Previously published stories from 'Guinea Pig in White Wine Sauce' . 

Tales from Book 1 we published on this website in 2023.

Unpublished stories from Chez Alain. 

Tales from Book 2 will be published throughout 2024. 

Continue reading on this page to find the latest release. 

Unpublished stories from Chez Alain. 

Tales from Book 3 will be released weekly in 2025

Tale 14. Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça?

I have a pet hate.

Apart from large Alsatian dogs. 

It is the increasing frequency with which dining establishments insist on writing their menus in a foreign language, or even worse, a mixture of foreign languages to confuse the diner or add a little exotic flavour to the printed menu. I don’t mean foreign restaurants in foreign lands, where one just closes one’s eyes (and nose), makes a carefully considered selection by a random poke of a finger and hopes for the best. I mean those Australian restaurants purporting to have an infusion (as opposed to confusion) of several cultures in their cooking, thus transporting the diner to taste bud heaven during the dining experience.

Thus, a standard five star meal of ‘Finely minced sizzling pork fingers, panfried to perfection and gently laid atop an underlay of jacket Coliban smash, richly laced with King Island double cream and a knob of unsalted Mersey Valley blue ribbon butter,’ might become almost unrecognizable if the important words were written in Italian or French. I mean, how on earth could a common dinerperson expect to understand that they had in fact ordered the exquisite meal of sausages and mash, as so eloquently described above, if it were written in Esperanto?

I suppose the Immigration Department must wear a great deal of the blame. There are so many foreigners here now.

I don’t mean ourselves, the people who really belong here, who emigrated forty years ago. Nor those who saw the first rays of light and emigrated fifty, sixty or even seventy years ago. No, I mean those other lemmings who jumped off the cliff at the end of their own country and swam over here en masse only ten or so years ago. None of whom have yet developed the cancerous growth on the inside of their noses that makes them speak with the Australian accent. 

I mean they don’t even look like us do they? Not that we look alike, mind you. (Except twins. And Irish people. And sheep. And Tasmanians of course, however the less said about that the better). What I mean is they look different, as well as all looking the same. Oxy morons, the lot of them. And migrants talk differently too. As if they were from a foreign country. Like we were. Of course, they won’t settle in like we did. It will take them far too long. A generation or more. Foreigners are like that. Unsettled by nature. And a bit dim too.

Still, I don’t really mind them much. 

It’s the prejudiced ones I can’t stand. 


It was Loretta who inadvertently drew my attention to it.

She and I were travelling together in ‘The Blue Jellyfish’ and had the further company of my little darling wife and her almost female school friend who had the social disease. A happy go lucky, close knit little bunch of travellers, but perhaps not too close to the young lady with the social disease. Nor too close to Loretta either for that matter, because I was quite married at the time to my little darling and although we all had to eat, sleep and breathe within a few feet of each other, my little darling made quite sure that there was always enough distance between myself and Loretta so that we might not become too closely acquainted.


Loretta was a teacher.

A physical education teacher.

And she was exceptionally physical. A point made quite apparent to me when in inclement weather, we all had to undress within the close confines of the van before retiring for the evening. It was a little frosty outside and being reasonably uninhibited, the nubile Loretta quickly took off all her upper garments before turning around to ask us if anyone had an alarm clock. I thought I could give her one.

Two things became immediately apparent to both myself and my little darling.

Quite points of interest in fact.

Firstly, the lass was very well muscled in her upper torso. A much moreso torso than my little darling whose only physical education had been of a more personal nature shortly after her eighteenth birthday and secondly, the air close by me was becoming just as frosty as the air outside. My little darling wished to make sure I remembered my sporting days were now over and therefore required little interaction with members of any opposing teams. Points seen and taken notice of.

Having alarmed my clock, Loretta jumped into her little bunk with the easy spring of one used to physical exertion and bade us goodnight. My darling suggested I might like to remain fully clothed that night in case it got even frostier and I catch my death of a cold whilst I slept.

It appeared a quick cuddle was out of the question.

It was.


The next morning my darling covered me with the blankets (in case I got cold of course) whilst Loretta dressed, then assisted me to revive when Loretta had finished and had left the vehicle with our medically challenged friend. I thanked dearest for her kindness and she reassured me with her special smile that she would be most happy to do similarly every morning so that I might not get into any physically educating discussions with Loretta whilst it was nippy out. She also sidled up and reminded me that it was her privilege to set my clock, not Loretta’s. And she would also decide when it needed winding up too.

Since we were now alone and talking quietly together under the blankets, I said I could distinctly see both her points and told her they were delightfully well made too. Quite an articulate lass for one so young.

This seemed to please her ladyship somewhat and we remained married long enough to join the others outside. They were sitting on a fallen tree trunk a few metres from the van, enjoying a steaming mug of Portugese instant coffee that tasted alarmingly like the Spanish instant coffee we thought we had safely left behind us on the other side of the Pyrenees. It had obviously tracked us down and was now travelling on a false passport.

Faced with the prospect of having to imbibe another delightful mug of warm sand for morning tea later on, a shopping expedition was organized and three leaders elected. I was then unanimously elected by the leaders to drive, navigate and carry the required groceries, makeup, fashion accessories and lingerie from the shops to the van. I was also told that I might be called upon to translate, in the unlikely event that they were not able to fully utilize their combined skills and knowledge during their intercourse with the native Portugese as they asked for directions.

Because I spoke French.

My leaders were equipped with unparalleled feminine logic and I bowed to their greater communication skills. My only contribution to the discussion was that whilst we were out shopping, perhaps we could also buy a bucketful of penicillin.

Just in case.



We arrived in the town square at around ten o’clock and the natives were milling about on the footpath in ones and twos, nonchalantly going about their own Portugese business as the Portugese do. I was instructed in feminine triplicate to drive the van slowly along the road until we approached alongside one of the locals who would then be hailed by one of my leaders and questioned as to the whereabouts of the local shopping mall, supermarket or similar suitable place of female entertainment.

Of course I did exactly as instructed and to the explicit instructions of ….

“Faster,”

“No, no, slower

“Not that slow you fool,…….Hey, how about him over there? He looks human. Quick, drive over there!”…….I drove around and around the square as my leaders tried to agree on the poor wretch who would be accosted and interrogated.

Finally, a man too stupid to escape approached the kerbside and I cut him off before he could cross the road to the relative safety of the other side. The van lurched to a halt and Loretta opened the window to address the startled unfortunate.

It is at this juncture that I must inform the reader that Loretta was not only a product of our fine university system, but was also a highly skilled high school teacher who had undertaken further education in interpersonal communication. A professional communicator in fact. 

Loretta decided that since we were in a foreign country, a respectful tone would be much more appropriate than the standard Australian colloquial opening and began with a very formal……………….

“Excuse me sir, we are a group of Australian tourists travelling through your beautiful country and were wondering whether or not you could help us locate a shopping precinct where we might re-provision ourselves.” She also expertly plagiarized and professionally executed the special smile that up until that moment had been the copyright of my darling, showing me at first hand the benefits of her university education. 

The poor unfortunate gave a shrug as if he didn’t quite understand the question. He also winced a little at the smile.

Loretta continued, and using her superior communicating skills, assisted the man to understand by repeating the question, only this time in a slightly raised voice.

The repetition was greeted with the same blank look and polite shrug. A further addendum to his gesture was a sentence in crisp and fluent Portugese that even Blind Frederico could have understood, but unfortunately escaped the consciousness of the earnest Loretta who turned to us and explained that he was having a little trouble understanding her. He was apparently a little slow.

She tried again. This time the lady barked at the man loudly and waited with increasing agitation for his response.

He remained nonplussed, as if uncomprehending.

Loretta turned to us once more and explained in a quiet voice that the man was more than a little slow and she would have to try a different approach.

She returned her attention to the fool and this time increased her voice to the extent where the man not only shielded his face from the droplets of spittle raining down on him from the screaming and jabbering lady leaning out of the van window, but also cupped his hands to his ears in order to prevent any further damage occurring to those particular organs. His actions only infuriated our leader even more and she athletically leapt from the vehicle, grabbed the man by his lapels and verbally accosted the dim wit in her loudest and most strident bellow whilst her co-leaders assisted him to understand from the wings by acting out the roles of shoppers by pointing to various parts of their clothing and jewellery.


It was at this point of the robbery that the man appeared to break down and he began to ramble on and on incoherently in his native tongue. He offered his wallet and most of his clothes, but held with dear life on to his trousers. Loretta looked at me for assistance. She knew that like the bystander, I too had been born genetically a fool and would no doubt be able to understand what on earth the other testicular miscreant was saying. She then returned her attention to the poor unfortunate and screamed at him that I had been instructed to make him understand what even a simpleton should be able to decipher.

The man and I looked at each other for what felt like an eternity whilst we male-bonded and no words were spoken until small tears of grief began to well in the corners of his eyes. He then spoke quietly and eloquently to me for several minutes in Portugese, gesticulating all the while to his mouth and to his ears whilst shrugging intermittently.

I had been married before and so I understood the situation perfectly. I intimated that he re dress because he was starting to turn blue with cold and then I returned his wallet, (less a small commission for handling of course).

I thanked him in my best French, we shook hands and I and drove off in the Blue Jellyfish with his abusers.


It requires considerable skill to manoeuvre a fully laden campervan against the flow of regular traffic whilst being harassed by a screaming witch and two apprentice witches but I managed to avoid several accidents and pull over a few hundred metres further on. Far enough from the nervous wreck on the footpath to reassure him that we would not be back to torment him further. The witches wanted to know what the stupid man’s problem was.

I was able to reassure them that it was indeed not any fault of theirs that they had been unable to get the idiot to understand their polite and erudite enquiry. The problem was, as he had explained to me whilst dressing, was that he had in fact been born with an affliction. He suffered dreadfully from monolingualism and every time he became agitated, the problem appeared to worsen, making him almost incoherent to all but the native Portugese. He had also asked me to apologize profusely on his behalf for his stupidity.

This explanation appeared to appease the witches to a point whereby I felt safe enough to suggest that should we be lucky enough to be able to purchase a large rather than a medium bucket of penicillin for our travelling companion (if we ever found the shops), we might return to the town square and offer a cupful or so to the badly afflicted man and perhaps effect a miraculous cure.


I should have quit whilst I was ahead, shouldn’t I?


Thus I now have a special menu at Chez Alain. It is printed on special expensive card and has an exquisite border of rosebuds and little pieces of fruit all around the outside, where borders usually go of course. It is written mainly in English, but all the important words are written in a mixture of Arabic, Finnish and Romanian.

I only use it whenever chefs from other restaurants are visiting my premises and I look completely surprised when they ask me what on earth the items are, as we ourselves do when presented with the same stupid menus in their restaurants. It is on these occasions I am able to utilize the skills I learned whilst overseas all those years ago and I translate the menu for them in a mixture of fluent French and colloquial Australian.

And a few hours later, the sated monolinguals leave with a much more rounded education. 

Minus shirts and wallets of course.

 

And a small commission for handling.

Tale 1. A Breath of Fresh Air.

It was Mr Pongo who reminded me of the cream.

Actually, it wasn’t exactly what he said to me that gave me the reminder, it was more one of those unsaid things, where the message passes from one to the other without a word being spoken.


From time to time, when I am running low on a few grocery items at the restaurant, I pop into the local supermarket on the way to work. And because it is only a very short trip from there to Chez Alain, on cold wintry days I put the shopping bags full of these assorted groceries on the rear seat of my trusty vehicle. On warm days however, I make room for a small portable ice chest to keep the perishables from any deterioration. 

I remove the chainsaw from the seat to the floor, alongside the can of petrol and fencing repair equipment, push the bale of meadow hay to one side, and carefully pick up the plastic bag full of well ripened fruit which was under the meadow hay and redeposit it even more carefully in the boot, along with all the other farm equipment and mummified fish bait which is kept there in case of an emergency.

There is always fruit in my car, for whenever I call in to see one of my friends or family members, somehow they have managed to just miss the garbage collection that week and so I get handed a large bag of compost as I leave, complete with ten thousand or so tiny little vinegar flies. I’m sure they do this out of spite because I continue to visit them and won’t take the hint to stay away, however they say it is because they know I like cooking and they are sure I will be able ‘to make something out of these.’ ‘Perhaps a delicious coulis?’

They wish to share Mother Nature’s bounteous gifts with me. 

The fruit, the flies and the smell.

They would hate to see them wasted.

When I remember to take them out of the car, I share Mother Nature’s bounteous gifts with any animal silly enough to eat them, however when I forget, my car just fills with the sweet, sickly smell of fermenting fruit. The juice slowly escapes through the inevitable holes in the bag and percolates down the cracks in  the vinyl of the rear of the seat and pools on the floor. The vinegar flies meanwhile multiply until the interior of my car sounds like an audible dog whistle whenever I open the door.

I am quite used to the varied smells in my motor car and can easily distinguish between spilled two stroke fuel, engine oil, petrol, rotting quinces, putrid tomatoes and liquid bananas, even in small amounts. And even when these fairly strong smells are disguised by the bags of chicken manure I regularly bring home in the boot, or the bale of once fresh lucerne permanently parked in the front passenger seat, I can still tell the difference. I think its because I have a very sensitive nose.

I find a lot of other people are very sensitive too and refuse to ride in my car, even when I clear a space for them amongst the debris. I’m sure they don’t want to take advantage of my generosity; but they shouldn’t be so coy, because I am a giver rather than a taker. I don’t mind really. I think giving is so much better than receiving don’t you?


Anyway, it was towards the middle of Spring that I began to notice a slight odour in the car. We had had a run of warm to hot days for about a fortnight and it was about the time of year when my car started to get its seasonal ‘je ne sais quoi’ smell, so at first I didn’t pay much attention to it.

I probably should have, for a couple of days later, the smell became almost offensive and I removed most of the chicken manure from the boot, thinking this would alleviate the problem.

It didn’t.

The smell became worse. So much so, that when my daughter began to wrap herself in plastic cling film before accepting a lift with me to school in the morning, I realized that I would have to do something drastic.

I bought her a weekly bus ticket.

Because cling film in commercial quantities can get very expensive.

And she is a large girl.


It was when my eyes began to water each time I drove more than a few hundred metres that I realized this was no ordinary odour and that it would probably have to be addressed fairly soon.



So, a week later, I enlisted the assistance of my small terrier dog and bribed her to enter the vehicle by showing her a picture of a big juicy bone that I had torn out of a magazine. The silly dog fell for it, and holding her nose, she hopped into the car and began to sniff about in what can only be described as a very cursory fashion until I threatened to feed her to the Doberman next door if she didn’t put more effort into the search. My little doggie loves to tease Brutus and snaps at him whenever he sticks his enormous fang filled snout under the fence to smell our garden. There isn’t enough of a gap for Brutus to open his mouth even one millimetre and my little doggie takes great pleasure in lacerating his jowls with impunity. Brutus has endured this torment for two years, waiting for the fence to rust enough so that he can smash a hole through it and make my little doggie’s thorough acquaintance, starting from the inside.

Doggie immediately began to frantically search the vehicle from top to bottom until she found the problem. She beckoned me over and pointed under the driver’s seat with one paw whilst she held her nose with the other.

I thanked her and gave her the picture.


When I looked under the seat, all I saw was a lot of fur.

I thought very hard.

I couldn’t remember leaving any animals in the car without food or water for any longer than a day or two, perhaps a week at most, so I was fairly sure none could have died, besides which, all the animals I ordinarily kept in the car were far too big to fit under the seat.

I took another look.

The fur was greeny-blue, and underneath the fur was a one litre cream container tipped on its side. This last piece of evidence gave the game away and I realized what had happened. One day, a few weeks ago, I had gone shopping and had bought several litres of cream. During the trip to Chez Alain, one of the containers must have fallen off the rear seat and rolled under my seat where it remained unnoticed. Then, during the hot spell, the container must have exploded and emptied its contents all over the carpet where it had turned into the myriad of wondrous things that only cream hiding in a warm and dark place can turn into. And it wasn’t until the cream made its final transition into aged blue cheese that my highly sensitive nose began to notice it.

The problem was easily rectified. 

I withheld pocket money from my youngest son until he had unbolted the driver’s seat from the floor and surgically removed the carpet underneath. Once again, the vehicle was returned to its original state, smelling every bit as wholesome as a well run dairy farm complete with a litter of a dozen cuddly sheepdog puppies.


That cream episode was but a distant fading memory until the exact moment that Mr Pongo entered Chez Alain. Immediately, an all-pervasive smell made me want to open all the doors and windows.

I thought that if my customer had not actually rolled in it, then perhaps he had at least trodden in something unpleasant as he walked the few metres from the car park to the front door. I sent Andrew out to check whether or not there was any evidence to support this theory. There wasn’t.

I would have to be as tactful as I could, however I didn’t want it to end in tears like the last time I tried to be tactful where I was at a bush dance, dancing with a comely young lass. I remembered my father telling me to always complement a lady wherever possible, so I said that ‘for a fat girl she certainly didn’t sweat much’. Somehow the complement went awry and the next thing I knew, I was dancing on my own.

This time, I would have to use even more tact, although how one is supposed to suggest that one’s customer should have a wash at least once a month without mentioning the word ‘soap’ in the same sentence, is beyond me.

In delicate circumstances such as this, I would ordinarily assume the responsibility of solving the problem, but young Andrew was handy so I enlisted his services.


I asked Andrew to suggest the Pongos perhaps take a seat in the car park. Failing this, they might like to avail themselves of the privacy of ‘The Snug’ where we could make sure they were the only patrons for the whole of the afternoon. Then the door between the two dining rooms could be tactfully nailed shut and the smell kept out of the main dining room where the customers who washed themselves regularly were sitting. This was unfortunately not to be, for Mr Pongo told Andrew that his wife wished to sit next to the big windows in the main room. 

I asked Andrew where he had sat them. He said “Just follow your nose boss.”

Two nearby tables asked to be moved almost immediately, it seems they felt ‘a draft from the air conditioner’ at their table and thought it might be little better a long way away. I agreed, it would be better a long way away. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go with them.

I had to make the best of the situation and decided to make this the fastest three course lunch that Chez Alain had ever undertaken and advised staff accordingly. The voluptuous young Amanda opened all the windows and doors, and Andrew used his initiative and lit several small bowls of incense that we keep especially for the odd occasion when a mouse reaches its ‘use-by’ date under the floorboards.

I took a deep breath and asked Mr Pongo if he would like anything.

“A brandy with dry?”

“A scotch with ice and soda?”

“A bath with soap and water?”


He decided on a scotch and water and I raced off to get it, in my haste forgetting to enquire of Mrs Pongo’s desires as regards drinks. I brought her a glass of chardonnay, complements of the house which obviated a return trip to the compost heap.


It was at this juncture that I began to worry about Mrs Pongo’s olfactory senses. She was in possession of a fine nose. And it was located in the appropriate place, as far as noses go. Between the eyes and just above the mouth. She appeared to utilize the organ for the usual respiration and digital examination purposes, yet she remained blissfully unaware that her husband was suffering from the medical condition known as underarm excruciosis. The lady could smell the wine. She could smell the food. Why on earth couldn’t she smell her husband? Everybody else could.

I asked my medical student, the voluptuous young Amanda whether or not she could throw any light on the subject and her response was fascinating. She took me to one side and whispered to me that medical studies had shown that male hormones (called pheremones) were released by males especially to attract females and to deter other males. It was obvious to her that Mrs Pongo found her husband’s bodily odour quite attractive, and it was doing a fairly good job of deterring every other male in the restaurant from coming anywhere near his mate. She added that there were some males who found the smell of some other males quite attractive too, and this was an insight into their sexuality.

I appreciated the impartation of knowledge, for I found that even from this distance, Mr Pongo’s pheremones were making my own nostrils flare outrageously.


And it was at this very juncture that I realized I was bi-sexual.

 

Not only was I attracted to older women, but I found I was attracted to younger women too. Amanda had been standing very close to me whilst she imparted this knowledge and I was doing my best to release my most attractive pheremones. She also had quite a capacity to make me break out into a sweat. Unfortunately, the voluptuous young Amanda possessed no sense of smell whatsoever and she disappeared into the kitchen to pick up her orders, otherwise I could have been in trouble when she savagely lusted after me.


And being able to come out of the closet like this and finally admit one’s sexuality is like a breath of fresh air dear reader.

Tale 2. A Quiet Sunday.

There is an established tradition at Chez Alain during the final weeks of the football season whereby the proprietor of the establishment regularly devotes himself to self-indulgence on the uncomfortably expensive leather lounge chairs facing his million-dollar television set. Appropriate liquid refreshment is provided to the proprietor by a junior staff member, and customers and employees leave the premises early. They know better than to disturb a disturbed person. Nothing whatsoever interrupts this September weekend routine until one team of butch beefcake wins the premiership, signifying that happiness and bliss for the proprietor has ceased for the remainder of the year, and will remain in recess until the beefcake season recommences a few months later.

Or unless he gets lucky at the senior citizens Christmas disco, whichever is the sooner.

  

The finals are always held in September, which in South Australia is Springtime, so the log combustion fire is still raging in the main dining room, creating an unparalleled atmosphere for taking it easy in front of the T.V. whilst I watch my expensive firewood go up in smoke And if it has been totally unavoidable for the proprietor to take bookings on the day of the telecast, it is also quite nice for dining too. 

This annual tradition has been carefully nurtured by the myself over many years, and at considerable detriment to my September business, but I don’t care. At Chez Alain, football and food take their rightful places, and it is well known by regulars that during the finals, my patrons are liable to receive their soups, entrées and main courses all at the same time if they are silly enough to book on the weekend, rather than mid week when no sport is played. This avalanche of food is of course for their benefit, not mine, for it enables them to leave my business premises quite early and go home to get a good rest before they cut the relatives or visit the lawn, for it is well known that a manicured lawn is a sign of a healthy mind, and I wish my patrons to have as healthy a mind as I do myself. 

It is not, as some unkind patrons say as I hand them their desserts to eat in the car on the way home, to enable me to see at least the last half of the game in peace.

No siree.



Fortunately, business had been poor that particular Sunday. 

Probably because I had pinned a large official looking notice to the front door that read “Due to a typhoid scare, the Health Department has closed this restaurant for the whole of the afternoon”, and only a few totally illiterate regulars had called in for lunch to spoil my plan. They were soon dealt with, and staff who had been given an early minute by their generous boss helped the silly people carry their ice creams and puddings to their vehicles so they could all leave the premises at the same time. Young Catherine, the sole remaining employee after everyone else had been dismissed or ejected, was given strict instructions to do just three simple things (tasks that staff usually allocated to me) in the five minutes left before she herself finished work at exactly three o’clock. (Young Catherine was doing ‘Work Experience’ at Chez Alain. She suffered from a brain disorder and wanted to be a chef if she grew up.) 

Firstly, she was required to make me an enormous steaming mug of hot chocolate and place it on the small wooden table in front of the combustion fire. Preferably on a coaster like they do in real restaurants. And preferably with the mug containing the same amount of liquid when it arrived at the table in the dining room as it did when it set out on its journey from the microwave in kitchen in her trembling hands.

Secondly, she was to deter any would-be customers by making faces at them through the front door. However this was not to include her particular favourite where she stuck a finger up each nostril and puffed out her cheeks. This often resulted in her passing out for a short while on the reception room floor and a lot of otherwise productive time was lost taking a detour around her.

(I made a mental note to vigorously encourage her to cease this habit as soon as the football season finished).

And thirdly, she was to thoroughly mop the kitchen floor, peel a large bag of onions, restock the bar fridge, clean the food fridge and the ladies rest room (preferably with different sponges) and reset the dining room for a private function commencing at seven o’clock that evening. Then lock the door on her way out. 

Just the three simple tasks.


At exactly three o’clock, an exhausted young Catherine dragged her way out of the front door, clutching the piece of leftover cake that I gave her as remuneration for her efforts. Unfortunately, in her haste to leave, she forgot to lock the door on her way out, and just as I had begun to enjoy the hot beverage on the coaster and the beefcake on the television from the comfort of the near horizontal, a person of foreign appearance wearing sub-standard footwear entered the dining room. This person then stood in direct line of sight between myself and the television.


He was a very silly man, wasn’t he?


I gave him a little smile and sat up. I then moved a little to one side, so that I could still see the picture. He shifted position a little to attract my attention and smiled back. (He was Chinese. They smile a lot in China. I think Chinese people invented smiling at about the same time they invented gunpowder).

And he tempted fate too, for not only did he smile, but he commenced to speak and drowned out the dulcet tones of the commentator who was suggesting the umpire should do something entirely inappropriate with his whistle.

My guest asked whether or not we were open, by uttering the two words “You open?” with a Chinese accent. He also gave the appropriate non-verbal quizzical inference, denoting a query.

I thought it rather pointless to tell my foreign visitor that we weren’t open, because if we weren’t open, he wouldn’t be standing in my dining room creating a physical barrier between the doggie and the bone would he? 

If we were closed, the front door would be locked, wouldn’t it? And he would still be outside, which is where he was supposed to be right now, wondering if we were open or how to climb the roof and enter via the chimney as they do in China. And the doggie would be gnawing at his bone in peace, speculating on whether or not the referee could actually put the whistle in that special place.


I was still formulating a suitably diplomatic reply, when the Chinese gentleman’s two friends walked through the curtains and joined him in the restaurant. There were now three poor unfortunate souls in my dining room in direct line of sight between myself and the television, all trying their best to prevent any telecast whatsoever from reaching my eyes. And restrict the gentle warmth from the combustion fire from reaching the poor doggie’s ancient and overworked body.

Since I was unable to see through my visitors, I thought of asking them (politely) to at least open their legs, but since one of my new guests was a lady, I thought it inadvisable. On previous occasions, this polite request has been misinterpreted by ladies of my acquaintance, generally with unfortunate repercussions and ill humour, so on this occasion I restrained myself.

His two companions were also foreign, although not quite as Chinese as he was. There was one tall brown gentleman, obviously from India or Pakistan (or Queensland) who looked like a Bollywood film star, and one dainty and extremely beautiful black lady with attached indoor headscarf who looked like a walking advertisement for expensive toothpaste. My guess was that she was from the Sudan or Somalia, and that perhaps her accompanying male friends were to be used as trade-ins on a herd of goats when she returned home. 

Either that, or she was just using them for pleasure whilst on holidays in Australia and away from her mother………….


I had been denied telecast for too long and what was left of my mind was beginning to wander. I gave a sigh of distress and prepared to rise. They appeared to be a bizarre religious sect who didn’t know anything about football or have any intentions of joining me on the lounge and learning the basics of Australia males’ favourite contact sport, (especially the lady). I would have to go and fetch the health notice from the front door. Then I could read it to them slowly. Then they could leave quietly without recourse to violence on my part. Then I could watch the beef become mince once more.

Or alternatively, I could just hit them with the television remote until they got the picture, so to speak. 

Unfortunately, typhoid didn’t seem to scare people from their part of the world and the leader of the troupe began to talk to me once more. This time about food. He had obviously mistaken my establishment for a restaurant and I gleaned from his jabbering that he and his two colleagues required some sustenance.

To affirm this intention to seek nourishment, he sat down at one of the beautifully set and well-polished dining tables, the result of young Catherine’s efforts for the evening’s function. He removed the bride’s name-tag from the placemat to make room for his elbows and relocated the bowl of orchids from the centre of the table to the floor, (it seemed flowers gave him hay fever). And being a very polite sort of Chinaperson, he offered neighbouring seating to the film star and the gleaming set of dentures. They in turn followed his lead and removed the inappropriate name-tags from their placemats too.

The cult leader then asked me for a menu.


I remained transfixed in the sitting position on the leather lounge, wondering whether or not I had inadvertently nodded off whilst watching the game and was now dreaming.

I hadn’t and wasn’t.

This was apparently happening.

Oh dear!

 

The Chinaperson then said it appeared to be ‘a bit quiet’ at my establishment, ‘perhaps I needed to advertise to pick business up a bit’. Or ‘was the business not going very well?’


Obviously the man had a death wish.


It was going very well until a few moments ago.


I raised myself slowly from the couch and went to look for the big stick Mr Punchy-Punchy the gardener keeps by the front door. The one with which he discourages the local artists from creating anonymous masterpieces on my expensive signage with their cans of colourful spray paint. On the way, I popped my head into the kitchen and checked the kitchen clock to see whether or not the big hand was on the twelve and the little hand was on the three, thus signifying that in all civilised countries not affected by locusts, seven years of drought, pestilence or civil war, that lunchtime was ended.

The hands of the clock were in their correct positions but the stick had gone missing. It appeared their wristwatches must be operating on African daylight saving time, and due to the absence of my patron deterrent, I would have to give them breakfast. 


I returned to my little group of devout nomads and threw each of them a menu, suggesting a glass of excellent spring water and a few crisp cracker biscuits to share. I said this sumptuous repast could be prepared by myself in the twinkling of an eye, in order that they could return to their pilgrimage without further delay. And should they wish to avail themselves of the washroom facilities, they could fill their water gourds from the tap at no extra cost. Compliments of the house.

They appeared not to hear me and continued to read the menu, although the Chinese gentleman sporting the worn sneakers now appeared to be in a state of shock. His knowledge of foreign exchange was sufficient to enable him to convert the tariff into yuan and my suggestion of water and crackers times three was most acceptable to him, since he appeared to be in charge of the finances and the collection bowl had not been filled to overflowing at the last prayer meeting of the cult.

Most unfortunately for him, his dainty Colgate colleague had other ideas, which made me believe I was correct in my assumption that the men were just her playthings. It appeared the smiling headscarf needed to refuel for the late afternoon assault on her toys and in delightfully accented English, she proceeded to order the French crêpe stuffed with avocado, “As long as it contains no meat.”

‘Thank merciful Allah she’s a vegetarian’ I thought, ‘the poor men will continue to live and perform.’ 

I smiled at the gorgeous creature and reassured her that the Avocados used at Chez Alain were in fact special vegan avocados imported from hothouses in Finland, and perfectly safe for her to eat. They were certainly not the carnivorous variety commonly served in the average Australian restaurant. She flashed a smile at me and as I involuntarily shielded my eyes to avoid being blinded, I thought I might encourage her to join me on the sofa later where she could initiate me into the cult. Mr Singh interrupted my dream by ordering the rabbit casserole and a fruit juice, and a rather pale looking Mr Tse Tung ordered the pâté. 

I swallowed a gulp of my now lukewarm hot-chocolate, checked the half time score and turned the television off. The next job was to lock the front door to prevent any further illiterate delegates from the United Nations from entering, and hurry into the kitchen to listen to the commentary on the radio whilst I prepared the fastest meals of my entire life. Rabbit casserole, Avocado and camembert crêpe, and game pâté appeared as if by magic and my new guests began to eat. 

And converse. 

With me.

And being a veritable slave to conviviality, (and not wishing to offend my honoured guests in any way), I returned their conversation. This of course prevented me escaping to the kitchen to listen to the radio, or retiring to the leather lounge located not two metres away by the fire. So I decided to forgo my annual September pleasure for a short while, and became an involuntary ambassador for my country and talked at great length to my visitors about goats, goat herding and the use of animal sacrifices in sexual cults and dental hygiene, (although I didn’t really mean to combine the last two topics). They listened in silence as if spellbound for about an hour until I ran out of information to impart, then they mumbled something about ‘Parkinson’s disease’.

I was devastated.

There I was, treating the three as if they were normal healthy specimens, and all the while they were suffering from a terminal disease. It was no wonder they took no notice of the sign on the front door warning them of typhoid. I wondered if the goats could catch it and asked the lady. 

At least they all still had a sense of humour. They laughed and laughed, and I was happy I had made their final few days or weeks on earth so enjoyable. However, there were only a few minutes of telecast to go, and despite my desire to continue to entertain my diseased companions with small talk on behalf of our proud nation, I tried as tactfully as I could to wind up the incredibly interesting afternoon by tendering the account to the financial controller.

The Chinese gentleman’s hand trembled as he handed me the credit card, confirming the presence of his dreadful malady and I wrapped my hand in a napkin when I took the card from him, just to be sure.

As I placed the card in the machine, I was able to read the unfortunate gentleman’s real name. It read ‘Professor Wu Yin’, and he was debiting a Medical research unit’s business account. It appeared the other members of his sex cult were his team’s research scientists and they were all studying Parkinson’s disease at the nearby medical research centre. Their little lunch had just used up more than half the monthly allowance of the meagre fellowship under which they were studying.

I felt so sorry for them, and said so as I pushed them through the door.

I waved goodbye through the windows as an act of good faith and raced back to the television, just in time to hear the final siren. I gnashed my teeth, frothed at the mouth and started to shake, realizing all too late that I should have perhaps used rubber gloves instead of the napkin.

Tale 3. A Recipe to Relieve Stress.

It is amazing the little things that can fascinate a person and relieve stress at the same time. Babies can be entertained for long periods watching a kitten play with a ball of wool. Small children can be held spellbound for hours watching bubbles blown through a wire loop. Young adult males can be fascinated for weeks on end by the perusal of a single book featuring stories of other young adults without adequate resources to purchase clothing.

Andrew has a similar fascination. I saw him engrossed in one the other day, and for a student of literature, he seemed to have chosen an unusually short book with an awful lot of clourful pictures instead of words. 

It was more like a magazine really.


Anyway, it was after resetting the tables after lunch session each day and reloading the ‘Ladies’ Room’ with a further eight or nine dozen toilet rolls (just what did the women do with all that toilet paper, eat it?) that I utilized the main dining room to practice my golf swing and de-stress before dinner session. 

This was mainly because Andrew wouldn’t let me read his books. Unfortunately, even on a driving range as small as my main dining room, my course management was not as good as it could have been and the cost of replacing the table glassware and light bulbs became prohibitive. And stressful. So, I decided to install a cheap television in the restaurant in order that I might save money. And de-stress an alternative way.

Until I could find out where Andrew kept his books.

There was one major bonus to this cunning plan. At the end of the evening session, towards midnight, the late night football replay was telecast. And, since I had long ago reached the age whereby a gentleman preferred the metaphysical form of late night entertainment such as reading or watching interesting videos, I could catch the whole game at the restaurant, instead of driving home through the late night traffic, missing the first half. Which caused me stress.

All I had to do was look in the newspaper classified advertisements on a Saturday morning under ‘Second-hand household goods for sale.’

So I looked.

And looked.

And looked some more.

All I found were depressingly old televisions being offered for twenty dollars, whereas I was looking for a fairly new one for twenty dollars. However, I was prepared to go all the way up to twenty five dollars if absolutely necessary in order to secure one of exceptional quality, even if it was a few weeks old.

Finally, I found a brand new one being advertised for just fifty dollars and I immediately rang the vendor on his mobile phone to arrange a viewing. It seemed he was in town for only a few days and luckily I had caught him at the hotel where he was staying for the night. He was incredibly helpful and described the set perfectly, adding that it came with four large speakers, a cocktail cabinet and a five year manufacturer’s warranty on parts and labour. He said he had won the set in a raffle and was just looking to get rid of it quickly because he didn’t have enough room for it in his girlfriend’s flat. Also, since I was the very first caller, he offered to take the payment over the telephone if I would be so kind as to furnish him with my Visa card number and its expiry date. And, because he obviously couldn’t check the photo likeness of myself on my driver’s licence as proof of my identity over the telephone, he said he would need my bank account and PIN numbers instead. I thanked him for his helpfulness and hung up. I am not a complete fool. I wanted at least a ten year warranty for that kind of money.

The next week, I looked at one that had a permanent snowstorm on every channel.

I declined.

The following week, the technological offering I inspected had seventy or eighty players on every football team. The vendor said I would get used to it.

I didn’t think so.

It appeared I might have to lift my sights a little and purchase a new model after all. Trying to find a suitable second hand one was causing me stress.


I took my piggy bank down from the mantelpiece and counted the contents. Piggy was a fat little porker indeed. Fat enough to lose a few kilos and purchase me a new television set. Not a bio-dynamic, flame resistant, multi-function, environmentally friendly, infra-red model with at least three remote controls. But a new model nonetheless.

So I went to the television shop.

No sooner had I entered the store than I was set upon by a very well dressed lady who enquired as to my wellbeing. I told her I was being very well since I had started taking the tablets, and I patted my porker. 

She moved away a fraction.

I asked if she had any televisions for sale. 

“Certainly sir.” She replied in a crisp, clear, informative voice. “This is after all, a television shop. What sort of television would sir be looking for?”


Thus reassured that I had not entered the butcher’s shop by mistake, I responded... “The sort of set that costs about fifty dollars?”


The well dressed lady gave me the same sort of look that my fourth wife used to give me if I asked her for sex on a Tuesday.

Or any other day for that matter.


“I’m sorry sir, we sell real televisions here. The toy shop is next door.”


I realized I might have to review my budget and gave piggy a swift kick in the groin to dislodge more coins. Piggy squealed and regurgitated enough for me to ask the good woman to show me her cheapest set. She was only too happy to oblige, and not long after she had been to the toilet and had finished her tea break, she led me to a small cardboard box at the rear of the store marked ‘Fragile’.

She kicked it with her foot and said, “It’s in there.”

I had recently accepted delivery of a single bottle of wine from a mail delivery service that had arrived at the restaurant quite undamaged, owing to the fact that it had been very carefully packaged in many layers of foam and bubble wrap. It had arrived in a bigger box than the one she had just scored a goal with.

Once again I reviewed my budget.

“Alright,” I said, “I give up. Show me the second, third, and fourth cheapest in the store.” 

Her beady little salesperson eyes started to shine and I was led to a bottom shelf where with the assistance of a pair of thick magnifying spectacles, I was able to make out small human forms moving about on the minute screens. I knew I was beaten and gave the well dressed Bull Mastiff my Visa card, pointed her in the direction of the top shelf and told her to “Go Fetch!” 


Like a good doggy, she returned with a gift wrapped, bio-dynamic, multi function, flame resistant, environmentally friendly, infra-red model with four remote controls. Then in the next ten seconds, in a very controlled manner, she carefully and thoroughly explained how each of the remote controls controlled each other remote control and said she had included one extra remote control in case any of the others got out of control.

I thanked her profusely and asked if I was allowed any questions.

She said “Just one”.

I asked the whereabouts of the toilet, I was going to be violently sick.


As I returned to the restaurant, towing my purchase in a tandem trailer with a police escort due to it being a ‘Wide Load’, I reassured myself that not only would I be able to make out humanoid forms of the footballers on the screen, I would also be able to see the ball.

I would be able to see everybody’s balls.

And the lace on the ball.

And every hair on the footballers legs.

In fact, the television was so gi-normous, I would be able to see the hairs on the legs of the caterpillars eating the grass of the football pitch.

I took another look at the invoice  

I would also need to take a full packet of tablets to recover my composure, then double the price of every main course on the dinner menu for the next two years until the thing was paid for. Alternatively, I could snip yet another button off the voluptuous young Amanda’s uniform. In the past, it had always brought in more trade for businessmen’s lunches and increased the profits.

I got to work with the scissors.


On my return, Andrew assisted me to drag the television into the main dining room and precariously balance it on top of the old-fashioned meat safe. A cheap television, of the size I had originally intended to purchase, would have looked quite good on top of that piece of antique furniture. This thing however, looked like an elephant trying to balance on top of a house brick and I decided I wouldn’t be able to spare young Andrew every evening to stand there and stop it overbalancing. So, I made the decision to purchase yet another piece of equipment. I would buy a special cabinet to house the elephant.


Elephant houses cost a great deal of money.

About three more buttons worth.

This would leave a total of two buttons remaining on the voluptuous young Amanda’s uniform, but sometimes these sacrifices just have to be made. And I was very willing to make them. And accept the fallout, of course.


The elegant, three metre tall, hand crafted wooden cabinet was installed two weeks later, and Andrew kindly offered to drive the forklift and put the television in place in the centre where the craftsman had made an appropriate shelf. The machine was plugged in to the power source and a small child was coerced into showing us how to use the remote controls.

The picture was amazing.

Absolutely amazing.

Never before had I seen such diversity of colour and sharpness of image.

Unfortunately the sharp images were unrecognizable, for it appeared we would need an aerial to turn all the colourful little images into a picture instead of a kaleidoscope. And we would also need another small child, for unfortunately I thought the previous child had been fooling around with the remote controls and he had suffered the consequences.

The aerial man arrived the following week and asked me how much money I had. I told him the truth. That I was down to my last two buttons. He gave me a funny look, and went on to say that in layman’s terms, some sites are not conducive to good reception and require remedial action, i.e. a super-aerial. He said that on the top of a hill is a good spot for television reception. Mid way down a hill is an average spot. And at the bottom of a hill, at the bottom of a valley where our little village is located, is a very poor spot. Chez Alain, it appeared, was located down the bottom of a deep well at the lowest point of the village.

I asked him what he could do.

 

He said he could pray. His mother was a Catholic.


His prayers were answered, and with the mere stroke of a pen, I had written a cheque for an enormous amount of money with which he purchased a new car for his wife. He also installed an aerial big enough to accommodate a whole flock of migrating ibis. The ibis didn’t help. Neither did the aerial. So the aerial man suggested I purchase a further piece of equipment, a digital set top box. And he just happened to have a very expensive one in his vehicle located in my car park. A digital set top box, dear reader, is a piece of hi-tech equipment which turns television waves into little bits of stuff. This stuff is then eaten by the box which sits on your shelf and seems to do nothing except cost you a lot of money. The box then talks to the television in stuff language, and if the television is not feeling too poorly, it will translate this language into a picture. If the television is feeling menopausal, or if a truck is going past, or if it is a Wednesday, the picture will look like your auntie Edith’s quilt after Rover the dog has used it for flossing his teeth.

It appears it is always Wednesday at Chez Alain.


My fifty dollar television set had now cost me a fraction more than four thousand dollars. In fact, it had cost so much, I thought I might have to ask the voluptuous young Amanda to perform her duties in the nude in the future. 

She might as well. 

I had removed all the buttons from her uniform.


At least I wouldn’t have to stress out any more. I could just think about football. After all, I had reached the age when that was all I thought about.

Tale 4. A Wink is as Good as a Nod.

We managed to blame James in the end. After all, they were his chocolates. 


He was a creative little apprentice and one day when he managed to escape from Chez Alain and attend at trade school, his equally creative lecturer decided to teach all the students including young Jimmy how to make chocolates. And with chocolate being one of the three main food groups, along with butter and sugar, this might sound as if it should have been a rather simple but yummy exercise. Or rather it could have been, but James’ teacher was an avid reader of glossy food magazines whose editors regularly take hallucinogenic drugs and he decided he would teach his charges how to make chilli chocolates, just like the recipe in the magazines. Why anyone in his right or left mind would want to make chocolates that tasted like chilli is quite beyond me, however he did, and young Jim brought a bucketful of the scrumptious little beauties back to the restaurant for us all to sample.

One taste later, the spiteful poisonous little lumps were declared absolutely delightful, interred in a cardboard box and consigned to Andrew to be disposed of thoughtfully. Andrew used his initiative and stored them on the topmost shelf of the pantry. A shelf that only he could reach, so that young children who broke into the restaurant at night looking for alcohol might not be injured should they mistake them for food and try to eat them. 

I told James that they were one of the most different tastes I had ever experienced and those particular choccies would be saved for a very special occasion. In this way, James’ self esteem was maintained and his creative urges remained unimpinged. I did however write a letter to the catering school about the lecturer’s probable drug use.

This creative urge all happened about the time that the massive heap of Lambkin passed through the restaurant. We had managed to sell a tonne and a half of the prime cuts and all that remained was the mince and the boneless lamb. I had run out of ideas of how to serve the residue and my darling apprentice suggested curry pies. 

‘Why not?’ I thought. ‘Why not allow the young man to show some flair?’

And so, towards mid winter, Lamb korma with green bean sambal and naan bread appeared on the menu as a special. Courtesy of Jimbo sahib.

And his drug taking lecturer.


Curry eaters are a special breed. They are a mutant strain of human, born with asbestos throats and very few taste buds. Why they eat curry is totally beyond me, but they do. And apparently enjoy it too. They say they can even differentiate between the flavours of the yoghurts used to extinguish spot fires that develop in their duodenums the following day.

Bob Robertson heard about our mid-Winter special and booked in with his wife Ethel and his next door neighbours. It seemed that the neighbours had gone for a drive one Saturday afternoon to return home only to find that their lovely home no longer belonged to them. Bob had sold it in their absence and was now going to celebrate the fact with them at my establishment. You see, Bob was a real estate salesman and every time he made a sale, he spent most of the commission at Chez Alain. He enjoyed the food and I enjoyed his company.

And Bob certainly enjoyed curry. For Bob was a mutant. And so was Ethel.


No sooner had the foursome entered the premises than I was introduced to his soon to be ex-nighbours, Dion and Charlene and as I shook hands with Dion, he tipped me a wink. He was a mutant too.

Dion was a ruddy faced man, I guessed from eating too many vin de loos; a little portly, quite polite but with a cheeky smile. He was wearing what I assumed were his best curry eating clothes which consisted of a dark, houndstooth tweed jacket, a tan coloured shirt with green flecks and dark brown corduroy trousers.  Charlene on the other hand, was slim, a little taller than Dion and had a calm, almost serene manner about her. She wore a light coloured evening dress and demure expression. I guessed she wasn’t a mutant and this guess was indeed to prove correct. She was a French crêpe, stuffed with avocado and camembert, with a little sour cream and seeded mustard sauce.

After serving their opening drinks, I brought the menu. Dion tipped me a wink and said they might need a few bottles of water too, just in case. He said Bob had told him about the ‘special’ tonight and he might just try it to see if he could handle it.

I asked whether or not he enjoyed hot stuff, because the korma pies weren’t all that hot really. Dion gave a chuckle and looked at his wife. She said not to be a naughty boy and ordered another lemon lime and bitters. He tipped me a wink.

I winked back.

The girls decided to forego entrée in favour of dessert later, they liked the look of the boysenberry and almond tart, so the boys asked me for my recommendation. Since they were here for mutant food, I suggested they both try the roasted onion with rich game stock and black peppercorn soup for starters. I only had the two serves left and all the peppercorns had become waterlogged and had fallen to the bottom of the saucepan. I said they would certainly taste the peppercorns and the dish would be a precurser of things to come. I gave them a knowing wink.

Dion tipped me one in return and said he was sure they would be able to handle the soup. Bob agreed and before long, they were tucking into black peppercorn soup with a few pieces of roasted onion floating about on top trying to escape. Charlene ordered another bottle of water for her husband because he had become a mute mutant and politely enquired as to his health. He just gave a little tremor and tipped her a wink. All was O.K. The man was enjoying his favourite fare.

I left to attend other regulars and asked Andrew to take over. And with a knowing wink, I asked him to ‘look after this table for me’. He winked at me in return and asked whether or not the diners had enjoyed their soups, adding that sometimes the last few bowls from the soup tureen can be a little too hot for even hardened mutants. Bob’s face was glowing a little but he nodded that all was fine as far as he was concerned. Dion’s complexion too had changed to quite red and he seemed to have gone a little quiet, however on further questioning by my maître de, he reassured Andrew that he was looking forward to the rest of his dinner. And perhaps another bottle of water. He said he seldom ate hot food, but he was sure he would survive. He then tipped Andrew a big wink. 

Andrew returned the wink. He knew the man was only teasing.


It didn’t take Dion too long to recover his composure and Charlene ceased to check his pulse. Laughter began to ebb and flow amongst the foursome and Dion called Andrew over to the table to ask how long the maincourse would be. Andrew used his initiative and held his fingers about four inches apart, at which the whole table laughed. Dion tipped Andrew another wink and Andrew returned the gesture. Charlene looked on with a little frown. Perhaps she didn’t have quite the advanced sense of humour as the rest of the group.

Andrew passed the word to James sahib in the kitchen that the mutants had thoroughly enjoyed the lava and, using his famous initiative, gave him a wink that he might want to add a tad more ‘orma’ to the korma for the pies on the Robertson table because the boss had told him to ‘look after them’ and they really enjoyed curry. Jim was not a complete fool and knew it was impossible for dead people to pay the bill, so he kept the addition below the critical mark. For which my bank manager is truly thankful. 


Bob did not pass out when he tried the offering.

He just had a momentary lapse of concentration.

Dion too did not pass out.

He just grasped his throat and struggled for breath. A bit like a fish out of water.

Charlene and Ethel rushed to his aid but he waved them away for he was of the old school and would slay this dragon on his own. Unless of course it killed him first. Andrew too walked over reasonably quickly when he saw the looks of concern on Charlene’s face, but a reassuring wink from Dion said not to worry too much. The purple colour of Dion’s face did however cause me a little concern when I saw it and I asked his would-be assassin to fetch a complimentary tub of yoghurt immediately. Dion managed to focus one of his eyes and tip me a wink. All was well.

The rest of dinner was eaten quietly and every few minutes Charlene would ask her husband if he was feeling all right. His reassuring wink said that the lighthouse keeper was still functioning and a dreadful shipwreck had narrowly been averted. The lighthouse keeper would not however be partaking of dessert that evening.


Coffee too, was given a miss by the foursome and the bill was called for. Charlene said she thought it would be a good idea if Dion had a little lie down at home

I gave her a knowing wink and left to get the account.

Andrew then attended the table for the last time that evening and bade them ‘bon voyage’, trusting they had a memorable evening. Dion tipped him a wink. Andrew winked back. Charlene frowned.


It was whilst the group was standing in the reception room settling the account that I noticed something odd. I noticed that the coatstand had obviously said something confidential to Dion, because Dion tipped the coatstand a wink. And after putting on his tweed jacket and straightening his curry coloured tie, he tipped the mirror a wink too. In fact, every couple of minutes as we talked together in a group, Dion continued to give all the furniture and bipeds random winks. My worst fears were realized when Charlene came to the till to settle the account.  She said if Dion ever recovered from his curry poisoning, they might one day return again with Bob and Ethel. She added that Dion didn’t particularly like hot and spicy food, but had been reassured by his good friend Bob that my food was excellent and that a change in diet would do him good.

And by their next visit, if it ever came about, perhaps the doctors might have been able to fix that dreadful twitch in his left eye. It was the legacy of an injury he received after being hit in the head by a golf ball last year and both he and she intensely disliked anyone drawing attention to it.

I must have paled significantly, for Charlene then politely asked about the state of my own health in much the same manner as she had previously been asking about her husband’s all evening. I said all was fine, and refrained from giving her a knowing wink. Or any other facial expression for that matter. And when Andrew popped in to the reception room to wish them all a last goodbye, I shoved him into the kitchen before he had the chance to give one final stupid wink. Enough damage had been done.


I helped the ice-queen into her coat and said goodnight to the other three, glad it was all over. Andrew timidly came out of the kitchen and asked me what on earth was going on? He guessed something was not quite right. ‘Was I having another one of my little fits?’ he asked. And he tipped me a knowing wink.

I didn’t poke his eye out right away. I laboriously told him of my misreading the situation from the moment Dion walked into the restaurant. I said we had almost killed the poor man, but with any luck and with considerable assistance from my friend Bob, we might just be able to salvage the situation. Perhaps we might all laugh at it one day.

Andrew thought not.

I enquired as to why not?

He said he had used his initiative and had taken the opportunity of providing the curry lovers with a little gift-wrapped present before they had left their table. ‘Something to eat on the way home’ he had said. ‘Something a curry lover would appreciate, perhaps with coffee.’


A box of chocolates.

Tale 5. Bachelors night.

The whole object of the exercise was not to make money but to enjoy myself, and in both of these aspects I was extremely successful. 

It all started when the Barramundi brothers (bless their little hearts) contacted me out of the blue and suggested a whole bunch of middle-aged men meet at my restaurant to eat a lot of food and drink a lot of wine. Gratis. 

We could call it ‘Bachelor’s Night’.

All I had to do was provide the venue and a couple of bits and pieces. They said it sounded like a fabulous idea to them and wondered whether or not I thought similarly.

It passed my mind that their suggestion sounded awfully like the time I rang an acquaintance of mine and asked her whether or not she would enjoy an evening of lovemaking on the lawn in her back garden. She replied that it sounded much more attractive than an evening of lovemaking in the front garden, but unfortunately she had to wash her hair that evening and would be unavailable.

That particular lady washed her hair a great deal as I remember. 

She probably had lice.


I delayed too long in my reply to Uncle Steve and Uncle Mike, for before I had a chance to formulate a polite refusal, such as an appointment at the barber’s to polish my head, they said they had already invited five of their friends and suggested I invite a similar number of my friends as well, to create a crowd. A bit like indoor soccer with cutlery. Five a side and oranges and cabernet sauvignon at half time.


I thought of whom I could invite.

Artist Pete for sure. He was good in a crowd, and as long as we could keep him away from the grapes, he would stay coherent until at least nine o’clock. And he had a lot of funny stories too, and since there were no policemen coming, he would be able to tell them with impunity. Medium Pete would come too, he enjoyed food and wine, (although a little too much recently and was in danger of becoming Big Pete once more) and his wife enjoyed getting rid of him for the evening so she could do the vacuuming and other girlie stuff. My pal Paul Dobravicz also enjoyed a chat with the boys, and I was sure he would be a bachelor soon, at least that was what his wife said when we arrived at his house at breakfast time last week after chatting a little too long at the hotel. Doctor Tam and Mad John were both possible starters too, and young Julian might be allowed to attend at a pinch, although at thirty six, he might need a little nurturing and would have to sit next to one of the more motherly attendees. Certainly not next to Mad John though, he still needed medication and would have to be seated next to the door in case he set himself on fire again because there wasn’t enough meat. 

Mad John liked meat, and as long as he got a lot of it, he remained relatively docile. 

Artist Pete had become a vegetarian of late because his intestines needed a makeover. No one without chronic sinusitis would sit next to him or even in the near vicinity. His bowel flora appeared to have gone on holidays and to regain his friends, he had converted to a diet of fruit and vegetables. This particular diet unfortunately still included his usual vast amount of crushed, bottled grapes, so sitting next to him was still a bit of a lottery. Anyway, I figured his portion of meat could go to Mad John to stop him from biting Julian. And to prevent everyone from thinking young Julian was a New Zealander with a speech defect, I decided to make a name tag for him to wear on his school uniform which told everyone in bold letters that he was in fact South African. Not handicapped.

Seating arrangements at a function are extremely important if one wants the event to go swimmingly, and all these haphazard thoughts went through my professional little brain in the nano-second before Uncle Steve told me there were a few rules that had to be observed for bachelors’ night.

“Rules?” I enquired.

“Yes” he replied, “rules”.


Firstly- Each and every person had to bring something to share with the others.

Secondly- Whatever you brought, you had to have caught it yourself. I made a mental note to tell Artist Pete that syphilis didn’t count. And if he did bring it, he had to promise not to share it.

Thirdly- You had to have cooked it yourself too.

Fourthly- You had to wear a tie.

Fifthly, and most importantly- I had to supply the wine. And the coffee. And the napkins. And the pâté. And the ice. And anything else that they had forgotten.

Sixthly- Seventhly and eighthly, No women. 


It sounded too good to refuse, so I asked the boys if they would like to come one Tuesday in a couple of years’ time. They laughed and told me they had organised their group to arrive the very next Tuesday and hung up.

I felt quite sick.


Doctor Tam thought my offer too good to refuse too, but refused it nonetheless, and Mad John was called away on business as soon as he recognised my voice on the other end of the phone. That left Medium Pete, Artist Pete, Paul and young Julian on my team versus Big Mark, Ranger Pete, Uncle Steve Uncle Mike, Auntie Geoff and the Bulldog twins. Luckily for me, the dog catcher took care of the Bulldog twins on the Sunday night so a table was booked for ten, including myself.


I then sat down and made myself a nice Arabica coffee, wondering what I could cook for the event that met all the criteria.

I had recently been to the botanic gardens and had seen quite a number of fat rainbow trout swimming about in the lake, fighting with the ducks for the stale breadcrumbs tossed in by generous visitors and young children who just enjoyed aquatic violence. I thought that if I caught one of the trout, I could make an exquisite dish for the boys, and if I was unable to catch a fishie, I was sure I could beat the ducks off and scoop up a netful of pre-soaked bread with which to make a bread and butter pudding. I noted there was no requirement in the rules that I had to actually ingest any of whatever I made myself. I only had to share it. 

Rules one, two and three followed to the letter.

All went well until the Monday night, when in a fit of attention seeking, I decided to visit the local hospital to see if they would like to give me a night’s accommodation whilst they checked my heart to see if I had one. The search took longer than anticipated and I wasn’t released until half past one on the Tuesday afternoon, far too late to visit the botanic gardens and borrow a trout, so I decided to improvise. The patient in the bed next to me had been brought a basket of lemons by a thoughtful and imaginative visitor, and since he was being fed through a tube (the patient, not the visitor) I asked whether or not he would be willing to spare a few. I took the loud gurgle to be assent, thanked him and left the hospital. My guests were arriving at seven, and I still had to drive to the farm and check on the cows because some of the girls would be calving soon and they needed monitoring. I thought if God was with me, I would still have time to complete my necessary supervision at the farm and make a beautiful lemon tart for that night’s dessert.

I had almost reached the farm when an aggressive wood pigeon shot out of the scrub and tried to pierce the front fender of my car with a novel martial arts manoeuvre. He should have practised it on a smaller opponent first, because he ended up with his head relocated a lot closer to his rectum than when he set out for his evening constitutional a few moments earlier. Unfortunately this new and unconventional anatomical configuration was unsuitable for maintaining his normal respiratory functions and he promptly expired.

I quickly stopped the car and picked up the unlucky creature.

It was a sign from heaven.

Roasted wood pigeon! And I had caught it myself. Rule number two. Tick.


I returned to Chez Alain at six p.m., in plenty of time to dress the bird badly, stuff it quickly with a handy pork chop, sprinkle it with fresh rosemary from the bushes in the car park and then ruin it by roasting the unfortunate thing in a hot oven instead of casseroling it slowly under chicken stock and red wine for six or seven hours at very low heat as I usually do. It didn’t really matter anyway, with any luck I thought Mad John would swallow it whole if he turned up unannounced, or Artist Pete would think it was an aubergine with legs and rip it to bits before anyone else got a taste of it. 

And the lemon tart had turned out beautifully, so I had an alternate contribution for the group as a whole, even if everything else went pear-shaped.


Seven o’clock arrived and so did the first of the bachelors.

Big Mark walked through the door carrying a plate of pigeon pies. And at this point of time dear reader I swear that I shall never again call my friend Medium Pete ‘Big’ Pete, for I had to draw chalk marks on the wooden floor where Big Mark was allowed to tread.

There were twelve pies in total. 

One each. 

And four for Mark. He enjoyed his tucker.

He had also rigorously followed the rules, for he had spent the last few nights facing almost certain death in catching the pie contents by climbing up a ladder to the rafters in his hay shed where the unwelcome birds roosted and regularly redecorated his tractor parked immediately below. He had used a torch to dazzle the birdies and whilst they were disoriented he had grabbed them one at a time and stored them in a wire cage where they were kept fresh and alive until he could bribe a friend to execute the little pests. Although a school teacher at the local high school, big Mark abhorred violence unless absolutely necessary and it wasn’t until one of his own children let one of the birds out of the cage that he took his shotgun out of its locked cabinet. 

He told the youngster he had two choices.

Either come back with the bird or don’t come back.

(Big Mark was a hard taskmaster, wasn’t he?)


At the cost of a new television antenna the bird was recaptured and became instant pie meat. The child was congratulated on his excellent marksmanship and locked in the gun cabinet whilst Big Mark worked out a suitable reward.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Big Mark hired an assassin and with the addition of some apricots, raisins, sultanas, mushrooms and several other secret ingredients, the birdlife was converted into his famous pigeon pies. One dozen of which now graced the table in my main dining room.

The next to arrive was Ranger Pete. Ranger Pete had been a bachelor all his life and enjoyed eating out. We thought he had arrived empty handed, but from his coat pocket he produced some of the clearest photographs I have seen in a long while. Not what one would actually call landscapes, but breathtaking nonetheless. He had followed the rules to the letter. He had brought something to share with the others. He had hunted it down and caught it himself, and if my eyesight served me well, it was being slowly brought to the boil on his kitchen stove. Hopefully the stove was turned off at the time, otherwise the young lady could have suffered a nasty burn to a very delicate area.

Then came Artist Pete and Medium Pete. I tactfully avoided asking Artist Pete about his personal contribution and accepted his bowl of salad with dignity. Medium Pete took the bowl into the kitchen and wiped it with bleach. 

(You never can be too sure, can you?). 

Medium Pete said he had spent the whole afternoon at the market, hunting down the rarest cheeses, salamis and olives that money could buy and had a satchel slung over his shoulder with the results of the hunt. We accepted his word and arranged his offerings on a small platter with lots of lettuce, although when the plate was placed on the table with the pies, Big Mark unkindly intimated that Medium Pete’s hunt had not been too successful.

I reminded him that not all of us are born hunters.

Next to arrive were the Barramundi brothers, armed with a bottle of olives they had made themselves from the wild trees on their farm. They also had a large beer bottle full of special port. The port had been bottled by themselves when they were university students many years ago, and acting on the premise that ‘what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger’, they had decided to bring it along as well. I thought with a little luck it might very well prove to be an antidote for the botulism in the bottle of olives.

Uncle Steve had also brought a flimsy box of what were once meringues. I say flimsy, for the box had been unable to sustain Uncle Mike’s weight when he sat on them after Uncle Steve placed them carefully on the front seat of the car. Meringues are not known to be the most resilient of desserts and these offerings were in the more fragile category because they perhaps could have done with a little more time in the oven. Or any time at all really, if the oven had in fact been turned on.

These tasty morsels had been made with great pains by his loving children who had been told by their mother that daddy needed to be punished for going out at night with strange men and leaving them all alone. (When they were sampled at dessert time, the sticky squashed meringues were found to be absolutely scrumptious and delicious and tasty and mouth-watering and in truth, really, really horrid.) 


We guessed there was only Auntie Geoff left to arrive, and shortly before half past seven he turned up, pulling a handcart full of goodies behind him. Like a true professional he had brought his own cooking equipment plus a mountain of barramundi, for like Uncle Steve and Uncle Mike, he too was a fish farmer and neighbour of the Barramundi brothers, and he had decided that since Uncle Mike and Uncle Steve had left their farm a little earlier to go to the restaurant, they probably wouldn’t notice if he helped himself to some of their barramundi.

That was why he had brought so many. 

There was peanut oil and sesame oil for frying, tongs to keep Artist Pete from touching any of the raw food with any uncovered body parts, black pepper (because there was no capsicum spray), tea towels, frying pans, several bottles of wine to christen any stray children, and twenty or so whole fish, expertly deboned and pan ready, herbed and seasoned to perfection. He had also brought several kilos of fillets in case the ten of us thought we might die of malnutrition.

And he was wearing a tie.

The man was a genius. 

The evening commenced with introductions and a decision was reached by show of hands to all call ourselves ‘Pete’ to make inter-personal communication a little easier as the night progressed. The only dissenters were Ranger Pete, Artist Pete and Medium Pete who decided to be a bit precious.

They were of course outvoted by all the other Petes in the room and the meeting progressed. A point of order was immediately raised by a petulant Medium Pete when Ranger Pete once again showed his photographs to the new Petes. He suggested that Ranger Pete was in contravention of rules six, seven and eight, and the New Petes should be denied the pleasure. All the other Petes reluctantly agreed that the rules must be obeyed and Ranger Pete was given half an hour to put the photos away. Harmony was restored and Medium Pete uncorked a few bottles of my best shiraz to show everyone that all was forgiven. Even those of the group who had no need to forgive anybody, forgave everyone and before long we were all talking loudly about child rearing and relationships. As men do when they get together.

Somehow nobody noticed Paul hadn’t turned up for Bachelor’s Night.

And neither did anyone notice Mrs Puss sneak through the open front door to sample the pies. 

And the cheese. 

And of course the barramundi.

That is no one noticed until the telephone rang and an irate Mrs Dobravicz asked to speak to her current husband. Then we saw the cat. She was sitting in the chair that should have been occupied by a larger animal. Paul.

Fortunately, all men are creatures of instinct, and nine men immediately called out in a loud voice… “Paul, your wife’s on the ’phone!”, and proceeded to converse with each other once again, only this time liberally interspersing the conversation with the word “Paul” for the benefit of his beloved who was listening intently on the other end of the telephone. 

A short while later, Uncle Mike picked up the ’phone and reassured her that her husband was currently being sick in the toilet and would be sent home in a cab as soon as he could remain in the seated position for an extended period of time without falling over. This story seemed to satisfy the angry woman, for it sounded quite plausible and she hung up. However her second call, answered by myself not half an hour later was a little more testy than her first. She asked me to tell Uncle Mike that Paul had apparently miraculously regained the vertical position and had escaped from the toilet at Chez Alain. He had then caught the bullet train home instead of a taxi, had sobered up considerably and was now making his dinner on the stove in her kitchen. She said we could expect him with his suitcase in about twenty minutes.

He never arrived.

Paul is now a confirmed bachelor and will be a starter at the next Bachelors’ night. And he has suggested we add one more rule.


No women.

Tale 6. Barramundi barbeque.

A booking was made for six.

Not six in the evening, but six persons. 

Two plus four.


The twosome were locals, known affectionately to myself as the Barramundi Brothers, or Uncle Steve and Uncle Mike. They were definitely not brothers. The other four were their extremely special guests, city bankers dressed in dark grey business suits with matching highly polished black leather shoes. The bankers also thoughtfully wore nicely ironed white shirts, so that the gravy spills from lunch would clearly show and prove to their superiors (on their eventual return to the big smoke), that they had been hard at work lending money during the afternoon. The white, freshly ironed and as yet un-anointed shirts, were tied with the obligatory neckties monogrammed with the company logo, and each banker had a personal mobile accoutrement that he placed on the table by his cutlery when he sat down, thus proving to everyone else in the main dining room that he was indispensable to the bank for even a short period. I offered to fetch a large bowl of water for the table in case any of the telephones actually rang. 

The bankers glanced sideways at each other and surreptitiously turned their technological costume jewellery to the ‘Off’ position.

They were fairly sure I had no sense of humour. Or I hadn’t yet taken my tablets.

They were right on both counts, and when I had gone to fetch their opening drinks, Uncle Mike and Uncle Steve informed the rest of the group that I had unsuccessfully taught several mobile phones to swim during the last year.

The phones disappeared from the table.

 

The twosome, although fisherpersons, were also dressed in business suits. 

These had been lent to them by close acquaintances who wouldn’t mind the fish smell which would linger on the material when the clothing was returned later that afternoon (if the lunch was successful). If the lunch was unsuccessful, the twosome had decided to commit suicide together and had asked the owners of the suits if they could be buried in them to save going home to change before terminating their miserable lives. In any event, the suits would smell of fish. As would my seat cushions, napkins, cutlery and anything else touched by the twosome during the course of the afternoon. Things usually did when the boys dined at my establishment. It was however, a small price to pay for their patronage and friendship.

And occasionally their cheques didn’t bounce, which made the afternoon even more enjoyable for me.  

Once again, the twosome without the money would be funding the lunch, and hopefully the foursome with copious amounts of the stuff would be lending it to them (at an extortionate rate), so they could pay for it. But only if we could pour enough wine down the bankers’ throats during the next three hours so they didn’t really know what they were doing when they signed their names on the loan documents. 

I knew whose side I was on.



The loan was required because Uncle Steve and Uncle Mike had recently purchased a fifty acre, ‘State of the Ark’ barramundi farm down the road from Chez Alain, and being self-funded, they had promptly run out of self-funds. Although university educated and in possession of at least three degrees each, they had been surprised by the fact when they commenced business, the bags of fish food required to keep the fish alive long enough to sell could be very expensive. As could the cost of hiring enough casual labour to do the actual work at the farm, so that they might spend the afternoons having lunches on the terrace at Chez Alain, chatting with me about child rearing and relationships. As adult males usually do.

They had also found the lease costs on the Mercedes(s) and the commuter Lear jet were becoming prohibitive. Somehow, cash outflow was exceeding cash inflow, and unless a further supply of funds could be found, something dreadful might have to happen. 

They might have to do the work themselves. 

And even worse, I might have to continue footing the bills for the lunches myself.

And that thought was intolerable.

And that was why we needed the bankers.




It had been several years since the infamous visit to Chez Alain by the Department of Trade to promote Barramundi to the Middle East, and despite the best efforts of our senior public servants that afternoon, aquaculture had accidentally taken off. However, instead of being run by quasi-governmental institutions and research organisations as they had during the infancy of the industry, fish farms per se were now being run by people without access to pork barrels full of public money. People such as Uncle Steve and Uncle Mike. These people had access to intelligence and expertise instead.

Not enough intelligence mind you not to get involved in fish farming, but nonetheless in possession of adequate intelligence to know when the cracks in the fish tanks were large enough to need to be wallpapered over with banknotes so the fish wouldn’t asphyxiate or dehydrate. Thus I reiterate the reason for this visit to Chez Alain by the Barramundi Brothers was not to nourish themselves, but to entertain some suits who whilst intoxicated, might part with enough wallpaper to redecorate their farm.

A private enterprise run on governmental business principles.


The Brothers and I had something in common, and I don’t mean we shared the same romantic notions of renovating, chasing women, or pursuing idyllic farming lifestyles in the country. I mean we both wished to stay in business long enough to pay out the mortgage our respective bankers held over our disrespectful children. 

And the only hope either of us had of ever convincing anyone to lend us any more money was to either breed more children from an obliging lady friend, or get our current bankers as legless as the barramundi I would serve them. 

And then take compromising photographs of them doing male things with fish, (such as eating with their fingers instead of with a knife and fork).


Suffice to say that owing to the number of clear photographs taken that afternoon with a digital camera held tightly between Uncle Mike’s knees, the meeting was an enormous success and the boys were loaned more than enough money to pay for the lunch, plus a little extra. The bankers returned to the city to show off their gravy stains, and by way of thanks for my efforts, Uncle Steve and Uncle Mike invited me to a small barbeque on the grounds of the fish farm the following week to show their gratitude. And to celebrate the fact that they still owned a fish farm. (And a small jet). 

I should have known better.

They also needed some idiot to cook the fish at the barbeque whilst everyone else enjoyed a beverage or three in the warm Spring evening and tried not to fall in the fire.



Although the barbeque was to be a celebration, it certainly wasn’t for my benefit.

Little Ralphie, the young nephew of Uncle Steve was turning seven, and the fish cremation was to be held in his honour, not mine. And because they now had an obliging idiot, the doting Uncle had also invited about a hundred relatives that he had borrowed money from in the past who he thought he could buy off with half a dead fish each and a six-pack. He had also invited the bankers, to show them at first hand how their money would be utilised to improve the capital value of their asset. And whilst suitably impressed, he might be able to stick it up them for a little more, so to speak.

That was why he brought the camera again.

 

There was also going to be a bonfire. A special treat for little Ralphie.


A farm bonfire is not usually a small affair. It is a special event in every farm calendar and usually held in winter, because that is of course when it is safest, and it is looked forward to with great anticipation by the males of the species. It is also looked forward to with great trepidation by the females associated with those males and who know them well. For reasons best known to themselves, females always worry that things can get out of hand or go wrong. They have little or no sense of excitement, and certainly no sense whatsoever of gay abandon. And, I have also personally found over the years that they also give us males little or no credit for being responsible, or having any sense of safety. This was brought home to me when an ex-wife became mentally unbalanced when she found our two-year-old son on the roof. I had put him up there so that he could pick the peaches from the peach tree that had taken steroids and had grown over the roof. I remained below where I could instruct the little boy which branch to go to next, and I caught the peaches that the little fellow threw down to me. 

We were a team. 

The team was working well until the little fellow got bored and wandered off across the roof and out of sight on the other side of the chimney. Honestly, that particular wife had absolutely no sense of adventure whatsoever. If she had remained silent instead of becoming hysterical when she saw what was happening, I would have been able to easily track his passage across the roof by the noises he made as he stumbled and fell over the corrugated iron with his little two-year-old legs. Then I could have run around the house to the appropriate spot and caught him when he fell off.

But no, she preferred to scream and make life difficult for me. A bizarre reaction if ever I saw one.

And totally unnecessary.

It was quite safe. 

The little fellow didn’t weigh very much and surely wouldn’t have been able to hurt me even if he had fallen head first. I used to field in the slips when I played cricket and I had a reputation for being a very good catch, although this was continually disputed by her mother.

However, with all her screaming I was unable to put my carefully thought out plan into action and I had to quickly scramble up onto the roof myself and track him down. And at great personal risk too I might add, because the roof was of a very steep pitch, although at the time, I do believe I recall there was an even greater risk to my personal well-being if I had remained on the ground.

And safety is always paramount with me.

And it was with safety in mind that Uncle Mike suggested to Uncle Steve that he check the operation of the fire pump down at the big dam, located over the hill a fifteen-minute walk away. Then, in the event of any mishap, the water from the big dam could be pumped at great speed the few hundred metres back to the bonfire, where a hose of appropriately large diameter was screwed to the outlet with a very expensive solid brass fitting. And in the typical male manner of attention to even the most minute detail, the attached hosepipe was of adequate length to reach the fire and a considerable distance beyond. And it had an adjustable nozzle at the end of it in case a stream of water needed to be directed to a particular location, such as a hot spot. Men know these things by instinct. 

It just needed to be checked to make sure that everything was in working order.

And it was a very easy job.

And Uncle Mike liked doing the easy jobs. That was why he suggested it. And he thought that if he checked the apparatus really thoroughly, he might be able to turn a twenty-second job into an all day affair.

Uncle Steve thought otherwise.

Uncle Steve knew from past experience that Uncle Mike liked to take time out with the fairies down at the dam, so suggested he do something much more useful with his time other than checking the operation of the foot valve at the bottom of the pump for the rest of the day. Something such as helping to clear up the farm and adding the debris to the bonfire. 

Uncle Steve was the more forceful character of the business duo (and suffered dreadfully from pre menstrual tension), so rather than incur his wrath, Uncle Mike decided to forego his time out with the fairies and commit himself to real work instead. So, he volunteered to clear out all the old and unused items from the garage where the tractor was stored. And fortuitously, where he knew there was a radio that he could listen to and daydream whilst he worked.

Uncle Steve knew when he was beaten and went off to collect fallen timber, leaving Uncle Mike to talk to the fairies in the garage.


All manner of items are utilised on a farm bonfire to add to the conflagration. 

And to add to the excitement. 

And old items from the garage, such as old paint tins, aerosol cans and gas tanks that have passed their ‘use by’ dates can be especially exciting. 

Uncle Mike thought so anyway, and found many interesting items to donate to the fire.

Of course, when the farm itself is completely cleared up, the search for combustibles and non combustibles alike spreads to the local roadsides where old car tyres, expired animals or relatives, empty beer bottles and cans, baling twine, old fence posts, old sheets of corrugated iron, wool crutchings, broken furniture, garden prunings and broken plastic flower pots etc are collected. In fact, a farm bonfire utilises any item imaginable which may or may not burn, as long as it gives off all the colours of the rainbow and lots of smoke to enthral the onlookers as new toxic chemical compounds are made with the intense heat.

 

The Barramundi Brothers bonfire was no exception, and although the local council bylaws in our area limit the size of any bonfire to one metre in height and one metre in width, the local fire officer was not to know that the two university trained businessmen were unable to properly read a tape measure, nor was the warden made aware of that simple fact by any civic minded relative of Uncle Steve or Uncle Mike. Thus the bonfire grew to a prodigious size, slightly over the legal limit, before it was eventually lit with the assistance of a 44 gallon drum of diesel.

It was late Spring.

And it had been a particularly dry Spring.

And bonfires are usually lit in Winter.


Seven long years of university agricultural science education had served to acquaint the two Uncles with the highly combustible nature of wood, for many pencils had suffered at their hands over a Bunsen burner in the science laboratory. (As had the frogs and the rats, which were not made of wood). Unfortunately, these same uncles were blissfully unaware that trees were made of the same stuff as the pencils. And of the same stuff that they had been collecting off the ground all around and underneath the trees as they tidied up the farm, for in their wisdom, the boys had built the bonfire directly beneath a large gum tree. Which was definitely made of wood. At the moment.

I’m sure they had a very good reason to do this at the time, however I’m equally sure that this was probably not a very clever thing to do, even for agricultural scientists. I was however, polite enough to say absolutely nothing and concentrated on cremating the fish when Uncle Steve lit the bonfire just after dark, when the last guest had arrived.

I was glad the barbeque had wheels, for after only a few minutes, the heat from the bonfire ten metres away was slightly greater than that on the hotplate directly underneath the fish, and I had to enlist the assistance of four of the most sober children to help me quickly wheel the apparatus twenty metres further away. This feat was accomplished at the small cost of only three fish which fell off when one of the wheels struck a fresh cow pat in the paddock and the barbeque skidded sideways and tipped a little. A small child was then sent to fetch a few more fish from the breeding tanks as replacements, but neither the child nor the fish were seen again so I had to make do with what was left. A little later I sent another child on the same errand. Same result. Deep tank?

By now, the sparks were drifting through the night air and down the gully, helping to light up the ghost gums and the surrounding countryside like a million flickering fireflies. The children ran through the paddocks as children do, falling in moist sticky cow pats as they tried to catch the sparks, their mothers screaming at them not to be so stupid or they will burn themselves to death. Or even worse, burn holes in their good clothes.

The fathers did male barbeque things. They stood around and drank lots of free beer, shielded their faces from the intense heat, threw small sticks in the fire and waited for the steaks and sausages to cook. Steve apparently forgot to tell them about the menu. I thought if they drank enough beer, they wouldn’t notice the difference in taste anyway. Perhaps because of the huge amount of chilli and coriander with which I had stuffed the little fishies. And if they did notice the difference and start to riot, I could fend them off with the long barbeque tongs.

Uncle Steve and Uncle Mike looked very pleased. Everyone was in a good mood, and as yet, no one had noticed the loss of the two children. Things were going very well.

Just at that moment, one of Uncle Mike’s contributions from the shelves in the garage blew up in the bonfire with a loud bang, and everyone went “Ooooh” as an orange flash lit up the night sky and millions of golden sparks rained down from the heavens. It was just like the fireworks on Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Year’s Eve. Even more so when another can containing an unknown liquid exploded and sent a greeny-blue flash skyrocketing upwards into the gum tree.

This second bang elicited an even louder “Ooooooooh” from the throng, and a slightly concerned “Aaaaaah” from Uncle Steve, who had decided that the bonfire was perhaps getting a little out of hand. He turned to Uncle Mike who was tossing a few more cans of future colour into the fire and suggested he walk quickly over the hill to the big dam and start the fire pump, ‘just in case’. Uncle Mike agreed that was probably wise, threw another few cans of thinners and turps into the conflagration and disappeared into the night and over the hill in the direction of the big dam.

It wasn’t long after Uncle Mike had left, that the bonfire really got going and because there was very little moonlight that night, the fire was visible from many, many kilometres away. Even as far away as the local fire station where they had received several  reports of the Barramundi farm burning down. 

If Uncle Steve was a little bothered before, he began to be even more bothered when he heard the fire siren pierce the night air and the flashing red light of the fire engine getting closer and closer as the fire truck, fully laden with volunteer firefighters raced towards the Barramundi farm. Little Ralphie clapped his hands in glee and tugged at Uncle Steve’s trousers as he hopped up and down in his excitement. Uncle Steve grabbed him by the hair to stop him vibrating and asked him quite politely to run quickly over the hill with a message to Uncle Mike. 

The message was “Turn the pump on NOW.”

It was at that moment that the large gum tree reached ignition temperature and exploded into flame, eliciting even louder “OOOOOH’s” and “AAAAAH’s” from the drunken crowd. It also elicited a bowel tremor from Uncle Steve, but in the bedlam of exploding cans and crackling tree branches, this faint noise went unnoticed.

Meanwhile, Uncle Mike was calmly sitting on the bank of the dam, using the scientific half of his degree. When he had pulled the hose from the water and checked the foot valve attached to the inlet end of the fire pump, he had found that several yabbies had crawled into the pipe and made a secure home there, successfully preventing the pump from drawing any water up through the pipe when the pump was turned on. Uncle Mike had studied yabbies at university and had written a paper on them for which he had received a high distinction and considerable recognition from his peers. He knew that yabbies had a reflex action, whereby if one were to poke a stick in between their claws, they would instinctively grab hold of the stick for a short period of time. So, for the past fifteen minutes, he had been patiently using this scientific method to try and extract the little perishers from the pipe.

It was just as the biggest yabbie again let go of the stick and slipped back down the pipe that little Ralphie arrived, flushed and puffed. He took several deep breaths and splurted out his message to Uncle Mike. Uncle Mike thanked the little fellow for his timely message, and said he would like little Ralphie to take a return message to Uncle Steve. Little Ralphie swelled with pride and listened carefully as Uncle Mike gave him his important return message. 

The return message was “Do you remember I suggested we check the pump?”

Uncle Mike asked Ralphie to repeat the message back to him several times so he could be assured the little fellow had the correct inflection and tone, then he gave him a pat on the head and sent him on his way back to the party. The return run was considerably easier for the boy, for the fire was so enormous it was now almost daylight, and he arrived at the bonfire just as Uncle Steve was lining up the menfolk to see what they could do in a personal way with body fluids to assist in reducing the intensity of the fire. 

Shortly after little Ralphie had set off, one of the fairies that lived down at the dam finally managed to acquaint Uncle Mike with the urgency of the situation, so he gave up using the scientific half of his agricultural science degree and reverted to the agricultural half. Using the same stick as before, he fashioned a sharp point on one end of it with his pen-knife, then repeatedly rammed it down the pipe until he had completely crushed the crustaceans. This certainly satisfied Uncle Mike’s frustration, but it did little to clear the blocked pipe, for the pump still refused to do its job, now completely compacted with minced yabbies.

Uncle Mike decided to take a break from his arduous work. He ceased reaming the pipe with his pointed stick and turned to watch the bonfire flicker in the night sky, with flashes of blue, purple and green penetrating high into the air as new compounds were formed from his contributed ingredients. 

Uncle Mike loved science.

As he watched, the flashing red light of the fire truck raced up the farm driveway and the vehicle came to a screeching stop alongside the bonfire. Amongst the volunteer firemen were the local ward councillor, the fire warden, the local policeman and a clerk from the Department of Environment and Planning who hoped one day to become a prosecutor in their legal section. 

The fire chief appeared to have Uncle Steve’s pre menstrual affliction. He wanted to know who the lunatic was who was trying to burn down the entire locality.

Uncle Steve went to check on the cows in the far paddock.


In the true spirit of country hospitality, I called out to the new arrivals that dinner was nearly ready and if they hadn’t eaten already, they were welcome to join us for beautifully barbequed barramundi. A moist, delicately flavoured fish, infused with a faint trace of aromatic Asian herbs and spices.

Before I could describe the spices to them, a big man wearing yellow overalls and carrying a big rubber hose knocked me down as he raced for the nearest water supply. And no sooner had I regained my equilibrium, than I was knocked down again as a lady in similar attire raced off after the man to help him hold his hose.

I have known several ladies like that myself in the distant past. 

I think she fancied him too.


The two volunteers reached the huge effluent settling pond adjacent to the sheds where the fish were reared, in record time and threw their big rubber hose into the middle. The big rubber hose had a foot valve on the end of it. Their foot valve, unlike the farm pump foot valve, was uncompromised by crushed yabbie bodies. And the two volunteers had been to many training sessions in how to use the apparatus. And they had remembered to screw the hose to the pump before throwing the hose into the pond. The pump itself was back on the fire truck and was a very new model. It could be operated by either the powerful diesel truck motor, or quite independently by a small petrol motor attached to the pump. It was a very efficient and versatile piece of fire fighting equipment. In perfect working order.

The fire chief decided to use the powerful truck motor.

As with the small hose owned by the Barramundi brothers, the huge hose owned by the local fire service had a nozzle which could either direct a single, powerful jet of water or a fine spray, and in order to cover the whole area more quickly, the fire chief instructed his colleagues to use a fine spray.

The one unfortunate aspect of this whole episode was that at night-time, there is little noticeable difference between an effluent pond and a dam. It is easy to tell the difference in daytime. There are more flies about for one thing. And there is much, much more lush undergrowth where the overflow seeps from the spillway. And the water looks quite black. And green. And slimy. And really, really yicky-poos.

Very, very unsavoury.

However, it wasn’t daytime was it?

And the pump was very efficient.

And as the fine spray of effluent hit the bonfire, a loud hiss was heard, shortly before the most excruciating smell that ever entered a nostril pervaded the countryside. Even more unfortunately, this evil smelling, toasted fish effluent mixed with ash floated down from the night sky onto my barbeque and drenched the fish, rendering them inedible to all but the most intoxicated of the party. 

And the bankers.

The fire chief was the first to realise his mistake, owing to the fact that he was the closest guest to the outlet and he had no sinus problems; however for obviously selfish reasons, he was most unwilling to open his mouth for long enough to issue the order to turn the pump off. 

The man had brains, even if he had little or no social conscience

And so the mayhem continued. 

The big diesel motor on the truck continued to pump thousands of gallons of liquid effluent in a fine spray onto the bonfire. This instantly turned into nano-particles with the intense heat and distributed itself into the atmosphere until the full fifty acres of the farm and every guest had been adequately fertilised by a fine mist of nitrogen and trace elements.

Little Ralphie thought it was the best birthday party he had ever had, and thanked Uncle Steve for organising the fire truck especially for him. I too thanked Uncle Steve and Uncle Mike for their kind invitation and returned home to plant some vegetables in my apron. 


The bankers left as a group, knowing their money was in safe hands. 

Tale 7. Bats in the belfry.

I was young, single and carefree. 

And broke.

As usual. 

So, survival dictated that I get a job and earn some money. Or die. Ergo, I was once again working as a waiter with a couple of other young, single, carefree and broke uni students at a well-known country restaurant that had an outside eating area. This particular restaurant was equally as carefree as ourselves, for as the patrons dined, rats frolicked about in the old ivy bushes which grew over the stone walls surrounding the garden, creating a rather unusual happy-go-lucky rat ambience. 

It was summer, the days were hot, the nights were balmy, and intermittent light evening breezes wafted opposing scents of Jasmine and grilled steak across the landscape. And the smell of rats too of course, depending on which way the wind was blowing. I was in my twenties. The rats were in their hundreds. 

Apart from the smell of the rats, it was a wonderful place to work, for many unattended young ladies regularly came to the establishment to be serviced by ourselves and we were very willing and quite able. We were young.

And we enjoyed the service industry very much.

Unfortunately, the rodents were a menace in the restaurant and began to affect client numbers and therefore our extra curricular workload. Even more unfortunately, having been fed a diet of rat poison by the management for several months (the rats, not the patrons), the surviving population had become quite immune and were not only gaining weight, but were also managing to breed as profligately as ourselves. Hence the multitude of sleek critters which cavorted about the undergrowth each evening to entertain the bemused patrons.  

In the beginning, the diners had gently chided us about the rodents, suggesting that rats and restaurants were not entirely compatible. Then they suggested we get rid of them. ‘After all’ they said, ‘this isn’t Queensland’. Later they even went as far as to suggest that the Health Department would be contacted and the restaurant would be shut down until the menace had been removed. 

We took this as a thinly veiled threat. Certainly not the sort of threat that three penniless, hormonal university students were looking for, I might add. Management wasn’t really happy about it either and suggested we should ‘shoo’ the rats away whenever we saw them. In this way, they said, the threat of closure might be put off for a while until they worked out a better way of solving what was now finally being recognized as a growing problem.

Or form a working committee to discuss the matter further.


So, we implemented management’s suggestion and found to our amazement that this advanced method of pest control did indeed work. For periods of up to one whole minute, beyond which time the furry little creatures would recommence their wanderings amongst the ivy, foraging for bugs and spiders and other rat stuff. There were occasional extraneous delicacies to be found in the ivy too. Diners who didn’t wish to suffer their waiter’s disdain for not eating their vegetables would often toss their leftovers in there, thus providing the rats with a vitamin filled entrée to go with their standard fare of bugs, spiders and rat poison à la carte. 

One minute’s relief by the ‘Shoo’ method was however not enough for most diners and the grumblings and threats regarding the Health Department grew louder and louder each evening. So much so, that we three waiters could see our only source of income and entertainment disappearing down a rat hole. And with the huge number of rats both in and around the restaurant, we figured we would be without a job for a long time. We might even starve to death. 

Or worse still, become sober or celibate.

It was Bruce who saved the day. He was extremely quick on his feet and would have made an excellent politician, for unlike me he was able to tell the most barefaced lies with absolute equanimity. I on the other hand, suffer dreadfully from remorse if I have to exaggerate even a little, and this is a well-known fact.


One group of diners had eventually become so upset with the situation regarding the filthy, disease-ridden non-paying houseguests that they had threatened to call the Health Inspector immediately. One of the group even went so far as to approach Bruce at the bar to demand the use of the restaurant’s telephone to do so.

Bruce looked shocked.

“Why do you want to get rid of those little fellows?” he asked in his most angelic voice.

“Because they are filthy, disease-ridden pests that don’t belong in restaurants, that’s why!” bawled the diner.

Bruce allowed a little alarm to creep into his voice.

“I’m sorry sir, we’re not allowed to harm those little fellows,” he told the irate diner. “Nor are we allowed to even upset them in any way”.

“And why on earth not?” demanded the diner.

“Because they are marsupial rats sir,” Bruce replied. “They are an endangered species sir. Protected by law sir. You touch one hair of their cute little heads sir and you’ll suffer the consequences sir. I think the fine is up to one thousand dollars each, sir. Greenpeace would have to be notified too sir, and the Royal Zoological Society sir which is making the documentary. Sir.”

The diner looked nonplussed.

“Marsupial rats?” he said.

“That’s right sir,” said Bruce obsequiously, “a protected species sir,” and he toddled off to serve a brandy and dry to a man suffering from dehydration in the other room. Bruce could have been Prime Minister if he put his mind to it.


The diner returned to his group and told not only his own table, but also all those around him that the rats were special rats. Marsupial rats in fact. And they were protected! The waiter told him so. Greenpeace was involved too.


It wasn’t long before the all diners in the garden were trying to entice the cute little marsupial rats to their tables with crusts of bread or whatever else they thought marsupial rats would eat and it became a race to see who could get one of the adorable little creatures to eat out of their hands first. Some patrons even got angry at nearby tables if they made sudden movements or loud noises and scared their little friends off. 

Within weeks, the marsupial rats had become so well known that the evening trade had increased markedly and some diners were actually requesting tables right alongside the ivy so they could watch the animals play at close quarters whilst they had dinner. The more thoughtful patrons even brought food from home so that they could feed the rats as soon as they arrived and not wait for entrée before tendering a forkful to their tiny playmates.

Equilibrium had been restored and our jobs had been safeguarded. We poor students would still have enough money coming in to pay for alcohol, entertainment, food and rent, in that order. Bruce was thanked a thousand times by the management for his quick thinking and they magnanimously offered all of the waiting staff free meals for a fortnight as a reward.

We chose to eat elsewhere.


Not long afterwards, a marsupial cat in the form of a pest extermination company arrived at the restaurant and decimated the protected species to the point of extinction, however I understand no charges were laid against the company directors by the Department of Native Fauna Conservation. Or Greenpeace, for that matter.




It was this lesson I had learned from Bruce that I put to good use many years later at Chez Alain. We required some electrical work to be done in the ceiling space and the electrician we employed (and paid in advance) had removed a plank of wood to get at the wires. Then Mr Angelakis had said he needed to buy a short length of exceptionally expensive electrical wire and an even more expensive three pin plug from a Greek island and would return to complete the job in three or four weeks time. God willing.

I thanked Mr Angelakis for his thirty minutes’ preliminary work and over an afternoon tea of baklava and Turkish coffee, I assured him Chez Alain would happily wait a month or two for him to return to complete the remaining hour’s labour. A hard working tradesman deserves a good break.

I hoped it would be a leg.

Preferably both.

We never heard from Mr Angelakis again.

A year later, a possum that ordinarily lived in the enclosed roofspace found the hole so thoughtfully provided by Mr Angelakis, and decided to take it upon himself to inspect the interior of the restaurant each day. He would squeeze through the hole and then wander along one of the big wooden beams that spanned the main dining room. He would then take up position at the end of the beam, curl up in a ball and go to sleep until late evening, when he would awaken once again, open his big eyes and look about. He would then wander back along the beam, exit through the hole into the roofspace and resume his nocturnal wanderings out of sight. And because the beam was high up in the air and the lights in the dining room fairly dim, no one was ever the wiser.

That is until the lady on table eight happened to be looking directly at the possum when it woke up and looked about at about eleven o’clock one evening.

Andrew was collecting empty dessert plates from the table at the time and I was alongside, assisting with coffee and liqueurs. The lady turned to me quite agitatedly and said, “Excuse me, but there appears to be a live animal in the dining room.”

I have often referred to young Andrew rather disparagingly, but I thought this lady was going a bit far.

“Where?” I asked, wearing my most angelic Bruce-look.

“Up there, on that beam. See, it’s turning its head.”

Before I could speak, Andrew used his initiative and said, “It certainly does look lifelike from down here doesn’t it. It’s one of those fluffy toys that the boss brought back from Japan when he went over there to play golf. The Japanese are extremely clever aren’t they? You can hardly tell it from the real thing, its got a computer chip in it. Isn’t technology amazing.” 

With this, the lady seemed to be a little reassured and even went so far as to agree with Andrew that it did indeed look very lifelike, especially with the way it kept turning its head and opening and closing its eyes.

 I just smiled. Andrew had everything quite under control.

All of a sudden, the possum decided it was time to leave and without any further ado, he walked along the beam to the hole and jumped through it into the roofspace. The lady gave a little gasp and pointed to it as it walked along the beam to the hole. 

She looked at both myself and Andrew.

Andrew looked to me for leadership.

I turned to Bruce for inspiration.

“Oh no!” I said, “It’s got into the roof. It will probably run around up there for a week now until the batteries go flat. And they were new ones too!”


We finished clearing and returned to the kitchen.

Tale 8. Big John and the Hallucinogenic Bananas.

Introduction. 

Big John was a living piece of heavy earth moving equipment and a legend in our farming district. A Goliath of a man, but with a gentle nature and resourceful mind.

And he is a very naughty boy. 

He had inherited a bulldozer from his father in his late teens and had successfully managed to interbreed with it in a series of secret trials on his own farm, located very near my own. He had also had considerable success with a friend’s front end loader and the grader from the local council and had produced several litters of baby trucks, backhoes and other useful pieces of crossbred machinery with hybrid vigour. Instead of drowning them at birth as one might ordinarily have done with unsanctioned experimental progeny, he kept these litters on his property and reared them until they were sexually mature, when they themselves began to indiscriminately interbreed and many other mongrel litters of indeterminate parentage were spawned. These subsequent litters however, were smaller and weaker bits of machinery such as forklifts, hay rakes, mowers, post hole borers, balers, harrows, ploughs and dare I say it, sod seeding equipment. 

There was also one litter of utilities and motor cars as a result of a union between two small trucks, but these puppies were ‘a bit odd’ and unfit for heavy work. They were kept in a separate shed with no windows and mainly used on family outings. (I’m fairly sure they were the result of a brother sister mating, but no one in our district talks about it now).

Eventually, this clandestine breeding operation came to the notice of the government and Big John was required to cease immediately or his new family would be impounded, since none of them were registered and should not have been allowed on the road. Being the kind and loving father that he was, Big John couldn’t face the thought of losing even the intellectually challenged motor car that drove around in circles because of a malformed axle, so he took himself off to the vet and thereafter sang falsetto in the church choir.

To fully comply with the regulations set down in the edict from the Department of Transport, he also segregated the male pieces of equipment from the female pieces of equipment and kept them in separate machinery sheds. The doors were locked securely at night and from then on, the equipment was only allowed out under strict supervision and with licensed operators. No more indiscriminate breeding occurred.

Anyway, dear reader, believe it or not, this was the unusual origin of Big John’s earth moving business and goes to show the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our country cousins in establishing an enterprise.

 

Not to mention the shortage of womenfolk in our area at the time. 


Eventually, the original bulldozer reached senility, as did many of the trucks and other founding mechanical members of the breeding programme. However, unlike his city cousins who took their machines to the wreckers or traded them in on newer vehicles, Big John was loath to ‘put them down’ in this fashion, and parked these less functional, but much loved geriatrics in his back paddock, so that they could live out their last few years in semi-retirement and in the company of their old friends. It was the least he could do for them after working them almost to death twenty four hours a day, seven days a week for the best part of thirty years. An added bonus to parking the oldies outside in the weather, was that it would leave the big machinery sheds free where he could store the younger, more profitable pieces of earth moving equipment. He was similarly unable to bring himself to euthanase his own parents and built a lovely shed for them to live in near the beach when they retired. He was a kind and loving man who looked after his family.

Just like me.


Preamble. Part 1. The request.

It was when Big John attended Chez Alain for his sixth wedding anniversary that I used the occasion to discuss building a new dam on my farm. I had not met his sixth wife before, and the evening was a complete success. She was an excellent example of womanflesh and both she and Big John were excellent conversationalists. We discussed earth moving, dam wall construction, mothers-in-law, child minding and euthanasia. 

In that order. 

I sensed an opportunity and asked him if he would very much mind if I brought my own mother in law up to the farm in order to supervise the construction of the dam if he won the quote. He smiled. He was a country boy, but he wasn’t slow.


They both ordered the chicken and his good wife Nanette enjoyed her meal so much, she asked whether or not I would write out the recipe for her. It was a Chez Alain special - Chicken Breast with edam cheese and garlic butter, rolled in wilted spinach and oven baked in light fillo pastry. It is served with a yummy sundried tomato/cream sauce and is one of the most popular dishes on my menu. It is a dish that requires considerable skill to master, especially regarding the wilted spinach wrapping and Nanette was by her own confession, a novice cook. 

It is also a dish that I seldom, if ever give the recipe for. It is a Chez Alain masterpiece. One of my signature dishes.

 

I sensed a problem and tried to forestall.


Preamble. Part 2. The recipe.

I said of course she could have a written copy of the recipe, but then I would have to kill her. Everybody laughed, especially Big John who at that moment had just spied the voluptuous young Amanda as she flitted into the main dining room. 

He tugged my apron and begged me to write the recipe out for his wife.

I sensed a seventh anniversary dinner on the horizon. 

I had no wish to kill the lovely Nanette personally, so rather than give her the recipe in the standard written fashion, I told her verbally, in mock earth moving and farmer talk, so that Big John could understand as well. Then, should he later feel the need (if he happened to accidentally meet the voluptuous young Amanda at a local football match), he could write the recipe out for Nanette himself. 

With the appropriate consequences of course.

I also said that this recipe was open to the creative urges of the chef, and other bits of filling could be added to satisfy one’s palate. “One need not limit oneself to my standard ingredients” I said. “Feel free to add whatever else takes Big John’s fancy. Experiment. Let me know if you prefer the recipe done another way.”


It is well known by country folk that all manner of waste farm stuff is pushed into a dam wall. Dead animals, old wire netting, rusty pipe, barbed wire, fused motors, in fact anything that one wants to get rid of that can be covered easily by a few tonnes of clay and a metre of topsoil. It makes good sense too. If one were to dump the rubbish at the local tip, one would be charged a lot of money for exactly the same result to occur. Rubbish gone and hole filled. I know this from personal experience, for there used to be several deep depressions and stump holes on my property which are now beautifully land filled with some old refrigerators, an expired stove, a water heater that refused to work and an ex wife that did similar. And it cost me nothing but an uncomfortable few hours with a detective from the local police station.

 

Preamble. Part 3. Method.

 I told Nanette that the secret was in the wilting of the spinach. Fresh spinach needed to be put in the semi-shade for about two days to wilt. If put in direct sunlight, the spinach ‘crisps’ and becomes too dry and brittle to fold. The long stalks are then cut from the leaves, just like tail docking young lambs, and the remaining spine (of the spinach, not of the lambs) is beaten with the side of a mallet to crush it. A bit like a bulldozer running over a cow. 

Nanette nodded her understanding, for she had been married to Big John for quite a few months now and had attended at a number of his work sites where there had been a few cattle short at mustering time. Big John was prone to be a little clumsy.

Then the leaves are spread out in an overlapping manner to one side of the workbench, (the same as the bulldozer scrapes away the topsoil at the intended dam site and puts it in several piles to be replaced around the completed dam later). When finished, these overlapping spinach leaves form a sheet about the size of a dinner plate. Then along comes the bulldozer (chef Nanette) and pushes all the unwanted rubbish into the middle of the spinach. The half chicken breast is the dead animal, the edam cheese is the old barbed wire, the minced garlic is the rusty galvanized iron and the knob of butter (to keep the dish moist) is the old irrigation pipe. Then the bulldozer pushes the topsoil (rolls the spinach) over (around) the filling and firms it down by driving over it a few times. 

Nanette nodded her blonde head as if she could now see the tightly bound cylinder of spinach, filled with debris. 

Yum yum!


As with all good earthworks, once a job is completed, a finishing coat of mulch, grass seed and fertilizer is applied to revegetate the area. At Chez Alain, this is done by rolling the spinach cylinder in fillo pastry and the dam thing is now completed. Mother Nature can then bake it in the sun at 180 degrees C, then rain sauce all over it to germinate the grass seeds. Note- A tuft of bulrushes makes a splendid garnish.

Nanette clapped her little hands in glee in the knowledge that she would continue to live, and thanked me profusely for the verbal recipe. She also asked whether or not it would work just as well if she used a whole chicken in each parcel? Big John was a good eater.

I gave her a funny look and suggested she use her kitchen chain saw to cut each chook in half first. I also suggested that if she insisted on using a whole bird, it would be a good idea to use a small sledge hammer with gay abandon on the chook carcass to soften it a little before she rolled it in the spinach.

The country lass’s eyes lit up at the thought of using her favourite utensils and I retired to the comparative safety of my own kitchen to check on staff.


Preamble. Part 4. The Deal.

I don’t know whether or not it was the wine, or it was just my lucky day, but towards the end of the evening, Big John let slip the fact that he had a number of earthmoving jobs to do in the area which needed rather a lot of clay. He had been asked to re-line a few existing farm dams that had been built with inferior clay. Over the years they had developed very bad leaks, to such an extent that they no longer held water, which as you can imagine dear reader, is about as useful as a guard dog with really big teeth and no legs. 

It was known far and wide that I had the best clay in the district on my own farm, and Big John asked whether or not he could utilize any excess from my job for his other jobs.

I sensed a deal and moved in for the kill.

“Of course you may have the clay,” I generously offered. “In fact, you can have as much as you like. Just scrape away the topsoil at the site where I want my new dam, then dig out as much clay as you need. Then, when you have removed your clay and created a big hole in the ground, I would appreciate it if you would smooth the topsoil around the outside again, leaving the huge hole that looks very much like a dam, in the middle.” 

“And I shall charge you very little for the clay.” 

“Practically nothing.”

Big John realized he was beaten and promised to attend the site with his best earth moving equipment the following week. I opened a bottle of tawny port and we shook hands in true country style to complete the deal. And due to my incredible negotiating skills, my new dam would cost very little indeed. 

Practically nothing.

I might even make a small profit. 

I would also have ample time to collect all the rubbish and unwanted items lying around the farm and these could be buried underground during the earthworks. What a clever little restaurantfarmerteur I was. And tidy too. For within a few days, I had amassed a veritable mountain of useless items from all corners of the property and transported them in my old trailer to the dam site where they had been tipped out into piles ready for incorporation in the new dam wall.


I had had that trailer for at least a hundred years and its floor was almost entirely rusted away. Both of its wheels were flat, the tail lights no longer existed and the drawbar was buckled as a result of a falling limb from the old gum tree under which it had been parked for many years. It was however, a valued and useful piece of farm equipment and I had refrained from purchasing another, despite the derogatory comments afforded it by friends and neighbours. The final load of rubbish for the dam wall remained in the trailer in my driveway. It was old barbed wire, and rather than have the cattle spread it about the paddock as they rubbed up against it, I thought it better to leave it in the dilapidated trailer and tow it down to the site later, with my old utility.


The Execution.

As promised, using the farmer’s calendar, Big John arrived at six o’clock in the morning, exactly one month later. He was driving his oldest and most senile bulldozer which rattled and squeaked and belched black diesel fumes from every crack in the engine block. It also worked every bit as efficiently as Andrew when he sensed the voluptuous young Amanda might be in season. I rebuked Big John for still hanging on to the old girl and suggested a newer model would be more befitting a man of his standing in the community.

He thanked me for my thoughts, but said he was still quite happy with Nanette, however he would bear my comments in mind, and should he feel like a change, he would write out my famous chicken recipe for her.

(I said he wasn’t a slow boy.)


The job should have taken one or two days at the most, however the old bulldozer kept breaking down and the repairs seemed to take forever. I suggested to Big John that he perhaps park her at the side of the dam when he was finished and cover her with topsoil with his front end loader. I promised to give the eulogy at the burial service and plant a tree on the spot in remembrance.

Big John didn’t find this as amusing as I did, and continued to labour on. 

And on.

And on.

And I continued to deride his antiquated equipment at every opportunity.

Finally, Big John advised me that apart from pushing all my farm rubbish into the rear of the wall and covering it with a good layer of topsoil, the job was complete. So, I drove down to the site in the ute, towing the trailer-full of rusty old wire and parked it next to the other piles of debris. I then alighted from the vehicle and took a bag of bananas from the front seat to share with Big John for morning tea as we walked around the site inspecting the work.


They were not the usual bananas I buy.


I had been encouraged by my children to purchase them from the Organic shop in the central market, on the promise that the absence of chemicals in the fruit would enable me to live another five years. Why on earth one would want to endure a further five years in a nursing home being force fed liquid gruel by a person who removes the same liquid gruel from your nappies three hours later is beyond me, but I acquiesced to the children’s pleadings and bought the fruit. To signify their authenticity as ‘organic’ the beatnik who possessed eyes with no pupils and who apparently owned the fruit emporium, had dipped the ends of the bananas in red wax. This of course filled me with incredible confidence that the fact that I had just paid him three times the going rate for a bunch of bent fruit was justified. I must have been as bent as the fruit.


The bananas that I offered to Big John had red wax covering the ends. 

They were hippie bananas.

Sold to me by a beatnik whose eyes possessed no pupils.


We walked over the site from end to end inspecting the earthworks, and although I did most of the talking, (ridiculing Big John’s decrepit machinery), we both managed to consume two bananas each. And as I recall, they were very tasty too.

I then moved to the shade of a big gum tree to watch as the bulldozer completed Nanette’s famous verbal recipe. I watched as firstly the crushed garlic pile (old fused electric motors and car engines) was bulldozed into the dam wall, and then the edam cheese pile (rusted irrigation pipe). Then Big John pushed a very big knob of butter in the form of an old rusty windmill into the bank. Finally all that remained was the trailer full of wire. I guessed Big John would call the wire the chicken, and as soon as it was pushed up with the other ingredients, he would run over the whole recipe with the bulldozer to consolidate the lot into a nice tight parcel. 

Then the dam thing would finally be completed.


I knew I shouldn’t have bought those bananas from the hippie shop, for just at that moment I began to trip out. Visions swam before my eyes. It appeared as if my bulldozer driving chef was ad libbing with my famous recipe and was pushing a large chunk of proscuitto in front of him, along with the chicken. My dearly beloved old trailer was fast disappearing in front of the bulldozer blade, along with the unwanted mountain of old wire. 

And not only was I tripping out, but the chef too was obviously as high as a kite, for apparently he had failed to notice that my old utility was still firmly attached to the trailer via the towbar. Either that, or he was being extremely creative and adding a further ingredient to my standard recipe.


A bulldozer in motion, dear reader, is difficult to stop.

 

Especially if one is shouting at it with a mouthful of banana and the bulldozer driver is on drugs. It pays to wait until the old bulldozer gets tired and lies down for an afternoon nap. 

And above the shrieking noise of bending metal, Big John assured me it would soon happen, for as I well knew, and kept reminding him, the bulldozer was a very old decrepit thing and needed lots of rests. And as soon as he had crushed all my debris and covered it with a good metre of topsoil, he would give the geriatric old girl a drumful of diesel and a well earned lie down.


I realized I had been given a cooking lesson by a very creative chef, and it was well worth the small price I had paid. After all, the dam had cost me practically nothing.

I told Big John I would look forward to his visit at Chez Alain on his seventh anniversary, and thanked him for so efficiently ridding me of my unsightly rubbish.


I had to walk home. 


Tale 9.  Fast Freddy.

Nowadays, whenever things go wrong for me, I remain my usual calm, unflustered self and try not to get too aggrieved. I take two sedative tablets from my left pocket, swallow them with a glass of good Shiraz and cast my mind back to my childhood. 

I then try to remember as many things as I can that I did to other people that might be perceived by the more conservative members of our society to be anti-social or borderline criminal. There were too many acts of wanton vandalism to mention in this book and if I were to begin to write personal letters to all those good citizens to whom I owe an apology, I fear I might die before I had finished. Heaven knows I suffer dreadfully from remorse every day of my life, but there is no going back. What’s done is done. All the purloined hens have long since been eaten, along with the liberated chocolate bars and fruit, and most, if not all of the widows’ windows have been repaired.

But my eternal condemnation and punishment continues for having taken liberties in the past with other people’s private property.

Take the car park for instance.


Why not take the car park? Take it anywhere you like.

 

The bitumen surface is about the only thing that hasn’t been taken. The night borrowers stole nearly everything else until I employed Mr Punchy-punchy to do the gardening. But did I get aggressive about all the theft? No, of course not. 

I left that to Mr Punchy-punchy. That’s what he was paid for. To reward people.

As I have been rewarded myself in the past when caught by large muscular farmers with long sticks and bitey-bitey doggies..


We have had other thefts too. Usually by high spirited Christian youths who wanted to get wholly high on spirits. To whit the Brandy, Vodka, Scotch and Rum which were all kept imprisoned in large bottles at Chez Alain on a high shelf behind the bar. One can see these bottles through the windows of the reception room. They look just like large bottles full of alcohol.

Ordinarily, the primary use of these see-through windows at my own establishment is for (A) looking in or (B) for looking out of. Another use is for (C) keeping out the cold in winter or (D) keeping out the heat in summer. However, for both uses (C) & (D) to be efficient, the window panes need to be intact, or virginal. I know of no other useful purpose for windows, for I am here to tell you that they are no earthly use whatsoever for keeping out high spirited youths who mistakenly believe that ‘Happy Hour’ is between three and four in the morning when everybody else is fast asleep.

I have suffered three such visitations from these lively youngsters and have upgraded my elaborate security system to such an extent that I now have one. The main problem isn’t the amount of liquor that is taken, but the damage caused as the night raiders make their unorthodox entry and then fumble around in the dark groping for bottles or each other if the raiding party happens to be of mixed sex. Broken glass and woodwork is not the most pleasant decoration in the Reception Room and given the opportunity, most of my patrons would probably opt for a nice vase of flowers. Perhaps a porcelain nude figurine with firm buttocks and a long pink gerbora.


It was Fast Freddy who thwarted the most recent smash and grab at Chez Alain.

Fast Freddy is the local milkman who has the licence to provide assorted dairy products to the local rural population and some of the more unfortunate outer suburbs nearby. He is a wonderfully colourful character, usually green, because he delivers ‘fresh’ from the dairy and thinks it unnecessary to wash the tell tale signs of bovine afterburn from his rubber boots and apron before setting out on his early morning round. His agriculturally speckled appearance doesn’t really matter anyway, because he has usually finished his round by seven o’clock in the morning and at that time of the morning, all the delicate people are only just thinking about getting up out of bed and having the first of many café lattés. By then he is back at his dairy farm and camouflaged in the grass. 

Everybody loves Freddy. He is always happy to stop his truck in the middle of the road and have a chat or share a joke or six if you are too slow to get away. He’s so laid back he’s horizontal. Nothing fazes him. And when the Health Department asked him to put a refrigeration unit in his truck because the customers were beginning to complain about the quality of the sour cream, ghee and curdly milk in summer, he didn’t bat an eyelid. He just installed the unit without a complaint. No problemos.

Of course nothing changed.

In summer the cream was still sour when it arrived, the butter still ghee and the milk almost cottage cheese. The Health Department had neglected to tell Freddy he must have the machine turned on.


Not a lot changes in the country, and when it does, it changes slowly. So slowly that I either had to learn to make a number of dishes at Chez Alain with sour cream or kill the cat by overdosing her on rejected congealed dairy products. My favourite dish was a simple baked cheesecake made with buttermilk that once could have been fresh milk or skim milk or some other product when it left the dairy on a hot day. The cheesecakes kept well when frozen and could also be used as donations to the local pony club. When stacked one on top of each other, they made excellent fences for the horses to jump at the annual gymkhana and lot were disposed of in this fashion. 

A lot of horses, but sadly not a lot of cheesecakes.


Anyway, I thought you might like to try this little recipe and I owe it all to Fast Freddy. I learned to like it with yoghurt and sour cream, but it can also be taken with fresh cream, weather permitting.


Insert cheesecake recipe.

Tale 10. Goo Goo, Gaa Gaa.

And then she said those fateful few words……… “Plus one.”

I knew she wasn’t testing my arithmetical skills. She had not preceded these two words with the question “What is three plus four minus two multiplied by six?”

No, the lady was instead telling me that both she and her husband had recently procreated and had every intention of bringing the result of their union to my restaurant on a Sunday at lunchtime.

And I had already taken the booking. 

I couldn’t say “Oh my goodness, we seem to be fully booked until Christmas.”

Nor could I ring back later and say one of my stupid staff members had once again made a gross error and we were unable to take the booking, for as usual, it was myself who was the stupid one.

 I was dealing with a professional. The sweet lady had first enquired as to the menu, the prices and the atmosphere. She had then had asked whether or not there was room for a table of four on a particular day. I had replied most positively in the affirmative and she had given me her appropriate details. These had then been written in the book.

It was then, and only then, that she had said, “Plus one.” 

She was a real professional.


I played my next card.

“One what?”


“A baby,” was the reply.


“A baby what?” went through my mind, but remained unsaid. 


“That’s nice.” I replied, “Is it yours?”


“He most certainly is,” she responded, “he is our little poppet, we take him everywhere with us. Do you have high-chairs?”

By high chair, I thought of offering to put one on the roof, but thought better of it. Instead, I apologized profusely and said, “No, unfortunately we don’t.”

“Never mind,” said the pro, “we can fix that, do you have room for a pram?”

I replied that there was expanse enough on the terrace to park even a medium sized truck, however the limited space inside our establishment prevented the storage of such vehicles. And this unfortunately included perambulators.

Undeterred, the professional gaily informed me she was prepared for all contingencies and said she was eagerly looking forward to her Sunday luncheon with her parents-in-law. And poppet of course.

I lied that I too was eagerly looking forward to the occasion.


The happy day arrived and our foursome plus one arrived. Mother-in-law held a nappy bag, father-in-law held a metal and leather contraption that looked like it came from an adult shop, daddy held poppet and mummy held a large overnight bag. I held a big welcoming smile.

They were shown to their table and father-in-law immediately went into action. The metal contraption was transformed into a small seat with two extended robot style arms with pincer like claws which gripped the edge of the table. Father-in-law was a considerate man too, for he realized the claws might scratch the table and so borrowed all the napkins from the patrons of the surrounding two tables to place between the claws and the woodwork as he screwed the lock nuts tight. When the portable poppet chair was secure, poppet was popped into the seat and the rest of the group assumed their positions. Mummy took the seat closest to poppet.

Poppet was then introduced to nearly everyone in the dining room and he responded with little squeals of what might optimistically be called delight. He then strained very hard and his little face went quite red. Very red indeed. So red that mummy asked to use the ladies rest room and took poppet with her to show him the décor. Mother-in-law handed her the nappy bag to take as well.

Unfortunately both mummy and poppet both returned from the ladies room and resumed their seats so I went over to discuss the menu and take their order. I noticed the air smelt decidedly different when I stood near mummy and poppet and wondered whether or not poppet had seen enough décor. I went and stood near daddy. 

In the understanding manner for which I am known, I suggested a variety of maincourses for the adults and perhaps a large bowl of olives and hazelnuts for poppet, however mummy thought otherwise and although she thanked me for my thoughtfulness, she said she had brought more suitable provisions for poppet. She turned to those around her on the other tables and smiled. The other lady patrons smiled knowingly too. Perhaps they had also tried olives and hazelnuts at some time and found them unsuitable? 

The voluptuous young Amanda had come over to inspect the baby too and had used her initiative to open a window. The air was now beginning to get a little better, although I thought I could sense an increase in female hormones in the atmosphere. The womenfolk were certainly beginning to take a shine to little poppet, bless his little socks. They thought he was just gooorgeous.

It was while I was busy in the kitchen that poppet began to entertain the masses. He had perfected an exercise whereby he would look directly at a person, open his little eyes wide, say goo goo, dribble a lot, then attempt to clap his pudgy little hands. He would then repeat the exercise until he had included every female in the room. Squeals of delight would then emanate from the females and more hormones would be released. The voluptuous young Amanda was included in the exercise.

I returned to the room with four beautiful maincourses and found that poppet had already started his luncheon. Mummy in her wisdom had taken the liberty of providing poppet with poppet food to keep him from crying and disturbing the other diners. Clever mummy. She had also taken the liberty of taking the large rug from her overnight bag and had spread it on the floor so that poppet could have a little crawl about.

And not disturb the other diners.

To make enough room for the rug, several tables had been moved and some eight or nine patrons had become quite ‘snuggly’ as a result. The ladies didn’t seem to mind though, and if the ladies didn’t mind, then neither did the menfolk. Poppet just said goo goo and distributed little bits of bread and soft fruit around the rug and as far outside its perimeter as he could throw with his sausage like little arms.  

All of a sudden, poppet stood up, holding onto a table leg. Mummy gasped and said what a clever little poppet he was and told all the other ladies in the room that this was the first time poppet had stood. All the other ladies gasped too and said what a clever poppet he was indeed. I believe one lady on table five even started to lactate.


Clever little Poppet however seemed to strain with the effort.


Mummy then produced a banana for the little troll’s dessert, and he obligingly performed his banana trick for everybody’s enjoyment. He had learned to break the banana in half, then, whilst holding fast onto one half with his sticky hands, swallow the other half entirely. This swallowed half would then be regurgitated almost undamaged in a projectile vomit. A huge smile would then spread from ear to ear across his face and be beamed to every lady in the room. The ladies would say he was a naughty little man and encourage him. The odd little gnome would then insert the other half into its mouth and crawl off to retrieve the original wet half for a repeat performance. Ad nauseum.

By this method, he managed to personally visit almost all the assembled womenfolk and donate a huge grin to each lady. Hormones began to flow copiously and womenfolk were beginning to look demurely at their menfolk and suggest a little Sunday afternoon lie down after a strenuous week’s work. The menfolk in return were suggesting immediate departure in case the ladies changed their minds and a queue quickly formed at the cash register.

I also noticed Poppet managed to leave what I seriously hoped was only a trail of mashed banana throughout the main dining room during his house calls.


All’s well that ends well, and the anticipating males rushed home to impregnate their females. The dining room emptied apart from the four plus one and we were able to commence cleaning and resetting a little earlier than usual. Poppet fell asleep under table three and remained there until after coffee when he was reclaimed by mummy and daddy, gently stuffed into the big overnight bag and transported home.

I looked at the crumbs scattered all over the floor and suggested to the voluptuous young Amanda that we get down on our hands and knees to pick them up.

She unkindly said, “In your dreams” and fetched the broom from the laundry.


I think she’s been on her hands and knees before.

Tale 11. I've Got Gas and the Runaway Bride.

Air, or lack of it, has got me into trouble twice in my life. Not the regular mixture of gases that we take for granted when we wake up, usually everyday, and there it is, all around us, helping us stay alive. But the more specific sort of gas that makes things happen. The sort of stuff that makes you sick if you have too much of it. 

Like mothers-in-law.


For most of my juvenile life I stupidly believed that this gas didn’t weigh much. 

However hat was long before I purchased a decrepit building that did not have gas connected. It had electricity and running water. And rats of course. 

But not gas. 

In their wisdom, the executives of the gas company had decided not to extend the service line as far as to what would later become Chez Alain, even though they knew I would use voluminous amounts of their product, for I had written them several very strong letters pointing out that fact. And I had intimated there was a good chance that I might pay some of my bills on time too. They replied that it was uneconomic to supply our area and suggested that when I had completed my renovations, I contact a certain dealer in a neighbouring village who would deliver bottled gas to my restaurant. 

For a small fee.

They also reminded me that I still had a very large outstanding account on my city property and if I didn’t hurry up and pay it, I would have no gas at that property either.

The dealer in the peaceful little neighbouring village, blissfully unaware of my financial situation was happy to oblige, and every six weeks or so, just after I had completely run out of gas, he would arrive in his delivery truck and deliver two bottles instead of the one bottle I had ordered from him three weeks earlier. I always ordered one bottle, at the appropriate time, so that I could never run out. One would always be a spare, for I had two bottles for which I paid an exorbitant rent, permanently parked behind the toilets. One was connected to the unique gas system which I had installed myself to save money instead of employing a gas fitter, and one was spare. When the one connected to the system ran out, I would connect the spare and call the dealer for a delivery of another full replacement bottle the next day.

That way I could never run out.

I would always have the second bottle to use whilst I waited for the delivery of further supplies.

I thought it was a very easy and efficient system.


I was wrong.


The dealer had been to business school and thought it grossly inefficient to deliver just one bottle and would delay the delivery so that he could deliver two at once, with the appropriate savings on labour, down time, fuel and depreciation on his truck. (Although for the life of me, I couldn’t see how his particular truck could depreciate any further). 

To give the man credit, he always came promptly when I telephoned him at seven thirty on a Saturday evening, screaming down the telephone that I had a full dining room of patrons and no gas because the spare had just run out, and why the heck hadn’t he delivered the bottle I ordered three weeks ago.

And he could drive very fast too after these calls.


A way needed to be found to solve this slight supply problem and I began paying an exorbitant rent on four gas bottles. One connected to the system, one for changeover and two to rest up against the wall until the spare ran out because the dealer had not arrived when he should have. Then I could use one of the bottles that had been enjoying a long holiday at my expense until the nitwit dealer arrived with the spares. And there would still be one spare for emergencies

I hadn’t allowed for the dealer’s efficient mind.

Now he waited for all four of the bottles to run out, quadrupling his savings on labour, down time, fuel and depreciation on his truck.

He told me it was efficiency of scale. 

Modern economics.


The second time I ran out under his new code of business practice, I took one of the four full bottles he arrived with and hit him with it.

I can assure you dear reader, air is very heavy.

Shortly after presenting me with a large medical bill, the dealer wisely reverted to a more prehistoric method of business practice. 

I rang. 

He delivered.

The only time I ran out after that was when my ex wife gave me a surprise visit.




I experienced another episode of heavy air.

I had been carrying an awful lot of bubbles for an hour and they had become extremely heavy. So heavy in fact, that I needed a lie down.

My good friend Lionel had just purchased a piece of real estate and had brought a half dozen bottles of champagne around to Chez Alain to share with me in order to celebrate. He and I had managed to maintain a friendship for thirty years and of the two of us, he had by far the stronger constitution. That was why I found myself lying on my back on the floor behind the bar staring up his trouser leg as he stood over me. There had been no chair handy for me to sit on, and so I had taken the opportunity to have a short rest on the nearest solid object. 

I was holding an awful lot of bubbles.

And they were extremely heavy.


It was a Monday evening and I had closed early in order to celebrate with my exuberant pal. It was going to be a very quiet and private celebration. The traffic outside was almost non existent and there was no foot traffic either. There were seldom any pedestrians in the evenings in our village unless someone’s car had broken down and the driver was looking for an after hours mechanic, or a lost tourist was going from house to house seeking directions. The locals were always happy to tell them where to go. 

They loved tourists getting them out of bed late 

at night to ask inane questions. 

At 9.00 p.m. I expected no further customers, and since I had recently paid all my creditors with money that the bank had been silly enough to lend me, I didn’t expect any debt collectors either. We decided to share the bottles equally. Three for Lionel, one for me and one would be reserved for breakfast.

We were very proficient celebrators.

The sixth bottle dear reader, would be sold across the bar at a later date if Lionel failed his maths test.

I suppose I should have realized I was in a very precarious position at ground level. Lionel was standing right above me, propped up on the bar by his elbows and if by any chance he, like me, had become tired of holding all his bubbles and decided to sit, I could have suffered a dreadful fate. Lionel was not a midget. No siree. He once came first, fourth and seventeenth in the annual pie eating contest. And that was all in the same year.

Fortunately I had had an adequate sufficiency of mood enhancer not to care about my personal safety and I was off in dreamland, thinking about women, for as you are probably aware dear reader, when a man has consumed more than one glass of champagne his thoughts turn to romance. And Lionel’s legs, standing not six inches from my eyes, began to look extremely attractive.

Just then, the bell over the front door tinkled, and a person entered my establishment. From the position I was in I was unable to see who it was, and the person certainly couldn’t see me. I heard the unknown person walk across the room and approach the bar. To all intents and purposes, my good friend Lionel was the restaurateur, lost in reverie and leaning on the bar after everyone had gone home.

The person spoke.

It was a woman person.

And heavily laden with bubbles as I was, her voice sounded like an angel and it drifted down to me where I lay a-dreaming on the floor..

She asked Lionel whether or not he could help her. 

Obviously she couldn’t see that Lionel needed a great deal of help himself. She explained that she was lost. She said she had been driving around in circles in the dark for about half an hour and now she didn’t know where she was.

Lionel said nothing. He knew that any small movement of his jaw would upset the finely balanced equilibrium of his body and his house of cards would come crashing down. He concentrated very hard. 

The lady thought he was Tasmanian and tried again slowly.

This time, Lionel dared a one word reply.

“Lost?”

The behemoth shook at this jaw movement, but managed to remain upright as he clamped his mouth firmly shut once more.

“Yes”, she replied, “you’ve got it. I’m lost. Can you tell me where I am?”

Poor old Lionel didn’t even know where he was at that moment, so he certainly couldn’t tell her where she was. So he remained mute. Mute that is, until I pulled one of the hairs out of his leg. I don’t really know why I did that, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. He needed some stimulation to make a response to the visitor. And I just wanted to hear her voice again.

Lionel made a noise like a man who has just had a hair pulled out of his leg and the lady jumped back in alarm.

“Are you O.K.?” she enquired.

“No,” I said, from the floor behind the bar. “I’m a bit poorly.”

“Did you say that?” asked the lady.

“Yes,” I replied, quite truthfully from downstairs.

Lionel had still not moved. Despite his condition he was quite aware that this was a very delicate situation. Another word and he would probably fall over. No words and the hobbit below might tear another hair out by the roots.

Lionel decided not to tempt the hobbit and spoke instead. 

He perhaps should not have done that.

He said in a loud and clear voice, “There’s two of us here lady,” and promptly fell on the floor. Not quite on the floor, because I was directly in his line of descent.

All my bubbles came out in a rush as he fell on top of me and I proceeded to suffocate as I was surrounded by my large friend. Luckily I still had hold of a large number of his leg hairs and I was able to encourage him to move shortly before I expired. With the freedom of no longer being required to maintain his balance, Lionel was able to move his jaw with impunity and yelled in pain at the top of his voice. The poor lady visitor didn’t really know what to do. She thought that perhaps Lionel had suffered a heart attack and she came round the back of the bar to investigate.

Well dear reader, you can imagine the woman’s surprise and consternation when she found not only a largely indisposed Lionel, but also a small chef that someone had almost successfully tried to bury under a mountain of flesh. Thankfully the lady made the correct decision to try and save my life first and rolled Lionel off me. I can tell you it was no mean feat and the lady was breathing quite heavily by the time I was free.

And she was leaning over me.

I had a heavily breathing woman leaning over me.

And I was awake.

What the poor girl was not to know, is that I am an incurable romantic and even though I had just had a near death experience, I was still thinking about romance.

I asked my angel whether or not she was married.

“No,” she said, “I’m lost.”

“Well it’s all right my darling, I’ve found you now!” I said, and held onto one of her arms as I struggled to get up.

The lady let out a stifled shriek and backed away as fast as she could. Lionel, my best man, began to sing, which made the damsel even more alarmed and she made a dash for the front door.

She perhaps should not have done that.

Never having visited my establishment before, she had become a little disoriented and instead of quickly exiting via the front door, she dashed into the pantry by mistake and fell over amongst the sacks of dry goods and tins of groceries. This caused her to become somewhat hysterical, as lady drivers are prone to do when they get lost, and I crawled across the floor as fast as I could to render my assistance.

I perhaps should not have done that. 


Lionel continued to sing.


I remember grasping the lady’s left leg as she tried to burrow her way into the next room through the wall. I remember her turning toward me. I remember her holding a large tin of honey in her right hand. And I remember feeling considerable pain in my head.

The next thing I remember is waking up in the morning and my hair was very, very sticky. So Lionel popped the sixth bottle of champagne to commiserate. He had found where I had hidden it in the fridge.

 

My birds had flown.

Tale 12. Mary had a Little Lamb.

I think I can say without equivocation that almost everyone in the Western world has heard of Spring lamb, the succulent tender young sheepmeat that is eagerly awaited each year by non vegetarians after it has been raised on mother’s milk and the most verdant of pasture. And those few people who had not heard of Spring lamb were certainly made aware of it after dining on it continuously at Chez Alain all the way through Spring, Summer, Autumn and halfway through Winter one year. 

It wasn’t that I wanted to include that much lamb on the menu, but a year earlier, I had had a bet with my current darling that I could raise an orphaned lamb at the farm, to the point where it would be big enough and fat enough to put through the restaurant. In this way, I said I would be able to prove to her that I was both a successful farmer and a successful businessman and she would be incredibly proud of me. She had known me for quite a while now, so of course believed me quite capable of anything and brought a large glass of cold water with which to take the two shiny pink tablets she held in her outstretched palm.


As luck would have it, shortly after our conversation, a very old Merino ewe from the neighbour’s flock decided that our back paddock would be the perfect place to have her little lamb and managed to wriggle under the fence, drag herself over to a small stand of pine trees where there was adequate shelter from the late winter rains and give birth. She then decided that it would be an equally nice place to die and promptly expired, leaving the little one to play hide and seek with the foxes. Patch the Wonder Dog, our trusty Border Collie had gone to investigate and had reported back to me that I would need to hurry if the little lamb was to be saved. Of course the selfish doggie was only thinking of herself because she had eaten only dog-biscuit for a fortnight and with tail docking season still a few weeks away, she was looking forward to a change in diet.

When we arrived at the scene I didn’t want to have an argument with the dog about who would now be the legal guardian, after all it was she who had found the lamb, so we tossed a coin and luckily I won. I now had my little lamb to rear for the restaurant.

The lamb was gently transported in my coat pocket back to the kitchen and put in a warm oven to recuperate while Patch the Wonder Dog kept whining outside the back door, asking for ‘best out of three’. I don’t know why we ever called her the Wonder Dog.

  Fairly thick if you ask me. 

My darling heard what she thought was dinner bleating on the stove, and after investigating the cause of the commotion, she handed me two more pink tablets and an instruction manual on ‘A Layman’s Guide to Psychoanalysis and Self Healing ’. I thanked her for the magnanimous gesture and show of confidence but said the book wouldn’t be required, for the little Aussie bleater now ensconced in her oven was the very animal that was going to provide us with profit a-plenty (if it survived long enough to drink its first bottle of milk). I said there might even be enough money left over for a well-earned holiday for us both as well, and at this she brightened considerably and went to pack her bags in readiness.


Over the next few weeks, enough milk was poured down the throat of that little Merino to fill a hot air balloon, but still it refused to grow. It remained as stunted and thin as the day I brought it home and my darling slowly began to unpack her bags as she saw the holiday slowly slipping away. I too became despondent and began to force feed the little tacker to try to get it to increase in size just a bit. I offered it ground up maize, lupins, barley and wheat, plus anything and everything else I could think of that normally fattens sheep. 

It remained a bony midget. A very curly bony midget, but a bony midget nonetheless.

Meanwhile, another neighbour further down the road was doing the same thing, only whereas my lamb was from a wool-producing sheep, hers was from a meat producing variety. At least one of us had brains.

Her husband was a racehorse breeder and busied himself daily with horsey type stuff like growing and rearing mares, stallions and foals. Lydia too had decided to get in on the animal husbandry act and had gone and bought herself a little lamb to rear so that she and her husband would have something to talk about at the dinner table.

She was a very clever wife.

Lydia’s little Lambkin was what farmers usually call a good-doer and it grew while she watched it. Lambkin seemed to thrive even on fresh air and very soon it grew too big to carry its own weight more than a few metres. Henceforth Lydia began to cart it everywhere in a wheelbarrow so it wouldn’t get too puffed out. She mothered that little animal almost to the point of spoiling it. She even carted it to the clover patch down by the dam and tipped it out where it could graze all day without walking about too much. And eventually when that area was eaten out, she carted it to the clover patch alongside the creek where it could do the same. Then she started carting it daily to different sections of the clover patch in the front paddock where the clover grew really tall so that little Lambkins didn’t have to stretch his big fat neck by bending over too much.

Within a few more weeks, little Lambkin could no longer support his own weight and a pair of wheels was fashioned to go under his enormous stomach so that he could be wheeled about to graze and allowed to get even bigger. When the animal reached the size of a small bullock the axle finally broke and Lydia was forced to permanently park her gorgeous little baby in the hayshed where her husband kept the best bales of lucerne for the horses.

This was probably Lydia’s major mistake and within a few days, little Lambkin managed to eat the better part of sixty bales before Lydia’s husband noticed and went beserk. That hay had apparently been reserved for his broodmares and he was not happy. Not happy at all, and he suggested in very strong racehorse-person language that she prise her mountain of inert sheepmeat out of his empty hayshed and hire a semi trailer to take it to the abattoir so that they could eat it and thus recoup some of the money he had lost on the hay.

Lydia, not being a Queenslander, did what all mothers would when the male of the species tells her she must put her only child to death and eat it. 

She denied him sex.

 

(I said she was a clever wife).



But to no avail. Her husband had reached that age in a man’s life when he prefers to watch football on television and so the threat fell on deaf ears. The edict stood. Lambkin was to be turned into roasts and sausages, stored in several freezers and eaten with vegetables over the next few years.

Poor Lydia, she was beside herself with grief. The very thought of eating her little Lambkin filled her with horror. It would be worse than watching football on television.



It was whilst I was having a serious conversation with Patch the Wonder Dog about her boyfriend Tristan that I learned of Lydia’s problem. Tristan was Lydia’s Old English Sheepdog who was always coming around to our house, asking if Patch could go to the cinema with him or a party at a friend’s place etc. I had finally relented and allowed them out together on the strict proviso that he brought her home by midnight at the latest. Patch had been dropped off home at four in the morning smelling distinctly of alcohol and with a very unlikely tale of Tristan’s car getting a flat tyre.

I sensed trouble.

It was now three months later and I could see she was obviously in the family way. Of course I had invited Tristan around to discuss the matter but he said he had a sore paw and would be unable to come. It sounded like a lame excuse to me, so I stormed over to their house to give the young man a piece of my mind. When I arrived, Lydia was sobbing on the front porch and within a few minutes she had told me the whole sad story about little Lambkin’s impending demise and asked me if I would do her a great favour. She said Tristan had told her that I was also rearing a lamb, and if this was indeed correct and if I was considering taking my own lamb to the abattoir, please, please would I consider swapping the two animals.

Only I would have to promise her two things.

Firstly, on no account would I be allowed to tell her husband, and

Secondly, I would have to solemnly swear that I would in fact switch the lambs. It would break her heart if I didn’t do as she requested. She would just die at the very thought of eating her little Lammykins.


As I cast my eyes over the behemoth that had already been rolled into the truck for its final journey, I thought of the thin, undernourished skeleton currently limping about my best paddock and I forced myself to accept the deal. And to show my empathy for her upset, I offered to take little Lambkin away immediately so that she might not fret too much that night. Or for that matter, change her mind. I also forgave Tristan on the spot for his youthful indiscretion and drove as quickly as possible out of her driveway. As I roared off, I shouted to her that she in turn would need to promise me two things.

Firstly, on no account would she be allowed to tell my wife, and

Secondly, on no account would she be allowed to tell my wife.

 

The following morning, Patch the fat Wonder Dog hopped into the passenger seat of the truck, holding our own scrawny lamb in her mouth and we drove off to the abattoir with the two lambs.


When I arrived back home, I was able to tell my astonished darling that amazingly, there had been a mountain of sheepmeat hidden under our little lamb’s curly coat. Enough to make profit a-plenty at the restaurant. And the following week, Chez Alain began to feature its first ‘Spring Lamb Specials’ on the menu. Delights such as lamb shanks with turnips and baby swedes, followed by medium-rare lamb backstraps with a garlic and black peppercorn crust. We had lamb pie, lamb casserole, crumbed lamb’s brains, tongue and kidney pie. We had lamb osso bucco and we even had lamb and barley broth during Autumn. Finally, as mid-Winter approached, I managed to sell the last of the four hundred dozen lamb and proscuitto rissoles that I had made from all the mince.

My goodness we did extremely well off our curly little Merino and there was just enough profit left over from the exercise to give ourselves the well deserved holiday that the incredible businessman and farmer had promised. 

Absolute bliss.


I booked myself into a resort to play golf for a couple of weeks and she went to her mother’s for a month.

Tale 13. Pork with Passion.

  A particularly strenuous evening consuming food and wine with an eccentric acquaintance named Artist Pete finished a little later than anticipated and I decided to have a little lie down on a blow up mattress I keep in the pantry at Chez Alain expressly for that purpose. (Artist Pete dear reader, is not really just an acquaintance, he is a very close personal friend and a famous artist of exceptional talent who gave me what appeared to be a picture as a gift many years ago. I have kept it in a safe place somewhere, waiting for him to die so that I can sell it for a lot of money. I call him an acquaintance in this story, so as not to embarrass him with my friendship. He is a very sensitive person whom I hold most dear.)

Artist Pete, (not to be confused with Medium Pete my golfing buddy, nor Ranger Pete the confirmed bachelor) assisted in the upsizing of said mattress with as much wind as he could muster at three a.m. and with the addition my own last gasps, there were finally enough alcohol fumes in the thing to keep one of us almost half an inch off the ground. I considerately suggested to Artist Pete that the hard cold slate of the dining room floor would be better for his posture, and since he had reached that time in a man’s life when he suffered from hot flushes, it would serve to cool him down and help him get a good night’s sleep. I then threw him a couple of quality linen serviettes to serve as blankets and climbed aboard the rubber raft.

I awoke to find the mid morning sun streaming through the windows and the sounds of a very familiar artist singing karaoke to whatever was playing in what was left of his mind whilst he was still completely asleep. I was curled up, snap-frozen in the foetal position under table six, about a metre from the comfort of the mattress I had fallen asleep on. I guessed Artist Pete must have claimed the prize in the night immediately after I went to sleep and had rolled me far enough away so as not to be disturbed by my snoring nor become upset if he noticed I had stopped breathing due to hypothermia.

Since half of us were now awake, I decided it was time we all got up, so to awaken Sleeping Beauty, I poured the dregs of a bottle of Grenache in his left ear. It produced the desired result and linking arms for stability, we slowly progressed as a gruesome twosome from the dining room to the kitchen where we breakfasted on a couple of six egg omelettes, each one liberally laced with Gruyere cheese, slices of proscuitto, fat black Kalamata olives, finely chopped chives, and bits of my finger because I have to admit, I wasn’t really a well person. And I have very sharp knives.

Unfortunately, whilst engrossed in first-aid and the preparation of our resurrection feast, I failed to notice that Artist Pete had liberally laced his morning mug of Sambucca with fresh coffee. My famous acquaintance is extremely allergic to coffee, especially in the morning and only three or four large mugs later, I was required to escort him to the rear of my vehicle where he was placed ever so carefully in the boot for the short ride to his house, where he was emptied gently onto the front lawn in the usual spot. 

I believe Picasso had a similar intolerance to coffee.

And as with Pierre, it showed in his paintings too.


Artistically speaking, it was during this short interlude under table six that I saw my restaurant from quite a different perspective. One doesn’t often get to look at one’s walls from under table six. The last time I remember being in that same position was when I was hiding from an ex relative by marriage. She decided to pay me a surprise visit to make my birthday more memorable and I was lucky enough to spy her through the windows as she marched along the terrace towards the front door, wearing her best black look and a pretty pink frock. At the time, the group of ladies enjoying a luncheon at table six were somewhat skeptical of my reasons for suddenly diving under their table, but accepted the hastily offered excuse that I was checking the table’s legs for termites, and when they heard it was my birthday, several of the least married ladies suggested I check their legs for termites as well.

Luckily for me, my loyal staff saw how calamitous the situation might become, especially as I was no longer giving my ex similar obligation free quotes for pest control, and informed my darling that she had just missed me, for with the weather being so dreadfully hot, I had been called away to an urgent funeral.

She gave them a funny look (which was her usual look), jumped on her broom and left.

Fifteen minutes and several close inspections later, I crawled out from under table six and was able to send each of the ladies a certificate of compliance and roadworthiness to their home address.



This time however, there were no such ladies to distract me and after having a good look around the room, I was able to ascertain that after ten years of complete and deliberate neglect from moi, the maintenance department, the pristine walls were no longer pristine. In fact they were decidedly unpristine. Years of smoke escaping from the open log fires and sticky fingermarks from patrons thoroughly inspecting the texture of the rough stone walls using Braille had transformed the whitewash to greywash. And at floor level, where my head was now located, there were a thousand black scuffmarks where my extremely cherished and harmonic patrons kicked the walls as they masticated in tempo to the romantic music played through my stereo system especially for their comfort and pleasure 

I’ve heard that sort of behavior can detrimentally affect one’s eyesight.

Anyway, I decided the place needed painting badly, and I knew just the man to help me. Artist Pete painted as badly as anyone I knew, especially after being liberally medicated with Sambucca, so I rang him later that same day to enlist his assistance in the transformation of my restaurant walls from light grey to bright white. I said it could be repayment for the ride home that morning.

He mumbled what I took to be his eternal gratitude for delivering him safely to his abode and said he would be delighted to assist. As soon as he could remember her name, he would ask his secretary to try to find a suitable time slot in his busy social calendar so he could slap a quick coat of whitewash on my walls. Anyway, it sounded like my walls. He also suggested he might find the time to whitewash the ceilings, the doors, the inside of the fridge and the cat. And anything else he could reach with a long handled brush to repay me for the wonderful time he had lost at my establishment. 

I made a mental note not to bend over when he came to do the job.

To encourage his appearance, I said I would have a large bottle of the finest Napoleon brandy ready at six o’clock the next morning as remuneration for his efforts, and if it wasn’t too much trouble, would he please bring his own brushes, dropsheets and a couple of small step-ladders. And a plank. 

And a mug for the Napoleon.

I hung up before he could complete his reply and went to the hardware shop to buy the lime, salt and white cement with which to make the whitewash, and big red rubber gloves to protect our hands from lime burns. I also purchased a large plastic garbage bin in which to mix the slop, then it was off to the liquor store to buy a litre bottle of the finest brandy for Pete.

I also paid a quick visit to the grocer’s.


At exactly 10.30 a.m., Pierre arrived looking every inch the artist. That is to say he was covered in paint from head to toe after a gruelling lesson on his easel with one of his private school students. I asked no questions. Artists are renowned to be passionate about their work and we set about placing the dropsheets carefully over the slate floor and mixing the whitewash with our hands in the large plastic garbage bin. Within just a few minutes, we had a bin full of whitewash the consistency of a crêpe mixture as made by my little apprentice. So we continued to mix it until all the offending big lumps had gone and it was as smooth and pliable as a crepe mixture made by a competent person. 

I couldn’t fail to notice that I now also had this very same crêpe-cum-whitewash mixture spattered over my clothing and some of the lightshades because of Artist Pete’s passion, and it reminded me of the first time my little apprentice used the egg beaters with fresh cream. The cat thought all her Christmases had come at once as we moved her about the kitchen whilst she licked as fast as she could until it was all cleaned up.

I can only handle so much passion first thing in the morning. Especially since my pest extermination licence was revoked several years ago by she who used to be obeyed. So I thought it probably time for Pete’s first nip of finest cognac. A full mug was bound to slow him down a little and I offered the boy the advance on his wages.

It barely broke his gait, but it did make him blink a bit towards the end of the mugful. He gave a loud burp and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, He perhaps shouldn’t have done that, because that hand still held the paintbrush, however he just beamed a very white Colgate smile at me and continued his work with an artist’s passion until the walls were finished to head height.

Ordinarily when painting walls, one starts at the top and works down, it’s something to do with gravity, falling apples and that sort of thing, however both Pierre and myself have an aversion to heights so I decided to wait another few minutes until he had consumed another mugful and the bottle was half empty before we set the plank up on the stepladders. By then, I guessed he wouldn’t know whether he was on the ground or not and I could assume my rightful position and supervise him from the safety of terra firma. 

As you may know dear reader, working at heights on ladders can be very dangerous, something to do with gravity once again, and since Artist Pete was the most expendable member of our team, it was democratically decided by a quick show of hands whilst he paid a short visit to the men’s room, that he should work upstairs on the narrow plank. And of course it didn’t go unnoticed by some of us that in the event of a dreadful accident and a death occurring, anyone who owned a painting or two by a famous, but now subterranean artist might benefit more than a little in a financial sense. 

I can tell you dear reader, armed with this information, I was in a bit of a moral dilemma, however I really needed to get the walls re-whitewashed before start of business the following day, so I refrained from tying his shoelaces together whilst he worked and we continued with the job.

I have been in similar invidious positions before with Artist Pete, when his intake of refreshment has intruded on his capacity to function properly. The result being that the small tasks I have invited him to perform remain unfinished. So, in order that Artist Pete would remain on the ladder and complete this particular job, I began to dilute his supply of liquid refreshment with the item bought expressly for the purpose that morning from the grocery store.

On his first gulp, Artist Pete nearly gagged, but blamed the lime dust from the walls as he slopped the whitewash over them. His second gulp elicited a farty noise from his mouth as his throat constricted, but he painted on, every now and then licking the end of his paintbrush to see if that would provide a little moisture to unpurse his lips. His cheeks began to look like dried prunes and his facial complexion lost a little of its usual colour as the blood retreated to a safer area, however he continued to attack the bottle with his usual gusto and with minimal complaint. 

He did however mention the brandy had a very unusual taste. 

And it made his eyes water.

“Don’t worry Pierre”, I said, “It’s because it is French”. 

 I told him he had to expect a certain piquancy with fine French liqueurs. Monet, Manet and Matisse were all French and I had been led to believe by the man at the liquor store that they loved this particular brand of cognac.

(It was half true anyway. And the balsamic vinegar was Italian, and Italy was very near France). 

He nodded his agreement to this statement of the absolutely ridiculous, which indicated to me it was well and truly time to put the plank on the topmost step. If he succumbed to gravity now, I was sure he wouldn’t feel anything anyway. Besides which, there wasn’t all that much left to do, and I was fairly sure I could do it myself if I really had to.

But then he started to sing. Not because he was happy, but because he was unable to whistle. He found that making squeaky noises with his vocal chords kept his cheeks from being sucked into his throat; however because only every fourth word was audible and the man was finding it difficult to keep in tune, it began to get on my nerves. I thought another mugful of finest cognac might help the situation.

It did.

He took a swallow, lost his balance and fell off the plank.

The singing stopped. Fortunately he had spilled an enormous amount of whitewash onto the dropsheets below with his vigorous and passionate attack on the walls, and after first falling into the bucket, the depth of the liquid on the floor broke his fall even further. My friend’s self survival auto responses then took over and he commenced breaststroke on my dining room floor until he had escaped the morass.


 I thought I might have given him a little too much Napoleonic salad dressing and suggested he take a break, preferably not an arm, because if he fell off again and again landed headfirst into the whitewash bucket without me noticing, I thought I might lose his services. The man was an excellent worker when fully loaded, and even though his little tummy was now quite over full with ammunition, he had still been working at a frantic pace, using both of his hands as paintbrushes as he kept in time to the strange music now playing in his little head. The paintbrushes  themselves had long since disappeared into the tub of crêpe mix. SInce then he had been sploshing it on with his rubber gloves and smoothing it over with his arms. (And occasionally his cheeks, when he overbalanced and the wall prevented any further forward movement.)

Now he looked just like a Christmas snowman as he lay there resting on the dining room floor so I  ran to the pantry where we keep the festive decorations, stuck a piece of tinsel on his nose and took a photo to send to his daughters.


Through years of personal experience, I have found it is no good getting testy with hired help, it is much better to treat them well and pay them adequate remuneration. The way you would want to be treated yourself. Do unto others etc…..so I fetched some fresh salad from the kitchen in a beautiful china bowl for him to enjoy whilst he had smoko, sprinkled it with the last of his special brandy and steeled myself to finishing what was left of the task using basically my own resources, for I was sure that once all the salad and salad dressing had been consumed, Artist Pete would be unable to walk.

Salad can be very filling. 

It was whilst I was on the plank completing lazybones’ job that the telephone rang. The telephone is located on the bar in the reception room and in order to answer the call, I placed my brush carefully on the plank, descended the ladder, stepped over Pete, took off my shoes so as not to leave footprints over the reception room floor and ran to the telephone before the caller hung up.

I said “Good afternoon, Chez Alain,” in my professional, yet sing-song voice.

A young lady, unfettered by the constraints of standard polite social discourse responded with “Is the manager there?”

I assured the child she was in fact speaking with the manager, whereupon she said she was from ‘The Kidney Foundation’ and would I like to make a donation?

I replied to the little cannibal that I required all my organs myself, however if she felt inclined to accept a few litres of whitewash, I would be happy to pour it down the phone.

She hung up.

Artist Pete overheard the conversation and cheered from his position on the floor. We both hated being disturbed by unwelcome telephone calls and were forever thinking of new ways to respond. We are both reasonably creative in that respect.



No sooner had I recommenced painting than the telephone rang again.

Put brush down, climb down ladder, step on Pete, take off shoes, answer phone.

Another child, this one also replete with the benefits of laissez faire parenting, asked a similar question to the first caller.

“Is the manager there?” she demanded, neglecting to iterate the name of the caller, the nature of the call or any trite but politically correct greeting. It reminded me of my teenage daughter’s friends’ telephone calls to our house, whereupon I would answer the phone and the first thing they would say was…….

“Is Mignonne there”.

I would reply “Yes”, and then silently wait what seemed an interminable length of time before the caller realized he or she needed to acquaint me further with the nature of his /her enquiry if he/she ever wished to actually speak with my daughter.

It didn’t take too many calls before her friends were fully trained in telephone etiquette, starting with “Hello monsieur” and progressing to a full conversation, with appropriate questions and polite responses flowing backwards and forwards between both parties.


This particular caller needed training, only I didn’t have the required amount of time available to do a thorough job.


I told the child that unfortunately the manager had gone home for the rest of the day because she had a headache. I also said I had been given strict instructions to ask all callers to please call the manager at her at home at approximately eleven o’clock that evening after she had had a good lie down. I then gave her one of my ex wives’ phone numbers. 

Not a total waste of time after all, I thought, and returned to the painting, saying in a loud voice just what I thought of stupid people making annoying telephone calls.

Pete agreed and made gurgly noises from what I hoped was his head end.


No sooner had I mounted the plank, than the telephone rang again. This time, as I bent to put down the brush, my sciatica reminded me that it still existed and I shrieked with pain, unable to move without causing further aggravation. The noise of my attention seeking roused Artist Pete to full consciousness, and before I could veto his invaluable assistance, he set off across the room to answer the phone, doing doggy paddle through the spilled whitewash. He hauled himself vertical with the kind assistance of the red (and white) crushed velvet curtains and staggered across the highly polished dark umber (and white) floorboards. He grasped the ivory (and white) telephone in his (white) rubber gloved hand, put it to his (white) ear, and strained to try to overhear the call.

A minute or so later, I heard him say “PORK” very loudly, with the passion that only a true artist can muster, then hang up.


I waited for him to reappear in the main dining room and swim to a spot below me on the ladder. I tentatively asked him, “Who was that on the phone, Pierre?”


“Just another stupid person with annoying questions” he said.


“What did they want this time?” I enquired.


“She wanted to know ‘What’s on the menu for vegetarians’?”


‘Oh dear’, I thought.


Better ease up on the salad dressing next time.