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“And Remember, Bring yer Money with You”

I remember in the early days of TV, Saturday afternoon, around lunchtime, we had the pleasure of watching Joe the Gadget Man (Joe Sandow) the moustachio’d spruiker for Nock and Kirby’s.

Joe paraded a mind-blowing array of stuff that seemed to me as a then child, perfectly designed for the kind of tasks that simply never happened in my world.  Spilling red wine on a flokati rug ?  No red wine.  No Flokati rug.   Moreover if a (usually) kitchen task was critical to the mysterious inner workings of Mom’s culinary operations, I’m pretty sure that she could have mastered the thing with nothing more complex than a knife or a spoon.

I remember hundreds of variations on apple corers.  Apparently this was a major problem of the late 1950s and 1960.  There were slicers of every imaginable kind.  I suspect that the footage of hapless vegetables being sliced to oblivion was speeded up, because few people in my world repeated brave tales of massive domestic efficiencies wrought by these miracles of plastic and stainless steel manufacture.  Or more than likely,  the hundreds of hours saved through the utilisation of such culinary wonderment were neatly offset by the time spent in this assemblage for the job and dismantling and CLEANING after the event.

I can well imagine that Joe single-handedly drove the overfilling of kitchen drawers and the nation-wide construction of cupboards.  I can’t remember any gardening objects, but I can  imagine the odd one or two dads who lusted after various jigs and guides to ensure the straightest cutting of timber in the construction of the cupboards to which we have alluded previously.

These must have been from the ranks of the domesticated family man sort of Dads, amongst which my Dad was denied membership.  He was domesticated for some of the week, but the weekend belonged to the Picnic Point Bowling and Social Club.

Dad prepared for rolling the Bakelite bowls by climbing into his creams while Mum prepared lunch.  I am certain that this was always some kind of salad with ingredients that had magically eluded Joe’s devices.  I remember delicious Grosse Lisse tomatoes, Kraft cheddar cheese, tinned beetroot, grated carrot, maybe some ham, Golden Circle  pineapple rings, iceberg lettuce (I’m particularly indifferent to iceberg lettuce  still – some 50 years later), cucumber slices (my indifference escalated to actual dislike… until I  discovered salad dressing with Balsamic vinegar in my twenties … or maybe I was just unable to maintain the rage against the beasts or the arrival of Lebanese cucumbers and telegraph cuies with less aggressively burp-generating and fart-driving qualities).  I cannot face even the idea of apple cucumbers to this very day.  But I digress.

Dad polished his bowls shoes, put on his thin blue cotton tie, applied the club badge and dusted off his hat.  Preparing for the battle to come.  We ate and then he either walked through one of our neighbour’s yards and through the inevitable gate in their back fence e (cutting off about a half a mile of street travel), or in latter days he drove our second-hand 1963 Volkswagen beetle deluxe.  I love that, don’t you ? A DELUXE people’s car- meaning that the doors were lined and I think the wheels had trim.  Such luxury.

Then Mom and I would settle down to her cup of tea and my orange cordial and watch Midday Joe.

It was a kind of distraction.  The hours before the storm.

I had come to understand, if not the cause, definitely the effect of the battle of the bowls.  Some hours later, my father would return to the humble abode, worst for the drink, dinner on a red hot plate under alfoil in the oven, desiccated past “dead dingo”, jovial or belligerent but always, like a phial of nitroglycerin likely to explode at the slightest provocation. He habitually slumped and went to sleep in the Dad chair.

Mom and I had a well-honed routine.  Dad has been dead for 26 years but we are masters to this day of being small targets.  We can fall into a pond and not create a single ripple.  We are agreeable, but not to the point of annoyance.  Chameleon-like we can make ourselves invisible against any wallpaper, upholstery or carpet pattern.

I should point out that he only ever hit me once, and that was at my Mom’s urging (I was a very naughty boy at times).  I must have been about ten.  After he whacked me with a not very hard slap on the bum, I called him an old bastard, as kids are wont to do to see what it takes to provoke a melt down in their folks.  He just laughed a huge, rolling laugh and walked off.  He never hit me again, remembering, I think, with no joy at all, his own father who used to thrash him.

In the mid 1970s he was diagnosed and treated as an insulin-dependent Type II diabetic.  He gave up the grog and became the kind of Dad a son could love and respect.  But it was late in the day and he died twelve years later from metastatic bone cancer from lung cancer and 40 years of smoking Camel cigarettes.That was in 1985.

Mom has never driven a car (successfully) and I sold his 1963 VW Beetle Deluxe for $200 more than he paid for it 23 years before.

And when Mom went into the nursing home, I emptied her house for sale and I threw out the one Joe the Gadget Man device I am certain made it into our lives… a V-shaped serrated plastic knife for decoratively cutting oranges in halves.

Simulated serrated V-shaped Fruit decorating knife (now made in Stainless Steel by the good people at Victorinox

Simulated serrated V-shaped fruit decorating knife (now made in Stainless Steel by the good people at Victorinox

Postscript:  after Joe finished his Saturday gadgetry festival, came the Roller Game (recently revived as a mainly women’s sport – burgeoning worldwide in Newtown) and World Championship Wrestling (yeah, right – what world was that, then ?), sadly  segueing into horse racing in Black and white.

* Joe Sandow died in 2002, aged 89.  There’s a lovely obituary here.