Many of my childhood stories are associated with Bimbo Brown. There are reasons for this that are of no special interest in this blog posting, but I will say that Bimbo and I were related by blood. Sometimes in blood, as you'll see very soon.
His grandfather was my grandfather's brother on my father's side. That means, by my reckoning (which may be up the creek), that we had one-sixteenth of our genes in common.
There were times when Bimbo rode his horse to school. It was an ex-racehorse that his father kept to do trackwork with whatever horse he had in training. This one was a bit flighty, but Bimbo had grown up with horses as I had, so he could handle the gelding.
The school was in a large paddock of about 15 acres (6 hectares), so when he got there he could unsaddle it, hobble it and let it graze all day, ready for the ride home.
"Hey Bim," I said one day, "what say we doublebank home – as far as your place?"
|Razor strop. Source|
"Oh, all right then. You'll have to get off before Mum can see us from the front windows."
With my usual foresight, that hadn't occurred to me, but it had to him, for good reasons, most notably the one behind the chez Brown kitchen door.
"What's his name?" All his father's racehorses looked the practically same to me.
"Liquid Amber. In the stable we call him Five-ex."
I've never seen that written down so it's my spelling, but I got its meaning straight away. Fourex was the national beverage of Queensland, practically the only acceptable one according to local tradition. I'm talking about beer, it goes without saying, brewed in Milton, Brisbane, by Castlemaine-Perkins. In the 1950s you'd be hard-pressed to find anything else with alcohol in it in Queensland, except for Bundy rum which had plenty, brewed in the next sizable town to the south of Gladstone. And the Christmas pudding.
Five-ex must have been regarded in his racing days as going one better than Fourex beer, which was quite a compliment. Or maybe it was a fervent hope by his connections which Five-ex may or may not have fulfilled.
Bimbo mounted the horse and manoeuvred it over to the tankstand, so from that platform I could swing on behind him.
"Just keep your heels out of his flanks. He doesn't like that."
I don't recall any horses that do, but it didn't hurt to remind me. The gelding was at least three hands taller than my pony and as high as our draught horses.
Off we went at a brisk walk, over the railway bridge and past the post office. After we got well past the saw-mill, I wanted to move slightly to get into a more comfortable position. Some portions of my anatomy needed a bit of rearranging, if you want the nitty-gritty. I pushed down hard on the saddle behind Bimbo to lift myself a bit higher.
That turned out to be a mistake. What I didn't know was that there was a loose tack under the saddle, the point of which was exposed when I pushed down firmly on it. Neither Bimbo nor I had the faintest idea it was there.
Five-ex surely knew, and was aggrieved, not unjustly. He swished his tail, put his ears back, pig-rooted a couple of times and set off at a smart trot. To us it just looked like he had decided to be difficult.
"Behave yourself, ya bloody old fairy," said Bimbo, yanking harshly on the reins, thereby adding insult to injury. "Settle down."
That's not the way to settle a horse down when you think about it.
Being in a saddle at a trot is quite comfortable if you've learnt to art of dealing with it, but riding bareback behind someone else isn't. Nor does it feel all that secure on a cantankerous racehorse. I didn't like the way he'd bucked for what I thought was no good reason, so I grabbed Bimbo round the waist. After all, there's little else to hang on to when you're the passenger double-banking on a horse.
"Jeez Denny. Don't hold on to me so tight. You're not Sally Moran and neither am I. Ease up!"
Sally was the prettiest girl in the school but I didn't like the comparison, so I dropped my arms from him altogether and gripped the back rim of the saddle, pushing it down again.
The horse was now cranky. At the same time as Bimbo was growling at me, Five-Ex felt the sharp sting of the tack for a second time. He took the growl personally, snorted, tossed his head, and broke into a choppy canter. I grabbed Bimbo round the waist again.
"Dammit Den - I can't fricken breathe. Loosen up!" He broke my grip with a free hand.
Being a reasonably smart lad, I had made the connection between my pushing down on the saddle and Five-ex's intemperate outbursts. For some unknown reason he didn't like it, and was lengthening his stride. I wasn't holding on to anything with my arms, so I tried to secure myself the only other possible way.
I dug my heels in hard. Alas, fair into the flanks of the flighty Five-ex.
I have no knowledge of Five-ex's racing career, but I know one thing for sure. Five-ex, by then careering out of control at full gallop, gave every indication to me that, if he hadn't fulfilled his racing potential, they were girthing up the racing saddle way too far forward. The jock should have been sitting where I was, heels in his flanks the whole way.
He was very, very fast. Either that, or the rotation of the earth in the opposite direction had suddenly approached the speed of light.
I was petrified. This was a deeply offended racehorse, being tormented as he saw it by two malicious kids. I grabbed Bimbo again round his stomach. Not even our greatest pro-wrestling hero Killer Kowalski could have broken that grip. At the same time, I drove my bare heels deeper into Five-Ex's flanks.
By then we were racing at breakneck speed – and I do mean that literally – along the Taragoola Road. I figured that because Bimbo was in the saddle, my best chance of staying alive was his ability to stay there, with me hanging on round his waist.
There was only self-interest in this. It was the survival instinct deep in a ten year old. If Bimbo knew we were going to share our destinies on a bolting horse, it was strongly in his interests to stay aboard it. But with every stride, we were slipping to port just that bit further.
And down, down, relentlessly, towards the ground.
Beside the road, there was a wide strip of green paspalum grass well-bedded in soft clay. I remember it all too clearly as it came closer to my head.
But even more vividly, I remember a strip of gravel between the road surface and the lush grass.
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