A Life on the Lam

Unlike David Copperfield, I will not start the story of my life at the beginning of my life, as for all intents and purposes my existence did not begin until the age of twenty one, when I left these shores for Australia. I was what, in those days was called a ten pound Pom. For ten quid the Government of Australia would fly you out to Oz, and all one had to do was to stay there for two years. That length of time could be long in the passing, but, at twenty one years old, the cantering along of the calendar does not mean very much. Only after the age of fifty does time begin to have any meaning for the individual, watin-p and then simply because one realises that one is running put of ones personal stock of the commodity and there are no top up supplies available.

As the aircraft manoeuvred on the runway at Heathrow, I could see my mother waving from the roof of the terminal building. It was at that point that the penny finally dropped as to the enormity of what I had done. As I was negotiating the final barriers in the departure lounge, which would separate me from all I had ever known, thereby pitch forking me into God knows what, I wanted desperately to change my mind and stay. The only reason I continued with the venture was because I would look such a fool if I were to take that quantum leap back into the arms of the familiar, and I had looked a fool on so many occasions in the past that nothing would have induced me to add to my laurels in that department. I cannot but feel that most of the disasters in History are the product of people who lacked the courage to reverse their course.

Finally we were up in the air, this website an exhilarating experience for one for whom not so long ago thought foreign travel to be day trip to Manchester. They had given me a window seat, which suited me perfectly. My travelling companions did not. Nothing wrong with them, perfectly respectable folk, a niece and her aunt. We were only a few feet off the ground when the niece started telling me all about auntie. I suppose the old dear was able to speak for herself, but at the age of ninety one, I presumed the venerable party thought it best to conserve her energy. It was not that I harboured any particular animus against nonagarians, it was just that I was terrified the old dame could cash in her chips at any time and I would spend the flight to Australia wedged between the fuselage and a corpse.

The journey was pure magic, flying over territories I had heretofore only read about in books, the one drawback was auntie. The crew were continuously feeding us, and auntie persisted in shovelling most of her’s in my direction, with the inevitable result, what goes in, must come out. There was an obvious solution to the conundrum, but I was petrified of negotiating my way past auntie in case I slipped and crushed the life out of her, nadiya in those distant days I was far too polite to inform her to shift herself as I needed a dump. When finally I set foot on Australian soil, it was not the Wizard of Oz that was on my mind

I suppose I had anticipated landing in Perth on a Monday and starting work on Tuesday. Naturally, things did not quite pan out in that manner. I did get a job, selling encyclopaedias, but it did not take long to discover I was no salesman. After a couple of weeks, I landed a job labouring in a steel mill. Now, if there is one thing I can not abide, it is physical labour, but when one is broke, one does not chose ones options, just grab what comes along.

With my suitcase clutched in my hand, somewhat reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin I walked from the hotel to the bus stop. The steel mill operated a hostel and a place had been booked for me, sho this is where things started getting complicated. A man approached me, he was much older than I, he chattered away, and, being an amiable cove, I reciprocated. The fellows name was John Wayne, the upshot of all this talk was him offering me a job running a business he was about to set up. I said yes, and before I knew what was happening, I was in a car heading off into the wilds of Australia. As you may have guessed, I was a bit simple in those days, and, unlike a good Bordeaux, I have not improved with age.

After several hours driving, we reached John’s home, he left me alone in the car while he went into the house to explain what he had found in the big city. The squawks, shouts and imprecations echoing around the happy homestead left me in no doubt that his latest discovery did not find favour with his missus, and that it would be a night in the car for me. At that time of year the southern continent could be perishing.

The next day, John gave me a tour of the town, such as it was, all the while telling me how rich his family was, well, I may have been simple but I had not been lobotomised. We stopped off at the local garage to re-fuel where the owner answered a few questions for me. John did come from a rich family, but he was as thick as they came and not allowed access to the inherited lucre, he was given a small allowance and that was that.

Oh calamity, here I was in a wilderness that was not even on the map with a nut case as broke as the Colossus of Rhodes. The business John had been thinking of starting was selling cars. By some miracle, I was able to persuade him to buy an old banger on HP, and I was to take it to Perth and sell it. The ploy worked, forbixindia as soon as the paperwork had been completed I was on my way. The only fly in the rejuvenating serum was that I was not very good at driving. I negotiated the one hundred and seventy five mile trip back to Perth in second gear as that was the only one I could find. On the way I had phoned the steel works and told them my wife had been rushed to hospital with appendicitis, and I would be in work the next day. So, I still had a job to go to, but, by God, I’d had one hell of a fright.

Working in the steel mill was ghastly, but it had to be done, there was no other option. Every day I scanned the papers in search of more congenial employment. One particular advertisement caught my attention, I rang the number given, they asked to see me. Bingo. A few days later I dumped the jalopy, then it was off to the Pilbarra. At that time, the North West of Australia was like the Klondike in the Nineteenth century, people came from all over the world to work there, about the only nationality one did not see was Australian, they had more sense than to go to the place. If on the odd occasion you did sight one of the natives, it was odds on that they were either running from the law or their creditors, it was as sure as Hell they were not there from choice.

Life here was like nothing I had before experienced, the rules of normal society were not ripped up here, they had never existed in the first place. In one particular fight, a man had been knifed to death, they had to keep the body until the police arrived, so they stuffed it in the canteen’s walk in fridge. Unfortunately, no one took the trouble to tell the cook, who suffered the indignity of a heart attack on discovering a stiff where the bacon ought to have been in his cold store.

It was here in Dampier that I mastered the art of driving. I’d had lessons back in England, but my efforts were so lousy that the instructor had refused to teach me any more, but here in the out back, with unlimited space and no competition for it’s monopoly, I perfected my skills. I had particular trouble with reversing, as the essential fact that when executing that particular manoeuvre one had to turn around and look where one was going, eluded me for quite some time, but eventually, all came well.

Weekends were spent in boats. The Dampier Archipelago is a series of uninhabited islands set in turquoise waters, every weekend we would set out for the islands we took our own beer and caught the fish when we got there. Now civilization has poked it’s nose into that little paradise, and it is now necessary to obtain a permit to set foot on the islands. They call it progress for God’s sake.

Six months in Dampier and I was off, if one had but a scrap of ability coupled with a reasonable grasp of the English language, then one was in demand. A few jobs later found me in a town called Wickham, same neck of the woods, same game, construction. It was while at Wickham that I had the great adventure of my life. Nothing would ever compare with the period which I spent on Legendre Island.

As at Dampier, weekends were spent in boats, and after the statuary six months at RRIOA, I developed a chronic dose of itchy feet. Loving islands as I did, I decided it was time to go and live on one. For the venture, I purchased a small rowing boat approximately the size of a bath tub, this was totally inadequate to negotiate the fourteen miles of open sea to reach Legendre, so a friend towed me out, and there I was left, completely alone with no contact whatsoever with the outside World. What I ate was what I caught, just as well I had always been fond of fish.

My stay on the island came to an abrupt end. Some friends had come out to visit me, but their boat capsized and when they failed to return to the mainland, a search was instigated. The first I heard of all this was when a helicopter landed on the beach besides me, the chopper had a glass front and mine was on display as I was starck naked at the time, which was the state in which I was returned to civilization

Once back on dry land, I needed a job. Quickly. Having often cooked for friends, I thought it reasonable to try my hand as a cook, my friends thought so too, and told me of a pub whose owner was in need of a chef. I marched into the pub and announced that I’d had my own restaurant in London. I was given the job on the spot, it was for a week and I was to start there and then. That night I cooked one hundred and twenty covers with great success, which lead me to believe the patrons had no palates and their knowledge of food did not extend far beyond the confines of a cornflake box.

Convinced I was the reincarnation of Escoffier, I set off to Melbourne to conquer the culinary world. Jobs came and went, the worst was in a country pub where I was entertained on a nightly basis by then sounds of the pub keeper belting his missus from one end of the joint to the other, and I was not going to stand up for her, he was built like a brick dunny and getting my ribs broken was not in the job description.

Time to go home, I had seen the World, or at least I thought I had, little did I realise that I had only just started. On my return my family treated my like the conquering hero, but the trouble with families is that they think they know you, and the problem is, they invariably do. The “Darling your home” refrain soon changed to “Why didn’t the bugger stay there”. Not to worry, I was soon up and off again.


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