It’s not heaven when . . .

When Grandpa passed away, we were sitting on the veranda after the service and Aunt Katie, the black sheep of the family, asked,” I wonder if Alf in is Heaven or Hell?”

We all looked at her stunned and Dad reprimanded her in a stern voice, “Katie that’s not the sort of thing you say at a funeral! You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.”
“Well, “responded Aunt Katie, as if thinking aloud,” Let’s face it, he was pretty rough on his wife. He was a heavy drinker, loved his rum, smoked like a train and he wasn’t slow to use the odd swear word either. He resented giving any money to the Church, the poor or any other charity. He sure as hell wasn’t an angel!”

That got us kids thinking and we pestered Mum for an answer all the next week. The following week was the school fete and there was a fortune teller there. We figured she must be pretty good because she wasn’t anyone local.  Finally, probably just to shut us up, Mum decided to pay $20 and get a reading done.

She came out of the fortune tellers tent about 30 minutes later, looking quite upset. Dad was trying to calm her down, telling her, “Come on Jane, you know it’s all a bunch of hokem. It’s all smoke and mirrors stuff with those ‘one-fits-all’ statements, like  ‘a tall dark stranger will cross your path’.  You can’t think it’s for real! Surely!”

Dad’s efforts weren’t having the desired effect, Mum didn’t look too convinced, so he decided to probe a little deeper, “Well did she say he was in Heaven?”
“Well no, not exactly.” Mum stammered.
“Then, did she say he was in Hell?” Dad asked becoming exasperated.
“Well no, not exactly.” Mum stammered.
“Well then. What’s all the fuss about?  What makes you think she even spoke to him? Why are you so upset?” He insisted.

“Well I knew it was for real when she said she had some obnoxious old man who was always asking for a ‘bloody Rum and Coke 50-50 no ice’ and was chain smoking cigarettes.” Mum replied hesitantly.
“Ok. So it sounds like him alright but what’s the problem?” Dad asked.
“It’s not what she said, it’s more what she didn’t say, that gave it away!” Mum said holding back tears. “They don’t tell you the really bad stuff.”
“I don’t get it. What didn’t she say, that’s convinced you he’s not in heaven?” Dad asked impatiently.

“He was chain smoking as usual and the cigarettes just lit themselves. He never once asked for his “bloody lighter”!” Mum howled.

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Jumping posts and tree stumps

Being single and new to Melbourne, I knew no-one. I decided to try meeting people by answering those “Personal Ads” that appear in the local paper. Many were probably weirdos but surely there had to be a few relatively normal folks out there too. Just in case, I arranged to meet at a coffee bar, where there were plenty of people present, just two blocks away from my house. After a few meetings where I met some really ‘interesting’ people, (which convinced me that if ever I was to become a consulting psychiatrist, personal ads were the perfect way to meet new clients), I met Izzy.

Izzy was a fast talking tomboy who was an outdoors fanatic, backpacking across Australia. She spent a lot of time researching wildlife and claimed to have spent several months learning bush survival skills with some aboriginal people in Arnheim Land. For you folks who don’t know Aussie, Arnheim Land is the classic “Outback” you imagine, when you think of country Australia. If the thirst doesn’t kill you, the sun fry you, or the heat send you troppo, then the crocs, or snakes will.

As a Kiwi, I had seen many interesting documentaries about the diversity of Aussie wildlife, so when Izzy asked me if I’d like to come on a bush walk with her next week, I quickly accepted. After all she had learned her stuff in Arnheim Land. I was in good hands right?

Where I came from, the bush was so thick that 10 metres was all it took to vanish. This Aussie bush here is completely opposite. It’s sparse; you can still see someone 50 metres away. The trap is the distance and the way the bush here can all look the same.

We drove north up Plenty Road, out of Melbourne, through Whittlesea to Kinglake. Izzy said she had been here several times before on nature photo shoots but this time wanted to photograph the lake. “Everything’s cool I know this place like the back of my hand!”’ she assured me.

When I stopped to get some Aeroguard (insect repellent – an essential for any Aussie outdoors activity) at the Kinglake store, Izzy waited in the car. I asked the attendant for directions to the lake. She kindly explained thet Kinglake was named after some poet, there was no lake.

Well of course! Everyone should know that Kinglake is called Kinglake because there is no lake, just like Antarctica has no ants and New Zealand isn’t new and Turkey isn’t where turkeys came from!

Izzy wasn’t too impressed when I relayed this information to her but we resolved to go on our bush walk anyway. We set off on one of the signposted walking tracks with cameras at the ready. Izzy pointed out the different plants as we went along. She certainly knew her stuff. We came to a large clearing, a couple of hundred metres wide, with long grass and about half a dozen tree tree trunks or old posts, standing in the center. Maybe the forestry had been doing some felling here.

“This is the sort of place you see ‘roos”, said Izzy as we headed back into the bush.
It wasn’t long before we came to a similar clearing with a few more grey tree trunks in the middle, then another identical clearing. The sun was dropping below the tree tops, the light no longer reaching the ground in the bush. It was getting late and night would be falling soon. Again we came to another of those clearings.
“I think we’re lost”, I said.
“ No”, Izzy said confidently. “I recognise this clearing by the posts in the middle. We’ve traveled around the rim of the clearing, so the car isn’t far away at all. We haven’t come as far as you think. The car should be a couple of hundred metres beyond the far side of the clearing”, she said as she strode out into the clearing, heading for the far side.

It was at that moment that the half a dozen posts in the center of the clearing bounded away – they were a family of Eastern Grey kangaroos. Apparently when alarmed, they face the threat and stand very still. Their colour and stillness makes them look like a tree trunk. Only when they feel danger is getting too close will they bound off.

An Eastern Grey Kangaroo with her Joey, look similar to a tree trunk or old post, close up.
Standing in that empty clearing, looking at the over confident Izzy, did I start to wonder; how many of those other identical clearings also had Eastern Grey kangaroos?
If each one had been a new clearing, we could be miles from the car!

When darkness fell and Izzy’s confidence was gone, I pointed out a yellow glow not far to the south. “That yellow glow is from sodium lamps, usually street lamps. If we head in that direction we’ll reach civilisation” I said. Sure enough after an hour’s walk, or rather stumbling in the dark, we came out at a roadside embankment I recalled passing on our way to the car park.

Since then I have shown many travelers around Victoria and they often express disappointment at not seeing a kangaroo but you could be staring straight at a group of them and never know it, until they move. I often tell them about that walk in Kinglake.

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Marketing Jargon – Avian relocation

I recently had to sit through a management meeting of marketing executives. Their goal was to increase the number of products sold so the company would make more money. There were so many buzz words, acronyms and gobbledegook going around that room, I thought I was going to drown in it. I haven’t seen so much B-S- since I was a kid on the farm in the milking shed.

Honestly these guys could make breathing sound like a logistical nightmare!
It got me wondering, what would the meeting sound like if their goal was something like, “Why did the Chicken cross the road?”

I imagine the summary of the meeting would read like this:

“After considerable discussion it was agreed that deregulation on the chicken’s strategic market share and therefore territorial limitations on it’s roadside location was challenging its dominant market position. The chicken was faced with significant challenges to create and develop the competencies required for the newly competitive market if it was to maintain it’s dominance in it’s market niche. Symes and Hamiton Training Systems were engaged as Business and Marketing Consultants in a partnering relationship with the client,(S.H.T.S).
S.H.T.S, helped the chicken by rethinking its physical distribution strategy and implementation processes. Using their Business Unity Logistical System (BULS).
S.H.T.S helped the chicken use its skills, methodologies, knowledge capital and experiences to align the chicken’s people, processes and technology in support of its overall strategy within a Program Management framework. S.H.T.S convened a diverse array of road analysts and best chickens along with S.H.T.S consultants with extensive skills in the transportation industry to engage in a two-day itinerary of meetings in order to leverage their personal knowledge capital, both tacit and explicit, and to enable them to synergize with each other in order to achieve the implicit goals of delivering, successfully designing and implementing an enterprise-wide value framework across the continuum of poultry cross-median processes. The meetings were convened in natural environmental settings, conducive to creating a strategically based, industry-focused conceptual understanding of the target market niche and founded upon the concept of a consistent, clear, and unified market message, aligned with the chicken’s mission, vision, and core business values. These outcomes were integrated into the future training programmes, so successful that a new partnership was created as Symes and Hamiton Integrated Training.
Since the Business Unity system is so diverse, a Business Unity Logistical Language (B.U.L.L) course has been developed and will be registersed for national accreditation on behalf of Symes and Hamiton Integrated Training. Thus upon completion the client (Chicken) will be accredited with the following qualification as :
Mr/Ms Chicken B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T.
Upon completion of this course and subsequent graduation the client can seek relocation to a point beyond the median, with a new territory, to further develop the newly available market niche.”

It just begs the question, exactly what do we pay our executives for . . . come to think of it, what exactly is an executive?

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Overheard in a classy establishment

When my brother was going through University, he worked evenings in a high class hotel bar. We used to look forward to him coming home every weekend. He always had some great tale that would leave us laughing. Because it was a classy establishment, patrons were frequently trying to out do each other. One incident began with three well heeled friends discussing how successful their sons were, each one trying to better his companions:

Robert said how his son had started off with a really sleazy coffee bar and had built it up into a chain of franchised cafes across Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland New Zealand. Now he was looking to start one in Christchurch. He was so successful he had given his new partner a cafe as a gift.

Daniel next told how his son had started with a small vacant lot, created a car sales business and built it up into a dealership selling luxury cars in six states. He was so successful he gave a friend a new BMW as a gift.

The third patron, Mike, said his son was an investment consultant and had done so well, that he was well on the way to making his second million. He gave his friend an entire portfolio of shares worth thousands now but would be worth hundreds of thousands in a few years time.

A fourth patron Tom, known to all the others arrived later looking flustered and obviously upset.

When they asked him what was wrong, Tom replied that he was having the worst possible day.
“My son is in serious financial difficulties with his coffee bar business, that his partner had given him. He’s discovered the previous owner had falsified the books and the business is a disaster.”
“ Oh no!”, the other three chorused.
“Wait, it gets worse”, Tom continued, “I had to collect him from the panel shop because someone had run into his new BMW that one of his clients had given him and on the way home we heard the stock market had crashed and the portfolio his latest lover had given him was virtually worthless. He can’t afford the repairs on the BMW. He asked me for a loan to get it out of the shop!”
“ Oh that’s bad.” They chorused in sympathy.
Then Tom continued, “But it gets even worse; my son came out and admitted he’s gay!”
“Look, times have changed Tom” Mike consoled him. “These days it’s different. Gay people have all the rights of straight people now. It’s not all that bad.”
The others nodded in agreement, all except Tom who was close to tears now.
“But it’s worse! When I asked him about his work, he confessed he’s a gay prostitute!”

Robert, Daniel and Mike all looked at each other, very concerned.

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Ol’Jess steak and mushrooms

Mum was a regular church goer and they had this thing going where a group of wives took turns to cook lavish dinners once a month. It came round to Mum’s turn and since we had just butchered one of our cows, she decided to serve steaks all round, sauteed in mushrooms, red wine and garlic.

It would be a big job but as luck would have it, Grandma was coming to stay that weekend too, so it was do-able with her assistance.

The only problem was the mushrooms; the local store didn’t stock them. It would mean a two hour drive to the suburbs and a supermarket. Dad suggested we use the wild ones that grew in the bush block by the creek.

We had eaten them before but Mum was really worried we could mistakenly pick the wrong ones. Dad came up with the idea of cooking a steak with the mushrooms, the day before and feeding them to Old Jess the cattle dog.

The day arrived and Mum and Grandma cooked up the mushrooms with wine and garlic into a rich dark sauce. They cooked up a piece of porterhouse steak medium rare, liberally covered it with the mushroom sauce and gave it to old Jess. She thought all her birthdays had come at once and quickly scoffed the lot. Jess was fine all that day, so it was deemed the mushrooms were safe.

Mum and Grandma slaved away for hours preparing the meal for the church ladies and it was a grand affair. The evening went very well. They were finishing their desserts, brandy baskets of fresh berries and cream, when Grandma, looking very worried, beckoned Mum out to the kitchen. There on her mat was Old Jess, dead. Grandma was sobbing, saying how Jess had died in her arms and she’d bought her inside and put her on her favourite spot – her mat.

Mum quickly called the hospital and they sent out an ambulance. They had to stomach pump everyone – not a pretty site.

Grandma was so distraught, she just kept sobbing, stroking old Jess.

It wasn’t until the church ladies and ambulance had gone, that we were able to get any sense out of Grandma. She said, “And the bastard in the car who hit her never even stopped!” she said.

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The Hogmanay Taxi

Hamish McPherson, our neighbour, was a burly Scotsman who was very proud of his ancestry. Whilst you wouldn’t call him an alcoholic, he was known to over indulge occasionally. You’d know because he’d get out his bagpipes and toture all near and far residents in the valley for a few hours. Scotland The Brave is a moving tune on bagpipes but after an hour, it gets a bit much. I think it was the only tune he knew how to play.

We used to work in together with him sharing equipment. We had a hay mower, he had a baler, We would pool our resources and together bring in the hay harvest, so we soon became good friends with the McPhersons. So when we were invited to the Scottish Society’s Hogmanay celebrations we felt very honoured and readily accepted, on the proviso we took our own car of course.

Well it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. I danced so much that the next day, I couldn’t walk, my legs were so sore!

When the party was at that stage where you could see it was ending, Dad piled us all in the car and asked a very wasted Hamish if he wanted a lift home. Hamish was still in party mode and declined saying he’d get a taxi home. We figured as he hadn’t bought his car there anyway, he wouldn’y be driving home drunk, so it was safe to leave him there.

The next day, a very hungover Hamish appeared on our doorstep. He had caught a taxi home. He distinctly recalled the police roadblock waving him through without a breath test. The only problem was, he couldn’t remember who the taxi belonged to, that was now parked in his garage!

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Inflight smoking area

A close relative in New Zealand suddenly passed away and I was executor of their will. It meant I had to get there urgently and the only booking available at that time of year, without emptying my bank account, was a budget booking with Tiger Airways.

Their aircraft are not renowned for spacious seating arrangements and as luck would have it, a rather large American lady sat in the next seat. Even worse, she reeked heavily of cigarette smoke. To top it off, she was one those who can’t tolerate silence and with a breath that was reminiscent of decaying smoked fish, for the next three hours I was to hear her life story.

Not long into the flight she began to complain loudly that all flights were non smoking and how it made smokers feel discriminated against. I have formulated this theory that the closer we get to heaven, the harder God tries us – here was the evidence!

An hour into the flight she left to use the bathroom. I was enjoying the peace when after only 30 seconds my nightmare travelling companion returned in tow of a flight attendant, protesting loudly that Tiger Air should have a smoking area on flights. All eyes were on the pair as they came up the aisle. Everyone wanted to see who she would be inflicted upon.

As they neared me, the attendant steered her skilfully to her seat and she flopped into it. The resulting effort momentarily silenced her. While there was a gap in her complaining he pointed to the plane’s exit across the aisle and said in a polite clear voice, for all to hear, “Mam you are welcome to step outside if you feel the need to smoke. I’m sure the flight crew would be happy to provide you with a parachute!”

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Long hair and walking

My older brother Shane, turned 16 and as soon as he could, he sat and passed his learners permit. It was agreed Mum would accompany him driving so he could get some experience until he was eligible to sit his full driving licence.

The day came and he sat (and to our surprise) passed his driving test. He spent the next two days trying to get to drive the car. Finally Mum made a pact with him. If he improved his school grades and got B’s or better in the coming exams, studied the Bible and got his hair cut (Dad’s condition), she’d let him have the car to and from school.

So Shane studied really hard and surprised us all with B’s and an A pass. He had been reading the bible and could even retell parts of it. When he reminded Mum of their pact she commended him on the grades and the bible study but remined him that the third stipulation was a haircut.

“Well”, replied Shane, “All the stuff I read in the bible was about blokes with long hair, like Moses, David, Solomon and even Samson, who lost his strength when his hair was cut, so I figured I should keep my hair long.”

If Shane thought he’d get one over our parents, he was sadly mistaken. Dad had walked in the room and heard Shane’s reply. Without even blinking he just answered, “And did you notice they all walked everywhere too?”

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Mum’s Christmas Present

My brother and sister and I had been making lemon honey and lemonade and ran a stall in the local park, for pocket money. Dad had helped us make a barrow, figuring it was a good parental move to foster our entrepeneurial skills. We had a few problems with the council but when they realised it was just kids making pocket money, they turned a blind eye.

It was Christmas and we had to get a present for Mum. We decided it had to be something really special since for the last month we had comandeered her kitchen for our enterprise. We each decided to get her talking and see if we could find out what she wanted most, that we could afford to buy. After a couple of weeks we sat down and compared our findings in a list.

It took a bit of planning but we got Mum’s number one item on the wishlist. We arranged for it to arrive on the 24th of December. I set the alarm for 5:00am so I could wrap it and slip it under the tree.

Fast forward to Christmas day and the opening of presents. One by one we all got our presents and began opening them. Mum picked hers up and the bottom was all wet and dripping.

To our surprise, she wiped her finger along the bottom of the box, holding it up to admire a golden droplet of liquid about to drip, she grinned at us kids and said “ I bet it’s something to do with lemons!”

Then before we could respond, to our horror she stuck her finger in her mouth!

The present was a puppy.

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Grandma’s Birthday

It was Grandma’s birthday in New Zealand and Mum figured since we were on the farm in Australia, she would call Grandma and we’d all sing Happy Birthday over the phone.

Personally the idea appealled to me about as much as a visit to the dentist but reluctantly I agreed to take part. Dad was more diplomatic; he said yes and vanished out to the shed. I should add it was winter, cold and raining but nothing daunts Mum’s determination.

My sister tried the “I can’t hear you” routine with her earphones on but Mum wasn’t fooled (when I pulled out the plug). My punishment for being mean to my sister was to brave the elements, get Dad from the shed and bring him back inside.

So after a lot of shuffling Mum arranged us around the phone and cajoled us to do a practise run. Then came the moment of truth – she dialed the number, complete with the International Code prefix and pressed the speaker button. After a few rings, we heard a lady’s voice say “Hello?” and all burst forth into song.

When we finished, there was silence at the other end. After a pause, somewhere in New Zealand, a voice came back, “I think you have the wrong number. It’s not my birthday and there’s no-one here with a birthday but keep it up. You obviously need the practice!”

Grandma got a card that year, signed by us all.

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