The gospel according to Don

Don talks and I listen.  I don’t quite know what it’s about to begin with, but talking with Don’s like that, so it doesn’t matter.  Par for the course I reckon and I’ll pick it up about half way through as usual.
*                                  *                                  *                                  *
“Mohammed Alim, there was a bloke. 108 when he finally carked it. Nearest thing to a Christian I ever met.”

“Yeah? You DO know he was probably a Muslim Don…”

“Do I LOOK stupid?.  Like I say, never met a Christian in a church, mate. ‘E was an Afghan, an Afghan camel driver, came over in 1885. Used to cart water from… I dunno where… to Kalgoorlie, y’know…”

Don gestures vaguely west.  I smile and nod. “Yeah, where they mined the gold.  What was his name again?”

“Mohammed Alim. Anyway like I say he used to cart this water with a camel train, but he was a herbalist, all his family were, his ancestors were herbalists back in India…”

Geography doesn’t seem to be Don’s strong point but after all, it’s his front lawn that’s the  work of Art.  Art Dekko.
As in…
“Have a dekko at this LAWN!!  It’s a flippin’ work a’ FART!”
HE mows it with a museum piece push mower complete with original canvas catcher.  HE reckons pushing it around is the only thing between him and a heart attack and he trims it with a pair of old sheep shears and a T-square, sweeping the trimmings out of the architecturally precise four inch border between the lawn and the concrete footpath into a green bucket that I’m sure is used for that purpose and no other.
But it’s not him that’s obsessed.
Oh no…

“It’s Herself…..I don’t suppose I should talk when she’s not `ere…”

I’d seen Herself riding off to the shops just before I’d been stopped to talk. A woman thin, not from bitterness or misfortune, but energy and a relationship based on healthy adversity.

That’s not right.
These two don’t have a ‘relationship’. ‘Relationship’ is a beige word.
These two have a MARRIAGE.

Herself says, “Marriage isn’t a word, Davey, it’s a sentence…”

When she’s puttered off indoors, he mutters “Sentence is right. You’d get less for murder…” and laughs his wheezy, secretive laugh. Wouldn’t want to laugh out loud, Herself’d come back out and want to know what the joke was. He’d have to tell her, he can’t lie, not to her, and he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. It’s just a joke.
A marriage all right. The full wax. Rich, poor, sick, healthy, death do us part and they mean it now like they meant it then.
A marriage based on affectionate derision and an unequal division of labour, but there’s no chauvinism in it, more like real understanding, real acceptance.
They give each other heaps.
*                                  *                                  *                                  *
“This edge was right up level with it once, the lawn `n the footpath.  I got all this clay and packed it down hard so the kikuyu won’t spread ‘an lift the concrete…..tough bastard kikuyu, couldn’t kill it with an axe…. `S the only thing that’ll stop kikuyu, hard clay.  Twenty years of brushing up the cuttings an’ I’m left with a trench half a foot deep.
It’s the thought of me old man that gets me out here.  He was the fussy bastard, He was.  He’d never give me any peace if I didn’t keep it how it should be.   Should`a seen ‘im when he had the seven foot hedge at the old house, like that one down there it was, `cept that’s a piece of shit compared to his. Should`a seen ’im out there, Sunday mornings, trimmin’ away……”

“With a plumb-line and a pair of manicure scissors…”

“To bloody right!  Made me toe the line, I can tell you, but I’m glad he did.  Taught me what work was, that’s for sure…..”
*                                  *                                  *                                  *
It’s nice out here.  The day’s a bit funny, especially for January, unseasonably cool, broken cloud, and an ill, chill wind that’s not blowing anyone any good
When the sun’s there, it’s warm, but it never lasts long enough to get comfortable.

Caitie’s sitting in the pusher, totally bored, but being remarkably patient for a four year old with an ear infection.

I really shouldn’t be keeping her out here this long.  We went up to the shops for a minute about an hour and a half ago.
*                                  *                                  *                                  *
“Nearest thing to a Christian I ever met.  Mohammed financed that Mosque…… y’know? in whatsit street…… off West Tce?  Most people say no-one  knows who it was, that it was an anonymous donation, but I know for a fact it was him.  Do anything for you he would, wouldn’t accept any money for it or nothin’.  Reckoned it was a Q’ran thing, some law about charity…

“Tithes…”

“Well you’re the know all, aren’t ya…. but I don’t reckon ‘e was that religious. I asked ‘im once what it was like inside when it was finished, but ‘e couldn’t tell me. He’d never been in! Imagine that. Never been inside the building he’d paid for. Mumbled something about an argument with the head bloke ’an wouldn’t say anymore.
Me and June used to go when we were crook, took the kids to him all the time when somethin’ was wrong, and we’d give him, what……. ten bob it was in those days, and before we went he’d be giving the kids five bob each and a whole heap of Arab sweets to take away with them.”

I’m guilty of reminiscing while Don ruminates.  Dead set, ruminates.  Don’s dentures have seen a good many years of service and are wearing a bit thin across the top, giving him a funny kind of reverse grin.  His gums have shrunk too, so he has to resettle his teeth at the end of a sentence.  Well, usually the end.  Punctuation, sort of.  It makes me think.
I saw this article with pictures once in a People magazine about this old bloke beachcomber on the Gold Coast that everyone thought was as mad as a meat axe.  He’d found a dolphin’s jawbone on the beach and the sight of all those sharp little serrated teeth gave him a blinder of an idea.  He took the jawbone to a dentist or two until he found one that was willing, for a fee, to make him up a set of dentures out of these teeth.  He reckoned they were brilliant, that he was eating steak and apples for the first time in twenty years.
The smile on him was awesome.  There’s this happy little lunatic, who couldn’t give a rat’s arse what people thought, grinning away like the Luna Park gate with a mouth full of sharp little pygmy teeth on the front cover of People.  I want to tell Don the story, but he’s off again…….

“I suffered dreadful from piles for years…..” he says.

“Did you know I just got out of hospital?” I tell him, hopeful a fellow sufferer will sympathise.  Not likely.

“What, for Farmers?”

“What?”

“Farmer Giles……. Piles.”

“Oh!  Yeah, went in on Monday the week before Christmas.   They said I could come home if I managed to shit and not bust anything. I managed to…… work it out, so to speak by the Friday, and here I am……”

“Well done you…”

Caitie pipes up with,

“Daddy had a really sore botty.  He had piles and piles of piles that the doctor had to cut off and he puts salt in the bath and sits in it for HOURS.”

“Thanks Caitie, real nice, tell the world.”

“Well you DO.”

Points scored on the squirming parent she subsides, to dream a cloud fantasy or two ‘til the next opportunity for parental humiliation presents itself.  Our interaction reminds me of Don and Herself.

“Yeah well……… bastards cut you did they?  Must have been bloody painful.”

“Take a piece of four inch diameter dowel wrapped in coarse grade sandpaper soaked in sulphuric acid.  Shove it….”

“Don’t!  Don’t!  You’re making me go weak at the knees!  Anyway, as I say, I had a vicious case of piles………”
*                                  *                                  *                                  *
Piles are the sort of humiliating affliction that you don’t talk about generally.
There’s nothing noble about them, nothing romantic like TB, or heroic like broken limbs, or bowel wateringly tragic like cancer.
They are the comic relief of the Colo-Rectal ward, the buffoon of the bottom, the slapstick manikin of Things that Go Wrong with the Body.  You tell someone about your piles and you get gales of laughter, not waves of sympathy.

The most completely unamusing aspect is, however, that the humble pile is the most painful affliction to have, and ultimately to correct, modern surgical procedures not withstanding.  New and less painful methods involving lasers, rubber bands and/or liquid nitrogen are reserved, as usual, for those who can afford private health cover.  I’m an actor. I don’t think I need say any more.  But of course I can’t help myself. On the list of who banks will lend money to, actors come below the unemployed. Because the unemployed have a regular income. It’s true. Really.
The pain of a serious pile beats just about anything.  Even, I’m reliably informed by someone who’s had both, childbirth. Kidney stones are worse than either of those apparently, but don’t go on so long.  Days, weeks or months, as opposed to years, decades or lifetimes. My poor wife.
And as my surgeon breezily says as I’m being heaved onto the stainless steel slab in the operating theatre, there have been more painful surgical procedures, but those were the exclusive preserve of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century.
Chuckle, chuckle.
Ha, bloody ha.
*                                  *                                  *                                  *
“So this Mohammed Alim……When he’d been cartin’ the water, he’d been pickin’ up all sorts of stuff, tryin’ things out, herbs and plants and things……he’d been gettin’ gear sent over from India as well, but lots of it was stuff he’d got told by the Aborigines on his travels all over the place before ‘e give up the camels and cartin’  water and that…….and he must have been damn near seventy before he did that, too…..a hundred and bloody eight when he carked it…..”

“Yes, you said…”

“Anyway he finds out I got piles, an’ says to take this stuff, this medicine…… A cure all, no joke, he’d pretty much give you this stuff no matter what you had. Mohammed Alim’s Black Jack we used to call it, `cos it’d really knock the stuffing outta ya…  Look, I got this nephew, a chemist see?  I give it to him once to get analysed, and there were these three things in it that the LABORATORY couldn’t figure out.  Everything else was in it, but there were these three things that even the smart-arse CHEMIST couldn’t work out. He never did work out what they were.”

Maybe this all happened before the mass spectrograph, but I figure Don is obeying the storyteller’s strictest principle.  Never let the truth get in the road of a good yarn.
Human nature being what it is, once you get over the fear of ridicule and start talking about your piles, everyone heaves a sigh of relief and starts talking about their own. Typical.

The facts are:

One in three people ARE SUFFERING from piles.

One other HAS suffered.

The other one WILL.

According to my mothers memory, bizarre exercise in free association as it is, I got my first haemorrhoid at three months. So did my daughter.  My wife got a microscopic one after Caitie was born.
No, I didn’t laugh.

I too have a MARRIAGE, not a “relationship”.
Back to Mohammed.

“They shut him down.  The police came round…..well they didn’t actually give a rat’s one way or the other, y’know, they were just doing it because they’d been told, but they came round and said he couldn’t do it any more. It was the doctors that did it, probably jealous, sure as hell none of them ever understood what he was on about, not that any of ’em tried, you understand.  Didn’t stop him tho’, he just went home and left his side gate open, so anyone that wanted to could just come straight in.
There was this girl…..that’s how we got to know  him –  she was friendly with the Hooleys’ who used to live in the house down there that’s just been done up –  and she used to visit.  She was crippled at birth, nothin’ too serious, just a twisted spine and she didn’t move too well. Mohamed Alim, he got hold of her and straightened her out real good.  Eventually they married…

Is this true? How can it be? I want it to be, so bugger it, it IS.
*                                  *                                  *                                  *
Like I say, once you’ve got up the courage to actually talk semi-publicly about the nastiness nesting in your nether regions, fellow sufferers practically tumble over each other on their way out of the wood-work.
On hearing of my affliction, six friends `and my own brother for goodness sake, ‘fessed up, to a bunch of bum grapes each. These, men that I’d known for many, many years and had never once referred to an extra arse part.
Once the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, a hospital stay and the aftermath being impossible to cover up, especially at Christmas time, they couldn’t wait to tell me of their own years of suffering.
It was as if my sad act of confession had given them permission to speak of the unspeakable.
The other curious thing is that, having confessed, it’s as if they have been humiliated as much as it is possible to be. Pride flies out the window with their secret and they some kind of messianic glow going on describing their pain in the most intimate and ecstatic detail, like some mendicant priest in a flagellant order. My old aunties used to get this kind thing going taking about their surgeries for ‘women’s problems’. I can’t believe these blokes getting into it with the same fervour. All of a sudden you’re in the middle of some surreal suffering competition, the winner being the one who is, apparently, STILL shitting blood six months post surgery……
In the end my brother doesn’t want to hear about my operation.  His doctor has told him to avoid surgery at all costs and I think that he doesn’t want to know what happens just in case he ever has to go through it.
Computer John’s doctor told him fibre was the answer, so he ate nothing but raw oats – raw DRY oats – for four days.
He reckons that cured them.  I reckon it tore them off the walls of his rectum and threw them down the toilet.  I’m also sure that the operation wasn’t as bad as  eating dry oats would have been.
I asked him how much he’d had to eat.  He said he didn’t use a bowl – more like a nose-bag.
None of this fools anyone. We all know a haemorrhoid sufferer has piles until the day he [or she] wakes up from the anaesthetic.

Sorry. Where was I?
*                                  *                                  *                                  *
“So I took this stuff, and the next morning I went for  the morning constitutional…. Fired off a good shot so to speak, nothing out of the ordinary………I’d never had trouble in that department despite the piles……and I rode off to work, to the brewery there, on Port Road. I used to leave my bike there when I was working over at Bowden…..I used to do night shift after the War. Anyway I’d just leaned me bike up next to the wall where I used to leave it and I thought ‘Jeez, I’m goin’ to have ta fire the second barrel! – QUICK! ‘
So I went to this outside dunny they used to have over there, y’know, a long-drop sort of arrangement, an’ I’d just got on the hole when Whoosh!………. Y’know?  Whoosh!
There was all this…. stuff, blood and everything.  I’m a bit worried until I suddenly realise that the offending articles seem to have shot back up me bum like a rat up a drain pipe and I don’t seem to be in the pain I should be, seein’ as what’s just happened.
Afterwards I’m havin’ a poke around back there, tryin’ to see what’s what and fix meself up a bit, an’ I pick out this real hard little lump of stuff, like a hard black pea, only I knew it couldn’t be, `cos I hadn’t had  peas for ages.
You shoulda seen me! Outside that dunny, down on me hands and knees tryin’ to crack open that pea-thing on the foundations with a half-brick.
Turns out it’s like dried blood, an’ when I tell Mohammed about it, he’s jumping up and down, clappin’ and laughin’ and cheerin’ and he reckons it’s the thing they would have had to cut off of me if I’d gone and had it done.
He was so pleased you’d’ve thought it was his own bum-trinkets we were talkin’ about.  He says that I’ll never have trouble with `em again, and y’know to this day I never have?”

“That’s great Don, I only wish you’d told me about this Mohammed Alim a month ago….”

“Wouldn’ta done you any good anyway young fella……..He died more’n fifteen years ago…..”

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