Let’s wrap it up. I can only speak for myself here and say that the army sucked after returning from Vietnam. Perhaps I had changed? Who knows, all I do know is that I didn’t feel the love. I would have gladly gone back into civvy street but hey, a contract is a contract. The army changed its whole way of training for the future, it looked to the European style of land warfare as a future challenge. Funny that, they ended up in Iraq and Afghanistan, enough of them. In my first six months in Townsville I attended and topped a Crew Commander’s course back in my old unit, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Sydney. Spent a happy few weeks travelling from Weipa in Cape York and back to Townsville, driving an armoured command vehicle, and being promoted to Corporal, busy indeed. I was going to talk about the trip, it involved the whole squadron being flown by Hercules transport to Weipa, then making our way through some fine countryside. Instead I’ll rattle on about me. What’s different I hear you ask? Well, I was. Looking back now I can see all the early signs of PTSD in my life, intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal (hyperarousal). I remember around this time M.A.S.H began screening on television, I couldn’t watch it because of the helicopter sounds. I had a couple of close friends, yet most of the time I would go out on my own.
A 350cc Honda road bike entered my life and changed it completely, It took me out into the world. Another corporal took me under his wing and gave me some basic instruction. I rode on a learner’s permit with him for a while then the world became my oyster. That old bike took me north to Cairns, south to Bowen and west to Charters Towers, that covered me for weekend leave. I rode it to Brisbane once on Christmas leave, my bum hurt that much I bought a new Honda 500cc four-cylinder. I considered the then, top of the range 750 Honda but theorised I would have more chance of killing myself on the thing.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the pic of a 350cc Honda.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the pic of the 500cc Honda.
I only ever came off a bike once and that happened on my L plates. Riding along a sandy track near the beach and I went arse up. Woke up flat on my back with the heady aroma of cooking flesh wafting around, my cooking flesh. The bike had landed on my leg and the exhaust pipe burnt through my boots, jeans and into my shinbone. That hurt. I even took it on the ferry across to Magnetic Island, and nearly dropped it into the sea getting it back on via a narrow ramp. Phew.
Pic by me of Arcadia at Magnetic Island.
I tried to get relationships going, although nightclubs can be difficult places to find lasting love. I did at first however set my sights on the daughter of a Greek café owner. I would ride into town every Sunday morning and stop at the Garden of Roses café for a decent, mixed grill breakfast. The owner served in Tanks in the Greek army in WW2 and would chat with me for a few minutes. Then on the way out I would turn on the charm with the daughter. After paying the bill one morning I asked her out. A few days later I turned up at the café, only to hear my name being called. Looking up I spotted a large, Greek orthodox priest bearing down on me. My first thought, What the bloody hell is batman doing here? I don’t want to sound disrespectful but hey, the man looked huge. Up close and personal he didn’t look any better, especially when he warned me off the girl. To sum up the conversation, “She is Greek and her family have a husband lined up for her.” I gathered this through the spittle, bristling beard hair and a venal vomit of racist epitaphs – from him. I know when I’m not wanted.
Being an aficionado of a good cup of coffee, I spied a sign in a tiny shopping arcade – Annie’s Café, and cappuccino. Nothing to lose here, helmet under my arm I climbed the stairs and sauntered into the tiny establishment.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the image.
The first thing to get my attention was, an excellent life-size drawing of Little Annie Fannie. A cartoon character from Playboy magazine, the next, a wondrous vision of a blonde-haired, busty beauty standing up from behind the counter. I kid you not, here was a woman who ticked all the boxes in my tortured, lonely mind. I stayed for two hours, talked and drank three coffees before her husband turned up. I know, I felt disappointed too. We all became great friends though, believe it or not. Hugh a fortyish, Scottish marine engineer married to Aubrey, a mid-twenties daughter of an Arizona cattle rancher. They were trying out a new venture and I became their favourite customer. After a few months they moved downstairs, to a double shop with a street frontage. They were not only a coffee shop now but a record shop too, and I found myself in casual employment. Laurie the bouncer, table cleaner and DJ. On Friday and Saturday nights you could hardly move, it became the place to be.
I can’t deny that just being within yelling distance of Aubrey made me feel better. Her voice had a soft drawl to it and her big blue eyes mesmerised anyone looking into them. On Saturday nights after shutting shop, I would go with Hugh to the bank night deposit box, then we’d all return to their flat for a drink and a chat. Hugh didn’t appear to be a fool, and one night while feasting on cold beers and oysters Kilpatrick he said, “Laurie, I’m going to be away for a couple of nights next week, Aubrey wants to see a movie or two. Can you take her?” Cough, choke, gasp splutter, “Err, yes of course Hugh, no worries.” I know what you’re all thinking and no I didn’t do anything untoward. Looking back I still don’t understand the dynamic that operated there. Did he think she needed to go out with somebody closer in age? Was he testing my loyalty as a friend? I can’t say. I do know that sitting with her through the movies, (no I can’t even remember what they were) then taking her home, I had never felt so normal and happy in my life up to that point.
Seeing how happy they were and not wanting to intrude, the urge to find a mate grew. I don’t want to go into detail here, other than I had met someone on leave. Yes, a blonde, blue-eyed cattleman’s daughter. How bloody spooky is that? The need for love and sex seemed to be uppermost in my mind and I proposed to her. When I returned to Townsville and gave the news to Hugh and Aubrey it was his turn to cough and splutter. I now know why young men don’t listen to older men, because young men think they know it all. Guess what? Older men usually do. He tried to talk me out of it, or at least to have a longer engagement. No. I knew what I wanted – his wife. I couldn’t have her so……. In all of this the universe, in its own, perverse way re-introduced me to somebody else. My current wife. Several months away from my wedding I’d come home to Ipswich on leave for a week. I’d just sold my motorbike *wipes tears away* and wandered into town before picking up my first car, a second-hand Ford station wagon, with its own mattress in the back, *nudge nudge, wink wink.* Get a grip Laurie. Feeling particularly lonely and down in the mouth I wandered past Coles, a department store at that time. Peering in through the window I saw a vision of loveliness, perched delicately on a stool at the cafeteria counter.
I have to add here that she wore a black beret, and a black coat which hung open revealing a trim form in a mini dress and lovely legs. Feeling quite confident I strode up to her and said, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice you sitting here alone and I wondered if you would like to have a coffee with me?” She gave me a quizzical look. “All I want is somebody to talk too.” She looked nervously around and then accepted. We sat in a booth, drank our coffee and chatted away. We were both engaged, she would be married in the August and myself in the October. After finding out she was a nurse, I realised that I’d first met her a year previously while visiting my mother in hospital. What a small world. Can anybody see the connections here, nurses? I would meet her again ten years later when I served in the police.
After the honeymoon my wife and I returned to Townsville and quick as a flash we were pregnant. I introduced her to Hugh and Aubrey, she took one look at Aubrey and sadly I never saw them again. I don’t want to go into the last couple of years of my army service, other than we went south. Our son was born in 74 and by January 75 young Laurie became a civilian again. For those who have followed this series you will remember my arch-enemy and nemesis……. The Dixie (huge cooking pans) I spent the last week as a soldier bashing them in a discharge depot. Did I have any regrets about leaving the army? No, my C.O had promised me my sergeant’s stripes if I signed up for another six. Not this little black duck, I had other things in mind, the police force. Looking back, I know darn well that there were many things I would have done differently. I didn’t and I can’t change anything. I’m well aware of the old, ‘Live in the now, the moment, don’t look back.’ Yet, I can’t help at times running the tape backwards and looking at the what if’s. I’m amazed at the way life put people in front of me, and the decisions I made which weren’t always thought out with the correct head. Needless to say I’m happy in my life now and enjoy it for what it is, a bloody great place to be.