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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Five-ex, blood, and the zebra twins 2

continued from part 1

   But even more vividly, I remember a strip of gravel between the road surface and the lush grass.

   That's where Bimbo and I made violent contact with ground zero at about a hundred and eighty thousand miles per second, contact mainly in the area of elbows, knees, cheekbones, palms and thighs, but also in way too many exposed spots in between. There was also a grinding noise in my head as it took its share.

clip from original by Watto
   Five-ex stopped dead and started grazing paspalum, having made his point. Bimbo and I were too winded and sore all over our bodies to do anything but lie there on our gravel bed. Both of us were soon in physical shock.

   "Don... don't tell Da... Dad...." whispered Bimbo.

   "Don't... don't tell mine ei... either...." I moaned back.

   "Don't be stupid all your bloody life."  He said it with absolute coherence and far too much conviction for my liking just before he kind-of slept for a little while. But somehow I felt too tired to resent it and I felt strangely sleepy too.

   We'd each managed to bang our heads fairly hard on the gravel. I think I let him go only as we hit the ground, when we burst apart like a sack of spuds. There didn't seem to be a lot of point holding on after that. As he said, neither of us was Sally Moran. My ignoble attempt at self-preservation did no more than take us both out. He probably could have saved himself if I'd let him go before that magical centre of gravity point was overreached at 9 o'clock high.

   No car, bike or pedestrian passed by. It pleased me at the time that there were no witnesses to the incident, except half a dozen surprised cows trimming the paspalum, and cows are good at keeping secrets.

   After some time, not more than a few minutes, we got to our feet. I shambled home on shaky legs while Bimbo crawled into the saddle. He was complaining a lot and I could understand why.

   As usual, my biggest worry was that I would get into trouble when I got home for doing this to myself. I hadn't actually broken any rules concerning horse riding as far as I could recall, but there was bound to be some fine print pointing to an infraction that evaded me for the moment and would be held against me.

   Getting into strife was always my first thought on such occasions, and yet, when I look at my childhood escapades, the number of times I did get into trouble was miniscule. As I crawled up the hill, I expected a parental tongue-lashing at the very least, and feared most whatever punishment would be meted out. A wimp, in other words.

   It was just my guilty conscience, that annoying part of me which, given my manifold sins and wickedness, always had good reason to be working overtime. That's if I got caught. Otherwise, it was entirely untroubled.

   Mum was still at the dairy, milking. There was no-one else at home. So I did what I always did in times of trouble. I went out to the verandah and lay on my bed. This time, I compounded my crimes by getting blood all over the bedspread.

   Oh great. I was going to be lashed with the stockwhip for that, for sure. There was a first time for everything. I closed my eyes, drifting in and out of this peculiar sleep I didn't understand.

   I woke just as Mum arrived home after milking, and came out to the verandah to see where I was. I was missing the ABC Children's Hour on the radio, which was unheard of for me, and I hadn't lit the stove.

   She gasped in horror when she saw me, looking as if I'd been through Arthur Shepherd's hammermill; dazed, bruised, with yards of skin missing and blood all over the covers.

   "I'm sorry about the bed, Mum. Bimbo and I fell off the racehorse and...." I trailed off.

   To my relief and comfort, she was remarkably unconcerned about the bed, or about scolding me for having been on the racehorse. She seemed horrified. I wasn't quite sure why, but then I hadn't seen myself in the mirror, which was just as well. I would have felt ten times worse. I assumed that look was due to the enormity of my misdeeds.

   She rushed for a basin of water and a sterile old towel recently boiled in the copper. The water was cold (I hadn't lit the fire, had I? Another fifty lashes.) but that was a good thing because it felt better cool than it would have if it were hot, even though the cleaning process stung like fire. She was of course also checking for evidence of broken bones, without alarming me by asking my opinion.

   As the wounds were cleaned, it became obvious that pretty much all the damage was superficial, by country folk standards. Not having discovered the egg on the top of my head till next day, she wasn't aware of likely concussion. I'd had tetanus shots recently following that other incident, so no inconvenient trip to Gladstone Hospital was needed.

   Country folk tend to go to Casualty Departments at hospitals only when there's a real emergency, like when an arm or leg is falling off, and only then at the discretion of the injured party. Poor old Bert Riding went only after he couldn't pee for two full days (he rode his horse the fifteen miles in to Gladstone to get to the hospital). But he died within a week, so there are some things you shouldn't leave too long.

   The advantage of my injuries was that I didn't have to go to school for two days, but I enjoyed the break rather less than I expected, being in pain for all of it. Neither did Bimbo go to school, and I expect he didn't enjoy it much either. He also escaped punishment, the consequences of the fall regarded even by his mother, who was pretty tough in the disciplinary area, as ample punishment for the original offence. In our own homes, he and I both adopted the strategy of blaming the other, which we believed to be the best line of defence. In reality, our parents easily reconstructed exactly what happened.

   Turning up at school was a bit of a nightmare for us both. We arrived on the playground and everyone fell about laughing their rotten heads off at the number of bandages we had on arms, legs, and heads – even a foot or two. They dubbed us the zebra twins because our deeply tanned Queensland limbs contrasted sharply with the white of the many dressings and plaster.

   You don't get much sympathy for a bit of gravel rash out in the country, so you learn not to expect it. That's why we're such tough buggers. Hell yeah.

fivex1 | fivex2


  1. Growing up tough stands you in good stead all your life, Denis, and who - with a country childhood - doesn't grow up tough? Seems to me that nowadays, coping with adversity, pain and fear are off the agenda for many folk in our society and that is good ... but what will happen when external circumstances, in their turn, get tough?

    I enjoyed this two-part story; again you conjure up childhood so well. I personally find it strange that many of my early memories are so vivid that I actually experience them once more, whereas much that followed is less sharply-defined.

  2. Terrific story. Poor kids and horse. It brought back memories of my father 's razor strop, also behind the door. He never used it but it was ominous.

  3. What a ripping-good yarn!
    All the more enjoyable because of its recalling a real event, vividly and poignantly. After all, no-one could fabricate a story like that!
    Thanks Den....for the adrenalin rush!

  4. Thanks for the kind comments. Maybe some people can fabricate stories, but I can only stick to the safe territory of recounting them. I guess forty years as an historian and not a novelist did that to me.

    I said in another forum that I wish I could remember what happened yesterday with as much confidence as incidents in my childhood. But then ones like this, they tend to etch pretty deeply into the neural network, don't they?

    I went looking for a razor strop image after writing the story, and was amazed to find a photo of one hanging up behind a door as if it were straight out of Charlie Brown's kitchen. Avis Brown's, I better say. The only time Charlie was in there was either passing through, or getting a beer. Avis died only very recently. Vale Avis.

  5. Thank you for this story of life in country Australia. Wonderfully recounted.
    (BTW I think you were second cousins if your grandfathers' were brothers)

    1. If I checked, we could settle it, but right now, I'll just say that I thought second cousins were the children of your first cousins. Bimbo's parents were not my first cousins so there's another generation in there.

      Then again, there might be conflicting interpretations. Now I'll have to check! [But not now.]

      Thanks, Alison.


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