Vale Gavin (Uncle Bill) Green

My Uncle Bill passed away earlier this week. His funeral is today and he is to be buried in the quaint little town of Wanganui, in the north island of New Zealand. My parents have flown across the ditch to say goodbye. I wish I could have too.

My father’s brother was a lovely gentleman. Softly spoken but with a wicked sense of humour. He emigrated to New Zealand many years ago where he married my Aunty June, a tall beautiful Englishwoman, and settled down to raise his family. As a consequence we saw very little of our ‘kiwi’ cousins, but our infrequent get-togethers were indeed memorable.

During one trip to Australia Uncle Bill was discussing funny town names and the indigenous meanings behind them. Whilst Wetwang, Crapstone and Penistone in the UK got honourable mentions, and Middlefart in Denmark had us chortling, it was his earnest assertion that the Maori village of Whykickamoocow (pronounced why kick a moo cow) did exist, that had everyone in stitches. I looked for it last night on Google Maps. Its not real.

Uncle Bill and Aunty June always exuded a feeling of warmth and hospitality. I remember a Contiki tour I did in NZ when I was twenty years young. I had a free night in Wellington and I figured I would invite myself over for a home-cooked meal. I spent a little over an hour flicking through the local phone book for a Mr. B or Mr. W Green. After a couple of phone calls to prospective relatives were met with stony silences and a dial tone, I gave up and went out for a pizza. It was only when I got back to Australia that I found out his real name was Gavin. Dad still hasn’t explained where the name ‘Bill’ came from. My uncle and I  shared a huge laugh about when I told him the story a couple of years later at the family reunion in Mumbil – a tiny town out near Dubbo in New South Wales where my Uncle Doug had a hobby farm. Then he cooked one of the best curries I have ever eaten.

I may not have had a lot of contact with Uncle Bill in my life, purely because of the tyranny of distance, but he was a gentle soul and will be sorely missed.

No Home For Old Folks.

Early this morning I wandered through an old, deserted warehouse watching the dusty cobwebs drift lazily on an invisible zephyr. My three hundredth sneeze echoed in the empty silence and rattled the mercury vapour lamps hanging from the ceiling like grimy grey stalactites. I rubbed itchy eyes with the knuckle of my right index finger and completed my last walk-through of the man-made cave. After thirteen years it was finally time to go.

In 1987 I began working for my family business. It was my second job out of high school and only my third in total. I was a salesman and graphic art supplies was my specialty. Vertical cameras standing six feet tall, diffusion transfer silver-bromide paper, panchromatic lith film that had to be handled in complete darkness – these extinct products were highlights of my price list.

Base camp was the suburb of Marrickville in NSW, an ethnically diverse community with the best Yeeros and Pho soup I have ever tasted. From here I serviced a client base that ranged from Newcastle to Wollongong and as far west as Katoomba. Long hours alone on the road, excellent customer hospitality at the other end. I drank good coffee, bad coffee and something that resembled coffee in a previous life. My favourite was Turkish coffee, so thick that the teaspoon stood straight up in the cup instead of resting against the lip. That was a buzz!

We moved twice in the ten years since I began working with my father, finally settling down in the 290 square meters we would call home in 1998. Rusty racks laden with printing plates lined the walls of the warehouse. A colossal cool room kept photographic film at the required temperature. The gas powered forklift rumbled along the driveway moving pallets of chemicals from articulated lorries as people busied themselves in the Hardiplank offices above.

Unit 6 was alive!

In the dawning decade of the twenty-first century the business grew, and changed. The desktop publishing revolution was well underway when inkjet evolved into a serious solution for proofing and poster production. Apple, Epson and HP were encroaching on the realms of Agfa, Kodak and Fuji; usurping traditional print and photographic processes in their path.

Aluminium plates were gradually replaced with large format paper.

Photographic film went the way of the Dodo.

Pots of printing ink became cartridges of toner.

Lithographic tape became memory modules.

Folks Graphics became Creative Folks.

Unit 6 was thriving!

Staff levels increased, stock levels decreased and the focus shifted. The consumable division was sold off to make way for better IT support facilities and the old building watched helplessly as the oxidised iron shelves were recycled and the rumbling forklift drove away. A roaring silence permeated the atmosphere when the cool room generators were turned off for the very last time and I’m sure I heard Unit 6 sigh as the removalists relocated its family east of the Cooks River.

I said goodbye to my old friend one last time this morning. The roller shutter door squealed a final farewell as I slid the bolts into place. Fluorescent lights flickered upstairs, and then became dark.

My eyes watered. I swear it was the dust.

Rain Dancing with Sir Joseph Banks

Tuesday 22nd November – Evening – Botany / Banksmeadow Area

The incessant yet gentle precipitation had left me feeling mildly depressed. My Monday morning jog had been washed out and the Tuesday morning raincheck was, well, rainchecked again. On top of that the exercise bike was broken, which tends to happen when you plug the incorrect transformer into the socket. I knew something was wrong when the digital display began smoking like a peer-pressured teenager. Riding was no longer a possibility.

All out of options, and feeling a little stodgy from the weekend excesses, I hit the road in the rain for a seven kilometre dash.

K1

The first kilometre was reasonably uneventful. My Nike GPS application on the iPhone was reminding me of my pace whilst shuffling through my playlist of motivational songs. Richard Clapton sang ‘Get Back to the Shelter’ as the Telstra truck clobbered the puddle in front of me. It was like wading into a cold, muddy ocean. First your calf muscles get goosebumps. Then your hamstrings begin to shiver. Finally your undies soak and creep up into your crutch. I was destined to spend the next six thousand metres with a very wet wedgie. Perhaps Mr. Clapton had a point.

K2

Traversing Botany Road is always a scary experience. For some reason the semi-trailer drivers don’t believe in pedestrian crossings and when the guy in the BP tanker finally saw me it was all I could do to get out of the way. A blast on the air-horn, and a verbal assault from the shadowed cabin, left me in no doubt that I had made him late for whatever life-saving appointment he was due to attend. How dare I use the zebra crossing.

In spite of British Petroleum’s attempt on my life, I eventually made it to the park with its peace and saturated tranquility. Tiny droplets danced across the pond as the concrete gorilla glistened in the gloom and the empty swing set swung silently in the breeze. Large grey eels slithered through the murky water while giant carp gorged themselves on the soggy bread crusts that were floating on the surface. The only sound out-of-place was the thwack and cheer from the dedicated golfers on the fifth tee of Royal Botany Golf Course. Seriously guys – golf in the rain?!? You’re crazier than I am.

Traffic on Foreshore Drive was at a standstill, which probably explains why the eighteen-wheelers were tearing through suburbia and not on the expressway. An A380 lifted lazily into the air on its way to Singapore or some other salubrious destination and a plump of swamp hens honked at me as I interrupted their bath.

K3

By the third leg of my journey I was in the zone. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Trampled Underfoot’ offered a raucous testament to the growing death toll of snails that kept finding their way below my Reeboks. A drenched Kookaburra perched on an old fence post looking more like a drowned rat than a kingfisher. I laughed at him. Is that ironic?

Water dripped from my wet hair as another wet hare shot out into the path in front of me. Perhaps he had been flushed from his warren by two days of deluge. Maybe he had been routed by one of the mangy foxes that are sometimes found lurking near the golf course. Possibly he was just late for the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Either way, he was certainly not expecting to run into a large bipedal mammal in this weather and almost collided with my right leg. I watched on amazed as the brown bunny zig-zagged across the track. His ability to change direction with such a tight turning circle was incredible and after a couple of 90s, several 180s and a full 360 degree backflip, he was gone.

K4

As the Nike app noted the completion of three kilometres I came across the only other person I would see in the park. An elderly lady with a floral dress and matching umbrella wandered up the wrong side of the bike lane. Her face was hidden, her shoes were tattered and I briefly wondered if she was a local, or lost. Before my thoughts could dwell on her I rounded the corner and there, sticking up out of the grass ahead like a signpost for addiction, was a syringe – needle down into the soil. I paused mid-stride and stooped to pick up the dangerous object. It was the third time I had found a needle in the park and I knew I would have to carry it with me until I could find a garbage bin.

After a fruitless five minute search for more sharp objects I resumed my run. Unfortunately I had begun to cool down and now my ankles were aching. As my Achilles spontaneously combusted I briefly entertained the concept of quitting, until I remembered the pothole in the pathway up ahead. In all this rain it resembled a little lake and my feet achieved nirvana as they plodded through the cold water.

K5

My pace was terrible! I really should remember to pause the app when I pause my run.

The gentle sprinkling had now become much heavier and a mist was rising from the grass. Small birds had stopped singing and the larger ones were nest bound or grounded. The family of marauding magpies that usually pecked at my ears as I jogged through their trees, were feasting on fat, juicy worms. Shiny black and white parents with their gangly grey offspring were so engrossed in their meal that they didn’t even pay me the slightest attention. A flock of large Puddle Ducks waddled across the road. White feathers, orange beaks and no fear of human beings made them an interesting obstacle, so I was left with no choice but to plow right through the middle of the brace. As the Catatonia song ‘Road Rage’ began playing through my speakers, Jemima let out a loud hiss and nipped at my knee. Perhaps she was related to the man from BP.

K6

Leaving the Sir Joseph Banks Park brought me back to reality. My floral friend was still meandering her way around the grounds in a wide arching loop. She had a bag of bread crumbs for the birds and I figured that she was a local after all. I found a bin for the dirty hypodermic and, frankly, I was glad to be rid of it. There are many isolated spots to seek solitude, but collecting thoughts and clearing your mind are not the only things people do there.

The Steggles van on Botany Road also pretended not to notice the pedestrian crossing and only missed me by the narrowest of margins. Live ducks, dead chooks, something fowl was out to get me. The sun was setting, light was getting dim and I picked up my pace.

K7

Suburbia was silent and still. Christmas lights twinkled from the windows of early decorators and wreaths hung in the closed doorways, but the families had settled in for dinner and the houses were locked up tight. There was no yoga at the cafe, no tai chi in the reserve and nobody to welcome me home except a battered old tom cat wanting his dinner. I think I’ll have leftovers tonight.

iDad Part Six – More Cake

St Andrew’s

Growing up with No.1, God Sakes and Granny was as entertaining as it was educational and iDad’s influence over his children was profound. As a fledgling golfer I was forever talking to my boys about the three or four good shots I made out of the one hundred and thirty it took me to get around the course. Needless to say they were suitably impressed by my prowess with the Ping and would happily inform all those who would listen, and many who would not.

My Aunty, who actually was an A-Grade golfer, decided one day to show the older two how to play the grand old game. As she lined up a chip shot No.1 piped up with an innocent query.

“Wotcha doin’ Aunty Ba-Ba”

“I’m going to show you how to play golf.”

No.1 began to laugh.

“You don’t know how to play golf Ba-Ba.”

My Aunty stopped mid back-swing.

“Of course I do. I’m a very good golfer.”

In fact she was! The hall stand, book case and lintel over the fireplace all bore trophied testament to the fact that my Aunty was an accomplished A-Grade golfer.

Regardless, No.1 continued chuckling.

“No you’re not. Only mans play golf.”

Thus endeth the lesson.

WWW.

Running an IT business when the Internet was a newborn, Netscape was still a browser and Windows was only 95, iDad always managed to keep up to date with the latest technology. I still have my first mobile phone, complete with the monster battery pack that hung over your shoulder like a five kilogram acid-filled satchel. We use it as a doorstop. My boys however we suitably impressed with my ability to work in the car, the backyard and even the toilet. To them the black brick with the twisted cord and battered handset, meant that dad could come home early to spend time with them, and finish his job after they had gone to bed.

The evolution of cumbersome telecommunications to a more compact format did not lessen the mystique and my boys always enjoyed the ever-changing midi ringtone my Nokia spouted forth. One afternoon as we sat by the shores of Lake Macquarie, the sun setting in the west and the children splashing about in the shallows, Aunty Ba-Ba pulled out her mobile phone to place a call. No.1 was stunned.

“Where did you get that Ba-Ba?”

“This is mine sweety.”

No.1 burst out laughing.

“No its not. Only mans have mobile phones.”

Later that night No.1 would zap my beautiful Aunty once again as she scooped a dollop of hot English mustard onto her plate.

“You’re so funny Ba-Ba.”

“Why’s that sweetheart?”

“Only mans eat mustard.”

Aunty Ba-Ba passed away shortly after Granny was born. Cancer is a terrible disease.

More Cake!

As I had mentioned before in an earlier story, our closest friends had had a baby girl in between our No.1 and God Sakes. She was a beautiful little blue eyed tomboy who could scale fences, climb trees and escape through windows. On top of that she had made it her personal mission to send her parents grey; and she was succeeding. Her nickname ‘Cake’ had been earned during God Sakes first birthday party and she has had a lasting influence on my boy’s development into adolescence.

From Church to MTV, no part of life was immune to Cake’s touch. She would rally the boys together to sing the latest hits at the top of their lungs, usually whilst bouncing up and down on our couch. The sight of three little pre-schoolers exuberantly vocalising the words to the Bloodhound Gang song,

‘You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals. So lets do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.’

…is permanently seared into my retina. As are all the church bulletins upon which God Sakes and Cake had scrawled sacrilegious slogans such as ‘I am farting’ and the classic, ‘this is my butt.’ All of which were expertly illustrated before being placed onto the collection plate. I never found out what the old priest thought of the pencilled profanities but hopefully he had a sense of humour.

Finally our friends had their second baby and balance was restored to their Universe. So-See was an angelic little girl with blonde bubble curls and big blue eyes. She liked Barbie and ponies and all things pink. She was the first girly girl my boys had ever known and, frankly, they were nonplussed.

“What do you think of the baby?”

Blue Eyes was trying to engage her boy’s interest in their new friend. No.1 feigned a slight interest.

“Its ok I guess.”

God Sakes remained unusually quiet.

“What’s wrong honey? Don’t you like the baby?”

“No.”

His mother was shocked.

“Why?”

“It hasn’t got a doodle.”

iDad fell on the floor laughing as Blue Eyes tried to explain the situation.

“This is a girl baby. Girl’s don’t have doodles.”

“Oh.”

God Sakes turned on his heels and walked away. What’s the point of life if you don’t have a doodle?

Postman Pat and the Gobbellin.

Like most Australian kids, my boys grew up watching the vast array of children’s shows on the ABC. Play School, Sesame Street, Bob the Builder, all got a fair amount of exposure; but the favourite for a while seemed to be Postman Pat and his Black and White Cat. Little God Sakes face would light up as the theme song started and then he’d sing a long at the top of his high-pitched little lungs which, for him, was to be expected 😉

One day however, I decided to pay attention to the words as my little angel harmonised with the tune from the television. Something wasn’t right.

“Postman Pat. Postman Pat. Postman Pat and his black and white cat.”

Only he didn’t say ‘black and white’.

My brown eyed, sunny faced cherub had replaced the words ‘black and’ with an f-bomb.

What Jess had done to become known as an f***ing white cat I’ll never know, but God Sakes offensive mispronunciation was quickly corrected before he started pre-school.

Obnoxiousness is not a personality trait of any of my children. Unfortunately though, forthrightness is and telling it as they see it often became a cringe-worthy experience.

I’ve mentioned before about a shopping trip where Granny received his nickname. Sitting in the trolley batting his big blue eyes at all the passers by when one kind lady with a Rubenesque physique stopped to pinch his cheeks and comment on his cuteness. Granny replied in a voice that seemed to channel the Cookie Monster,

“Hello Fatty.”

After much apologising Blue Eyes attempted to educate our little boy on good manners, respecting elders, and overall acceptable behaviour. With remorse written all over his face Blue Eyes ceased the lesson and began to clean up the drink that God Sakes had spilled. As she collected the last piece of broken glass she heard the biscuit eating muppet fire up the voice box one more time for the elderly couple that had stopped to say hi.

“Hello Granny.”

Marginally better.

So-See and Cake had a little baby sister arrive not long after Granny learned how to talk. As per usual, our friends had produced another beautiful blonde girl with a gregarious nature and bubbly disposition. As we sat around admiring the newborn I noticed Granny squinting at her and cocking his head to the side. Then he spoke in that unmistakably deep voice.

“What’s wrong wiff her ears?”

The adults were perplexed.

“What do you mean mate?”

“They’re funny lookin.”

“What are you talking about son?”

“She looks like a Gobbellin.”

Ok, so my lovely goddaughter had slightly pointy ears due to the process of being born. Trust Granny to give her a nickname that has lasted forever.

iDad © Matthew Green 2010

The Botany Gentlemen’s Club

It was the 3rd of November, 2001 and in the beer-soaked front bar of the old Endeavour Hotel five of Botany’s brightest entrepreneurs had gathered to watch the title fight between American loudmouth Zabdiel Judah and the softly spoken Aussie, Kostya Tszyu. The pre-match interviews featured a brazen Judah inflating his own self-importance and declaring that he was about to make history. Tszyu on the other hand simply complimented his opponent’s ability and assured his fans that he had trained well. Zab entered the ring with Mike Tyson in his entourage and an American flag wrapped around his neck.

The Endeavour’s patrons booed.

Judah’s reach was a good two inches longer than Tszyu’s, which tested the Australian’s maneuverability. Kostya ducked and weaved throughout the entire first round and although a few of Zab’s blows found their mark the first three minutes ended fairly even.

Round 2 however was an entirely different story.

It was as if the Aussie boxer had heard the advice of the Botany Entrepreneurs for as soon as the bell went he was up in Judah’s face. The  southpaw New Yorker could not get back far enough to throw a decent punch and with only moments to go in the second stanza Kostya tapped him gently with a left and then planted his right fist flush in the middle of the Brooklyn bragger’s nose.

The Endeavour Hotel erupted as Judah hit the canvas.

History was made that day. Firstly by the diminutive Australia pugilist becoming the first man in thirty years to unify the belts in the Junior Welterweight division, and secondly by the amalgamation of these ‘Captains of Industry’ into the Botany Gentlemen’s Club.

The flamboyant behaviour of the BGC (as they quickly became known) epitomised the Noughties. Frequent revenue raising activities at Randwick Race Course resulted in an equitable distribution of wealth amongst hotel staff, pro-shops, bookmakers and restaurants of the little industrial suburb. Topless waitresses flocked to the Captain Cook Hotel every Thursday so that these local legends could help them with their college tuition fees, whilst meat-raffle merchants knew they could count on the Entrepreneur’s donations.

No social activity was ignored. School trivia nights and Blues Brothers Revivals all benefited from the BGC’s largess, as did the local cricket club with BGC members cajoling the flirty nurses at the Royal hotel to support the boys and girls.

And when the time came to cast the deciding vote that gave Russell Crowe ownership of the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs Football Club, this League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were on hand to deliver the Bunnies their salvation.

Original Cast.

Formed over packet of Parker’s Pretzels and a schooner of Victoria Bitter, the BGC are indeed twenty-first century versions of Robin Hood and his band of merry men.

But who are the founding fathers of the Botany Gentlemen’s Club? Preferring anonymity to the praise they rightly deserve, these pillars of society can be identified as follows:

El Presidenté: Betting legend and dictator for life the BGC’s beloved President is a prince amongst men. Organiser of Christmas Parties, drinker of beer and member of the Guy Sebastian Fan Club, El Presidenté has never missed a planning meeting or a call to arms. Nor will you see him drunkenly abusing his minions because they refuse to watch that God-awful movie, Blues Brother 2000. El Presidenté is the only man who knows the babes from Bombshells by name and always makes eye contact when he engages them in conversation.

The Treasurer: Paul Keating’s got nothing on this guy. From his chipped little china teapot hidden away at the back of the pantry, the Treasurer managed the barren bankroll during the early days of the BGC, ensuring their financial stability and success for the years to come. As a share holder in Carlton United Breweries the Treasurer became the first man in history to build his children an above-ground swimming pool made entirely out of empty VB beer cans. With his innate ability to sleep standing up, the Treasurer has never shirked his responsibilities donating both his home and his brazier to the BGC’s bonfire requirements.

The Skipper: The BGC’s resident boating enthusiast (who’s afraid to go fishing outside the heads) has a fondness for Tyrells’ Old Winery Cabinet Merlot and James Boags Premium Lager. Although this man lacks a Gilligan he does have his very own Mary-Anne who, upon his command, will fetch him a beer or a sandwich and make sure the BGC members get home ok. The Skipper never thinks twice about paying a little extra at the silent auctions on school trivia nights and will wait until everyone is over the ales and onto the bourbon before he has his shout.

The Burglar: With two solo golf titles to his name and a handicap that would shame Tiger Woods, the Burglar is the youngest of the founding members. His skill at selling meat trays to vegetarians came in handy during those early years of fund raising and his penchant for winning seafood platters fed the BGC at times when their money was all but exhausted. A raconteur of literary repute, the Burglar partnered with the Treasurer to take out the 2010 BGC Pool Championship and, together with the Skipper and the Probie, he recently claimed the Inaugural Ambrose BGC Golf Trophy.

Blisters: So named because he would turn up after the work was done, Blisters went to the pub during one of the BGC’s early camping trips and was never seen again.

New Recruits.

With the groundwork done the founding fathers (sans one) refused to rest on their laurels and expansion quickly came to mind. The BGC’s notoriety had spread to soccer clubs, netball squads and touch football teams so a recruitment program was quickly put into place. Identification of possible candidates though was no mean feat. Selection criteria included the ability to drink beer from both aluminium cans and plastic bottles (if the need arose), an unfailing support of the South Sydney Rabbitohs and a like-minded, yet somewhat evil, sense of humour. Wannabes were culled thick and fast but the following outstanding applicants were successful.

The Signmaker: A humble, giant of a man with a passion for surfing and bonfires, the Signmaker brought brazier destruction and Bundaberg Rum to the BGC. With calloused hands harder than steel the new member could feed razor sharp palm fronds into the fire faster than the Flash. A misspent youth and wicked stories to match made the Signmaker a welcome addition to the BGC team.

Mr Email: Mr. Email is the only member who can simultaneously shut down the servers of several major international corporations with a simple electronic communication. His fondness for g-strings and the height impaired is legendary, as is his winning try for the BGC touch footy team. Unfortunately he talks a better pool game than he plays and his penchant for effeminate cocktails and wanting to ‘spoon the Probie’ frequently causes the Founding Fathers to look sideways at him.

The Probie: The newest addition to the BGC likes to brew his own beer and listen to doof doof music. He also has a man crush on ex Rugby League player Brett Kimmorley and only supports the Rabbitohs as his second side. In spite of his rugged good looks and rakish charm the question still remains how he got past the review committee.

With new talent on board the BGC quickly began to spread their wealth up and down the NSW coast. Una Voce, Gwandalan and Culburra were identified as towns in need of patronage and the BGC obliged. Cash was flashed at jukeboxes, bars, coffee shops and RSL clubs by loyal BGCers as their goodwill rampaged north and south. Discarded building materials and unwanted fence posts were properly disposed of in thirty foot infernos that provided warmth to all the local inhabitants whilst beer kegs were emptied and refreshed in all the regional bowling clubs.

So what’s next for this philanthropic band of brothers?

Following on from a successful stint as backing vocalists for Richard Clapton and The Neil Diamond Show there was a very real possibility that this charismatic cadre would go head-to-head with the rock star wannabes on Australian Idol. However, the BGC have always made it their mission to provide support for those that need it most and with the current condition of the Wallabies Rugby Union side and the NSW State of Origin team you can bet that interstate and indeed international expansion is certainly on the cards.

We call rest assured though that whatever happens it will be for the benefit of the lucky community that the BGC next sets their sights upon.

God bless you boys!