Day 61: 27 June 2017
Wednesday, 27 June 2018 08:45

When I was in year eleven at boarding school, I had corrective surgery on a hammer toe. A surgeon at the Geelong Hospital cut the tendons under a toe, straightened it, and drilled a hole deep inside. Whereupon, he inserted a metal bit, to keep the toe straight. Three months later, it hadn't worked. But what the failed surgery did do was that it got me out of playing a winter ball sport. To fill my afternoons and Saturdays, I was given the job of distributing and accounting for the school’s footballs, and being the official timekeeper for 1st XVIII football matches. The problem was that at season’s end, I’d lost fifty school footballs. Boys had pinched them. Keen to get my job back the following year, I asked the teacher in charge of football. ‘No way,’ he said. ‘Last year you lost fifty footballs.’ ‘What if I get them back?’ I replied, without having any clue as to how I might achieve it. ‘And how will you do that?’ he asked. By this stage my voice was running a lot faster than my brain. ‘Trust me, Sir. I will get them back.’ ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ he said. I took his words as permission to do whatever was needed to retrieve the lost, or rather stolen school footballs. The next morning, while everyone was in class, I borrowed the big wheelbarrow from maintenance, grabbed the school’s electric branding iron from the football shed, and set off for the boarding houses. It was a dangerous strategy, because there was a strong chance that boys in those houses might catch me, hold me down and ‘nugget’ my privates, using shoe polish. Yet, ninety minutes later, I’d found and branded more than one hundred footballs, many clearly privately owned and so named, some brand new, others just old school footballs. I then asked the teacher to look in the football shed. He saw immediately what I’d done. Yet he had, after all, given me permission to retrieve footballs. We both were in deep shit, but the man had no other choice but to give me back my job, and to keep our secret.

Day 59: 25 June 2017
Monday, 25 June 2018 07:11

I was, at the time, a jackaroo for the Hon. Malcolm Fraser MP, on his property, Nareen, and had come home for the weekend. My sister, who was confined to a wheelchair since contracting multiple sclerosis a year earlier, met me at the front door. She took me aside. Looking over her shoulder to check first that Mum was out of hearing range, she whispered, ‘I went to see our father’s grave this week’. I looked at her, puzzled. ‘Why on earth would you want to do that?’ I asked. ‘Michael,’ Penny replied. ‘We need to know about our father.’ I knew he was buried in the Cheltenham Cemetery, but that’s all I knew. An alcoholic, Mum had booted him out of the house when Penny and eight, and I was six. Afterwards, he took Penny and me to lunch on maybe four Sundays, but he soon lost interest in doing that, so that was the end of that. I’d never had any interest in visiting his gravesite. Penny persisted. ‘I just think you should go and look at his grave, that’s all I’m saying.’ In the weeks ahead, Penny’s words played on my mind, such that on my next visit home, I drove to the Cemetery, parked, and asked at the office for my directions to my father’s grave. ‘Your father’s name?’ asked the man. ‘David Kitchener Thornton,’ I answered. I left the office with a number written on a piece of paper, and directions to the grave. I had no idea what to expect, yet when I found the site, I was shocked to find there was nothing there. Even to find the grave, I had to count along from the nearest metal disc. No headstone, no disc; no nothing. Just a thistle growing above my dead father’s left knee. I began to cry. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I was sad, but I was also angry. ‘You bastard,’ I screamed. ‘Why couldn’t you get over the drinking, and provide for your family? Didn’t you know that Mum had to scrounge from our grandparents, just so we could live?’ I used the heel of my riding boot to grub out the thistle, while I cried.

Day 60: 26 June 2017
Tuesday, 26 June 2018 08:05

Yesterday, it was one yacht cruising seamlessly back into our gorgeous Oyster Cove. Right now, three sloops are coming and going at once. Even though the closest vessel is two hundred metres from me, the water is so still, that it carries the sailors' conversation above the quiet purr of their inboard motor right up to my table on the Mermaid Café balcony. Truly, this is paradise. Lately, I've had my eye on the Oyster Cove Inn, a huge, rambling pub with an interesting history. It overlooks the entire cove, so majestically, and it reminds me of a book I once read called The Back to Back Tango, by former Bulletin columnist, the late Ron Saw. Ron was a very funny man, having once asked a post office person if he could see an entire sheet of ordinary stamps, whereupon he chose the one in the middle. Ron's novel is about an advertising executive who, having suffered a midlife crisis, left his job and took on the running of a pub. It was kind of like Faulty Towers in that everything which could go wrong, did. Having live elephants in the foyer for the official re-opening was one of his mistakes. Of course, if we took on running the local Inn we'd have to engage someone to change the bed linen, and to cook, but otherwise I think it could work. I'm sure I'm a competent enough sales and people person to bedazzle a crowd. Plus, I can count. And, twice, I've worked behind a bar without getting smacked in the face. ‘Is everything okay, madam?’ ‘Are the meals satisfactory?’ ‘My, sir, you do look a lot like George Clooney.’ I think the secret will be to go the extra mile, like giving drinkers at the bar a free refill maybe once a year, and surprising repeat diners by bringing them a warm cob of garlic bread, making sure to mention it's on the house. I'd soon have patrons helping with the vacuuming.

Day 58: 24 June 2017
Monday, 25 June 2018 07:06

Prior to spending my nineteenth year working in (rich, distant) relatives’ woollen mills in England, Mum, my elder sister Penny and I visited Athens and Rome. We also planned to spend a week skiing at the highly-rated St Anton Am Alberg ski resort, in Austria. We arrived at St Anton mid-afternoon. Penny immediately took to her bed with a rotten cold. I hit the slopes, and managed to get in just two runs before mean-looking storm clouds arrived. The hotel manager told Mum that if we needed to be in England by Sunday, then we should catch the following morning’s train back to Zurich. Early the next morning, at the station, and standing in shallow water, we were told that all trains, in both directions, had been cancelled due to the blizzard now upon us. A German woman, who had planned to put her car on the train, approached us. ‘I vill take you to ze train in Freiburg,’ she said. ‘From there, you can go to Zurich.’ Somehow, we managed to bundle our luggage and ourselves into Susie’s small VW, and for the next twelve hours we slid all over the road, often crashing into snow-covered side barriers, as Susie fought a losing battle with her car’s steering and windscreen wipers. While Mum chatted to Susie, Penny, who sat next to me in the back seat and was still unwell, did her best not to throw up. As for me, I just sat there. It turned out that Susie was a doctor of science, a Freiburg City councillor, and a freelance journalist. What’s more, our guardian angel had once been to Australia, and had dated a grazier from near Mansfield, in north-east Victoria. My ears pricked. I wondered if it was the same farmer who’d dated the mother of a school friend. That man was a grazier from Mansfield, and had quite a reputation with ladies. I’d even been with my friend in the man’s car, and had also visited his holiday shack. Then she said his name, and I let out a small gasp. What a man, I thought.


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