Wes Piddens’s Gran, Kate, was a big, tough, hard-working woman born in Farnham, near Stuart Town, home of “The Man from Ironbark”.
Her father was a gold miner and her mother, what with the delivery and maintenance of 11 kids, was said to have scrawled her occupation on their birth certificates as, “Long and deep suffering”.
Farnham was an enclave of gold mines and buck-wild Irishness, so much so that a magistrate once declared that a wall should be built, post-haste, around the whole locality to protect the world from the “debaucherous villainy of its denizens”.
Gran told Wes that her chief childhood pastimes had included lacing her father’s pipe tobacco with black powder, decamping at pace when it exploded, and heckling the Chinese market gardener.
“Oh, Gran, you didn’t!”
“Not much else to do.”
When Jeannie and Lovey announced that they were expecting their second child (Wes), Gran apparently erupted, “Lovey Piddens, you sexual maniac!” She had her ways, for sure.
She sure loved burning off the blady grass on their farm at Baryulgil aided by her over-willing grandkids.
One of her innovations was the kero stick.
Her legs weren’t up to clambering down into gullies where the evilest blady grass lurked, but she was leery of sending the kids down to light it, lest snakes “killed them to death”.
So, the night before any planned conflagration she’d have the kids tearing up old bed sheets, wrapping the strips onto sticks and wiring them on. Then the incendiaries would be placed in a tin of kerosene to soak overnight.
Next day the kids would be issued with matches and deployed to burn the flats. When they encountered a gully, it would be a matter of, “Kero stick, Gran?” “Here, take two.” Too much fire was barely enough for Gran.
But this tough woman was poleaxed when her loving husband, Ern, died. Although still feisty, she spent the rest of her life looking for answers, usually in the wrong places.
Have you noticed how widows are seen as fair game for god-botherers and other ratbags?
First to pounce were the Christadelphians, who told her that the key to salvation was a close study of prophecies out of ancient Egypt, and donations to the cause.
Gran, who had actually been to Egypt, was hooked at first, but remembering how everyone over there seemed to be dirt (or sand) poor, she eventually concluded that any answers found in Egypt would probably be mediocre. She looked elsewhere.
The Billy Graham Crusade promised eternal answers, and Bill talked a good game, so she attended one (after making a donation to the cause), dragging young Wes along to hear “The Good News”. But it was a crowded, cheek-by-jowl, brimstone-ridden affair which scared the bahoozola out of Wes, who up to this point didn’t think he’d been much of a sinner.
Gran noticed that nobody seemed very different after they had been “saved”, so crusadery was never mentioned again.
Fortunately, Scientology, Hare Krishna and Hillsong weren’t on the go then, or Gran may have been bled dry.
Gran’s brother in law, Horace, came down from Queensland to “cheer her up”.
Horace was a harmless chap of few words, but his Life Partner, Jan, was the screaming opposite. Or should I say ‘the squealing opposite’? Yes, I should. Jan was a squealer. She could squeal for the galaxy.
At this point I should stress that I don’t consider squealing to be necessarily such a bad thing. I’m sure that if a brown snake were to bite me or if Trump came within cooee I would squeal and squeal. I love hearing John Turturro as ‘Pete’ squeal in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
Furthermore, what say you take a break right now and follow this link to hear Susan Tedeschi absolutely nailing a top squeal (at 3:36) at Bluesfest a few years back? I’ll wait for you.
You can tell what a top squeal it is by the reaction of the backup singer behind her. He likes it, very much.
But nobody liked Aunty Jan’s squeals: they filled you with doom, gloom and despair.
To say that Aunty Jan had “issues” would be like saying that Vladimir Putin had a couple of assets squirrelled away.
Jan was a devotee of Rudolf Steiner, the Croatian-born reason why Steiner Schools exist. Rudi was smart, no question, but he was also nutso, deluded and ultra prolific in his deludery.
Here’s a taster. He believed we’ve been on a downswing since Atlantis sank, especially since the popular archangel, Michael, who was only on duty for 350-year cycles, after which time he took extended breaks, went on holidays. He believed that Europeans were the superior race (in front of Asians, then Africans), that the heart did not pump blood, that he was clairvoyant (everyone else would have to wait until the year 3573, apparently), that we are all reincarnated and that colour was a result of the battle between light and darkness.
In addition, he believed that we had 12 senses, each based on a sign of the zodiac.
Despite studying chemistry at university, he believed that there were only four elements, you guessed it: earth, air, fire and water.
Despite having no experience in agriculture, he came up with the idea of sticking cowpats into cow horns.
Despite having no experience in education, he invented the Steiner school.
Oh, and he was into homeopathy.
Incidentally, Steiner hospitals (yes, they exist) in Germany are currently treating covid patients with powdered meteorite diluted down to nothing.
So, it is perhaps little wonder that after trying to get her head around Steiner’s loopy notions Jan popped a mental gasket and squealing became her existential refuge. The wonder of it was that Horace could stand it.
Since the visitors had arrived by train it fell to Wes’s parents, Lovey and Jeannie, to ferry them around town by car and show them the sights.
The fun commenced the moment Jan’s bum hit the upholstery.
She squealed because she couldn’t see from the back seat.
She squealed because she could see too much from the front seat.
She squealed because they drove too fast.
She squealed because they left intersections too slowly, “Aieeee! Let’s get out of here. It’s an Austin Champ! They’ll steamroller us!”
She squealed on corners, “Aieeee! I’m losing my balance. Drive straight!”
But if a road went too straight for too long it was, “Aieee! The monotony! Get me out of here! Don’t you know straight lines are an abomination?
“Aieee! You’re not going up that hill?” (grabs Horace)
“Aieee! You’re not going down there?” (grabs a passenger’s body part)
“Aieee! It’s flat! It’s just so…flat!” (grabs the driver’s ears)
“Overtake that car, quick! Aieee! It’s a Nissan Cedric! Not so fast, we’ll die!”
“Stop! Oh, please just stop…Aieee!”
“Let’s get moving! Aieee! Aieee!”
“But, Aunt, the lights are against us.”
“Aieee! I’ll say the lights are against us. They’re sapping my vitals! Woop woop woop! (sticks her nose in ashtray). Aieee!”
Horace said nothing. He just patted her from time to time.
That was Day One.
There were many more. Perhaps you are not familiar with the phrase, ‘a Scotsman’s surprise’.
It means, came for dinner and stayed a month.