xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: July 2014

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Chess Match.

My two late and much loved cousins, Maurie and Raymond Carr, were like brothers to me. Their father, Maurice,  died when Maurie and Raymond were three years and three months old, respectively. They spent a lot of time at our family home in Inglewood, where my father, Jack Bourke, was like a father to them. Between the ages of 10 to 13, while our new family home was being built in Mt Lawley, the Bourke family moved in to 8 Aberdeen Street in Perth, where my cousins' mother, my much loved Aunty Millie, was the landlady.

The "Babie" mentioned in the story is my mother, Valerie Myra Bourke (Ryan). She was the youngest of 11 children and throughout her life was invariably called Babe, Babie or Bubs, even by my cousins.

 I particularly enjoyed the company of my cousins, who were 8 to 10 years older than me. We had great fun together. I wrote a great deal about life at Aberdeen Street in my book, LEON, of which the following is an excerpt. I called my book  LEON as I was uncomfortable  constantly writing that  Noel did this and then Noel did that. I also thought that LEON was not a bad title for a book about a boy called Noel looking backwards at his boyhood. It also explains Maurie's rhyming slang nickname for me.

Another popular game for Maurie, Raymond and Leon was chess.
It all started one Saturday morning when the family was still living in Inglewood and Maurie said he was going down to buy a Chess set.

He had just started university and apparently, chess along with bridge and snooker were his best subjects. He returned about an hour later with, not only a Chess set, but three very thick books on how to play the game of Chess. They were all written by Russian Grand Masters with unpronounceable names and explained, not only the history, rules and conventions of Chess, but also strategies, ploys and famous manoeuvres made in world championships.

Maurie then locked himself in the lounge room and told Babie that he did not want to be disturbed...not even for lunch. Leon thought that this Chess, whatever it was, was obviously very important business. He asked Jack what Chess was all about because Jack was very good at Draughts, Dominoes and Chinese Checkers. Leon had also heard he was also very good at Bridge, Rummy, Crib and Poker. These were the games that he and Babie played with other family and friends at their weekly "Card Nights".

Jack said he couldn't play Chess but it was an ancient game from China or Russia, where various pieces could move in different directions to capture opposition pieces. He said it was a very complicated game that could take several hours to play and people used to think very carefully, not only about their own move, but what their opponent would do next. Furthermore, Jack said, some Grand Masters could think about ten moves ahead to work out how to remove or trap their opponent. Some of them could play five or six different opponents at the same time. The game ended when the King was captured or ‘checked’ and could not move because to do so would mean being captured. Jack said when the King was trapped like that the winning player would say, "Checkmate" and the game was over. This term really surprised Leon. He could not imagine any Russians or Chinese players calling each other "Mate".

After three hours in the lounge room Maurie emerged. He announced that he could now play Chess and went in to the kitchen to help himself to some cold meat from the ice chest. After he had eaten, Maurie invited Raymond into the lounge to learn all about Chess.

"C'mon, Tricky, I'll show you how to play."

Maurie liked using nicknames and often called Raymond "Tricky". Sometimes he called him "Tricky Dicky" or "Trick" or just "T.D." for short. He often called Leon "Toad in the Hole" or "T in the H".

In fact Maurie, like Jack, really liked rhyming slang. One of his favourites in later years was “My Frankie wouldn’t Bondi.”  Maurie said that it was derived from “My Frankie Laine wouldn’t Bondi Junction" which meant "My brain wouldn't function." Of course. 

He often referred to people who were drunk as “Johnathon Taurus” of JT, which was from the Latinised version of “John Bull”, rhyming slang for full, or drunk in other words.

Maurie and Raymond stayed in the loungeroom for several hours as Raymond was informed of the intricacies of the fascinating game. They obviously had their Frankie’s Bondi-ing like crazy. When Leon returned from the Saturday Matinee at the Civic Theatre they were still locked away, like cardinals voting for a new Pope. When they emerged at about 5-00pm, Maurie said that Raymond could now play Chess and that he had just beaten him in their very first game. Maurie was very competitive and did not like to lose any sort of sporting contest. Leon asked Maurie if he also could learn to play Chess.

"O.K., Champ, come in here and I'll tell you all about it." Leon followed Maurie in to the loungeroom, eagerly anticipating his three hour induction into the mysterious game. Five minutes later it was over. All Maurie told him was very basic information about how far and in what direction each piece could move.

"This is the Bishop, it goes diagonally like this, so does the Queen, who can move in any direction. This is the Rook, or Castle, it goes horizontally, like this. The Knight moves two up and one across or two across and one up, or backwards. Pawns can only go forward two places on their first move and only one space after that, either straight ahead or at an angle. The King can only move one space at a time, except you can "Castle" by exchanging the King with the Rook. To win the game you have to get the other bloke's king into a situation where he will be captured which ever way he moves. Then it's Checkmate. That's about it, Champ. Want to try a game?"

Five minutes! No mention of the strategies and ploys. No mention of the Russian Masters. No mention of classic opening gambits. Leon lost his first game of Chess against Maurie in less time than Maurie had taken to explain the rules.

"You need to think ahead a bit more, T in the H", said Maurie, as he invited Raymond to have another game. Their game lasted well over half an hour. Maurie won again.

In the years that followed, Maurie and Raymond had some very memorable encounters. In Aberdeen Street they would leave the Chess pieces set up on a card table between the beds in their room and come back to the game from time to time. Some games lasted for days. On the other hand, when Leon played either Maurie or Raymond, the game would be over relatively quickly. Although, as he gradually picked up the strategies and ploys, Leon was able to sometimes have a game last for an hour before Maurie or Raymond would look across the board, give a triumphal grin and say, "Checkmate!"

Generally, Leon would sit on one of the beds eating a large Granny Smith apple and watch Maurie and Raymond lock horns across the chessboard. In those days a large truck from the Apple and Pear board used to travel the suburbs giving away surplus apples which householders used to collect in sugar bags or wheelbarrows. There was never a shortage of Granny Smith apples at Aberdeen Street.

Raymond and Maurie would sit hunched over their chess pieces, staring at the board, calculating their moves. Occasionally one of them would put their hand on a piece, ponder awhile, look into the other's face for any sign of a reaction and, after a bit more pondering, remove their hand. This would happen several times before they eventually made any move. Their deep concentration would only be affected by Leon crunching noisily into a big, juicy, Granny Smith.

"Be quiet,Leon" they would growl and then go back to their pondering. Leon tried to chew as quietly as possible as he did not want to be evicted from the room. He enjoyed the contest between his cousins. He was also learning about the game by watching their moves and thinking what the next move would be.

One afternoon, when he was about twelve, Leon was playing a game with Maurie and Leon had the feeling that he was getting the upper hand. He did not get too carried away because Maurie often played him along before getting serious and suddenly saying, "Checkmate". This day however, Leon was pondering pretty well (getting his Frankie to Bondi!) and was even weighing up the options on various moves that could be made.

It came to a point where Leon could see that in three moves he would have Maurie in Checkmate. He carefully moved his Knight into a key position and sat back to watch and enjoy the moment as Maurie came to the realisation that finally, at last., after five years of thrashings, Leon was going to beat him at Chess. Maybe he already realised it.

Maurie gazed at the board. He scratched his chin. Several times he put his fingers on a piece and then removed it.

"Gotcha" thought Leon. The writing was on the wall. Chess history was about to be made.
Just as Leon was preparing to bask in the glory of his famous victory, Maurie let out a fearful yell, clutched his right calf muscle and leaped up out of his chair. Naturally enough the card table, chess board and strategically placed chess pieces went flying across the room. He lay on the floor clutching his right foot and moaning loudly.

"Sorry about that, Champ. I just had a terrible cramp. I'd better go to the kitchen and drink some salty water."

That was the last Chess match they ever played together.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

A smack in the eye and don't be nasty.

These days one of my life’s simple pleasures is to meet up with old friends for lunch or coffee. Chris and Bob are two such friends whom I meet up with about every three months. We meet at Peter’s by the Sea, an old and famous cafe on the beach front at Scarborough. In fact, when I used to go to Scarborough Beach as a teenager in the 1950s, I actually knew the original Peter, who owned what we then called a Milk Bar. It sold other foods and drinks as well, but it was good place to go for a strawberry milk shake  with a dollop of ice cream, served with great good humour by Peter, whom I though was a Greek or a Yugoslav, just like a lot of other New Australians arriving in Australia after World War 2. Of course a lot of the "New Australians", like Peter, were born in Australia.

In those days, the famous, or maybe infamous, Snake Pit was just down the road, where bodgies and widgies jived away in that golden dawn of Rock ‘n Roll.

These days my friends and I go to Peters by the Sea because it sells seriously good coffee. We generally consume two cups as we cogitate and pontificate on matters grave and small. Fortunately, we all barrack for the same football team and our politics are, to varying degrees, just a bit left of centre, so we never, ever have any differences of opinion on what needs to be done to lift our team’s performance or to make our country and the world function more peacefully and fairly.

We are all retired school principals so we are also quick to offer opinions on what is wrong with education today and how we could set it straight. Sometimes, we even talk about ourselves with regards to our involvement with football, cricket or schools. Our conversations all bear out the well-known truth that states,  “The older you are, the better you get”. And let me tell you straight off the bat, we were all very good.

Our meetings usually start at about 10-30am and finish just after twelve noon. Last Wednesday we went a bit longer than usual and didn’t leave the premises till close to 1-00pm. As I was walking to my car, I noted the time and thought I would buy my lunch at the beach and save my wife, Lesley, the trouble of making it for me when I arrived home at about 1-30pm.

Now I am a pie muncher from way, way back. Normally, under these circumstances I would have gone in search of a meat pie. However, as you age, your appetite changes and in recent years I have become more of a pastie man. In March, when travelling around the east coast with Lesley, at lunch time she would always eat something healthy like a tuna salad and I would generally eat a pie or a pastie. 

As the holiday progressed I began to favour pasties over pies for some strange reason. It was then I discovered that pasties are fast becoming extinct in this country. It was sometimes quite difficult to find any shops that sold pasties. Pies, yes. Pasties, no.

Moving around the countryside, I would fondly recall driving around the UK in the early 1960s. I remembered feasting on beautiful Cornish pasties on a trip to Land’s End in Devon. To this day I still savour the memory of the Scottish Bridie, which is a type of pastie but full of small, tasty pieces of potato. 

At the end of my Scottish holiday I was sailing to Canada, so I was saving my money as best I could. My travelling companion and I were sleeping rough and existing basically on bread, butter and homemade strawberry jam, which had been given to us by a kindly old lady in Pitlochry. Bridies, which were always available at the little Scottish villages we passed through, were an inexpensive and delicious mid-day meal.

One day, when Lesley and I were in Sydney, we boarded a tour bus which took us all around the city. We got off the tour bus at the Sydney Convention Centre near Darling Harbour. We entered a food hall/ shopping complex called Harbourside.  Here we decided to have lunch. It was about two o' clock. 

The Harbourside  Foodhall is huge. It must be one of the largest food halls in Australia. It seemed replete with every form of food from every nation on earth. However, after an extensive search, I can state that nowhere, nowhere, in Harbourside can you buy an Aussie meat pie or a pastie. There are plenty of Greek, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Indian, American andMexican foods and so on, but no pies or pasties. 

What has happened to this country I thought? I blame My Kitchen Rules. This programme has shunned wholesome Australian cuisine in favour of over garnished, under cooked, architecturally designed and industrially constructed foreign foods, covered in leaves and signed off by the chef with thin curly slashes of red and yellow sauces. I mean, if you walked into a restaurant these days and asked for "Steak and Eggs" or a "Mixed Grill"  the waiter would look at you with contempt and call for the bouncer.

Back at Harbourside, I eventually settled for a ham and cheese croissant, which the girl behind the counter insisted that I have toasted. "It tastes better", she suggested. She lied. The result was, I ate something fairly close to a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Nothing like a croissant at all.

Each day after that I made it my mission to seek out shops that sold pies and pasties. It was a daunting task. It was much easier to buy a dim sim, a souvlaki, a samosa or a spring roll than a humble pie or pastie. Some shops did sell pies, but not pasties. Of course, when something is denied, your craving for it becomes stronger. As a result I developed a great craving for lunch time pasties.

On our last day in Sydney, prior to boarding a Watson’s Bay bus at Circular Quay, I noticed a very small shop which advertised that it was selling the famous pies of Harry's Cafe de Wheels, which is outside the Navy Yards at Garden Island. Anyhow, I had a good look and this shop in Circular Quay and was pleased to note that it not only sold Harry's famous pies, it also sold pasties.

Naturally enough, when we returned from Watson's Bay, I bought a pastie, while Lesley ate some form of vegetarian frittata. We sat and enjoyed our lunch as the busy throng moved passed and ferries and buses came and went. After lunch I decided that I would buy another pastie and have it for my tea back at our hotel. This was probably the best idea I had had for some time. Lesley bought some skinless chicken.

Throughout our travels, I continued my hunt for the lunch time pastie. In country towns pasties were usually available from the town bakery, but this is not the case in the big cities. In Sydney and Melbourne they have a chain of shops called Mr Pieman, which sell pies of all sorts, but not pasties. (In December, 2014 Pie Face went into receivership. Apparently their pies were overpriced and not very tasty.)
In Melbourne’s Federation Square, I searched the many food outlets for pies and pasties, but none could be found. At last we went into a restaurant and Lesley had a healthy salmon salad and I had six Beijing dumplings. They were actually small meat balls surrounded by an ornate, translucent white pastry that made them look like very fat, ghostly white butterflies. They were quite tasty. I have it on good authority from nobody in particular that they are very healthy. But they are no substitute for a good old Aussie pie or pastie with sauce.

During my travels I wrote to my three daughters about my ceaseless and often unsuccessful search for a pastie. When Lesley and I arrived back in Perth about 12 noon one Monday, we were picked up by our second daughter, Sarah. We arrived home and Sarah proudly produced a pastie from the fridge which I soon heated up and consumed with great satisfaction. Fortunately, our Heathridge bakery still makes pasties. I try to buy one or two each week just to keep them interested.

Meanwhile, after my meeting with Chris and Bob ended, I walked the beachfront at Scarborough and none of the cafes or other food outlets sold pies or pasties. In one place the helpful young fellow behind the counter suggested that I try the bakery in the Luna Shopping Centre on the south side of Scarborough Beach Road. I hurried to the bakery, savouring already the tasty pastie I would soon be eating for my lunch, as I sat gazing out over the Indian Ocean towards Rottnest Island.

Inside the shopping centre I soon located the bakery. There were appetising displays of various cakes and pastries. These included several racks of meat pies, curry pies, potato pies, mushroom and kidney pies, steak and kidney pies, vegetarian pies, cheese pies, chicken pies, pepper steak pies and no pasties.

I asked the smiling Vietnamese lady behind the counter, “Do you have any pasties?”

“We don’t sell pasties,” she explained.

“Surely you must sell some pasties. Some people must want to eat a pastie,” I said.

“No, we don’t make pasties. You are the first person this week to ask for a pastie.”

“Well, that is probably because people around here know that you don’t sell them. If you made them, I am sure people would buy them.” She smiled but for her the conversation was ended.

I bought a meat pie and some sauce. A few minutes later I was sitting on a park seat looking out towards Rottnest. My pie was very nice. I sat and thought of the delicious pasties that that bakery could be making, if only they made pasties. And that is the worry. If bakeries in our cities are going to stop making pasties, pretty soon Australia will be a pastie free nation. In my own lifetime the pastie will have become extinct. Am I the only person in Australia who is aware of this imminent threat to our nationhood? Is Vegemite the next cab off the rank for extinction? Will they join the late lamented Spider and hamburgers made with toasted bread in the faraway land of Departed Aussie Food Icons This is serious. The government needs to act before pasties disappear forever.

When I was a boy my father used to refer to a pie and a pasty as “a smack in the eye and don’t be nasty.”  Tomato sauce was "dead horse." My Dad was a great one for rhyming slang, so that is how everyone in my family spoke when expressing a desire for a pie and a pasty with or without Dead Horse. It seems that the day is fast approaching when there will be no more pasties and that will be a real smack in the eye and very, very nasty, as far as I am concerned.

Join my campaign. Next time you are in a food shop, ask for a pastie. It is your patriotic duty. I will certainly be talking with Bob and Chris, when we meet in mid October, about this national calamity.