You Never Forget the Manhood You Grow Up With

I remember Dad as a salesman both in his professional and his personal life; it seemed that everybody enjoyed his company and reveled in his outward personality. He was a volunteer at the Williamstown Youth Center, a Free Mason, a member of the Williamstown Lions Club, and he seemed to dabble in whatever took his interest at that moment. I can’t recall any meaningful father son planned activities that we did together that were opportunities for shared learning, or occasions that promoted my self confidence and character development. We didn’t have a barbecue so he couldn’t fire up the barbie so we could grill together. He wasn’t very adept at mechanics or construction so we didn’t share building projects, and he didn’t know his way around a car engine. Dad did know that first impressions are very important and assumptions are made based on attitude and appearance so I know that he planned my first two public appearances to help with my personal growth. These were not one on one activities that we did together but he did have some closeness to both and I think he knew that the visual milk bottle pizzazz and the iron goal temperament that I needed to muster would cause me to grow into a well rounded, successful, man.

Moomba was a cultural festival staged annually in Melbourne. It started in 1951 when Melbourne celebrated fifty years of Federation with a street parade. In 2003 it morphed into Melbourne Moomba Waterfest and events still included the traditional Moomba parade, crowning of Moomba monarchs and fireworks displays, but now carnivals in the gardens and along the Yarra and river watersports, water floats, the birdman rally, as well as live music and bands are all part of the festivities; today it is Australia’s largest free community festival.

moomba tractor float

image:state library victoria

From the 1950’s until the 1970’s the parade that stretched down Swanston Street was the highlight of Moomba. The parade attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators and would take several hours to pass. It was made up of humble tractor drawn floats adorned in flowers, armies of clowns with some even riding bicycles among the floats, assorted bands that included the perennial favorite Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Band, costumed historical characters, giant paper mache puppets, and the flamboyant floats of Myers, the Gas & Fuel Corporation, and the State Electricity Commission.

moomba float

lets get together and have fun
image:state library victoria

One year the Williamstown Lions Club sponsored a post Moomba parade in Williamstown. Dad was the organizer; I don’t know if he stepped forward or if his fellow lions knew that he could do it. It seemed every night for a couple of weeks his fingers had found a home on the keys of the portable typewriter that he set up on the dining room table. He persuaded several of the companies, businesses, and others who had their Moomba floats meander down Swanston Street to be part of the Williamstown parade; they agreed to warehouse their floats, transport them to Williamstown, and volunteer their employees to smile and wave from the float on a Saturday afternoon. Assorted local community groups, businesses, and bands also agreed to be part of the parade that was to proceed down Ferguson Street, turn into Nelson Place and travel on to Thompson Street.

williamstown town hall

waiting for the milk bottle
image:state library victoria

On the day of the parade I drifted through the designated assembling area outside the Williamstown Town Hall and marveled as all the participants somehow arranged themselves into the parade order: And dad appeared from out of this coalescing assemblage and walked toward me. I didn’t know what to prepare myself for; he put one hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes and said; would you be a milk bottle. It seems the person who originally offered to carry the paper mache milk bottle hadn’t arrived. Dad motioned and someone lifted the milk bottle over my head as I bent from the waist. I settled the two inside straps on my shoulders; I was the milk bottle. The parade started and I gingerly started to walk with faltering steps. The paper mache bottle was designed with a small gauze mesh at eye level and all you could see was what was in front of you. If you wanted to see anything either side then you had to turn as a milk bottle; if you wanted to see where you were stepping you had to bow down as a milk bottle.

chador nelson place

customs house hotel from inside the milk bottle

I soon adjusted and as I gained confidence I swayed from side to side, did a little skipping, completed small circles, and even sashayed down part of Nelson Place. I was showing visual milk bottle pizzazz.

The youth centre was housed in a building behind the Williamstown Town Hall. It was a wood framed relcaimed building surrounded by unused electric light poles. There was a small street beside the Hoyts picture theatre that Williamstown’s electrical and maintenance vehicles used that led to the back of the town hall. The youth centre building contained a stage, a small to medium auditorium with attached toilets, and changing rooms. Off the front of the hallway that separated the auditorium and toilets was a small counter high snack shop canteen, and further along a room for hobby activities. First Constable Merv Storey was the youth centres pt instructor and manager; he was the catalyst for the centre. I also remember Tom Webb who was known for his model glider and plane making classes in the hobby room; and his wife, who we only knew as Mrs Webb. Mrs Webb provided piano accompaniment for all the centres public displays of physical culture, pyramids, vaulting and parallel bars. The youth center offered recreational and physical culture activities for boys and girls from eight years old and up.

exercises

image:state library victoria

I attended the youth centre one night a week. I think dad volunteered at the centre as a committee member, and he would help out one night a week with games and instructional activities. He would umpire games of iron goals; one of my favorite games. Iron goals was played in the auditorium and the junior boys would be randomly divided into two teams and the teams would line up along opposite walls; each boy would number off. An iron goal was at each end of the auditorium. The iron goal was a miniature soccer goal without the net and was made from bent and welded metal rods; you scored by dribbling a basket ball from the centre of the auditorium, along the floor, into your goal. Your opponent had to steal the basket ball from you by only using his hands. They could then attempt to pat and dribble the ball into their goal to score. Dad would blow the whistle call out two numbers, for example four and seventeen, and then four and seventeen would run to opposite ends of the auditorium, touch the iron goal, and run back to the basket ball in the centre to start dribbling to their goal.

basketballs

image:pixabay

I know that dad never favored me when calling the numbers but he always called my number during a game of iron goals; it was as if he was preparing me to choose life as a competition; or a game. The youth center staged an annual coed display of gymnastics and physical culture, indoor games, marching, boxing and wrestling, and other activities in the Williamstown Town Hall. I was one of the selected junior boys who gathered in the centre of the town hall floor, the outer portion of the room was crowded with spectators, to demonstrate the indoor game of iron goals. My number was called; I was first to the basket ball. I bobbed and weaved, my hand patting and guiding the ball on an unimaginable journey across the town hall wooden floor. All I could hear were the gasps from the spectator parents as they followed my dreamlike control of the ball toward the iron goal. I also heard the distorted chord progressions and inversions as Mrs Webb, her feet furiously pumping the pedals and her hands a blur, created a medley of improvised piano riffs to accompany my iron goal ball dribbling.

piano keyboard

image:pixabay

I don’t remember scoring the goal but waiting for my number to be called forced me to practice mental readiness and also to invent some personal rituals to maximize my performance and control anxiety.

So dad knew that he hadn’t played enough games of snakes and ladders or draughts, or taken me to any car shows,  hadn’t helped with my homework, or gone camping just with me and the dunny seat, and hadn’t played much catch with the cricket ball; the times we could have been just dad and son bonding. But in his own way he knew that the visual milk bottle pizzazz and the iron goal temperament that I needed to display would cause me pass into manhood and help me to grow into a well rounded, successful, man.

 

Ultimate Paper Mache

Moomba Parade Melbourne 1967

Best Father and Son Activities

 

I Love the Smell of Penny Bungers in November

A few years ago it became legal for people living in Nebraska and inside Omaha city limits to purchase and shoot off fireworks between June 25th and July 4th. Just before July 4th I trawled one of the many fireworks for sale tents that have mushroomed in Omaha. It was my first venture into a fireworks tent. I did go to a fireworks barn before it was legal to shoot off fireworks in Omaha. It was across the Nebraskan border in either Missouri or Kansas. I hesitated to buy anything fearing that when I crossed back into Nebraska I would most likely be stopped by a state trooper and upon the vehicle search the fireworks would be discovered, not so well hidden, under the spare tire in the boot. Surrounded by fireworks it was difficult to dismiss thinking of the Gunpowder Plot and some say the traitor Guy Fawkes; the thought of buying whiz bangs and blowing up Parliament was with me as I left the barn and I adopted a swagger as I walked toward the car. I spun the wheels and sent a cloud of dust sky ward and I was soon pounding down a dirt road alongside the interstate; bootlegging and moon shining, a fireworks runner outsmarting and outdriving the law.

There were no Catherine Wheels, Tom Thumbs or Penny Bungers in the Omaha fireworks tent but I did find boxes of Sydney Harbour Bridge for thirty plus dollars. I wondered if a Paul Hogan aerial repeater was in the box. Hoges had been a painter on the bridge before Crocodile Dundee fame. It is normal for all Melbournians to possess antipathy for anything Sydney. I knew there had to be a bigger and better Melbourne Federation Square box somewhere in the fireworks tent. All of us who hung out together called the milk bar on the corner of Douglas Parade and Bunbury Street Dashers: named after the owner who we thought was so slow and deliberate at doing anything: maybe he was just old but we never thought of that. You would have never found a box of Sydney Harbour Bridge at Dashers.

All in a Box
Sydney Harbours
johnfireworks2 fireworks tent

For weeks before cracker night we would save our pocket money and forage the neighborhood for Tarax bottles or any other soft drink bottle that had a refund. Sixpence or a shilling would buy a large assortment of mixed crackers at Dashers. The crackers were stock piled for bonfire night but some were set aside to practice the cooking of the spuds celebration on some of the days and nights leading up to bonfire night.

Bonfire night, also know as cracker night, is observed on November fifth to commemorate the capture of Guy Fawkes and by burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes who was a member of the Gunpowder Plot. We didn’t really care about Guy Fawkes and the plot to blow up British Parliament. It was just an excuse to blow up letter boxes, throw penny bungers down street drains or at each other, lob tom thumbs anywhere and everywhere, shoot sky rockets from milk or beer bottles, build a bonfire, and bury potatoes in the ashes of the bonfire.

We built our bonfire on the grassy area on the Strand where we played end to end football and pick-up cricket games. In the weeks leading up to the lighting of the bonfire and cracker night the gang: Andrew Lambrainew, Ray Cowmeadow, Alwyn Robertson, my brother Peter, and sometimes Froggie Norton, and Butch and me, would spend after school until teatime and all day on weekends knocking on neighbors doors asking for anything that was flammable. Some neighbors had been saving combustibles for months. We dragged and hauled car tires, paint cans, mattresses, furniture and anything wood; anything burnable: anything that burnt with a thick acrid black smoke. The neighbors also lugged their own rubbish and piled it onto the bonnie. We wanted to have the biggest and best bonfire on the Strand. The bonfire grew and stretched into the sky and seemed to spread out as you watched it. After tea we would sit into the night guarding our bonnie from other gangs intent on stealing and plundering to better their own bonfires.

On November fifth, as the daylight dimmed, the neighbors converged on the bonnie. The little ones would be dressed in their pajamas and dressing gowns and they would be made to hold their mum’s hand to watch the lighting of the bonfire. We would throw and spray petrol and any other flammable liquid on to the base to help with the lighting. There was no choreographed to music pyrotechnic display with the sky always full of fireworks for twenty minutes ; the Catherine wheels would spin, the little ones free from their mums hands would write their name with sparklers in the dark, and sky rockets would burst randomly in the sky and we would throw a few tom thumbs and penny bungers.

It must have been a genetic DNA inheritance because over the years our simple actions with sparklers were transformed into rituals and cracker celebrations. No one taught or told us but we knew we had to keep a cache of bungers, sky rockets, and tom thumbs for the cooking of the spuds celebration. When the fire had burnt down and everyone had gone home we would throw our potatoes into the ashes and let the ritual of the cracker fight and the spud celebration begin. You just sort of knew how to hold tom thumbs between your fingers and when they started to explode be able to throw them accurately at your best friend. Aiming a sky rocket in a milk bottle and lighting it while your human prey ducked and weaved took a steady hand and a keen eye. You never just threw a lighted penny bunger during the celebration; you would quickly put it in a can and then throw the can with the bunger. It took skill and timing to heave the can and have it close to your target when the bunger exploded.

New Type Sky Rockets
Where’s the Milk Bottle
sky rockets john&skyrocket

After fishing the spuds out of the ashes we would sit together as a small band of brothers. We used our soot covered hands to wipe the specks of burnt rubber, paint, black carbon, charred fabric and ashes away. We didn’t taste all the carcinogenic dioxins, hydrocarbons, mercury, lead, chromium, and arsenic; the spuds just tasted of burnt rubber and smelt like petrol.

I think a lot of things that we did were just preparing us for some later similar occurrence or transformation that we will experience; we just didn’t know it at the time. The cooking of the spuds celebration was laying the ground work for me looking at the burning bodies on the Varanasi ghats on the banks of the river Ganges. I remember my eyes stinging from the smoke and the smell of sandalwood scented smoke and barbecue. None of our spuds exploded and the spud soul was never released.

Those were the days: the days we didn’t have to license our fun hormones.

 

Sydney Welcome 2015 Fireworks

Man Killed Launching Fireworks off Head

The Gunpowder Plot

The Tooth Fairy Left Me a Cyborg

When I read the headline in the Age Fake dentist operating in Melbourne’s northern suburbs I at first wondered why anyone would want to be a dentist so bad that they would just do it without any schooling. As I read further it was about Mr Velipasaoglu who was trained as a dentist in Turkey but was not qualified to practice in Australia. So I wondered what makes a person a qualified dentist; and where do dentists come from.

Throughout the fifties and sixties, dental hygiene and management weren’t really practised in Australia; it certainly wasn’t in my family and the catchphrase about teeth was if they start hurting get them taken out. But I think there was a degree of hurt that would concede a visit to the dentist was in order and curative work could be considered.

I thought back to what I remember about my early dentist experience. I don’t remember his name but my mother kept repeating that he was a relative of ours; some distant cousin, or something as obscure and that he wouldn’t hurt us. We rode our bikes everywhere in Williamstown, even to the dentist; 72 Electra Street Williamstown. The building was a non-descript double-fronted cream brick veneer structure, the second building down from the corner of Douglas Parade and Ferguson Streets.

There was a waiting room to the right as you went in and the surgery was on the left. I vaguely remember waiting in the waiting room wondering what the strange odours were. I didn’t smell chloroform or ether again until I was studying chemistry at Footscray Institute of Technology. I know my mother would never tell us an untruth, but it did hurt. Sitting back in the chair you knew when the drill would stop spinning because you would watch the chains and pulleys slow down as the drill was pushed into the tooth. And that’s when you had the different levels of pain, and there was also no escaping that burning smell. How I dreaded each visit but I did have more fillings. I think that this dentist relative of ours wore rimless glasses.

When I was old enough to no longer listen to my mother I never really went back to the dentist again. Fillings fell out and new cavities appeared, and I ate a lot of soft foods. Whenever we journey back to Australia the meat pie and sausage roll are the first on my list of must-eats. Some habits just die hard.

They say that America is the land of opportunity. So I decided I was going to save my teeth and give them a new life. And I would eat hard foods that needed severe chomping: the chewing of sound and fury. I braved bone implants, bridges, caps and root canals, fillings and extractions to reach crunch domination. Three dentists a periodontist and an endodontist have been part of the save the teeth team. I remember my first visit to the first of the three dentists. I don’t think he looked in my mouth; the hygienist pushed a probe between the gum and the roots of my teeth and she repeated numbers as she wrote them on a chart. Two four, four eight, eight eight, sixteen two and so on. She then cleaned my teeth. When the dentist came into the room the hygienist shared the chart she had written the numbers on and all I overheard from their hushed conversation was; bicuspid, bite and bifurcation. We made two follow up appointments: to extract a front tooth and prepare a bridge and then to struggle with three fillings.

Save the teeth was set in motion.

I think the dental office was in a building on South 17th street but has since been demolished to make way for the Omaha skyline landmark First National Bank of Omaha Corporate office. But all I could see, my body tense and rigid and my hands clenching and gripping that arms of the chair, as I lay facing the window, was a huge ceramic pot containing a lonely amaryllis bulb. I was referred to the periodontist by my first Omaha dentist, Dr Steve Wachter: it was soon after when he saw his last gum tree.

On my first visit to the periodontist, the hygienist pushed a probe between the gum and the roots of my teeth and she repeated numbers as she wrote them on a chart. Two four, four eight, eight eight, sixteen two and so on. Dr Swain was committed to saving my teeth; he peeled my gums back to expose the jaw bone for bone grafts and then stitched the gums back in place with the sewing dexterity that I thought only my mum could ever have. Swain deadened my jaw and most of my face with abundant amounts of lidocaine, articaine, and epinephrine but I was still tense, rigid and skittish. I would spend several hours in the dental chair on each visit and it was during my second visit that I thought about the heavy use of the numbers that were factors of two: two four, four eight, eight eight, sixteen two. And all the dental words that had the prefix bi. Maybe it was the lidocaine but my mind went back to form 5AB at Williamstown Technical School.

williamstown technical school form-5AB

Form 5AB. John McAdam 2nd from right top row. John Colville 4th from right top row. Robert Ballard 5th from right top row. Gunter Jergens 1st from left 2nd row. Kevin Thompson 2nd from left 1st row. John Savory middle 1st row.

We were two years past Mr Stonehouse’s class but John Colville and Robert Ballard and a lot of the form 3AB boys were still classmates. We were introduced to the concept of the new Math; Venn diagrams, intersection and union of sets, matrices, and numbering systems that were not base ten. It was the time of Sputnik and the Explorer satellites and we were told that computers were going to engineer the future of humankind and they used binary, octal or hexadecimal numbering systems. We mastered the subtleties of only using ones and zeros to express numbers and became masters of the binary number system; a numbering system that uses the base two.

I never put it all together before now. I started to look forward to my doses of lidocaine, articaine, and epinephrine because it unloaded my mind of daily occurrences and allowed me to focus on the fact that dentists and periodontists communicate mostly with a binary number system and in a language that contains a lot of bites. It was like a computer talking to a computer; they were humanoids. I mused over my epiphany every Swain visit; he had done all he could with bone grafts and scaling of the jaw bone and I was getting comfortable in his presence and was preparing to confront him about my humanoid theory when just like Wachter, he saw his last gum tree.

So I’m now back with the dentist I should have always been with: even though he has had to extract a couple of teeth he has also capped and filled others. He is a loyal save the teeth team member. Whenever he adjusts the chair so I’m in an upward prone position I turn away from the blinding white light and just whisper knowingly: convergent evolution humanoids. As soon as the instruments are put in my mouth I say things like; did you use a laser blade to shave this morning, or isn’t it around your lunchtime, are you going out for a byte. And when I leave the dental office; there is so much roadwork on Dodge Street I’m going to have to take the R2 detour home.

The drive to my dentists’ office takes me down two of Omaha’s major streets. Depending on my route I can pass; casual fast-food drive-throughs, coffee shop drive-throughs, pharmacy drive-throughs, furniture pick up drive-through, a bank drive-through, a library book return drive-through, a job fair drive-through and a pizza drive-through. Maybe they should have a dentist drive-through.

 

Crazy Alien Dentist App for Android

Frank Zappa Moving To Montana:Dental Floss Tycoon

Universal Numbering System

Standing in the Corner Watching Television

If it weren’t for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we’d still be eating frozen radio dinners. Johnny Carson (1925 – 2005)

I really didn’t grow up with television. I first saw television from the footpath outside the windows of the Patersons Furniture Store in Ferguson Street, Williamstown. It was a small black and white television; at that time thought of to be extremely large, and I together with a large crowd that spilled onto the road watched as former 3DB radio announcer Geoff Corke who later was known as Corkey King Of The Kids introduced GTV9’s first test television broadcast: Everything’s fine on GTV Channel 9. We watched the black and white static mesmerized. The 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games were broadcast as a test transmission. Australia did well at those games; Murray Rose won three gold medals in swimming, and Betty Cuthbert became the Golden Girl by winning three gold medals in track.

image source:nma.gov.au

It seemed as if every shop window had a television set in it and every television was showing a black and white grainy image. The footpaths became congested places. I only knew that television sets cost a lot of money. Programming was only for a few hours each day and the test pattern was broadcast for the rest of the time that the three channels were on air; Melbourne had GTV channel nine and HSV channel seven and the government channel ABC channel two. So we were like many families and didn’t get a television when they first came out. Each afternoon after getting home from school and before tea I would sit glued to the wireless listening to the Air Adventures of Biggles, Superman, and the Adventures of the Sea Hound. Sometimes we would have a special night out: the family was invited to friends of mum and dad’s up the street to watch television.

image source:nostalgiacentral.com

After tea, we would walk animated up Peel Street and do all we could to contain our anticipation and excitement. We would only stay and watch TV for a couple of hours: bedtime was early for me and my brother and besides television stopped broadcasting around ten o’clock. Sometimes we would stay and watch the test pattern; it always followed the playing of God Save the Queen and the Australian flag.

And then we got a television set. The inside layout of our house in Peel Street was typical of a lot of houses built in the early nineteen hundreds. It had a central passageway with my mum and dad’s bedroom and lounge room in the front of the house and a few steps down the passage opposite the dining room the bedroom I shared with my brother. The kitchen was at the end of the passageway and a spare room that became my bedroom was off the dining room.

Peel Street
Lounge Room
Passage
Peel-st Peel-st-lounge-room Peel-st-passage

The lounge room was reserved for entertaining guests; it had a couch and a couple of large soft chairs and a glass door cabinet that housed and displayed my mother’s crystal, silverware, and other collectables. His Master Voice television sat supreme in the lounge room; the tube and those big valves were inside a honey-coloured wood cabinet that was on legs. My mother insisted that we had to turn the volume down when we turned the tuner knob to change channels otherwise we would break something.

Nanna and Granddad would walk down Peel Street after tea from Eliza Street every weekday night and stay until about 9:00 o’clock before walking back home to bed: just as we used to walk some nights up Peel Street years ago to watch TV. Nanna would sit at the kitchen table and do the Australian Post crossword while my mum sewed, ironed or knitted. Mum would sneak words into the crossword while she ate her dinner and at other times during the day. The Australian Post was a weekly picture magazine and was read by all of Australia; it was a curious blend of scandal, human interest stories, sensationalism, entertainment and pin-up photos. You always read last weeks and earlier Post’s when waiting for a haircut at the barber’s shop. While the ladies spent their time in the kitchen granddad sat with me in the lounge room. I’d stretch out on the couch and he would sit in a chair to soak up the television. I didn’t understand it at the time but within twenty minutes his head would drop to his chest and he would be asleep.

image source:pixabay

We always thought that cousin Bruce was too young to play in the paddock or go with us on Market Day to the Dandenong Market. Years later he would take the Blue Harris from Dandenong and stay for a few days of the school holidays with Nanna in Eliza Street. He would walk down Peel Street and together we allowed both of our young teenage minds to be shaped by daytime television; we watch it all afternoon.

That was the last that I remember of strenuously watching television. I do remember Eric Pearce announcing the Cuban Blockade. I was drifting into my teenage and professional student years and was deciding to watch sometimes only cool television. I entered the world of change and uncertainty; rock and roll, sixties and seventies women, alcoholic oblivion, The Masters’ Apprentices, The Twilights, and more: I gave little thought to television until London. Friday nights in London became must be home by 10:00 pm to watch Monty Python Show and must also be home on other nights to watch the Benny Hill Show and Steptoe and Son.

Kitchen Sink OWH

image source:johnmcadam

In 1991 the television show Everything but the Sink was created. It was broadcast on an educational television channel: the channel was one of the public, educational, and government access channels in Omaha provided by the cable franchising authority contacting with a city. The set was a 1960’s kitchen in limbo. I talked to my guests, read the paper, watched television, ate doughnuts and drank coffee. It became an Omaha cult favourite. I did radio talk shows and the daily paper tried to explain Everything but the Sink.

Everything But the Sink
Playful Talk Radio

People still recognize me and acknowledge the program 25 years later. I suppose I was some sort of video viral blowout before YouTube and on-demand high definition digital video started narrowcasting across inter-connected devices. I wonder if all those people who watched the Sink were trying to become active participants in the stories that unfolded in the kitchen.

I still remember the great 1979 movie Being There; adapted from the 1970 novella by Jerzy Kosinski. Chance is a simple-minded, middle-aged, man and has lived his whole life gardening. Other than gardening, everything he knows has been learnt entirely from what he has seen and sees on television. When his benefactor the Old Man is discovered dead Chance is told by the lawyers that he must leave the townhouse he lives in so he packs a suitcase of clothes and takes his remote control and heads out into the world.

Maybe Grandad fell asleep in front of the television so he would forever hear God Save the Queen and watch the test pattern, or maybe he was channelling the concept for the future 1980 studio album Glass Houses and the lyrics for Sleeping with the Television On to a teenage Billy Joel.

 

I’m going to try going to sleep watching my smartphone.

Skyhooks Horror Movie

The Twilight Zone

Being There

Looking at the Dead

I just don’t like looking at bodies. I think I was around eighteen when my father died. I vaguely remember the coffin in the front of the room at the funeral parlour. It was open. I sat in the back of the room so I wouldn’t have to look in the coffin. The service was at Nelson Brothers. The building is still there; it’s a really cool art deco structure at the corner of Douglas Parade and Stevedore Streets Williamstown.

image source: jmcadam

I think the next time I sort of looked at a body was on a Varanasi ghat on the banks of the river Ganges. I couldn’t see the body because it was wrapped in white sheets, like an Egyptian mummy, and just visible through clouds of wafting sandalwood scented smoke. I remember my eyes stinging from the smoke and the smell of incense and barbecue. I didn’t go to Varanasi to look at bodies. It was a magical mystery tour with our friend Colin Stevens because we thought that George Harrison had studied and learned to play the sitar when sitting at the feet of Ravi Shankar in a small room in Varanasi. We thought it would be really cool to see the room. There was a lot of misunderstanding in the late seventies.

Hindus believe that casting the ashes of the deceased into the Ganges leads to salvation and the guarantee of a good afterlife. If the mourners and deceased are lucky the skull of the burning body will explode and release the soul to heaven. If this doesn’t happen then the chief mourner must crack it open. After the cremation, any remaining bones are thrown with the ashes into the river

image source:tripsavvy.com

We gave a small number of Rupee’s to a boatman to be taken onto the river in a small boat for a from the river view of the cremation ghats. Black vultures were perched on these floating things pecking at them furiously; others were diving straight at them as if they were heat-seeking missiles and after piecing the object with their beak soaring heavenward. We were told that many of India’s poor can’t afford to buy enough wood for a complete cremation so many half-burnt bodies are thrown into the river.

At the foot of the steps people were bathing in the sacred waters: submerging themselves and splashing their bodies; their sins washed away. Cows were wallowing and enjoying themselves in the same holy Ganges waters.

We visited the hospital room on an early 2015 spring afternoon. My brother in law was in a two week prolonged coma. Doctors had diagnosed that he would not wake and estimated that his departure would be in twelve to twenty-four hours. I allowed myself a furtive glance. He looked peaceful and restful as if in a deep sleep. There was a wadded bandage taped across part of his temple. Doctors had drilled through his skull to drain blood that had formed on his brain. Twelve hours later he succumbed. It was April 4th.

The family viewing was two days later. I had a surreptitious searching glance at the body in the coffin: and the glance became a goggle. And I goggled and goggled. There was no wadded bandage on the temple and there was no sign of a hole drilled through the skull. The embalmer had created magic; I thought of the chief mourner at a cremation ghat on the banks of the Ganges.

Some time ago I had decided that I wanted to be cremated: half my ashes left in Nebraska and the other half scattered from the Strand into and onto Port Philip Bay, Australia.

One of my granddads had his ashes scattered over Port Phillip Bay. Grandad Bob rented a room at the Customs House Hotel in Nelson Place. Through the window of the public bar of the hotel, you could see the pilot boats tied at the Gem Pier: a short walk across the Commonwealth reserve. He died as a result of hitting his head on a steel bulkhead or a door on one of the pilot boats. He was an engineer on the small boats that took the marine pilots onto the bay to meet the cargo ships. They exchanged pilots; swapping the pilot who successfully guided the ship through the rip, a dangerous stretch of water in Victoria connecting Port Phillip and Bass Strait, with a skilled wheelman to guide the ship up the Yarra River.

I spent many Saturday afternoons at the Gem Pier with Andrew Lambrianew. We would jettison our bikes on the pier and somehow balance on the edge to swing under the Gem to climb and balance and walk along the stringers and braces to discover nooks where we could sit for hours to talk and watch. We would also walk the pier asking if we could board the pilot boats as they were leaving to meet the waiting cargo ships.

The Gellibrand and Breakwater Piers were further along Nelson Place.

The request in my will is simple: a sprinkling around the seagulls and black swans. I have no wish for sandalwood or ghee or being wrapped in gold or silver. But maybe I should consider a sarcophagus: I could then be discovered by an eminent archaeologist and made available for viewing.

Dead Poets Society

Day of the Dead

The Day the Music Died

It’s just not Cricket

On April 10th 2015 the Australian newspaper headlines screamed that Australian Cricket great Richie Benaud was dead at age 84. He was the first cricketer to reach a Test double of 2,000 runs and 200 wickets and it is said by many that after Don Bradman no Australian cricket player is more famous than Richie Benaud.

Cricket is a game played between two teams of eleven players each. To win one team needs to score more runs than the other. Depending on the runs scored and the wickets taken a test cricket can be played over 5 days. In every cricket game there are two sides; one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out. When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!

Benaud blended deft leg spin bowling with artful batting prowess. He became Australia’s Test captain in 1958 and led the team until 1964. It must have been the 1956 ashes series in England, before Benaud was captain that I remember. The five tests were played June through August in a tepid English summer but a typical dank, chilly, Melbourne winter. On foggy winter nights, cocooned in woolen blankets at Peel Street, with the radio down low I was put to sleep by the erudite and snobbish descriptions of play and the mournful fog horns warning cargo ships of the close foreshore as they navigated the Yarra estuary.

England retained the Ashes winning two tests. Australia won one test and two were drawn. Jim Laker for England captured 19 wickets: 10 in the second innings of the 4th test at Old Trafford Manchester.

Benaud bowled 47 overs: 17 of those maidens and took 2 wickets for 123 runs.

1956 was a big sporting year for me: I remember a summer afternoon in November sitting in the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) watching track and field Olympic events. The 1956 Summer Olympics were the catalyst for the start of commercial television in Australia. The Olympics were broadcast as a test transmission. And that summer there was also the pick-up cricket games on the strand with Andrew Lambrainew, Ray Cowmeadow, Alwyn Robertson, my brother Peter, and sometimes Froggie Norton and Butch: in bowling we tried to master the googly, yorker, full toss, and leg cutter and when batting the silky skills of Bradman, Harvey, and Miller.

It was also around that time when I played in my only cricket game. One afternoon a week I would stay back after school for cricket practice. Alan Self and Ray Cowmeadow were always the captains of the 2 teams that were formed for the practice: Alan for his fast bowling prowess and Ray for his artful batting. I was never a captains pick and ended up with a couple of the other leftovers who were sent out to field the ball when either team batted. I never got to touch the ball or bat during practice but I often got to collect and carry in the wickets.

The historic day of my first and only cricket match was when North Williamstown Primary School was to play some other primary school. As well as the firsts team they had to field a seconds cricket team to play the leftovers from the other school. We played the game at what was left of the old historic Williamstown Racecourse.

I remember going into bat: the wind was blowing in from the nearby bay and the blue sky was filled with puffy white clouds. I know I didn’t take stance or center for the crease but just hit my shoe with the bat a few times. I do remember that we were not padded up. I don’t remember what ball it was and I don’t remember what shot I tried to play but runs were scored. I made a few more runs and was not out when the days play ended.

On that day I became the world’s greatest cricketer, a sporting legend, but still Alan Self and Ray Cowmeadow never picked me for one of the practice teams and every practice I went out to field the ball that never came to me. But deep down I knew that I was a cricket prodigy.

The grassy area on the Strand where we played end to end football, built bonfires an, pit ourselves in pick-up cricket games with Andrew, Ray Cowmeadow, Alwyn, Peter, and sometimes Froggie Norton and Butch is now a baseball field reserve.

Australia is the current 2015 Cricket World Cup Champions. Teams from England, South Africa, India, Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland, and United Arab Emirates played 49 matches of one day international cricket in 14 different venues to decide the World Cup. Baseball World Series is a seven game playoff between the American League and National League pennant winners.

I suppose it makes sense for a baseball field reserve to be on the Strand.

In July 2015 Australia ventures to England defend the ashes after humiliating England in Australia winning five 5 tests to none. There are no more Jim Lakers in England but there is Mitch Johnson for Australia.

I still check the scores when ever Australia is playing in a test series.

“The slow-motion replay doesn’t show how fast the ball was really traveling.” Richie Benaud (1930-2015)

Rules of Cricket.

Cricket great Richie Benaud Dead

Sir Donald Bradman: The Don.