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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stuck on you: my early love life [Part 1 of 2]

Look, I suppose I better be upfront about this right from the start. If you are hoping for a full frontal exposé in the style of D H Lawrence in Lady Chat, then you may as well go back to the sort of thing the elderly lady beside me was reading in chemotherapy the other day, and getting quite flushed in the cheeks. She would read a page, use the book to fan her face, avert the text from me – something about Falconhurst and slaves - and then resume reading. I do know she was 79, having heard her date of birth read out by the nurse, and for someone having cytotoxins pumped into her at the time, she was enjoying herself a good deal more than she was letting on. Then she’d complain about how lurid the novel was, but it was pretty clear to me that the lady was protesting way too much.

Anyway, that’s not going to happen. The account of my romances, as my age clicked over to something ending in ‘teen’, bears no resemblance either to that novel or what was rumoured to have happened in Koppo’s purpose-built cubbyhouse under the wooden floor of the Diggers Arms Hall, a space about a metre high. The courtship, it was claimed, was between Koppo and the new Diggers Arms publican’s daughter. Bimbo Brown and I were privileged to inspect this love nest on the way home from Sunday School once, and it was pretty danged impressive, I can tell you. At the time, I had no idea what it was for really, or what 'they' claimed it was for, but it looked a great place to have a comfy snooze one arvo or hide from a bushwacking by Wayney Wright with his star-spangled gun.

Then word got around that the cubby was there, and the publican demolished it promptly, which I thought was a great pity, as it was nicely built, was quite private and had lots of old blankets. As I said, a great place for the lads to hang out, but obviously others thought it was a place of evil of a type I was blissfully unaware.

No, nothing like that sort of seaminess in my tale. This is about romance, passion of a gentler sort, worthy of the best traditions of a 1950s Mills and Boon…. HEY! Where are you all going? I haven’t started yet and already I’ve lost half my audience! Is romance dead? O ye of little faith – have I let you down so far? 

Oh…. I see. Well, I’ll try not to this time. At least my wife, my daughters and sisters can breathe a sigh of relief that the family name is not going to be blackened entirely. A Whiter Shade of Pale, perhaps, by the end - a bit grey, but not entirely trashed.

Enough of this nonsense, let’s get going.

Lorraine Rideout [pronounced ‘ride-out’] was from Targinnie, just down from the Yarwun White Russian settlement amongst the paw-paw farms. Targinnie was so small that the YOU HAVE JUST ENTERED TARGINNIE welcome sign doubled as the YOU HAVE JUST LEFT TARGINNIE goodbye one. Leastways, someone had put a line through ENTERED and neatly printed above it LEFT, and it remained like that until another person or persons unknown demolished it entirely with a .303 rifle. Some blamed the Russians but I never believed that, as my White Russian friend Alec Guerassimov from Yarwun, the most likely person to have done it, only had an old .410 bore shotgun. But Targinnie was as pretty an area as the name suggests, nestling in the low hills with Mt Larcom in the background.

Lorraine Rideout was my girl. There, I’ve confessed that, and what that entailed on her part was not particularly onerous - probably more so for her parents in fact. She badgered them to drive her to the dance at Calliope every Saturday night that one was on – about 40 km each way – and it was a good social outing for the family. ‘Chippie’ Rideout sat in the pub opposite the Diggers Arms Hall and drank beer till closing time. 

Everybody in Calliope drank beer, as wine of any description hadn’t been invented yet as far as we were concerned. In fact, round 1960, anyone who might have been so weird as to ask for wine at the Diggers Arms would have been regarded with great suspicion by the locals. It was claimed, though, that a rough red had once been served at the Top End pub near Milne's store, but a fight had almost erupted over the publican's insistence that the 10 oz. beer glass it was served in should also have a generous number of iceblocks in it. On the way to Biloela, the stranger, reportedly swarthy of appearance and merely wanting a drink for his wife in the lounge, won the war of words, but thereafter wine was not on displayed openly in the Top pub either. Words like 'Dago' were also alleged to have been used at the time, but I can't verify any of this.

Lorraine’s mother sat in one of the canvas chairs around the dance floor and watched like a hawk, just as any other mother with a teenage daughter at a country dance would do, eyeing the talent and possible competition. Lorraine herself only had to turn up and dance the night away with her One True Love, namely me. She had a cute bowl-over smile, good solid teeth [regarded as a strong asset where we came from], a turned up nose and bobbed honey-blond hair, and seemed as happy with the dancing arrangements as I was. She must have been, or the romance would have faded quickly, with the affaire de couer ending promptly: we don't have time to muck around in the country in matters of the heart. We danced every dance and never got tired of each other. In Gypsy Taps we twirled lightly through the waltz section, galloped through the gallops, and held each other tight during the Jazz Waltz. Well, as tightly as we dared – her mother didn’t miss a thing and scared me a bit.

In the Quickstep, there were a variety of complicated steps, few of which I could do well, though my sisters Jan and Lyn aced it every time if they had a partner who was any use at it. One of the ones with a high degree of difficulty was the Pivot. It’s even more complicated to explain than to do, but it was a step that was a bit like riding a bike no hands – you just had to speed up a bit, take a leap of faith that you’d retain balance and let go the handlebars, but the moment you thought about it too much you’d fall off the bike. Well, without pushing the analogy too far, as I can see some dangers in that as a visual image, pivoting during a Quickstep was like that - you clung to your partner, and spun foot to foot in tight whirling circles. It looked and felt spectacular when it came off, but pretty ordinary if it didn’t.

Came the winter night when my Lorraine walked into the hall, dressed in a smart woollen number that had lots of fancy vertical plaited threads joining the bodice to the skirt. I’m sorry if that’s the wrong description of the parts of the dress, but my mother and sisters were all dressmakers and used terms like that when sewing bits together so I have a vague idea. Anyway, I think you get it. It also had a belt, and the metal buckle was bound and completely covered by the same type of thread. This all becomes relevant in a minute, so bear with me.

That night, we tried to Pivot during the Quickstep and it worked a treat, so, near the end of the bracket, we tried it again, squeezing firmly together as you do when you Pivot. I was wearing a broad leather belt that was very smart – it had not one but three prongs and was even a bit Elvis Presleyish, and I’m sure I could have done a good impression of him if I looked like him, had jet black hair, was a foot taller, and could dance, sing and play the guitar in such a way as to shock vulnerable mothers, which was most of them round our way. 

I was not really qualified in any of those departments, so let’s just stick with the belt. We were doing that second Pivot, and going great guns, when the bracket of songs came to its scheduled end. All that remained was for me to escort her back to her seat near her mother, and to thank her formally for the dance. That was the way it was always done. We hadn’t entirely discarded the lessons of courtly boogeying of late 18th Century Europe, though how such etiquette made it down to us in 1960s Calliope remains a bit of a mystery I don’t even want to think about.

However, when we tried to ease ourselves apart as the dance ended, nothing happened. 
[continued] [Back to Index]

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