Most of what you’ll read here is life and fun, with episodes from my past, amusing and serious. But I have an unwelcome stranger lodged in my brain, as you’ll find if you explore my stories. Our destinies are interlocked, but its deadly presence reminds me every minute that each day of life is a miracle. This is my space to reflect on life, and an interactive area where we can share our experiences freely. Without you, this blog has no reason for existence. Carpe Diem!
Mr Curtis moved Bimbo Brown a few places along the seat after that incident, presumably free to pinch someone else’s backside, but what I didn't bargain on was that Brian Koplick would replace him in the spot immediately behind me.
We called him Koppo, though in other quarters, mostly amongst the adults in Calliope, he was referred to as 'Spider' Koplick. This gives you some indication of the way he was regarded in my ancestral village.
Ah, the stories I could tell about him. Seriously, he was a spider, in appearance and temperament, and that’s being generous. He was the only kid I fought at primary school, except for a short skirmish with Johnny Wilson, who put up unexpectedly strong resistance and I didn’t fight him again.
These fights with Koppo extended over several lunch hours and we were so evenly matched that a declaration of a draw at any time would have been an honourable result. But there was no-one there to make such a declaration, so the fight dragged on, and kids would bring their lunch and watch.
For a while, that is. Eventually they got bored and went away to play marbles, which was rather humiliating given that we both regarded our battle as life-and-death. Maybe in the Coliseum they would just have sent in the lions and settled the matter that way.
What were we fighting over? I have no idea. Boys never need a real reason to fight, as history proves over and over again and still does, if you think about world politics. But Koppo, I felt, was pure evil on tough, wiry legs. He fought with everyone at one stage or another in his school career.
He busted Eddie Roberts' bottom lip the first day he came to our school. I was so sorry for Eddie I let him drink from the school tank from my tin cup, though I wasn’t too keen on the thought of his blood mixing with his spit on the lip of my pannikin. Everyone had a tin cup, or even one of those new model plastic ones, turned upside-down on the tankstand.
Eddie, new to protocol at our school, had no cup. He had made the mistake on that first day of turning around and pretending to break wind in Koppo's general direction. Koppo had called him out to see where Eddie might end up in the schoolyard pecking order.
You never turned your back on Koppo. As soon as Eddie faced him again, a sharp punch to the mouth ensured a gushing flow of blood from Eddie's lip, which must have pleased Koppo immensely. It was the first and only time I ever saw Eddie Roberts cry.
Koppo had also fought Dennis Sharpe near the overgrown tennis court. Sharpie was starting to get the best of him when the enraged Koppo picked up a sheet of galvanised iron, held it high above his head, charged at him and hurled the sheet at close range straight at his navel. Sharpie turned and ran, which was just as well, because if Koppo had done what he intended - and if you'd seen his eyes, you'd know he surely did intend to do serious damage - he would have cut Dennis Sharpe in half.
This is not to say the schoolyard was usually a battleground. Far from it. Most of the time, peace reigned and a normal happy existence for all, including Koppo, was the order of things at playtime.
Oh, I didn't tell you how that particular fight I had with Koppo ended. After three consecutive lunch hours, it simply fizzled out due to exhaustion and sheer lack of enthusiasm on all sides. Perhaps the hundred years war in Europe ended for the same reason. I don't know. I’d have to look it up. I’m a historian of Asia, not Europe, and I can’t stop for such details as I’m on a bit of a roll here, talking about everything but what I’m supposed to.
Indeed, I have strayed so far from where I intended that I fear you, like our spectators for the longest fight of my school career, might wander off for a cup of tea. That’s not a bad idea, actually.
What I was saying was that Koppo took Bimbo's place behind me in class. Bimbo must have warned him not to try the toe-pinching-bum trick as he suspected I had some sort of weapon.
Of course, that challenge was irresistible to Koppo, and he was now in the position to find out what that weapon was. So, the bum-pinching started again, and Koppo had the toes of a rhesus monkey. His big toe worked just like an opposable thumb, but I’m not sure if this counted an evolutionary advance or regression. I’m pretty certain he had a tail hidden in his boxer shorts. Whether the tail as well was prehensile or not, I imagined it was red and had a devilish arrowhead thing at the end of it.
But I still had the pin in my pencil case, so I armed my weapon, and when the time was right, jabbed the offending big toe as hard as I could.
Koppo rapidly withdrew the foot with no more than a grunt, but it was a grunt with which I would later become all too familiar, as I fought him sporadically all the way up from Grade 3 to Grade 8. The grunt signalled an attack from any quarter was about to occur, though I didn’t realise it then. In this case, it was from behind. He punched me as hard as he could to the back of my neck. I thought my head was about to part company with the rest of me, but as you no doubt gather, it didn’t. Not quite.
Old Jim saw it. Koppo got six of the best with the cane, and was made to move permanently to the desk at a spot right in front of me, from which a surprise attack was not so likely – or at least, I had a chance of anticipating it.
As it turned out, this was unfortunate for me also.
If you are not into reading stories about gaseous emissions from little boys, you can give this part a miss, but if you allow your mind to wallow in flatulence for a moment – not an attractive thought, I admit - you still might get a laugh out of this all too true story. You’ll know it’s true because as I said before, there’s some stuff you just can’t make up.
I have no idea what Koppo ate at home, but the quantity of gas brewed in his gut is probably the reason for the current climate change debate. Sometimes he brought for his lunch sliced up cow-cane.
Cow-cane is a smaller, somewhat insipid version of sugar-cane. It has less sugar content per stick than sugar-cane, which needs very rich soil and plenty of water. Calliope just didn’t have soil that good, unlike Gin Gin and Bundaberg and North Queensland. We sometimes grew cow-cane for the cattle, and they loved it.
But their four stomachs are geared to process cellulose, and human bodies aren’t.
Koppo would steal cow-cane growing at a neighbour’s, strip the shiny outside covering off with a bowie knife, and eat the sugary segments between the joints. Others of us might chew on this stuff until all the sugar was gone, and then spit out the fibre. Not Koppo. He chewed and swallowed every bit, sometimes with quite a bit of effort at swallowing. How he processed it I am not sure. All I know for a fact were the consequences.
He was quite proud of his abilities in gas production. The fruits of academia being largely denied to him, his fighting and farting prowess were what were left for him in which to excel. I maintain that I am best represented by the cliché about being a lover rather than a fighter, but as he couldn’t beat me at fighting, to fart was definitely his forte.
After eating cow-cane, he would entertain us on wet days by putting on and buttoning up his grey raincoat (all boys’ raincoats were made of a thin, light, grey plastic in those days). Then he’d concentrate for a while, and explode, as described in the Collins Little Dictionary.
Carol Boys had discovered ‘fart’ in this dictionary one afternoon on the way home from school while looking for another taboo word, and read out the description to us. ‘Fart: (n, or v.t.) A small explosion between the legs.’
Yes, that was it, full description. Kenny Wright, son of Jimmy Wright, son of Aunty Annie-Jim-Wright and the late Jim Wright who must have been my grandfather’s brother, asked on hearing this whether, if he lit and dropped a Tom Thumb firecracker between Billy Boys’s ankles and it went off, that would mean that Billy had ....? You get the idea. We all took that question as rhetorical and laughed hugely. Little boys, it seems, are not always alone in their fascination with the scatological.
‘A small explosion’ in Koppo’s case was not a fair description. What was spectacular for the playground audience was not the sound, as there was little of it, but the way he could flare out the entire back portion of his raincoat with this procedure, even wearing boxer shorts under the raincoat. It was like a magic trick, except we knew how it was done, but it was none the less impressive for that. On the contrary.
None could hold a candle to Koppo in this regard. Indeed, had they done so, I can’t imagine the consequences. They would have been grim. ‘Small explosion’ could not have described it. Immolation in a burst of flame would. And grim it would have been.
But for me, I must say, the consequences of his not disappearing in a fiery self-immolation were grimmer.
As I said, he now sat in front of me at school. Revenge for the pin jab and the caning were thus his. What his emissions lacked in audibility, they over-compensated for olifactorally. In the schoolroom, I was subjected to a constant barrage of gas that, if well-directed, would have won the trench warfare on the Somme in thirty minutes.
The composition of that gas... let me imagine what produced it. Sugar is C12H22O11. Stomach acid? Mainly hydrochloric. HCl. What does that produce in a chemical reaction? Carbon tetrachloride? CCl4. That’s a poisonous cleaning fluid. Eggs? He was big on boiled eggs. Hydrogen Sulphide. H2S. Methane? CH4.
Holy smoke. It doesn’t bear thinking about and the smell was appalling, but it did elicit a comment from me one day when I got home from school, tongue hanging out of one side of my mouth and half-poisoned. This observation of mine entered the folklore of our household and was oft repeated, somewhat embarrassingly for me, to friends and relations for years afterwards.
‘Mum,’ I said, ‘I have to tell you something about Brian Koplick.’
It was a delicate matter given my mother’s gentility about such things, and I struggled with the right description.
‘It’s his exhaust.’
‘Brian Koplick’s exhaust pipe. It smells TERRIBLE!’