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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

A conversation about old troubles


‘Are you there?’ Albert always answers the phone like that! And Henry has a mental image of him going into a dark room, cautiously expecting someone to be there… a friend or maybe not… half expecting not to get a friendly reply.

‘No, it’s just a ringing in your ears.’ Henry announced.

Since the lockdown, Henry has rung Albert twice a week to make sure he’s ok and to help pass the time of day.

‘Well gidday Henry,’ Albert replied cheerily, ‘how’s your bubble?’ He made a show that he was au fait with the new terminology.

‘Oh we’re cogging along ok, it’s not a lot different for us y’know. But there was a bit of excitement yesterday!’ Henry wanted to draw it out.

‘Why, what happened?’ Albert quizzed.

‘A couple of young’uns in a beat-up old car tried to outrun the cops.’ Henry explained. ‘They went past here like a bat out of hell with a cop car chasing them… they disappeared up the hill. Apparently the cops arrested them up the valley somewhere and the teenage girl spat on one of the cops.’

‘Disgusting young tart!’ Albert almost spat too! ‘Suppose the magistrate will give her a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket.’ He added showing his disgust.

‘I suppose people’re getting itchy after the lockdown.’ Henry tried to explain. ‘So they’re not sticking to the rules like they were.’

‘Young’uns today have got no discipline!’ Albert asserted banging his foot on the floor. ‘They go on about wanting to be allowed to play sport and to open the economy, but they have it cushy compared to what our old folks had to live with! When was your father born?’

‘1901.’ Henry replied.

‘Yeah, not much younger than mine.’ Albert’s mental arithmetic was always pretty good. ‘Mine was born 1892, he told me a few yarns with the aid of a bottle in his dotage. He was 22 when World War One kicked off and came back when he was 27… with a gammy foot from shrapnel. Mum was pregnant when he left and had to make do while he was gone and even after he came back for a while. Mind you he could still make babies.’ Albert laughed. ‘But wasn’t it something like 20-odd million were killed during the war, and straight after another 50 million died with the Spanish flu! That’s disruption for you!  Things must have been pretty tough back then, but y’know Mum never complained, even years later she’d say how hard it was but said they just had to make the best of it.’

‘I spent a lot of time with my Dad in the truck,’ added Henry, ‘he told me about some of the challenges too, he was a young married bloke starting a business when the Great Depression hit. He told me unemployment went up by 30% and the wool price dropped 60% - in those days the country depended on wool. Said he would find random men off the street sleeping in the milk truck or in our barn. He couldn’t employ any more people but he did give them a feed. He worked a twelve hour day, but still had a big vegie garden to help feed his workers and hangers-on.’

‘Yeah we grew all of our food too.’ Albert said, ‘We couldn’t pay for electricity so we used candles at night. For years, my trousers were made out of flour bags! And as for those buggers fighting over arse paper… we kids used to rip newspaper into squares and hang it on a nail!’

‘And the depression was hardly over before the Second World War started.’ Henry remembered. ‘Dad was an essential service, but weren’t there 70 million killed?’ Albert nodded. ‘And that was only the dead ones! I was born at the end of the war but even when I was older, there was a lot you couldn’t buy for love nor money.’

‘Oh yes that was rationing,’ Albert recalled, ‘Dad and Mum managed to produce six of us, and we knew where all the fruit trees were and we had ferrets to help us catch rabbits. Anything imported was rationed. My two older brothers were changed by the war! Especially Sid, he went to Japan.’

‘And people forget about smallpox, by the time I was born there was a vaccine.’ Henry explained, ‘Mum was dead scared of it, later, she showed me pictures of kids with it. Bloody awful!  Reminds me, I saw somewhere… it killed 400 million during the 20th century alone. Mum had us all worried the Russians or the Yanks might release it during the cold war, which made us shit scared of it. I think the last case was in the seventies.’ After a pause, Henry asked, ‘What else was there.’

‘We did alright during the Korean war because the wool price boomed, one of my brothers was there,’ Albert said, ‘but there weren’t the same restrictions here as in the second war. But not long after we were going through the polio epidemic!’

‘Yeah, I remember they had some people in iron lungs,’ Henry recalled, ‘our neighbour, a lad of ten couldn’t stand without callipers after he got it. Mum worried about it too because the story was, the sun on the back of your neck might cause it so we had to wear silly bloody scarves. I used to run around with my shirt off, which worried her. Seems funny now.’

‘And ’62 was the Cuban crisis during the cold war. It us fretting again!’ Albert added. ‘We were listening to reports on the radio thinking we were going to be fried!’

‘Yeah, that’s was my first year in the forestry, we listened to it to in our little huts. The book On the Beach was doing the rounds and we saw the movie, I think at Hamner.’ Henry remembered clearly. ‘We were planning how to survive in the bush avoiding fallout. Rich buggers in the states even dug fallout shelters. And after all of that, the Vietnam War altered my life.’

‘How’s that?’ Albert asked.

‘Well, I was asked to do a forestry aid assignment in Cambodia.’ Henry explained. ‘All the planning was done and we were set to head off when the war escalated, so the government called the whole thing off.! So I’d have followed and entirely different path if it had happened.’

‘Just goes to show.’ Albert said. ‘When you think of it, our parents had to cope with a lot of ups and downs – mainly downs. And if I say so myself, they raised some pretty resourceful kids.’

‘Yep, this modern lot find it too bloody difficult to sit on their couches and stay home for six blimmin’ weeks!’

‘No blimmin’ discipline.’ Albert grumbled.

‘We’ve got to recognise one big difference between now and back then!’ Henry reckoned.

‘What’s that?’ Albert wanted to know.

‘How much do you owe?’ Henry asked.

‘Nothing,’ Albert replied, ‘I don’t even own a credit card.’

‘I’ve a credit card,’ Henry admitted, ‘but I owe nothing on it, and haven’t got a bob owing enywhere. Our parents paid as they went, and managed to have a bit in kitty, but nowadays everyone’s borrowed and are in debt up to their eyeballs! They don’t understand about compound interest, so they’re paying interest on interest right now! Banks!’ Henry’s tone was one of exasperation.

‘Yeah,’ agreed Albert, ‘any wonder small business is belly-aching to get back to work. But they’re their own worst enemy. When they start up, the first thing they must have is a brand new vehicle with a logo printed on it. Not a blimmin’ car either, a big, fat SUV so they can pull the boat they haven’t paid for yet!’

‘That’s it!’ Henry agreed. ‘Exactly!’




Submitted: May 09, 2020

© Copyright 2021 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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