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The International Writers Magazine
: First Chapter: An Aussie Eco Disaster novel

O’Donnel Travails
Kevin Blanking
'my blood was up, I was up for a scrap. They do not call us fighting Irish for nothing',

I’ll never 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, "O’Donnell’s 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 didn’t show it, Team Captain O’Donnell 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. They’re good, but not that good,’ I said, more in hope than with conviction.
‘Bruce’s right, we are the best,’ chimed in Jakey.
‘How you doing, Danny?’ I asked.
‘I can’t wait until it’s all over.’
‘And we win the prize. That’s the spirit. OK guys, let’s 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 wasn’t 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 hadn’t 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.
‘You’re 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 it’s 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 don’t.

About halfway through, we were trailing by a least twenty points. I was, perhaps, a little distracted by the opposing team’s 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 I’d 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.
‘Allstars, O’Donnell.’
‘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 wasn’t 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 O’Donnell, likewise.’ She tried to suppress a giggle.
‘Could we have more stereotypically Australian names?’ she asked.
‘Nah, I don’t suppose we could. Have you met the guys? This is Jakey..’, I said, pointing out each one in turn.
‘And Danny.’
‘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? Life’s too short for such considerations, like what happens to old socks? I’ll 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.
‘That’s right, Danny’s 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; I’ll 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. That’s the thing about boys and girls. Girls know exactly what they are doing and boys, generally, haven’t got a clue. The Snakes were cool calm and collected, us guys were awkward, too eager, clumsy, as if we weren’t 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, we’d go to pubs, sometimes to barbies, sometimes to the park, occasionally to a restaurant, but mainly to pubs. Danny earned the nickname of "Where’s-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 he’d just say: ‘Where’s the dunny?’
After a while, of course, we knew what was coming and couldn’t wait, so we would pre-empt him. It would either take the form of:
‘Where’s 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 "It’s my Party", however.

Pissoirs and WC’s 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 God’s gift to the Financial Services industry and men.

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 "God’s gift" either. Of course it’s different for guys, looks don’t matter, well probably not if you’re rich and don’t 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 embarrassing problem.

2022 was also the year I shared my brilliant idea with my mates: Balkan soccer. I’d 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, wouldn’t 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 can’t 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 couldn’t resist taking the rise out of the poor guy. In the end, I’d organize special events to accommodate him, evenings at the restaurant, barbies, anything where he wouldn’t be expected to drink copious amounts of alcohol, I’d tell everybody not to take the piss, but it was all to no avail. He had enough of us. He didn’t 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 Mary’s’ 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 wouldn’t feel like a spare part. In the end, I found this guy Davey, who was a New Zealander, well nobody’s perfect, and by way of coincidence, a recovering incontinent, or at least, that’s 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 was.

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 couldn’t quite understand why he didn’t get in there with Shirley. I found out sometime later that he was in fact, straight as a die, not that there’s 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 shouldn’t 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. No worries.

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 Earl’s 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-O’Donnell, quite a mouthful really, you can come and meet him if you like.’
‘You’ll take me to Brussels?’
‘D’accord’. 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, wasn’t 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 m’appelle Bruce. Et vous, sheila?’
‘Je m’appelle Sheila.’
‘Habites-toi près d’ici?’
‘ Oui, j’habite à Earls Court. Et toi?
‘J’y habite Aussie!’
At this point we would laugh politely, rather like a parody of a typically anally retentive middle-class English couple, and I’d met a few of them in my time.
‘Bon, allons-nous chez moi pour prendre une bière?’ asked Sheila.
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 wasn’t.
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 that.
I concluded that she was good at managing her own money as well as other people’s: 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 I’d 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.
‘It’s getting late, do you want to stay over?’ she asked, trying to sound casual.
‘Well, I think we should wait until we’re engaged,’ I said.
‘Oh’ she muttered, looking rather disappointed.
I looked at her very intently, with mock solemnity.
‘Sheila’ I said.
‘Yes, Bruce,’
‘Will you marry me?’ I said, half in jest.
‘I thought you’d 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 men’s 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.
‘It’s the initials of our first names, silly-SSSS’
‘Shame your names aren’t Sheila, Henrietta, Ulrika, Simone and Hayley, then you’d 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 we’re making fun of people’s friends, shame you’re not here with another five guys called Bruce, then you’d have the Australian Doctor’s Convention,’ she said, looking smug.
‘That wouldn’t be much fun,’ I replied.
‘Why not?’
‘Then I’d 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 didn’t 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 residence’s 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 I’m about due.’
‘Shall we try and climax together? On the count of three – one two threeeeeeee!’ I don’t 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 hadn’t 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. I’m a bit tired though after last night, not that I’m complaining mind. I had a nice time.’
‘Thanks’ I said.
‘Bruce, next time we make love, could you do something for me?’
‘Sure, what’s 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 you’re eyes open?’ she said. ‘You’re 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. ‘I’ll try to be quicker next time. I’m going to take a shower.’
‘Why don’t 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 April 2005
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