Sunday, 27 June 2010

When Tarzan passed me by

Curiously I do not aspire to be someone else. This of course has not always been the case. Many years ago when Johnny Weismuller was Tarzan at the flicks I desperately wanted to be him. He was everything that a ten year old boy aspired to. His skills at handing animals, the jungle and Jane were a terrible obsession for me.

What more could a young boy want to be but a man for all seasons, battling foes, deadly creatures and best of all being admired by the nubile Jane.

Apart from taking the dog for a walk at home or avoiding the cat swinging a clawed paw at me life was pretty dull. Where we lived in the outskirts of a small town not 40 miles from London the wildest animals seen would be the squirrels in the trees or a wily fox slinking along in the half light.

Just to make matters worse at that time I couldn't even swim. Tarzan swam with enormous energy at an amazing speed, as of course he could in real life, having been an Olympic champion.

My brother and I often attempted to build a tree house, filching our father's tools, nails and pieces of wood to construct a miserable platform that fell to bits because we were just not competent enough. We competed of course as to whom was actually Tarzan and I being the smaller, weaker one never had a chance.

Generally, our efforts were doomed because we had no sense of quiet. Everything we did was noisily performed. Wild animals kept very clear of us and so did all the potential Janes who hearing our whooping calls would certainly make off in the opposite direction.

As adolescence came so the need to climb trees and fashion bows and arrows left me and even my other aspiration of being a steam train driver waned when a friendly driver invited us up onto the foot plate of his engine one day when we admiring his fire breathing monster. Exciting it was but dirty, so dirty in fact that even a grub like me shrank back in horror at his greasy black hands and his face covered in soot.

So as the years pass I am glad that my time has not been spent wishing I was someone else. However, I should be glad to be remembered as a character, hero and villain in my own life that my children and grandchildren can look back upon with awe and respect as I jumped over the logs in the river of life.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Sally Kidman's baby

Sally Kidman was a delight. She was the sort of girl that you could take home to meet the parents. Sally was a good sport, always friendly, always willing to help and she made the rest of our group look good when she was around.

She had a pleasant straight forward face that was good to look at. But it was her personality and sense of fun, which seemed to sparkle in her eyes, that everyone loved. I also liked her nice, long, curvy legs, but that was just me. Most of us had been around together since we were in High School. We had dated each other, played sport together and usually sought each others company at the weekends. As we grew up, went to college got jobs, our early friendship seemed to stick.

Sally was a kidder. She was always happy and loved to play the fool. Yet whenever anything serious happened she was always the one that seemed to know the right thing to do. There was the time that Dave smashed his up leg coming off his motorcycle. She was first to visit him in hospital, and instead of taking him flowers or chocolates took him a 'Playboy' instead. That was Sally, very considerate.

Even when we were in our twenties, she never changed much. We had a thing about going to Roger's place on Friday nights to play cards and listen to music. He had this enormous house that he rented for a song. Something to do with an 'As found lease'. If anything went wrong, Roger had to fix it. He was lucky though, apart from a few small plumbing bills, he never seemed to have many expenses. Anyway back to this Friday night. I had got engaged by this time. Rose wasn't one of the original mob but she certainly fitted in. She loved the mateship of our group. We had all had a few drinks and Roger suggested a card game with a difference. He gave all the girls an even numbered card and all the blokes an odd one. Then one of the girls had to go out of the room and call out an odd number at random. The holder of that card went to pay a call on her for thirty seconds then she came back while he picked out an even number, and so on. It was something like Spin the bottle in effect. Except that while the thirty seconds was on, everyone had to swap their cards with another player of the same sex. When this was explained, nobody demurred, but I glanced anxiously over to Rose to see how she had reacted. She just raised her eyebrows and opened her arms a with palms upwards indicating 'What the hell', so we all played.

Well everyone seemed to get a go, except Sally and me. Rose thought it was great laugh. In fact most of the group thought it was scream. Eventually Sally gets called out and in much less that the allotted time Paul Deveraux came back with a deadpan face. They had broken up a few months previous so things must have still been a bit cool.

As luck had it, she selected my number next. Out I go, and in the darkness of the Hall, I reached for her, found her face, touched it lightly and said, "I really like you Sal." She pulled my hand down placed it on her left breast and said quickly, "No time to talk. Kiss!" She enveloped me, we devoured each other. For the first time I found out how passionate she could be under her usual controlled exterior. I loved it. We were broken up by a knocking on the door. "Time's up you two." Then she reached for my cheek, touched it lightly and said, "I really like you too." Sally then returned to the Lounge Room, and announced, "This is a silly game. Let's do something else."

They all must have agreed because next thing I was called back in, and they were setting up to play 'Newmarket'. As I sat with Rose and she whispered in my ear, "Doesn't she like you?" That was Sally, very diplomatic.

By the time Rose and I had got married, Sally was going steady with Tony. Although he hadn't gone to school with us, we had both done a Business Management course together and he had been co-opted into the group. They had been living together in a house at Plympton for some months, and one Sunday afternoon coming back from seeing Rose's Mum at Kingswood, we dropped in to ask them to dinner the following week. Rose was a bit tired and said that we could probably get a cup of tea there too. We tried the front door but there was no answer, so I went round the back, only to find her on her own weeding in the garden.

She grinned up at me, glowing with exertion. She brushed a flick of hair from her face.
"Thank God you came, I was looking for an excuse to stop." We went in by the back door and I let Rose in at the front. She collapsed on the settee in the Lounge, slipped her shoes off and put her feet up. Sally shed some of her gardening gear and went in to say hello to Rose.

I went into the Kitchen and sang out that I was going to put the kettle on. As I was clattering about in the Kitchen, looking for cups and things I heard Sally go into the Bathroom to tidy up. She came out moments later with a tank top and jeans on. "You look good enough to eat." I said. She offered up a bare arm. "Bon appetit." As I pursed my lips and bent to kiss her arm, she put her other arm around me and hugged me tight. "Who's going to be a Daddy then?"

"What me?" I said stupidly. Rose, could hear us from the Lounge. "Oh Sal, you've told him have you? He wouldn't have guessed. Not until the baby popped out in front of him." We all laughed. That was Sally, intuitive.

Eventually Sally got married too. Tony was the lucky guy. We saw quite a lot of them in those days. It was the card evenings that were the most fun though. Sally had this silly way of saying, when she won the kitty, "Its mine, all mine." When anyone else won it, she would exclaim, "Cheating rogues." She too got pregnant after a couple of years marriage. She really seemed to bloom. The card games continued and when her bump was most noticeable she would put her stake money on the bulge and instead of her 'its mine all mine' routine, she would say, "Its ours, all ours, Baby."

It was in her eighth month that things started to go wrong, it was Toxaemia or something like that. She was rushed to hospital one morning before Tony had gone to work. She aborted; her baby was dead inside her. Before long she was fighting for her own life. They couldn't save her.

Rose's brother is an ambulance officer, and he heard that after she died, the mortuary attendant said how heart rending it was, to prepare the body of both the mother and child together. They placed the baby in Sally's arms in her coffin. The attendant, who Rose's brother said, is usually quite hard bitten, said there were tears in Sally's eyes when he did so. There is probably some quite reasonable explanation for this. But Sally was always straight up and would always show you how she felt.

That was Sally.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The killing of a super hero

The saddest thing about growing up is killing off your super heroes. Of course my super hero was my Dad. And soon after I started work I killed him dead, metaphorically that is.

He was my super hero because he adored my Mum, he had been a sportsmen in his youth and as a young man, and around the house he was always able to fix things. So there you have it a loving, sporty, wonder man. So he surely was my superhero.

He was very loving husband and probably drove all the other relations mad the way he hugged and kissed my Mum. Demonstrative love was not normal for working class people after the first bloom of marriage had worn off.

He played soccer for his works team, cricket for the town side and was a champion billiards player. He taught us boys the rudiments of many card games which was very useful at the family get togethers that occurred at Christmas time so we could compete well. He came out to referee a scratch match of football with local boys on the neighbourhood sports ground during the vacation period.

Above all he had a great sense of humour. I loved him.

When I got my first job, one of the perks was a yearly trip to London to attend a Building exhibition for architects, builders and other specialists to enable to keep up with the latest trends in the business.

After a trip there one year I thought I would call in to see him at his work place before I went home. I searched every depot that he was likely to be but his mates all gave the same excuse. "Oh he gone down to Fisher Street" or "He'll be at Conduit Street now."

I never caught up with him. And sadly instead of being able to go for a beer with him after work, I caught the train home alone, pondering about him. Later I found out that he had just taken a hour off work and gone home early. But as I sat in that railway carriage alone being whisked through the suburbs of London on a dark and dismal evening in November I thought about life, families and the future.

What I worked out was that I had been given a wonderful lesson in life. That small event of no consequence at first sight had set me free to be my own self. Already in my life I had travelled to France alone as a 16 year old. I was already well thought of at my new job. I even had a life and friends that didn't include my family but it was this very small event that somehow established me as an independent person.

What I discovered was that my father was not a superhero anymore, and he didn't need to be. He had done his job, taught me a lot and set some great examples and it was my job now to live up to them. If I made mistakes that was my responsibility from now on.

I do hope those characteristics in him that I so admired live on in me and that my children will also learn too, then break free to be superheroes to their children too.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Who's going to clean this mess up then?

"Who's going to clear up this mess then?"

I knew it would be me. It came with the job. That of being a parent with a child who just had to have a puppy. Why we called him Roger I have no idea. I think it came from the need to take him for a walk to "do his business " as the expression goes. So it was me that called out to him "OK Roger, over and out" from fighter pilot talk of so long ago.

Dogs have always been one of the family both when I was a child and from soon after we got married. The names we gave them never were distinguished; it was always, Bob, Roger, Rusty and so on to make them feel that they were part of the family I suppose - one of us so to speak. Thinking back our dogs never aspired to greatness. They fitted in, did their job willingly and chose the warmest place in front of the fire as was their right.

What was their job you will ask? Bark I suppose, at both invited and uninvited guests. Knock small children over with their wagging tails and disappear without trace to show how important they were when you needed to shut them in when you were going out.

I used to catch a train to work which was only a few minutes walk from home. Dogs are not daft, we are. When I got to the station one morning the dog was waiting for me on the platform just to check to see where I went each day! "Go home" I ordered and he reluctantly slunk off while I just managed to get on the train before it left.

There was a time when our dog and one of the others in the street would somehow get out to meet each other to get away from humans for a bit to do their own canine thing. Ours had a friend from down the road that used to wait until ours had dug his way under the fence and then they would take off at a speed to make their calls; tease the dogs shut in and couldn't get out, chase rabbits and other smaller creatures quite fruitlessly and find some really foul stagnant water to bathe in. Then they would come home stinking, tired out and look at you as though to say isn't dinner ready yet?

My wife before we were married had a Labrador that had a penchant for chewing holes in socks when left alone and even tried reading newspapers and library books. That however usually resulted in shredded newspaper or books with the covers half chewed off.

Most of our dogs could talk. Not that anyone else would know that. We just put words into the dog's mind and one of us would sing it out in a dog like voice. Being dogs they would sometimes struggle with the language and mispronounce words and get names a little wrong. It certainly helped to be a little mad in our house as the whole family were putting words into the dogs mouth. One dog had extreme difficulty with my name and called me "Mr. Kipper".

I forgot to mention their most important job which was of course to love you unreservedly. They were very happy when you were too, and knew just when a snuggle up to you was appropriate if you were feeling down.

For all the dog messes of the foulest kind that I cleaned up I regretted not one because so much was given to us all by our pet dogs. And as each one took their leave many tears were shed at their leaving even though they stayed on in our hearts to be remembered and talked about many many years later.