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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bimbo, the Blitz, and Tobacco [Final Part]

[continued from Part 2]
His dad appeared from round the corner. Bimbo’s reflexes were pretty quick and I marvelled at how the tail end of the durry between the fingers of his right hand instantaneously disappeared under the mixture of loose dirt and decomposed horse droppings we were sitting on....

   ‘What are you pair doing?’
   ‘Nothing,’ said Bimbo airily. ‘Just talking.’
No doubt the smell of cigarette smoke hung in the air – probably even a wisp or two of smoke, but it wasn’t a matter Bimbo’s father thought warranted further investigation. He had probably noticed that he had little need to clean out the ashtray of the Blitz over months or years, and was just yielding to the inevitable. 
   ‘Go and get the wood in,’ he said to Bimbo, who might otherwise have argued the toss, but he was in a position of weakness regarding the suspicious aroma hanging over us both, so got up quickly.
   ‘You too, Denny,’ he growled at me. ‘You’re supposed to be home lighting the stove, aren’t you? Get going.’
   I was not a well boy, pale under the tan. I struggled to get up, and went in a rather wandery odyssey towards home, over the gully, the creek and through the paddock before climbing the hill. I stopped at the creek and drank some water on the way, in a vain attempt to get the vile taste out of my mouth. I never liked the taste of creek water, though it was crystal clear, and it didn’t improve the feeling of rising nausea in my stomach. An occasional cough still escaped my lips.

Neither Mum nor Dad was yet home from the cowyard, for which I was grateful. I set the fire in the cooking stove, purposely getting some smoke from the burning morning wood on my person to mask any smell of tobacco. At least, that was the plan. But I felt crook.
   Mum had made a stew late in the morning before going to the dairy after lunch and it now started to reheat as the stove warmed up. It smelt nasty to me, especially as it was mutton, bought cheaply from Les Archay’s butchery. We were cattle people, and anything to do with sheep, especially for dinner, was not in favour, even when I was hungry.
   I was not hungry. I regarded mutton as food for the cattledogs. No euphemisms about ‘lamb’ either, thank you. This was the mortal remains of a tough old wether who’d evaded the butcher for way too long. Sadly he had got his comeuppance right then and ended up in our big tin stewpot. Poor timing, I thought.
   Mum and Dad arrived home together from the cowyard, pleased the yard work was done and glad the dinner was on. We would have the stew with bread, and finish with a trifle Mum had made from stale cake and custard and jelly, which would more than compensate for the plain fare with the stew. Mum smiled at me, then frowned. ‘Are you sick? Come here.’
   She went to hug me. I resisted. ‘You’re green about the gills’, she said, with mounting suspicion. ‘What have you been eating? Come here!’
   With understandable reluctance, I Came Here. She felt my forehead, which was the quick way to test body temperature, and then got a whiff of my befouled breath. ‘You’ve been SMOKING!’ All sympathy from my beloved mother had evaporated in a flash. ‘Where? Who? I’ll bet…. I BET it was with Bimbo Brown!’
   How could I deny it? My only faint hope was that she might feel I had been led astray by my year-older cousin and that some of the blame would shift to his shoulders. As much of the blame as possible, in fact. But I was feeling too sick to muster the energy to be scared, even of my father, standing behind my mother, hands on hips.
   Dad was not really a smoker, yet he was, occasionally. It was a habit derived from tedium of working firstly as a fettler on the railway and in the army during the war. He would buy a pouch of Log Cabin tobacco and for a few weeks have a smoke after milking, then get annoyed with himself for doing so, and would give the remainder of whatever tobacco he had to a cousin or neighbour, and not smoke again for months; maybe longer. Right then he was probably near the end of a smoking phase. He got out the tobacco pouch, pinched up a lump of fine cut tobacco, and stuck it under my nose.
   ‘Len, don’t….’ said my mother.
   ‘Do you like that?’ Dad asked me with a look on his face that scared me.
   ‘NO’, I wailed, ‘I hate it. It makes me sick. I want to lie down!’
   ‘Don’t you want to smoke it?’ Dad made as if to pull out a cigarette paper.
   ‘Len…..’ Even my mother didn’t know if he was serious or not, but we both knew he could be.
   ‘Smell it again.’ Dad shoved the tobacco under my nose again and held it there.
   It was, mercifully for me, too much for Mum, watching this torture of her errant little boy. Besides, if I threw up, she would be the one who had to deal with the mess. ‘Get to bed!’ she ordered, one of the very few times ever I remember her overriding my father’s actions or commands.
   I staggered off snivelling to my bed on the verandah, and crawled under its mosquito net, then under the sheet. I heard the clinking of cutlery and the scrape of plates, and the chatter of voices; sometimes laughter. The laughter sounded cruel. Even the noise of cutlery reminded me vividly of food, and I couldn't believe that anyone could want to eat that night. The radio came on for the news. I felt horrible and the acrid taste of tobacco was still in my mouth.
I slept.
   Next day, Dad gave the last of his tobacco to our neighbour, Rusty Toohey. I don’t remember Dad ever smoking again.
   Me? I evaded smoking entirely till a memorable night on a train to Brisbane on my way to Teachers’ College at the ripe old age of 16, but that’s another story and maybe worth telling at some stage.
   So many stories, so little time…. and the sordid tale of my entire love life between ages 13 and 16 to go yet.

This is part of a larger picture, but I thought you may like to see Bimbo, centrestage in this photo. Needless to say, we were a couple of years older than this when I was lured by him into trying that first gasper. That’s me on the left, of course, looking a bit odd. Next to me is another cousin, Wayne Wright, who terrified me on that day by pointing out to me that the star on his capgun proved it had real bullets in it and he was going to shoot me, and he chased me round the outside of the house several times before I hid in the bushes to escape certain death. Being forced to break cover for a photo and having to stand next to the would-be killer may explain that look on my face. 
Next to him is our dearly loved cousin Noela Brown, who died tragically from a tetanus infection not very long after this photo was taken.
Centrestage and right next to her is Bimbo Brown, looking at Noela’s sister Gay. They were first cousins. Behind Bimbo is Lloyd Brown, from yet another branch of the Brown family, who became a pilot. Jan, cheerfully minus tooth, is next to him, and Lyn is beside her. Behind Lyn but half hidden is Judy Wright, the very pretty sister of ‘death-threat’ Wayne; she could sing and dance and probably ended up in a chorus line somewhere.
A final footnote to the story is that by the end of the photoshoot, Wayne had forgotten all about his death threat, but I surely hadn't. I found the capgun on the tankstand and threw it in the dunny. No-one with murder on their mind should have been allowed to have a weapon like that, and though I coveted it with its bright red star, my civic duty [and strong instinct for self preservation] gave me no option but to consign it to that fate. I can imagine Bimbo’s father’s face when the gun emerged from the pan, as the well-digested remnants of the stomach contents of all Calliope township were merged in a very large hole out of town somewhere.

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  1. Can't wait for the teenage love life revelations. Will they be like Portnoy's Complaint?
    That Wayne Wright looks like a right little horror! Not surprised to learn he was something of a bully - he's probably now an absolutely doting grandfather!
    So sad about Noela who looks a dear little girl. Horrid way to die and so awful for her poor parents.

  2. Like Portnoy? Ummmm, not quite! This was Calliope 1960, not NY, USA, so you may be a little less shocked. :)
    Wayne Wright was just being a kid.... I did worse things, I think. They were a theatre type family - very unusual for Calliope! so I think he inherited the ability to look you in the eye and tell a barefaced lie. And I was SO naive.
    Noela's death was absolutely tragic. She was my sister Lyn's little mate and they adored each other. If I remember correctly she stood on a rusty nail in the backyard, went to bed complaining her head hurt, and was dead in the bed by morning. Ghastly for her family and all of us, but especially her parents.

  3. I know you probably won't get to read this, but I have to record here how much I have enjoyed reading the Bimbo trilogy. I, too, was raised in a small country town (Kempsey, northern NSW) and you have evoked so clearly, so fragrantly, the essence of my childhood. There were 3 of us - my big brother, my little sister and me in the middle. My brother's black and white cat was "Bimbo" (!!). I had no idea what the meaning of that name was until now. My grey female tabby who arrived at our house at the same time as Bimbo (sometime around 1955), I named "Perlio" - to rhyme with "Girl-io" in the Bimbo song you cited. I have no idea why I didn't call her "Girlio" - just didn't seem quite right as a cat's name somehow.
    We lived in Polwood Street, a dirt street filled with low-cost fibro housing in the poor part of town. Across the road and a few houses up, Todd's Dad (might have the name wrong - my little sis will correct me..) was the "dunny man". Our outhouse was way down (seemed a long way in the dark - but probably wasn't)the back yard. I remember hearing the thud, thud, thud of the big feet of Todd's Dad running down the driveway, and the great wafts of smell of excrement mixed with tar and ....what was the name of that old, crude disinfectant?
    Thanks for the memories, Denis. Even the aromatic ones are a joy...

    1. Lovely to get a comment on one of my old stories – one I enjoyed writing the most. Thanks, Ros.

      "Perlio" was an excellent choice. Far better than girlio!

      All the cans were tarred as you say, and they were quite clean. It was vastly more efficient in terms of water resources than our WCs of course, but we're going to have to be driven by lack of fresh water to ever substitute, unless much better recycling than we do now becomes the norm. I doubt the return of the dunny man. Sharing the lift from the 21st floor with his cargo beggars the imagination.

      Can't say for sure what the disinfectant was, but something that had a kick to it. Lysol? It was used for everything, including a douche to try to inhibit pregnancy – and made by Reckitts, as were bluebags. Gives new meaning to 'douchebags', don't it?

      Women's business. I know nothing!


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