After the sad moving away of my first love ‘Marga’ to Utrecht, never to be seen again except in restless hand- fantasies, the days of touching and viewing of her roseate breasts were over. Little could I have known then it would be years before any girls would feature again, well after that fateful day in my V8 Ford to Woy Woy with devastation of Willy Willy storms, tempests and a very tough unyielding female friend.
I was terribly crestfallen, immensely sad and understood how Napoleon must have felt after being banned to Elba. When my parents were planning to migrate to Australia I almost wished for a change of heart. I was ready to embrace Siberia instead and totally related with the music of Schubert and his Lieder with his longings for a grave in the deepest and coldest of oceans. I just about ruined my father’s wind up record player with over and over again listening to music plumbing the depths of despair, tragedy and the morbidly supernatural. My head was at a downward slope and acute angle to my chest, not unlike the swans featured in the songs of Schwanengesang D957. I relished it when I learned he had died at just 32.
My mother noticed my listless poking around at the mince and spuds. “What’s the matter Gerard?” “Oh, nothing mum, I am not hungry”. “Why don’t you read a good book?” This is of course one of the most damaging and maddening questions a mother can ask but she did love her kids. “I am sick of reading” I skulked, hoping she would not ask if my hands were kept above blankets at all times.
I did try, and had rigged up a small globe attached by some clever wiring to a square battery allowing me to read numerous Jules Verne books underneath the blankets. On some mornings the most magic of frozen patterns on the inside of the windows would greet me, totally symbiotic with my mood. Winters were never as cold as then. An icy wind would blast a wounded soul steeped in a ridiculous juvenile self-pity.
But, as often happens when young and down, another world opened up. It became the world of soaking postage stamps off envelopes and cards and sticking them in albums. It was the perfect hobby on cold winter evenings. It became a hobby that so enthralled me, I became manic, going around the neighbourhood asking for stamped envelopes.
I had started this some years before but with the advent of first sexual twinges and a twirling Marga I had thrown the album somewhere in a box together with my collection of leaden soldiers and horses. During imaginary games of war with friends, I rigged up my mother’s spring loaded wooden cloth pegs and with rubber bands had fashioned primitive cannons. Wet props of paper as cannon balls shot down opposing soldiers and their horses on our corridor’s wooden floor.
The time between adolescence and adulthood were turbulent and with migrating plans now well on their way, (We had seen numerous Australian Government promotional movies with postmen joyfully leaping over sun-drenched white picket fences with waving brilliantly white toothed gleaming happy neighbours intermittent with white crested surf and golden tanned girls on Bondi beaches) my parents decided I might as well leave high school and start work earn some money to help our start in Australia.
We would land with the clothes on our backs and traveling trunks filled with linen and pillows or with whatever could be shipped over (my dad’s only suit and neckties, with polished shoes). We would need beds and mattresses first, my mother declared somewhat teary. We can’t land in Australia on the 11th of Febr, 1956 and sleep on the floor somewhere. As it was we ended sleeping on kapok mattresses and proper beds but in Nissen huts. (I can hear readers sighing, not the bloody Nissan huts story again)
The boat trip was still some months away. I managed to get a job with a fruit and vegetable shop. They were high class and delivered to most embassies in The Hague. My job was to deliver whatever they ordered and did this on a heavy-duty push-bike. I pedaled as never before with a solid cane basket fastened above the front wheel and suspended from the handle bars.
I handed my wages over to parents (for 8 beds and mattresses.) but I kept tips which I decided I would save for a camera that I had spotted in the window of a nearby camera shop. It was an Agfa Clack. Numerous times while cycling past, I would stop and stare at this camera.
I learned the cultural habits of those different countries that I delivered the fruit and veggies to by the size of their tips. A limited perspective I know, but I had as yet not developed better criteria. The most outstandingly generous, and I am donning my cap here, was the US. I would get tips more than my entire weekly wages. My Agfa Clack was as good as in the bag within a couple of deliveries to the US embassy of Kipfler spuds and hot-house grown Muscatel grapes…
God bless America- Land that I love etc.
Not only tips, the staff in the kitchen gave me packets of Camel cigarettes (I was smoking) and fed me chicken soup, piping hot. “Sit down buddy”, “you’re shivering, here get this into you”. A most cheerful lot of people and I practiced my school English on them. I never forget their generosity and joviality.
The most miserly were the rich Dutch living in Wassenaar which still is a kind of snobbish enclave on the edge of The Hague with huge houses hidden between oak trees with pinched-up nosed inhabitants. After knocking on the door they would spy me through a little hole in the door first. “Just push the stuff through the opening” they would say in a peculiar ‘high-Dutch’ accent and the door would be opened just enough allowing the vegetables to be pushed through the gap. I must confess that a delivery to an address to Wassenaar involved me snitching grapes or an apple away from their delivery. Served them right, I can hear a chorus of approval from you, the readers.
Thank you for reading…