The International Writers Magazine: First Chapter: An Aussie
Eco Disaster novel
blood was up, I was up for a scrap. They do not call us fighting
Irish for nothing',
forget the day I met Sheila, my Sheila that is, not yer common or garden
sheila neither. It was the 14th May 2022. Myself, Stevie, Jakey and
Danny, who were probably my best buddies at the time, had decided to
enter a Pub Quiz, and to tell you the truth, I think we were more interested
in the top prize of a crate of beer, to be delivered at a time and the
place of the winners choosing, than anything else. That is, it
would be delivered to my place, which was our unofficial headquarters
and I was their unofficial, but undisputed, leader.
We, that is, "ODonnells Allstars", I chose that
name myself by the way, sailed through the preliminary rounds, thanks
in part to my inspired leadership and my almost encyclopaedic general
knowledge. We had to play against "The Snakes" in the final.
I had been watching them in the prelims. They were good, and it seemed
as though they were the better side, and, although I hated to admit
it, their cute, blond leader was doing a better job of keeping her troops
in line than I was with mine. Even though he didnt show it, Team
Captain ODonnell was somewhat rattled.
We huddled in our corner for the pre-match pep talk.
Right guys, we can do this; we just have to remain focussed on
winning. Theyre good, but not that good, I said, more in
hope than with conviction.
Bruces right, we are the best, chimed in Jakey.
How you doing, Danny? I asked.
I cant wait until its all over.
And we win the prize. Thats the spirit. OK guys, lets
get ready to rumble.
That was the thing about Danny. He was a top guy, great company and
all the rest of it, but you always got the impression that he wasnt
paying you his full attention, but rather he was factoring in his next
comfort stop. You could say that Danny was a bit of an incontinent,
and would start to panic if he hadnt located the dunny within
about five seconds of walking into a place. Did he go and see a doctor
about his little problem? Probably not, he was no doubt too embarrassed
to even read a leaflet on the subject, yet alone see the Doc.
As we went to take our seats, our pre-match contemplation was slightly
disturbed by our opposing team bending over in tight, white, semi-see
through skirts for a group huddle, then rising and raising their right
fists together and yelling "Go snakes" at the top of their
lungs. Only the sound of bagpipes could have been more intimidating,
or girls in tartan skirts more arousing.
I went over to the captain to shake hands.
Good luck, I said.
Youre gonna need it, she said.
So they wanted to play hard and mean did they? Good! It would have been
an insult to do otherwise, very un-Australian. There was none of this
namby-pamby, lah-di-dah, stiff-upper lip, English "never mind if
you win or lose its how you play the game" type attitude.
The English are, apart from that momentary lapse in the 2003 Rugby World
Cup when they actually won something, in my opinion the most uncompetitive,
insipid, bunch of people I have ever met. Anyway, my blood was up, I
was up for a scrap. They do not call us fighting Irish for nothing,
so they dont.
About halfway through, we were trailing by a least twenty points. I
was, perhaps, a little distracted by the opposing teams captain.
She seemed so in charge of her team. She knew when to hold back, who
to ask and when to ask, but ultimately everybody knew it was her decision
as to the correct answer. In short, she was a better leader than I was.
She was pretty, and fit too, and came in a small, compact 1m 65 package,
and I was hoping like hell that Id meet her afterwards, as the
victor of course.
Anyway, I got my head down, figuratively speaking, and helped to turn
things around. If I had been distracted, then perhaps they had been
distracted as well, for none of the opposing team was less than a joy
to behold. So I put on my serious, stern, I-am-slightly-pissed-off-at-you-guys
expression, and suddenly they started supplying me with more possible
right answers and I kept selecting the right ones. Finally, it came
to a tie- breaker.
This is the tie-breaker, for a crate of beer to be delivered at
a place of your choosing, at a time of your choosing, no conferring
please. What is the capital of Venezuela? asked the landlord and
quizmaster. I pressed my buzzer straight away.
Caracas, I replied.
Is the correct answer. Well done Allstars, bad luck Snakes, you
came close, he said, as if he was presenting University Challenge.
And so, we had won by the narrowest of margins, just a mere ten points.
But it was enough: there was a crate of beer with our name on it! We
shook hands with the team opposite and commiserated with them, and then
we retreated to our respective ends of the bar.
A few minutes later, I noticed a blonde, permed lady trying to peer
over my right shoulder, grinning from ear to ear. It was the Snakes
team captain! I hoped she wasnt going to challenge us to a re-match.
I felt sure they would royally kick our behinds next time.
I thought you were going to lose it at one point, she said.
So did I. Fair dinkums, you guys ran us close.
Not close enough. Sheila Gregson, pleased to meet you.
She extended her hand. I shook it firmly, perhaps too firmly, as her
whole body shook. For once, I managed to maintain eye contact.
Bruce ODonnell, likewise. She tried to suppress a
Could we have more stereotypically Australian names? she
Nah, I dont suppose we could. Have you met the guys? This
is Jakey.., I said, pointing out each one in turn.
I gotta go. Nice to meet you.
Danny disappeared in the general direction of le toilet, or the dunny
as we like to call it back home. Come to think of it, why do we call
it that, us Aussies? Is it short for Dunedin? Lifes too short
for such considerations, like what happens to old socks? Ill leave
that to the lah-di-dah, nose-in-the-air, Arts and Humanities students;
they have lots of time for that sort of thing, apparently.
Does he do that a lot? she asked, after a fashion.
What, set forth in search of the dunny? I answered. I thought
about it for a second, maybe two. I guess Danny does that a lot.
Is he part-English, or something?
Do you mean, is he tight, does he go to the toilet to avoid buying
a round? No way! interjected Stevie.
Thats right, Dannys a good boy, always stands his
round chimed in Jakey. I nodded in agreement.
At that point, Sheila beckoned to the other Snakes to come on over with
the drinks. There followed the customary introductions, which Danny
missed, of course, so we had to go through that again, at least part
way through again. It was then that I noticed that they were all blonde
and blue-eyed, apart from one. I wondered what effect our association
with them would have. Would we, for example, requisition the next table
because we wanted liebensraum? Perhaps I was just being silly.
For our part, I thought we were quite representative of white Australia.
Jakey had blue eyes and dark, almost black hair. I could never quite
figure out if he was of west coast Irish or of Romanian extraction,
not that it matters, and I suppose he was quite handsome in a way. Stevie
was the archetypal blue-eyed, blonde haired surf dude that would not
look out of place on Bondi beach. I had typical bog-Irish, flame-red
hair with green eyes, and I thought I cut quite a dash. Danny was just
Danny; Ill come to him later.
By the end of the night, myself, Jakey, Stevie and Danny had gotten
to know Shirley, Serena, Saskia and of course, Sheila, a little better
than before. Thats the thing about boys and girls. Girls know
exactly what they are doing and boys, generally, havent got a
clue. The Snakes were cool calm and collected, us guys were awkward,
too eager, clumsy, as if we werent used to being around women
at all, except for me of course, because I was the leader, and I suppose
some of Jean-Jacques cool must have rubbed off on me. What can I say,
I just love myself, not literally of course, because of the guilt trip,
confession, and you know the rest. Seriously though, most of us had
been to all boys schools, which I am sure helped us academically,
but may have held us back in other ways.
The best part of it all was that we were all Aussies, and all of us,
apart from Jakey, came from Melbourne. We started hanging around together,
foreigners sticking together in adversity, in a cold climate full of
cold, introverted, uncompetitive, pasty-faced, anally retentive, condescending,
patronising English people with their nasal accents, socks and sandals,
and bad breath.
We would meet up about three or four times a week, wed go to pubs,
sometimes to barbies, sometimes to the park, occasionally to a restaurant,
but mainly to pubs. Danny earned the nickname of "Wheres-the-dunny-Danny"
because every time we went to a strange pub, do you know what he did?
Did he comment on the décor, or say that the place looked like
a bit of a dive, offer to get the drinks in, do something useful, like
look for a table, or tables, large enough to accommodate us and all
our bags and surplus garments, say something even vaguely amusing, or
try to be the strong yet silent type? No hed just say: Wheres
After a while, of course, we knew what was coming and couldnt
wait, so we would pre-empt him. It would either take the form of:
Wheres the dunny, Danny?
Found the dunny yet, Danny?
He would often reply: Dunno.
This would then lead to more alliteration:
Guess what guys, Danny dunno where the dunny is.
If he replied in the affirmative, the response would be something on
the lines of:
Are you writing the Good Pub Toilet Guide, Danny?
Trust you to know that, Danny.
Of course, I could have put a stop to this nonsense any time I liked,
and I would later regret my inaction. I did stop them singing the Danny
dunno where the Dunny is song, to the tune of "Its
my Party", however.
Pissoirs and WCs aside, that summer, the pairing off began. Stevie,
who had a penchant for Dutch girls, paired off with Saskia, who had
undeniable Dutch parentage. Jakey paired off with Serena, I with Sheila,
no surprises there, and Danny, with well, nobody really. He was nuts
about Shirley, the moderately attractive brunette of medium height,
and English extraction. Her ancestors were reportedly from Kent, which
did not surprise me, given the large numbers of similar females who
commuted in every day to London from that part of the world, and thought
that they were Gods gift to the Financial Services industry and
However, Shirley did not return his affection. For her, Danny was not
much of a prospect. Danny had non-descript brown-ish sort of hair, not
ugly, but not exactly "Gods gift" either. Of course
its different for guys, looks dont matter, well probably
not if youre rich and dont have an embarrassing health problem.
Again, I was partly annoyed at myself for being complicit in allowing
others to undermine his confidence and position, and partly annoyed
with him for seemingly not doing anything himself about his socially
2022 was also the year I shared my brilliant idea with my mates: Balkan
soccer. Id been watching that game of soccer that the English
claim they invented, and decided it lacked something, a certain razzamatazz,
you might say. Given that sport is war by any other means, and wars
are sometimes three-sided, such as the break up of Yugoslavia in the
last decade of the twentieth century, wouldnt it be better, and
more interesting, to have three teams on a hexagonal pitch?
Obviously, the rules might need changing. The governing body of this
new game might have to decide who would kick off without the aid of
a coin, perhaps with the help of a random number generator. There would
have to be a drop-ball between the non-offending sides instead of a
free-kick, but the basic idea would be the same; whichever team scored
the most goals would be the winner with three points, the team that
came second should get one point for effort and the team that came last
should of course, like Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest, nil points.
Most of the guys hated the idea, but Danny stuck up for me, saying it
was an idea that had merit and should not be dismissed out of hand.
Good old Danny, I thought. However, I had to let the idea
drop, as the guys were starting to question my leadership skills, and
I cant have that.
Later that summer, which I still rate as the best summer of my entire
life to date, Danny started to drift away from our little group. It
happened gradually of course; there was no acrimony. He started making
lames excuses for not attending our little gatherings, such as working
late, or attending evening class. Every now and then he would relent,
but we still couldnt resist taking the rise out of the poor guy.
In the end, Id organize special events to accommodate him, evenings
at the restaurant, barbies, anything where he wouldnt be expected
to drink copious amounts of alcohol, Id tell everybody not to
take the piss, but it was all to no avail. He had enough of us. He didnt
say so, but I could tell. Perhaps he thought we were being patronising
to him, who knows. I made a vow, there and then, that if ever I saw
him again, I would make it up to him, even try to pair him off with
Shirley, if he was still interested, and assuming she was not fixed
up by then.
Of course, London is a big city, the biggest in Europe, with more than
twice the population of Melbourne in terms of population, and you can
lose yourself there. We never saw Danny again while we were in London
since our last meeting with him in an Italian restaurant that September.
As I returned home that night, I saw the golden brown leaves falling
from the trees, and it reflected my mood. They were dead, just like
our friendship. Danny, the first real friend I ever made since my arrival
in London, who even lent me money and let me crash at his place when
I was too drunk to walk the final 550 metres to my home, and who had
done countless other things for me, without expecting anything in return,
was gone. As I look back on the summer of 2022 with rose-tinted spectacles,
my memory of that time is slightly tinged with sadness and some regret.
Of course, what would the priest say: Tree Hail Marys
and an Act of Contrition. Well, I thought, what if I cut out the
middle-man, and did it myself? I had already devised my own Act of Contrition.
Of course, as the leader, I had to find a replacement for Danny, so
that Shirley wouldnt feel like a spare part. In the end, I found
this guy Davey, who was a New Zealander, well nobodys perfect,
and by way of coincidence, a recovering incontinent, or at least, thats
what I suspected. He never explicitly asked where the dunny was, because
he just knew.
Every time we went into a strange pub, he would have a good look around.
When pressed, he would say that he was a former security guard, and
he was just assessing the security situation and making a note of all
possible Fire Exits and potential hazards. I, being the sole of discretion,
would sometimes ask him if he could point me towards the Fire Exit,
as I just wanted to check that it was in order, and that we could all
escape in the event of a fire. Not that I ever envisaged there being
a fire, I just wanted to confirm my suspicions: funnily enough, the
Fire Exit was nearly always about five metres down from where the dunny
Of course, Shirley was very taken by Davey, who cut quite a dash. He
was quite tall, at least 1m 95, handsome with chestnut brown hair and
chiselled features. He was a stockbroker by trade, and sometimes made
hefty bonii, which he was often as not more than willing to share with
us, despite our protestations. I did start to have my doubts about Davey
though. I couldnt quite understand why he didnt get in there
with Shirley. I found out sometime later that he was in fact, straight
as a die, not that theres anything wrong with being gay of course,
it was just that his girlfriend was a bit of a plain Jane, and having
an attractive girl on his arm was good for his public image.
Of course, he also liked hanging with us, and he did do Shirley a big
favour, for whenever a guy came over who was interested in her, he made
it plain that they were just good friends and he should feel free to
give it his best shot, unless he was a complete jerk. Thus, Davey provided
a convenient jealousy trap for Shirley and made her feel less of a spare
part. If some idiot was bothering Shirley, he would smooth over to her
and casually remark that they shouldnt keep the babysitter waiting.
She would suggest they go in about fifteen minutes or so, and he would
murmur in agreement. The inexperienced slime ball would be off like
a shot. The more experienced shark would hang about within in earshot
until they had both departed, and naturally we would follow on discretely.
So, what about Sheila, I hear you cry? It must have been about out third
date when we really hit it off. I mean, the third time we went out on
our own, without the gang. We were sitting at the bar of some Aussie
pub in Earls Court, a real clichéd affair, with stuffed
wallabies hanging off the ceiling, and boomerangs and pictures of Aussie
icons like Paul Hogan hanging on the wall and so on.
So how come you speak such good French? she asked.
Ah well, I did spend about six months in Brussels with my cousin
Jean-Jacques, I replied.
You have a cousin called Jean-Jacques?
Yeah, Jean-Jacques Lapin-ODonnell, quite a mouthful really,
you can come and meet him if you like.
Youll take me to Brussels?
Daccord. I could not help slipping into French, as
I thought it made me sound chic.
I love it when you talk French to me.
Shall we do our cultural bit? I asked.
Oui, bien sûr, monsieur!
Sheila had been learning French, she said it was important for her work,
as she worked in a bank, but I thought it was just to impress me. After
all, what was an accountant doing learning French, were they going to
send her to the Paris branch to cook the books, or something? Anyway,
we had rehearsed a little piece, which we thought deserved a wider audience,
and now seemed a good a time as any. After all, wasnt French a
key language of the European Union, which all Brits were proud to be
a part of? Sheila had a heavy Australian accent when she spoke French,
but that just added to the fun of it for me.
Bonjour Madame, I began.
Bonjour Monsieur. Comment vous appelez-vous?
Je mappelle Bruce. Et vous, sheila?
Je mappelle Sheila.
Habites-toi près dici?
Oui, jhabite à Earls Court. Et toi?
Jy habite Aussie!
At this point we would laugh politely, rather like a parody of a typically
anally retentive middle-class English couple, and Id met a few
of them in my time.
Bon, allons-nous chez moi pour prendre une bière?
This, I suddenly realised, was not part of the script. She was asking
me back to her place. Not only was I pleased about that, I was also
pleased that her French was getting better.
Volontiers! I replied, before she could change her mind.
As we departed onto the street, the sky was turning funny colours and
the clouds were tinged with red, which I took to be a good omen. Trams
glided effortlessly by into the distance, I suggested we might avail
ourselves of one, but she assured me it was not far. It wasnt.
Her flat turned out to be a bit pokey, but large enough for one. It
was certainly much larger than my micro-flat, although mine gave the
illusion of being slightly larger; hers seemed to be a conversion, with
lots of Victorian period pieces and original furnishings. Many of my
friends and acquaintances had much worse accommodation, and not doubt
paid a lot more for it.
Nice place you got here, Sheila, I remarked inanely, as
I followed her into the kitchen. She told me later that she was renting
it cheaply from one of the senior partners in the firm of accountants
she worked for, Touche Pas Lechat. It was a tax dodge or something like
I concluded that she was good at managing her own money as well as other
peoples: good for her. I should not have been surprised: she was
of Scottish extraction after all. I thought, perhaps, that she must
have some Scandinavian blood somewhere in the mix, because she had albino
blond hair, clear blue eyes and looked a bit like some Swedish supermodel
Id seen on TV once. Either that, or I had had too much to drink.
Thanks, Bruce, she said. Would you like a beer?
Merci, ma chère, I replied. I thought at this stage
I should lay off the French, for there is such a thing as overkill.
We sat down on the couch for a while and made general chit-chat. We
ended up swapping stories about our travels, and it occurred to me that
our paths might have crossed at some stage.
Its getting late, do you want to stay over? she asked,
trying to sound casual.
Well, I think we should wait until were engaged, I
Oh she muttered, looking rather disappointed.
I looked at her very intently, with mock solemnity.
Sheila I said.
Will you marry me? I said, half in jest.
I thought youd never ask.
I downed my beer in one. She led me out of the kitchen down the hall
into the bedroom. We dived on the bed and started making out.
Sheila? I enquired
Why do they call you the snakes?
Just for a laugh, I would pretend to be thick to her. This would make
her feel superior. After all, she had a degree in Business Studies from
Melbourne University, and I was just some thicko who left school at
18 and sold mens clothes for a living, and at that stage was still
studying for a Certificate in Management Studies. She would walk into
my trap every time.
Its the initials of our first names, silly-SSSS
Shame your names arent Sheila, Henrietta, Ulrika, Simone
and Hayley, then youd be The Silent Ones- SHUSH. I was triumphant,
I had done it again, miss lah-di-dah student type outsmarted by a shop-boy.
She started playfully bashing me over the head with a pillow, and the
sado-masochist in me started to enjoy it. Of course, this hotshot bean-counter
was not to be outdone.
While were making fun of peoples friends, shame youre
not here with another five guys called Bruce, then youd have the
Australian Doctors Convention, she said, looking smug.
That wouldnt be much fun, I replied.
Then Id have to invoke rule number one - "nah sheilas".
I had done it again.
Shut up and kiss me you spunk.
I could do nothing more than comply with her request. Her kiss was hungry.
I stopped, and teased her a little by pulling my head back a little,
so she had to lean forward to kiss me back. Then she sat up straight,
and started unbuttoning my shirt. It dawned on me that she might want
to go all the way. As we started undressing each other, I started to
worry about my performance.
She had told me before what sort of sex she liked: she liked it long,
and good, and hard. Damn! I had really wanted out first time to be good,
real good. Then I remembered a technique that had worked before: think
about something boring. What was the most boring thing I had ever done?
Then I remembered. Back at Outbackers, the outdoor clothing store where
I used to work before I came to Europe, we once had a computer crash
and then we could not retrieve some data from the back up tapes. The
long and the short of it was that yours truly had to spend about three
weeks typing in the contents of a dump-printout taken the week before
into a database, the same old repetitive crap all day long. So I would
imagine myself doing that. I just hoped that the combination of that,
together with the effect of beer in moderate amounts, my Tai Chi breathing
techniques and some tricks I had picked up from the movies (I didnt
tell the priest about those ones) would do the trick.
It did. I checked with the clock and at least fifteen minutes of love
- making had transpired.
Ehm, are you close yet? I enquired.
Close to what? What did she think I was talking about? Was
I enquiring about her residences proximity to the underground
and local amenities, like some prospective purchaser or tenant? Maybe
she had got lost in the heat of the moment, I mused.
Orgasm! I said.
I think Im about due.
Shall we try and climax together? On the count of three
one two threeeeeeee! I dont know what I was more relieved
about - finally being able to come, or not to have to think about doing
data entry any more. She looked like she was having an orgasm, her body
convulsing and so on, maybe she was faking but who cares? I had given
her my best shot, and I would get better as time went by. Indeed, I
lasted longer the second and third time. After that, she just said Merci
beaucoup chérie, turned over and went to sleep. I was scot-free.
I lay next to her and put my right arm over her for the first time and
lay there in a shagged out haze for a while before I finally dozed off,
wondering what my life would be like if I hadnt persuaded the
troops to take part in Quiz Night.
The next morning, I awoke to see her coming out of the shower with a
towel around her head and a rather fetching silk dressing-gown on.
Sleep well? she said.
Yeah, you? I mumbled, still not fully awake.
Definitely. Im a bit tired though after last night, not
that Im complaining mind. I had a nice time.
Thanks I said.
Bruce, next time we make love, could you do something for me?
Sure, whats that? I think at this point I must have
started beaming, as those words "next time" were having such
an impact on me. I wondered what strange and kinky perverted things
she wanted me to do. They were wild these low-church women, there was
no stopping them.
Could you not take so bloody long next time, and keep youre
eyes open? she said. Youre supposed to be making love
to me, not meditating!
But I thought you said.
Yes, I know what I said, and I meant it. When I said long, I was
thinking more till the end of track two, not till end of the CD!
"The end of the CD", what a compliment! I said.
I composed myself. Ill try to be quicker next time. Im
going to take a shower.
Why dont you take a bath, I can come in and scratch your
back? she said suggestively.
Hallelujah, there is a God, I thought to myself.
© Kevin Blanking
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