Sunday, May 21, 2023

Un-Blocked At Last

In case no-one has noticed, I should explain that I am having trouble making a start on any of those writing projects I told myself I’d be doing to soak up the damp hours and soggy days of retirement (enforced, or otherwise)

When someone asked Anthony Burgess if he had ever had writer's block, he shot back, in typical snarky Burgess fashion, “Of course not. I am a writer. I write. Have you ever heard of a cobbler getting cobbler’s block?”



My paternal great-great-grandfather, Charles Radnell was one of the two cobblers in a small town of Tarnagulla, initially called Sandy Creek, in "The Golden Triangle" of central Victoria in the mid/late 19th century, from the time of rapid development in that area during the great gold rush. 

His father (also named Charles) back in Nottingham was a leather-worker and harness-maker, and GGGF Charles presumably picked up the suitable shoe-making skills from him. It seems that after said GGGF Charles passed away in 1890, the tools of the trade; its awls, chisels, punches, edgers and various knives and cutters, and shoe rests or lasts, presumably went to his son (my GGF) William John, the second child with that name. His namesake, the firstborn, died at 10 months while GGGF Charles and GGGM Sarah were living in a tent town, in the goldfields of Llanelly at the height of the Victoran gold rush. 

"Diggers" were coming in from all over, including Hong Kong and the provence of Canton. There are several Chinese memorials doing their best to survive the elements in the town's cemetery. Lots of stories which I won't go into here about the struggles of the Chinese in Australia during the gold rush. 

For the lucky few, a good living could be made in the many gold strikes in the region, such as the Poverty Reef mine, right in the heart of Tarnagulla, which was still in full stride when GGGF Charles moved into town in 1853. Several of his sons, GGF William John maybe, and his brothers, later worked there. Two of the six brothers, Charles(!) and George, were killed in action in the Great War.

I am guessing this heritage of cobblerdom because I don't know what GGF William John's actual trade was, but when his daughter, my paternal GM, Ethel [daughter of Annie née Titus - aunt of the great Richmond footballer in the then VFL, now AFL, Jack Titus] married my GF, John George Ramm, apparently known as George. [Geo. the Neat Executor of the card, below], the evidence would strongly suggest that he learnt the trade as well. ["Bot. of" - meaning: ???] 

There was only one cobbler in town by 1920. That would have GF Geo, who lived there until he passed in 1950. 

A young GF John George (Geo.) Facial enhancement by Topaz AI.

Of course, back in the heady rushed days of sudden golden wealth and desperate arduous slog in mud and non-glittering rock, those gold miners needed solid work boots. Their wives needed dress shoes too,  maybe with bows on them, for social events at the town's Garibaldi Lodge or, in later days with Geo as bootmaker, at the Masonic hall in nearby Dunolly... 

So for a fair part of a century, the Radnells and a Ramm ran the town's cobbler business, unblocked.


Aside: The Poverty Reef mine in Tarnagulla was named after Poverty Bay, the New Zealand home of the two prospectors who made the first strike there. And then they made their fortune. Isn't that ironic! Doncha think?

The mine was intermittently operational until quite recently, though it peaked production with 13½ ton(!) of gold in the inital years of 1852-53.

As the seam became exhausted, different methods of gold extraction were tried there, and the first cyanide factory in Australia was built just behind it. 

Some locals


This is the house where my paternal family lived. I guess it is where my father was born. When we were young kids, our widowed mother required respite, so each summer we stayed with my uncle and aunt who still lived there, for two weeks or so. But we weren't to go into the closed front room, the one behind what once might have been a shop window (presuming here), under the recently refurbished awning. 

Too much important stuff in there for clumsy children. General uncle and aunt storage, my father's stamp collection for sure, etc... And some of my great-great, and great, and grandfather's work implements. 

When we were allowed in, once only I think in the many years we holidayed there, I recall trying to figure what this strange multi-footed steel montrosity was exactly. I doubt that we could have damaged it, however clumsy we were.

(Not GGGF's or GF's but same same.)

A cobbler's last. A block of steel that allowed consistant work from a range of angles. Shoes for men, women, and children, made to order. Neatly executed repairs. And cheap! 

If I had one now, I would rub it as a talisman of progress, and getting a move on from this blogger's block would be  


Saturday, May 20, 2023

A Week Of Serious Drinking*

On Friday evening after work, EvilD called EvilK, E@L, and Bruce and asked if they wanted to go out for drinks...


They went to Lan Kwai Fong and drank a few Carlsbergs and jello-vodka-shots on the street corner there. 

Soon it was 1am and LKF was closing down, so they took a taxi to Wanchai, particularly The Wanch, where a criminally awful band was playing. They drank a few Old Speckled Hens, which was on tap, and they pretended to fit in with the awkward Lamma locals. 

When the band finished, E@L suggested Mes Amis, a slightly classier place. There they switched to G&Ts until E@L was kicked out for knocking over half the dance floor with his bouncy bouncy interpretation of Fatboy Slim classic. 

Right there, right then, they all moved on to one of eight girly bars on Lockart Rd for a laugh or seven, and shared few $250 ladies’ drinks with the girls and bar staff. Bruce grabbed E@L's Charisma Card before he paid for those18 tequila shots for the three women on his arm, and they exited hastily though the heavy red curtain, Bruce with luminous lipstick marks on the front of his jeans.

When the bars and clubs started to shut down around 3am, EvilD said he knew a place where you could get beer - it was where the band from Amazonia goes after their gig. E@L discussed the Hendrix chord with Sammy, the best and shortest lead guitarist in Hong Kong (and Singapore one week a month).

Soon the sun came up to separate the sheep from the goats, which they all toasted with another jug of margaritas! 

By 7am the early openers were there for the working girls coming back from their long-times, and for diehards like EvilD, EvilK, E@L and Bruce. With Guinness being on tap, they were well supplied with calories. 

They kept drinking like this all Saturday; in Wanchai Irish pubs to watch AFL by themselves, and EPL jammed in a crowd, and to cocktail bars to watch potential tai-tais cadge drinks, and by Saturday evening you could find them dancing on the bar at Carnegies. EvilK suggested some shots of absinthe, which triggered a series of most welcome hallucinations, such as: They were sober enough to have more shots...

Saturday night and Sunday morning were more of the same, right through to Sunday lunch when it was High Tea at the Filipina Bars. They stumbled down various stairs to basement level bars like Uranus II, where off-duty maids went to dance in front of mirrors until their 9pm curfews. A few other expats they knew were there on the pick-up, so a few rounds were shouted until one by one those expats paired off with an amah in time for a quickie before their girl had to get back and cook 5 different suppers for 5 different people, and darn the underpants of the incontinent uncles, then grab a bowl of cold rice before unrolling her blanket under the kitchen table for her 2hr kip, or to wake up in a king-size bed with her boss and his wife. 

There was another EPL game Sunday evening so the crew headed to back the Irish bar on the corner where several ladyboys accosted them briefly, and Bruce nodded a shy greeting to the ugliest one. Guinness and Kilkenny were on tap. Sharpeners. Lovely. 

Sunday night, once the game was over, they moved to Joe Bananas where the manager greeted EvilD with a huge hug and an insistence that they all have a free bottle of Jack Daniels for the night! Still dancing and sweating it out on the crowded floor at 4am, trying not to spill their JD (third bottle) and diet coke on the floor, they shook themselves to the duff duff beat from the DJ’s extensive collection of duff duff music. 

Monday was a holiday, so they had no cause to stop partying, and the cycle repeated itself. Beer here, G&T’s there, with EvilD scoring free shots for them at Dusk ’Til Dawn. Bouncers were high-fiving and fist bumping EvilD, EvilK and Bruce as E@L looked on in awe at how popular his friends were with the staff, the bands, and working girls everywhere they went. So it continued right through until the next morning. 

They were too far gone for work on Tuesday, so they all called in sick and stayed out drinking still at various bars. 

Wednesday was the same, with a variety of vodkas at a new bar that EvilD remembered, down by the cop-shop, which brought them past Crazy Camel, where Western girls in bikini tops and cut-off jeans danced on the bar and poured free tequila shots into the mouths of customers who, like the crew here did repeatedly, leaned their heads back over the grog-sticky bar.

By Thursday, E@L was feeling a little squeamish, so he said the EvilD, “How about we get a packet of peanuts and some chips?”

EvilD was furious! “What? Listen! Did I invite you out for dinner or to have a drink?!”


Punchline stolen from another joke, but the rest is a compendium of something close to a previous reality, which may, or may not, have included the person who was



* Recommended: Hallucinatory, magic unrealism.

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