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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Making of a Child Psychiatrist (29): Interlude & Prelude (2)

My parents introduced us to some new friends, Kiah Bastian and his partner Jan who were close in age to us, but had become part of the Martin extended family. Kiah was a sewing machine mechanic, and had done some work for Eve, and his lighthearted fun-loving nature had intrigued everyone. He was keen on barbecues, so at weekends we trooped off to the beach, or to national Park, or some sand dunes for slightly underdone chops and snags. We were confused by the weather. So it had been sort of the beginning of summer in England when we left, and we had sort of expected Australia to be hot. But it was winter, and of course down by the beach with a slightly chilly wind, and Jan and I would both be shivering. This was not just jet lag, but seemed to be an unexplained feature of us. The good thing was that Jan could always be warmed up by a cuddle. We did actually bond well with Kiah and Jan, and when we returned many years later were able to take up the friendship again.
Eve had a secret life. In England she had been to art classes in Margate, and with Ted often away and Andrea at Cabra College during the day, Eve took herself off to the Adelaide School of Art, which she attended for the three years of Ted’s posting. She was happy and productive, and we have some paintings of Brownhill Creek and other places around Adelaide, as well as portraits and sculptures (in the Barbara Hepworth style, begun shortly after her return to England). I had not realised that my mother was an artist. I knew she was a very competent if self-effacing dressmaker, and had watched while she made multiple costumes for church shows, under pressure and using odd materials like crepe paper. But to get this new perspective was profoundly important to me, and made sense of how and why she ‘got the picture’ so quickly in discussions.
The Royal Australian Air Force decided to have an annual ball during our time in Adelaide, and Jan and I had been invited to accompany Ted and Eve. Sadly Andrea, then only 11, was unable to accompany us. Remembering the joyous experiences of our ballroom dancing days we were excited. Jan had a long dress with a matching jacket; I suspect that Eve may have worked the sewing machine into some late nights to make Jan shine even more than usual. The style in the 60s was for the ladies to wear long gloves; so these were purchased. I did not own a dinner jacket, and had given up black shoes after leaving school. So one Saturday we were driven into the city and went to David Jones on Rundle Street where I gained my first ever shawl collar penguin suit and an evening shirt and a black bow tie. All very smart, and we have photos to prove it. It was a great evening, and we danced and danced on the floor covered in sawdust (as was the style of those days). We also enjoyed the obligatory meat pies with sauce (one of the quaint realities of Australian high culture).
As much as possible we travelled at weekends when Ted was free to drive us. We did the wineries in the Barossa, though truthfully I can only remember Seppelt’s and Kaiser Stuhl; perhaps the tastings were too much for us.
On one occasion we drove up to Woomera; nearly 500kms in fairly warm conditions. The poor Gordini struggled, and air conditioning didn’t exist so we had to open the windows – which of course then made talking problematic over the noise. Both Jan and I have strong memories of the red dust to the sides of the roads, the vistas stretching for ever, especially north of Port Augusta and, amazingly the occasional tree at a rest stop absolutely covered in noisy budgerigars. We had never seen anything like this, and were blown away. Admittedly as a youngster of 9, we had owned a budgie which was friendly and would sit on your shoulders, nibble your ears and leave small round messages. Eve, with time on her hands during the day had taught it to play football with a glass marble; endless amusement for us all at the kitchen table. But a flock of hundreds of them in variegated colours in their natural environment was a beautiful and overwhelming experience.
I had expected to see rockets. That was what my father was working on for 15JSTU; radar guidance systems for ‘black knight’ first launched in the late 1950s, and also ‘blue streak’. But we were civilians with ‘no clearance’, even though Ted was the OC (Officer Commanding). So, we dined in the mess, slept in Nissan huts (with no air conditioning, of course), and the following day completed the return journey. Ah well, it was a nice family outing, and I could fantasise about what went on, even if Eve, Jan and Andy just wanted a shower.
Ted was in love with his car, being the first new one he had ever owned (of the 2 up to that date). In fact at the end of his tour he took up the option of having the car transported back to the UK, where he continued to use it for some years. But Jan and I were 19, and had begun to have driving lessons from her father Reg, and his brother Laurie who had been a driving instructor. So eventually, Ted gave in and allowed me to do some driving on long trips – preferably when there was no other traffic, and wide enough roads. That is until the fateful day I ran over a snake. Or at least we thought I had run over a snake on the road, and there was gentle hysteria about needing to investigate and remove it if at all possible. So Ted asked me to pull in to the side of this long country road. I did, and managed to find the only bit of grass which was hiding a piece of wood with a large nail sticking out. Well, I had not seen it. I am sure nobody else had either. But there we were, on a road with little or no traffic, and a rather limp nearside front tyre. Ted was not amused, and his ever present frown deepened and darkened. We got out and, in a rather tense atmosphere, I got my first lesson in how to change a tyre. I had damaged Ted’s pride and joy; I never did get to drive it again. I had fulfilled my destiny and proved that I was missing 4% somewhere. That tense atmosphere never quite eased for the last couple of weeks before we had to leave Adelaide.
Jan had been quietly working away at the University of Adelaide in the Biochemistry Department, under a Doctor Keech. It was a mixed experience for her in many ways. She loved the atmosphere, the sense of working with others in a scientific endeavour. She was obviously on a steep learning curve, but was usually (of course) asked to do the routine and mundane jobs. Jan, being Jan, did not mind because it was all building her experience towards her future, and adding the practical side of things to her first year of theoretical biochemistry at Bedford College. The downside of the experience was that the said doctor, in that way of slightly older men, particularly men in authority, was pressing his feelings onto Jan, and had made several advances that Jan found very uncomfortable. I am not sure how she managed. She certainly did not tell me for a long time. This was good at one level. I would have killed him.

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