Nobody Likes A Wayward Lump

It was that time on a summer evening when the sun’s shadows have reached their full length and the night is beginning. We had just left a Fish House and Oyster Bar restaurant. Omaha is better known for it’s steak houses than it’s seafood restaurants; maybe it goes back to the days of the Texas cattle drives when cattle were driven north to meet the Union Pacific railhead, or maybe it was Omaha’s livestock market, that at one time was the largest in the world. I was still savouring the faint, remaining taste of the remoulade and muffaletta relish from a Shrimp Po’ Boy when my attention was shifted back to the road lane I thought I was driving in; the front driver’s side wheel had thumped into a raised curb. I straightened the car into the lane and waited for the steering wheel to start juddering; the tire had hit the curb with a large thump and I was certain the wheel was now buckled, or part of the front suspension and axle was bent. I thought no more about the taste of remoulade and muffaletta relish; I sped up and braked several times, and finished off with several jerking left and right sharp weaving turns.

image source:jmcadam

The left and right weaving and veering caused me to sway slightly in the seat; and I was taken back to those nights in the Land Down Under when I was driving the Mini Cooper home after bending the elbow with the mates. I’m not proud to admit it now, but once or twice, I would have had one too many ice colds and so I would close one eye to stop seeing double. With the double vision gone I would focus on the center line of the road and try and keep the Mini straight and parallel to the line. And the next morning the Mini wasn’t where I thought I had parked it the night before.

I didn’t feel any vibrations in the steering wheel so I thought no worries, she’ll be right; no damage done.

Most times when I’m driving on the interstate I follow the speed limit, or set the cruise control to just about five miles above the limit. It was in the early evening, the day after the tire thump into the curb, when I accelerated to a 65mph speed limit, cruising speed, after leaving the on ramp. For the next 10 minutes I blissfully cruised Omaha’s Interstate 680. The next morning I was stopped in my tracks as I walked toward the car; my eyes became fixated on a large bulge on the sidewall of the front driver’s side tire.

image source:consumeraffairs.com

It was if the tire had developed a sebaceous cyst; filled not with fluid but hardened with air. As I stood staring at the tire cyst my right hand instinctively moved under my left arm pit and I started to feel for the lump.

For as long as I can remember I had this small lump just below the armpit on my left side; sometimes I would cradle the lump with my index and middle finger and jiggle it. Years ago the lump was diagnosed as a blocked gland; I was advised by the doctor that if it got any larger then I should see a doctor. After forty years the lump got larger. I never really noticed the lump getting larger but I started to feel the lump with the inside of my left arm; something I hadn’t felt before. I stood in front of the recessed bathroom vanity cupboard above the sink. I’d already removed my shirt, so I raised my left arm, and looked at the reflection of the lump in the vanity mirror.

image source:jmcadam

It was large. I cradled the lump with my index and middle finger, but before I could jiggle it a stream of yellow tinged, diluted blood red liquid, squirted onto the mirror. I let the lump rest for a couple of days. I raised my left arm, and this time instead of cradling the lump, pushed on it with my index finger; it released a stream of tinted red liquid. Overthe next several days I grew weary of cleaning and sanitising the vanity mirror so I waited until I was showering to squeeze the lump. BAM !!! a geyser of liquid onto the tiled wall. I pride myself on being a quick thinker; after several days of spraying the shower tiles with a  reservoir of tainted liquid I thought that I should see a doctor.

I didn’t touch the lump before seeing the doctor; 3 days of just looking at the lump in the mirror. And on some days there was a slight dampness on the underarm of my shirt and an odour from under my left arm. I wondered if all the under the shower pushing and squeezing had caused the lump to become infected. I sat waiting in the chair in the examination room. I held my left arm high above my head and the doctor moved in closer to look at, and touch the lump. She pushed on the lump.

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She instinctively jerked back when the thick liquid squirted out and got most of herself out of the way in time. Some of the cheesy, blood diluted, liquid erupting from the engorged lump under my arm landed on her head and chest; but most ended up on the floor, and some even streaked across the room and onto the cupboard doors. She kept pushing and squeezing; draining the lump. I left with a supply of antibiotics, the lump covered in a blanket of gauze, and a follow up visit scheduled for next week. As I walked away from the nurses station I overheard the doctor asking if they would call maintenance and request a clean up for the room.

The lump oozed for the seven days leading up to the follow up visit; and grew in size. The doctor must have remembered the cheesy, blood diluted liquid, and the room clean up from the last visit because this time she placed a wad of dressing over the lump before pushing and squeezing. At the end of the appointment I was scheduled to see a lump doctor in two days.

There’s not a lot to do when you’re sitting just waiting in a doctor’s examination room. Because the magazines are usually old copies of either Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, People, Reader’s Digest, Parents, or Men’s Health I sometimes spend the time playing a game of things in a doctor’s examination room. Whenever I play the game I always get first the; exam table, chair, sink, computer, scale, wall mounted blood pressure measuring device, and cupboards, and then I really start looking around.

image source:jmcadam

Without having anything to write on the things in a doctor’s examination room game becomes difficult. The more you discover things the more challenging it becomes to remember the extra things you find; but that’s part of the game. I didn’t have to wait long for the lump doctor. She drained the lump and did a quick examination. I don’t remember laying down on the examination table but I was lying on my right side with my left arm behind my head facing the lump doctor’s nurse who was sitting on my right, and the lump doctor was explaining it would be best if the lump was removed. It was a restful and calm conversation and I babbled on about how I become anxious at the thought of surgery, and she would have to recommend really good drugs to soothe my distress. As I was about to ask when will you scheduled the surgery I was overpowered by a cheesy, putrid stench. I think it was pungent odour that caused the nurse to move away, The lump doctor cheerfully said that I wouldn’t need surgery; I didn’t feel the anaesthetic numbing injection, but she had lanced, drained, and cut the lump out. She pushed gauze into the lump cavity; explaining that it’s best to keep the cavity open so it doesn’t seal up and prevent healing from the inside. Besides, keeping it open allows more time for draining. For next week a visiting nurse removed the packing, cleaned the wound, and repacked the gauze every morning; and after a check up from the lump doctor repeated the cleaning and dressing for another week. The cavity shrunk from a wound I could have pushed my index finger into, to a small chamber.

image source:jmcadam

At the third week check up the lump doctor expressed her concern that the lump cavity had healed from the inside; and she would have to chemically roughen up the hardened chamber wall skin to allow soft tissue healing. During the next week the hardened skin stayed hard and so it needed to be cut out. The surgery was scheduled, and my distress was soothed with good drugs. The wall of hardened skin was deeper and wider than the lump so the new wound was stitched. And I now have a small scar instead of a lump just below the armpit on my left side.

As I looked at the lump on the tire I thought how fortunate we were that it hadn’t released a stream of air that would have caused the sidewall to collapse when we were tootling down Interstate 680 at 65 plus miles per hour. I drove slowly to the complete auto care shop and had the tire replaced. You can’t tell when a lump will erupt; it seems that lumps just decide that for themselves.

 

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What If Dishes Could Wash Themselves

Recently, water began seeping onto the kitchen floor from under the dishwasher and leaking into the basement to form a small rivulet on the basement floor. I used a turkey baster to remove the shallow reservoir of water that was sitting in the bottom of the washer and then fished around in the outlet drain to remove a few of the plastic prongs that had broken off the upper dishwasher rack. Bob’s your uncle I thought and so I started to survey the washer’s control pan on top of the open door. Twenty plus years ago I you had to push was auto wash and dry. I stared down in confusion at the choices; rinse and hold, eco wash, delayed start, normal, and quick wash. I selected quick wash and closed the door. I smiled when I heard the water starting to swish around inside the washer; it was working. But then water appeared from under the washer and another rivulet appeared in the basement.

image source:pixabay

The dishwasher repair man after manoeuvring the washer out of it’s snug cubbyhole and performing a series of tests, and cellphone calls, concluded that the drainage pump was the problem. We got the dishwasher twenty plus years ago from rummaging around in the returned appliance section of Omaha’s own furniture, appliance, electronics, flooring and home decor shop. We were told the brushed nickel ASKO was returned by an interior designer; it just wasn’t right when it was stationed in the new somewhat finished kitchen. The price, though discounted because it was returned, was still more than a Whirlpool or Kenmore. It seemed that twenty plus years ago mid westerners weren’t impressed or didn’t appreciate environmentally friendly, Swedish designed, water and energy efficient dishwashers.

The dishwasher repair man told us that he would have to order a replacement drainage pump from ASKO; his company didn’t keep parts on hand for a twenty plus year old Swedish dishwasher. A phone call a few days later to the appliance repair companies head office confirmed that the replacement pump would cost around $470.00; without installation and labour. And it would take a week or more once the pump was ordered for delivery. Our ASKO was the cadillac of dishwashers so we spent a couple of days weighing the pros and cons of spending $600.00 on a twenty plus year old appliance; or buying a new one.

image source:jmcadam

We decided on a new dishwasher. Omaha’s own furniture, appliance, electronics, flooring and home decor shop has incredible selection of energy efficient dishwashers that are guaranteed to quietly clean the dirtiest plates, glasses, and silverware while you help yourself to an ice cold sherbet. We hovered around a stainless steel Bosch 24″ recessed handle built in 300 series; a dishwasher engineered by German perfectionism and precision.

On the top of the open door along side the push button controls was a transfer that proclaimed Silence Plus. Our soon to be dishwasher was rated at a 44 decibel noise level; light rainfall is about 50 decibel, someone whispering is 30, a dove call 44, and a babbling brook around 40 db. Our Bosch 300 series should sound like doves cooing, sitting in a tree by a babbling brook during a light rain shower; a delightful sound to have in the kitchen.

image source:pixabay

Omaha’s own furniture, appliance, electronics, flooring and home decor shop prides itself on offering a sale every week; the name of the sale changes but the price of everything remain the same. There is a small flat screen alongside each appliance that displays the just in time sale price of the appliance; area of the shop are wired into the internet and constantly trawl competitors prices and in real time adjust their sale price to match the competition. As the sales associate approached I closed my eyes for couple of seconds. Maybe it was a MATRIX thing; I was going to trawl the net and find the real price of a Bosch 300 series. I was sitting on the floor in an Afghan carpet trader’s shop in Kabul’s Chicken Street. Afghanistan was a welcoming state of chaos and confusion after the omnipresent military of Turkey and Iran. As soon as we crossed the Iranian border in local small bus the Afghan passengers shared their hashish. I spent a lot of time in Chicken Street shops chatting, smoking and drinking tea. I learned to dip sugar cubes into my tea and, at the right soggy time pop them to into my mouth, and then sip my tea. I never did buy anything, but I learned that arriving on a final price was part of the process; haggling was expected, and if you paid the first asking price you were considered a fool. After a few visits the shop owners didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t buy anything; our conversations became long social storytelling journeys; always over shared small short glasses of sugar sweetened tea. I spent more time interacting with the locals instead of being a sightseeing tourists.

image source:thedisastertourist

When I opened my eyes I knew my destiny; I was going to barter and not pay the real time sale price displayed on the monitor. I turned to the sales associate

Me: What’s your best price on the Bosch 300
Sale Associate: (after glancing at the small digital monitor alongside the appliance) $800.00 plus sales tax
Me: That’s tourist price; for me $300.00?
Sale Associate: (swiping and pinching at his iPad screen) I’m sorry but that’s not possible
Me: (smiling) Best price?
Sale Associate: (swiping and pinching at the iPad screen) $800.00 is the best I can do
Me: Do you have chai; is there a place we can sit?
Sale Associate: Aaahh, I’m afraid not
Me: Let’s not let the conversation turn ugly. We don’t have to haggle over the price. Final Offer; subtract the sales tax on $800.00 Final price.
Sale Associate: (swiping and pinching at the iPad screen)
Me: Surely you have the authority to approve my generous offer and you don’t need the approval of a manager
Sale Associate: (with a flourish of the iPad) Done
Me: And free delivery and installation; and no charge to carry away away the old ASKO
Sale Associate: I’ll have to charge you half price for the new installation materials
Me: And now we can have tea; two sugar please

I popped the just dissolving sugar cube into my mouth and sipped a little of the warm tea through the cube from the small short glass. The Bosch 300 Series dishwasher was scheduled to be delivered in a couple of weeks.

And so for the next two weeks we washed dishes in the kitchen sink; just as mum washed the dishes in her small kitchen sink after every meal. There was a wall mounted gas water heater to the side of the sink. Mum would put a dish drainer on one side of the sink, and after she gave the dishes a quick rinse in the hot soapy water that she had just washed them in would set them in the drainer to let the soap suds start draining.

image source:pinterest

Every Sunday night nanna and granddad walked down the street from their place for tea. We always had cold left over roast leg of lamb; and we always had it with a salad. And there was always a selection of mum’s freshly baked cakes on the table for desert. As soon as we finished our cakes and cup of tea, mum would start washing the dishes. Either granddad or nanna would grab the tea towel and start drying the just washed dishes before they had time to collect in the drainer; soon the tea towel, damp with the soap suds from the wet dishes, would have to be replaced with a new dry clean tea towel.

Mum also soaked her vegetables and salad lettuce in the kitchen sink. She would peel the potatoes for Sunday’s roast, and then soak the cut up large bite sized pieces in cold water in the sink. The potatoes were put on a tea towel to dry before she put them in the roasting pan with the leg of lamb; the fat and juices from the lamb, together with mum’s left over lard bubbled in the bottom of the pan to produce perfect roast potatoes.

image source:jmcadam

We only new iceberg lettuce for our salads. Mum would tear the leaves apart and soak them in cold water for a couple of hours before Sunday’s tea. The lettuce leaves were also put on a tea towel to dry; radishes and celery was also soaked in the kitchen sink. Whatever in the kitchen needed washing, or whatever food needed soaking and washing, ended up in the sink. Though I don’t ever remember mum scouring and cleaning the sink. The sink emptied into a gully trap on the other side of the kitchen wall in the fernery.

As a young boy, I only had the wireless to follow the ball to ball action of the Ashes series. Every other year the Australian cricket team would travel to England to play five test matches. June through August was the middle of Melbourne’s dank, chilly, winter. The daytime matches were broadcast live each night to Australia. On those foggy winter nights I cocooned myself in a sea of woollen blankets; the radio was a whisper, and I was lulled to sleep by the erudite details of play by play test cricket. The captain of the fielding team, whenever he used his fast bowlers always set a slip cordon with a gully. I listened as the commentators described the gully trap whenever it was set.

image source:thecricketmonthly

The gully is behind square of the wicket, on the off side at the end of the slips cordon; sometimes it is called fourth slip. It’s a close catching position and the fielder at gully can expect forceful shots from the batsman. In the 74-75 test series the great Australian fast bowlers Lillee and Thomson left the English batsman battered and bruised. Captain Ian Chappell was at first slip, brother Greg at second, Dougie Walter at third, and Terry Jenner in the gully. It was test cricket and the gully trap at its best.

The Bosch 300 is sitting proudly under the counter in the kitchen. I rather liked not being a “stick everything in the dishwasher” type of man the last couple of weeks. It’s hard to go cold turkey not washing dishes; the kettles approaching the boil on the stove so it’s time to chuck the dirty sharp knives into the sink. I’ve moved the Band Aids into the cupboard next to the sink.

 

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How Can Every Job Be A Good Job

I paused at the corner the other Sunday morning to contemplate which direction I would take for my meandering walk through the neighbourhood; should I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first or keep the them until midway through my amble. It was a beautiful late summer morning; the sky was clear and blue, and the sun was just starting to warm the day. I settled upon a route that I don’t take all that often; the curving narrow road running through part of the near by golf course. Halfway along the curving narrow road a pedestrian crossing leads to a downhill path that runs alongside a tee off and then past a small pond, with a concentration distracting water geyser, before it empties into Elmwood Park Road. Elmwood Park Road feeds into AKSARBEN Village, my usual halfway point when I walk the uphill uneven footpaths first. I do the golf course route once every couple of weeks. I distract myself when I’m walking the fringes of the fairways by looking for golf balls. It doesn’t take much searching; if I didn’t pick up the balls I would trip over them. I wonder how golfers can lose so many of their balls.

image source:jmcadam

After walking the couple of blocks to reach the street corner to turn onto the curving narrow golf course road I came to a hesitant stop. I was besieged by runners and walkers; surrounded by a flood of coloured tee shirts, vibrant hue running shoes, and ear buds. People of all ages and shapes were emblazoned with numbered race bibs. I was in the middle of the 2017 10K and 2 Mile American Lung Association Fight For Air Omaha Corporate Cup; walking the wrong way without a race bib. There was a water stop by the pedestrian crossing, where runners and walkers were snatching yellow cups of water to hydrate; the water stop volunteers were verbally pushing the runners and walkers into the back half of the race with cries of Good Job. As I started down the downhill path alongside the tee off I could see a sea of walkers and runners on the back half of the race, pacing themselves along Elmwood Park Road.

image source:omaha.com

And once again I became part of the Corporate Cup; this time walking the right way, but still without a race bib. When I sauntered past the Elmwood Park Road Cheer Station a chorus of Good Job chants, together with a thumping sound of muted clapping greeted me. The Cheer Station volunteers were slapping together two foot tubes of solid foam rubber to cheer me on. I was now at my halfway point when I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first route, so I walked on the footpath as I usually do; alongside the Corporate Cup participants and towards the finish line. The footpath ahead was packed with spectators so I stepped onto the roadway; it seemed that with every step I took I was greeted with shouts of Good Job and fist pumps. As I walked to the side of, but past the finish line I could still hear the cries of Good Job; I felt a surge of pride.

You hear Good Job a lot nowadays. It seems to be the go to praise phrase for most mums and dads. Telling their little ones every time they hiccup Good Job; Good Job when they blow their nose, Good Job when they put their plastic water bottle in the recycle bin, Good Job when they put their coat on, Good Job when they eat all their fries at Macca’s, Good Job when they finish colouring outside the lines of a kiddie restaurant place mat, Good Job when they eat their broccoli, Good Job when they wake up from having a little nap, and Good Job at pointing Percy at the porcelain. No task is to small or to large for doling out a few Good Jobs.

image source:pixabay

If only mum and dad had told me Good Job. I would have followed my own success plan for my future self; I could have chosen any of my dream jobs of the seventies

Fitness Instructor: always surrounded by flocks of beautiful women. You didn’t need to know what you were doing; aerobics and nautilus equipment was so new that nobody knew anything about them anyway.
Airline Pilot: more beautiful women than you could shake a stick at; and they were still called stewardesses.
Office Boss: before the revolution so every day your fighting off beautiful women.
Politician: John F. Kennedy shagged Marilyn Monroe; say no more. Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister and he set out to change Australia through a wide-ranging reform program. You’d be in like Flint if you were a labour polly.
Student: librarianship.
Bartender: sitting in the driver’s seat of The Decade of Decadence; the height of the sexual revolution.
Truck Driver: an anti-establishment figure; beautiful women like bad boys.

instead I wandered Europe and the Middle East along the ill defined hippie trail searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary.

image source:jmcadam

Back then, if what has been your biggest failure was a question asked at job interviews, my answer would have to have been

I’m not exactly sure what my biggest failure is. Everything I’ve ever done and everything I do is a failure; I’ve never been afraid of failure. Nobody has ever told me Good Job. I think failure is good for success.

Shut the front door.

The spare room was an unfinished room in the back of our house. There was a door from the dining room to the spare room, and a door from the spare room into the back fernery. The spare room had two windows; one looked out onto the small side way, and the other into the fernery. The side way led into a back gate that opened into the fernery; a door from the fernery opened into the backyard. The kitchen back door also opened into the fernery. I don’t remember what bad deeds warranted what punishment; sometimes a simple slap of dad’s hand across the back of the legs was enough, other times several whacks with the leather belt across the back of the legs was enough, and at times being locked in the dark spare room was enough, or being locked in the dark spare room after being whacked across the back of the legs with the leather belt was enough. The spare room was stacked with boxes, and old house hold things that mum didn’t want to throw away; she might use them again sometime. The spare room was also the night time refuge for our collection of pets.

image source:pixabay

Each night the white cockatoo was put into it’s cage, and the cage was draped with a towel and placed between the boxes; the guinea pigs cage was carried into the spare room and put on top of the boxes, the white mice’s cage, and it always seemed to have a litter of squirming babies, was also carried into the spare room and put on top of the boxes. When we were locked in the spare room for punishment we sat with the animals in total darkness. Sometimes the cocky just wanted to enjoy the company, and would start talking; rapidly repeating it’s word dictionary and thesaurus of sayings, hoping for some sound from the boy sitting in the darkness. I never knew how long I had been sitting in the spare room when the dining room door was unlocked, but I knew I had done a Good Job of sitting in the dark and refusing to talk to the cocky. If only dad had told me Good Job when I walked out; I may have become a fitness instructor.

image source:pinterest

After an uncountable number of times sitting alone in the dark and listening to the cocky I started to plan my escape from the room. I experimented with how to get out, and back into the spare room undetected. One night I discovered the key was always in the door to the fernery; the door from the back of the fernery opened into the backyard, and it was easy to climb the small backyard wooden fence into the side way. There were many nights that I escaped from the darkness of the spare room, and the cocky’s never ending favourite sayings. I walked the dark, and sometimes rain drenched, streets of the neighbourhood. About five houses up from our house was a small somewhat overgrown park that led into the road that ran parallel to our street. A rough, uneven asphalt winding pathway crossed the park; I walked that moonlit path many times. Most times when I escaped from the spare room I was bare foot. On that moonlit night I knew the gash between the heel and toes on the sole of my foot was serious. I reached down and picked up the bottom of a broken glass milk bottle; one of the jagged, thrusting blades from the side of the bottle was covered in my blood.

image source:pixabay

I limped home leaving a trail of blood down the footpath. Mum opened the front door and panicked; mum and dad drove me to the Williamstown Hospital for injections and stitches. And now when I run my finger along the faint scar on the underneath of my foot I think back to the Good Job I did with the slow and painful hobble back home. If only mum had told me Good Job when she opened the front door and saw the blood draining from my foot and pooling onto the veranda I may have become a bartender.

Dad and granddad did a Good Job fixing up the spare room; they lined the walls and ceiling with sheets of masonite, put in a new louvred glass window that looked into the fernery, replaced the two top wooden panels in the door to the fernery with glass, and carpeted the floor. And the spare room became my bedroom. I wonder if they knew they did a Good Job.

image source:jmcadam

Before long, the morning sun will no longer be able to warm the start of the day; the winter cold will send me back to Westroads Mall and my old walking mates. They’re not really mates; I never talk to any of them and I don’t know their names. I just give a slight head nod or an indiscernible move of the index finger as we pass. I think when I return I will replace my head nod with a high spirited shout of Good Job.

 

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I still remember the closing process on our house; we sat opposite the closing agent, who sat surrounded by a mountainous pile of paper. On some cue, known only to her, she started feeding the papers to us. As each paper slid it’s way across the table she asked; “any questions on this one”. After the tenth paper had glided across the table top the conversation went something like

Agent: Any questions on this one
Me: What happens if we don’t sign some of the papers.
Agent: You don’t get the house.
Me: I don’t have any more questions

And so for the next hour or so we signed papers.

image source:jmcadam

Our house, built in the early thirties, would be described as a charming two storey revival brick Tudor. When we moved in thirty plus years ago it still had the original exterior architecture, and the interior was as it was built. We were the second owners of the house. The main living area was cooled by two window air conditioners. A giant octopus gas furnace in the basement heated the house in winter; it was called an octopus because large circular ducts spread out in all directions from the huge heating vessel. There were no moving parts to the octopus system; air was heated in the vessel that sat on the basement floor, causing it to rise and drift through the ducts into the upstairs rooms. A small vent, hidden in a cramped closet, fed the entire second floor with warm air. The vessel had been converted from coal to gas burning at sometime in it’s life.

The first upgrade we did to the house was to install new electrical wiring, and a new circuit breaker panel to replace the screw in fuses. The second major upgrade was to replace the octopus system and the two widow air conditioners with a heating and air conditioning system.

image source:halcoenergy.com

Ever since the HVAC system was installed we have paid a yearly maintenance; entitling us to two no cost annual inspections and preventative maintenance visits, and no charge for repairs to the system. The HVAC technician came the other day for an inspection and maintenance visit of the gas furnace; and shared the same concern the air conditioner specialist did six months earlier:

HVAC Technician: You know your system is getting so old that it could have serious breakdown problems soon.
Me: It was the Cadillac of furnaces when we had it installed.
Technician: True and it still is; but we could buy out your maintenance agreement by giving you a discount on a new system.
Me: But doesn’t the maintenance agreement that we’ve being paying for twenty plus years provide no cost repairs.
Technician: Yes, but your system is getting old

Although the passageway thermostat is set at seventy four degrees the temperature in all of the first floor rooms varies somewhat. The windows in the two front rooms capture the summer and winter sun, and are always the warmest rooms in the house; the kitchen receives the summer morning sunlight, and the back bedroom receives little warmth from the sun. I retreat from walking the neighbourhood streets in the extremes of summer and winter to the Westroads Mall. It has a constant mid seventies temperature, low humidity, and no breeze; similar to our house. So I should think about walking around the inside of our house in summer and winter instead of retreating to Westroads. The other day I did a quick once around the kitchen, dining room, lounge room, passageway, bedroom, and TV room; it took about eighty normal walking steps to complete a circuit of the rooms. My average step is about a yard so I would have to walk seventy plus times around the rooms to equal the five times I do around Westroads.

image source:pixabay

I remember summer in Melbourne sometimes starting in early November; before the summer school holidays and when we were still wearing our winter uniforms. The temperature would sneak into the eighties; we sat in our long trousers, shirts unbuttoned at the neck but still with a tie, and a long sleeve jumper or jacket. We sat squashed two to a desk in the hot classrooms at Williamstown Tech. The school didn’t have any heating or cooling so on those early summer hot and humid days the teacher would open the classroom windows, but the cooling southerly breeze only arrived in the late afternoon; the air was stifling. We sat silent and unresponsive, always glancing up at the large octangular speaker in the corner of the room, waiting for the headmaster’s announcement to be broadcast into every room; “boys, you may remove your jackets and loosen your ties”.

image source:grafenwoehr.armymwr.com

It was around late November when the summer school uniform could officially replace the winter uniform; and we were permitted to wear shorts, a short sleeve shirt without a tie, and summer socks.

Back when, summer in Australia would truly begin around the start of the school holidays. I can remember many a Christmas Day with temperatures in the high nineties. January always was the hottest month; there were days on end when the temperature nudged the century. My childhood house didn’t have HVAC; we endured the Melbourne summer temperatures without any mechanical relief from the heat or humidity. Mum made salads during the summer months. The kitchen gas stove and oven were used as little as possible; it was her way of preventing the house from heating up. She always opened the front door and kitchen back door, and the side windows to catch whatever breeze there was; the fly wire screens on the doors and windows kept the blowies out of the house. If there was a hot northerly blowing the doors and windows stayed shut. Our house was a block from the Port Phillip Bay foreshore and mum always promised the house would cool down with the cool change; a southerly that would blow off the water’s of the bay. We slept with the bedroom window open, on top of the bed in our lightweight summer seersucker pyjamas; sometimes without the top and only wearing the shorts.

image source:raellarina.net

In winter we wore long trousers, slippers, and woollen jumpers around the house. It seemed that most of the long dark nights were either damp from a pea soup thick fog, or cold and wet because of the rain carried by the frigid southerly blowing off Port Phillip Bay. The kitchen was the warmest room in the house. Mum let the left over heat from the gas stove and oven after they cooked our tea heat up the kitchen; and the kitchen always had an electric radiator in the corner. Even though the dining and lounge rooms had fireplaces I don’t remember a fire ever being lit in either room. If we were expecting visitors, and the room needed heating mum would carry an electric radiator into the lounge room before the company arrived; the door was closed and bob’s your uncle. Just before bedtime, on especially cold winter nights, our bedroom was warmed with a radiator; but mum would never let the radiator stay plugged in overnight. She covered the bed with heavy woollen blankets and an eiderdown; and sometimes a water bottle was put into the bed to warm the sheets.

And the cars didn’t have heating or cooling. In winter the windows were kept tightly shut; dad would continually wipe the condensation from the inside of the windscreen with the back of his gloved hand. We sat with our woollen gloved hands between our knees, and our coats tightly buttoned. We always wore a jumper under our coat. Mum knitted a wardrobe of winter clothes; jumpers, cardigans, scarves and gloves as well as making our summer clothes on her sewing machine. Summer in the car was the opposite to winter; all of the windows were wound down and the two front vent windows were turned to angle any breeze into the car. We grimaced whenever we approached a red traffic light or stop sign, because we knew the breeze and ventilation flowing through the open windows was going to letup. A few car owners would mount a small bakelite electric fan on their dashboard.

image source:automoblog.net

The red train carriages had small bench seats running across them; wooden partitions divided the carriages into small spaces, and the spaces were divided into compartments. Each aisle of seats had their own door and window. On hot stifling summer days every door, and window, was opened to move air through the carriage; men would stand propped in the open doorway with their back up against one edge of the doorway. “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors Please” was just a promise of the future. The Williamstown-Melbourne railway line crosses the Maribyrnong River just after the Footscray Station. Back then a complex of tanneries was nestled between the river bank and the housing commission flats; our childhood imagination had horses entering at the abattoir end, passing through the boiling down works, the bone mills and skin drying sheds, and then finishing at the soap, candle and glue making sheds. The water beneath the railway bridge was a flowing, swirling cesspool, and the damp pungent smell of the tanneries hung in the air. Every train door and window was slammed shut as soon as the red Tait was halfway across the Maribyrnong River bridge; you could feel the perspiration starting under your arms, and the salty sweat forming on your lips, but the doors and windows stayed closed until after the South Kensington Station.

image source:arhsnsw.com.au

In the early seventies when I went searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary I first settled in London. My Aussie travel companion had lived in London not all that long ago; we just settled into the Tooting Bec terrace that he had shared with four English lads. It was nearing the end of the London winter; some days were cold and crisp, and others were being warmed by the gentle heat of spring sunshine. The two story brick terrace still held the cold of winter. It was the early seventies, and I think most London houses were still warmed by a fireplaces in the main rooms, or the gas stove in the kitchen. Our gas meter was coin operated and had to be fed threepences, sixpences, or shillings for a measured amount of gas; today’s concept of pay as you go. On cold nights we all sat in the kitchen huddled around the gas stove with the oven door open; feeding sixpences into the meter before the gas ran out. And I slept in my goose down sleeping bag.

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And now I’ve grown used to HVAC; walking into air conditioning out of Omaha’s oppressive humid, corn sweat July heat, is akin to stepping into a perfect April afternoon. Escaping into a heated house from a winter Omaha blustery chilling subzero winter wind, that bites at your skin, is not unlike stepping into a perfect April afternoon.

Today the temperature is sparring with the humidity and the heat is even finding itself trapped in the shadows. I think I will sit outside for a few hour to prepare myself for some HVAC.

 

A History of Air Conditioning

Kensington

Melbourne Weather & Climate

Nobody Ever Listened To My Telephone Calls

I never thought I would ever use a phone as a wireless. And now I’ve started to use my old Motorola Droid as a wireless; it’s connected by blue tooth to a stand alone speaker and I choose where I want to listen to 3AW’s afternoon drive time with Tom Elliott or Neil Mitchell’s morning program. 3AW streams all of it’s programs live. Melbourne is fifteen hours ahead of Omaha during US summer daylight savings time, so I listen to the live stream of Neil Mitchell’s 8:30am-midday Monday through Friday show from 5:30pm-9:00pm on the afternoon of the previous day; imagine listening to Thursday mornings happenings on Wednesday afternoon.

image source:jmcadam

When I was growing up our kitchen wireless was always tuned to 3AW. Mum would sit at the kitchen table when the Martha Gardener show started and slowly dawdle through her lunch, finishing up with her cup of tea, or instant coffee, just as Martha was winding up her show. Mum swore by Martha’s housekeeping tips and hints; her Wool Mix for washing more than just woollens, or how to deal with a tricky zipper. On Saturday afternoons the kitchen was filled with the sound of Harry Beitzel and the boys broadcasting the match of the day. And the wireless by my bed was only tuned to 3AW. I would lull myself to sleep listening to the advice, and sharing that Dr Alex Kenworthy provided to the lonely talk radio call-ins of the night.

I don’t know why I wanted to build a crystal set. Dad must have bought the copper wire for the coil, the germanium crystal, and the other parts; and we used dad’s old bakelite headphones. I remember winding the copper wire around a cardboard tube and every now and then twisting small loops in the wire. I think we also had a small device made up of fixed plates and moveable plates that you could turn into the spaces between the fixed plates. I don’t think I ever understood how the crystal set worked.

image source:oldheadphones.com

Maybe the thrill of listening to the static rich sounds of far away exotic places was the reason for building the crystal set; or maybe it was the adventure of stringing a wire from the shed in the back yard to the bedroom window down the side of the house for the antenna; or maybe it was clasping the headphones and pushing them onto our ears to  hear the faint sounds of far off lands. Dad must have also bought the coated copper antenna wire. Nothing was ever said about the wood we nailed into the side of the house to tie the antenna wire to, or the small hole in the top of the bedroom window to poke the wire through. Even with the antenna I never did hear the faint sounds of far off exotic places.

My Droid became a wireless when it was replaced by an iPhone. Nowadays it seems that you can count on upgrading your smart phone every couple of years. I think mum’s phone was only upgraded three times in fifty plus years. Back then, every house in Australia had a Postmaster-General’s Department 300 Series Bakelite Rotary Phone. At some point in time the bakelite rotary phone was replaced by a pale green rotary dial phone, and years later the pale green phone was replaced by a push button Touchfone.

image source:pixabay

You really didn’t have much of a phone choice because all house phones were provided by the P.M.G. You paid for each phone call that you made and the towns that are now suburbs of Melbourne were long distance. Mum’s older sister lived in Dandenong, a country town twenty miles along the Princess Highway from Melbourne. Aunt Peg lived in Edith Street which was just a short walk from the market. The market was our field of dreams and we would spend the day exploring the market when mum and dad drove us to Dandenong on Tuesdays. Aunt Bet, my mother’s younger sister, moved into my mother’s Dandenong house just after her marriage, and my brother and I would be allowed to stay with Aunt Bet and Uncle Ken for a few days during the school holidays. Aunt Peg was the only person that ever rang mum but when Aunt Bet moved to Dandenong she also would ring mum.

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For a long time the black phone sat majestically on a small, round wooden reading table in the front lounge room; it rested on a white lace doily. Mum could hear the phone ring from any where in the house; she would drop everything and hurry up the passage to the lounge room. She had put an arm chair by the telephone table and would settle into the soft chair for a long distance chat with her sisters from Dandenong. Even though it was a charge by the minute call, the three sisters became famous for their “what can they talk about for thirty minutes” phone calls. Maybe mum got tired of running up the passage to answer the phone, because the phone table and the phone got moved to the kitchen. A long phone cord ran down the passage from the lounge room to the kitchen. The P.M.G would have ran the wire along the baseboard in the passage; no one but the P.M.G could touch anything vaguely connected to a telephone.

image source:jmcadam

The phone table was moved to be just inside the doorway to the passage and was nestled beside the fridge; the arm chair stayed in the lounge room so mum stood up the whole time she talked to her sisters on the phone. When I set off to the US mum said she would mind my mini fridge; we moved the phone table and put the mini fridge beside the kitchen fridge. The phone was moved to the top of the mini fridge; and it sat on the mini fridge for as long as mum lived in her house. How the times have changed. Mum would be in disbelief; her Touchfone would no longer sit on the mini fridge. She would have a phone that she could carry with her where ever she went; even on shopping days. And there would be no telephone wire along the baseboard in the passage.

We no longer search for nooks, mini fridges, or telephone tables as places to keep our phones; a pocket, handbag, or bra is all that’s needed for our tiny, little, unobtrusive smart phone. And we have to designate a pocket as the phone pocket; which is not easy. Men’s trousers have four pockets, two in the front and two in the back, or five if they have a small fob pocket. Men’s trouser pockets should never be loaded up such that they produce a pocket bulge; always check in a mirror for pocket bulges. By default some of our trouser pockets are already taken; wallet in the back right, keys in the right front, and the left front for coins, tissues or handkerchief, Tic Tacs, tooth picks, and pocket knife.

image source:consumerreports.org

The left back pocket becomes the phone pocket; but this comes with misgivings and concerns

1.  When you slide your phone into your left back pocket make sure the screen is facing your leg to lessen the chance of pocket calling or butt dialling; calling someone you didn’t mean to because of pressure being accidentally applied to a button or buttons on the phone.
2.  Stuffing a phone into the left back pocket could also result in back problems. Constantly pressing a hard object against your sciatic nerve, the large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each leg, could cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in the back of the thigh, bum, and leg.
3.  In the past couple of years there have been increased reports of cell phones overheating and spontaneously catching on fire or exploding. The left back trouser pocket is not a well ventilated area.
4.  I know that the left back trouser pocket is further away from the family jewels than either of the front pockets but they are still being exposed to cell phone radiation. I think there has to be some small cooking of the sperm going on.
5.  You run the risk of an accidental drop from the left back trouser pocket when your lowering your daks to the ankles, and lowering yourself onto the dunny; or when your pulling the daks up. Count the floating phone as lost if you don’t want to go fishing around in the thunderbox for it; remember flushing the phone could cause the toilet to back up or clog up the plumbing.

The mornings that were warmed by the gentle spring heat are now a late summer soft shade of blue. I set off for my morning walk around the neighbourhood wearing my usual garb of walking shorts and a body hugging tank top.

image source:jmcadam

I have no where to put my new iPhone. And so I started to ponder about how the human body lacks storage space. I began to think about how nano technology seems to be maturing at warp speed, and wearable technology has already evolved into embeddable implants. And I mused, that if we are connected to our phones 24/7 then maybe they should be embedded in our body; implanted into our head, hand or arm. I think that would solve the problem of finding places to keep our smart phone. And it would save the world from running out of mini fridges.

I downloaded a vintage phone ringing sfx for my new iPhone; it sounds just like mum’s P.M.G 300 Series Bakelite Rotary Phone. I need to set the default ring time of my new iPhone to 40 seconds before it goes to Voicemail.

 

3AW Radio Melbourne

Post Master-General’s Department

How to Build a Crystal Wireless Set

No Holds Barred

The other night I was channel surfing using the on-air channel guide. The local cable company provides seventy plus channel choices with the TV Starter option. I usually have three or four first choice channels picked out at a time and I cycle between this bundle before I grow weary of their programs. And that’s what caused the channel surfing the other night. I chose a new channel as a first choice channel and now three nights a week a curious fascination draws me to replays of the The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Johnny’s guests can include Robert Mitchum, Don Rickles, Sylvester Stallone, Tony Randall, Joan Rivers, Billy Crystal, Charles Nelson Reilly, or Suzanne Pleshette. The replays are from the seventies and eighties; Johnny’s monologues include references to Ronald Reagan as Governor of California, or as President of the United States; the hair styles and wardrobes of Johnny, Ed, and the guests also suggest the seventies and eighties. The other night Johnny introduced and interviewed Hulk Hogan. Hulk was a guest because he had just made his film debut in Rocky III; cast as the world wrestling champion Thunderlips, the Ultimate Male. It was early in his career and Hulk had yet to fully explore and embrace The Hulkster and Hulkamania. Johnny was disinterested in the beginnings of Hulkamania.

image source:johnmcadam

I sat on a cramped couch, glued to the small TV in the corner; the second floor of the bungalow style house was made up of a front room, bedroom, bathroom, and a small kitchen. Lincoln, Nebraska, was now my postcode. Immigrants will tell of how they learned to speak American by watching television. I already spoke English, so I watched television for the synthesis of American cultural and the Australian lifestyle. I watched wrestling; the late seventies and early eighties had to be the second golden age of wrestling. Hulk had become The Hulkster and was a permanent guest on a The Tonight Show format wrestling talk show; Vince McMahon was Johnny. The The Hulksters talked a lot about all the Hulkamaniacs around the world, and the importance of Hulkamaniacs saying their prayers, drinking their milk, and taking their vitamins. And I watched all the wrestling matches; I lost count of the number of times I saw the ripping of The Hulksters shirt. For over a year I watched professional wrestling; I was bewildered by the cast of stock characters, and the plots and twists that moved the fantasy along.

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There was a series of low railway viaducts just passed the intersection of New Footscray Road and Dudley Street. They carried the western suburb trains, Spirit of Progress, Overland, and the myriad of railway lines that made up the Melbourne railway yards. Back then, the yards seemed to go on forever; they stretched from North Melbourne to Spencer Street. The jumble of lines were clogged with every type of goods wagons and passenger carriages; the yards included goods sheds and a hump yard. The shadows of the viaducts and yards fell across the stadium. The West Melbourne stadium was a grungy, concrete bunker sandwiched between the railway lines and Dudley Street. I remember Dad taking us to the wrestling at the stadium. Back then it was the mecca of boxing and wrestling in Melbourne. We sat high up in the raked bleachers and squinted through the dark smoke filled space, to watch the action figures in the ring; a vintage black and white film with a grainy look and light leaks. The ring was a small squared circle in the distance, floodlit by overhead lights; the wrestlers were small mannequins. You barracked hard when Big Chief Little Wolf applied his Indian Death Lock, and you booed Gorgeous George and referee Bonnie Muir.

image source:heraldsun.com.au

I remember the ring attendants ambling around, back and forth outside the ring. There were at least six attendants; they ambled not in a random fashion, but in some predefined pattern around sections of the ring. The attendants wore long white coats; the same white coats Victorian Football League Goal Umpires wore. Over the years I often wondered what caused me to choose studying chemistry at Footscray Technical College instead of art at Caulfield Institute of Technology. As I think back, I remember my fascination with the stadium’s white coated attendants; within an outstretched arms length of uncertainty, walking within inches of a Flying Head Scissors and Atomic Drop, and at any moment a grappler could be thrown out of the ring and land at their feet. I must have chosen chemistry at Footscray Tech so I could wear a long white chemistry lab coat and always walk within an outstretched arms length of uncertainty.

Some boys chose wrestling as an activity at the Williamstown Youth Center. It was the type of wrestling you saw on the newsreels at the pictures; Greco Roman and freestyle wrestling. Wrestling that was always part of army training, or school sports; wrestling that boys did man to man. Submission Holds and Pin-Falls were unknown; we practiced the science of wrestling and only used leverage and balance as our holds. Each match was a physical chess game, and we always finished our bouts as friends.

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Most nights of the week, after tea, I challenged Dad to a wrestling match. When he accepted, we squared off on the kitchen floor. The passageway spilled out into one end of the kitchen, and the back door to the fernery was opposite the passageway. Mum’s sewing machine was tucked into the corner by the door to the fernery, and the phone was on a small table by the door to the passage; the end of the kitchen between the two doorways was a natural squared circle. Dad and I did a freestyle type of wrestling. We started our matches in a modified Referee’s Position; the one where you choose either the top position or the bottom position. Dad always took the bottom position, squatting with his knees and hands on the floor. And that was the only Youth Center move we used. I tried to put dad in an Indian Death Lock, a Hammer Hold, Head Scissors, or a Submission Head Lock but he squirmed and slithered, and used his weight and strength to release himself from my wrestling holds. And when I couldn’t subdue him I would move into him with a series of Japanese Chops.

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In the early sixties Melbourne’s Channel 9 began broadcasting, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, its own World Championship Wrestling. The matches were scripted promotions for Killer Karl Cox’s, Mario Milano’s, Spiros Arion’s, Brute Bernard’s, Bulldog Brower’s, and other wrestler’s weekend matches at Festival Hall. I occasionally watched Gentleman Jack Little and the boys; I was losing interest in wrestling. I had transitioned from a young boy through early childhood, and into a fledgling adolescent. I had things to do on Saturday and Sunday afternoons; besides, I was now wearing a white chemistry lab coat two afternoons a week for Organic and Inorganic Chemistry Labs at Footscray Tech, and the West Melbourne Stadium, the House of Stoush, was no longer the grimy mecca for boxing and wrestling. It had been renamed Festival Hall in the early sixties and it was now Melbourne’s largest live entertainment venue. The Beatles, played the hall when they invaded Australia as part of their 1964 world tour.

Back then there was a lot of decision that you had to make; hippie, bodgie and widgie, mod, skinhead, surfer, or Beatles or Stones. I decided I was Stones so I didn’t see the Beatles at Festival Hall; but I did see an early sixties Chubby Checker concert, and the 1973 Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention concert. I remember Zappa using his guitar as a cigarette holder. He pushed the filter of his cigarette down onto a string sticking out from the tuning peg, and he tucked lit cigarettes under the strings on the pegboard. His cigarette on the end of the string defined its own path as Zappa threw out his own unique solos; it’s embers and smoke joining the other embers and smoke in a darkened, grungy, Festival Hall.

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Sometimes we look back and question the decision we made. During my search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary in the early seventies I used London as my homeland. I worked as a life guard at an outdoor swimming pool with four other band of brothers; Peter the university student, John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and The Young Londoner. John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill worked a collection of part-time jobs to supplement his income from other activities; when the long hot summer was drawing to a close he asked me what I was going to do for a job. He knew a friend who was trying to get a bunch of lads together to tour small Italian and Eastern European towns and perform one night wrestling matches; did I want to do it. I confessed I had only wrestled on the kitchen floor with my dad. John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill didn’t see that as a problem; the troupe was going to spend the next month learning holds and routines, and developing their characters. The next morning I told John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill, thanks for thinking of me. You always regret some decisions you make.

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With the success that Chubby Checker had with Lets Twist Again, Twistin USA, Slow Twistin, and Twist It Up as follow ups to The Twist, I wonder if he regrets the decision not to follow up The Hucklebuck with a version called The Camelclutch

Ah here’s the dance you should know
Ah, baby when the lights are down low
I say, grab your baby then go
Do the Camelclutch (yeah)
Do the Camelclutch (yeah)
If you don’t know how to do it
Man you’re out of luck
Push ya baby out (yeah)
Then you hunch her back (yeah)
Start a little movement in your sacroilliac
Wiggle like a snake, wobble like a duck
That’s what you do when you do the Camelclutch

I didn’t decide to stop watching wrestling; I just drifted away from it. And the other day I found an old small box labelled John’s Toys; I sold my Titan Sports 8-inch 1984 vinyl Hulk Hogan wrestling action figure, that included a championship belt, and a box of 25 assorted wrestling action Band Aids.

 

Festival Hall: the greatest moments from Melbourne’s favourite live venue

Channel 9’s World Championship Wrestling

Frank Zappa Bio

I Wasn’t Naked I Just Didn’t Have Any Bathers On

The last few days in Omaha has seen the temperature pushing into the nineties, with the humidity matching the air temperature; and summer officially begins in a week. Maybe the corn sweat has launched early this year, or maybe global warming caused July and August to start in June. After heaving the lawn mower around the backyard, and oozing with sweat, I pushed back into the green resin stack-able patio dining chair that I had put in the garage; even with the door open it’s the coolest place in the house during summer mid mornings. My head lolled forward and the resin chair became a bold and beautiful folding deckchair. I didn’t try to interrupt my eyes closing and I was soon back playing a game of beach cricket and trying to eat a paddle pop before it melts.

image source:johnmcadam

Back when, my summers usually began in November; the temperature began creeping into the eighties as we sat in our winter uniforms, squashed two to a desk, in the hot classrooms at Williamstown Tech. On those hot days the teacher opened the windows but the cooling south breeze only arrived in the late afternoon; the air was stifling. We sat silent and unresponsive, glancing up at the large octangular speaker in the corner, waiting for the headmasters announcement to be broadcast into every room:

boys, you may remove your jumpers and loosen your ties

It was around late November when the summer uniform replaced the winter uniform. We were permitted to wear shorts, a short sleeve shirt without a tie, and summer socks.

image source:picturevictoria.vic.gov.au

When I was a young teenager drifting into adolescence it seemed as if I spent every day of the school holidays at Williamstown Beach. I would leave my bike resting against the chain link fence of the Life Saving Club with the towel that I always wrapped around my shirt and shorts lodged under the bike below the pedals. The Life Saving Club was at the end of the promenade that ran alongside the Esplanade; a low curving blue stone wall separated the sand and water from the promenade. Back then, the sand ended just before the Life Saving Club; a rock wall arched around past the club. There were two sets of steps inset into the wall that led into the water. Past the steps were the rockies. There were no steps down to the rockies. You clambered down the wall onto the rocks. At different places the rocks had formed openings and the waves and tidal water gushed into and out of these deep grottoes. Only the brave went there to swim; only those enduring a rite of passage, or answering a dare. The rockies were the first time I swam starkers.

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I don’t remember dad driving the family to the Gold Coast on holidays but I know that he did. I remember looking out over the Blue Mountains at the three sisters; I don’t remember Sydney. After leaving Sydney we would have driven up the two lane Pacific Highway to the New South Wales border town of Coolangatta. The thin strip of road connecting Coolangatta with Surfers Paradise snaked through the small sleepy, Gold Coast beach towns. I don’t remember Surfers Paradise. I think we stayed in the Tweed Heads caravan park. I would have gone swimming in the surf at the beach. Mum had a couple of strict swimming rules; we could only go as far out into the water where we could still touch the bottom, and the most enforced rule was we could only go into the water an hour after eating. After every meal, or snack, mum would hold court and warn us of the severe consequences of swimming immediately after eating:

your stomach will cramp up and you will sink to the bottom and drown

It took until young adulthood for me to go swimming straight after I had eaten; and I never once got stomach cramp.

image source:johnmcadam

My second visit to Surfers Paradise was in the late sixties; it was still the land of meter maids and Mini Mokes. The re-built Surfers Paradise Hotel anchored Cavill Avenue and it’s Birdwatcher’s Bar was crowded with males of all ages downing a few cold ones: you staked out a drinking spot by the glass windows to watch the girls in their bikinis saunter past. New motels and hotels, towering five stories into the blue sky, were carving out the new Surfers Paradise skyline. The beer gardens were a welcome retreat from the mid day sun for the holiday makers. Constant rounds of  beer and mixed drinks, and a good counter lunch were the norm. The Bee Gees grew up in Redcliffe, about 70miles from the Gold Coast. The holiday makers paid scant attention to the young boys when they sang their way through the beer gardens. One night I was putting away a few cold ones, and mum had never said anything about waiting an hour after your last drink before going swimming, so I decided I should be swimming at Surfers Paradise beach. I could just make out the breaking waves from where I was on the moonlit sand but I peeled off my clothes and ran towards the breaking waves. I swam starkers in the Surfers Paradise surf.

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I was young; I didn’t know danger. It was only a couple of years since the Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, mysteriously disappeared while swimming alone at a beach near the ocean-side town of Portsea. Maybe he went swimming without waiting for an hour after eating.

When I first went searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary in the early seventies I used London as my homeland. I worked as a life guard during a long hot summer at an outdoor swimming pool that was nestled in the corner of Brockwell Park. Brockwell Lido was a drop kick from the Herne Hill train station, or a short bus ride away from the Brixton tube station; sometimes I would endure the long walk across Tooting Bec Commons and through parts of Streatham. The Olympic size pool was surrounded by asphalt and concrete, and a ten foot high brick wall. On each side of the pool were the dank, dark, subterranean men’s and women’s changing rooms. A high diving platform was at the deep end of the pool and a large concrete water fountain towered over the shallow end. The life guard changing room was behind the fountain and the room shared a wall with the first aid room. The changing room and the first aid room had an outside door to the park.

The pool and it’s surrounding concrete provided a welcome respite from the sweltering summer heat to the people of Lambeth and South London. Five of us: Peter the university student, John the part time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, The Young Londoner, and the Aussie searching for inspiration and idealism plucked quite a few little ones from the shallow three foot end of the pool, and were regarded as hero’s by their young mums; we also dragged a few teenagers and adults from the deep end after they jumped off the high diving board and discovered they couldn’t swim.

image source:johnmcadam

We often worked until after nine during the weekdays but finished earlier on Sunday evenings; sometimes different combinations of us would stroll over to one of the local Herne Hill pubs to sink a few pints after work. Last call was around eleven. A collection of uniformed first aid volunteers would show up on the weekends. It was an early Sunday evening and a couple of the young uniformed first aid lady volunteers agreed to join us for a few rounds at the local. It had to be after eleven when we; Peter the university student, John the part time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and the young uniformed first aid lady volunteer lurched out of the pub and headed towards the Lido. We had decided to go swimming.

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We lifted Mick the Irishman onto the top of the wall and he in turn hoisted John the part time criminal from Herne Hill onto the wall. They let themselves into the first aid room with the key the young uniformed first aid lady volunteer had given them and unlocked the outside door to the park. We all swam starkers, in the moonlight, at Brockwell Lido. As I think back it was fortunate that we had consumed only pints of warm English bitter and not snacked on any of the Scottish eggs available from the bar; waiting in the moonlight for an hour after eating may have proven to be a little tiresome.

The Thailand I remember was a county transitioning from a rest and recreational retreat from the Vietnam War into a tourism mecca. In the mid seventies Chiang Mai was a sleepy country town nestled among the forested foothills of northern Thailand close to Asia’s infamous Golden Triangle; the meeting of Thailand, Burma and Laos and the center of the infamous opium trade. Our back packers hostel was a collection of buildings surrounding by trees and foliage; they ringed a small delightful courtyard. Five of us intrepid travelers set off from our hostel on a two day hike into the mountains and villages of the Golden Triangle. A friend of our guide dropped us off at the entrance to a rough track into the mountains. We dragged ourselves along mud trails, skirted countless opium fields, and trekked through small villages and into and out of Laos and Burma.  I wondered if the opium farmers guided their donkey caravans along these old jungle trade paths. It was late afternoon when we arrived at our overnight mountain jungle village.

image source:sports.vice.com

Before eating and sleeping we were encouraged to cleanse the dried mud and sweat from ourselves in the nearby stream. I think the rivulet was the fresh water supply for the village. I wandered along the stream, downstream from the village. I sat naked in a cold mountain stream in Asia’s Golden Triangle.

Nowadays you can relax during a scenic drive through the countryside in air-conditioned comfort and stop off at attractions such as the Hall of Opium Museum and the Mae Ka Chan hot springs, where you can soak your sore muscles in three natural pools and let tiny fish nibble dead skin from your feet. Which makes me wonder if fish have to wait an hour after they eat before they can go swimming.

I haven’t been swimming for years; maybe I should go swimming in a sand pit. I will probably need to go out and buy a pair of bathers.

 

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Brockwell Lido

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