Saturday, August 20, 2011

They are the Champions

Sometimes events unfold in the most fortuitous of ways. Just as things were starting to come unstuck at Bridget and Marty’s as far as our accommodation situation went, a random sequence of events made it all a lot more palatable and easier to deal with. We were watching the footy down at Divers Tavern when a guy approached me and said “you’re name wouldn’t happen to be Greg would it”? Yes, I replied as I tried to work out where I’d met this person. “Greg Swedosh would it be”, he said coming to shake my hand. I scanned through the index of my mind trying to place the face and the voice. And just as he reached me it dawned on me. David Champion! Last time I’d seen Dave was probably more than 25 years ago. We had been best friends at school from around year 9 through until the end of year 12. The formative years. We’d shared many firsts and life discoveries together. Alcohol. Music. Attempts at convincing girls to kiss us. Air rifles. Somehow we'd lost contact with each other a few years after leaving school. I guess we just sort of drifted away into uni and work life, despite both of our attempts to relocate each other at various times. I’d regularly get a lift to school with Dave’s dad in his Citroen with the weird hydraulic lift on the rear wheels and the radio stuck firmly on 3AW, tuned in to Derryn Hinch. I always got on well with Dave’s dad, the reverend Neil Champion, though it’s fair to say that he had quite conservative views. He’d recently set up a nursing home in Montmorency and Dave used to be able to float between the family house in Templestowe and the nursing home where he also had a room. Monty was often the house where we’d get up to shenanigans as Dave’s dad never stayed there and we were well away from any of the house residents. Essentially we had a private lair at our disposal away from parental supervision and I would on occasions stay the night there also. One night we’d decided to have a small party at Montmorency. We’d stocked up on as much alcohol as we could afford, no doubt including cask wine, Cinzano and Lilydale cider. Perhaps we’d managed to pull together enough cash for a bottle of Southern Comfort or Bacardi. We’d put the word out to the very few girls that we knew that there was a party on and told them to bring their friends. A couple of the girls had turned up and the night was only just warming up when Dave’s brother Phil ran in. “Dad’s here”, he told us. That probably gave us about ten seconds to prepare ourselves before Mr. Champion walked in the door and surveyed the scene in disgust. It’s fair to say that he didn’t really approve of our planned activities of under age drinking and sexual pursuits. “Get rid of all these bottles and go and see the girls home please boys”, were his very polite but firm demands. “Greg, Robert, you can go to your homes. I’ll speak to you in the morning David”, were his parting words. We were all just looking at each other like stunned mullets when a beautiful blonde girl walked in the door and asked “is this where the party is? I just saw some old bloke in the driveway and he told me there was no party here”. I never was welcome to spend the night at Montmorency from that time on. In fact getting up to mischief seemed to be one of our major pastimes in those days. Playing our own version of the 70s TV game show Blankety Blanks at the back of Miss Foley’s classroom, along with a whole lot of other students who were similarly uninterested in her class. She would be teaching away up the front while we boing ba doing boinged away at the back of the room with designated contestants, panel and somebody taking on the role of Graham Kennedy. As I recall, Year 9 was my obnoxious peak at school. We were in the army cadets which we felt we’d been tricked into. The recruiting films showed boys having a load of fun abseiling down cliffs, riding canoes down rivers and firing rifles. What we actually did was march and march and march around the school until our legs felt like they could no longer support us. And have to face the embarrassment of catching public transport home from school dressed in an army uniform. One day we were to have a weekend training day at Blackburn Lake. More marching, but this time in the rain and mud around the lake. At lunchtime we decided to go AWOL and instead went off to the nearby centrally heated Forest Hill shopping centre to get some food there and basically hang around in much drier and more relaxing surrounds. We had convinced the powers that be that we would be back in time for the resumption but in fact we were far too comfortable for that. We arrived back at the training ground more than an hour late. At which time we were unable to relocate our particular section. And so we waited for them. In ambush. Eventually as they made their way around the bushes and into our path we launched handfuls of mud at them, completely capturing them by surprise. Complete mayhem ensued as the section returned fire much to the chagrin of our platoon leader, the unfortunately named Sergeant Yapanis. Everybody was covered in mud. I ended up in the headmaster’s office for this event and was summarily booted out of the cadets. Dave and I used to regularly go to the Tempy pub on Thursday nights. I’m not sure how our parents let us out on school nights where were able to do that, but somehow they did. We would stay until closing time at 10pm and make our way home, sometimes inexplicably drawn towards the letterboxes that adorned the driveways of houses that we passed. I’ve had my letterbox destroyed on a couple of occasions by neighbourhood youth over the years. Each time it has brought a smile to my face as I have recognized karma knocking at my door.

Dave and I were in the same house together at school so we played a lot of house sport together. He was a fine athlete, winning the associated grammar schools 800m against all the other schools. We also learned to play golf together as part of school extra curricular activity. Dave still carries a scar from being hit in the head by an errant shot at one of our earlier lessons. We would often ride our bikes from Templestowe down to the Bulleen golf course with the buggies secured at the back, our clubs being pulled along behind as we rode. None of us were especially good at golf and always seemed to hit balls straight into the lake at the fifth hole. One day, sick of losing so many balls, we ended up giving golf the flick and instead waded into the lake to look for balls. We must have pulled out more than fifty golf balls, hiding behind the rocks, just peeking out the side as people would tee off. The extra pressure seemed to get to some people and they would drive the ball straight into the lake. If we found their ball, they were typically too embarrassed to admit that it was theirs.

To see Dave after such a long period of time was true delight. He just happened to be passing through Broome with his wife Catherine and three children Anna, Jack and Cate. They had taken their kids out of school for a term to go travelling around Australia, realising that this was an opportunity to spend more time together as a family before the kids grew up and moved on. Anna is the same age as Jaz. Jack is the same age as Finn. It all had a very familiar ring to it and seemed quite incredible that so long after seeing each other, Dave and I had met again as our unconventional chosen paths in life had intersected at the same point. It was a week before our eviction that we had met up. In fact it was later on in the night of running into Dave at the pub that I’d had the conversation with Marty where he asked me what our exit strategy was. So we had a perfect escape now to try and give Bridget and Marty the space they desired as we spent all of our time from that moment on with the Champions. The kids played in the pool together at the caravan park where they were staying. We watched the sunset and played night rounders on Cable Beach. The kids rode on camels while the parents had a drink and chat at the Sunset Bar. We had barbies. Drank beers. Laughed about some old times, old friends and our mutual disdain for Camberwell Grammar school. We talked about our current lives and aspirations and what was important to us now. Essentially we got on exactly the same as we always had and were both overjoyed at once again being acquainted. When we were finally given the shove from Marty and Bridget’s we just moved in to the caravan park where the Champions were. It made our landing much much softer than it would have otherwise been.

They have been travelling around Australia in the other direction to us in an enormous school bus that has been kitted out with beds, kitchen and all the essentials of a giant campervan. They’ve left Broome now and are down in Exmouth taking in the wonders of the Ningaloo Reef. We will shortly be continuing our own journey, heading east towards Darwin. When next we see each other it will likely be back in Victoria. The sooner, the better is the consensus among our family. It certainly will be a lot sooner than another 25 years. 

1 comment:

Anna said...

Thanks bud! You could have made more of the amazing feat it was for me to recognise you at all - I reckon your Mother would have had to take a second look with all that hair!