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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My sister’s fish

As you came in the front door, there was a huge aquarium on a stand. It was the home of a large orange goldfish that my sister had been given as a birthday present about ten years ago, when she was eight.

SPARINGLY the goldfish.

SPARINGLY the goldfish.

It was never destined to be just any fish, according to my sister. It was special, even though it was only tiny in it’s polythene bag. It was special because it came already with a name, she would boast to her friends. It’s name was SPARINGLY.

Yes it even had to be spelled all in capitals too!

Why? You ask

Because that fish came in it’s polythene bag, in a special polystyrene box, all the way from Balarat.

And on that box was his name. It read:

“Feed SPARINGLY twice daily”




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Window Dressing

I was working two days a week in the evenings as an English tutor for new immigrants. They were mostly Chinese and had started off with very little understanding of typical daily English usage. We had come a long way and after 6 months, I had to do a course evaluation. This meant I had to review their progress in an out of school situation.

One student, Lin, a shapely attractive lady in her mid thirties, had landed a job in a rather elite dress shop down town. She had come from humble beginings in China, worked hard at some lowly paid jobs to win her permanent residence and had some strong views about work ethics. This job represented a huge step up for Lin.

I was confident her understanding of English was well above average and added to her demure nature, she would do well at this job. Her understanding of common English usage was so good that we had concentrated on her diction to reduce her Chinese accent. I was about to find out just how good !

An attractive young woman entered the shop with a much older man on her arm. I moved to a polite distance where I would not be part of the conversation but could hear what was said. From her deportment it was quite obvious the attractive young woman was not used to aquired wealth and was making the most of her partner’s financial position, something Lin would have found highly objectionable.

Lin greeted the couple warmly and let them browse for a while. After a minute or two she appraoched them again and asked them if there was anything they saw that they liked.

The man replied, “Yes. Jacqui here saw that emerald green dress in the window and said she’d like to try it on.”

Lin looked at the young gold digger, smiled ever so kindly then addressed her gentleman companion, “I wouldn’t suggest it sir, it’s getting close to lunch time and there’s a lot of passersby.”

She glanced across at me and the smile she flashed, told me the course had been far more successful than I had anticipated.

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Jim’s Ear Jar

Kids just love gruesome tales and scary stuff, so here’s one just for them:

The Tale of Burglar Jim
by D. Hilton-Bright

Here’s the tale of burglar Jim
Who’s luck ran out while breaking in
To Granny’s place – easy meat
An empty house – a quiet street.

Eye of newt, tongue of toad
Dead mans eyes preserved in wode
Snail slime with blood of bat
Ear wax balls and tails of rat

Lizard gizzards in mouse fat
Jellyfish juice and claws of cat
Slugs skins in lemon juice
With freeze dried ants bagged up loose

On Granny’s dresser they all sit
A “Don’t Touch!” spell hangs over it.
In the corner her faithful broom
Silently guards Granny”s room.

The handle turns with the faintest click
A line of light as he opens it
Just far enough to peer inside
He scans his torch from side to side

Yep” Jim whispers, “Empty. Sweet!”
And steps inside on silent feet.
Pushing the door quietly closed
He crosses the floor on tippy toes.

When only half way ‘cross the room
Jim hears a rustle from that broom

That’s when the broom does it’s trick
Splitting off a switchy stick

A whistle sounds in the dark
A crack and thwack and bright blue spark
Lights the room with stark blue light
All shadows gone – no more night

Jim’s spies an ear laying on the floor
He screams in pain but once more
Another whistle, another ear
In stark blue light, sits bleeding there.

Screaming, Jim runs out the door
And down the street, quiet no more.
As lights come on yellow and pale
Following Jim’s receding wail.

Eye of newt, tongue of toad
Dead mans eyes preserved in wode
Snail slime with blood of bat
Ear wax balls and tails of rat

Lizard gizzards in mouse fat
Jellyfish juice and claws of cat
Slugs skins in lemon juice
With freeze dried ants bagged up loose

On Granny’s dresser they sit . . . but . . .
There’s a jar of ears – freshly cut!

Granny's dresser with all the specimen jars

There’s a jar of ears, freshly cut!

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Speed trap

Our oldest sister, Liz , was the smartest one in the family by far. If there was a way of making a dollar, even as kids, she would find it. I recall one of her “enterprises” when she was only 13.

The O’reily’s, up the road, were always in trouble with the police. You’d often see the divvy van parked on the verge outside their place. Living on the main road, they would pull in and park on the nature strip.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Liz seized the moment. She hastily made a large sign that said “Speed camera ahead” on a sheet of cardboard and told my brother and I to go up the road a few hundred metres ahead of the O’Reily’s. Liz headed off in the opposite direction with one of Dad’s old hats and another sign.

Just down from the O’Reily’s was an intersection with a compulsory stop sign. Liz set up the sign there with the hat beneath it. The sign read “Thanks for the Speed Trap warning” and an arrow pointed to the hat below.

That evening when Liz came home, she had made $27.50.

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Granny’s grey hair

Mum was always one to use cautionary tales, especially with my sister. I always thought it was a bit unfair because us boys copped a switchey stick but the girls got off with a tale or two. Especially my oldest sister, Liz, she could be a bit precocious. She always had an answer. She was just downright cunning and good with words.

I recall one incident when Liz would have been in her early teens, say 11 or 12. By then Mum was in her early 40s. We had noticed Mum’s chestnut hair was shot with a few grey ones. Of course Liz had to comment.

Liz asked Mum,”Why are some of your hairs turning grey?”

Mum saw the opportunity for another one of her cautionary tales and replied, “That’s because every time you do something wrong a hair turns grey.”

Liz was quick with her reply. Without missing a beat she came back with, “Is that why Grandma’s hair is all grey?”

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Father O’Leary’s license

Father O’Leary had been the local priest since just after Abel Tasman discovered Australia, if you believe the locals. He drove an old Morris Oxford – about as rare as hens teeth here in Australia, which was probably just as well because his driving was terrible. The only reason he hadn’t contributed to the road toll was his car stood out enough to warn everyone it was the “Mad Monk” coming, as he was dubbed by the locals.

For years he had been driving all around the district and it wasn’t until a new cop was stationed at the local police station and booked Father O’Leary for speeding, that we realised he’d never had a license. Note “NEVER HAD” a license; so for over 50 years he had been illegally driving! Apparently when he began in the ministry, they never needed one and in the country everyone knew who he was, so he reasoned that he didn’t need any other form of ID.

Although we were all relieved he was off the road, the church wasn’t well off and he was a local, so the fine was paid anonymously. Some wag handed out Road Code books in lieu of hymn books the next Sunday and Father got the message that he should sit his license like everyone else.

It took about a month with everyone firing a driving regulation question at him every time he appeared outside the church, until he had the road laws memorised and he was taken into Bendigo to sit the test. To everyone’s relief, Father O’Leary passed the written and verbal test. A village delegation waited outside the Vicroads office in Bedigo, for Father O’Leary to come back from the driving test . . . and waited. Finally after an hour and a half, the “Mad Monk’s Morris” came chugging up the street, driven by the testing officer – not looking good!

As the Father and the testing officer were walking into the Vicroads office I heard the testing officer say, “It’s a wonder you haven’t caused an accident!”

Father O’Leary glibly replied, “My son. that’s because the Lord is right beside me when I drive.”

The testing officer was quick to respond with, “Well Father, in future he better ride with me because you’re gonna kill him!”

It took another four tries but eventually Father O’Leary did pass the driving test. For a while his driving even improved.

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