Tag Archives: regular

Falling for an age-old problem

HERSELF and I were on a mission.

We belong to a Probus club and had agreed to organise the monthly outings. Choosing the outing venue is not so difficult but then comes ‘transport’ and ‘the meal’.

A few years ago, neither Herself nor I (not ‘myself’!) could have imagined ourselves sitting in a coach with a lot of other old people, all wearing name tags, going on ‘an outing’.

To be seen going on an ‘outing’, in a bus/coach with a lot of other older people, was code for the horrified thought,

“My God, he’s getting past it! I can never see us doing that!”

It’s a bit like ‘the fall’.

When you are younger and assumed to be in control of your faculties, you just ‘fall over’. You trip because of too much exuberance or because you just make a miscalculation.

When you get older, you ‘have a fall’ and that’s an entirely different thing altogether. As soon as the phrase, “Poor old X has had a fall!” is uttered, it is inevitably followed by raised eyebrows and a knowing, “Oh dear.” Not the casual, “Oh dear, that’s a bummer. I hope s/he gets better soon,” but the more sinister “Oh dear!”

Immediately everyone checks their smart phone diary to check whether X’s obviously imminent funeral might clash with their regular HRT appointment or their base jump booking.

So leaving the shuddering horror of the situation to one side, let me proceed.

Hire transport tends to come in two sizes, the 24-seater,  adequate but a bit like crossing the Himalayas in a billycart, or the 48-seater coach, the more comfortable and more expensive, stretch hearse alternative. Before hiring the 48-seater, for an outing in a month or two’s time, you need to be sure you can get the 48 participants with at least 10 on the waiting list because, as you know, at our ages, we have a lot of ‘falls’.

Then there are the outings we can get to by public transport.

This means we have to ‘do a recce’ beforehand to check the timing, the ease of access and where we might have lunch.

Now you’d think cafes and quasi restaurants would go

out of their way to attract cashed up oldies on an outing.

They have no trouble setting aside seating and tables and in some cases providing a fixed price meal but as soon as you ask, “Can we have separate billing?” so many of them throw up their hands in horror and complain that it’s too difficult. Strange, because our Dine Out and Lunch groups find restaurants that manage quite well and have received return business as a result. So we trudged from one venue to another, desperate to find somewhere that wanted our custom.

We eventually found ourselves in Federation Square and as it was Saturday, the second hand book sellers were set up in the food hall

area. Herself trawled the tables looking for titles we probably threw out when we shifted a few years ago. In the meantime, I was ordering lunch and checking out the cafes as potential lunch sites.

“I’ve found these!” she cried.

I walked over to be somewhat amazed that what she had ‘discovered’ were six titles from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. It seems that our Enid has had somewhat of a resurrection. Our grandkids are devouring her books and we were both amazed an delighted to hear from our local bookseller that Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series are also constant sellers.

“The kids can borrow these or we can read them to them,” I was informed. “And at $50 for the six, they’re a bargain!”

I suggested we check out Young and Jackson’s as a possible lunch venue before we took the train home. It was as inflexible as the rest.

We could pay $32 a head for the “express lunch’ in the upstairs posher section, but again, we would need to collect the money “to make it easier for us”.

As we walked to the train station we felt a little subdued.

Public transport to the venue was a doddle but lunch! It seems we were going to have to either collect money before the outing or go through the nightmare, on the day, of collecting money, people not having the correct money, not having change to give people who didn’t have the right money or people making addition and subtraction errors leaving us with the shortfall to cover.

On the train we decided to pre-collect the lunch money.

Then Herself rummaged in her bag and then started reading, Five Go To Smuggler’s Top. She offered me one to read but the thought of a man of my years being seen reading Enid Blyton on a train was almost worse than being seen on a

coach, wearing a badge, going on ‘an outing’.

Christmas on the edge

Village Green

OUR first proper home after we married was a tiny, pock-marked, white ant-riddled cottage, perched on an impenetrable limestone ridge on the edge of the Mallee, known officially as the Head Teacher’s Residence.

Attached to this shaky old structure was the single schoolroom. It was here we enjoyed our first years of teaching, at State School No. 4041 Wheatlands.

As the end of that first year approached, we were reminded, on a fairly regular basis:

“We’d better start practicin’ for our school concert.” We were told the concert consisted mainly of carols and “some other stuff”.

A local young pianist of some talent provided the music. She had taken it upon herself to teach the children some beautiful Australian Christmas carols. We followed this up with some bush ballads.

We decided to extend the Australian content.

We had toyed with the idea of performing a little play.

We searched the shelves of the educational bookseller in Bendigo but found nothing suitable: all too ‘English’ or too ‘soppy’ for these down-to-earth Mallee kids.

I had been reading The Magic Pudding to the whole school – all eight of them. (You try holding the interest of kids from Prep to Grade 6 with the one book.) The book was highly successful – perhaps we could do a dramatisation of The Pudding?

Being a published author by this time and recognising my moral responsibility, I wrote to Norman Lindsay seeking his permission. I included a number of children’s drawings of his characters with the letter and received a charming response, granting permission.

We built the script on the blackboard with the kids all collaborating, cast the play from the steps and stairs that was the total enrolment of the school – Bunyip Bluegum, Sid Sawnoff and the rest of them – and began rehearsals.

All seemed to be going well, but by the time we were approaching performance I realised the Grade 5 girl cast as Bunyip Bluegum was not coping with Bunyip’s convoluted dialogue. At the last minute I made a drastic decision. I would have to play Bunyip Bluegum! So I donned the magical koala ears – crafted by a skilled parent from rabbit fur and wire – and gave it a run.

Problem: I didn’t know the lines! So we built a cardboard gum tree and hid the original Grade 5 girl inside as ‘prompt’.

The performance was a wild success. The combination of me with rabbit skin ears and the Grade 5 girl bellowing the lines ahead of me from inside the tree, with me following limply behind, brought the house (or rather the corrugated iron hall) down.

The following year we had to eclipse our previous effort. So we decided to write our own play – and we’d make it a musical!

Once again we constructed the story and dialogue on the blackboard, titling it Christmas at Boggy Creek.

This time we could craft the characters to the children who would be playing them.

(The Grade 4 girl who was the village postmistress who opened everyone’s mail, actually became a real postal clerk and remained so through her working life.)

We incorporated several bush ballads with lyrics tweaked to fit our story. The plot explained how it was discovered that Santa Claus was not visiting Boggy Creek that year – so something must be done. Skulduggery was discovered, but justice prevailed, the local bushranger turned from villain into hero and the ‘real’ Santa Claus appeared on stage with his bulging bag and proceeded to hand out presents – purchased by the Mothers’ Club – to every school child and preschooler in the hall.

We knew it would be a hard act to follow; but by the following February the teacher had moved on and the school had been closed due to diminishing enrolment. A neighbouring farmer bought the limestone ridge, and demolished school and residence. The site has long since reverted to wheat crops.

Footnote: A writer friend, who viewed the performance, suggested I send the script to the ABC. So I did what I thought was a creditable radio version and posted it off. It came back in due course, suggesting the work was mainly visual. Could I rewrite it for TV? This 40-minute version went to air the following Christmas with a fine professional cast, marking the beginning of my future new career.