Sunday, November 8, 2015

An army reunion

Two of my fondest memories are of my teens when I was a "Bible bashing bastard" (to use Gough Whitlam's description of his mortal enemy, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen) and my early 20s when I was a member of Her Majesty's Australian armed forces.  Fundamentalist Protestantism requires a bit of discipline and the army does too and, as a result, both generate cameraderie, which is a good feeling.

My army career was in no way glorious, though not inglorious either. Though I am inclined to believe that at one stage I may have been the most inefficient Sergeant in the Australian Army.  Unless he is being kind, our USM at the time, Rod Hardaker, will probably concur with that.

My unit was 21 Psych, a CMF unit. CMF was the name for Army Reserve at the time -- part-time soldiers, though I in fact went on full-time duties a few times and ended up getting my discharge from a regular unit.

Being a professional corps, the psychology corps was a little different from other army units -- as was remembered several times at the reunion of our Brisbane tentacle of it last night.  It was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the unit -- held at the well-known Kedron/Wavell rissole, which is in fact located at Chermside.  The consensus last night seemed to be that we were smarter than the rest of the Army.  That was probably true, as we were nearly all university people.

The difference that has always amused me is that I found kindred spirits for my love of early classical music in the unit. Both the USM and the OC were like-minded.  So that may have earned my bumbling ways more tolerance that would  otherwise have been the case. I can't imagine another army unit being commanded by people of such arcane tastes, though one of the university regiments might be a possibility.

I was pleased to see that Colonel George Kearney was both present and looking robust -- a man of both academic and military distinction. He must be getting on  now.  But he still managed a stentorian voice for his talk to us all.  And he still has hair!

His vintage showed in his choice of dress, however.  Dress was specified as casual and his dress was indeed a form of casual:  Reefer jacket with grey trousers. I have in fact worn that myself at times in the past but I think its fashionability dates to the '60s or thereabouts. Just as old ladies often wear the hairstyles of their youth, old guys tend to wear the fashions of their youth. The young folk of today must at times be nonplussed by the number of decrepit-looking old guys getting around in shorts much shorter than is now normal.  But we wore such shorts way back when so we still do

It was also interesting to see how the majority present interpreted casual.  There was great consensus that it meant dark trousers and an open-necked checked shirt.  I wore that too.  I "fitted in" for once!

There were actually other similarities among those present: Most were healthy-looking tallish old folks, mostly in their 60s, I would guess, but there was of course a considerable age range. A sadness was that most of us had thickened at the waist but mostly not by a lot.  Both Rod Hardaker and I were, however, among the less virtuous in that regard.

I was remembered during the night mostly for an accident.  During drill for recruit training, I managed to stab myself in the hand with a bayonet.  I think that made the day for most of those present at the time.  I still have the scar. A scar of honour?  Maybe.

I think there were about 60 people present at the gathering so I was a bit disappointed that many of the people from my time were not there.  I was however pleased and interested to greet those I did recognize.  The time that wounds all heels had changed most of us so greatly, however, that we mostly didn't recognize one-another at first.

I am afraid that my native jocularity burst its banks at one stage when I was talking to Peter Muir.  By way of announcing that Peter and I had been at camp together at one stage, I announced to those present that Peter and I had slept together!  In case that produced confusion, I followed that up with a comment that "But those army beds were very uncomfortable".  All present would have recognized a reference to the foldable canvas stretchers that we slept in at camp. I think there were about 8 men per tent in them.

Most of the evening was just spent chatting and catching up but we did have some short talks after a couple of hours -- mostly  reminiscences.

I am rather peeved that John Howard civilianized the assessment and selection of army  recruits  on the grounds that civilians could do the work more cheaply. If you are evaluating someone's suitability for the army, who better than other army men?  I am told however that the civilians who got the job were in fact largely former army psychologists.  The remaining psychologists in the Army have been  absorbed into the Directorate of Health.

Janice Schloss (Johnston), Rod Elsworth, Rod Hardaker, Len Little above (L-R)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Guy Fawkes, a dinner and a 4-year-old

Yesterday was Guy Fawkes day: "cracker night".  But we are not allowed to own or use fireworks these days in most of Australia.  You now have to go to New Zealand to honour that historic and fun tradition.  We are now "safe" from ourselves.  Good that the Kiwis allow people to take their own risks.  And I see that Von has introduced Hannah to her heritage in that regard.

But all was not lost. The evening was still a good one for me. I shouted Jill and Lewis a pre-Christmas dinner at the "Sunny Doll", my favourite Japanese restaurant.

Anne and Jill have a lot in common.  They both do a lot of travelling and both read a lot of books.  So they chatted around 2 hours away without scratching the surface.  They are both very chatty ladies but they listen too, which is not true of all chatty ladies.  Lewis and I were left to chat to one-another for a fair bit of the time but Lewis always has plenty to say so that worked too. We had plenty of laughs anyway.

Lewis is a good example of how much we owe the Ashkenazim.  He was a pharmacist for most of his life so is pretty cluey. But he has had rather a lot of bad luck. Despite having lowish blood pressure he had a rather bad stroke shortly after his retirement.  But he fought back against it and has recovered very well.  He can drive again etc.

And he immediately took an interest in the subject of stroke.  He involved himself with other stroke patients and helped them with rehabilitation.  And he became such an authority on stroke, that, at age 82, he gets called on to give medical students a talk on the subject.  And, among the many other things he does, he also became a "visitor" at the "Wesley", a private hospital that we all go to for medical services in our old age.  So he goes around the wards just offering a friendly word and a friendly ear to people laid up in their hospital beds.  He could just stay at home and watch TV but he has got that restless Ashkenazi energy and likes to be active.  So he is well-known and appreciated at the Wesley.

But the Wesley is very popular and has only 500 beds (public hospitals often have over 1,000) so there are occasions when they are "on bypass" -- i.e. they tell the ambulance service that they are full and cannot take in new patients.  And that happened recently when Lewis had a bad turn and the ambulance was called.  After they had put Lewis in the ambulance and asked him where he wanted to go, he said the Wesley, of course.  But the ambulance did not move off.  He asked them what was the problem.  They told him the Wesley was on bypass. He said to them:  "Tell them who you have get on board".  They did and the Wesley immediately  accepted him

He told me that story last night and I pointed out to him that what happened was a good example of what one of my favorite Bible texts says.  In Ecclesiastes 11:1 we read: "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days" (ESV).  In other words, do good without thought of reward and a reward WILL come.  He earned and got the special treatment he received.

I ordered for all of us at the restaurant, as I know the offerings well.  We had a dish of tempura vegetables to start and I ordered Chicken Teriyaki Don for Jill and Lewis.  I had my current favourite, which is Omurice with pork --  and I ordered a Pork Belly bento for Anne.  It is quite a big bento there so everyone was impressed by it, including Anne, as I knew she would be.

Chicken Teriyaki Don

And now for the 4-year-old.  After the dinner Anne told me a little story about one of her sons when he was 4.  I have always found age 4 to be the most gorgeous age for a bright child.  They do and say such funny things.  I adored Timmy and Joe at that age.  So Anne's boy at age 4 had figured out the clock to some extent.  And he noticed that he usually got his lunch at around 12 noon.  So promptly at noon he would sit himself down at the kitchen table waiting for his lunch and would yell if he didn't get it.  Anne was of course not always ready to give him his lunch at exactly that time but her son's actions certainly hurried her up.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The cup

Once again I watched the Melbourne cup along with most of my fellow Australians. And it was exciting as ever, with a huge change in ranking at the last minute.  And it was a 100 to 1  outsider that came forward at the last moment to win.  Big Orange led for most of the way and would have looked a cert for anyone unfamiliar with cup runs.  It fell right back at the end, however.  And the winner, Prince of Penzance, was a New Zealand horse ridden by a female jockey, the first female jockey to win a Melbourne cup.

New Zealand horses often do well but this horse was originally bought for only $50,000 so is still a huge surprise. The owners were six mates. Describing themselves as “small fry owners", the men decided to pool their cash and buy a nag they hoped might win at a country meeting. They probably backed their own horse at 100 to 1 so will be rich men now.

I drew the favorite in a sweep but none of the three I drew got anywhere.  But Tom Waterhouse also got it wrong so I am in good company.

The ever immaculate Tom with wife Hoda, a lady of Iranian origins

And a home-made dress won the Fashions on the Field competition

28-year-old Emily Hunter wore an outfit run up by her mother.  She is now in line for some very rich prizes, worth around $100,000 all up.

I can't myself see what was good about the winning outfit but what I know about fashion would fit on the back of a small postage stamp.  I do note however that the winning outfits over the years have tended to be fairly conservative

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Alex Barnes

As I have only recently had confirmation that my old friend Alex Barnes is deceased, I thought it right to put up a short memoir of him

Alec with his trusty Leica in 1969

It was while I was working at a shop called Gearco that I met him.   The shop sold both transmission machinery and photographic supplies.  I was about 19 and he was in his 30s so he did seem very "old" to me at the time but we got on well nonetheless. Alex was interested in photography and originally came in to buy photographic supplies and talk to George Smith. He and George were in some sort of photographic club together.

One place where I saw Alex out of working hours was on Sunday afternoons at Centennial Park -- where I went to heckle the soapbox orators and he went to get candid photographs.

On various other weekend afternoons I would also drive out to his place in my little blue VW sedan and we would listen to old records together and drink coffee. Alex invited me to call on him after I expressed an appreciation of Caruso. Alex had a collection of old Caruso 78s (78 r.p.m. records). So we would spend very enjoyable afternoons together listening to old records and chatting.

It was by going out to Alex's place that I learnt that I was caffeine-sensitive. Alex would always brew good coffee which I greatly enjoyed having with him. When I got home that evening, however, I would be WIRED -- very hyped up and unable to sleep that night. So I eventually learned to avoid the coffee.

 I found Alex to be a very kind, intelligent and sensitive person but very lacking in self-confidence. For that reason I was always very supportive in whatever I said to him and Joy was amazed when she saw me interacting with him in the same way many years later (I introduced Joy to him on the way to our honeymoon destination in Cairns). She did not know that I was capable of having supportive friendships.

Alex married an old girlfriend of mine, Joyce Hooper -- also now deceased. I used to see a bit of them until Joyce took exception to something I said -- after which I was persona non grata

Alex and Joyce had three children but it was not a happy marriage