Strylia [1996]

Australia is an amazing place. (For one thing, the sun travels the wrong way. This is surprisingly unsettling).

I am a huge expert on Australia ever since accompanying The Dragon Lady on her judging appointment at the Melbourne Agricultural Show. This extravaganza lasts a full two weeks and features, as well as the dog-show, such esoteric delights as tree-felling, ostrich whelping and, I give you my word, pig-racing. I myself helped judge the Home-Made Sausage Competition, but of course all you're interested in is the wretched dog show.

What can I tell you? Dogs. Two weeks of them, with only one day a week off for the judges, each of whom had about 1,800 animals to assess. The DL was, for once, very easy to talk to at nights, having barely enough energy to bandage her bleeding feet before falling unconscious.

Because, of course, the day did not end when the judging did. Australian hospitality makes ours look like rudeness. For two weeks we were ferried to superb restaurants in a fleet of Beamers and Mercs and wined and dined to bursting. Our hosts seemed to enjoy themselves as well, from the little I could understand of their accents. The wife of the Chairman gave a nice little speech in which she expressed her pleasure in having four English-speaking judges this year. Then she sat down and asked me politely if we were flying straight home after the show.

"No", I said, "we're going to stay for a week in Cairns"

She looked puzzled. "And where does Karen live?" she asked.

Oh, yes, another thing about Australians is that they'll try anything. We were entertained at the Showgrounds one night by the President of the Agricultural Society, a charming and dignified man called Keith. After a bizarre jumping contest between a Shetland Pony, a Dray Horse and a Brahmin Bull (the bull won), there was a display by the Holden Car Co. display team - a sort of two-dimensional Red Arrows affair, complete with ramps, opposition passes and half-rolls.

"Excuse me a moment", said Keith the Chairman, rising from the dinner-table and donning a crash helmet, before getting into the lead car as a passenger and hanging grimly on for the whole performance. Then, pale but urbane as ever, he returned to the table for dessert.

Over to you, Mr Creamer.

On the Dragon's day off the second week, I decided that the best thing for her would be a day in the country, so I hired a car and got her to drive me 140 miles up country where there was a very good Aviation Museum. Regrettably there was also a K-mart, around which I was made to trudge until boredom overtook me and I retired to the car to sulk. An hour or two later I was summoned to the shop on the unlikely assertion that they stocked jeans in my size. With a glad cry I leapt from the car, locking the keys inside. So here we were, 140 miles into the bush, night falling and another 250 dogs to be judged tomorrow.

My beloved is not renowned for her tact on such occasions and the exchange of views that followed was full and frank enough to attract a small crowd. Eventually a security man approached us. "Srong Might?" he asked. We explained. No worries, he said, there's a guy out back did time for it, and sure enough, here came a delinquent in garage overalls who, with a coat-hanger and a penknife, was into the car in less than a minute, earning a round of applause from the appreciative onlookers.

As I was still not being spoken to the following day I repaired to the bar with three of the Show Committee, including a lovely man called Bill, an ex Inspector of Police. It was during a discussion of Australian Rules Football that I encountered the Australians' refreshing attitude to Political Correctness. Apparently, the best player in the whole League had recently become intoxicated in a night club, and, staggering out into the dawn behind a young lady, had reached around and taken hold of her chest area. He was now being accused of Sexual Molestation.

"I mean", said Bill indignantly, "if that's sexual molestation we should all be bloody locked up".

Not much else to say. No 1 son, who is ridiculously romantic, fell passionately in love with an Italian girl who was over here for a fortnight. Although nothing was said, and they never even held hands, he knew beyond a doubt that she was The One, and so, after her return home, he broke it off with his girlfiend of five years, arranged leave, bought an Italian phrase-book and set off across Europe in his Peugeot 204.

To say that the lady was surprised to see him on her doorstep would be to understate things considerably, but our Will is nothing if not upfront, and, in halting Italian, with much riffling through the phrase-book, he explained that he loved her to distraction and had consequently come to cast himself at her feet and devote his life to her happiness. She, in her turn, requested him in perfect Italian to go away, and an intense discussion ensued, but eventually the penny dropped, and he shook her hand, wished her a happy life and with said dignity got back in the car, started up , and collided with the adjacent lamp-post, causing 685 worth of damage.

A bad day in Milan.

Not all bad, though, since he put his Italian phrase-book to work acquiring a job with a computer company in Milan at a salary so high that I, being self-employed, have had to award myself a raise to keep up with the little bastard.

Finally, I have gone on the Internet since we last spoke, and I append hereunder a genuine news item gleaned from a German newspaper.

LUCKY DOG

October, 1993 - Europa Times

"We will not have him put down. Lucky is basically a damn good guide dog," Ernst Gerber, a dog trainer from Wuppertal told reporters. "He just needs a little brush-up on some elementary skills, that's all.

Gerber admitted to the press conference that Lucky, a German shepherd guide-dog for the blind, had so far been responsible for the deaths of all four of his previous owners. "I admit it's not an impressive record on paper. He led his first owner in front of a bus, and the second off the end of a pier. He actually pushed his third owner off a railway platform just as the Cologne to Frankfurt express was approaching and he walked his fourth owner into heavy traffic, before abandoning him and running away to safety. But, apart from epileptic fits, be has a lovely temperament. And guide dogs are difficult to train these days."

Asked if Lucky's fifth owner would be told about his previous record, Gerber replied "No. It would make them nervous, and would make Lucky nervous. And when Lucky gets nervous he's liable to do something silly."