Some of the following was published in The Big Issue over the last couple of years, some probably wasn't.
The Good Old Days with Aunt Jemima
Say what you like about the good old days, they were simply the most glamorous and marvellous days we ever had. That Mr. Menzies – have I ever told you about him? – gay as terrace houses, that man, and flash as a hunchback rat up a two-bob silver drainpipe to the blessed rooftops. Very handsome, he had a smile that could guide the ships through the harbour on a cold drizzly night when it’s better being indoors, as my father used to say. My father was his lover, see, and they used to take fishing trips together.
My mother found out about it because she put a little message on his fishing rod – well, that was what she called it – saying, ‘bring us back a big fish please, love Baby Doll.’ Well, when he brought back a big fish and the note was missing off his rod, she knew very well what that meant. He’d been having a fine time with that Mr. Menzies. All mouth and trousers, that fellow, but we all voted for him, even my father, who hated a fuss. Mummy divorced him straight away – not Menzies, that other fellow – and married the man she worked for in a small supermarket.
But my father’s sexual affair with Mr. Menzies was without issue. Society frowned on that sort of thing in those days, because Daddy was such an unpleasant man. And ugly – he could destroy civillisation just thinking about one day peeking at an image of it, as Isaac Isaacs used to say. The kids all called him ‘Popeye’, because he looked a bit like the Pope. ‘Ye’ was how we said ‘the’ in those days.
After Mr. Menzies died Mr. Fraser was the Prime Minister and he had a corduroy jacket.
One thing you could always count on in the my day was constant sexual activity. Remember that old Bing Crosby song, ‘Nuttin’ like Ruttin’?’ That was the national anthem, then, before ‘God Save the Queen’ took over. And she was no angel, I can tell you. We walked to school together until she showed her knickers to the dustman!
I had a number of boyfriends in my day – about thirty at any given time – and a few lady friends for afternoons, if you get my drift. My main squeeze (as we used to say) however was that nice Richard Neville, editor of Oz. He’d come courting on a Sunday afternoon and we’d sit in the front room – mother used to call it the ‘good room’ because of the illicit goods we stored there – and play the pianola. I wore a silken pinafore made of cotton horsehair.
Every Tuesday night was porn night in our street, not that nasty internet porn like you get now – this was real quality material, painted on hessian by recent migrants. I used to collect Don Bradman porn. I’ve still got some upstairs, actually. You know the days when I don’t get up all day? Yes, dear. That’s right. Yes.
We didn’t have television when I was a girl. In fact, we had the radio, and every family had a puppeteer, who would act out what was on the radio, with puppets. Often the puppeteers were old Anzacs – Anzacs were these funny crazy old men with no arms and so on, which the government had made for amusing normal people. Our puppeteer was called Mr. Geoffrey, and he was a whiz! I remember one Melbourne Cup when he puppeted Phar Lap so fast he fell through the good cabinet and broke mother’s chamber pot… with her still on it! How we laughed.
Of course, we didn’t have radio either; there was a man who would go round from house to house reading the news to us. In our neighbourhood, the man’s name was Mr. Alan. He couldn’t read, of course – no-one could, then, movable type wasn’t invented until 1967 – so he made it all up. We knew, but we all liked him so much we didn’t let on! Our family had no idea of the Great Depression, thanks to Mr. Alan. If only there were more like him, I always say, people would be much happier today!
Did I ever tell you how I invented Twisties out of my nose?
It’s funny – in a tragic way – that in the good old days, we really didn’t think of them as good old days at all. We used to call them just the ‘good days’. No-one walked around talking about ‘more innocent times’; we used to just refer to them as ‘innocent times’! In fact, many of us assumed times would become more innocent; I got caught up in Billy Graham’s dumbo crusades in the late 50s and I used to spend hours in my room de-learning the weird letters of the alphabet, like c and x!
We didn’t know what ‘old-fashioned’ meant. We thought things were just ‘contemporarily fashioned’! And nostalgia was just, you know, what we did all the time. We never thought about it, we just went around being nostalgic incessantly. ‘It’ll be a shame when milk doesn’t come in bottles’, I remember my little sister Aunt Hamble telling me one day, the golden sun filtering dappliciously through the lace curtains… she’s dead now. ‘Oh, bottled milk!’ she said. ‘How I love you!’ and she held it to her cheek and cradled it like a baby, then burst into a relevant song, ‘Boop boop sh’doop’. I seem to recall she had a straw boater and some penguins danced on either side… it was all so perfect. Friggin’ perfect.
Say what you like about the good old days, they were simply the best days we ever had. Everyone knew each other – there were only about fifty people, then, you see? – and everybody was kind and clean. It was a natural cleanliness that didn’t rely on soap or conditioner or toothpaste, things we’d only read about in magazines.
Well they were more innocent times. No-one knew anything about anything, and if they did, they kept it to themselves. I once asked my mother the past tense of perambulate and she gave me a paddling on my white underpants with pink dots. How I cried, in that tears-coming-out-in-an-arc kind of way no-one knows how to do anymore, until my Aunt Jemima gave me tuppence and I bought a hundred and seven ice creams. I was named Aunt Jemima after her, you see.
We appreciated the simple things then. Mum, dad, sausage rolls, billy carts, billy goats… I remember my eleventh birthday when mum and dad arranged for a billy goat to bring me some sausage rolls in a… what are they called? Oh yes, a billy cart. My cup rannethed over!
My father was a sea captain – most of the girls in our street’s fathers were sea captains in those days. Every night he’d come home, there’d be dumplings in the stew and scones with jam, cream and icthymite which was a kind of bird paste mother made from cats, and that rich blue oily tea you can’t get anymore, all bubbling on the hob, and I’d run to the door – ‘Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!’ and he’d be there in his uniform, and the corn cob pipe and the eye patch. And he’d swing me on his shoulders and I’d cry ‘Giddy-up, Daddy!’ We all drank in those days; my mother had a special cocktail for the kiddies with less rum than the adults and more Bacardi, and a Kraft cheesestick to swizzle it.
Remember the Oslo lunch? You do? No, you’re far too young, dear. The Oslo lunch was a special food made in Oslo, which is a long way away, and when we queued up in the morning at school and sang ‘God Save the King’, because it was a King in those days, not like now when they’ve got some other arrangement, they’d extrude lumps of Oslo lunch from a big steam engine, which was also the train that we all caught to get there, and the Governor-General would give us each a slice. He was a wonderful man, with hair soft as a girl’s, and the most beautiful whiskery things between his nose and his mouth which stuck out like hair.
I used to call him the ‘Governor-General’!
Want a biscuit? Pass me your teeth and I’ll put it in the chewator for you. Oh, that’s right, you still have those born-with teeth, don’t you!
I always forget, because I’ve never had any teeth myself. No-one did, in my day. Australia was gummy and proud of it! Sometimes people grew teeth, by accident, but we never talked about it, they’d just go to the country and eat humbugs all day until the embarrassing little problem just rotted away. It was usually the dirty catholic girls who done it.
My teeth were made from pine, my father crafted them himself after a trip to the local forest, gave ‘em to me for my 35th birthday. The first set of teeth I had all to myself! I was looking at myself smiling in the mirror all afternoon, until night came, so I lit a candle and kept on. I’ll never forget that day! And all the young men in the neighbourhood had heard I’d got teeth and they were around under my bedroom window all night, singing and pissing. They loved me – they really did!
The following day my father took me to town in the charabanc, so he could show me off to the local toffs! He said he was prouder of me than he’d ever been! He still says it, actually, don’t you dad. We walked through the Block Arcade, me smiling and waving, and the people all oohing and ahing. It was the incisors that got ‘em, I think. I was a regular sabre-tooth. And when I bit into a sandwich – well, I think the whole town turned out to see it!
Then I lit a cigarillo and a spark got in a molar and it went up in a blaze. They thought it was part of the act! It burnt out, but the rest are still working well, as you can tell. I’m werry beez wi me beef, werry beez imgeeb.
Do they still have that Kylie Minogue? I liked the old one better. Yes, we’ve always had a Kylie Minogue. They named a meringue after her, you know. This one here. Kylie Minogue.
When I was a girl my favourite singer was Big Crosby. He wasn’t really a big man – he was called Big because he was so famous. He was a crooner, he sang ‘Smoke Gets On Your Water’, you know that one? Dah, de dah… de dah. We didn’t have compact discs in those days, we had MP3s, you picked up your MP3s in the morning from the MP3 boy, he’d drop them round in a special sealed capsule. You never knew what you were going to get but you always knew it would be that ‘Smoke Eyes’ song. I loved that song. Dah, de dah… de dah…
We had our local crooners, too, like that Biggy Thorpe. You know, he sang ‘Somewhere Over the Water’. De dah, dah dah… he was lovely, he was. He was all fat and sweaty, and he’d do a little dance, you know. He’d do a little dance. I used to go and see him at the stadium. You know the stadium. What, you don’t know where the stadium was? Is it still there? I saw that Big Cosby there once, you know, the coloured entertainer. And that actor Huge Laurie and Large Ulrich from Metallica. Yes, they were the big names in my day. I wish I could die.
Here’s a name you don’t hear that often nowadays – John Howard. He was Prime Minister from 1947 to 1997, and he was simply the best Prime Minister we ever had. He was very small, but he wore a cape and tights, even in the shower – he had no genitals, you see. None whatsoever. Well, maybe four or five.
It’s funny how he had a man’s name as his last name, as well as another man’s name for his first name. That’s because he was this darling gay man. Oh, yes, I know you’re surprised – we had gay men then, too. We just never talked about them all the time and they didn’t gay things all the time like they do now – gay this, gay that. Our gays kept themselves to themselves, instead of prancing round the street shoving anti-abortion pamphlets on your face. Vegetarians.
John Howard was very influential in the War Against Terror – well, he won it really, didn’t he. He won that war, and the Vietnamese War too. That’s why we have those millions of Asians in Australia now, actually, where they don’t belong, which is strange, isn’t it? They were prisoners we took in the Vietnamese War. And we also won the War Against Terriers. Vegetarians. And he made the entire dole people go to work instead of lolling around. Do you know, a lot of those people wore nappies, and were homosexual pot-smokers because they were so lazy. Vegetarians. What do they believe in?
You’re ugly. In my day, ugly people stayed indoors, and we all made our own beer. I drank a lot of beer as a child because it made one strong, healthy and interesting. How old do you think I look? Go on, how old? That’s right, and I don’t look it, do I. Because I have been drinking nature’s beer all my life. It’s called beer.
My dad used to make our family beer supply on a Sunday night, out of all the scraps the pigs wouldn’t touch – bits of menzies cake, ash, lemon peel, lemon skin, cans, lemon bone, melon balls and of course melon cock. He’d put it all in the overnight fermentor and bring it to the boil. I can still remember the smell of the explosions. Then he’d skim the slurry off the top and put it in sandwiches – this was the day before vegemite, literally the day before – but the best bit was the drinking. That took place through most of the week. Everybody did it and nobody cared! I remember my Aunt Jemima was courting Jimmy Stewart – not the Jimmy Stewart, but some Hollywood actor.
And do you know what, if you had a cut on your finger, or on your face, he’d just slap a bit on and it would all come off in days. Nature’s band aid, he called it. Of course, band aid didn’t really happen till 1985 and that Bon Geldof.