digit lunch tabs readied to tumble from the till, did the sun re-emerge radiant upon the vines. It was the cue for my phone to chirp as I nipped out to explore the fresh air.

“Dad? Got awesome news,” said a crackling voice fighting wind noise: my son, the scoop peddler, first-class honours.

“Hello. What?”

“The uni’s been evacuated!”

“Which uni? Not RMIT?”

“Yeah!”

“Why?” I asked, hoping fingers crossed it it had much to do with the prof’s karma.

“Gas leak crisis. Because of … (crackle-snort) … a DURIAN! Some wazzock dumped one to rot in a library cupboard. Bet it was on purpose. Fire Brigade’s bloody livid, but it’s hilarious!”

Durian problems

Always problematic that deathly-spiked fruit I’ve endured in kitchens from Thailand to Singapore, whose garbage stench the Smithsonian magazine honed to a precise: “turpentine and onions garnished with a gym sock.” In a hugely bigger issue than Marmite, it baffles me anyone can delight in something Yank chef Anthony Bourdain fancies makes your breath pong “as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother”. Anyway I trotted back to pass on the latest. Doing so I revived the memory of the missus’ blessed pot of Thai shrimp paste.

An aeon ago the pot had been sniffed out by the mum-in-law efficiently as a wag-tail airport security spaniel. Her revulsion saw the object migrate from the safety of the Wiveliscombe cottage fridge to sit forgotten on the the downstairs loo’s window ledge, hidden inside a cardboard carton once containing a scented candle.

Fast forward to the winter shivers as I languished in-between Aussie visas. My reclusive bobble-hatted neighbour, a musical wannabe forever big-noting about a track in some dark corner of iTunes, had leaned out his bedroom window to rant red-face furious: “I refuse to move. I’m composing. Turn off those flashing lights and your effing van engine. Now!”

Merv, a bushy-bearded National Power emergency engineer – flap-eared lumberjack hat and a Merlin’s trove of sensor gizmos – replied he couldn’t. His ignition was buggered. Switch off and he couldn’t restart. This mirrored the worry I held for my old boiler, knocked out an hour earlier, killing the central heating. Which was down to Bill, the British Gas boiler service chap. Swearing blind about the whiff of ‘gas’ while peeing into my loo, he raised the alarm and skedaddled. Assuredly the cottage had morphed into an icebox in the hastily sealed off street.

Martin continued to rant. Merv repeated himself. Louder. Over the feet away churchyard wall Reg from the garage now squawked Flower of Scotland on the bagpipes at poor Mac’s graveside. Merv soon holding aloft the shrimp paste and the boiler’s floomph of life summoned further mixed emotions.

Over the churchyard wall

Still, durian cannot be dismissed as a lesser threat to sanity. And yet I found I was smiling in a world where the next downpour fell as angel tears of laughter. Therapy for the worst mood brought on after being diddled. Back in the Shed we all agreed that, like some promises, decay’s a moveable feast.

And never mind imagining how my mum-in-law’s nose might twitch in Avalon, in Australia an Asian twist can far exceed expectations.

 

Text and illustration © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.