The theme for the JVG Radio Method March 18th, 2007 was ” FRIENDS”.

Click to play Friends…[audio:JVG_Poem20070318.mp3] No Accompaniment, this one was phoned in after the event owing to “technical difficulties”.

friends

our street lay in the shadow of an automotive battery factory and every afternoon at five o’clock sharp, a cloud of acrid noxious gas descended on the neighbourhood.

even if you had called the epa the best you could have hoped for was a box of stamps — in those days it stood for the elsternwick philately association

it was a time when asbestos was our friend, ddt eliminated every living organism from our gardens and thousands of pregnant women sort relief from morning sickness with the wonder drug thalidomide.

from the top branches of the chaplee’s pine tree you could look down on every house for two blocks.

chomping on frozen sunny boys we would watch in awe as the women of the neighbourhood, and the very occasional man, sprinted to their clotheslines at exactly four fifty seven to retrieve nappies, shirts and at least to us, grotesque forms of under apparel before the toxic plume fell upon them.

if only the north melbourne forward line could display similar synchronicity i thought, they would be a strong chance to rocket up the ladder into second last position.

this ritual was played out daily at every house in the street – every house that is except the chaplees

holden pontiac chaplee was my best friend — at least i think he was.
it was a bit hard to tell.

his entire vocabulary consisted of “yep”, “nup” and all spanner sizes both af & whitworth from 5/32 of an inch upwards.

nobody except the teachers called him holden, everyone else knew him by his nickname “spanner” for reasons probably already apparent.

his facial expressions were even more economical, confined to just the one, which sat somewhere between polite contemplation and contemptuous indifference.
“spanner” could simultaneously appear both zen master and vegetable, genius and moron, philosopher and luddite, but by the time we’d finished primary school i was pretty sure it was the latter in all three cases.

no-one could tell what he was thinking.
happy, angry, excited, sad, hungry, interested, frightened, amused, the expression was always the same – comatose.

it was to prove both his greatest weapon and his achilles heel.

he was named after the family’s car at the time, an fj holden and his father threw in pontiac because it was the car he’d always wanted but could never afford.
there was a rumour he’d wanted to call him custom line but mrs chaplee had drawn the line in the sand.
she was obviously not very good at drawing lines

mr chaplee was known to everyone but himself as “boots” on account of that was the only part of him most people had seen.
he spent every daylight hour and a good part of the evening under whatever heap he was trying to keep on the road at the time.

the chaplees were dirt poor and when “boots” needed a new car he would pick up any pile of junk he could get his hands on cheap, or occasionally for free, and within a couple of months he’d have three or four others, same make, model and colour parked in the driveway.

his entire life was spent on his back paddling his trolley from one wreck to the next, cannibalising, alternating, recycling and modifying until there wasn’t a single bolt or washer with an atom of life left in it.

then the remains would be shunted into the backyard, piled up like carcases at an abattoir, and the process would start again.

buick’s’ plymouths, citroens, wolseley’s humbers and skodas all graced the chaplee driveway at one time or another
when i think about it now, holden got out of it pretty lightly.

“spanner” and i started school on the same day, and kids as we all know are the cruellest bastards on the planet.
holden initially attracted the attention of some of the older boys, not because of his name but because of the ratty condition of his uniform – holes, patches, stains – his clothes had served more masters than the wrecks his father brought home.
it didn’t seem to bother “spanner” though, not that anyone could tell.

a few low grade insults concerning the frayed collar on his shirt soon graduated to an all out verbal assault concerning his entire family, from his father’s lack of employment to his older brother’s recent misunderstanding with the law.
“spanner” stood dispassionately, his face showing absolutely no emotion.

misinterpreting this as a sign of weakness, the loudest of his aggressors took a step forward and prepared to give him a shove.

in a mili second “spanner” let fly with a left uppercut that sent the boy sprawling onto the asphalt, followed by a right foot to the testicles — or more accurately the area zoned for testicles but still awaiting tenants.

it was so quick it took the bloodied nose and tooth on the ground to convince everyone it had really happened.

“spanner” appeared not to have moved, still standing quietly, composed, detached and the same old vacant stare.
it was probably the best punch thrown by a six year old in the history of the world — and i stood there bathing in the reflected glory.

“spanner” was never bothered again — and nor was i.

after all i was “spanner’s” best friend — at least i think i was.
it was a bit hard to tell.

© Copyright 2007 Ian Bland

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