Tag Archives: growing old

There’s Life In the Old Horse Yet!

As you might know, I love delving deep into the old newspapers online and have found some fascinating snippets and stories along the way. That includes this fabulous story about Pete the retired racehorse reflecting on his glory days. We could’ve had a wonderful chat if only he could talk and wasn’t fiction.

Indeed, I enjoyed this story so much, I decided to share it with you. There are a few bits of text I couldn’t make out and as it as written in the 1940s, the language is a bit dated but it’s still a fabulous, fast-paced tale. I hope you enjoy it!

OLD PETE By FRED GARDINER

OLD PETE was a vegetarian by Nature’s laws ordained.

And the monotony of it, the— yes, the humility of it, even, never once roused complaint in his patient soul.

But what did cause resentment was the indubitable fact that his diet was restricted to the unfermented type of vegetation.

Chaff, for instance; chaff, chaff, chaff. Crunch, crunch, crunch. No snap, crackle, and pop; just plain, crunch, crunch, crunch.

There was an element in the daily life of Pete that disturbed the old warrior muchly.

An element? Hardly. Almost it was an aura.

Everywhere he went, he smelt it, that aura; for actually, though he did not know it, yeast was the very essence of his daily life for Pete. He smelt it at his work, at rest, in his dreams—for old horses do dream.

Yeast!

And yeast has engendered a thirst in many a good man, an unquenchable thirst for—yeast. An irritating, insinuating, invigorating, inspiriting—ah, that, was it, an inspiriting desire.

For Pete in his young days had been SOMETHING.

And in those halcyon days he had quaffed the nut-brown ale, gallons of it.

As Prince – Peter, the topweight, he had gracefully cavorted to the cheers of the multitude and scornfully ignored the scowls of vengeful “barvons.” Then the smell of the tan was his aura, and beer was the nectar of Mammon, a reward for services rendered.

Later, much later, forgotten by his many spouses of the seasons that had flown by, forgotten, almost, by those for whom he had won small fortunes, his memorial merely a hyphenated allusion in sundry race-books, he had yet held his own with the others on the bakery rounds.

But nowadays the fellows at the brewery over the road from the bakehouse had taken to casting aspersions and crusts of their lunch in his direction, and referred to him as “Old Pete, the Hat Rack.”

How were they to know that, as Prince Peter, he had helped to make their industry? He had trained on barrels of beer. It had been his inspiration.

But who would buy a bucket of beer for the old chap now? He was but a pan-handler among his kind!

At the thought, resentment welled in his vast gullet to quench his thirst.

But-his cup of bitterness was replete when he saw those mudgudgeon brewers’ horses served their eight buckets of beer each day at noon. Eight buckets each. Placed in a line; and the lazy, sleek, slobbery sloths would – swab six, stamp a hoof in the middle of the seventh, bury their muzzles in the eighth, and blow it to the sky in bubbles.

Disgusting! Not the manners, but the waste.

Eight buckets of beer; and he would win the Cunnamulla Cup—had won it, in fact.

But, who remembered? He neighed in disgust, and blew the chaff out of his nosebag. So the driver, taking this as a sign that Pete had had enough, removed the nosebag before he had half finished his meal.

“Just a plug; how would he know?” thought Pete. “Never mind, it was dry tack, anyhow!”

But Pete was wrong in one particular. Bill, the driver, was not “just a plug.” He had a heart for the old horse, and never hastened to put the bit of servitude back into his mouth.

Which was indiscreet, indeed, in view of the fact that, the stables being at the bakehouse, there was always that aura, that haunting, yeasty, aura.

Came the day when the brewer’s man was late on his run and Old Pete finished early.

The ostler had placed sixteen buckets of beer, in two rows of eight, on the footpath, awaiting the return of the waggon. On the other side of the street Bill had buried Old Pete’s head in -his nosebag, and left him to crunch, crunch, crunch! Which, he did.

The brewery waggon did not arrive. The beer was going flat in the buckets – over the way. , .

Old Pete flicked a fly from his haunches, merely a matter of habit, for he had no mind for the fly; his thoughts were elsewhere…over the road.

Sixteen buckets of beer and him munching chaff! No; he must; dispel the thought. Gone were the days.

It was about the time when Bill helped the baker draw the batch. As the ovens opened, the smell rushed forth like a spirit new-released from Hades.

That aura! What tunes it played in the memory box of Old Pete as it assailed his sensitive, quivering nostrils.

The old horse staggered in the face of temptation, actually staggered at the knees; his head fell mutely, the nosebag touched, the ground and slowly fell off. Then, he was over the road in a jiffy, the bit- jangling uselessly from his jaws. Over the road and into those buckets…one, two, three,., sharp-firing; four, five, six, quick time; seven, eight, nine, ten—not out and six to go. Eleven, he was slowing up. Then, deliberately, twelve; thirteen for bakers’ luck and fourteen, fif-t-e-e-n.’ Smack went his hoof through the bottom of the sixteenth bucket to show his independence.

They called him Old Pete! Him! His mane bristled with indignation, his withers itched, his sides quivered as though at the spur. Well, he’d show them, if burst he would!

As he whirled round the corner, hanged if he didn’t hear the old cry again: “Runaway, runaway!”

That’s what they used to shout out there at. Cunnamulla—”He’s run away with the field. Good old Prince Peter! Oh, you bonzer!”

Well, he’d give ’em a go for it.

Into Parramatta-road he swung, heading west, and a motor horn tooted. Motors? Sacrilege! “Get my dust!” he snorted, tossing his old head in contempt.

Peter left the body of the baker’s cart at Lawson, and the shafts fall away at Wentworth Falls.

With one ear well back and the other forward, he crammed oh. the heat; not hard, you – know,. but just hard enough to give that motor socks.

And the crowds along the great thoroughfare roared: “Runaway, runaway!” ‘

Encouragement.That was the spice of life to an old trouper like Pete.

At Burwood a bluebird shot out from a side street and joined in the chase. Vainly the cops tried to head him off. Pete threw his head high and snorted a frothy snort of sheer contempt. Then he clapped the heat full on.

“Gosh, that old cripple’s’ doing, fifty!” gasped Constable Boot in the bluebird.

“Shut up, or you’ll have me crash!” snapped the copper at the wheel.

They flashed through Granville…first the turnout, with Pete in full command: next the bluebird, x with two grim-faced, cops wondering whether they would see their wives or the hospital that night; and. after, them an assortment of vehicles that took up the chase for awhile, and fell out as their engines ran hot.

By sheer luck Pete took the turnoff to the Mountains at Parramatta—or it may have been instinct. The traffic cop there took the rest of the day off.

On the straight to Penrith the pace became too hot for the bluebird. When the needle wavered around seventy going through St. Marys the bluebird drew out and phoned to have the runaway headed off at Penrith.

At Kingswood the first wheel came off, and at Emu Plains the second.

The message to head Pete off at Penrith reached there as he was sailing past Lapstone. (He is heading up the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney)

Pete left the body of the baker’s cart at Lawson, and the shafts fell away at Wentworth Falls. He slipped the harness at Leura.

Hasty messages had been flashed to Katoomba, where Pete’s arrival was anticipated.

Both railway gates were shut and a goods train had been drawn up on the level crossing.

Pete saw this as he came round the turn near the hospital—so clapped on speed.

“Just a brush hurdle!” he snickered. Sparks flew from his shoes as he landed in front of the Carrington and stream of Are rose: from the tar as he skidded to the foot of Katoomba-street.

Both sides of the thoroughfare were lined with people, who roared their encouragement…”Runaway, runaway !”

The old fellow, tossed the foanr to left and right of his: gallant head in sheer enjoyment; What a race! And he had oceans to .spare.

But as he turned off around the falls and headed for Narrow Neck he began to fancy another drink. Fifteen buckets more he reckoned, and he would tackle Govett’s Leap, yes.Upwards!

What Pete did not know was that it was pay day at the mine.

So when he saw Paddy O’Flynn staggering along the bush track with the boys dye-gallon on his shoulders, who was Pete to recognise the ethics that imposed upon Pat a sacred trust to deliver the goods or be damned.

And who was Paddy to know that he stood in the path of a noble soul seeking sanctuary!

“Howly Mercy!” Paddy howled as the shock-maned; wall-eyed, foam-flecked apparition pounded after him. “Glory be, if it ain’t the Bull of Bashan his very self, the craytur!”

Paddy went off at a gallop, with old Pete hard behind.

When it looked as if he were to be crushed beneath the flailing hoofs, Pat

dropped the barrel to bless himself which .was his salvation. He scooted into the bush as Pete propped hard at the obstacle in his path.

Suspiciously he eyed it; then sniffed. That aura! For a fleeting second, a crushing homesickness seized him and he thought—what matter his thoughts?

So Pete spurned the thing – that was like to soften him, stamped on it in his anger— and ‘stove in the end: Glorious, sparkling amber ale, fresh from the wood. And Govett’s Leap was ahead.

The old fellow buried his muzzle right up to – his eyebrows, and drank, drank, drank until he licked the bottom. ”

What was that about Govett’s Leap? Well, maybe—tomorrow!

The sun was setting and his sight grew dim, so he sought a sheltered spot, there, to rest until…

The bakehouse whistle, blew, and Bill, the driver sauntered out to put the bit of’ servitude into the old prad’s mouth. He found Pete, dead in the shafts.

World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), Saturday 7 March 1942, page 16

 

 

 

 

The Acorn

You walked through
the school gate with hesitation:
a blank page with your name scrawled
crookedly in the corner.

An acorn planted in fertile soil,
you germinated.
Bursting through that constricting shell
too small for you to grow,
you poked through the soft earth,
a tender shoot reaching for the sun.

As your shoots headed for the sun,
your roots tunneled deep
towards the very centre of the earth
soaking up the spring rains
and you flourished.
Anchored to the ground,
reaching for the sky,
you were firmly planted.

At least,
that was in my dreams.
Sadly, even a fruitful journey
is full of storms and contradictions
and even blue skies burn.

I watched your leaves
change colour with the seasons;
their illuminated palette glowing
like stained-glass windows
backlit by the glorious sun
and bare sticks persevering
through another winter’s chill.

I shielded your tender stems
against those howling, winter winds
and quenched your insatiable thirst
all summer long.

At first,
I always held on tight,
holding your hand,
paving the way
trying to teach you
everything I knew.

But then…
little by little,
I let go…
just enough
for you to grow.
For I knew one day
you would have to stand alone.

DSC_8646

II
I don’t know who played
cruel tricks with the clock
and even meddled
with the very hands of time
but you’re no longer a sapling.
You’ve become a tree,
even growing acorns of your own
and I don’t know where
all those years have gone
or how to get them back.

Oak Tree, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Oak Tree, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Anchored to the soil
through your enormous trunk,
your mighty branches now
stretch right across the sky
with strength, persistence and endurance,
through sunshine and rain,
providing homes to the multitudes.
Birds build their nests
singing great morning choruses
as ants march up and down
carrying bulging loads with great intent.
Children build cubby houses
climbing towards the sun
laughing and having fun
while you smile proud,
oozing with life and love.

I am so proud
of all you’ve become!

III

DSC_8650

Now, it is I who needs
your strength
as my leaves change colour
falling to the ground.
Slowly but surely,
the colours wear away
until only the veins remain
and you are helping me
across the road instead.

DSC_8711

I don’t want to go
but we each reach
the end of this road.
and as the cycle goes on,
the oaks need to leave room
for the acorns to grow.

IV

You entered the gate a boy…
a blank page
with your name
scrawled crookedly
in the corner
but now you’ve emerged…

a man.

On 17th December, 2009 I wrote the very first version of this poem. It was the day after our son finished his first year at school and he was still only 5 years old. I had been struck by how far he had come in that year. When he arrived, all he could do was scrawl his name in the corner of a big, blank sheet of paper but by the end of that year, he was writing tentative sentences and was reading quite well, even if sitting still and concentration weren’t his thing.

I have reworked the poem many times since then and have even extensively reworked it today.

Mother & Son played by actors Ruth Cracknell & Garry McDonald.

Mother & Son played by actors Ruth Cracknell & Garry McDonald.

The relationship between mother and son weaves its way throughout the poem, which reminds of of a favourite show: Mother & Son, staring Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald. I don’t kno whether you’d describe it as a comedy or a tragedy but Mum in the story has dementia and Garry McDonald plays her middle-aged divorced son who is still living with Mum but probably not by choice.

Mother & Son
: “The Funeral” clip: http://aso.gov.au/titles/tv/mother-and-son-funeral/clip1/

Time has certainly flown past. He is now 11 years old and is in Year 6…his last year at Primary School. Next year, he’ll be passing through a different gate when he goes off to High School. His journey hasn’t progressed as smoothly as the fairly idealistic path depicted in the poem and life hasn’t been smooth sailing but he is finding real maturity now and growing up inside as well as in terms of height. We are very proud of him!!

This poem remains a work in progress and I wonder if it will ever be finished.

However, I wanted to share it with you.

Moreover, today is 1st April and the beginning of the Blogging From A-Z Challenge which takes place in April each year. This is the first time I’ve participated and I’m a little bit daunted about tackling the technical side of it all but sometimes, you just have to hurl yourself straight off a cliff and keep running!!

Love & Best wishes,
Rowena

I am participating in the A-Z Challenge.

I am participating in the A-Z Challenge.

Getting the Chop

There comes a time when even the most stubborn and resistant soul finally sees the light.

About 8 years ago, my hairdressing friend first broached the subject of cutting my hair short. Experiencing severe chest pain, chronic shortness of breath and blackouts, I almost leaped out of the chair and was well and truly doing the Harold Holt down the street and was halfway home when she finally caught up with me wielding her snippers, of course.

Instantly, I knew how the three blind mice felt being chased by that mad farmer’s wife with the knife. She wasn’t about to cut off my ponytail. No way! It was me…an inextricable part of myself and all that I am.  I had beautiful long, dark hair…my crowning glory. I’d be naked without my hair…denuded. There was no way on this earth that I was ever going to cut my hair short and she wasn’t going to do it either!

No doubt, my  friend observed these tell tale signs of shock as I gasped and struggled to regain my composure. However, this only fuelled her determination: “When a woman turns 40, she needs to cut her hair.” I don’t recall her exact words but she also mentioned something about needing to lift your face, which along with all your other body parts, was also heading permanently south.

While this all seemed like very sound advice, I was still a youthful 36 at the time and all this talk seemed very premature. Turning forty was a very, very distant shore.

My hair stayed put.

Although I’m what you would describe as “deep”, even I have to concede that your hair is more than just a superficial mat stuck  on top of your head. To some extent, it reflects your personality, values and beliefs and if you have ever known anybody outside the hairdressing fraternity who changes their hair colour like the rest of us change their underwear, it can also be quite  an effective litmus test on the mental health front as well. When people make big changes in their life, it is no coincidence that they often change their hair. High school teachers often pick a new style as the first sign of coming “trouble”.

I turned 40 and somehow managed to dodge the snippers, although my hair was shorter and for some reason had also gone wavy if not outright curly. That was a bit of a surprise  as I’d always had close to dead straight hair. There were no complaints, however. I was mystified but delighted.

No doubt there are some who are confused but the way I see the world, there are short-haired people and long haired people just like there are cat and dog people and a firm line in between.

That makes me a long-haired person. I’ve had long hair virtually all my life aside from a very bad hair stage  at school in the mid-eighties where some kind of madness hit and I emerged from the hairdresser with a permed bob with an undercut. I thought I was the personification of cool until my hair bleached in  the sun and turned orange. Then things went from bad to catastrophic as heartache followed heartache and in bouts of teenaged angst, I cut my hair shorter and shorter in acts of cathartic release.

My hair has never been permed or short ever again!

However,  I recently I developed pneumonia and getting my hair dry was a real hassle. All
of a sudden all that hair felt like a burden, an unwanted nuisance and it had to go. I walked into the hairdresser, walked out with my new short hair and I haven’t looked back. I feel quite liberated.

There was just one thing about my new hair that blew me away.

It was straight. Talk about a blast from the past. I couldn’t wait to get home to fluff it up again.

Short was fine but I’m too quirky to be straight.

PS The kids had quite surprise when I picked them up from school with my new short, straight hair. Mister really didn’t like it and practically said it was yuck and Miss was initially quite positive but has since said that she couldn’t find me and has concerns about how to find me after school now. This new hair isn’t Mummy yet. Geoff is also getting used to it.

The new hair amidst the chaos of Christmas morning

The new hair amidst the chaos of Christmas morning