I fell into the routine of life at Pucka very quickly. Visits to Melbourne aside life in the army was good, in the below picture you’ll actually see me smiling, sort of. I’m wearing my first brand new civilian outfit bought without anyone’s help or advice, you can tell. I’m something of a dashing figure in my suede elastic-sided boots, narrow jeans and a great check shirt. Come on it’s hard to cultivate that man of the world look, pose, smile and stare into the sun all at the same time. The sad thing about this photo is the 32 inch waist has long gone, *oh how I miss you* hmm and the hairline. I still wear the same stuff though, enough on with the blog.
Having a fair amount of privacy and down time but being a long walk from anywhere I took up reading again with a vengeance, and the author of choice? Wilbur Smith, his first books, ‘When the Lion Feeds’ and ‘The Sound of Thunder’ stirred the warrior hearts and loins of many a young soldier. For those who don’t know the stories were set in South Africa around the time of the Boer War. The canteen could never keep up with the demand. Our tank suits had large front pockets and wherever you looked you would spy an 8×5 size bulge, of a book that is.
One thing I liked about the barracks was the laundry had a huge bath. I well remember stocking up on a bag of Minties, a couple of cokes, running a hot deep bath and novel in hand settling into the huge tub. No ladies I didn’t have perfumed oils or salts only the luxury of being totally alone and relaxing, and when the water became a little cool just turn on the tap. An endless supply of hot water and no bill to pay, one huge drawback though, I fell asleep. Wilbur Smith got extremely wet and I jumped up out of the bath. You guessed it, I fainted. Super relaxed, my blood pressure must have gone right down and leaping up made it worse. I woke up much later on the cold, wet cement floor. How cold was it I hear you cry? If I were any bluer I would have looked like a Smurf. Lesson learned don’t bathe alone, hang on there were only blokes around, well at least don’t leave the door locked from the inside.
The base had a cinema, this meant people from the married quarters came along. It also meant girls would be there, you kept well away but at least you could look at them. I actually watched the Sound of Music three nights in a row to catch a glimpse of a certain sergeant’s daughter. *Sings, doe a deer a female deer to self* Noooo go away, get out of my mind. This brings us to the delights of Seymour the nearby town. A typical country town, no metropolis here: the Goulburn Valley Highway runs through it, there were cafes; grocers, a few pubs and two barber shops in the main street. Being on foot you weren’t inclined to go wandering around the place. (I’ve had a look at Google maps and the place tends to sprawl out.) New arrivals at Pucka were told about the barber who gave unbelievable haircuts, the story went like this,
“Now listen up you blokes you have to go and get a haircut at this shop. The barber must be an old shearer or something; he gets you in the chair picks up his clippers and just runs em straight up and down the back of your head. While he’s doing this he uses his knee to move the chair from side to side so he gets it all in a few cuts.” *stunned looks of disbelief* “Naw, you’re joking, nobody’s that bad and stays in business.” It was a case of reverse psychology, after hearing the tale you had to check it out for yourself.
Saturday morning comes along and I grab a lift into town, walk up and down the footpath for a little while and gape at real people. Then stand outside the ‘good’ barber shop and stare through the decorated window, with ‘Barber’ painted on it in red and white. The barber smiles and nods at me, his customers, old blokes and farmers sit around reading the paper. One or two glance over the top of their ‘Country Life Magazine’ take a look at me and nudge their neighbours. They look and nod knowingly, sharing a chuckle. The pub isn’t open so it’s a slow wander back down the street and into the ‘bad’ barber shop. It’s gloomy with a fly spotted mirror against the back wall, sad-looking badger bristle brushes stick out of a greasy soap dish, on an equally soapy counter. Enough hair to stuff a single bed mattress is lumped in one corner; a straw broom stands next to it. I gaze at the barber and back at the broom and wonder if his wife had ridden it to town that morning. He’s huge, with a face that has been hit way too many times. If a face is a roadmap of your life then man, he’s been everywhere.
A man of few words he grunts and nods at the chair, and quick as a flash he has a length of toilet paper around your neck followed by a cape that may have been black years ago. Staring into the mirror from the rickety vintage chair that needed a refurbish a century earlier, I stared apprehensively at him. No, “What would you like today, or does Sir want a little off the sides and leave that fine crop on the top.” Nope, it’s out with the shears and knee to the chair. Whizz buurrrr, Flick the chair, whiz buurrrr, flick the chair this goes on for a couple of minutes leaving you a little dazed. Then he’s finished and I stare forlornly at the floor, way too much jet black hair lays there. Standing behind me with his hands firmly on the back of the seat he actually speaks, “Is that okay?” – “I, err, I have a double crown could you sort it out.” His face sagged a little and he gave me a look that could curdle milk. Whizz burrrr and he removed the double crown, gone.
Picking up a brush from the dish he slapped it against the back of my neck, and up around the ears giving it a good lather, it made me feel tainted. The only clean, sharp thing in the shop *other than my wit * was his razor. Giving it a quick strop against the thick leather strap on the wall he stared at me with that undertaker look, mentally tallying up how tall I was and if he had enough wood for the box. When he latched onto my ear with a steely grip, it came to me that he really was an old sheep shearer, and I was an old woolly friend from long ago. A few dexterous swishes of his blade around my delicate neck and the ordeal finally ended.
After reluctantly handing over payment – he still held his razor – I left feeling somewhat wiser for the experience and concluded that he would never run out of customers. Why? Because there would always be young men like me who wouldn’t believe the cautionary tale about the Barber of Seymour.
Some big boy’s toys are bigger than others; you have your fast cars, hot rods, tractors, and various pieces of machinery. Nothing, I mean nothing can beat riding along in whatever position you fill in an armoured fighting vehicle. Look at the picture: beret cocked at a rakish angle, a knowing, devil-may-care look, arm hung over the turret and looking down on the world. With the headsets on and goggles you would almost think that women would swoon in the street as you rode past. I’m fantasizing again. You get my drift; this is serious stuff although some Tank crewman would then look down on us. Not for long, we were faster. There is something about the heavy beat of a big engine, zooming down long roads in an armoured column, feeling the power, the swish of six big tyres. It doesn’t translate well now though with a worn spine from lumping around in the turret, damaged hearing from gunfire and nerve damage. Yet at the time these things never crossed your mind. Why would they? We were young, handsome and bullet proof – nearly. Nobody was going to pimp this ride, going off to the range to get armed up it gave one a chuffy feeling to know that you had some control over all of this firepower.
Imagine for a moment stopping at a set of traffic lights and a car pulls up next to you, engine revving, music blaring and the occupants trying to look cool while fondling their tiny pistols. They gaze up at you in the turret; you stare back raising an eyebrow, nod condescendingly and tilt your chin at the end of your barrel. They gaze at it with a certain envious gleam in their eyes, which glaze over as they drive away staring back at you. Yes, there are boy’s toys and there are big boy’s toys.
I’ll finish these meanderings with a quick tale about boots. I mentioned last week how one would dress in uniform and hitch hike to Melbourne, and be assured of a lift. The following event in a hotel prompted me to purchase my own boots. The issue variety were cumbersome and lacked a decent grip. The Hotel in question was a fine establishment of at least three stories, a downstairs public bar, restaurant and the third floor had a wonderful lounge bar. In its day it would have been swish, at the time it lacked any pretensions of being genteel. The original décor however was delightful: polished oak timber panels and bannisters, marble fittings and stairs, shiny polished marble stairs.
No matter what pub you went to in Melbourne on a weekend you would find servicemen and women. The Air Force had bases nearby and the Navy so there was a regular mix of eager young men and women out for a great time. You may have guessed by now that I had little knowledge of the workings of the female mind, still haven’t, so when you get knocked back all the time you resort to drink. Oh didn’t we drink. Australia has some fine beers and I came to like Victoria Bitter ale, although after a few schooners all beers tend to taste the same. Put yourself in the dimly lit upstairs lounge, if children are hovering near the screen send them away to do their chores and read on if you dare. A table near the far wall had four WRANS (female sailors) sat at it. Many a stalwart serviceman made his way to the table only to come away crestfallen and muttering about women in general and sailors in particular. Those sailors had a great time, they laughed and squealed, chortled and guffawed and when another one came up the stairs they yelled out to her, “Hey, Janice catch this.”
I remember this incident whenever the John Bobbitt case is mentioned, famous for his wife removing his penis with a sharp knife. Janice was no slouch; she leapt up and caught the large, hollow, pink imitation penis that arced through the air towards her in one hand. Then she held it aloft for all to see in its wobbly grandness. Striding to the bar she bought a glass of beer; put the base of the penis into the glass and using it as a straw sucked the beer out through the working end. Management must have thought a riot had broken out when everybody in the bar stood and roared with laughter. So what’s this got to do with boots? I drank that much afterwards that I remember getting to the top of the stairs. Standing on the next step down I slipped and came to rest at the doorway leading to the street. My boots failed me and I hit every polished, cold, glistening marble step on my arse all the way down.
Next week: The Green Machine, The Second Cavalry Regiment and Holy exploding crap Batman!