Number of posts: 52
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By Ken Peacock:
wagga wagga, wiradjuri
It was about 6am when the passing trucks interrupted my sleep. I had turned off the air conditioning and opened the motel window to help me sleep after a long day driving the back roads and exploring the Monumental Cemetery. A hamburger washed down with a few cold beers in an Irish bar helped me go to sleep until the noise of the early morning traffic brought me back to reality. There was a lot to do and more roads to explore.
Inspired by Tom Poland’s great stories about his travels on the back roads I decided to drive some country roads in search of a little piece of history. I didn’t want to go too far from the small inland cities and towns because I needed a little comfort at the end of the day. Camping out and cooking on an open fire no longer interested me, especially when alone.
Unable to find someone to share the experience I left home early on Sunday morning to navigate the freeways and toll roads out of the city.
Late in the afternoon a strange noise came from the vegetable garden beside the house, it was the sound of a bird in distress. The bird was squeaking, flapping its injured wing and hopping frantically around to escape from two large black birds attacking it. The boy grabbed a straw broom and waved it at the black birds until they flew away.
The little bird continued to squeak and hop around as the boy tried to catch it…
life was simple
Our house was only 10 yards from the railroad tracks and 50 yards from the end of the train station. It was a small rented cottage, one of five allocated to families of track workers. We had waited several years before the two bedroom cottage became available. The bedrooms were small and I was allocated a bed on the enclosed porch. There were no windows, only a wire screen to keep out the insects and a large canvas roller blind to keep out the light. It was cold and noisy.
Recent incidents involving forced removal of passengers from commercial flights have highlighted how far we have moved from the golden age of airline travel. I started flying in the 1950s and have experienced the significant changes in the airline business, not all for the benefit of travelers.
Flying home recently, on board a new Boeing 717 aircraft, I read an article (The History of Airline Classes and Cabins: The Travel Insider) about some of the changes in the airline industry over the years…
eu could learn a lot
There has been some strong language from some European Union representatives about Great Britain’s planned exit from the EU. Great Britain’s politicians have responded with strong words as both sides position themselves for the “Brexit” negotiations. Some of the 751 European Parliament members will be happy when Great Britain departs the scene because “they were never one of us!” Others will be concerned about Brexit because the EU will become more of a “GEU” with the weaker economies…
start without me
I haven’t read Uecker’s book but did see him catch Warren Spahn when the Braves lived in Milwaukee. The regular catcher was injured, tired or given a day off and Uecker, usually a reliable knuckle ball catcher, started the game. Uecker went on to become an excellent baseball commentator, actor and a funny guy…
It was winter and Canada was in recession when I arrived as a new immigrant. Finding work when many Canadians were unemployed was a challenge because employers were looking for Canadians, not immigrants who may move on to someplace else. I was unemployed for five months, living in a boarding house, and had no money when I finally found work. There were no government unemployment benefits.
I am looking for new friends to replace those who have fallen off the perch already and to increase my personal wealth. The new friends will need to share my values of honest hard work, democracy, freedom of speech, equality, love of the great outdoors, baseball, football and a passion for fine red wine.
For a long time I thought great wealth was the secret to friendship because the few millionaires I met had a lot of friends…
In the 1970s Tehran was one of the few cities in the Middle East where alcohol was available for the local population and tired travelers. The city was cosmopolitan, the Persian people were friendly and the fashions were right out of Paris. Other parts of the country were different, more traditionally Persian and some opposed to the Shah.
Arriving at and departing from Mehrabad Airport on commercial flights was always interesting. The Iranian Air Force…
It was an interesting year. OPEC was beginning to exert its influence over world oil prices for the first time and generate considerable wealth for its member countries to invest in new industries. My company decided to expand its exports of minerals to the Middle East. I had some business experience in Asia but knew nothing about the Middle East. I was soon to learn. The first challenge was managing the use of two passports and not presenting the wrong one when I entered or departed certain countries…
It was a family story passed down to each generation and could have been made into a movie. In the days when the world needed more heroes my great grandfather quietly told the story of his survival from the Crimean War.
My great grandfather John Cobban was born sometime between 1823 and 1828 when he was christened at Keig in Aberdeenshire, named after his father who was a tenant farmer on a 6,000 acre estate beside the River Don. He worked at the Forbes Estate until he left Scotland to join the 93rd Southern Highlanders and fight in the Crimean War…
I have been away for a while, working on a secret project. You know one those “If I tell you I would have to kill you” kind of things.
It was a good time to be away, not reading or listening to the “making the news” reports. My digital newspaper subscription had expired, the light on the Wi-Fi modem router was blinking red and water had penetrated the internet cable so I walked to the store early in the morning and bought a newspaper.
love and friendship
A little voice broke the silence and asked: Papa, why are you so sad? I replied that I was not sad but happy. The voice said: Well, why do you have tears in your eyes? They are happy tears, I said, Happy that I am here and with you today. It was April 25, the one day each year we remember and honor those brave men and women, relatives, friends and all of the others who gave their lives so we could be free to live and enjoy an open democratic country. We also remember those whose lives were irrevocably and permanently changed by the many wars…
solo on a vacation
It is important to make new friends, especially as you get older and many of your friends have fallen off the perch. You have a choice, make new older friends who want to talk about their medical problems, downsizing the house, a favorite doctor or some new supplement to combat fatigue and old age. Or new younger friends who are likely to last longer and be around to go to your funeral so the church is filled. As the famous philospher Yogi Berra once said: “If you don’t go to your friends’ funerals they won’t come to yours.”
back in the day
When we met in the Officer’s Club at RAF Gatow he said his name was Alex, an engineer with the British Army in West Berlin. He offered to show us around the city at night and the weekend when he wasn’t on duty. Alex spoke German and drove an old black Mercedes Benz two-door coupe. It had been an SS Officer’s staff car during the war and still commanded respect around the city. When we approached a major intersection, controlled by a West Berlin policeman standing on a platform in the center of the road, Alex flashed the car’s headlights…
She began to write down her thoughts each day as her son prepared to go to war. He had suggested they each keep a diary of their activities so he would know what his mother did each day while he was away. She followed the war closely through media reports, writing significant events into a small note book alongside her daily activities, her fears and thoughts. The diary was surprisingly frank about the recurring nightmares which were centred on her son’s inability to help in times of her need.
the great equalizer
The Boy Scouts motto of “Be Prepared” was drilled into me as a kid – “Be prepared in Mind” and “Be prepared in Body”. I never forgot that instruction as it followed me around the world. In German-speaking countries I was told “Allzeit Bereit”, in France “Toujours Pret”, in Italy “Sii Preparato” and in Spain “Siempre Listo”. But the one that was easiest for me to remember was “Always keep your ass covered”.
As I get older “Be Prepared” and “Keep your ass covered” has taken on a new meaning.
the rug did it
Grandma was a small, feisty and tough lady. She had endured a hard life as a farmer’s wife and mother of three boys in a time when the world was in an economic depression and at war. Her oldest son survived World War I but was ill for the rest of his life from the debilitating effects of mustard and chlorine gas. Children of her brothers and sisters were killed in World War I and II, others arrived home suffering from permanent injuries and depression. Her second son, my uncle, suffered from epilepsy throughout his short life and was accidentally drowned on the farm when he was thirty-four years old. Two months later…
drinking through the list
Having a bucket list seems to be the thing to do as you get older. Most of my friends have one and they are slowly working their way through everything they must do before they take that last ride into the sky or to the caverns of the earth. I have a list of things to do before I check-in to the departure lounge but my bucket has a hole in it. Occasionally new things are added to the list but they fall through the hole and I forget what they are.
ice cream trucks
As the northern hemisphere sinks slowly into increased darkness and a long cold winter the southern hemisphere is waking up to the sounds of spring and summer. The birds and the bees are happy, the gardens have come alive and the grass has started growing again. Families are heading for the parks and beaches to enjoy the warm days. The sounds of lawn mowers, edge trimmers, leaf blowers and chain saws fill the air.
With the season upon us again my mind drifted back to my first year of NFL football. I had just arrived in New York and settled into a walk-up apartment in Brooklyn. After finding a job and a place to live I decided to watch this new game. I didn’t have television so went to the Irish bar below the apartment to watch the away games. Home games were blacked out in the New York area…
Little has been written about the small band of men who flew ground support missions in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and North Africa during World War II. They came from Great Britain, Canada, United States, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia to fly with Royal Air Force (RAF) Squadrons, and lived like nomads in tents on the desert landing grounds. Flying conditions were dangerous and aircraft maintenance was difficult because of the hot, dusty, windy conditions and the rough surface of the dirt runways. Food, water, aircraft spares and fuel were in short supply…
that or the rat shed
Grandpa was a quiet and gentle man. Grandma did most of the talking. He was over six feet tall and she was a little over five feet, feisty and independent. They obviously had agreed that he would make the big decisions and she would make all the small ones. All of the decisions were small.
I was four years old when my brother and I were sent to live with Grandma and Grandpa, whom I called Papa, during World War II.
southern (hemisphere) stories
Grandpa was not a storyteller. It was only later, when Grandma wasn’t around, that he told me a few stories about his life and parents. He never talked about the hard times during the Great Depression, but he said enough to encourage me in later life to research his family history. When he died all of Grandma’s and Grandpa’s personal things, letters and photographs were given to my older cousin because she was the only granddaughter.
A long time ago in a place far away early explorers were sent to find a safe route through the mountains to a beautiful valley on the other side. As the explorers attempted to cross a flooded river on a wild and windy night their strongest horse drowned while trying to get the rider safely across the raging waters. When convict gangs were later sent to construct a bridge over the river they swore that on stormy nights they could see the ghost of the horse galloping across the countryside.
We left the Tempelhof Airport in the American Sector late in the morning for a last look at West Berlin. The old Kombi van rattled along towards Potsdamer Platz and the British Sector. There was little traffic, only the occasional military patrol. While looking for a street that would take us to Potsdamer Platz, without entering the Soviet Zone, we saw the ruins of a large building surrounded by rubble overgrown with grass…
Many people say that English is the hardest language to understand because so many words can mean different things and we often need a sentence to explain one word in another language. For example, in the US it is quite common for people to publicly “root for the team.” In other English-speaking countries if you are caught doing that you will be arrested. In Australia to call someone “an old bastard” is a term of endearment.
Anxious to try out my new East German camera, bought in West Berlin, we drove to Kurfurstendamm to photograph the ruins of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtnis-Kirke and then to the Brandenburg Gate. About 200 yards west of the Brandenburg Gate, and near the Reichstag in the British Sector, the Soviets had built a memorial to the Soviet soldiers killed in the Battle of Berlin. In 1959, the memorial was guarded 24 hours/day by Soviet soldiers who marched into the British Sector through the Brandenburg Gate…
east and west
My first visit to Berlin was encouraged and arranged by a former RAF Bomber Command pilot, Pathfinder and Master Bomber who flew more than 100 operational missions over Germany in World War II. Group Captain Peter Cribb, CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar was Commanding Officer of RAF Gutersloh in the B Zone of West Germany when we met, in Italy, and he invited us to visit the air base. Gutersloh, a RAF fighter and photo reconnaissance base near Hanover, was the nearest air base to the “wire” between West and East Germany…
It was a visit I did not want to make but knew I had to do it. For two years I had found excuses to not visit the nursing home where my older friend Gus lived. Rhinebeck, New York is a long way from my home so I telephoned regularly and inquired after him. As I was not on the list of people authorized to be told anything about Gus the nursing staff could only confirm that he was alive. I accepted their response and selfishly moved on with my life, satisfied that my older friend Gus was being cared for by people I didn’t know…
It was 10:30 am when the old Volkswagen Kombi van arrived at Helmstedt to join a long line of trucks waiting to enter the land corridor to West Berlin. The van had come from near Hannover that morning with a large tent, cooking gear and baggage on the roof, and seven young people inside. The German export license plates and bright reflective tape on the front and back indicated the travelers were not German. As the line of trucks moved slowly towards the Grenzübergang Helmstedt-Marienborn (named Checkpoint Alpha by the Allies) everyone in the van was quiet. They did not have papers to enter East Germany but had been advised to tell the border guards they were visiting British military family in West Berlin…
back in the day
Brooklyn was an independent city until 1898 when it was consolidated with New York City but it retained its distinct culture and architecture from the early settlers. Its motto was In Unity There is Strength and sixty-two years later the 2.6 million people in Brooklyn still thought of it as an independent city. They didn’t like the people who lived in Manhattan.
In 1959 I shared a one bedroom apartment on Nostrand Avenue, East Flatbush near the corner of Winthrop Street, one block from Kings County Hospital and a ten minute walk from the abandoned Ebbets Field.
New York City was cold and uninviting when the Greyhound bus arrived late in the afternoon. It was two days before Easter and light snow had fallen leaving the streets wet and slippery. On Sunday, the Easter Parade down Fifth Avenue attracted a huge crowd and at night Times Square was alive with flashing neon signs and people celebrating. It was my first visit to the “Island of Many Hills” (Manhattan) and I had a lot to see. I rode the Circle Island cruise boat, took the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building, climbed the stairs into the crown of the Statue of Liberty and watched the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center. That was just the first day…
the other deep south
The European settlement of Australia began as a penal colony and about 162,000 convicts were shipped there between 1788 and 1870, most of them in the first 60 years. From 1831 to 1840, the free settler arrivals outnumbered convict arrivals and by 1850 there were 156,000 convicts in Australia and 187,000 free settlers. The largest number of free settlers (587,000) arrived in the 1851-1860 period, attracted by the Victorian gold rush.
The Lady Juliana was built in the Thames River, London. She was a fine looking three-masted barque of about 400 tons, 110 feet long, 30 feet beam and two decks. It is believed she was the first British ship captured by American privateers in May 1776, near Cuba, on a passage from Jamaica to London. While en-route to Rhode Island the captive Lady Juliana was re-taken by a British man-of-war and conveyed to England where she resumed her role running to and from the Caribbean…
100 years ago
April 25 was the one-day of the year Ashley met up with his old army buddies. He left early in the morning to march down the main street of the town and then visit the Returned Servicemen’s Club. It was a long day, the only day of the year he drank alcohol because his stomach had been ulcerated by chlorine and mustard gas a long time before. At the end of the day he would be violently ill but said it was worth the agony and the inevitable lecture from his wife. He stopped at our house on his way home, not feeling good…
I have a young friend named Gus. He is in second grade at school, just starting out in life, and doesn’t hold back in letting us know what he is thinking. I have another friend named Gus who is ninety-four and confined to bed in a nursing home. He has dementia, so we don’t know what he is thinking, but he responds with a smile when someone talks to him. My older friend Gus hasn’t met the younger Gus and doesn’t know who I am anymore. When I telephone the nursing home to ask if he needs anything the nurses are reluctant to tell me because they “don’t have his chart in front of them” or don’t know who I am.
Harvey was two years old when his mother died. He was the youngest of ten children and had little schooling because his father didn’t believe it was important. Harvey’s father had arrived from County Cavan about 1858 with his Scottish parents and five siblings as refugees from the famine that had spread across Ireland. He was twenty seven years old when he married for the first time and forty seven when his wife died leaving him with eight children …
In 1972 I had waited two years to receive an invitation to visit China and then four days to get a seat on the train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. The travel time to Guangzhou, via Hong Kong, by commercial airline and train, was about twenty-six hours. In the years that followed I made many trips to China. Each time the visits became easier, there was no waiting for invitations to visit the country. In the 1980s tourism became a major source of income for China as the country opened up to the western world…
In 1979, I traveled to Beijing for a quick visit and the following year to Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin to visit potential sites for a joint venture manufacturing company with Chinese partners. Discussions were held with provincial governments and the newly established China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC). CITIC had been formed in 1979 as a State owned investment vehicle by Rong Yiren under the approval of Deng Xiaoping to bypass the existing bureaucracy. Its aim was to attract foreign capital, technology and management techniques…
The 32nd Chinese Export Commodities (Autumn) Fair was held between 15 October and 15 November 1972 and I received an invitation to attend. The political climate was changing in Australia, the USA and China but there still was no formal diplomatic relationship between the countries. Chairman Mao was seemingly in control of China, although the struggle of Mao’s wife and her supporters (the radicals) against Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping (the moderates) was building towards the confrontation that occurred in January 1973.
With agreement from the Dong Fang Hotel staff, I arranged for a taxi to take me to the Guangzhou Zoo. The PLA driver responsible for my well-being was unsmiling and silent all the way. The hotel staff had told me, and the driver, that I was allowed one hour in the zoo and the driver would wait at the main gate. The zoo was not large so it was crowded and Mao suits were the popular dress for both adults and children. The main attraction, until I arrived, was the panda bear enclosure.
The 31st Chinese Export Commodities Fair (Spring) was held from 15 April to 15 May 1972, and most of the foreign traders attended for the whole month. While the main purpose of the Fair was for China to exhibit and sell its products to the western world, buyers from the Beijing Government’s import agencies attended to negotiate the purchase of raw materials, metals, minerals and other commodities from the west, hopefully paying with Chinese goods.
China saw itself as a potential exporter of machinery and equipment, automobiles and other manufactured goods. In reality most of what was on display at the Fair in 1972 was several decades behind…
The Dong Fang (East Wind) Hotel was on Liuhua Road, between Liuhua Lake and Yuehsiu Park with its Chenhai Tower. Even though it was not close to the Chinese Export Commodities Fair, it was favored by the British and European traders. In 1972, the Dong Fang was a multi-story non-air conditioned building set amongst what must have been beautiful gardens. It was quiet, away from the Pearl River traffic. Beside the hotel was a rough field used by the foreign traders to play rugby, soccer and volleyball during the Fair.
last bus in china
It had been a busy four days in Hong Kong after an interesting landing at Kai Tak Airport. There was only one approach to Kai Tak, up Victoria Harbor, turn north east across the Kowloon Peninsula towards Kowloon Peak with its blinking red light and make a sharp ninety degree turn over Mong Kok. The plane flew just above the streets of Kowloon, between the tall apartment buildings with their protruding bamboo poles holding the day’s laundry, and the wing tip almost touched the laundry as the plane dropped suddenly in its final turn onto the runway…
frozen in time
My first visit to China was in April 1972 but the journey started much earlier. China, then referred to as The People’s Republic of China (PRC), always had been a country of great interest due to its size, population and potential market for raw materials; so in 1970 and again in 1971 I contacted Minmetals in Beijing (Peking) seeking an invitation to attend the bi-annual export commodities fair. There was no reply.
I arrived in Beijing on an old Boeing 707 China Air flight in November 1978 after a week in Japan. The entry formalities at Beijing Airport were slow but considerably quicker than the Shenzhen Railway Station where I had previously entered China from Hong Kong. I caught a taxi from the airport to the Beijing Hotel on Dongchangan Jie. Taxis were a new experience for me in China, previously it was the “foreigners bus”. The Beijing Hotel had a long and fascinating history. It was built as a five-story brick building in 1915 and two years later a seven-story French style building was added.
the banks of the li river
We left Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport for Guangzhou where we spent three days before flying on a small CAAC Ilyushin 14 aircraft to Guilin in the Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The airplane was noisy, basic transportation and typical of Russian-built commercial aircraft. We nicknamed it the Friendshipski because of its similarity to the Dutch-built Fokker Friendship commonly used by airlines for service to small airports. The view as we approached the Guilin area was spectacular. Perfectly shaped limestone mountains rose straight out of the countryside, providing an eerie landscape and seeming to almost touch the wheels of the airplane.
cramping our style
Our hosts arranged for a visit to Suzhou and Wuxi in Jiangsu Province to see two cities relatively untouched by the Cultural Revolution and experience the countryside. We left Shanghai late on Friday to travel the one and a half hours by train to Suzhou where we stayed in the grand old Nanyuan Guest House. Suzhou was an older city than Shanghai, with a population of less than one million people (in 1978), near Tai Hu, the lake at the centre of vast waterways and canals running 1,600 kilometers from Tianjin to Hangzhou.
visit too short
We left Beijing on an old Boeing 707 aircraft operated by CAAC (the Civil Aviation Administration of China) Airline, which we soon renamed “CACK” for its reliability, cabin service, food and old aircraft. Unfortunately, I was traveling with a retired airline captain named Laurie and a China trader we called Toddy who had a fear of flying. Toddy had traveled from Guangzhou to Beijing by train, a trip of about two days, seated on a wooden bench rather than flying to meet up with the group. He flew with us to Shanghai under great duress, with the help of airsick pills and several shots of whisky at the airport.
When we arrived back in Shanghai and walked into the lobby of the Shanghai Mansions, I noticed it looked different to when we left two days before. The lobby seemed much bigger and where a wall opposite the reception desk had been before there was a large doorway. Before carrying my bags to my room I looked inside the doorway and saw a billiard table with an old man in a black uniform racking the balls. My friend, Toddy, also noticed the new room and we agreed to meet back there as soon as we dropped off our bags.