Asumpta_PONDERS

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my%20heritage

Small things in plans and schemes that are often overlooked can cause serious problems later on. Had Bert known there was instability on both sides of my family tree, he would have naturally twigged to the devil in the detail of my family history. Those years with him would have been made even more trying, probably impossible. He would have been even more surprised than I was as to the only member of my family he had regard for, being the one who might make his prediction come true, of what my fate would be if I left him.

On my paternal side: Dad had an uncle who threw himself out of a window in New York at the start of the Great Depression, on the collapse of the stock market. Dad himself had an inability to accept any social norm, in all likelihood due to him having been kept in a box after the death of his younger brother and more favoured son, from a fever and then, be literally given away until he was old enough to be of some use at home on the farm.

Grandfather, after the loss of his raven, curly haired favoured boy at the age of two, drank himself out of two clock-making business ventures in Dublin and then proceeded to drink himself out of another in a town, half an hour away by pony and trap from the small farm where he with his wife and her two brothers eventually ended up. Dad's mother, although appearing not to lack the ability to overcome many an obstacle, was also so inconsolable in grief at the loss of her youngest son. She had no time for any boy afterwards and when her grandchildren came into the world, would only allow the girls into her parlour to be served rare delicacies; such as small bottles of lemonade and packet biscuits.

As my story will tell, my maternal grandfather broke the promise he made to his wife before she died at the age of thirty six of TB, the disease she had always dreaded. The final days of the grandmother I never knew, were spent in her counting the bank notes kept under the bed, because banks were not trusted in those days. It wasn't so much because of such a strange activity so close to death that it was said she had lost her mind, as this deduction was rather arrived at due to these notes first being counted one way up and then the other, which to her, doubled the amount there actually was.

Denaby_Main

There were six boys and three girls; the oldest was Patsy who was a year my senior. Michael was next and eighteen months my junior. Michael was followed by Seamus, or Shylock as he would be referred to by me in later years. Then came Marcus followed by Eamonn and then another girl, Marie-Pacelli. Celli, as she became known, was ten years my junior and named after Pius XII, Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, a Pope of the forties and fifties. Gerard was born two years after Celli and John four years later. Seventeen years now separated the oldest from the youngest and all but Celli had Irish names or were named after Saints.

What I had been christened, Asumpta Mary, held special significance as I was born on the date Our Lady rose into heaven, the feast of the Assumption. It would take events of later years for me to question if the date of my birth played its part in the situation I was to eventually became involved in.

Even though I was over forty in 1990, I would still ask myself many times afterwards, if what occurred was due to the conditioning in my youth, due to the misfortune of being born on one of the holiest days in the Catholic calendar. Or had Bert been pretty much on the money as to what my life without him would deliver. Maybe he was also correct in often stating over the years, that I was falsely generous by nature and had a giveaway mentality.

My parents had been in search of a better existence on arriving in the coalfields of South Yorkshire from New Ross, Wexford, Ireland in 1948. It would appear as they set sail for the Land of Opportunity seventeen years later, they had finally succeeded in their quest.

In the mining community they were leaving, unlike the majority who had inherited their place in the smog, they had managed to buy a house, a car, and even a caravan; this achievement saying as much about how judiciously Ma saved as it did about how hard Dad worked.

The church was a five minute walk up the hill past tenements from where our home stood on the main road. The Church was packed every Sunday and Holy Day and served to make me feel very important every 15th of August.

Dad was the only Catholic we knew who was never seen inside the church but his children would be there with his wife every Sunday. His wife, whenever possible, would also be there every morning and back again for Benediction on Sunday evenings.

Dad had no time for religion and was never at home either when his wife would get her children to kneel and say the Rosary, as she told them; a family which prayed together stays together; that the love of money was the root of all evil; that it was harder for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven than it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle; to never a lender nor a borrower be and to never take back with the left hand what is given with the right.

It was when Ma was away at Mass and Dad had coinciding breaks from shifts in the mines that he would take whatever frustrations were associated with his lot, out on his children. It was when his wife was away praying for their eternal salvation that seeming delight was taken by Dad in cancelling this effort by setting one of the children against the other in any perverse way to be found.

It was never the wish of my parents to go back to Ireland on a permanent basis. The climes of green fields and clean air were only to be returned to for holidays. The family I had been born into was fortunate in other ways too, when compared to the majority of children in our mining village, who never went anywhere. With three times as many children than in most households, not only did my parents trip off with their brood on a regular basis to a caravan kept at the seaside in the Morris Mini bus but with family connections still back in the Old Country, travelling across the Irish sea on many an occasion was considered by us as just part of our normal existence.

After seventeen years spent in the coalfields, when the time finally arrived to step onto the soil of an adopted land, where the sun shone regardless of the season, there was little doubt my parents had come to a better place. In comparison to the oppressive, damp, sooty village left behind, Australia wasn't only a sunny frontier but offered the promise of a new beginning.

australia

And so it was with a clear blue sky stretching from one horizon to the other that my parents looked to a more rosy future overlooking, with the optimism of children, the baggage they had brought with them. By 1990, as a related group of eleven, there had been few ups and downs with any turmoil experienced put down to Dad being unable to adapt to the light after leaving the dark of the mines.

The grog, which was an accepted part of the culture into which we had arrived no doubt had a part to play in the decline of his optimistic purpose, but looking for solace in the local club could have had as much to do with the church still being within reasonable reach of his wife. Consequently, as Dad went off on his daily jaunt to the club and Ma trod a hot dusty road in the opposite direction, it wasn't long after arriving in the land of milk and honey that the dream of a new tomorrow began its descent toward reality.

Other than neither parent being able to make the required adjustment if a better existence was to be realized, little else occurred after arriving in the sun, of a serious enough nature, to result in any permanent distancing between the nine other family members.

Come 1990, however, the first crack in this regard appeared and when it did, the descent was to overtake any previous harmony amongst siblings. Eventually the Murphy clan would split into two opposing camps. This unfortunate outcome was in one way or another linked to my parting company with Bert.

Of six brothers, Michael takes up most input in my tale with Seamus and Eamonn coming in equal second. In regards to my sisters, more is said of Celli than Patsy and of my parents, only Dad held no surprises.

BERT

With the passage of time, and now married, we had been a two car family for three years by 1987, the year we inspected the house resembling a snake pit. The reason for this description of the third house within my marriage was that not only did it lay down a steep drive with its L shaped, flat asbestos roof visible from the road alone but the inside was how I imagined a snake pit would be, claustrophobic, unsettling and smelly. It was upon viewing this house that the thought of ripping up stained carpets and ridding walls of gaudiness, with a man I could no longer abide, only increased my resolve to shake free of him at the first opportunity.

The present owners of the house we were inspecting had a fifteen year old cat, Stinky, which explained the stench to greet us when first invited through the front door. Well aware odours could be got rid of along with diabolical designs, it was something other than aesthetics I was confronted by.

The house we had been viewing had been on the market for ten months and this was for no other reason than its obvious ugliness. Beyond the cold cement surrounds and the lack of any street value, this house did have a saving grace. This saving grace wasn't to be passed over lightly as at the back of the house, through large sixties-style aluminium windows, was an expansive view of the golf course, the course Bert always played on.

It had been the golf club, of which this house had a bird's eye view, where Bert first became aware of it: this stark, solid residence coming to his attention because, the golf club was where, in desperation, the owners had begun to advertise. Since nobody for ten months seemed interested in bringing the day closer when the ageing couple, along with, Stinky the cat, could retire to the coast, the net had been widened to include what beforehand had been overlooked.

I remember Bert not being able to believe his luck in finding a larger house than the one in which we had lived unhappily for eight years; with a view thrown in for little more than he would get for the Californian bungalow, where too, renovations had long been finished. Bert was so intent on securing the Snake Pit in fact that referring to me as;The Catholic Irish woman; even ceased.

Both signatures were required for the purchase of the Snake Pit and the fact it even had an ensuite had been enough to see the old ways of Bert go into a queer sort of reverse. The ensuite he was so impressed with was at the back of the house along with the view and the main bedroom.

As both these rooms had walls slanting at odd angles, due to not having been built with proper design in mind, their existence not only detracted from the external appeal but on the inside the ensuite was also a step higher than the floor where the bed sat.

It was as if some builder had said to the previous occupants: Right, we can do this job one of two ways, we can give you an extra bedroom and an ensuite in a week which will be a tenth the cost of it taking a deal longer in levelling the area. The choice is yours. Thus, an irresistible decision had been placed in the hands of the couple then in their fifties.

This slapstick approach seemed a pity because the area of the house so obviously tacked on, interfered with the rear of the building to such a degree that any potential buyer as impressed with the view as Bert was, would only have had to turn around to be given enough reason for a re-think.

Bert was so excited at this bonanza having fallen into his lap that his behaviour toward me even took a turn for the better. He was so beyond noticing the ugliness apparent to anyone else, perhaps the mellowing of this Yorkshire-man, simply amounted to him finally finding his castle in the Antipodes.

And perhaps also, in Bert always classing Australians as; a nation of morons, it had come as little surprise to find the opportunity he saw had been missed by those reared in 'the arse hole of the universe'. It was easy to see why, knowing him as well as I did, that a house built like a fortress by a German bricklayer in 1956, with not a blade of grass or flower anywhere near it, had appealed to Bert.

The fact that the Snake Pit was minus any street value, with him being in the architectural trade, this could be seen to later. The sheer drop when you stepped out back was no problem either, as with the youngest of our children then four, any visitors younger than this would be my concern.

When we moved into the Snake Pitt, the 1981 Toyota wagon had been mine for a year. Bert was now driving a BMW with sunroof and appeared to be in his seventh heaven, driving this car down a steep drive with the breeze ruffling what few dark curls he had left, toward a garage, rather than just off the road into a car port. I had never noticed Bert be concerned with his image before, but the new navy gold buttoned blazer and sunglasses couldn't be ignored. Pathetic, is what I thought, as I watched him become more like a Lord of the Castle than a husband.

The euphoria Bert exhibited after first moving to the Snake Pit was, as expected, to fade fast. It was as well I had been prepared for this, otherwise I would have been left disappointed. Acquiring a residence more like a stronghold than a house, had the street in which it stood been in the path of a grade five cyclone, it would have been the only building left standing.

Although referring to me as 'The Catholic Irish woman' was never to return, it was only a matter of time until the seeming need for insult turned once more toward my first family. There had been a resentment held by Bert toward anyone related to me from the day we wed, which I could never understand, as beforehand he had always been a willing participant in any gatherings held. With Bert having only a sister and brother both back in Yorkshire, twelve thousand miles away, it had been assumed that part of his interest in marrying me was to acquire an instant extended family. I was to find even more so, how wrong this assumption had been when our first child came along.

It was then Bert said, in a not exactly light-hearted fashion, that he had allowed his pure Anglo-Saxon blood to become contaminated.

So far as family loyalties went, those years with Bert were spent not knowing which way to jump to achieve an existence where my kin could come and go without the necessity to defend them just as soon as they left. ‘Thought they would never leave’, was the comment made by Bert after the first family gathering held by us not long after marrying. At the time of this comment, as he was collecting empty beer cans from around the house, before throwing them back into the cartons in which they had arrived. I had seen the humour in what had been said. However, like anything not nipped in the bud when it should be, his asides had been let become too much part of our marriage before I stopped laughing.

We had gone to these larger premises in the summer; the renovations began just as soon as the weather turned cooler and I had only needed to walk in through the back door one day from having been out lunching, which at the time there wasn't anything unusual about, to be greeted by bricks and debris from one end of the kitchen/dining area to the other.

Not to have been consulted was of no matter anymore, as instead of walking over the old vinyl tiles as expected, I just needed to take a few steps higher. It made no difference that the renovations in this house had been undertaken in the same way as in the last, or the one before that. I had lost as much interest in what the house I now lived in ended up looking like as I already had in the man dismantling it.

Maybe Bert read the look on my face because I said nothing in stepping over piles of rubble on my way past where he stood, wielding a pickaxe, as the words following me were: ''What have you got to complain about, you have got the life of Riley, car to drive around in, roof over your head and nothing to do but sit on your arse all day''. Workmen came and went after that, and for whatever purpose they were there, I was just counting down the days until I wasn't.

For years later I would always be reminded of the words spoken by Bert when, after being informed I had no intention, come what may, of living out my life with him, he said: “You will never survive out there if you leave as it will be that family of yours who will get all my money’. Had at that point the word my been replaced by the word our, it would have made all the difference. As this wasn't to be and as the growing distance between Bert and myself appeared to only be of concern to me, then it was up to no one else but me to find a path toward a future less predictably destructive.

This most derisive comment made so far against my kin was the cause of me moving my things out of the master bedroom and into the spare room down the hall and to stop speaking to Bert altogether. If nothing else, this would allow the space needed for him to understand what he was in danger of losing. However, upon returning the next day to my old room to check if I had left anything behind, I was to understand for the first time that the angst within this marriage did not just belong to me. Why else would the Bert array of expensive Houndstooth jackets and highly polished shoes already be taking up the space in the wardrobe where my bargain buys had once been, only a day before?

This action alone said all there was to say that the parting of the ways was getting closer, which I wasn't surprised about. But where would I go? I mean, it was one thing wanting to see the last of Bert, but quite another when confronted with the difficulties this freedom would involve. Of course at that point I made the customary request of asking Bert to move out, but predictably he was ready with a retort to floor me: "If anyone is going anywhere Sumpt", he always shortened my name in this way which he knew I hated, "it is going to be you." What was I to do from there? Having already visited a solicitor who could do no more than send a letter to Bert regarding my intentions, which he ignored and minus any means of my own, there really wasn't anything I could do but wait longer than I already had, for that elusive opportunity to escape.

Not all my six brothers were in his immediate firing line. The two youngest, most likely because he rarely set eyes on them, he said were okay. But along with the four remaining brothers, neither of my sisters were his cup of tea, both receiving their fair share of flack in one way or another; Bert going so far on one occasion to take his gripes further than my ears by suggesting to Ma, of all people, that her youngest daughter, Celli, should be taken out and shot, an indiscretion he was lucky not to have been banged over the head with a frying pan for, in me noting Ma's hurt expression.

Apart from my two younger brothers, both Dad and Ma were also lucky enough to escape any actual maligning, Ma, even claiming the only accolade given by Bert to those considered by me as family; Your mother is a very intelligent woman, is what he said one day right out of the blue, which was enough, back in the days of the Californian bungalow, for me to hope his attitude was turning to march in a more amiable direction.

This wasn't to be. I think with the day then upon us when the house with its view and cement surrounds was going begging, that what had been said of Ma, even though it was impossible for anyone to consider her stupid in any shape or form, could have simply amounted to Bert covering his arse to ensure purchase of the Castle.

While living in this third house of my marriage which I had agreed to go to with little doubt it would be a repeat of what had been experienced previously, it was on hearing in all seriousness of the suggestion by Bert, it would be that family of mine who would get all his money if I left, my initial upset was replaced by despondency. As the months then passed I tried to recall any meaningful conversation held with Bert. In none coming to mind, I may not have been thankful for this at the time but the day would eventually arrive when I would be.

Over twenty years on I would be very grateful indeed for the lack of communication between us. Otherwise Bert would have had more to go on than his own observations when it came to those in whom the same blood flowed as in me.

Had Bert ever shown any interest in my family, rather than lump most of them into the category of; 'mad buggers', which was generally how he viewed the Irish, then maybe he would have twigged to the devil in the detail of my family history and been given more than a suspicion of what would happen to his funds if I left him.

When the clouds of 1990 began to gather, the reference made to what would happen to his money if I left him, was the only effort made on his part in swaying me to remain. It would be after the discovery of funds, not in our regular bank, and only in his name, that this would further serve to be of help in me confirming my true value.

The opportunity to change my destiny came in 1989. Patsy, who was my senior by a year, had been making regular mention of our brother Michael. Her husband, Ian, an accountant, who worked for a large building company had apparently said, he knew just the guy, when this company was in need of a Sydney agent to handle the office furniture components coming out of the factory it owned across the Tasman. I had heard Michael was now in warehousing but this was as much as I knew of what had happened to him in the two years since he worked for his father-in-law who, coincidentally, also owned an office furniture factory.

Ian described Michael as a man of vision and Patsy admired his style. It was difficult to begin with for me to view Michael in any other way but how I remembered him as an eleven year old, as he would bet on two flies crawling up a wall then, just as much as I figured he would now.

At the tender age of eleven, Michael also had more ambition than to end up down the Pit like his dad, and so, when recruiters for the Priesthood came to his classroom with promises of him playing football every day and being fed three square meals along with receiving a good education, to then ask of twenty or so pre-pubescent males: "which of you boys think they might have a vocation?" He was thought of by me to have been more expedient than holy in being one of the two to put his hand up.

Regardless of what had been said by Bert about my family, I never admitted to him that little other than a few physical characteristics were held in common with any of them, or that my younger brother by eighteen months was any exception to this rule.

In 1989, I was as convinced as ever I had been that had we remained on the farm in Ireland and not gone to the coalfields of England, I would have been the one left behind while the rest went off to greener pastures to become carpetbaggers or priests. When visitors came to call they would have asked: "Who is that out there in the far field with a yoke on their shoulders?" Either of my parents would have answered, "Oh that is just Sumpta, where would we be without her at all, at all".

I would have spent my life weighed down by buckets had we not gone further afield, never to marry and never to know of the possibilities when it came to family in a future far removed.

The relationship I had with Patsy in 1989 had long lost the automatic worship of an older sibling, as it was when we were both in our early twenties, three years after arriving in Australia, that I heard her say to Ma: "I wish I had a proper mother". Clearly something of a serious nature must have occurred beforehand for this to be said, but even so, such a statement just wouldn't do.

At the time Pasty was baled up against the hall wall with Ma pointing a finger at her face. Never before had I witnessed Ma behave toward any of her children in such a way, what had gone on? Just as soon as I appeared in the hallway that morning, Pasty brushed past me without a word and Ma disappeared into her bedroom where moments later she could be heard weeping.

It had been expected that either from the Patsy perspective or that of Ma, some explanation for what had taken place would come my way. The days turned into months, then years with neither party saying anything. It was more unusual not to have been informed had Patsy been wronged. There was nowhere else to lay the blame for the first time I ever heard my mother weep but at the feet of Patsy.

It would only be on meeting up again with the boy friend I had at that time, an event which took place six years after parting company with Bert that a 'possible' explanation of this altercation emerged. I say 'possible' because come 1996, I was too mortified by what Ross revealed at that time to immediately think the incident he spoke of tied in with the first time I ever heard my mother weep. It was hours afterwards the penny was to drop.

During the seventeen years I was married to Bert, Patsy had been given cause to be confident about her marriage when comparing it to mine: "Gee", she would say, "Ian would never say anything like that! How can you stand it?" Ian, with a far more subdued nature than Bert would have pulled his pants down in the street if his wife asked him, but in those days as I still had an image of myself in a far paddock weighed down by buckets, it was beyond me to respond in the way I wanted to by inquiring of my sister: "How can you stand being married to a man like that?"

It was during the social gatherings to follow the predictable upheaval between Michael and his wife, Genevieve, on being invited to make up the required foursome by Patsy, whenever Michael was on the scene, that it felt as though I was being introduced to him for the first time. The occasion to remain in my mind more than any other, so far as these gatherings went, was when I joined the three of them at a Spanish restaurant in the heart of the city. There Michael was, twenty five years after kissing goodbye to his priestly vocation, telling his fellow diners of the hot affair he had been having with his secretary in the latter years he had worked for his father-in-law. It was in considering the efforts made by Patsy to befriend Genevieve over the previous fifteen years that it came as some surprise to find this news did nothing to dampen any of the regard held for Michael by her. Before I witnessed firsthand why Michael was held in such esteem by both Patsy and Ian, not one word of detriment was uttered against him by either of them. Over the months to follow I would learn what working for the father of Genevieve had involved.   genevieve
And this late discovery was due to nothing more than the woman Michael married holding as much objection as Bert did to the in-laws, just as soon as she too took the marital whip in hand. After marrying Genevieve, Michael was basically in cow-towing mode and as a consequence of him having become a toady to beat me hands down, any sightings of him had been few and far between.

My personal experience of married life gave me some insight into what Michael must have been going through, though it has to be said, I never saw that much worth hanging onto in my marriage to Bert that I would have made an actual door mat of myself. But then it wasn't known that Michael had an objective and that he was willing to pay whatever price was needed to get to wherever he saw himself going.

Ignorant of the Michael objective throughout the years he was married to Genevieve, I was rather struck in Bert having missed out on his perfect match in life, as his union with Genevieve would have seen two people living out the same fantasy of being a gift to mankind. So far as I could see the two of them suited each other perfectly, as both had been blessed with the lowest form of wit, were of Anglo Saxon origin and saw themselves, for reasons escaping anyone else, as a cut above the general riff raff.

Anyway, it was this view which made it difficult to understand, considering the opinion Patsy had of Bert, that she ever thought a Genevieve friendship was winnable, and more so, why she had gone to the lengths she had for fifteen years to acquire a friend nobody in their right mind would have wanted anything to do with? This is only my opinion of course, but then I never liked Genevieve since the first time I met her and in more recent times have been given cause to understand why this might have been.

In being informed by Michael as to his married life, needless to say, I wasn't surprised. But this lack of surprise was also due to the sense of unease when even first hearing about Genevieve. In 1976 Bert and I had returned to his home town in Yorkshire for a spell when a letter arrived from Patsy. It had been after reading a two page account of how perfect the lady was who had been introduced to her by Michael that I remember saying to Bert: "Nobody is that good".

My reaction had nothing to do with a well mannered, well educated, well spoken, attractive, etc, lady finding Michael irresistible. My cynicism was due to the Patsy view of people and mine being very different. Consequently, without ever having set eyes on Genevieve, I was prepared to find there had been a few omissions in the glowing description Patsy had of Genevieve. So, when Bert and I arrived back in Australia later the same year to be met at the airport by the gang, including Genevieve, even though there appeared nothing sinister behind the broad welcoming smile of the lady hanging onto the arm of Michael, I did not immediately accept I had been jumping to unwarranted conclusions and held onto my reservations.

Esday-Witts was the hyphenated surname of the family Michael was soon to marry into. Unlike Michael, who was a migrant and of Southern Irish heritage, automatically Catholic, Genevieve hailed from a family of born- again Christians who were also fourth generation Australians of Anglo Saxon origin!

Genevieve was the only girl among four boys and the only one still living with her parents when, the whole lot of us, including our children and spouses turned up at the family home of the Esday-Witts for the engagement party. The difference between the two families became apparent immediately. The scene we were greeted by would best be described as ; genteel.

Two long trestle tables with spotless white cloths had been set up in the grounds of a respectable two storey brick residence, clearly reserved for us, whilst close by was a smaller round table that the soon to be in-laws would occupy. We had driven into an established tree lined street in an area of Sydney where such a discovery was a rarity and the house we were visiting sat on the top of a hill overlooking more down at heel fibro residences much like the one we had moved into when first arriving in Australia which, twelve years on in our case, now appeared more like a hillbilly encampment.

The family Michael was marrying into, who normally kept themselves to themselves, leading a sober existence, had clearly done their best to accommodate their future son-in-laws family. While we got on with what we did best; smoking, eating the food provided and laughing raucously as the wine brought along to celebrate the occasion was swallowed, they demurely poured tea from a floral china pot into matching crockery. Ma was the only one who appeared to be misplaced, as she like the Esday-Witts did not drink or smoke; was of a religious bent and conducted herself in the same dignified way they did.

It would be at this party I would learn Patsy was to be the only attendant at the upcoming nuptials and that, surprisingly, for a lady who did not get out much, Genevieve had been engaged before. It was this second encounter with the fiancee of Michael that my initial cynicism of her would return, as considering the many charms of Genevieve, why were we and the other members of her family the only ones there? It may have been hard to imagine a greater contrast between two families but I had thought anyone could rake-up a few acquaintances when the occasion was called for.

The area where the Esday-Witts house stood on a hill removed from the hoi-polloi was largely made up of non-English speaking migrants. I was watching Patsy fawning over Genevieve and wondered, if those present at the previous engagement party of Genevieve, were of better ilk than we Murphys? Nothing was ever known about the other intended of Genevieve and nor was anything known of the level of desperation to marry, in this friendless young woman going on twenty four.

At this time, in never having utilized that good education received whilst training for the Priesthood, Michael was working as a Production Controller in a factory, making car exhaust systems and driving taxis at weekends. And it was one Friday evening when driving taxis that he chanced upon his future wife. It was after collecting Genevieve from the train station in one of Sydney's more ordinary suburbs, he soon found himself more interested in the young woman sitting beside him than he was in the fare due. And this instant attraction on his part appeared to be mutual, as five minutes after arriving at the top of a hill, Genevieve was in no hurry to leave the cab and remained seated, chatting away oblivious to the fares her driver could be missing out on.

It was as the two of them became better acquainted, Michael learned the street he had driven into, Esday Place, bore the same name as his passenger. It was then also when he became aware the father of his passenger owned a furniture factory which had been in this family for now two generations. It wasn't long after this first encounter with Genevieve when she was taken to meet the member of the Murphy family who would best impress, which is what led to the letter received from Patsy with a glowing description of Genevieve, when Bert and I were staying for a spell in his home town in Yorkshire.

Biding his time after he and Genevieve were wed, which would explain the necessity to make an actual doormat of himself, Michael continued to work as a Production Controller and drive taxis at weekends. His bed-sit in an inner city suburb was sold when the first child was due, to be replaced by an average three bedroom house much further away. It would be in an outer suburb of Sydney that he and Genevieve would remain for the following few years. It wouldn't be until Michael could prove he was the epitome of soberness that his stripes as a suitable son-in-law could be earned and the connotations going hand in glove with his surname, forgiven.

Michael was finally welcomed into the fold of office furniture in 1980 and even though this had taken longer than expected after first meeting Genevieve, the four years already spent married to her had shown he had been blessed with the patience he would need in the years to come.

Michael was still driving taxis at weekends and during the week learning all there was to know about office furniture, his only draw-back in the eyes of the Esday-Witts was that he still smoked, but this was tolerated just so long as he did not smoke inside the house or factory and otherwise did as he was told. Complying with the rules set out, a Michael change of face was only astounding to anyone who knew him before marrying, as he now enjoyed the occasional glass of wine with dinner rather than be seen holding a carton of beer on his shoulder. He got up in the night to change nappies and feed babies as opposed to playing cards in the local pub.

It was in 1983 when he hit on an idea to transform the office furniture business. This had, once again, taken longer than expected, but Michael was now on his way finally as it was his intention to enter his design of an ergonomic desk to be considered for an Australian Design Award. It would take another year before he won the award he had been aiming for but meanwhile, as the design of this desk was already complete, he secured a contract from the Federal Government for its Australia-wide distribution. Around the same time he also secured a contract for another desk he had designed specifically for Telecom, packaged in a carton. It automatically followed as the demand for these desks grew, much larger factory premises were needed, which Michael delegated to his father-in-law and the Management Team Michael put in place.

Other than the need now for a secretary, Shirley, among the other new staff was a younger brother of Genevieve who, although it was sensed couldn't be trusted in that this former school teacher had a shifty look about him, if building this business wasn't to appear to have been selfishly motivated, then it was paramount that a descendent of the origins of the factory, younger than Michael, be in situ. Only after this was achieved could he freely position himself at the head of the boardroom table dictating what others should be doing, without what had been accomplished being interpreted as engineered toward his own ends.

Finally, for the first time in thirteen years, Michael no longer drove taxis at weekends as what had been envisaged when first meeting Genevieve had come to pass and he could now move the family, consisting of three boys at that stage, to a far grander house, in a far better suburb, easily affording to triple his mortgage. He would no longer be in his father-in-laws employ either, as rather than make any of the expected demands he opted instead to start, independently, the trucking side of the operation to become a business in itself. As his desks then rolled off the production line to be collected by white trucks with WITTS ERGONOMIC FURNITURE emblazoned in red on the sides, all that was left to complete the polished look of this new enterprise was to ensure the drivers wore matching red uniforms; a requirement to present a slight snag when the drivers complained that other truckers were laughing at them because they looked like tampons; to which a Michael initiative was to wear one of these uniforms himself, reminding him of his footballing days.

And so it would be for the following three years whilst dressed in red, Michael sat at the head of the boardroom table and otherwise oversaw the continuing production of his desks without any recognition for what had been achieved, or beyond what his trucks were earning, any further monetary recompense. This was until the day came when his mother-in-law stood beside him and in dignified tones said; "I think that is where my husband should be sitting".

By this time, due to the diligence employed in putting this whole shebang together, there was simply no further need of him. Ousted, Michael went back to the house with a high mortgage to complain about what had taken place to Genevieve who, understanding exactly where her loyalties lay, phoned her parents to come and rescue her from the sheer fury she was confronted by after Michael put his foot through one of the internal walls beneath the roof costing him so dearly. They came, and as Michael sat smoking by the pool, he was approached by his father-in-law: "I want you to step aside and let me run the business unhindered", was what Michael said, between puffs, adding; ''I will look after your son''. Well, that was that.

While he had not been screaming about whose effort had been responsible for this factory being far removed from what it once was, or suggesting what he might claim by way of remuneration, after officially becoming boss, those few seconds in time dictated he had done far worse. That afternoon, not only had the control over the production of the desks he had designed been lost. In having had the gall to intimate that the youngest member of this born-again Christian family - with the shifty look, was in need of his protection, Michael would find the following morning that the transportation of his desks was now to be shared with another freight company. All Michael was left with after his father-in-law marched off in high- dudgeon that afternoon, were the lease payments of five large trucks and the memory of being told by the man who had needed his wife to speak for him a few hours earlier, that he would never amount to anything.

In knowing Michael now much better than I once did, it was second nature to him not to spend a moment dwelling on the past and to immediately begin scouring the phone book seeking out how his trucks could otherwise be employed. Of course these trucks would first need to be repainted and his drivers dress as they chose, but hey, whatever the previous day held, there was always a tomorrow! Michael and his search went through the business directory in A to end with success in B, procuring work for a pittance compared to past rewards. His trucks were at least to be once again on the road, delivering goods for Big W, a group of Department stores.

It had been two years before those social gatherings with my sister and her husband when it felt I was being introduced to Michael for the first time, that Michael had been left high and dry in having no further input into the manufacture or delivery of his desks and had become desperate enough to deliver goods for no more than to keep his drivers employed. In 1987 something needed to change, and it needed to change fast with the bank banging on his door for overdue mortgage repayments.


Necessity being the mother of invention, it wasn't long before Michael approached the headquarters of Big W and told the GM of Warehousing and Distribution that he had come up with an idea whereby their country deliveries could be handled more cheaply and efficiently. The proposition put forward involved those goods being sent to far flung areas and that they should be delivered in pallet lots instead of by a continuous stream of couriers. This would mean Consolidation of such stock in a warehouse and from there, goods destined for Dubbo etc, be loaded in pallet form only, at greatly reduced freight rates. Michael also designed a fool proof manifest system which would keep track of any goods entering or leaving his imagined warehouse.

To the utter joy of Michael, his idea was instantly sold and he was told that if the present Big W expenditure was cut he would never lose the business. In no time at all this new venture was up and running as all there was to be done was to acquire the funds needed and to re-mortgage his house through his bank manager mate.

For reasons of volume needed to make the operation viable, the GM suggested larger premises with the intention of the work now to include Consolidation of Container Stock destined for ALL stores. The GM seconded two good blokes to oversee operations from within his own Organisation, so that Big W protocols were ensured.

Both these blokes were seconded on the promise of better pay, and other than these men, who wore tank tops and shorts as a kind of uniform, also employed were a dozen Malay youths and a Girl Friday. Michael and the Girl Friday occupied one of the two offices above the warehouse floor, with the other reserved for the ex-employees of Woolworths who, when not flicking through filing cabinets or on the phone, were otherwise engaged on the warehouse floor giving directions to the twelve youths who did the donkey work, increasing in number as the work blossomed.

The warehouse was huge and piled high in the section closest to large roller doors were cardboard cartons sitting on pallets. These cartons, having been sorted, wrapped in plastic and appropriately labelled, were loaded onto waiting trucks with the fork-lift and destined for stores in a much more organised fashion than before.


To begin with there wasn't anything official about me being there as I was just interested in witnessing how well Michael had survived after his experience with the Esday-Witts, and to also discover what he was now doing to be held in such esteem by my sister and her husband. On first being introduced to the boys and the lass working in the office, I was simply the sister, nothing for any of them to feel threatened by.

Michael and I, both now in the same marital boat would just be going off for lunch or dinner somewhere. It was during these outings I was given clearer insight into the work he was doing for the furniture factory in New Zealand and why this Sydney business had seemed ideally structured to take on the extra work suggested by Ian. It was during this time Michael also thought to compare the attraction he had for Shirley to that of Genevieve: Shirley, he said was a very sensual woman who possessed the ability to show him a wow of a time and had been worth every penny it had cost him to keep her in a luxury pad overlooking Botany Bay during the time they worked together, whilst all Genevieve was in possession of was a father who owned a furniture factory.

It had occurred to me when first hearing the details of Michael leaving the employ of his father-in-law, that somehow the hot affair with Shirley was known about, but this couldn't have been as it was eight months after Shirley had left the Company, and the flat she had been provided with, that Michael had sat beside the pool puffing on cigarettes while delivering his demands. And further confirmation to this belief, is that surely if the patriarch of this born-again Christian family had known about Shirley, then wouldn't 'fornicator' have served better to put Michael back in his box than telling him he would never amount to anything?

The Girl Friday who had been with Michael for the eighteen months Michael had been operating, was due to leave his employ, on my being introduced to her. It would be at those soirees held beforehand with my brother that I would first learn of the existence of tax stamps and that a leased Ford Laser was to be driven by this girl after she left in lieu of the tax stamps she was owed. I am already feeling nervous early in 1990 upon hearing that a car had been traded in such a way, but in this matter being treated in the scant regard it was by Michael, what would I know?

In the only job since the children came along spent as a bush regenerator, it was by the middle of 1990 that I would find myself weeding one day and spending the next punching the data of goods entering and leaving the warehouse into a computer. By then there was a need of me as the Girl Friday had left and my brother spent his time securing the sale of the furniture components arriving from New Zealand on an ever increasing basis. No arrangement with regard usual employment was made, as after all the outings we had been on together, it was more or less clear, both brother and sister were working in the best interest of each other.


Not until I was clearing the bush one day and fending off creditors the next, due to cheques bouncing, did the necessity arise to make the position held at that warehouse more full time, four hours per day. And this was due to the final confirmation of what Michael was always up against when it came to the family he had married into. Upon him contacting the bank, it was discovered that Genevieve, since separated from, as a co-director of Dandolene, the name of the company for whom I now worked, had withdrawn the funds from any account to which her name was attached.

Michael was also told by the new bank manager who had overseen this transaction that his wife had been accompanied by her father. This revelation wouldn't have seemed so bad had Genevieve not been calling in weekly, with the broad smile now gone, to collect the mammoth payment toward the upkeep of herself and four boys. And of further concern was that had the previous friendly bank manager still been at the branch of the Commonwealth Bank where the Company account was held, and not as word had it, suffered a nervous breakdown, to be replaced by one with no personality, then when Genevieve and her father appeared, some warning of what was to take place would have been received.

It could only be assumed that on an occasion such as this, a personal approach to alert the Proprietor of a business, to prevent a pending avalanche of bouncing cheques, wasn't part of bank policy. Mind you, from what was known to date of Michael dealing with the past manager, it could well have been that no more special treatment would be coming his way because the present manager attributed what had befallen his predecessor to not sticking to the book, especially where those like Michael were concerned. Whatever the reason as to why there had been no notification of what had occurred around a week earlier, there wasn't anything to be done after this unexpected and devastating blow but change the name of the Company and install a new director.

It had taken only a few months after Michael and Genevieve finally parted company for this unfathomable event to take place. Genevieve had not only been appearing on a weekly basis to receive her regular payment beforehand, but was still living in the house Michael had vacated in the full knowledge that her parents were now wealthy, thanks to his previous endeavour. What Michael, once again being involved in office furniture, had to do with this dastardly act clearly sanctioned by his former father-in-law isn't known. One would have needed to be a fly on the wall when the plot to bring Michael further undone was hatched, for it to be confirmed there was a fear abroad among the Esday-Witts dynasty, of losing the lucrative production of the desks that won the Australian Design Award, which eventually did happen.

Contract Distribution Systems would now be where I worked. With this new Company devoid of funds, it would be up to the new director to make good some of what Genevieve and her father had taken. Enter at that point the ex-secretary of Hot Affair fame who was now referred to by Michael as a show pony. Shirley, who now worked as the General Manager of a football club had developed an air of superiority in the three years since Michael had last seen her. Unaware of the opinion now held of her, Shirley seemed only too keen to extend her horizons in making a financial contribution and to see her name in print as Director of this seemingly thriving Company.

Unbeknown to me, was an ambition my brother had, to actually purchase the factory in New Zealand. The emergence of a new director and what was paid for this honour only went part way to delivering the funds required.


Michael elected to open an Account at the NAB. He thought this would deliver a new lease of life and his previous dealings with the Commonwealth Bank could be buried - just as soon as the NAB saw the amount being paid by Big W into his business each week, they wouldn't hesitate in giving the new kid on the block an instant overdraft against the security of the holiday house of his mother, without notion that a manager elsewhere had been on such friendly terms with his client and that this friendly Manager had recently taken an early retirement option, given the stress associated with his lot.

It was upon this NAB errand I was sent, and the fact I returned with negative feedback not long after meant no more to me than if I had been sent down to the local store for something they had sold out of.

Until then, being in the employ of my brother had passed fairly uneventfully. The trips across the Tasman may have been on the increase but, as Michael often said, running this warehousing business was a piece of piss. It wasn't until Genevieve took the company funds and the hot secretary, cum show pony, came on board that any major wrinkle appeared. I am at that stage beginning to wonder how the funds invested in Contract Distribution Systems (CDS) were to be recouped by this woman who may have had - show pony, written all over her but was obviously not as clued up as she should have been.

To start with, no role had been created for Shirley in the business. She would bring her mother up to the glass box in which I now sat for the two of them to make a decision as to what colour the nicotine stained walls in the two offices should be painted. Neither of them asked any questions about the business and barely acknowledged my presence. Other than suspecting it had been the mother who had put up the required funds, I had no idea why I was placed in the background. Was it because being inclusive of me might have diminished their new found status, or because they were as unsure as I was as to the actual arrangement, so far as their airy fairy investment with my brother went.

The Sydney business should have been, in my estimation after only a few days of working there, of far more importance than the one taking Michael on too regular a basis across the Tasman. But, in the scheme of things at the time, once again, what would I know? Any fears held at that early stage were placed to one side as with both the faith of Pasty and Ian in what Michael was embarking upon remaining undiminished, it was a natural flow-on for me to think they must know more than I did. Regardless of any other influence though, the fact was, I admired the resilience of Michael after what he had already endured whist working in office furniture previously and if the available space in the warehouse not utilized for the work done for Big W was available for some other purpose, then I was one of the last to put a spoke in this ambition.

The time had arrived for Michael to attend a Family Court deliberation to sort out what Genevieve should secure by way of a Marriage Settlement. Well, I am not sure what the Esday-Witts thought there was to be claimed as the house was all there was, and bought in 1987, thanks to the help provided by that friendly bank manager. By 1990 the property was now valued at what would barely cover the loans made against it to start and run this new business.

Satisfied there wasn't anything to claim so far as any marital property went, the Esday-Witts who had initiated these proceedings, then turned their attention to issuing a claim that Michael, as an unfit father, should have any access to his four boys, supervised by his former Father-in-Law! Patsy, whose original opinion of Genevieve was now on the wane, together with myself were in attendance and both equally horrified by this suggestion as Michael may well have been a fornicator but until that day his fathering had never been in question.

Both Patsy and I had travelled together to these proceedings, Michael separately, so he was alone when he stopped along a road afterwards to vomit into a gutter. A city Barrister was soon after employed to see that justice was done, which it eventually was, leaving a hole not existing two months before; missing funds from the Company account and a large Barrister's bill; both of which could have well been done without.

Regardless of any growing loyalty toward my brother, it was after only a few months of working for him, that with my forty third, birthday behind me, I had sat in the box above the floor of that warehouse long enough. What had driven me to the point of not wanting to return had nothing to do with fending off creditors due to Genevieve and her father having stripped the company accounts bear, nor did it have anything to do with the unease felt at how the funds supplied by the new director were to be recouped.


The actions of a spiteful wife and a father-in-law with his own axe to grind or an ex secretary-cum-show pony had nothing to do with relinquishing the challenge chosen to replace the one I had for seventeen years living with Bert. My concern was due to nothing more than the ever more frequent visits from the guys in charge of warehousing for Big W since our Company name change. The GM responsible for setting this business in place had moved into retirement, to be described later by Michael as the smartest man he had ever met. For one thing, he was so right in giving Michael the advise he gave in telling Michael not to be seen driving around in a luxury vehicle. Advice Michael would later regret, not to have taken heed of. These visits now were by a new breed of Managers which were only t take place during the absences of my brother. Anyone with half an ounce of sense would have seen that trouble was brewing. Michael had already referred to these Managers as the three Amigos, where previously it had taken only one, smarter and wiser than these three combined!

Leaving a letter in the most prominent position, stuck to the computer screen, for my brother to find as he was due to set foot on Australian soil that evening, I then went the way of the girl who had been there before me, be that minus tax stamps or the Laser she had driven off in! The contents of that letter said no more than to explain the reason I wouldn't be returning: Do not place trust in the two men left in charge, it said, as the pair of them are involving themselves in industrial espionage: Not only are men, in suits being led on regular guided tours around the warehouse in your absence with special attention drawn to goods which have nothing to do with Big W, but these men are also being made privy to what is kept in the files: I have only got to turn around to see through the glass door separating the two offices that drawers are being opened and the contents being flicked through.

My letter was a plea; an attempt to transfer some of the common sense I had a bucket load of onto someone more lacking in that department. My letter was an attempt to make my brother aware that his brainchild was in danger.

The upheaval caused by Genevieve and her father, or any newly appointed director, was the least of my concerns. What led to the decision to leave the employ of my brother had more to do with the two men seconded from Woolworths who had been left in charge. During the lingering humidity of that Indian summer when I was introduced to them as - Sister Asumpta, ha, ha'. The ‘Hi’ heard from them and the half smiles seen, were never to be repeated. The opportunity to get to know my co-workers better was being eaten up at the same rate the warehouse was filling.

What wasn't mentioned in the letter left for my brother was that I had also been approached by the taller, more obese of the two men his business had been left in the hands of who, mouthed rather than spoke, the words to me: Your brother is insane.

Under a high cold tin roof come July 1990, I found it disconcerting that I should be behaved towards as if I was part of a conspiracy, to undo the indoctrinated ways of men who objected to handling goods minus a Big W sticker. This brought less grievance than the devastation I saw coming if this predicament wasn't reined in ASAP.

Working for my brother had presented the only escape route from my marriage to Bert. Without the necessary to go it alone, I wanted to know what it would be like to be free of those dreaded nights when I would wake dripping with perspiration, with my heart thumping, after dreaming of swallowing broken glass. I just needed an ally, someone to tag along with, a wagon to hitch my star to.

What had started out as an ideal solution for both brother and sister, had for me only resulted in a choice of nightmares. During those few months, what had been expected was that Michael and I would eventually follow through on a plan to live together in a rented house of high cost and luxury where the seven children we had between us could also be housed. With the extra space in the warehouse being utilized for a purpose which had nothing to do with Big W, altering the course of our best interests, it just appeared plain and simple that this also spelt an end to any future we may have shared elsewhere.

With the decision to leave having been made, it was as I was cooking dinner for the family, three school aged children and a husband who referred to my brother Michael as a cowboy, that I answered the phone:“ Ha, ha, ha”, was the first thing I heard followed by: “What you put in that letter, dear sister, could never happen because this business cannot operate without me.” I sit down and speak as quietly as can be managed, as Bert is lurking close by: “But it is about to start operating without you”, I whisper, “that is the point I was trying to make”. It was really irking then to hear Bert mutter, “Empire crumbling is it?”

With none of the Bert gift for sarcasm having been lost during the many months of us not speaking, I continue to listen to what my brother had to say: “Those guys from Big W are just throwing their weight around, nothing better to do. As for John and Alan, they are only making themselves look important. They are all part of the same club and cannot see there is no need for me to be there twenty four seven, what would take the whole lot them a month of Sundays to complete, I can do in one night of sleep.” Bert walks by again on his way to the kitchen sink. He mumbles something this time I cannot hear. On the other end of the phone, my brother is asking me to return. I feel caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

On the one hand the table is set for yet another dinner which would be spent with occasional interaction between a mother and her three children, as the husband of the piece throws in the odd disparaging comment. Whilst on the other I would be returning to a situation which held no more promise of a rosy tomorrow than the one I was already familiar with. Michael breaks into my thoughts: “Look, come back and we will have a chat about your paranoia ha, ha. Things are not as bad as you are making them out to be - just wait, till the big hit, and we will be organizing a Recovery party before you know it”. Then he laughs again before saying, “By the way, tax stamps will soon be up to date as I have got it sorted.”

I am not sure what it was that swayed me. Although I did not believe anything could possibly be on the up after what I had been witness to over the previous weeks and definitely resented the suggestion I was paranoid. Perhaps the decision made was as simple as, which of the two male voices heard that evening, I would still prefer to be hearing tomorrow?

The loud shirts my brother wore in those days gave only a hint of how flamboyant he actually was. Other than the shirts though, his appearance was conservative. His head of fair, greying hair received a regular number two to accentuate a thinning crown and the gold rimmed glasses he wore made him look more like a priest from the neck up than an entrepreneur or cowboy, which ever the case may have been! He had the ability not to take any situation too seriously which, as time went on, I became less sure was an actual attribute. He had no regard for money whatsoever, his or that of anyone else. It was as well he always looked forward and never back.

When I arrived the morning after our conversation of the previous evening, Michael was wearing one of the shirts he had bought in New Zealand. Although this shirt was only made up of two colours, black and white, it was the large pattern that made an instant impression. My letter was in the bin next to where he sat at his desk and he made a dismissive gesture with his hand when he saw what was taking my attention. He was on the phone and as was usual, appeared too overly relaxed for my exact liking.

Reclining in a high backed chair, his glasses were perched on the end of his nose and with a half smoked thin cigar between his fingers, he was waxing lyrical to whoever he was speaking to about how well things were going. I noted an array of forms spread at one side of the boardroom table, he would be lost without such a table! On noticing these forms, he made another gesture with his hand toward an empty coffee mug. I went back down the stairs to the small, grubby kitchen below. When I returned with two steaming mugs to edge the door open with my elbow, my brother was no longer seated where he had been but the sound of his laughter can be heard in the next office.

A joke was being shared with the two guys mentioned in my letter; the three of them were standing together as I glanced ahead through the open door. So sure was I of the reason for this mirth that I quickly removed myself from where I might be seen. Then, as I took a peek back into the next office again, as neither of the men I had been accusing of industrial espionage were looking in my direction, which there wasn't anything unusual about, perhaps after all, as my brother had said the evening before, I had let paranoia get the better of me?


On Michael, returning to drink his coffee, was the first I knew of the plans to further extend the office furniture side of the business. Nothing had been said, there wasn't time, as before my brother took a sip from his mug, in walked a man from Esanda Finance. “I am organizing a car for the salesman I have employed in Melbourne”, were the only words spoken before the man was directed to the forms taken note of earlier.

Salesman! Car! Melbourne! I am already looking back on last evening, wondering if the right decision had been made. The dream of having an ordinary job where I was actually paid before returning to an appreciative husband was taking me away from the data entry waiting to be done. From memory I would say the man from Esanda wasn't there more than five minutes, but all actually remembered was that my signature was required on those forms and that breaking into my daydream had been the voice of my brother: “Sumpta come over here”, he had said with his back to me. A pen was being tapped upon his right shoulder.

Within the space of the few months spent in that warehouse, I had gone in search of a third party loan at the NAB - only to receive a knock back. I had learnt a recession was on its way after my talk with the manager, who dismissed what I had gone in search of as though it was laughable. I had been ignored by men I had suspected of industrial espionage and done all I could to warn my brother of the dangers he couldn't seem to care less about. And now, as that Esanda man went back down the stairs, within half an hour of returning to a position with a huge question mark beside it the evening before, I had probably made a big mistake. I just wasn't sure.

I thought to ask Michael why my signature had been required. This did not get me too far as the reply was,“It is just a technicality, do not worry about it.” Then, before another word left my mouth, added to what had already been heard was:“It is just the start. I have arranged for a new computer system which will be state of the art.” As car keys were then collected, the parting words spoken by the male voice chosen to be heard into the future, rather than that of Bert were: “Got a plane to catch, we will have dinner upon my return.”

How was I expected to react with the evening before now looking tame compared to what I was presently faced with? Should I have been calling Esanda to have my signature removed from those forms? Did I want to run the risk of forever more being a disappointment? Left only to hear about the Recovery party rather than being a major contributor to it? Was I seriously going to pick up my car keys and go as my brother had with not a care in the world, when there was data entry always waiting to be completed?

What had been written on those forms before I was asked to sign them? Instead of being left with the choices I had the day before, I now knew there would be new choices ahead and plenty of them. In one sense this made me feel like a fool in having placed my head too close to the mouth of a snake. On the other, who knew for sure how things would eventuate?

Either way there was always Michael to blame or be grateful to; the Esday-Witts would have been well aware that his carefree attitude fell conveniently into being one easy to criticise; and by now so did I. One problem had at least been resolved in signing those documents, as it was impossible for me to view what had taken place as all-bad, when this was to be the first real independant step taken outside a marriage I had long wanted to be free of.

Each week, what was left of the cheque from Big W, after the bare necessities had been seen to, was on its way to New Zealand, just as soon as Michael could get to the airport. Back in Sydney among other pressing payments being placed on the back burner was once again the issue of tax stamps. It would be upon hearing my illustrious brother was at the wheel of a red Jag whenever he left Australian soil, I would be left to look back once again to that evening only a month before when the decision was made to return.

Green_Jag
It was into the ninth month of concerns about the direction the Sydney business was headed when Michael spoke the words; “Everything is Attitude and always behave as if you have got a quid.” This is what was said as Michael climbed out of a green Jag he had driven into the warehouse. Only a month after hearing about the red one, there he was, as proud as punch, telling me he now had a Jag on either side of the Tasman. His expression regarding Attitude was strangely, taken on board and to become of significance and meaning to me.

It was a Friday, the wages were due and I was dreading a repeat of the previous week when Ma, after calling in to see brother Marcus, delivered the cash Marcus gave her in in exchange for a post-dated cheque Michael had lined up to hand over. On that occasion I had only needed to glance toward the floor of the warehouse to see fourteen faces staring back up at me and with none of these faces looking happy, left to hope Ma would soon appear.

It was with the same sense of relief I now welcomed Michael. Once more, in the nick of time, the wages could be paid. Michael had arrived back in Sydney three hours earlier and after visiting a car yard had driven straight to the headquarters of Big W to intercept the weekly cheque before it was posted. He then high tailed it half the length of Sydney to place this cheque along with a bottle of finest scotch, on the desk of the bank manager, for there to finally be, just before closing its doors that Friday, an appreciation at the NAB - of the charisma of Michael Murphy.

The purchase of the green Jag had more to do with 'sticking it up his in-laws', as Michael put it than it did with anything else, as after what had been paid out to that city lawyer to gain access to his four sons, the intention was that when the time came to collect them, it be done in as much style as could be managed.

It was the Monday after Michael drove into the warehouse in the green Jag that I received what would be the first of two phone calls. And the first of these calls went like this: “Now, I have just heard from Michael and he is in New Zealand.” Tell me something I do not know, is what I wanted to say, but I did not as Ma went on:“He wanted to borrow against the Tin House, but when I reminded him of the time before when he and that manager at Butler Road went way over the sum agreed, I was told to stick my pathetic little house and that he would manage without it.”

This was the first I knew of any intended previous need by Michael of this facility. But then, as there had never been any real connection between us until more recently and as I had been removed from any of the more intricate goings on within the family I had been born into for the seventeen years spent with Bert, there was no reason why I would have known unless I had been told, which I had not.

The exact interval between the two calls isn't clear. Not one word to do with them was shared with Michael as I had not seen nor spoken to him since the previous Friday. “Now”, Ma always began her sentences this way when there was something serious afoot, “I have heard from Michael again and as he was full of apologies for the way he spoke about my house, I have decided to allow him to borrow against it after all.” Mild surprise at this quick turnaround, was all that entered my mind.

Even though Ma rarely drew breath when she was excited, hearing that soft Irish brogue of hers was never something I objected to and there was no exception on this occasion. “Now, I do not think the bank will be giving the loan to Michael because of his marital situation and I do not think they would be giving it to me either because of my age, but they might give it to you.”

Any response isn't remembered, but it couldn't have been in the negative or else Ma wouldn't have been given cause to continue: “Now, you go down to the bank and make an appointment with the loans officer of the Commonwealth and say I will send on the deeds.” There wasn't anything unsettling about this phone call. If there had been, I would remember, not even the fact that Ma made no mention of my own marital situation. This at the time did not seem of importance.

By this time, Michael and I were only a few weeks away from realizing our plan of renting accommodation large enough to house the seven children we had between us and where any salary owed was to be paid in kind. As this arrangement perfectly suited my dream to be free of Bert, in now being on my way to a bank once more, this latest manifestation of what went on in the big wide world I had previously been sheltered from, was seen as part of what must be gone through to achieve my independence.

Not that any bank amid a looming recession would sanction a business loan based upon the non-existent earnings of an employee with the collateral on offer, a holiday house of our mutual mother. Especially a bank where a previous manager had suffered a nervous breakdown which perhaps had something to do with dealing with customers akin to my brother! And now the same brother was appealing to them again.

As learnt in the first phone call Ma made, this would be the second time around in Michael seeing the Tin House as a means of feathering his nest and if she was prepared to go down this road again even though on the first occasion more of her collateral had been earmarked than she had agreed could be, then it wasn't for me to interfere. Not that at the time it occurred to me to interfere.

The next time I saw Ma after those phone calls led to us being seated together in an office of the Commonwealth Bank, facing the young man who had welcomed the proposal with open arms a week earlier. In September 1990, this meeting had been helped along by Michael providing a letter from Contract Distribution Systems, that I, his secretary, was earning enough to cover the repayments required for a Company loan to be taken out over seven years. It was in noting the smile on the face of the young man as he read what had been brought along, that he once again appeared to be conducting himself more like a member of the family than a bank employee.

When first encountering this young man, he had already been affable enough in not once raising an eyebrow in me seeking a third party loan, an absolute no, no, back in 1990. In fact, I got quite the opposite reception to the one received at the NAB.

On going about what Ma had asked me to do, it had come as some surprise that requesting a business loan based on the security of the mother of the business proprietor wasn't anything special. Also, the mother of the employee making the application had been treated by this young man as a regular occurence, rather than be peculiar. And I was further surprised at what followed: “What is the name of this Company?” I was asked. “Contract Distribution Systems,” I replied. Then, even more unexpectedly, the next question was: “Who is the proprietor of this business?” “Michael Murphy”, I said, expecting to have already been back out in the high street.

Instead any surprise was now a shared experience as the young man repeated the name of my brother, “Michael Murphy! Michael Murphy of Dandolene!” “Yes.” “Really! Michael had us all in stitches back at Butler Road branch, he is a great guy, what is he up to now?” I then told him that the name of the Company had to be changed after Genevieve, a director of Dandolene went to the branch at Butler Road some months ago with her father and withdrew any Company funds to ensure Child Maintenance for four boys was seen to for the coming years. “Really” – “Yes, and the reason this loan is being applied for is because cheques were bouncing from here to New Zealand until recently.” “New Zealand!”

''Yes, my brother is flying back and forth these days due to an involvement in a furniture factory there''. The young man then laughed and said, “Gets around that brother of yours.” “He sure does,” I responded, which was said more light-heartedly than I was feeling. I had been in the bank for no longer than it took for this short conversation to take place to sense this was to be a successful application: “Well, we will need to see proof that what you earn can meet the repayments. Meanwhile I will see to a valuation of the house right away to speed things up, after which we can lend up to eighty per cent of any property value.”

No request was made of the necessity to interview the proprietor of the business for whom this loan was earmarked. Ouch. What, with an attempt made to bring the business undone by born-again Christians, Bert, a car I had unwittingly gone guarantor for, a show pony directing nothing, an absentee boss and feeling surrounded by those who treated dealings with high finance as if it were second nature, I felt more than bemused. In walking out of the bank that day, adding to an already growing list of complications was the pending valuation of the Tin House. What too of providing proof that my nonexistent earnings could meet the intended loan repayments? But surely, if even I could see why the first attempt to acquire a loan against the property of Ma had been turned down flat by the NAB, it was going to take more than a junior clerk still relishing the fun days at Butler Road for this latest application to succeed?

As Ma and I sat together with the young man whom nothing appeared to phase, it was as the form filling continued, that he did not appear concerned at the time this was taking and was even amused at the sight of Ma whispering in my ear with her pale blue eyes darting about underneath greying curls. In taking the occasional look at him, I wondered if he appeared so relaxed because mother and daughter teams behaving as we were was just part and parcel of his daily routine, or if his casual approach had more to do with Michael Murphy being such a great guy, that being in the presence of his sister and mother, took him back to those fun days when, in another branch of the Commonwealth Bank not far away, the previous dealings he had with the intended recipient of what was being applied for, had always had him in stitches?

In order to secure this loan, the detail written on the form placed in front of me bore no truth as to my actual circumstance. Nothing of my planned single future had been taken into account. Other than my name and address, every other detail written on that form had been initiated by Ma which, in one section indicated that because I was married, the wages I earned were not needed to live on.

Click, click, click, I could almost hear the Ma cogs of her mind working overtime as the form was completed and handed to the young man. He rose from his chair looking pleased. “I will be back shortly,” were the only words spoken by him. He swept past Ma through the open door. Another step away from my marriage had been taken and I now felt numb about the implications. Ma and I sat in silence then, the way strangers sit together at bus stops. Only a few minutes went by but it felt much longer before Ma turned toward me again and with those pale blue eyes once more darting about, in a nervous, if not furtive way, she said: “Now, you are to cover this loan with your Marriage Settlement should anything go wrong.”

I know I did not speak, shake my head nor nod, but nothing else about what happened directly afterwards is remembered. No thought was given to the blow just received which would be back to haunt me.

My next memory was of the following afternoon when the office phone rang. It was the young man from the bank. There was a discrepancy in the forms I had completed. It isn't remembered what this discrepancy involved as I only recall stuttering and stammering like the utter fool I was. The other aspect about this call to penetrate my skull was that a solution was reached without my help because the young man said something along the lines of, “How about we say this instead?” And whatever had been suggested must have been agreed to by me otherwise the young man wouldn't have sounded as satisfied when this one way conversation ended.

While this call gave no indication that the loan was any closer to being approved, it did indicate the smile on the face of this young man, when Ma and I had sat opposite him, had nothing to do with him viewing what we were about as laughable. How could this be when he was now even prepared to alter some detail on the application form himself to help along with the loan being sought?

It was around a week after the young man had made an alteration to the forms I had completed, that he rang again. On this occasion he sounded really pleased in telling me to call down to the bank as a cheque for Contract Distribution Systems was waiting to be collected. This was my last chance to speak up, and in not doing so, I guess this was the point at which I as good as asked for what was waiting for me into the future.

Michael was there when I got back to the office, Ma too. I cannot recall how both happened to be there at that moment, but they were. There was a discussion held about a pair of leather lounges Michael was intent on purchasing for the luxury premises the two of us were by this time sharing. The cost of these lounges was so extortionate, I said; How about we just buy one?

Michael looked at me from over to top of his glasses as if I had just crawled out from under a rock and replied: “You cannot be serious.” Until this point, it had not been realized that Ma had been offered an incentive by Michael to change her mind about allowing him the use of the collateral on the Tin House; and quite a sizeable weekly payment at that.

And I did not know, because beforehand neither Ma, nor Michael had thought to mention it. I am not saying it would have made any difference to me just going along with what I had been asked to do if I had known, it is just that I cannot understand why I did not see this as an obvious omission until years later. There were a few other payments waiting to be seen to. First, the purchase of tax stamps which the boys in the warehouse had been clamouring for since I had arrived.

Lawyer bills came next before a list of other outstanding payments were seen to, including a large Amex bill for sundry luxury items run up by Genevieve in the weeks prior to the company name being changed. The whole amount of the cheque, moments after returning from the bank, was spoken for. All that was left to do was wait and see what my compliant nature would lead to.

Michael takes off to New Zealand. The young man from the bank rings again soon after and he says that a team of guys from Butler Road have just been in and they were furious that this loan had been allowed. He does not sound unhappy, he sounds as if he is just filling me in.

If I said anything at all, what it was cannot be remembered. A few days later I am up in the high street collecting the weekly Big W cheque from the post office box and as the Commonwealth Bank is only a few doors away, I flip the hood of the jacket I am wearing onto my head before walking in through large glass doors. It is busy inside; there is a line of people waiting at each small window. I pace slowly up and down, the way you would do if you were waiting for someone. I am checking out every nook and cranny in that bank and the young man I had recently done business with is nowhere to be found.

We hadn't seen much of Ian and Patsy at this time. As for Shirley, the new Company director and her mother, they never got around to painting that wall running between two offices and had instead disappeared from the scene entirely. It was a weird time, as it felt as though I was the only one left alive on some doomed flight and the whole world was waiting to see what happened. At the start in working for my brother, it had seemed as if I was missing out on life in general but toward the end of 1990, I pondered this wasn't so. What had I been missing out on when there was dissaray around me? All to come from working for my brother was the experience of knowing what lay behind his eagerness to once again prove his worth when it came to office furniture.

On moving day, three children had been collected from school and taken to see where half of their time would be spent from then on. “Mum, what have you done?”, the oldest at age fifteen exclaimed when he saw the large house in which his bedroom had been allocated. This house, in which I would be living with Michael, even though it was equipped with a swimming pool absent in the Snake Pit, wasn't enough to prevent an unexpected show of tears from my son. The two girls however couldn't believe their luck, which perhaps goes to show that men are the more sensitive? After a meal in a nearby restaurant, all three were delivered back to where they had lived for three years with the experience of never hearing cordial words, or many words pass between their parents. The intention had never been to keep them from their father, as when all has been said about Bert, he wasn't a bad one.

As it had always appeared to be my presence which brought out the worst in him, then by this presence being removed, it was more likely the future would be spent more harmoniously by those who mattered most.

The arrangement I had thought out beforehand, the details of which were left in a note to Bert, was for the children to spend from Tuesday evening until after golf on Saturday with me. There was no expected upheaval to this arrangement and none ever came. Due to the timing of my departure though, with Bert knowing nothing of my planned escape, the result of trying to soften the blow, by dropping the children back to remain with their father for the first week, couldn't have been predicted. A phone call from my oldest daughter explained: “Dad said we cannot stay here for the week because he is going to the snow.” What more ironic timing could an exit from a woebegone marriage have? There I was with beds made up for three children, ensuring, with me no longer in the Snake Pit, that the first week be spent with their father, only to find that without letting anyone know, he was going to the snow?

Driving from the leafy North Shore of Sydney over the Harbour Bridge toward the industrial south was the route taken when employment, beyond weeding bushland, had been secured. After a few hitches, my recent appreciation of Michael had provided the only way forward. The contrast was needed to take me as far away as could be found from what had previously been experienced in living with Bert.

The Toyota wagon had been my car for three years when this association with Michael began. It would take until August 1990 before I would be waving it goodbye. Its last job would be in assisting with the removal of the few things required in my new life before it would be exchanged for the Laser, previously traded for tax stamps before I arrived. Michael had eventually provided tax stamps to his former Girl Friday as she needed to have her tax arrangements in order since she was to apply for an up market job within the media, Company car supplied. Until then I would be left only to dream of an address where Bert held no key and where I could no longer hear his voice.

The arrangement made with Bert, when he got back from the snow, was that other than shared access, I would also be taking the children to Mass each Sunday. Mass!, well, after all the children were going to Catholic schools, and what with a marriage split, continuity of discipline was of more importance than ever. The Mass for once served a personal purpose rather than an obligation. For the following twelve years on Sunday, I stood, kneeled and sat at the appropriate moments, singing all the hymns with at first three children alongside me, then two, until the youngest was eighteen, and then that was that.

My oldest daughter was the only one to note I wasn't really into it by exclaiming: “I know you are not religious, so why should I go?” I replied to her defiance by telling her to just get into the car, which she did, for which I will be forever grateful.

It was upon visiting my brother-in-law and sister, soon after that loan had been secured that Ian thought to offer some unasked for advice. “If I were you,” he said, “I would place whatever other proceeds come your way from any Marriage Settlement into Contract Distributions Systems, otherwise you will just end up as a wage slave.” Patsy immediately chipped in: “And what do you think you are?” Ian said no more, for which I was grateful. This was the second reference made to something not yet considered by me regarding the proceeds of my Marriage Settlement. It was as though the plans to leave my marriage, so far as Ian and Ma were concerned, hung on some hand-out I was to receive.

Nothing was further from my mind. There had never been any intention of splitting anything with three children to care for, as if anything around that time was absolute, it was their welfare. Employment with my brother had been engineered toward this end and for no other reason, yet there I was almost a year into the ardent quest of looking for a free ride when it felt more like I had just given my pin number to a stranger with others standing in line.

There is no recollection whether Ma knew that a month before our meet with the Commonwealth Bank, an attempt to trade the Tin House had already been turned down by the NAB. All I am sure of is that if she had not known, the shock factor of finding this had been done without her permission, would have been minimal. Ma, with a history of similar dealings with some of her nine children, wouldn't necessarily have reacted in the negative way most mothers would. Indeed, she could well have offered encouragement, be that with a string or two attached. There wasn't anything about endeavour that Ma did not relish being included in and none of the fear I was experiencing as to where I believed Michael was headed, caused one dent in her conviction that things would work themselves out in the end.

The amount to manage necessary outgoings, which now included the payments on that loan and what Ma would be collecting for the part she played in securing it, were reliant on the weekly input from Big W. Although considerable, this weekly cheque would still only stretch so far and wasn't enough to also sustain a factory across the Tasman which, by the time I had met up with Ma at the bank, had become the primary concern of Michael. As Michael was by now planning to purchase this factory, he needed to also make sure wages there were paid at a time of severe recession in New Zealand! It was in realizing the loan taken out by me was considered of not much account in the scheme of things, I was left to look back again upon the evening only a matter of weeks before, when the decision had been made to return.

Genevieve, two months after denuding the company funds, went back with the four boys to the shelter provided by her parents. Having given up on frequenting the Singles scene in the hope of yet another engagement party, it was time for her to return to the only future assured; that of keeping her parents company into their old age. After she had gone, Michael moved back to the house with its high mortgage.

He arrived home one day to find the car Genevieve drove parked there with the keys in the ignition. In this car representing another expense coming out of the Big W cheque, Michael arranged for a mate who lived close by to come and collect it. On his friend arriving, Michael then entered the house and was to meet Genevieve in the hallway. Both looked to the kitchen where on the island bench her handbag sat. Both made a dash for the bag. The reason for Michael to dash was to rescue the Amex card still being used by Genevieve with gay abandon. And of course for Genevieve, it being Christmas, she wanted to keep using it even more than usual. Michael snatched the bag and raced back down the hall with Genevieve in hot pursuit. It was in finding what he had been looking for that Michael suddenly turned around for the force of his shoulder to send Genevieve into a spin and result in her hitting her knee on the leg of a bed within the Study room they had reached. In the months to come, the bruise Genevieve sustained in hitting her knee on the leg of the bed would become of some consequence. However, on this day, Genevieve had to ring her Dad and use him as her own taxi service as she was now without wheels.

The occasions when either Michael, Genevieve, or their offspring were seen to follow the wedding where Patsy was matron of honour were few, but one was the annual Murphy picnic in the park. It was this picnic, held the Sunday before Christmas, come hail or shine, which served as an opportunity for the latest member of this growing family to be introduced or the latest acquisition of motor vehicle shown off. The picnics began the year I returned with Bert from overseas with our first born and continued until the year after I left him.

The demise of the annual picnic was as much a result of that hour spent in the bank with Ma, as everything that happened afterwards seemed to be. How else could it be interpreted if those picnics drew to a close just as soon as Patsy and I, who were the glue that held these annual events together, went off in different directions just as soon as the problems Michael was always headed for, took hold? Those picnics would also represent the ability of Genevieve to view the children of her marriage as hers alone. The picnic was held the day after the Amex card had been rescued when, regardless of the scuffle with his wife and having already been informed his sons wouldn't be attending, Michael still drove the following morning to the house where the engagement party had been held, only to find when he arrived, that rather than be greeted by the innocent faces of four boys, he was met by the Constabulary.

He drove on, but not before telling the two policemen guarding the entrance to where he considered his sons were imprisoned, that they were dealing with a nest of vipers.

It was during this same picnic when Patsy would declare for the last time; ''Gee, Michael has got so much style!'' The description made by a sister of a sibling I had only in recent times made any real acquaintance of, had been uttered after witnessing the largest seafood platter seen, taking up the length and breadth of the Jag boot and purchased from his favourite restaurant. It was after this seafood had been devoured, however, I wondered if I was the only one who noticed Michael sitting on a fence by himself whilst his nephews and nieces were devising field games on the oval. It certainly seemed so as there is no recall after I wandered up to join him, of any other interest being shown in how he might be feeling at being the only father there without his children.

More litigation was to follow, with once again the employment of the same costly lawyer who, this time around was in possession of the photographs depicting the bruises on the leg of Genevieve. Asking his client to explain, all that was said in response was: “Well I guess some people bruise easy.”

Those picnics were occasions when the father of the Murphy clan would arrive in a truck after spending the morning getting plastered with a few mates from the local club. It was this get-together held every Sunday before Christmas when I would be seen cringing after witnessing my father staggering about before rolling up the back door of his truck to see those with no other place to go, climbing down to join him. It was usually as hot as blazes but there we all would be nonetheless, with glasses of warm wine, beer or soft-drink, laughing at the anecdotes told, with me making the most of the camouflage provided by the shade of gum trees, when that truck with Dad behind the wheel, rolled up.

The flashiest cars would be parked closest to where meat sizzled on a nearby barbecue and as we watched our children playing cricket, these picnics created a demure enough scene until the old man got there. It was this annual spectacle provided by my father which was the cause of me feeling sorrier for Ma than at any other time, as whilst she was never happier than seeing her children and grandchildren together, it must have been at this event in particular when she was reminded of the prophecy made by her own father - of what her fate would be if she continued a liaison with Jim Murphy against his wishes.

When the dreaded tuberculosis hit the Ma household, she was fortunately already in boarding school. And it would be after the death of her mother from this disease that here she would remain for the following seven years to be taught by the nuns and excel academically. It was during this time she learnt all about what life was like in the coalfields of England and considered these areas to be the last places on earth she would want to visit, let alone live. At the age of twenty one however, Ma was to finish at the school which had fostered in her the choice of any career, if becoming a nun wasn't her calling. It was one day when out riding her horse that her destiny of ending up in one of the last places she would have ever chosen to even visit, began to take shape.

As Ma rode her horse that day, she was pondering the idea of a career in Architecture until a motor-bike rode alongside her with the man steering it telling her that her horse was lame. It was after a stone was removed from its hoof that a friendship then developed, with Ma afterwards becoming a regular visitor at the cottage where Dad lived with his mother and two uncles. This was until one Sabbath day when she arrived back to her own home on her bicycle.

What was waiting for her that day were horse chains strung around each external door, denying her entrance into what was once the home of her mother. In having already been warned what her punishment would be if she continued keeping company with a man who had been seen in a pub, Ma was soon to discover her father meant every word he had said. With nowhere else to go, she then cycled back in the direction she had come from.

In more recent times, Ma told me she had no intention of aligning herself with anyone; that Dad and she were only friends and she looked forward to visiting the small farm where he lived because it reminded her of the family atmosphere existing when her mother was alive. It wasn't hard to imagine the resentment held afterwards toward her father, as the way things were, if she did not marry the man she had been accused of fraternizing with, she would be forever more labelled as a loose woman. So it was that nine others came into the world, the second being me who, having been born on the day Our Lady rose into heaven, not only dictated what I would be Christened, but that I was also the one most likely to develop martyr-like ways.

The Sydney suburb where the business was and where I had met up with Ma in a bank that September day in 1990, had only been known to me beforehand as a train station to pass through en route to where the Pacific Ocean turned from brilliant blue to white as it washed onto miles of golden sand. In awe of where I had landed as a migrant, it would be to this beach I would be headed most weekends. So much had happened since we Murphys had arrived in Australia, not knowing what to expect. It would have been no different for Ma when she was a teenager, as the stars in her eyes would have not enabled her to see what would dictate how the rest of her own life was to be spent.

Our family was fortunate indeed after arriving in the promised land for Dad to find work on a building site a few days later. Due to Dad's endeavours in the coal mines back in England, working harder than two men and the Ma ability to save over the seventeen years in England meant, a few months later, they were able to purchase somewhere to live. Until this purchase, the school aged among us, according to the rules set out, would need to stay on a farm half a day drive away from where adults and babies lived in wrought iron Nissan huts provided by the Australian Government. We had arrived in April, and it would take until November before we were reunited as a family once more.

COCONUT_HOUSE

The house eleven of us would then move into was built of fibro, a building material in which asbestos fibres are used to reinforce thin rigid cement sheets which form the outside walls. The house reminded me of one of those holiday cabins along the road leading to the seaside where our caravan was kept back in England. As a child I used to think these were made of coconut. All of any real matter was that the sun was shining, the sky was blue. The washing would now be dry in a jiffy, no more the damp, dirty conditions of the coalfields. The family moving out of the Coconut House required larger premises because their family was about to increase and they already had three children!

Bunk beds were set up in any space available within the internal walls of this small, but neat, clean cabin. We had nonetheless arrived in paradise with a five week cruise on an ocean liner thrown in free of charge, providing we stayed put for a minimum of two years. With the river only a skip away through beautiful bushland and no signs warning us to, KEEP OFF THE GRASS, we would find ourselves overwhelmed with the freedom to enjoy all of what was on offer in this wonderful land. Even though the housing conditions may have been cramped, this was far from what it would take for any of us to think of returning. It was great in those early days to see Ma and Dad as proud as they deserved to be, as they had succeeded, as many Irish folk before them had, in helping to populate the less cluttered areas of the western world.

The house left behind in England was the old doctor residence which had been vacant since the war years and sat on the main road linking mining town to mining town. Purchased in 1952 for half the asking price, it would be sold twelve years later for what had been the original asking price, leaving Dad and Ma pleased that a house purchased when food was rationed, had doubled in value. But it wasn't just the proceeds from this sale which afforded we Murphys the privilege of purchasing a place to call home when first arriving in Australia. Dad had no living relatives by then. The sale of the small farm, Ma had cycled back to after being locked out of the house of her mother, would also help secure the Coconut House in the sun where ten of us would live along with the man who had been seen in a pub.

The small farm which helped secure the Coconut House was where the oldest among us would go during the school holidays when our paternal Grandmother was alive, but we would never know Dad's father, who had drunk himself out of his latest clock making business before any of us were born and then died of a heart attack in the effort required to start another. Our other grandfather, whom we understood lived in a grand house only a short distance away, would never be visited during those holidays and nor would his name be mentioned. But we were happy enough just being in Ireland after the experience of living in a mining town where the smoke from hundreds of chimneys drifted when the wind blew and always seemed to linger.

The Granny cottage may have had straw on the roof instead of tiles, with the walls beneath resembling Paper-Mache; it may not have had electricity, a bath, a sink or a toilet. The windows may have been so small that the glow of the fire burning endlessly in the hearth, provided the main internal light as we found our way to bed with the aid of paraffin lamps or candles. Any water to be had may have sat in buckets after being brought from the well at the far end of the nearest field. Grandmother's cows chewed away on the greenest grass ever seen and ninety acres provided all required for the yummiest breakfasts or dinners ever tasted. We would also wake to the sound of farm animals as opposed to stray dogs barking in alleyways. The sight of the treasures in Grandma's parlour will live with me always.

The last time I saw my grandmother, I was fourteen. Both Patsy and I had been visiting for a few weeks during the 1960 school holidays. Dad was to meet us in Dublin on our return north after catching the bus, stopping once weekly close to wide white gates leading back down a cobbled and turfed driveway past outhouses, until reaching the cottage, always hard to say goodbye to. On that last occasion, it was upon Granny enquiring if we were to be met in Dublin that she was to learn her son was on Irish soil and not prepared to travel the ninety miles further south to see her.

Distraught, it was only a few months after her two granddaughters climbed upon that bus, the the only grandmother they had ever known was no more. She was eighty two. Dad went back after the funeral to give away to the first comer, all the treasures from her parlour; the chaise lounges, the miniature drawers full of watches and bits of watches, the array of clocks covering the walls, the silver, the paintings, the crystal, and especially, never to be seen again was the large touched-up coloured photograph of his younger brother, which once sat in a gilt edged frame, taking pride of place on the wall over the mantelpiece.

All Dad returned to England with was the gold fob-watch of his father. His two uncles were still alive and told him that toward the end, his mother couldn't move her tongue and neither of them thought they would live to see that day. After a good laugh, it would only be a matter of months when Dad went back again. The straw roof of the cottage had been ripped off in an icy storm and those two uncles Dad had been sharing the joke with, without the will to live now, had as good as frozen to death. With no need for negotiations, all it took was for a bundle of notes to be handed to Dad from a neighbour, for the Granny farm never to be visited by any of us again.

As the future would tell, the birth right of our Ma would be denied her. In 1964, when the application to come to the other side of the world was made, there was no reason to disbelieve the promises beforehand by her father. At the age of forty two, Ma had only seen her father on three occasions since the day twenty one years before when she had been denied access to the house of her mother. It was on these occasions she had been reassured that the commitment made to her mother would be kept.

The promise made, was that he would look after his first born. Our Grandfather was to marry a woman little older than Ma had been, when she was given little option but to forget about a career in Architecture, on being barred from her own home. The property she had been barred from as a twenty one year old had only come Grandfather's way by marriage. Accordingly, at the time, there was no reason to doubt his word.

It was the same year we set sail for Australia that Ma was to learn of what was known in Ireland as a Marriage Settlement, the subject here being, the Estate of her mother. The young woman my grandfather married only a year after Ma went off to live and breed in the coalfields of England, soon gave birth to a daughter. This daughter would be ten by the time her mother too was dead from TB and would, ironically, by the time we set sail for Australia, be the same age as Ma was when Ma had been locked out of her mother's house. The Settlement her father then entered into on the marriage of this now youngest daughter, was that the whole of this considerable Estate be passed on to this youngest daughter and her husband upon their marriage, conditional only that they remain with my Grandfather on said property, for Grandfather's lifetime. Ma had investigated, and the agreement her father had entered into negated any promise he had made to her.

In the years to come when I began to look at inherited traits and how they played their part in my own story, I would be given reason to reflect upon Ma's experience with Grandfather as to what I would eventually be subjected to. I was to look back with new eyes upon my Grandfather's propensity not to put store in promises made.

So it must have followed that it was with a heavy heart, Ma continued on with her plans to see the sun on the backs of her children, rather than dwell on a past which was by then, reliant on her being mistaken, or that her father was a weak enough man to think of nothing beyond his own wellbeing. As that liner sailed the seas for five weeks toward blue skies and sun, Ma must have been the one amongst us who hoped to turn the corner of the past most. Not only was she leaving behind a possible betrayal, but with nine children now in tow, she was also, as a consequence of the position she had been placed in, leaving behind sixteen years spent in one of the last places on earth she would have ever chosen to visit, let alone live.

When the plan of Michael and I, to live together in a house of high cost and luxury had been realized, I moved in before him until such time as the house once shared with Genevieve and four boys was reclaimed by the bank. With nowhere else to go at that point in time, Michael, in his bachelorhood was joined in the mansion about to be repossessed, by our younger sister Celli. Celli would have been in her early thirties then and as she was single with no children, a blue cattle dog named Dusty had become her companion. Not long back from Western Australia, where she had gone to recover from various upsets, Celli had arrived in the previous marital home of our brother, to escape the latest upset, which on this occasion had been doled out by her father. Prior to landing on the doorstep of Michael, Celli first sought refuge in the only home she knew, but as no one but Dad was living back at the old homestead, any chance of it serving as a sanctuary wasn't looking at all good. By 1990, all but one had vacated the cabin purchased twenty five years before, on arriving in the land of milk and honey.   DUSTY
When Celli arrived at the home of Michael, the green Jag and the car leased through Esanda were parked in the driveway. The salesman from Melbourne was visiting and he and Michael were enjoying such a wow of an alcohol-induced time in the outdoor barbecue area, that in Celli approaching the two of them with her dog, it occurred to Michael to pick Dusty up and throw him into the adjacent swimming pool.

Poor Dusty was in such shock, he wet himself, once back on dry land. Michael had not come away unscathed and had been left with a nice big bite on his hand. It isn't my intention to be making any excuses whatsoever for this behaviour, but the fact was, Michael had no idea why his door had been knocked upon in such urgency by Marie. He had no idea the two weeks before had been spent by his younger sister searching for her Dusty. Michael had no idea Dusty had a steel plate in his left hip as a consequence of being driven off in that truck seen at the family picnic, to be dumped by the side of a busy road miles away where, it was hoped for whatever reason, Dusty would never be seen again.

Dad had no time for Celli nor her hairy companion. Nor did he have any time for his oldest daughter for that matter. I, however, could do no wrong and my guess so far as the preference in his female brood went, wasn't only because I helped out around the house, but that at twelve years of age I had stood up to him.

It wasn't realized at the time that this is what I was doing, it just came naturally to me to grab hold of the nearest weapon, when faced with my father approaching me menacingly, after my being accused of making the tea without boiling the kettle. To this day I can remember taking the lid off that kettle and checking there were bubbles, before pouring the water into the tea pot. This was also the protest made before the necessity arose to pick a knife up and stare my father straight in the eyes saying: “Just take one step closer.”

Ma was held up in hospital at that time with complications after giving birth to Gerard, the Church holding the only answer as to why she already had eight children by the time she was thirty seven, with one at the age of eleven in a seminary in Wales. Celli at that same time, at the age of two, had been left with the childless local greengrocer and his wife, whilst the rest of us were left to contend with a hungry and disgruntled father, when he got back from double shifts in the coal mine.

Other than holding a knife up to defend myself from a man who gained enjoyment from watching his children fight, how we got on otherwise in a big, cold house for six weeks of winter, waiting for our mother to return, isn't remembered. Clearer in my memory is that the snow of that winter was melting when Ma was seen treading the brown, slushy path toward the back door which I opened, in her returning with Dad from the hospital. It was March and Ma looked like a queen in the muskrat coat, brought back by Dad from Canada when the first quest to emigrate was made in the mid-fifties. The house had been swept clean, by me of course! As Ma entered through the back door, carrying the latest addition to the family, it was in glancing around her that I was dismayed to hear her say:“ Ooh, everything looks so clean and tidy but it will not be staying this way.”

Another memory of this occasion was of seeing my younger sister again. Celli was standing in the doorway of the kitchen leading in from the front of the house through a conservatory. She had her hand in her mouth and those big green eyes of hers did not seem to recognize anyone. She looked so small and must have found her own way to where she stood as she was unaccompanied.

The effect on a two year old infant in being left with greengrocers for six weeks, was on account of a religion removed from the result of its own philosophy. It is all well and good to be proclaiming that contraception is a sin but what of the children? What of those who played second fiddle to children from smaller families, picked to act in the school plays because they were of neater appearance and because their parents could afford the costumes. Children of smaller families were more likely to pass exams too, perhaps because their parents had more time to focus on this aspect of offspring upbringing. The six of us at that time to have sat the 11+, a Grammar School entry requirement, failed and were challenged to even understand the questions asked. The system was such that children of larger families were disadvantaged and accordingly more prone to sin?

My only chance to shine at school came at around age ten, when a Relief teacher passed an maths paper around the class for each child to complete. The teacher then got someone to collect these papers and redistribute them to be marked by the class. Unbeknown to anybody, I was to receive my own paper to mark! Of course, what to do but to correct my previous disastrous effort in line with the correct answers called out? On teacher getting back the exam papers, she then said to class - ''Asumpta Murphy must be a very clever girl, as she was the only one to get all the sums right''. The regular teacher, Sister De Sailes, who classed me without doubt, as the class dunce, was to return the following day. In berating me as was usual, for not paying attention, one of my class mates piped up. ''But Sister, Assumpta was the only one who got all the sums right yesterday". Sister De Sailes was to look at me quizzically forever more, perhaps wondering if I only performed when she wasn't there?.

Since leaving the dark of the mines, it had not taken too long after arriving in the sun for Celli, as the youngest daughter, to bear the brunt of Dad and his base bog ignorance. Unlike me, Celli wasn't in any way domestically orientated which, unfortunately for her, meant she stood no chance whatever of calming the nature of a man who had no time for any daughter beyond the age of eight who did not look busy about the house.

By the time this youngest daughter had returned from Western Australia, no more settled than when she had left, Ma was spending as much time as possible at the Tin House, cultivating the garden and had no more energy to expend on a place now referred to locally, as the Murphy pub - an outcome she had fought against, but had lost the battle in doing so.

The neat, clean cabin of 1965, twenty five years later appeared less like the hillbilly encampment with broken down cars and motor bikes of six sons, long gone but was by then so run-down it had lost any semblance of its once charm and was one of those places that detract from neighbouring Real Estate values.

Ma had tried, she really had, but any workmen employed had been sent packing by Dad, who maintained there wasn't a man alive that could do any job better than himself. Beyond the addition of a large box-like extension, which was tacked onto the back of the existing residence a couple of years after we moved in, he never saw that anything else was needed. It had been up to Ma to gain maximum benefit from this new extension and whilst she was about it, make her first foray into a lost career, that of Architecture.

This first design of Ma was a narrow passageway which began at the door of the smallest of three bedrooms. Even though this made the existing bedroom only half the size it once was, her design had at least offered access to the large box her husband was to build, without walking in on someone who was either getting undressed or sleeping.

Dad eventually got around to putting up the plywood wall necessary to achieve the ambition of his wife and with light also of importance in design, his next job was to cut a square hole in the outer wall of this passageway, to make it appear less like a tunnel. Two sliding doors were then installed, one at the end of the passage leading into the large box and the other in the wall of the much smaller third bedroom, now only big enough to fit a bunk bed. And so it followed, at the age of twenty one, I laughed with my father for the first time. Having just come out of the sliding door at the end of the passageway, Dad was standing with his back to the other sliding door, gazing out of the window he had just installed. As I went to squeeze behind him, he turned towards me and laughingly said: “It reminds me of being on a train!”

By mid-1990, with the ambition of Michael owning an office furniture factory, looking decidedly shaky, it was Ian who then, unbelievably, forged on.

Entering at that stage was an Equity Partner, seemingly only too keen to get stuck into an unknown area of business. After all that had happened, the faith Ian held in Michael appeared undiminished. A henchman of this new Equity Partner was an ex-premier of N.S.W. The Partner was an ex-director of the building company Ian worked for, who had done very well financially during his years there. Another henchman was to be referred to as ‘the illustrious accountant.’ I would like to say when this took place it made me more optimistic, but it did not!

When first introduced to this trio in the office Michael and I occupied above the warehouse floor, there I was, nipping off to the adjoining office to beg of the emergency number I found, that the phones be put back on, promising the account would be paid within the hour. I could hear my brother casually telling his visitors that it was a regular occurrence in this neck of the woods for trucks to damage phone cables.

For whatever reason, the Equity partner and his mates thought Michael was the bees knees. No sooner had they come on board than the three of them were off to New Zealand with the uniform Michael had made up for them packed in their suitcases; white T shirts with the name of the factory across the Tasman printed in red on the back. It was as if these three had been waiting for such an opportunity the whole of their lives, but then none of them knew what I knew, which Ian should also have been more aware of: This Equity team had no idea that apart from Michael, flying by the seat of his pants financially, he would do or say anything to put himself in the position again of making it in Office Furniture design and manufacture.

It was one thing to be giving the impression of opulence which, in walking into that warehouse would have fooled the most cynical in this regard; as with a shiny green Jag parked to one side and the constant buzz of activity, there was no hint of the short time this business had been in existence nor any sign either of the bills piling up in the office. Nor was there any indication that the pressed timber components piled up on racks had come out of the factory in New Zealand warped, due to unattended faults in the machinery. Predictably, no mention of any such problem was made by Michael as he was later wined and dined at Parliament House with the Equity team hanging on every word he said about the factory which they had just thrown a massive sum at.

At the same time as the Equity team came on board, in a phone call, Celli was complaining bitterly to me about the treatment of Dusty. It had been only a couple of days too since I had been called to the bank to collect that cheque, the contents of which were to be spent within the hour. In also only recently having parted company with Bert, the call Celli had made did nothing to ease an already lagging faith there would be anything but mayhem to look forward to.

I was well aware of the history of Celli, involving her being left with greengrocers at a vital stage of her emotional development. Also at the age of eight, her being segregated from her brothers on a farm until the family settled in Australia. Not to mention the devastation heaped upon her by that nasty old father of hers. I was reminded at this point also of the regular instalments she had been making on land purchased thirteen years before, which had not increased in value. The only thing I wasn't aware of in receiving this phone call from Celli was how the purchase of the land Celli had often made mention of, had affected her existence.

QUEENSLAND It was after Ma had seen an ad on T.V in 1976 offering free flights to view plots of land in an undeveloped area of Queensland, that Celli was encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity. So, soon after taking to the skies with her mother, Celli was to find herself signing forms in the shade provided by the wing of a small aeroplane and to return a few hours later, the proud owner of an acre of land so remote, she would need to climb upon another plane if she ever wanted to see it again. The repayments for this land were then kept up for two years before Celli had enough of being encumbered and wanted to be free to enjoy her life in the way her friends were.
An understanding with her mother was then arrived at. And this understanding, was that Ma assume responsibility for the ongoing payments of the land in question on the condition, that when it was paid for, in around twenty years, it be given to the church. Celli, aware the repayments made so far would be lost if the loan she had secured wasn't maintained, willingly handed the deeds for this land over to her mother before travelling overseas to taste the freedom she had been missing out on. Ma, not in the least unhappy either, felt relief at being free of the burden she had been carrying. She now had the perfect 'material gift' to bestow upon the church.

No particular thought was given by me being informed at this time by Ma that Ma had heard from the Bishop where the land was, thanking her for the, long term gift offered, and nor was any thought given to the odd mention by Celli of HER block, during the years spent in the Californian bungalow and the Snake Pit, where she was later to reside. Not until twelve years hence in 1990, that is, when Celli rang to tell me of how Dusty had suffered at the hands of her father and Michael, did I begin to understand what she had been faced with in also being saddled with land purchased by Ma prompting her.

BENEDICTION And she couldn't be blamed for this, as what earthly good could Ma possibly have thought would ever come from placing the interest of the church ahead of a daughter whose present anguish was a direct result of joining her on a free flight. Perhaps Ma had always been more susceptible to autosuggestion than most, as in all the years I'd spent at Mass or benediction, other than hearing a priest once state he wanted to hear less clatter on the collection plate, is there any memory of a material gift being specifically asked for. And yet, there was Ma in 1978 with this notion so implanted in her mind that it transcended any consideration of how the action she was embarking upon might come back to bite her.
The two years to follow handing the deeds of her land to Ma, had seemingly been spent by Celli mulling over the unfairness of what had taken place. For just as soon as Celli arrived back in Australia, she honed in on getting the deeds back to what she still considered to be HER land. Even if this meant telling her mother 'the church could get stuffed'. Celli had no intention of allowing an institution already swathed in riches to benefit further by her efforts. Ma, of a far more demur nature, and coming from an age where such language wasn't used, did not argue.   mulling_over
Even though the stance taken by Celli meant that it would be Ma who was now out of pocket for two years-worth of land repayments, Ma would sooner contact the Bishop of the desert to inform him he wouldn't be acquiring a prime piece of real estate, after all.
Rather than contend with the rage behind the big, and by now also, wild, green eyes of her youngest daughter. If retrieving the deeds to this land had served to mark a new beginning for Celli, whereby she could look forward to capitalizing on her investment into the future, then surely the church, hitherto proposed beneficiary, would forgive Ma for non-delivery - if this was to mean future better communion between daughter and mother.
If this land had trebled in value by the time Celli was thirty three in 1990, rather than have cost her three times its worth, then the saga wouldn't have involved me in a more personal sense at a time when my options were at an all-time low in regards to what I had already been saddled with. Had this block increased in value, MY nest egg would never have become integral to a second attempt to utilise this acre in the same way again!!.... Jesus!

Before the Equity team came on board, the Toyota wagon became part of the movement afoot in the planned purchase by Michael of the furniture factory in New Zealand. Even though he was minus the funds required to buy this factory, this wasn't enough to stop him. It wasn't enough to stop Ian either, as it had been upon the suggestion of Ian that such a move was possible. As far as Michael was concerned, it was as simple as raking up as many potential investors as could be found before flying them across the Tasman to be wined and dined.

laser

Afterwards, it would only be a question of potential investors mortgaging their houses in exchange for the opportunity of becoming involved in a factory making office furniture components. My wagon was to be given to the soon-to-be estranged wife of our brother, as part of his own upcoming Marriage Settlement, in an effort to persuade Marcus to become one of these investors. The Laser, driven by the girl before me in lieu of the tax stamps she was owed would be passed onto me by way of exchange, given its reappearance on the scene.

The red Jag appeared after Michael paid a small deposit toward the purchase of the factory in New Zealand, thanks to Shirley, for this vehicle to not only to provide an escape from the problems on the other side of the Tasman, but to also create a favourable impression to anyone interested in providing the balance required. But, possibly due to experience, the Equity team, looking upon this luxury car as frivolous, wanted it off the books.

Michael, not quite of the same mind as those put in place to save his hide, refused. A few spins in the red Jag around the forests of New Zealand, reciting inspirational poetry into a tape-recorder, showed the other side of Michael at that time, poetry he despatched to the former Premier of N.S.W. - goodness! This was first run by me on a mobile phone, to leave me gazing at the ceiling, contemplating the differences that can exist between those born of the same parents. Incidentally, Michael really impressed Shirley with the jag, taking her on trips in it on her Company paid sojourns.

It was September 1990 by the time I was driving this first Laser and living as had been planned, separately from Bert. The first time I saw Bert after moving day was as the children were being dropped back on the first Saturday he was free.

He just happened to be up near the road, putting the garbage bins out when the new Attitude I had adopted of always ‘behaving like I had a quid’, was given a first airing. As Bert looked the Laser up and down, I simply leaned out of the window and told him the engine in the wagon had burnt out and as it would cost too much to repair, I had made the wiser decision of investing in a more reliable vehicle.

I had never seen Bert look stunned before, in him saying nothing as the children climbed out of the Laser to follow him down the steep drive toward the Snake Pit. There was no way of knowing whether this reaction was due to the Toyota wagon still being on the books of his Company or because he no longer recognized who he was speaking to.

Bert had no way of knowing what had happened to the Toyota wagon, any more than I did as to what my share was of the assets amassed during our marriage. Nor was Bert ever to know of the Toyota wagon being used as bait to conjure investment in that venture across the Tasman.

At the time, I did not feel as bad about this as would otherwise have been the case. The reason I did not, was because a few months before I went to work for Michael, I had said to Bert, on one of the rare occasions we spoke:“Oh, by the way what came of that investment made six months ago which was to have quadrupled by now?” “Did not work out”, was all that was said in response.

As documentation, bank books etc had always been kept at the office, removed from the prying eyes of the wife in the piece, there just happened to be one item to do with our finances I was privy to, of which Bert wasn't aware I knew anything about. The matter I knew about told me he was being untruthful; and the reason Bert did not know I knew, was because he wasn't there when I had steamed open a bank envelope, as you do, not from our regular bank and addressed only to him.

It was to do with profit received on a property investment I had been informed of earlier when we were on speaking terms. Interesting, is what I thought, noting the investment had gone according to plan. It had not been expected that such a piece of ammunition would fall into my hands. Just as well it did, as with me feeling a bit jaded with regard the mess I had got myself into, I now had what was needed to feel better and to justify any other potential lies I might choose to run by Bert into the future, tit for tat!

It was during the first few weeks of living in rented luxury accommodation that Bert wrote to me. In that letter he agreed to a divorce but suggested a business arrangement be organized, otherwise we would both end up in penury. This was the second opportunity for Bert to declare what he had lied about previously. Okay, I wrote back, just let me know what is in the coffers and we will take it from there.

Thanks to that family he had warned about, his good wife, unbeknown to him, was already in a weakened position, courtesy of that loan, regarding being able to negotiate as Bert might have thought in any planned arrangement of his. This was to my disadvantage but balanced against this was at least one investment I now knew about, when he thought me to be ignorant of it.

It was upon discovering the increase to the initial sum invested in a property deal which ‘had not worked out’, not being declared among our assets, that the relief of discovering what I already knew about, overtook the more normal reaction of feeling cheated. In Bert, as had been hoped, keeping the details of the deal he had told me hadn't worked out, to himself, yet again, I could now continue along the path I was on, not feeling as bad as would otherwise have been the case. I could now not feel quite so bad about with what had occurred in a bank just a few weeks before.

Experiencing a real sense of vindication in having my value of the man I had married confirmed, I wrote back, stating I couldn't consider any business dealings with someone I couldn't trust. I was tempted to go even further and let Bert know what I had been up to, on the off chance it would be enough of a shock to cause his heart to fail which, at that time, would have really come in handy.

Unwittingly, Bert had given me what had been needed to remain on course in my quest to be free of him, no matter the readjustment for all concerned. Bert wasn't exactly falling over himself in asking me to return. Any possibility of my accepting if he did, had now been ruled out.

Had Bert come clean, instead of him doubling up on a lie, his then display of honesty would have been enough for this matter to have been settled without further ado. The undisclosed amount in the separate bank account further helped towards my independence.

The first inkling that events from the past were again rearing their head came during one of Ma and my regular chats before our relationship began its meander into even more unpredicted territory. Ma had called into the house Michael and I were sharing and over a cup of tea we chatted together as though neither of us had ever heard of the Commonwealth Bank.

As was usual, we entered into deep and meaningful discussions about what her other eight children were up to. It was when Michael's name came up that the discussion drifted back to another time as Ma was to tell me of an incident in her life when she was ten years of age.

The Irish National Insurance Company of the twenties had been the brain child of her uncle, the brother of her father and after doing well from this endeavour, began buying up farms. These farms were then placed in the hands of those who knew nothing about farming, until the effects of the great depression rendered them worthless and reduced her uncle to transport via a bicycle.

Grandmother would have been thirty one and grandfather just four years older when the two of them, along with their ten year old daughter, were standing at the gates of the Barracks, their home in Ireland, when uncle Jim happened to ride by on his bicycle. Unaware of the impression they were about to leave forever more on their daughter, Grandmother asked: ''There goes Jim, should we invite him in?'' Her father replied: ''No let him go''.

Other than the news received that the son of uncle Jim was placed in an institution at the age of twelve, with the onset of an illness which left him incapable of being useful, nothing was ever heard about how Jim or his son fared afterwards. Like a thread, the callousness of Grandfather and Grandmother' sympathies were traits, due to weave their way through to future generations.

The illustrious Accountant had not been on the scene when the Equity partner had originally come on board, immediately donating $100k to the venture. The view of the 'illustrious Accountant' towards this new investment was that of an Accountant only, although he enjoyed any associated banter, as Accountants do. He asked Michael in February 1991 for a spreadsheet on products in relation to cost of build, compared to sale price. Michael and I had been in the luxury house for six months at this time.

Part of the original approach to the Equity partner had been for the factory to have new machinery throughout, already arranged and to be supplied by an Austrian Company, with Austrian Bank finance possible. The logic behind this was to build Up Market product not available other than through Europe, rather than continue with the mundane contract componentry currently manufactured. In the meantime, he had metal jigs made to ensure an improvement in quality of this contract componentry.

On supplying the spreadsheet to the 'illustrious Accountant', the latter immediately complained of such thin potential profit margins. Michael retorted that you cannot do any better with the product currently being made, whereas one achieved real margins when supplying to a more discerning market who would be won over by the beautiful timber product Michael had in mind.

What had become of real concern to Michael was that the Equity Partner had paid out a debenture against the business when he had no need to, as Michael felt responsible for this debenture. Had things gone pear shape, then the guys who had put this paper work in place would ordinarily have had to liaise with Michael. In the Equity partner first making himself Managing Director, and in him wanting nothing to do with the Construction Company he had once been a Director of, he paid out the debenture in one hit. Ready for it? - $400k!

So much then for the Austrian Machinery. Now we have the illustrious Accountant asking why margins are so low and what should be done to rectify this? Illustrious indeed! How does Michael put his new Plant initiative into place after the Equity partner had done what he had done without consultation. Interesting too that Michael did not hear from Ian again on what Ian was principally responsible for setting in place. Why? Because he had satisfied his Construction Company in removing the loss maker from its books! The Equity partner was later to wonder what Ian must have held against him.   timber pressing
Once in the luxury house, Michael picked up his boys each weekend in the green Jag, and were to spend some of the summer holidays with him too. The arrangement made with Bert never missed a beat, so our children came and went too.

It was during this time when Patsy, like Ma, called in often, declaring, after witnessing the interaction between Michael and his sons; ''Gee he is good with those boys''. It was in answering the phone one day that for want of anything else to say, I even complemented Genevieve on their rearing. I wished I had not, as I was to hear that simpering voice coming back at me saying; ''Well, Michael has been a good father too''. It was all I could do not to just hang up in her ear.

I couldn't believe I had given a compliment to the one responsible for the hoops Michael had been made to jump through in order to see his children again. The very one too who had never been taken to task for stripping the Company funds from the bank account and running up a large credit card bill for luxury items.

It just seemed incredible. I could even, for an instant have forgotten that had it not been for the actions of born-again Christians, that loan might never have been required. My thoughts were more turned toward the fireman Genevieve had recently met at the Singles club, as with a bit of luck, depending on how dense this fireman was, Genevieve might soon be taken off Michael's hands?

March 1991 saw the first major change since the previous August. The Sydney salesman, Ted, whose wages were also coming out of the Big W cheque, had returned from New Zealand. Michael wasn't refusing to accept Ted telling him the machinery was stuffed. He already knew that and had new machinery quoted on for installation throughout the Plant, earlier flying a friend over to New Zealand to organise this aspect.

Ted also maintained that Les, the guy in charge of production, did not know what he was doing. Ted was wrong in this assertion as Les was nobody's Man, going about his duties with the confidence of one who knew exactly what he was doing - unlike Ted who was yet to sell anything.

Ted expected Les to bow to him and that was never going to happen. As a Quality Control initiative, Michael had already made up the metal jigs to assist in spotting warped Product. Les said this was without doubt the best thing to have been done in ages. Ted reached for the phone to pass on his opinion to the Equity team. “Touch that phone and you are sacked,” was how Michael reacted. Ted touched the phone before he went home, to nonetheless make the call he was intent on making.

Shortly after, Michael was to hear from the former Director of the building firm where Ian still worked. Michael was asked in that call to explain why Ted had been sacked. The downhill slide of Michael and his ambition for the factory across the Tasman began with his response, as his answer to the Equity partner was:“Stan, do I need to consult with you every time I need to take a piss?”

Things were not the same after that as the wind-down of the factory had begun, to be followed by the illustrious accountant in the piece speaking to me on the phone and telling me he had met guys like my brother before and there was something wrong with them. This did not deliver the 'Ouch', which would have otherwise been the case, had I ever held out any hope of a better result.

slide

For me, good riddance to the waste of a year spent by Michael believing the impossible was attainable and also of course, the waste of poetry recited at great expense from the rain forests of New Zealand before being despatched to the former Premier of N.S.W. If there was any hope still alive at that time, it was that Big W wouldn't pull the plug also, but what, with the amount of information passed on by the two guys Michael left in charge, not to mention the bagging of the boss for the delay in providing tax stamps and filling the warehouse with goods that had no business being there, this was only a slim hope at best.

Michael and I had been in our planned accommodation for eight months by the time the factory in New Zealand folded. At that time, as there was an urgent need for finance in order to climb over the immediate hurdle of once again meeting wages. This hurdle was got over by my informing Bert I would settle for a sixth of those funds I had been kept in the dark about. This $10k went into the business.

With my time now better spent in seeking other employment, it was that I went about cleaning the homes of those with better prospects. Michael took over the job I had been previously employed to do. My recent employment through Michael was appreciated. Apart from giving me that first feeling of independence since marrying Bert, it also helped ground me in a reality not previously experienced.

Over the period spent as a cleaner, although still pessimistic about the future of CDS, my fingers remained crossed that the debts piling up in the office would be overcome and fears for the business, started before the factory across the Tasman was heard of, wouldn't prove to match my paranoia.

My new occupation presented a few muscle aches to begin with, but I was as fit a prairie bull a month after, when Michael returned to the house we were sharing one evening, to break the news that one of the guys in charge of warehousing for Big W had called in to tell him he was ‘wearing the black hat.’. Michael told me his body was gripped by a chill in realizing it was all over.

Once again, Ma happened to be visiting when Michael returned to deliver his news, and as it had been me keeping tabs on her weekly payments for allowing that loan, it was as Michael's world came crashing down that the last two of these were handed over.

It is impossible to say what reaction I was expecting, but the last certainly was to see Ma, kind of absentmindedly, pop what she had been handed into her bag. Although at this juncture the major concern was that the Big W gravy train had come to a halt, of some concern also was that no mention was made by either Michael or Ma as to how the loan with my name attached, was now to be managed.

Over the hour or so after Michael delivered his news, it seemed only crucial to me that some discussion be held as to where we went from this point in regards to that loan. Michael said he had turned down the offer of small compensation made by Big W. He and Ma went hammer and tongs about 'suing'. This saw the start of my bottling everything up. I was too taken aback at the lack of acknowledgement of where this state of affairs might land me, so much so I wasn't to say anything at all to highlight my position.

The Tax Department was in touch the following day. They were very reasonable, Michael later said, I felt quite relaxed in speaking to them actually as, they told me half the businesses in Sydney were in the same position.

That the Tax Department had been in touch, was of course too much of a coincidence to dismiss this coming about, due to this business being left in the hands of those who did not foresee how their indoctrinated ways could rebound on them also. These men once employed by CDS, would now be employed by Big W, in another warehouse, in another area of Sydney and this was where the process of emulating what Michael had begun took place. Six months later, the palletised stock to Country stores drew to a close: This event acting as a reminder of what Michael had once said, 'that this business cannot operate without me, that I do not need to be there 24/7 as what would take the lot of them a month to complete what I can organize in one night of sleep'. Big W had not been able to master the Manifest system!

Meanwhile, the weeks between June and August 1991 were spent by me dry reaching and by Michael making arrangements for the return of any leased vehicles, which included the Laser and the green Jag and generally mopping up after an interesting year.

What was owed to the Tax Department was written on a green slip. After it was handed to him, it was tossed into the nearest bin. A question mark still lay over what was owed to Shirley who would again be in contact regarding this matter in the years to come.

There was also, of course, the outstanding amount owing to the Commonwealth Bank, after the sale price for his house fell short of what had been borrowed against it and it would be this amount, which wasn't great that would lead to Michael being hounded into bankruptcy, while the Tax Department, who was owed a far larger sum, was never to be heard from again.

The salesman in Melbourne, now out of a job, relinquished the car I had gone guarantor for, which was the red Corsair. It would be me who would now be making the repayments to Esanda. The car was placed into my name, leaving me very grateful that the computer system which was to be 'state of the art', had never been purchased.

Corsair Corsair
Over those two months, Ma had taken a back seat and Michael would say, for the first and last time that it wasn't right I be left to repay that loan when I was the only party who did not stand to benefit by its existence. I couldn't have agreed more, but what was to be done when Michael was hardly in a position to continue the payments and Ma, after collecting the last of the summer feed had seemingly gone into hibernation? Without any encouragement from me, Michael then went to the bank and paid the last cheque received from Big W directly against that loan. And considering this cheque amounted to all he had, it seemed to me that this gesture was as noble a thing to do as I was ever likely to witness.

That Michael did this, gave me an eight month breathing space to figure out how that loan could be repaid, without Bert finding out his predictions, of what to expect if I left him, were already on the road to proving he had been 'on the money'. It was time then to either come clean with Bert or, suggest a Marriage Settlement, where the smell of a rat couldn't be detected. Taking the second option, Bert I am sure, must have wondered again, who he was now dealing with.

Far meeker than he once was, the terms put forward in the letter sent, offered him the chance of hanging onto something he was in great fear of losing. The terms were accepted by Bert without a murmur. With the Attitude I had adopted now in full swing, my approach to Bert outlined a procedure preferable to that of finding himself driving his BMW into another carport and one based on the lie of my becoming a property owner in my own right, the Tin House.

I told him I intended purchasing the Tin House on an instalment plan and that in order to make this purchase possible, he was to pay me an amount equalling the value of the Tin House over five years, which was within his capability to afford, and then the balance of my share of the Snake Pit could just stay where it was or be sorted at some future time.

Emphasizing this arrangement would be made with Ma, was seen as the best way to put Bert's mind at ease and that his funds wouldn't be squandered, as after all he had once claimed Ma was a very intelligent woman! The stage was then mine, with Bert going along gratefully with what had been outlined, and accepting also that he had eight months to organize himself. Meanwhile, he began paying a regular monthly amount for the children towards their upkeep which wouldn't to cease until all were independent, or until such a time when the balance of our settlement had been seen to.

It was also requested this arrangement be formally documented with his solicitor and that a copy of what had been agreed be forwarded to me. It seemed a little bit of overkill to receive paperwork six months later, stamped by the Family Court. I would soon be in a position to pay a debt, not expected to extend beyond seven years, and that come 1996, the nightmare would be over.

With my forty fifth birthday behind me by August 1991, it was time for Michael to go his way and I mine. Over the previous year, Patsy and Ian had been calling into our home. It seemed strange that not once had either Michael or myself been asked back to their home, where before all this started, we would been meeting up there on a regular basis. Neither of us had been asked back to the house where, before Michael was on the scene, myself and the children would be found even more regularly.

It will never be known now, considering how relations were to deteriorate, what exactly was responsible for this distancing, leaving me all these years later only to guess that initially it had everything to do with the problems the factory in New Zealand had, and later the demise of the business with Big W. The last time Pasty called in, the twelve month lease was up and Michael and I would be vacating our luxury premises within the week. It was upon sensing her nervousness that I appeared more in charge of the situation than I actually was. Patsy knew all about what I had been saddled with.

The conversation between us only became generally relaxed as per her previous visits, after me saying I wasn't perturbed about having only a few days to find somewhere else to live. I suggested, it was about time I realized I only had myself to rely on. What had been said worked wonders, as my sister then clearly relieved, agreed with me. Some things were kept from Patsy by Ian, nothing was surer. It was doubtful whether she would have been seen again after the previous April, had she been privy to the fax sent by her husband to Michael, requesting the stock held in the warehouse be sold and the remuneration for it be forwarded to the Equity team. There was no way Patsy would have called in past April had she been aware that the return fax read: 'Go rattle your can somewhere else!' As for the stock in the warehouse, well, it went the same way as the treasures in the Grandma parlour years ago, with Michael caring as much as his father about items, when what really mattered, had already been lost.

seamus

The cleaning job lasted for the month of May. Thanks to Seamus, I was then employed by another brother to look after the admin side of his floor covering business.

Celli was the second in the family to become embroiled in the ambition of Ma to see her children better themselves; Seamus had been the first as his floor covering business was started on securing loans against the Coconut House and later, the Tin House. Seamus was twenty six then and four years later, by the time Celli had demanded the deeds to her land be given back, he was already steaming along in the carpet trade with the reputation of being a good operator, and as I would later discover, also a rogue.

Saab Saab
It was because of Seamus contracting rheumatic fever at the age of nine that I now speak with a slight Australian accent rather than a Canadian one, as it was to Canada we would have gone, had it not been for him taking ill. Dad, having spent nine months there already, gaining employment and seeking out a place for us to live, had no choice but to return after receiving the news of his son’s condition.

The criteria in migrating to Canada could no longer be filled after this, as apart from the husband needing to be established before he could be followed by his family, each new inhabitant, no matter their age, was required to have a clean bill of health. Australia would take anyone, just so long as they were breathing, or as Bert put it: ‘Only the scum of society migrate to Australia‘.

I have no idea if Bert included himself in that statement, I did not think to ask! When Dad returned from Canada, Ma became the proud owner of a muskrat coat, which although in used condition, was nonetheless impressive. In his suitcase there were a few jars of peanut butter, a food we had never seen before.

It was 1958 when I saw Seamus hopping along the upstairs landing toward the toilet, with his left leg held up in his arms. The nine months to follow were spent by him in a fever hospital miles away with Ma visiting him on any Sunday she could. On these occasions, the youngest would go with her, whilst the oldest were fed a delicious roast dinner in the home of a charitable friend. Where Seamus had been sent did not resemble a hospital. It was a lovely white building set among rolling lawns, trees and flower beds. The oldest of us only went there once to gaze at him through a window and to see that Cheshire-cat grin of his. He waved toward where we stood from the comfort of central heating and fresh white sheets.

If ever there was a moment in time when I was envious of any of my siblings, this was the moment. I would have gladly swapped places with Seamus than return to the smog and the soot of the village where we lived in a house that, come the dead of winter, needed six coal fires to keep us from freezing. It was as well that going to Canada fell through, as what were my parents thinking, with three ageing relatives across the Irish Sea, Grandfather excluded, to whom surely some debt was owed.

Sad but true that it was only thanks to Seamus contracting rheumatic fever that Grandmother and her two brothers saw any of us again and that between the age of eleven and fourteen, I have the memories of visiting that little farm to look back on.

Seamus was to return to the big, cold house as though all he had been fed, when absent, were cream cakes. Twice the size as when he had last been seen by me, it wasn't long after his return that Dad took him to Ireland to fish in St. Kearns Bay where he himself had fished over many a year, before riding a motor bike along a country lane and coming across a lady riding a horse that was lame.

Dad and Seamus stayed at the little farm I will always remember throughout their visit and with there being little doubt from what I knew of my grandmother, she would have preferred her son to have been accompanied by his daughters. I was also aware of the real possibility felt by Grandmother, that no grandchild might ever be set eyes on again. Seamus would be getting the right royal treatment and may have even been invited into her parlour.

Seamus had been given a very close hair cut whilst in the fever hospital but it wasn't long before the locks of fair curls remembered, once again appeared, for him to look again like the proverbial golden haired boy. Within a year of returning from the fever hospital, Seamus was also back to his lean form and a year or so after, began making his first inroads into becoming a businessman. There was a large walk-in pantry in the house where we lived and in that pantry was a wheelbarrow full of small bundles of wood, tied together with string. It was with this barrow Seamus would go after school and at weekends, up the back streets and beyond, selling his kindling.

The three years to follow would be spent by me in Kent, learning the art of Domestic Science from fifteen years of age, where I would meet Sally who was to become my lifelong best friend. Prior to this, Ma had endeavoured to send me to a Catholic Boarding school in the South of England, well away from the mines of the North, when I was fourteen. I was rejected on the grounds of there being TB in my family. This struck me as strange, as it would have been two years before this when Michael was to fail his entrance exam to the Junior seminary he had appled to join. He was still accepted because it was known via the local Parish Priest that Ma was an exemplary parishoner. In my case, there is no memory of an entrance exam. Even back then, I remember thinking that the nuns' reasoning had more to do with me being from a large family and poor Northern mining village, in contrast to the other incumbents from smaller, more well-to-do families inducted into that posh Surrey school.

Ma also tried to have me taken on by the Nuns in order to serve in the 'Black hole of Calcutta', to assist them in their works of Charity. The 'Black hole of Calcutta' initiative, understandably fell through because I needed to have reached the age of eighteen and be able to make my own such drastic decision. For the record, Ma was thirty eight at this time.

I am only assuming Seamus remained active in his kindling endeavour until the day came when, at the age of fifteen, he, with the rest of us, walked out of that damp, dirty house for the last time, leaving behind everything from the thirteen years spent there. There was only one day of the year when the whole household would be up and about at five in the morning, with both children and parents excited. I guess the day we left for Australia was a lot like Christmas. In a long line, we trudged up the hill to the train station with each of us, other than those too young, carrying suitcases and bags. Early that March day in 1965 was when the first steps were taken toward our new tomorrow. We caught the Pullman for a three hour journey by rail to the southern docks, only the start of the free travel we would enjoy over the following five weeks, at the behest of a country that could either populate or perish.

The experience of being employed by Michael had helped me remember the image held of him as an eleven year old when I reckoned he would bet on two flies crawling up a wall, to find nothing much had changed. In being employed now by Seamus, I myself would now bet on Seamus not having changed either. I remember when he was eleven, he would return from selling his wares, rubbing his hands together at the few pence jangling in his pocket. This would be the way he would still be?

My transport when first working for Seamus, was the Corsair, costing me dearly in ongoing repayments. These repayments would now be met more easily on Seamus wanting the full time position in his office filled by someone other than the moron presently employed.

On the first day of my new employment, it was to come as some surprise, before I even sat at my post, to hear Seamus say; "It would be interesting to find out what the bank would do if you reneged on that loan." It was apparent to me right then and there, that whilst there might be those like me in dread of crossing swords with mothers' or large institutions, there were also those who took such situations in their stride.

It was the day after setting Patsy at ease, in agreeing with her, that I only had myself to rely on, I chanced upon a small Townhouse. It was as well I did, otherwise where would I have been with three school-aged children to care for, who naturally had the right to look to a parent to provide, especially one who had set their world in disarray.

Now employed in the floor covering industry, it was in being witness to Seamus toying with the idea of purchasing a large motorboat, it occurred to me to warn him of where the same cavalier attitude toward spending up big had got his older brother. I was responded to by a scrunched up piece of paper being thrown toward the desk where I sat. For whatever reason, the present recession had not yet hit the floor covering industry and with the lavish lifestyle of my new boss continuing on, it was hoped it never would. The day after my warning, Seamus went right ahead in purchasing that motorboat.

By now Michael was living temporarily with Marcus, and as there were still five months to go before the repayments on that loan became ‘officially’ up to me to see to. This period was otherwise a welcome respite to adjust to my recently changed working and living environment. Michael and I were still meeting up regularly, and it would be during those first few months after leaving our luxury accommodation that, if I didn't know better, Genevieve would have been placed a notch higher in my estimation. I was sure it was due to Genevieve still seeing the fireman, that with the past generous payments to her having ceased, Michael was nonetheless allowed to take his boys on train trips at weekends. Genevieve had not necessarily moved away from being in league with her parents, in future efforts made by the Esday-Witts to bring Michael undone. Michael had no job or vehicle at that stage, but due to good salesmen being as thin on the ground as reasonably good admin staff, he was soon also employed by Seamus and given a white van to use as transport until a Company car could be arranged.

By the time both brother and sister were heading along a steadier route work-wise, nine months had passed since the evening Michael delivered the news of his business demise. As if switching off the light, Ma disappeared from the scene.

In looking back upon those nine months, although it is possible Ma and I met up at some stage, the truth is I do not believe we did. Maybe with so much going on I have forgotten, but then why would I forget when her absence is still recalled so clearly? Anyway, there Michael and I had been, both having avoided a far worse fate than working in floor coverings, when Ma made another of those phone calls. This one would be just as impossible to forget as the two calls which led to us meeting with a loans officer at the Commonwealth Bank.

Over the nine months since she had last been seen, it had been me making the calls to keep her abreast of developments, not the least of which, that the last cheque received from Big W had taken care of eight monthly repayments on that loan. It was just after the first instalment by Bert had been duly paid, allowing me to honour a promise I never made, that lo and behold for a change, Ma rang me to say; “Now, you are to take out a life insurance policy for the term of that loan, to cover me should anything happen to you”.

When this call was received, I wanted to tell Ma to go fly her kite somewhere else but as I could still see no further than going along with whatever she asked me to do, the insurance policy she had requested was instantly seen to.

I was nevertheless somewhat enraged in her even thinking along such lines after what I had already been put through. I thought to only use the benefactor’s address, not that I was in a position to claim a fixed abode anyway! This would ensure, that when the next annual premium of this insurance policy came due, payment would need to be requested from me and when this day came, I was determined to put Ma straight on a few issues I was still having difficulty getting my head around.

Ma and I may not have met up over the previous nine months, yet there I now was, once again left in the wake of her latest deviation along lines I couldn't relate to and without even the means of saying one word of what was on my mind. In these circumstances, I needed not to lose sight of the day when I would finally have my say which, all going to plan, would only be a year away, when the next premium was due. However, I never got the chance. It occurred to me that perhaps Ma had decided to pay the omgoing premiums herself, no mention was ever made again of the existence of such a policy.

Ten months were spent in the Townhouse before it was replaced by a small detached house a few streets away from the Snake Pit, this is not only making the tripping back and forth with the children more convenient but there was also very little increase in the rent to gain a garden and a little more internal space. This house would see some interesting comings and goings in the eight years I was to be there, not the least of which involved Sally, my lifelong best friend and partner Jack’s visits. But as things stood in March 1992, it would be a few years yet before being given plenty more to look back on.

By the time I was living in this small, detached home, Michael had found himself a top floor unit close by to the house where the engagement party was held and was able again to house his children at weekends. With his child maintenance now being deducted from what he earned, selling floor coverings, all in all, had it not been for Seamus, things would have been a whole lot worse for us both.

Michael was still driving the white van by Christmas 1992, but in having become number one salesman over the few months spent in his new employment, the time had arrived for him to collect that promised Company car. In Seamus knowing of a car auction house he had visited previously, this was where the three of us set out one evening after work.

A table had been booked beforehand in the auction house restaurant and as this restaurant sat higher than the auction room floor, it provided a clear view of the floor through large panes of glass, for those who preferred, or could afford to shop for a used car in comfort. Having checked out the vehicles available beforehand, which were lined up in a huge shed, Michael had his eye on a Range Rover with Seamus making no objection to his choice before we headed up a ramp to dine.

The Corsair would have been classed as a medium sized car, and even though my two brothers had been eyeing off larger vehicles, it occurred to me no sooner than our meals were being served, at the same time the auction began, a medium sized car was as much as Michael needed. It was then I heard myself say, ''How about I buy a smaller, cheap car here and the lease of the Corsair be taken over as a company car for Michael?'' Seamus looked at me with surprise: ''That is a very good idea'', he said. Michael however, not quite as impressed as his brother, looked at me from over the top of his glasses, yet again and said, ''I will only go along with it because I owe you''. It had not been intended that Michael’s chances of driving around in a Range Rover be cruelled, as all that was thought of, was the good sense involved in paying for a cheaper car outright for as much as say, four months-worth of the repayments the Corsair was already costing.

The first car on the block was a white Saab, the same make and colour but not a convertible and smaller than the one Seamus drove, for him to immediately leap from his chair and stand on the platform outside the door of the restaurant, yelling his bids toward the auction room floor. Before we had even finished our meal, I was now the owner of an eight year old Saab which wouldn't have been my choice, due to it costing three times more than had been anticipated, and no doubt, also to cost more in future repairs and services. At least that constant reminder of the first step made away from my marriage would be gone, to allow the space needed to move on without carrying that particular reminder of the past with me.

Michael was the only one not pleased with the result of that evening; but overriding any pity felt for him, was that common sense approach of mine which told me there was no room for impracticalities so soon after the crippling debacle of the previous two years. Added to my satisfaction was in Seamus telling me that although I would be paying for the Saab initially, as it would be an ideal car for his oldest son, once he got his driving license, I could take the payment for the Saab out of the cash coming into the office, leaving me free in the near future to select another used car of my choice.

Perfect, as whilst Seamus waited for the day this little Saab sat in his driveway where for all the world, it would appear as if the Daddy-car had given birth, there I was with nothing to lose. Even though, in the same breath, Seamus had made sure I understood that the previous payments on the Corsair were to be kissed goodbye to. This was said in a surreptitious way, as it was kind of whispered out of the side of his mouth. I was just too glad to see the end of those monthly payments still remaining, before the Corsair would be paid for.

The good months then rolled on, with me choosing to ignore the sight of Seamus rubbing his hands together, when his finance man called in to swap the details of the Corsair over, with Debbie looking in my direction to see if I had noticed Seamus' glee. It was in considering myself better off than I would otherwise have been, that I also chose to ignore the cash payments coming into the office, going into the pocket of my employer, before I got a look in.

An explanation for the dwindling cash flow would rear its head in early 1993, as fifteen months after Michael had been employed and twenty months after I had, the tail end of that recession, which I felt had been chasing me, finally reached the floor covering industry. Ouch, and ouch again at that point. I dwelt upon the notion that perhaps, rather than being a saint, I was a witch who had put a curse on the two brothers I had been employed by. It was necessary to rein myself in and look at how the whole nation had been affected.

Over the first year spent working for Seamus, the only sighting of Celli since Michael threw Dusty in his swimming pool, was when I was living in the Townhouse. Celli rang, to check if there would be room to stay for a few days. There wouldn't have been, had this not been the part of the week the children stayed in the Snake Pit. Where I then lived had a tiny set of stairs leading up to two small bedrooms and a bathroom, while downstairs there was only a small living area, toilet, and a galley kitchen.

It was in considering I lived in a dolls house and that Celli never went anywhere without Dusty, that she was asked to either leave him in the car or on the outside doormat. This was agreed to. However, only ten minutes after they arrived, Dusty was drinking from his water bowl in the galley kitchen, to afterwards move about the living area and then come night time, climb the stairs with his mistress to share her bedroom. It had really been a waste of time laying down any rules whatsoever, as by the age of thirty five, Celli would do whatever was in her dog’s best interest and if you did not like it, your determination needed to outweigh hers.   DUSTY
The next heard from Celli was about six months later. She had rented a small neat house close to where the carpet showroom was located and was in the market for someone to share expenses. This house had a pool, which she thought would be great for Michael’s boys at weekends rather than for him to only have “that daggy flat to take them to.” Celli had clearly decided on the flat-mate she must have, and although Michael resisted the invite time and time again, she was so persistent, he eventually gave in.

By this time Seamus needed to beat Michael to the door to welcome any customer approaching it, but other than my boss' son not yet having sat for his driving test and the cash to pay for the Saab still elusive, all in all, when hearing from Celli again, things were not going too badly. Michael gave up his unit to return each evening after work to the house with a pool which, although no larger than a cattle feeding trough, would at least be big enough for the boys to splash around in.

Celli by then had returned to the employment she had before leaving Sydney for the goldfields, as a legal secretary. From what I was told by her in the initial stages of securing Michael as a flat-mate, she couldn't have been happier. What struck me at that point was in seeing the irony of the living circumstances Michael and Celli now enjoyed. The irony lay in Marie now being the one to have the house AND the swimming pool!

It was Philomena who got in the way of an otherwise suitable housing arrangement. Philomena had been a friend of Celli from the age of nine and in this friendship having lasted the time it had, and in Celli having lost connection with most of those whom she had grown up with, how else was she expected to react, other than to feel threatened, in noting the instant attraction between Philomena and Michael one morning when Philomena had just popped in for coffee and Michael looked up from reading his newspaper?

Complaints against Michael came my way thick and fast after he and Philomena began dating, with Celli, who was aware of that loan also, reporting back to me they had been staying in fancy hotels, and asking me how I thought that could be afforded? This turn of events for Celli must have seemed like the last straw, as there she had been creating a home for Michael and his children, when all she got for her bother was to have her best friend snatched from right under her nose.

Considering this event followed many years of great generosity shown to all her nieces and nephews, before the relationship with their parents soured, in now feeling let down once more and getting nowhere with me in complaining about Michael, she turned her complaining toward his boys leaving wet towels around the house and this and that, until an otherwise ideal shared housing arrangement came to an end.

Patsy had gone to ground since agreeing with me, I only had myself to rely on, for it to be heard on the grapevine that she no longer viewed Michael as having so much style and was now putting it about that he was as mad as a hatter. It had occurred to me when Celli was breathing fire with complaints about Michael and his children, to suggest she contact Patsy, as the agreement she was seeking was more likely to be found in that quarter. If I had known where this suggestion would lead, it would never have been made.

It was too late for any regret, however. A few days later Celli reported back that after contacting Patsy, the two of them had met up with Genevieve and that upon returning to her house, she had the locks on the doors changed. In my defence, it wasn't known that Celli would pick up on the suggestion of contacting Patsy. In her defence she wasn't aware that all she had been led toward was a poisonous alliance, or in other words a ‘witch hunt’.

In Celli never noticing any boundaries, how could she have seen what meeting up with Genevieve might mean in the future for Michael and his sons? As customers fell away and the cash flow had been stretched to its limits, by the middle of 1993, Michael was whiling away his time devising computer graded colour schemes to make the selection of carpet for his next illusive customer easier. Any time left to him after accommodating his sons on weekends in a beach side house he was renting, a two hour drive from where the carpet showroom was located, was spent chasing around like a love sick puppy after Philomena.

Both Seamus and I, however, had more important issues on our minds. We we were far more concerned about sales dropping off than Michael was. With me beginning to understand that the arrangement for the Saab had only existed according to whether the cash to pay for it was available, gave me another concern. Seamus had appeared to have forgotten about the cash arrangement. By this time Seamus also regretted purchasing that flash motorboat. If only he had listened! As for his business, since he was part of a Carpet Chain, he could either expand into a growth area or sit twiddling his thumbs and perish. The decision was made, but with dwindling finances, gone on for too long, how was this expansion to be paid for? Seemingly, with the nature of business being as it was, the two houses Seamus would have liked to believe he owned, were in fact hocked to the banks and yet again worth less than would be the case in a buoyant economy.

Apart from the habit of rubbing his hands together when things were on the up, Seamus also had the habit of placing his head in his hands when things were not going well. This is what he was doing on the day when his wife, Debbie, who was standing beside the desk where he was sitting, said: ''There is no way we are using your mother again''. Had what was said been directed toward concern for Ma, or geared toward not wishing to impose further upon her because of the help already given? There was now cause for me to be gripped by the premonition that my days working there were numbered. I was uncomfortable at the lack of respect actually intimated. There had been no way to interpret what had been said other than the properties, once used to set up this business, back in the mid seventies, were now too low a proposition to be associated with. It had been years since the borrowings against the Coconut House and the Tin House had been seen to by Seamus. Since that time, he and his family had moved so far beyond the notion of ever going down that track again, that the comment made by Debbie could afford to be made by her so scathingly, as if any such proposition was now beneath her!

Even if using Ma again was a consideration, who knew what was ticking over in that head Seamus was holding in his hands. This time around, with the mortgage on the Tin House now my responsibility, there would only be the Coconut House to rely on.

Ma, soon after, heard from Seamus and an arrangement between them was made. Ma organised this through a firm of lenders suggested by her solicitor, a two year interest only arrangement, on the conclusion of which the principal was to be repaid, using the Coconut House as security. As all parties concerned were required to sign this agreement, Debbie, as a director of the business, although loath to attend, had no choice. Ha, ha, ha, ha.

No feelings of animosity existed toward Seamus or Debbie before this, as it was impossible not to like either of them in practically every way, other than for their lack of humility. This was okay too, but not when it came to Ma, who continued to view Seamus as the golden haired boy, though he had long since lost his hair. Obviously Ma had looked at what he had achieved. Even if he was banging on her door to provide finance yet again, he was surely an example to follow.

Seamus also loomed large with Dad as a son to be proud of but so far as this arrangement went with his wife, when it came to the roof over his head, he was to know nothing about it. If the Murphy family could be viewed as a big pie, it was Ma who had her all fingers in it.

Both being of southern Irish extraction, was the only thing they held in common. Ma was educated, Dad wasn't; Ma followed her religion to the letter, whilst Dad looked upon this as hocus-pocus. Dad was extrovert but at the same time cynical. Ma was introvert but at the same time, only too eager to make her life more interesting.

And so it went until the children they bore threw their own complications into the mix. With finance now secure, the expansion of the floor covering business, as anticipated, was in a growth area. But until this new showroom was properly established, Michael, who had been lined up to manage it, would stay where he was for the time being. I would bridge the gap before he was to take over.

Before this, I had assumed there was more to selling carpet than say, shoes, not that I had ever sold shoes. It was just that I had not realized that here too, all involved was size, colour, price and knowing the difference between a twist and plush pile, as opposed to knowing the difference between plastic and leather! After a measure of any home was arranged, my part was done and the final quote on the job would be left to the salesmen/measurer.

Seamus, pleased with my progress after only a short while there, decided that women went over better with customers than men. Instead of Michael heading out to the growth area to take over, another lady was employed to work half the week there, to allow me to return to my previous position for the other half. This decision was made in order to cut expenditure, which for Michael would prove unfortunate. With where he remained still in the doldrums and considering three women could be employed for what he was being paid, after the Company car was taken into account, it soon followed that the inevitable would be his fate.

Had Debbie and Seamus paid Michael the courtesy of a stand-in car, with the regular Company Car being in for Service, Michael would have been able to continue his weekend access with his four boys in the beach side Property. Instead, he was told to catch a train from work, a four hour trip. Now, who wouldn't resign under such circumstance?

The Corsair and not the Saab then became the first car for the son of Seamus and Debbie. Not a word was said to me when this move was made. By now, it would appear, the original understanding with regards the Saab had indeed been forgotten.

My working months left in floor coverings continued in my time being spent between the new growth area and my original job at the office. With Mother's Day looming, Seamus had said, ''I do not know what to buy Debbie''. I said to him, '' Debbie isn't your mother''. I also asked of Seamus, had mother seen what her generosity had provided for him by way of the new set up. He answered in the negative. I then said with the generosity afforded him by Ma, that Ma ought to have been the first to see the new showroom. He said that he would attend to it, but never do so. Seamus wanted to do the right thing but was more swayed by the poor opinion Debbie had of Ma. Some women are disparaging of their Mother in Law. The slight Debbie had originally made in regard to 'not using Ma again', rather than with Michael having been shafted, had caused me to consider an alternative future. If Ma could disappear from the radar just as soon as complying with what had been asked of her by Seamus, it had been impossible after his cruel ongoing oversight, to claw back any of the appreciation once felt in being employed by him.

It was late in1993 when Sally, with her partner Jack were due to visit Australia for the first time and spend three of the four weeks, with me. The other week would be spent with a friend they had in Perth.

Michael, since leaving floor coverings, had been working for Marcus, who, ironically ran an office furniture removal business. Seamus’ son, since acquiring his P plates, had been driving around in the Corsair for a few months by then and although not the car once anticipated, an almost new, red Corsair, wouldn't be looking out of place when parked alongside a large white Saab with Seamus on the license plate, in a moonscape suburb where a microscopic view of the city lights could be claimed after sunset.

The timing of when I would be seeing my old friend again could have been better. Or so I thought then. With the way things went afterwards, it was just as well Sally came when she did.

With the day drawing close to when I would see my old friend again, had Seamus thought to swap the Corsair over when the Saab went into the garage for its first major repair and instead of me, his son drive the replacement vehicle on offer: a bright, hand painted, yellow, twenty five year old mini with PRESTIGE REPAIRS scrawled in black all over it: for the two weeks Sally and her partner would be visiting, then possibly this would have lengthened my time with him and lessened the bitterness creeping in.

Sally was recognized easily when she exited through customs and as she came closer, the only real change in her appearance was that she had the gap in her front teeth fixed. Clearly the smartly clad man walking alongside her had to be Jack.

It was a great reunion. From the instant Sally and I met up again, it was as if all those intermittent years had never existed. On being introduced to Jack, the only obstacle to be got over, as the three of us headed for the car park with a laden trolley, was whether the luggage they had with them would fit onto tiny roof racks with the aid of the string I had brought along, and into a small boot, and the one vacant seat in the mini.

It would be preferable never to think again about how my old friend and Jack’s luggage managed to make it back to the house where they would be spending the next few weeks but even all this time later, I shudder every time I think about it. How the trip across Sydney was managed in a mini, whilst laden down to a point I am sure its tyres were flattened to the ground, I do not know. The time spent with Sally and Jack, even though their continuing transport was in the same vehicle, in hindsight, couldn't have gone better.

The house was small but neither of my guests once mentioned the discomfort of sleeping on an inch thick mattress with two layers of ultra carpet underlay compensating for the sofa bed not being inner-sprung, in an area of the house separated by sliding glass doors from where the television was. During those two weeks we did the usual tours of Sydney when I wasn't working, with Sally and Jack otherwise making their own arrangements. All in all, this made for as much a successful visit as could have been hoped for, in meeting up with an old friend not seen since we were teenagers.

It had been great having Sally and Jack there, and a bonus to find that although Jack was a man of impeccable grooming, with me being more of the gypsy kind, he gave the impression of approval in his host and put my mind at ease further one evening by exclaiming, ‘I do not know why everyone wouldn't want to be here!’ Although Jack wasn't referring to his accommodation, as he and Sally had just arrived back from a tour of the harbour, it was still music to my ears to realize that the first trip made Down Under by my best friend and her partner had been pleasurable enough for them to already be considering a return visit.

It was during this visit that Sally and Jack first met Ma, who by then was more permanently situated in the Tin House, with Dad continuing on in the Coconut one, unaware that a chunk of the crumbling roof over his head, once again, had been hocked to support his favoured son’s business.

Neither Sally nor Jack had parents still living and with the three of us being around the same age, they were not only impressed with Ma’s youthfulness to consider me lucky but immediately detected by them, as would have been the case with anyone, were the qualities which still held her dear to me.

Sally looked upon Ma’s decorating skills as quaint. I have no idea what Jack thought! Homely bits and pieces, was how Sally further described the way the Tin House had by then been decked-out, with its crocheted mats, hand-made frames, silk flowers, decoupage furniture and toilet seat; its nooks and crannies and doors that did not fit into the designated holes.

It was already apparent on the first occasion Sally and Jack met Ma that she had been busy during the time spent alone in her holiday house, as the wall space was already so filled with floral images and photographs that the ceramic portrait of the Pope wasn't even noticed by them. My friends from twelve thousand miles away could see clearly how lucky I was to still have a mother who wasn't only youthful but also sweet and intelligent.

It was three years after arriving in Australia when the land the Tin House would eventually be built on, was purchased and two years after when it was actually erected. Michael, at the age of twenty two agreed to the suggestion of his mother in helping her build this house, for which he would claim, although nothing specific was mentioned, a reward into the future.

So began the drive three hours north each weekend with Michael in his new Fiat sedan, laden down with building materials and a passenger. This went on for the following two years, but the effort expended by Michael, not to mention his personal financial outlay which perhaps explained his free and easy attitude in borrowing against the Tin House when the need arose, years later. The block of land purchased in 1969 was a third the cost of the one on the other side of the rise, intended to claim the sea view but with no house in sight then. Undaunted, Ma chose a cleverly designed plan, not only inexpensive but also tall in stature.

The chosen design incorporated a full brick lower floor which, along with some brick pillars and a few poles at the other end, held up an average sized living quarters, constructed from sheets of green Colourbond steel against a steel frame. The steel frame, years later to bear testimony to Ma’s architectural thinking, in it being impervious to both white ants and the salt air of the sea.

The Colourbond roof inlaid with vermiculite panels between the steel-framed roof struts, formed the ceiling. This was in itself another architectural plus. The cedar panelled walls contributed to the overall affect. Large sliding glass doors were then installed, capitalizing on the ocean view, rather than be facing the road and valley as they were supposed to.

It was through sheer perseverance on Ma’s part that the Tin House was ever built, given Dad the handy man, did not want to know about it. Ma had fronted Michael, knowing him to have the contacts to organise the concrete slab foundation together with the brick work and septic tank installation. On completion of this, Ma knew Dad would come on board.

And so it was that the house Michael helped to build, gained the ocean view it was never meant to have, or at least this was until those who had paid three times as much for their land, came along a few years later to reduce the view thought to have been secured, to just a corner window.

Ma’s second foray into a lost career, after the Box built onto the Coconut House, had always looked as if she had built her house back to front. Adding insult to injury was when the bungalow, allowing a sighting of the sea through a corner window, was knocked down and a McMansion built in its place. Any view other than that of high brick walls and windows, was then gone, unless the Tin House was to be replaced by a tower.

But Ma wouldn't be beaten and had a mural made of the beach scene her house once overlooked. This mural was then stuck to the cardboard sheeting, which had first been tacked to Perspex, to protect it from the weather, before this creation was put out on the deck, to rest against various odds and sods placed in position to hold it upright. Ma was very pleased indeed with the result, but then she couldn't see the view those who built the McMansion now had from their rear windows.

Sally and Jack only met two of my siblings on that first visit. One of these was Patsy who called in for a cup of tea. Not much had been seen of her over the past three years but there she was now, seemingly oblivious to what I might know about Celli having been led in the direction of Genevieve, only a couple of months earlier. It was as if Patsy imagined, all I knew of her last connection with Genevieve, would have been in the Family Court when she was supporting Michael’s attempt to gain access to his sons. This had been over five years earlier. There Patsy now was, not knowing what I knew of her fawning again over Genevieve, only two months earlier. It would then have been as other cups of tea were being passed around, Patsy would have been tut-tutting as Celli, glad to be included in anything, was given carte blanche to repeat her fiery dissatisfaction in regard to Michael, with specific mention, no doubt made of his association with Philomena.

It couldn't be fathomed what Michael ever did to cause such disaffection, in the one who once considered he had so much style, also to the point where Patsy found it neccessary to instil the fear of God into Celli, to such an extent that when she returned to her home, Celli had the locks on the doors changed. The topic wasn't raised with Celli until years later, by which time she couldn't even remember Patsy taking her to visit Genevieve. All Celli recalled of any upset from around that time was being rudely shunned by Genevieve. Celli had been walking through a department store with a friend, and in chancing upon Genevieve, it was as she approached her to plant a sisterly kiss on her cheek that, to her shock horror, Genevieve spat “Get away from me. I want nothing more to do with any of you Murphys”. Celli was reminded by me of the earlier jaunt she had been taken on by Patsy in the direction of Genevieve. Celli could make no connection to this being part and parcel of these TWO events happening within months of each other. Celli’s capacity to take anyone she met at face value, was an endearing quality to me, the cynic. I could well have learnt a lesson from her unguarded approach to life, if she had not been also in a constant state of anger and bereavement. After all, what was there to learn from someone who couldn't even put two and two together when it came to the treatment received at the hands of Genevieve, when only a short time before Celli's presence had seemed so welcome? What was there to learn from Celli too who, not unlike myself, left herself wide open for even worse treatment four years later, on the occasion of Celli’s fortieth birthday on a visit from Patsy?

When Patsy called in, I was very proud to show Sally and Jack off, as there I was in the company of two quite normal folk, neither of whom were tip-towing around me, as if I had grown two heads because I no longer had a husband. As we sat under the clothes line in the back garden sipping mugs of tea, I wondered if Patsy knew that Genevieve’s brother, the one with a shifty look about him, had taken off to the South of France with the proceeds of the desks Michael had designed.

But then, how could she have known when for sure and certain Genevieve wouldn't have told her. I mean, the Esday-Witts may have been a nest of vipers but they were at least loyal to their own. Such information could only be gleaned by chance, for instance; by just bumping into someone completely unrelated but nevertheless in the know.

Michael too, called in unexpectedly one evening. Now working for Marcus, he was dressed in navy shorts, a matching short sleeved shirt with ‘office relocations’ printed in red on the top left hand pocket and knee length cream socks and black shoes. A few days after Patsy called in, there he was, leaving me filled with apprehension that the good impression Patsy had given of our family to Sally and Jack was about to be undone, as when not stirring her cauldron and just so long as her feathers were not ruffled, Patsy did possess a degree of circumspection, whereas the same couldn't be said for Michael.

But I needn’t have been so ill at ease, as Michael was still so full of the joys of his relationship with Philomena, that anything that went before appeared to have been forgotten by him.

Jack did remark however, after Michael had departed, that he could feel the power coming from him. Interesting, is what I thought. This had been said by someone meeting him for the first time and knowing nothing of his previous life.

The Saab was fixed in enough time to drive my friends back to the airport. And all was well as I drove again for a couple of months afterwards to the growth area for half the week to sell carpet and then back to the other office for the admin duties on the other days. The inevitable parting of the ways with my employer then took place as I went the way of the brother before me.

Leaving the second employment secured through a brother did not end as unpleasantly as it might have. I just calmly picked up my bag and went on my way, with not a word said by me of the disregard shown for the generous act on the part of Ma in securing this business’ future, nor the lack of payment for the Saab, nor the costly repairs to keep it on the road. These aspects of my employment may well have been burning away in my soul but it was something trivial that sparked my departure, not trivial enough to affect the recall of the detail, just too trivial to mention here.

Complicating matters just a tad after collecting my bag and driving off from an underground car park in the Saab, was that the third instalment made by Bert, which once again was right on cue, instead of being placed into my account for the bank to draw on when those payments for that loan came due, had instead been deposited into Seamus’ business account.

I had driven off in a huff from that underground car park in the Saab on leaving Seamus’ employ, in having earlier handed over Bert’s third annual instalment, to a brother whose business was still suffering the tail end of the recession. It had been the Easter long weekend of 1993, a month before Seamus received the borrowings against the Coconut House to open his new showroom when, it took no more than seeing him holding his head in his hands for me to make the obvious offer.

With my next payment coming from Bert due the following week, I offered this to Seamus as a stop gap measure. His first reaction was to refuse, but then, in no more time than it took for me leave his presence and go to the toilet, which was just behind the partition where I sat, in returning I was to find he had changed his mind. “It would be really good if you could do that,” he said, and added; ''Bert’s a good lad''. ''I am a good lad too'', was my response, to which Seamus answered, kind of humbly, “Yes you are” .

With my forty sixth birthday now behind me, it was by way of a worrying afterthought, it occurred to me, if Ma could disappear from Seamus’ radar just as soon as providing the help she had, then maybe what was now owed to me would be given about as much consideration.

Seamus had been repaying monies I had lent to him by covering my loan repayments, until I left his employ. On leaving Seamus, I was also owed unpaid wages and annual leave entitlement. So it was in driving away from my employment that I had cause for concern as to whether Seamus would continue with the repayments, until monies owing to me had been repaid in full. Other entitlements ran a distant second.

While the day had not yet dawned when I would hear Seamus described as “a rogue,”’ had this opinion of him been forthcoming at any time beforehand, it would have had little impact on how I had always remembered him, even though my eyes had been opened in how Ma could become just as obscure a figure of importance, as she had been before laying the golden egg. Also, I had been left to drive Sally and Jack around town in a hand- painted mini when the use of the Corsair could so easily have been handed back to me for that couple of weeks.

THE_MAGNA_WAGON THE MAGNA WAGON
Meanwhile, another job in floor coverings was secured and as I was in no urgent need of the required payments toward that loan, due to having some savings. I went about doing the necessary until such time as Seamus made good with what was owed.

The Saab’s engine which had been a hit or miss proposition since I had paid out big time for its first major repair, began the crawl toward the knackers yard only two months after my finding new employment. It was then I headed for the Saab specialist, the only place that might be willing to trade. This was a good decision. The Saab specialist was more concerned with the condition of the body work than the clanging coming from under the bonnet. He took it off my hands for cash.

In the area the Saab specialist was, there were no trains. I was then to spend what was left of the day wandering along the main road until a replacement car was found. On scanning the prices of the cars lined up behind a high wire fence, a blue manual 1974 Magna wagon caught my attention. For the price being asked it looked alright and in starting it up, its engine did not make any suspicious noises. Its gear stick needed to be held into position when reversing, lest it leap unassisted into ‘first,’ I reckoned I had found the car I had been looking for.

It would have been great if I had been in a position to wait longer than I already had to discover if my past employers would honour their debt. It would appear three months on, that the lack of humility remembered only too well could get in the way of just about anything.

After having allowed what had been thought to be enough time for Seamus and Debbie to repay what had been handed over, it now seemed fairly obvious I wouldn't be seeing a cent, unless it was asked for. My savings by then used up, there was really no other choice but to make the approach I had been hoping to avoid. In not being a confrontationist, or more of a coward, I chose rather to write than pick up the phone.

Spurring me on to write more in this letter than I otherwise would have, was that just a week before I had received news that my past employers wouldn't be employing anymore ‘family’ because, they took too much advantage. If ever instigation was needed to say a little more of what was on my mind, this had now been provided.

Apart from asking for the repayment of what had been handed over in good faith, I would now also make mention of the assumed responsibility for the Saab and that there was no need to look further than their own back yard to find where advantage had been taken of family. This letter was in no way conciliatory, but still mild, compared to what would have been written today.

There was no way then to know any of what was to come. What had been written at that stage was all there was to go by, but still enough to hear the ire of my brother the following evening after picking up the phone. The two daughters present, who needless to say had no choice but to be all ears in the small living space we shared, were never to know that the, Yes, Right, Okay’s they heard, were due to their mother listening in detail to what a bad job she had been doing when working for Seamus and that she was only employable because of the experience that previous job had provided.

What that time working in floor coverings held for Michael, may well have been on the road to being as forgotten by him as what occurred previously had been. No matter how much time went by, all of it would remain with me. Also mentioned during that call from Seamus, and I knew Debbie was listening in because it was bloody obvious, was that if I wanted payment for anything, I would need to front the office.

In it also being stated that my face was never to be set eyes on again, I made a deviation from repeating Yes, Right, Okay, to suggest: ''Well, in that case, perhaps I should put a bag over my head?'' My daughters were then given reason to be intrigued, but they wouldn't hear another word spoken by me as the line had gone dead.

The stalemate between my past employers and myself was left to rest then, as with me having no intention of calling into the office with a bag over my head or even in my glad rags, for it to appear that it was me who had something to answer for. I instead scraped together the next monthly payment due on that loan and waited again to discover how long it might take for this particular experience of the family I had been born into, to be put to rights.

It could have been due to a latent twinge of conscience that within a week of that phone call, a cheque for the balance owing was collected from my mail box. This was most likely because Ma stepped away from defending Seamus for the only time throughout the years of my experience and gave her once golden haired boy a call because of my mention of this matter to her.

Whichever way it was, I now had the required result which was a huge relief but with my parting entitlements still outstanding, pen was put to paper once more and with the help of the Attitude I had now long since adopted, it was suggested in the short note sent, that if it was preferred, this particular amount could be directed to Eamonn as it was an opportunity to do something for him.

These few words were geared in a psychological way, to ensure either Eamonn or myself would receive what was still owing. Had what was written been taken literally, then at least either result would have delivered a more positive outcome than for hard earned wages to remain begging. Consequently it was like a kind of bonus to receive another cheque, about a month after, and regardless of this being a little out of line with the general rule of employment, the backlog of the previous five months had been cleared, to allow me to move on to whatever else was waiting.

son_of_god With my forty seventh, birthday behind me, Eamonn’s situation as he himself termed it, had stretched so far beyond anything manageable that were it not for fortnightly anti-psychotic injections, he would be continually roaming the streets professing in a roar, that he was the son of God, frightening anyone he came in contact with. For the two years preceding that hour spent in an office of the Commonwealth Bank, Ma’s world had been taken up in finding treatment for the same son who, at the age of three, begged her to take Celli back after she appeared as a newborn in the dining room.“Take it back Mam, take it back” were the words spoken by him then, and it was in considering this incident that I wondered if every youngster keenly affected in being superseded in the baby stakes were like Eamonn, never forgetting the day when their mother’s attention was lost. Eamonn is the same son who, at the age of nineteen, woke in terror one night to tell his mother of the horrifying distorted facial image that had been hovering over him. There is no suggestion here that anything to do with Eamonn no longer being ’the baby’ created his situation, no more than it being claimed sixteen years on, that what he had been terrified by, could be attributed to anything more than a nightmare.
Consideration of Eamonn’s plight came my way by accident, as he was thought about no differently to any of my other siblings when he was brought along by Bert back in the days of the Californian bungalow, as his golfing partner. Apart from the two youngest in my first family, clearly Eamonn mustn’t have been viewed too badly by Bert either, as otherwise he wouldn't have chosen to spend every Saturday wandering around a green expanse, launching little white balls with a stick, alongside him.

Anyway, the ongoing association between Eamonn and me came into being because he returned after golf with Bert each Saturday for much of the eight years spent in the Californian bungalow, where he would have dinner before leaving to walk or ride his push bike to where he lived around four kilometres away in a boarding house. These were the days when Eamonn was bristling with such physical energy he preferred to get to wherever he was going under his own steam and the days also when nothing was made of him residing in a boarding house or having any friends.

Eamonn may have “played the game of golf naturally well”, Bert’s words, but what wasn't seen in those days either, was that it was going to take more than being good at ball games to prevent the downside of his gentle nature.

Shortly after Bert and I moved into the Snake Pit, without notice, Eamonn just did not turn up for golf, leaving Bert to find a replacement golfing partner and me thinking nothing about it until a postcard was received. This post-card was from Eamonn and it asked that his belongings be moved from the room he had been occupying in the boarding house as it had been ransacked by intruders.

He was taking a holiday as a doctor had told him he was suffering from stress. Requesting the help of Marcus, the two of us, with the aid of a small truck, went about the task to hand. On reaching Eamonn’s digs and with some trepidation in opening the door to his room, there was no sign of the expected upheaval. In discovering that all to be removed was no more than would fill a suitcase, since the furnishings and fittings belonged to the landlady. Neither Marcus nor I knew what to think.

There was a knock on the door one Saturday evening a few weeks later. I was alone preparing dinner, which I continued on with after answering the door. Eamonn casually wandered in.

It was good to see him especially so because there appeared nothing about his demeanour to warrant the alarm bells which had been ringing since having gone to clear out his room. Eamonn positioned himself on the other side of the island kitchen bench. We just chatted away as though nothing had changed with me chopping stuff and chucking it into a pan and Eamonn just going on about his holiday. It was only when he said he had needed to get away because hordes of people had been following him and telling him to jump off the harbour bridge that I paid more attention.

He then went on to describe the experience of not being able to get away from this horde, as no matter where he went, they found him. Until he said it was all because of who he was and I asked “And who is that? ” that the notion he had been plagued by a bunch of hoons was dismissed. His reply was “You will not believe me” to which I said “Try me.” “You will not” he said, “but it doesn’t matter as all will be revealed in two more years when I reach the age of thirty three”. ‘Why thirty three?’ I asked. “Because I am the son of God and that’s the age Jesus was when he was crucified” he responded.

Had this been said with any hint of uncertainty rather than matter-of-factly, then maybe the wind wouldn't have been taken completely out of my sails and I would have continued facing him and not turned back to the stove, unable to know what next to say. I was thinking of any tell-tale signs there may have been during all the years he had been Bert’s golfing partner but beyond the experience of going to his room in the boarding house, there wasn't anything.

I was still lost for something to say when Eamonn spoke again, “Knew you wouldn't believe me”, he said. I then turned around and asked him if he would come to the Community Centre with me in the morning as there would be someone there who would have more of an idea what he was on about.“Sure,” he said, “but nobody ’there’ will manage to convince me I am not who I say I am, any more than you can”.

Bert returned from the nineteenth hole and the children from wherever they had been, not long after and all six of us sat down to eat. Other than what the previous hour had involved, it was as if the old times had returned. It was after dinner when the first chance presented itself to ask Bert if he was aware that Eamonn was raving. “Yeah&”, he said, "he’s been going on for ages about being followed by detectives but I put that down to him being struck by lightning’.

Struck by lightning! Needless to say this was news to me. The lack of communication between us by this time had developed into a chronic case of ‘only speaking to one another when absolutely necessary,’ . Even so, there was no excuse for something of such magnitude to have been kept from me. “How do you know he was struck by lightning?” I asked. Bert then gave a casual account of a day a year or so before when Eamonn, during a sudden storm, took shelter under a tree on the golf course where a flash of lightning soon after appeared, directly above his head.

The rain arrived again the following day but even if the weather conditions were torrential, a professional opinion on what ailed Eamonn couldn't wait. Eamonn sat beside me quietly as we headed off in the Toyota wagon through streets awash and water up as high as the bottom of the car door as I drove under the railway bridge. Half an hour later we were driving around and around the block where the Community Centre was as all the parking spaces had been taken.

It was after about the third turn around the block that Eamonn spoke for the first time, in saying very casually “There must be lots of Sons of Gods about.” This caused me to laugh, I couldn't help it, and it was with relief to find Eamonn laughed too as this placed less seriousness on the mission of having him seen by a psychiatrist.

With the car eventually parked, we made our way along the road in the pouring rain to a converted Federation styled house. No one was about as we entered into a wide hallway and as there was still no sign of anyone after standing about for a few minutes more, Eamonn suddenly banged the bell positioned on top of the reception desk, stating loudly as he did: “How dare they keep the son of God waiting!” In this having been done also in a joking kind of way, the air between us was filled with amusement once more which further assisted the belief that it wouldn't be long before Eamonn returned to the reality of who he actually was.

On Eamonn banging the bell, we were soon led into a back room by a blonde haired woman around my age. Eamonn was then asked how much sleep he got. He answered: Not much. He was then told how important sleep was and asked whether it had ever occurred to him that he was mentally ill, for Eamonn to respond’ "I am not mentally ill I am the son of God.’

When this was said he noticed a smile pass between the psychiatrist and me which did not faze him, as he then repeated softly; “Think about it as funny if you like, but all will be revealed in two more years because I will be the same age then as Jesus was when he was crucified.” We were back out in the street half an hour later with a prescription which saw the start of Eamonn being expected to take tablets for an ailment he couldn't acknowledge. The result of this would mean concern in the years to come for his mother and me.

Eamonn stayed on in the Snake Pit for a while afterwards with the tablets he had been prescribed affecting his physical movement and turning his usual healthy bronze complexion into an ashen mask. There was some indication during this time that he had gained an insight into his condition, as it was over this same period he said to me; “Years ago they would have locked people like me away and I would have been left screaming at the world through bars. How terrible that would have been.” Also stated then for the first and last time was; “Maybe I am sick?” I wanted Eamonn to stay, which is what I told him. But in him knowing Bert almost as well as I did by then, his reply to this was: It is never going to happen.

As far as I could see Eamonn was only ever an asset to have around as apart from being amusing, he was also kind and generous, attributes he never lost and related to the children as if he was one of them. But I was also to find he was intuitive, which was discovered just as soon as it was run by Bert that he should stay. Eamonn had a thick mop of brown afro style hair in those days which, as a consequence of the revelations since he had last been seen had been left to grow bushier than usual.

This would be drawn to my attention after six of us sat down to dinner on the evening of the same day I had put forward the suggestion to Bert that Eamonn remain on in the Snake Pit. Unaware of the proposal I had put to Bert on his behalf, Eamonn was just glancing absentmindedly from where he sat at the table toward the golf course, when he suddenly said: “wouldn't mind having a game of golf before I go.” My determination to leave Bert then leapt bounds in hearing him answer: “Well, in that case I had get your hair cut as the way it is even makes you look mad.” That game of golf never took place, and I hoped I had never witness again the fear seen that evening in Eamonn’s blue eyes.

The following three years were spent by Eamonn back at the Coconut House with Ma taking over from where I had left off. This time wasn't easy for her, as it was largely spent in a devoted search of finding if a suitable treatment for her son was available and battling the ignorance of a husband who saw him as nothing more than a rat-bag. Unless his daily tablets were handed to him, he had forget to take them and if more than two days were missed, he refused to take them as by then he was the son of God again and the whole scenario would start over.

  The two jobs Eamonn had since leaving school was as a Postman in the morning and installing elevators in the afternoon. This had resulted in him having a tidy sum saved, all of which during the years spent back at the Coconut House was either put into letter boxes at random or thrown from trains. Also impervious to pain when medication was lacking, Eamonn would walk till his feet bled or be taken into police custody for making a general nuisance of himself. postman
Eamonn’s birthday is the twenty third of April, and this being St. George’s Day, his attire when he took to the road consisted of the colours of St. George - a red and white rugby shirt, red shorts, a red baseball cap, knee length white socks and a pair of large sunglasses. He would think nothing of walking thirty kilometres in a day and as he pounded the pavements of Sydney, he listened to the music provided by a walk-man or transistor radio.

It was whilst dressed in his red and white walking attire that early in 1991 Eamonn arrived at the house Michael and I were sharing. He stayed a few days but as things went, it was the night after he had left when my sleep was interrupted in answering the door. It was a couple of detectives who were knocking and they said a complaint had been issued by two females who had been bailed up in a nearby street with the perpetrator had been followed back to this address.

Instantly I knew who this perpetrator was, but regardless of the explanation given, Eamonn was nevertheless expected to face whatever charges applied for having frightened two females almost to death. Consequently, I was to attend the local Court with him on a few occasions where the Magistrate, in receipt of letters sent ahead by Ma, eventually placed Eamonn – who did not know what was going on, into the too hard basket.

  It was only a short while after receipt of the wages cheque sent by Seamus when my door was knocked upon again by Eamonn. The Magna wagon was going well, as was the latest job in floor coverings and all was at peace for the first time in a long time when in he walked, telling me the Salvation Army had asked him to leave because he wasn't taking his medication. Once again it was good to see him, and of course he could stay, but only on the condition that if he became manic he had agree to leave. Eamonn said he understood which I knew he did but with no medication on the scene, it was clearer to me than it was to him, that he wouldn't be staying long. This proved to be the case as a few days later the red and white outfit appeared. Knowing well enough by then that he would soon be informing the neighbourhood of who he was, it only took some quiet words for him to pack his few belongings into his backpack and like an obedient child go on his way. Salvation_Army
Ma and I were holding one of our regular chats which more often than not by this stage revolved about Eamonn. We were sitting in the Magna Wagon when whatever was being discussed suddenly took a deviation. “I have been to see my solicitor to explain you should get that money back,” Ma suddenly blurted out. Her eyes were directed toward the floor of the car when this was said and although there was no doubt in my mind what this reference was made toward, I nonetheless, probably due to the sudden change of subject, couldn't think how to react.

This had been the first mention of that loan since Ma rang me three years before in order that I arrange a term life insurance policy to cover her should anything happen to me. On that occasion I had missed the chance to say something of the predicament I had been left to deal with and now it would seem I should have had more faith in Ma than to imagine she was beginning to cook up a fabrication of the facts. Though it was difficult to understand why her solicitor needed to be put in the picture, I was nonetheless swamped with a huge sense of relief that the dialogue on the subject closest to my heart wasn't completely dead.

Unfortunately, my feeling of relief wouldn't be lasting long, as Ma then raised her head for me to see again a shiftiness in her pale blue eyes, as she said “But he said you shouldn't because taking out that loan had been your choice.” As had been the case previously in being rendered unsure of how to respond, on this occasion I just started the car and it was as I was driving off to head to wherever it was we were going, that Ma added: “And he asked why you’d put such a burden on yourself?” This was the second missed opportunity to have my say, but as at the time I was more irritated with Ma’s solicitor than with her. I just put this instance out of my mind and did not think again about what had been said until a few years later.

hells_angels The next heard of Eamonn was a few weeks after he had obediently gone off to wherever after a few days spent with me. A phone call was received from a doctor in a city hospital who informed me he had been taken there by the police and that he was extremely agitated. Apparently he had been causing a disturbance by leaping around between a row of parked motor-bikes, swinging a chain and that it was the Hell’s Angels he had put the fear of God into this time.
It was agreed that he be transferred to a hospital closer to where I was and that whist there, he be placed on a C.T.O, a community treatment order. This would ensure that, when he came home!, he would be visited fortnightly and given an injection.

Eamonn was wearing a black glove on his right hand when I went to visit him in the hospital. When asked what the glove was for, he explained it was to give him power. He was in this hospital for a few weeks until his tribunal hearing was organized. Under the rules set out in a C.T.O., a tribunal was mandatory every six months or so but it would be in attending this tribunal with Eamonn that I would see again that fearful look in his eyes, and no wonder.

It wasn't understood why he wandered about hospital wearing a black glove to give him power. His affliction was rather interpreted by a panel of doctors and Magistrates as behaviour needing to be answered for if he expected to re- join society. Eamonn returned to live with me after being placed on his first C.T.O. – This ensured, lest he slip under the net, that fortnightly injections would keep him on the straight and narrow.

Time then just went by with no complaint from my two daughters, my son being away at university, to Eamonn’s presence. He was as perfect a housemate as had been expected and we all got along famously. The annex off the television room and the sofa bed Sally and Jack had slept on were now for Eamonn to enjoy with the bed holding up well considering its flimsiness and his bulky frame.

It was with my forty eighth birthday behind me that it was figured the time was right to take a look at the statements received from the Commonwealth Bank which for four and a half years had been piling up in a cupboard. As by this time the seven year term of that loan, as mentioned by the young man who had attended to Ma and me, was only months away from reaching fruition and what with Michael’s contribution having extended to almost two years before it became necessary for me to take over, I was feeling on safe enough ground to show the first interest in the paperwork involved. By my calculations, in still having six months-worth of Bert’s final instalment left, the nightmare of having that loan hanging over my head would soon be over.

It was, however, upon scanning the bottom line of the latest statement received that I was to receive something of a shock, as the amount outstanding of what had initially been borrowed as a ‘business loan’ for Michael’s Company, still stood at around about the same amount as had been borrowed seven years earlier! Biting my fingernails, which was something I did even more so whenever panicked, I went about searching back over the statements trying to figure how this could be; an exercise which got me nowhere. All to be seen were the instalments Bert had made being calculated out of existence.

A solution to this problem nevertheless needed to be arrived at, as whether I liked the idea or not, it was still me holding the can for a situation not exactly of my making. So, as at that stage there was still six months-worth of the last instalment made by Bert left, I decided to make another appointment at the same branch of the Commonwealth Bank where I had sat with Ma that fateful day in 1990, to ask that the original business loan be changed to a Housing loan as this would lessen the monthly repayments to around half.

The inside of the branch of the Commonwealth Bank responsible for issuing that loan had by this time been altered. The office I had once sat in to no longer existed. I was attended to by a young woman, who could well have been related to the young man seen on that first occasion.

All that was required in applying for a Housing loan when I wasn't buying a house, was the completion of a form for what had been requested to come my way. Breathing easy was all that mattered at the time, but I can imagine now, there would have been some behind-the-scene activity, just as soon as the original loan application had been dug out from where it lay in the ’suspect’ file, since those guys from the Butler Road branch marched in furious in it having been allowed. This could be the only explanation as to why, what I had gone in search of, had been granted with no questions asked.

Eamonn remained with me as the hospital crew continued to call in each fortnight to give him his injection and the established harmony continued. Michael was no longer working for Marcus and was now employed in Real Estate.

Philomena was still on the scene. Celli, along with Dusty had gone to live in Victoria, where it was claimed true friends existed. Pasty and Ian were hobnobbing with Seamus and Debbie which was as it should be when the four of them had more in common than any of the rest of us did, with them, or with one another.

Gerard had gone to live south of the Queensland boarder years before with his family which, fortunately for him, removed him a safe enough distance away from any of what I speak of. The farce was yet to come involving the Coconut House which two of his brothers, John and Marcus, would get caught up in. It was whilst Michael was in Real Estate I heard of how my first boyfriend, Ross had fared since we had gone our separate ways almost thirty years before.

A house had come up for sale and this house belonged to none other than that lovely man everyone said I was mad to let go. Anyway, in Michael having recognized the name, the job of selling this house was handed to him. And it would be as a result of this that Ross and Michael met up for a few drinks, which in turn would lead to me recalling the altercation between Ma and Pasty three years after arriving in Australia to occasion the only time I had ever heard my mother weep.

After Michael had met up with Ross, it came as a surprise to find I could expect to hear from this old boyfriend whom I had not seen or spoken to for nigh on thirty years. Ouch, as no matter how many years had gone by, I had never been free of the guilt in Ross having married an older woman with teenage sons whilst on the rebound after I gave him the shove.

Apart from this, did not Ross have enough on his plate in moving house and only in recent years, having remarried and become a father? As it was thanks to me that Ross’s life had taken the course it had, I was now living in hope he would find himself too busy to contact me and then the memories of those years soon after arriving in Australia could remain as much in the past as everything else from that era.

However, only a matter of days later, I was to hear a voice unchanged, asking me what had happened to my accent. Ross insisted during the short conversation to follow that we all meet up for dinner. Who, all would be, although it was assumed Michael was included, wasn't made clear and I did not ask.

A week after this call was made, with no particular care taken of my appearance; it was time for Michael and me to head off to the restaurant where Ross had booked a table. Michael and I arrived a little too early and were onto our second aperitif when Ross, whose physicality was much the same – tall, well built, sandy haired and handsome with a film star smile, arrived a little late with a pregnant, but nonetheless smartly clad natural blond by his side. Oh no he’s brought the wife!, was the concern leaping straight to mind, as now the evening ahead would be even more of a labour than previously anticipated.

And I wasn't wrong! Ross’s wife’s hair was shoulder length, sleek and pulled neatly back off her not unattractive face with an Alice band, whereas my hair was shorter, dyed brown, but fortunately frizzy enough to cover the wrinkles in my neck and creases on my forehead. As expected, Ross’s second wife was around fifteen years my junior and her bulge was hidden well underneath a smart Laura Ashley print frock, whereas it was all I could do to prevent the shoulders of my recycle shop dress slipping down to my elbows.

I was struck straight away that Ross’s second wife suited him, as both were groomed to perfection and as Ross had never been totally happy with how I presented myself, then one good aspect of finding myself in his wife’s company, was that I could now let go of the guilt about how his life post me had turned out. As greetings were made with the wife flashing a false smile in my direction and me one in hers, it was after a few awkward pleasantries and two bottles of wine had been consumed by three, as the wife was drinking water, that Ross made the mistake of assuming I knew what had been discussed between himself and Michael during the time they had spent together the previous fortnight. Turning toward me Ross casually said: “It came as a surprise to hear that you and Patsy are now distanced, but as explained to Michael, I can understand after my own experience of Patsy.”

Any further attempt whilst in the presence of the wife of perfection to reign in any exuberance was then gone, as I asked Ross what he was talking about? This question was followed by Ross glancing at Michael who administered, in putting his finger on his mouth, that any discussion along these lines was to go no further. After noticing what Michael had done I wouldn't let up: “Tell me, Tell me,” I went on until Ross had no choice.

“Well,” Ross finally said, half glancing at his spouse who had a knowing look on her face;“You remember how I used to come to your house to make your breakfast before driving you to work?” How could I forget, is what I was thinking, as it was such a turn off that Ross made such a doormat of himself.

“Yes, I replied, so?” Well…, Ross hesitantly went on, “it was on one of the mornings I was there… that Patsy came into the kitchen before you appeared….. And……. exposed herself to me.”

It took a moment for me to gather my thoughts.“You mean she confided in you?” I asked.“No,” Ross replied,“She undid whatever she was wearing.” Of course some mistake had been made as such an occurrence wasn't possible. For one thing it was men who exposed themselves to women and not the other way around, and for another, Patsy just did not behave in such a way.

“As if,” I said off handedly, “and how pray tell did you react?” Ross then looked too uneasy for someone just spinning a line, which wasn't like him anyway as he said;“I told her I wasn't interested as I was too besotted with you.”

I think at that point I must have raised my voice as those on the next table all turned around. “Well if it is true how come you did not say something at the time? I asked.”

Ross replied,“because you always held her in high regard and I did not want this to change on my account.” It was at that point the wife of the piece nodded her head contemplatively, and in looking straight at me joined the chorus I had heard many times before in saying with calm resolve, “He’s a lovely man.” Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. For the second time in my life, the first being when I had sat in an office of a bank with Ma, other than our group being the last to leave the restaurant, there is no recall whatsoever of how the rest of this reunion went after Ross divulged what he had.

That night as I tried to sleep, the memories of a morning almost thirty years before in the hallway of the Coconut House, came flooding back as I asked myself, was the first time I had ever heard my mother weep due to what Ross said had occurred? Were those tears that of a mother witnessing sibling rivalry going haywire? Had Ma remained quiet because she, like Ross, did not want to spoil the relationship between two sisters? If what Ross had said was true, was Patsy aware that this lovely man had chosen not to tread the depths of turning sister against sister, or over all those years had she thought I had always known?

Had I asked if Ma witnessed what Ross said took place, then this would have clarified the uncertainty of whether the incident mentioned occurred the same morning when Ma had Patsy bailed up against the wall. But in this possible connection only being thought of afterwards, when I was unable to sleep, hoping I would wake in the morning to find the previous evening had been just one long nightmare, it was in the awful reality of daybreak that I continued to query what Ross had said.

Was the morning Patsy brushed past me without a word, the same morning Ma disappeared into her bedroom, to moments after be heard weeping? Was I too busy eating the breakfast prepared for me, to notice my boyfriend looking at me questioningly before he drove me to work? In tossing and turning after a rendezvous from hell in need of some explanation for what had been reported by Ross, I recalled a brochure read when visiting the Community Centre with Eamonn, and the information supplied in this brochure indicated that one-off psychotic episodes were not uncommon.

Could Ross have imagined a scene he believed to be real? Or if this wasn't the case, then as it would have been early morning when the incident he spoke of took place in the Coconut House almost thirty years before, was it possible that Patsy had been sleepwalking, only to come to her senses in having a finger pointed in her face?

Ross and I met up for lunch on two occasions afterwards; nothing for his wife to be concerned about; it was just business to do with some artwork he was putting together for a little project I was involved in at the time, a weeding tool I had designed which more will be said about later. In Ross being a commercial artist, Michael had thought to line him up to take care of some brochures and boxes for my project, an unnecessary and expensive exercise – but what was new about that! On the first occasion Ross and I met, post the evening best forgotten, he apologized for having brought the delicate subject of his experience with Patsy up in the presence of his wife.

I couldn't have agreed more, but as was my way by then, I buried anything I did not like the smell of and made no particular response to the latest of what my existence without Bert had become. Ross had not changed, and wore his heart on his sleeve to such an extent that of course, his wife knew prior to our dinner date, that Patsy had exposed herself to him.

What, other than having been filled in, would explain the composure noted after such a shocking revelation? Ross would have also informed his wife of how important I once was to him, which might explain why his phone rang on both occasions we were dining and why, on an occasion afterwards when we met in the wife’s presence, Ross was showing me around the new house, she made it perfectly clear, by ignoring me that I couldn't expect to be invited to those parties her husband had suggested I attend.

And so, it was as a consequence of the frosty reception received by my former boyfriend’s wife that any future meetings between Ross and me were curtailed. Not that this outcome was of any bother, in fact it was more of a relief. It was just that I would now be left never knowing whether I was made feel so unwelcome because Ross had kept photographs of me, or if it was preferred I disappear due to the fear that I might expose myself to him?

Over the short period Michael was in Real Estate, in having no means to afford accommodation, he was living back at the Coconut House where he would occupy Ma’s bed while she was away tending to the decoupage and other fancy efforts involved in turning the Tin House into, God knows what! It was with a degree of difficulty then, due to Genevieve’s objection to the children being taken at weekends back to the Coconut House that he managed to see them at all, but he somehow scraped through until such time as Genevieve reported him to Child Maintenance for not paying her according to the supposed commission on house sales she maintained he had been keeping from her.

As things were, Michael had not earned commission during his time in Real Estate, as wages received were to be deducted before any excess was passed on. This industry was also caught up in the Recession. He had been giving Genevieve half of his basic wage, which is what led to her taking the step she did. The upshot of which was for her to be informed by Child Maintenance, that based upon what her husband was earning, she should only have been receiving a quarter of what she had.

But there is an answer to everything, so far as Genevieve was concerned! Michael’s latest wrangle with Genevieve took place not long after I saw Ross and his wife for the last time. He phoned to tell me Genevieve had called to inform him that the work experience he had organised for his oldest son at his place of employment was cancelled, after which his two oldest sons spoke to him, in turn telling him that, they nor their two younger brothers wanted to see him anymore.

One did not need to be a fly on the wall on this occasion either to know what had been said by Michael’s boy’s had not been voluntary, but then Genevieve was on safe enough ground to do whatever she liked, given that even Michael’s own kin were against him.

When Michael’s two oldest gave him the news they did it was the second time I had heard him say, he had been gripped by a chill, for his short career in Real Estate to end a few weeks later.

Michael was sitting on my sofa, studying road maps in order to regain his taxi license. He had already moved on as though whatever had been of upset only a couple of weeks before had never taken place. Michael over this period was visiting me on an increasing basis and it was in understanding the upheaval in his life had far from ended, that I did not divulge much about what was going on in mine.

By the time he was visiting me more frequently it was as he sat on the sofa with me looking down upon his even more thinning crown there seemed little point in dredging up anything not conducive to improving where we both now found ourselves. That the past few years had resulted in him being no further advanced than when first meeting Genevieve and combined with once again being viewed as an unacceptable father, this alone was enough to be going on with.

From the day Michael was informed that none of his children wanted to see him again, Philomena became his main focus. He would soon after begin staying over at her place, when Ma returned from the Tin House to take the bed and maybe to ward off any further chills the future might bring, He was also handing over his taxi earnings to Philomena. It was in hearing about this latest development that I told Michael not to go down that road, as when it came to pounds shillings and pence, there were not too many who could be trusted; advice to be dismissed, as though I had once again let paranoia get the better of me.

Michael’s response to my warning was to tell me Philomena was as trustworthy as anyone I would wish to meet. Should their planned shared future not come to pass, even in the absence of any actual promise, Philomena apparently had every intention of handing back the funds she had been given. My concern wasn't just that Michael was giving Philomena every penny left after paying for his petrol; it was that he continued to do so after she began exhibiting certain antisocial behaviour.

Even if my fears could be waylaid so far as Philomena’s honesty went, the rest of Michael’s argument when it came to his girl friend belonged in fantasy land, as he was making far too little of the occasions when Philomena had gone berserk after a few drinks and as it would be discovered, popping a few pills besides

Philomena had Michael arrested on trumped up charges and had him taken off by the summoned police. The first time this occurred was when the two of them had returned from an evening out when Philomena ‘just turned’ for her usual delightful self to no longer be recognizable. She ranted and raved for over an hour before Michael thought to remove the flowers from a vase and pour the water in it over her head. This act, rather than calm her, resulted in the police being called and for Michael to find himself charged with assault.

Many apologies were flowing the following day as these charges were withdrawn with Philomena promising no such thing would happen again. Michael spent his first night in a cell, a few months later he would be spending another and the charges on this occasion would be far more serious.

Philomena had two children, a girl of ten and a boy aged seven and it would be one evening when Michael was larking about with the son, which involved no more than the rough and tumble, he once displayed with his own sons, when he found himself being accused of child molestation. Once again it was no later than the following morning when the allegations made were retracted but this time around it would take longer than was usual for Michael to recover. He rather chose to sleep in his taxi, wash at the local swimming baths and drop his clothes into a Laundromat.

Ma had only been going up to the Tin House to see to necessities, due to the old man complaining about his legs giving way under him. She had taken him to the doctor the previous week where it had been suggested he had a pinched nerve, so much for the opinion of this particular doctor. On the evening in question the old man had a stroke.

Although not a major stroke, unlike his mother all those years before in Ireland, his tongue had not been affected. Ma summoned an ambulance after Dad first wet himself before collapsing on the lounge and when the ambulance arrived, due to Ma being hard of hearing, Michael was the only witness to his father answering when asked if he smoked, “No, I gave up.” and then when asked “How long ago?,” hear him laugh and reply, “Oh, about an hour ago I would say.”

Thanks to modern medicine the old man had a further eleven years under his belt but regardless of how long he had, Ma could now, by becoming her husband’s Power of Attorney, finally do whatever took her financial fancy, with no more need for awkward explanations, each time she put a form under his nose.

And first up in this regard was to be rid of the Coconut House, whilst still keeping it in the family. Entering the fray at that stage was Marcus who by now had a new wife, secured via the internet from the Philippines. Marcus saw the Coconut House as a means of improving his lot. Even though dilapidated, it at least had potential, whereas no advancement could be made with the Townhouse he presently owned.

An arrangement was then put into play between Marcus and Ma, whereby the properties in question could be exchanged, giving both parties what was needed. However, what Marcus had thought to be a fair swap turned out to be a little more complex. What had been assumed by Marcus was that whilst he would be left with thirty years of neglect to fix up, his parents would be in a walk in and live situation. But what he had not counted on was that, although the interpretation of this arrangement may have been clear to all parties, Ma was yet to stew in regards to the actual fairness of free standing property being exchanged for a Townhouse. Both Marcus, the opportunist and Ma had been shifty in this deal. The house would have been of more value than the Townhouse, even in its decrepit state, hence Marcus' quick agreement.

And so, with Marcus in the dark, Ma went her quiet way with a crippled but now obedient husband in tow. Initially both parties appeared happy enough. Ma began decorating the Townhouse to her taste which among other colourful additions, included livening up the white net curtains of the Townhouse by stringing emerald ribbons through them and painting orange and black floral patterns on strips of cardboard to make pelmets. Dad, although clearly unimpressed by his wife’s continued dedication to her crafts, sat in his chair shaking his head, muttering "She’ll have this place looking like the last one in no time." He would nevertheless have been quietly appreciative not to have been shunted off by now to a nursing home.

Marcus had grand plans for the Coconut House, but initially, in order to make the living conditions more acceptable to his bride, had a new kitchen installed and otherwise concentrated his efforts on pest control.

It was only when Marcus got around to visiting the bank to finalize the details of this property exchange, which wasn't seen to until around ten months later that he found the arrangement made with his mother had not been quite the straight swap he had been led to believe it was.

Knowing nothing of the legacy left by Seamus, as none but those privy to the original details did, another, in Marcus was now added to this short list. Unbeknown to me at that time, the loan taken out against the Coconut House on a two year, interest only arrangement in order that Ma’s once golden haired boy secure his latest business, was already in arrears, and that the firm of lenders her solicitor had organised, were well into the process of recouping the principal of the amount borrowed, plus the accruing interest.

On doing all required to make his newly acquired free standing house as liveable as possible until the major work got underway, Marcus, with a clearer picture of the actual situation, immediately demanded his Townhouse back and payment also for the new kitchen he had installed.

Dad, now pinned in a chair, when he wasn't staggering about spilling sugar all over the kitchen floor, had as much idea why this particular involvement with his son had gone so wrong, as he did with any other goings on before. Dad never knew anything of the state of affairs leading to Marcus demanding the return of what was still his Townhouse, which in turn left Dad and his wife with no alternative but to move to a place where he had not set foot, over the last thirteen years. In returning to the Tin House which now incorporated enough frills to make his eyes pop, he was to live out his days never again complaining about his wife’s crafts or minding the paraphernalia he needed to manoeuvre around.

seamus defaults

The Coconut House was then sold to John. Ma now needed to sell the house because, during the time of the arrangement with Marcus, Seamus had discontinued the interest payments on the loan provided by the Solicitor two years earlier. In regards to the sale to John, the house was Valued and sold to John for a smaller amount. When John secured his mortgage, a sum was left owing to Ma and was to be repaid at some future time. The amount to be repaid wasn't huge. Whatever the reason for the generosity shown toward John, it was the timing which seemed wrong to me, as after all, by then, I had been repaying that loan for six and a half years with no offer of help on the horizon.

Another of those phone calls was received from Ma, just as the eighteen months spent repaying that housing loan were up, the limit I had been able to absorb. What she had to say on this occasion couldn't have come at a better time. "Now, you know that loan of Seamus’?" - was how this phone conversation began. "Yes," I responded, how could I forget! "Well," Ma then went on, "I have been receiving letters from those who gave the loan to Seamus as they haven’t been able to get any good of him for six months." I had been meeting up with Ma on a fairly regular basis over the six months mentioned and this was the first I knew that all had not gone according to plan, so far as the interest only loan taken out to secure the expansion of Seamus’ business. Ma continued: "Now, you know the loan you have?" "I am well aware of it," I replied.

"Well now, how much is still outstanding and what are the monthly repayments?" Although Ma was aware of the steps I had needed to take in order to continue repaying that loan which began its life as a ‘business loan’ and was now a, Housing loan, for the first time she was asking for specific details. And after these details were provided, she said: "Now, what I am thinking; is that if you were to bring that loan down to equal the sum Seamus owes; then it could become his loan instead of yours!" For a moment I was struggling with this one, as I had been meeting up with Ma on a regular basis and this was the first known of Seamus ignoring the letters sent by those who had a caveat over the Coconut House; a debt which would have automatically been repaid when the Coconut House was sold to John.

I was far too relieved at some help finally on the horizon to dwell too long on why this information had been kept from me, or to say what I thought of Seamus and Debbie for leaving her in such a position, when part of the six months they were absconding from their responsibilities was spent, touring around Europe and visiting those in Ireland who had robbed Ma of her birth right.

From where I had been sitting, although it couldn't be denied I shared some responsibility for the fix I was in, as it had always been less than fair, putting it mildly, that I be saddled with the lot, I now needed to settle for small mercies and accept that Ma’s primary motivation in providing a solution for me to be done with that loan, had more to do with helping advantage-takers. As there was only a small discrepancy between what was still outstanding on that loan and what Seamus owed, I waved the holiday I was planning, to take the children on to Lord Howe Island, which was only ever a dream, and agreed to make up the difference.

"Now, I will ring Seamus and tell him a solution has been found for him to repay both principal and interest on what he owes for no more per month than it was costing him for interest only in the original agreement," was how this call ended. So, here we now were, with seemingly both Seamus and my debts sorted in one fell swoop.

At that time it appeared Ma had willingly forfeited what was owed to those lenders when the Coconut House was sold to John, perhaps by way of holding her end up but as things went afterwards, I would live to rue never having asked if this was her intention. When this call was received, I was still working in floor coverings. It had been in this latest employment that I had not only heard Seamus described of as a good operator but, unfortunately, also as a rogue. It was said on a separate occasion that he was an 'arse' hole, but in this particular insult being delivered by one who was generally known to be himself an 'arse' hole, it would be wrong to make more of this when, my writing here is but a genuine attempt to set the record straight, and not, a vendetta.

By the time I heard Seamus described as a rogue, considering how lucky he was to have a mother who would turn over backward to serve his requirements, when he thought nothing of sitting by allowing her to be placed in the position of being chased for his debt, I may well have been more in tune with understanding what had been meant, but as I had not as yet experienced anything full blown enough to fully agree, this comment was considered to have been delivered somewhat indiscreetly. Ma rings again the next day, and in even more exhilarated tones she says; ''Seamus was extremely grateful at what I suggested and said he would sign the Statutory Declaration I am sending his way, agreeing ’that’ loan is now his responsibility to repay. I asked if it would remain in my name, to which Ma said offhandedly: ''That is of no importance''. ''To me it is'', I replied.

Ma then said: ''Well, it shouldn't be, anyway, I will be putting ’that’ loan into my name''. Wow, those words altered any preconceived notion that the lack of discussion on the subject closest to my heart was heading in too negative a direction. I was so fairly jumping with joy, that there and then I put in my notice at work. As for a long while I had been telling myself I had sooner be scrubbing public toilets than be associated with an industry where it was only by way of the experience Seamus had provided me that I was still employable, or one where in any event, I felt like a round peg in a square hole, or one for that matter where my brother was thought of as a rogue. As that loan was now to be put into Ma’s name, this was my chance to find employment more suited to me.

But apart from all of that, there had been a growth in my abdomen, since before leaving Bert, which had been hoped would shrink from the size of a pear, when it was first noticed, but with my fiftieth birthday approaching, this growth having become the size of a melon, I now had the time to find out what it was. I suspected this would involve an operation.

An examination followed with a doctor asking me if I was sure I wasn't pregnant? Not unless it is another Immaculate Conception, I answered, which brought a laugh. A hysterectomy followed which I wasn't one bit bothered about, as a large fibroid was but a walk in the park compared to having had the repayments of that loan hanging over me like a monstrous black cloud for six and a half years. Eamonn came with the children to see me, he had been left in charge in my absence and as he went to straighten my pillows, the fact his face was pale and his hands were trembling, told me he had had his injection. It did not take long to recover, after which I placed an ad in the local paper advertising myself as a gardener.

Although I was inundated with offers, it was upon entering this new world that it was as disliked almost as much as working in floor coverings. So what to do next? Well, although no actual heights were being aimed for, in what was now a buoyant economy, I answered answered ads pertaining to data-entry. No future here though, my failure was due to my hands shaking too much to hit the correct keys. It was time to admit to my capabilities and carry buckets to my heart's content in an aged care hostel.

What the phone call received from Ma, just before my crazed search for employment, had to do with my shaking hands, cannot be said for sure but the call went like this; "Now, I know I said I would be putting that loan into my name, but as it will effect my pension if I do, you are not to think about it again, as whether it is in your name or not, it is now for Seamus to repay." "Has Seamus returned the Stat-Dec you sent him yet?" I asked. "No he has not; but that is of no importance."

Already fearing the worst, I then said: "Well, as three months have passed, I think it might be of more importance than you think." Ma then insisted: "No it isn't, no it isn't, as my solicitor has all the details, ring him if you require confirmation.'' With my heart then sinking, I could think of nothing more to say to make Ma see, the absolute obvious. For the previous three months, I had been led to believe Ma would be putting that loan into her name, and now I was expected to accept, not only that it made no difference if this loan was left in my name, but that it was also of no importance that Seamus had gone against solidifying the verbal agreement made with his mother, by returning the Statutory Declaration she had sent his way.

Even if by this time, Seamus had paid a couple of instalments directly against that loan as promised, it was his noncompliance in returning the Statutory Declaration which led to me smelling a rat, and a big one at that. While sure nothing to allay my fears would be forthcoming from Ma’s solicitor, I still went ahead and made the call she suggested I make, and for want of something to open up dialogue, I asked if a caveat could be placed over one of Seamus’ houses to ensure he was held to the verbal agreement made with his mother, to honour that loan.

What was said in response took me aback, as even though I was talking to the same solicitor who had said I shouldn't be getting that money back because taking out that loan had been my choice, it was stated that: "Because a loan is in your name, does not mean you are legally responsible for that loan." What did this mean? If only I had asked whether this was the case across the board or a rule only applying in my case, I would have known, but the thing is, I did not say anything else.

Nonetheless, in feeling somewhat liberated, but yet not sure how far ahead I was, I rang Ma to tell her what her solicitor had said. It was her distant noncommittal reaction which landed me right back at square one. In fact I felt as if I had gone backwards, as rather than her being pleased at what her solicitor had said, I was left with the uneasy feeling she did not like what she had heard, or maybe was even annoyed that I had followed through with her suggestion. At a time when it was paramount we pull together in light of the battle with Seamus, I was certain lay ahead, it was already looking doubtful that I could expect Ma as an ally in this quest.

In visiting Ma about two weeks later, she showed me a letter received from Seamus. This letter was hand written and the contents were not sitting too well with her as she appeared nervous in handing it to me to read. That letter gave no apology for not returning the Statutory Declaration, in fact there was no mention of any Statutory Declaration and nor was there any reference made to the agreement made to take over the responsibility for that loan by way of repaying his debt.

All that was stated in the letter of any relevance to what had been agreed three months earlier, was that his accountant had advised that any debt should be paid directly to whom it was owed, rather than into an account in someone else’s name. On reading that letter I was remembering those cash payments coming into the office where I once worked and how they went straight into my boss’ pocket before me or the tax man got a look in, and wondering if the same accountant had issued those instructions also?

It had not taken very long for underhandedness to replace gratitude in Ma having come up with a solution to allow Seamus to repay both interest and principal on his borrowings, for no more than it had been costing him monthly in the original ‘interest only’ arrangement. Although it would have been obvious to anyone what Seamus' intention was in sending his letter, it had been in Ma defending the indifenensible toward the Statutory Declaration not being returned, that I would now be living in the hope that she would no longer see Seamus as her golden haired boy.

Ma was as disturbed as I was that the content of that letter was geared toward nothing more than deception but we would be at one only briefly, as just as soon as I made mention of what I believed Seamus’ intentions were, she immediately began defending him by saying, "No, as a businessman he must do as instructed by his accountant and it makes no difference if he makes repayments into my account. Those payments will be transferred directly against the loan anyhow."

At this point Ma and my relationship made a further descent toward the territory I was in fear of landing at the bottom of. Even though it was as clear to her as it was to me in reading that letter, though there were a few flowery bits making mention that it was hoped she was well etcetera, the motivation behind the letter was that Seamus was being shifty. A consequence of this would be it was very likely I wouldn't have Ma to rely on in a battle I was sure lay ahead.

If Ma refused to admit that the personal touch of a hand written letter amounted to no more than an attempt to pull the wool over her eyes, in that the sender was attempting to go one better than the opportunity already offered, by avoiding paying any interest whatsoever, then there wasn't anything left for me to say.

If Ma wasn't prepared to see the writing so clearly written on the wall, then all that was left to do was tell her exactly what I believed would come to fruition around six years hence and ask into whose lap the balance left by Shylock on that loan would fall? "No, no, no," she protested, "Seamus wouldn't do that; he couldn't because my solicitor has all the details." So began the process of Seamus clearing his debt by making monthly repayments into his mother’s account, payments which in turn were transferred within the bank system directly against the loan taken out by me six and a half years earlier.

The stance Ma had taken was that her once golden haired boy wasn't about to pull a swindle. In there continuing to be no doubt in my mind this was exactly his intention, there wasn't anything I could say to sway her belief in him. I just had to settle for the image of him rubbing his hands together, yet again.

Over the ten or so months spent by Ma and Dad in Marcus' Townhouse, there were a couple of instances involving Eamonn which, although adding to the trauma Ma was experiencing at the time, there would be an eventual explanation for. Still living with me over that period, one day Eamonn just disappeared, leaving no clue as to his whereabouts. The first I heard of was what had happened to him a few days later. I wasn't notified he was in police custody for throwing rocks and breaking every window in the Coconut House. It was difficult to begin with to figure how this came to be, as by then Eamonn had spent a solid two years of stability with me and had not missed an injection but all was soon to be revealed.

From the police station, Eamonn was sent onto a hospital he had frequented on occasions before and whilst there Ma came to see him with the intention of waking the ‘powers that be’ to the ludicrous nature of the Mental Health Act. When she arrived, Eamonn was in full flight; red-faced beneath large sunglasses and wearing a bright football cap with the wires from a Walkman stuck in his ears. It was in him exuding the confidence not really expected, considering where he was, that Ma assumed when the psychiatrist in charge asked her for a private interview, she was finally going to be listened to.

For over an hour all this interview entailed was a constant quizzing of Ma with special emphasis placed upon the relationships she had with her children. In leaving the hospital and Eamonn behind, Ma just couldn't figure the sense of what had taken place. All was soon to be revealed about this. Unless Eamonn was put into Ward 3, an isolation unit with bars on the window and a locked door, due to lack of available supervision, another woe of the mental health system, he would be able to leave the hospital of his own accord at any time.

He was to do this soon after Ma had departed. On this occasion, in him having unfinished business, he went straight back to the Coconut House, this time to set fire to it by jamming lighted newspapers alongside its foundations.

It had been during the three years spent by Eamonn back at the Coconut House after leaving the Snake Pit and deserting his post as Bert’s golfing partner that he had apparently been told by Ma, the Coconut House would be his one day. This no doubt had been said by Ma to give him hope for the future but it would appear more than twenty years on, what had been said was more easily forgotten by Ma than it was by her son.

Eamonn may have been suffering from schizophrenia, compounded by a bipolar disorder but regardless of his affliction, he had a memory like an elephant and as he also possessed a finely tuned instinct for what was fair and what wasn't, it was a combination of these two attributes which led to the lame attempt made by him to destroy the Coconut House.

It just did not seem fair to him that he be overlooked for one of his brothers to be living with his wife in the house promised to him, or fair either that in his second attempt to destroy the Coconut House having failed, Marcus came charging out of the front door for a tussle to ensue upon the same grass verge over which Dad had been carried on a stretcher only a few months before.

This tussle was to result in the only injury Eamonn ever inflicted upon another living creature, as he bit Marcus on the leg and with the same neighbours looking on as when the ambulance was waiting to take Dad off, it was as the approach of sirens grew nearer, he could find no other escape but to hide behind a bush. Unfortunately for Eamonn, more indignity was to follow as the bush he hid behind not being bushy enough to hide his bulky frame, he was soon after to find himself being marched off by two arresting officers once again, when all he had been doing was pointing out the injustice of what he had believed would be his one day having been exchanged for a Townhouse without his permission.

It was over these same few days that Ma would glean an understanding of the interviews she had with the psychiatrist in the hospital when visiting Eamonn. As had been the case with the first fiasco involving her son and broken windows, when she had gone to the Coconut House to assist with the sweeping up of the broken glass from windows she was expected to see to the replacement of by Marcus, well, who else?, she had gone there again, and on this occasion Marcus handed her a note from Eamonn left in the mail box addressed to her. This note would offer the only explanation there was as to why the hospital psychiatrist had quizzed her about her relationship with her children. In large letters Eamonn had written: Why am I not even allowed into the house when Michael was allowed to sleep in your bed? Poor Ma! And the dumb psychiatrist, who never thought to enquire if she was present when Michael slept in her bed!

When Eamonn returned about a week later, he had with him the largest television I had ever seen. There’d been a thud on the front door and there he stood on the patio puffing and panting. A taxi was driving away and it was after struggling into the house and placing this T.V. on the couch in the living room that I was to hear all about his escapade and why he had arrived back with a big television. On being released from police custody on the second occasion, Eamonn had hailed a taxi and this taxi’s first port of call was where Ma and Dad then lived in the Townhouse.

Ma had answered the door but he had walked past her without a word. The old man, glued to his chair as usual was also ignored as Eamonn went right ahead with his mission. This mission was to reclaim the television he had left in the Coconut House in more recent times as he wasn't going to be robbed of that as well. The television must have still been working fine as Eamonn told me the News was on when it was unplugged before it was carried right back out the door and into a waiting taxi to head the thirty kilometres north to where he now lived.

I did not want to think about the reaction left behind, but the harder I tried not to think about it, the more clearly I saw two elderly folk looking at the empty space where a big television once sat. Dad’s reaction came to mind more vividly than Ma’s, as in him never missing the News, combined with him not having a clue as to what ailed Eamonn, I could see and hear him as clearly as if I had been there, shaking his head and muttering; Goodness to God, what kind of children do I have at all, at all!

By the time Ma told me she wouldn't be putting that loan into her name as it would affect her pension if she did, things had already unravelled crookedly enough. Now I was left mystified as to how, a debt, could affect her pension adversely. I was as mystified by this as I was when she told me her solicitor had said I shouldn't get that money back because taking out that loan had been my choice.

Dad’s stroke had presented a solution to save Seamus’ hide by way of his debt on the Solicitor's loan, in his eyes, automatically having been seen to, when the Coconut House was sold to John. In the absence of anything in place to tie Shylock to the promise he had made, to repay that loan, no matter the assurance I had been given, I still sensed a battle ahead. When looking back over the seven years prior to 1996, traits from a previous generation had already left their calling card. It would be a little while longer before I began to see this.

So far there had been Michael’s business demise before we had both fallen foul of Seamus. Then there had been the problems associated with Philomena plus the awful thought of Michael never seeing his children again. Those years had also, of course, involved lying to Bert in order to receive the instalments necessary to repay a debt not of my making. I had the good fortune of meeting up again with an old friend not seen since we were teenagers but I had also had the misfortune of meeting up with an old boyfriend who divulged something about my older sister to leave me as mortified as I was ever likely to be. Due to Ma’s reluctance to acknowledge what Seamus’ intention was in paying what he owed directly into her account, there would be a six year wait until it could be shown that ’Shylock’ would have been a more appropriate name to have Christened him. Some interesting times had been spent with Eamonn, and it was due to the upset of Marcus living in the house promised to him, that I ended up with a big television I did not want.

Dad and Ma, soon after losing their television, had gone to live in the Tin House among the bric-a-brac Dad detested. The Magna wagon was by now only good for short trips due to a leaking radiator, so had permanent bottle of water in its boot. It was as the seventh year of my experience of events so far was drawing to a close that I was given further cause to wonder, if I had been adopted.

In the event of Genevieve and her four boys being invited to Ian and Patsy’s place for a barbecue after Michael had been contacted by the two oldest to be told that neither of them, nor their two younger brothers wanted to see him anymore, I just did not see the same blood running in me as in who made that invite. Two brothers, Seamus and John along with their wives were also present and although it was clear who had set this gathering into play, no sisterly feelings would ever be felt again toward those who had allowed Michael’s boys to witness that their father wasn't even accepted among his own siblings.

Disbelief was all consuming after hearing about this barbecue, as this ‘get together’ represented nothing more than a blatant display of separatism which could only play into the hands of the Esday-Witts and put a seal of approval on what their opinion of the Murphys had been all along. Patsy had once said, it was only in a war that any of us could be shown for what we were; turncoats or whatever and was always coming out with stuff like that!

the secret seven

the famous five

At the time these particular words of wisdom issued forth, I had no idea if she was right or wrong but I know now. If fawning again over Genevieve was being placed ahead of any other consideration and the others at that barbecue saw nothing wrong with what was taking place either, there wasn't anything to be done in the face of such astounding treachery. It was by way of compensating for my inward desire to take a hatchet to the lot of them, that I instead labelled those in attendance at this barbecue as “the Secret Seven.” This certainly seemed an apt title in the circumstances, as was labelling those on my team “the Famous Five” with Dusty, the dog as a member.

By the end of 1997, two opposing sides within the Murphy clan had formed; one side consisting of six plus Genevieve, although it was doubtful she would be returning the invitation. The other side, those with whom I could better relate; those like myself who couldn't lay claim to wives, husbands, or infrastructure.

Creating titles from children’s books had been for the purpose of making light of a more serious situation, part of which was just not wanting Bert to get wind of the rift within the family he had warned me about. The rift had become so wide it was unlikely ever to be mended.

The annual picnic had long ceased by the time Patsy and I were making even bigger strides in opposite directions, Gerard and Marcus, the only two direct family members not involved on either side of the divide. Marcus was kept busy looking for yet another wife on the internet when the one from the Philippines made her escape soon after Eamonn paid them that visit to the Coconut House. Gerard had remained on the border of Queensland with his family.

It was also as 1997 drew to a close that with my fifty first, birthday behind me, I was informed by Sally that she and Jack would soon be visiting again. They would be arriving this time on the Oriana, a British ship docking in Sydney in March 1998. This left only a few months to figure out how best to impress them on this occasion, which was going to be far from easy considering all that had transpired since they had last been seen. But for the children, the house they last stayed in was about all that remained stable, as even the bed they had once slept on, due to Eamonn’s bulky frame, was by now ready for the scrap yard. The Tin House with those once homely bits and pieces, now had Dad in residence, and apart from a large mural of a beach scene nailed to the balcony to replace the view Ma considered she had been robbed of, the titivating Dad abhorred had just gone on and on, until there was barely room to move about.

Sally and Jack only met two of my siblings on that first occasion, and as for Patsy, there would be no more popping in for cups of tea, that much was for sure. When it came to Michael, well, it was probably for the best if his dalliance with Philomena wasn't broadcast. How on earth was I to leave Sally and Jack with any pleasurable memories this time around with my finances depleted and my siblings split asunder? How could I tell them what happened to the Saab without opening up a Pandora’s box of intrigue?

They would be arriving on the Oriana and would have experienced a luxury world tour by the time they were collected at the docks in the Magna wagon, should I have that leaking radiator fixed? Should I buy a new bed? What would I do about Eamonn? Should I ask him to stay with the Salvation Army for a few weeks and then tell my friends the whole family had gone away on trip together?

It would have been great had I been able to imagine as Ma did that things had a way of working themselves out. All to be seen at the approach of the day when I would see my old friend again, was looming disaster. This fear was only laid to rest upon receipt of a postcard from Sally, as it would be then Ma’s philosophy would once again prove possible. That postcard, written by Sally whilst sun baking on the Oriana, was asking me to join her and Jack on their two week visit they planned on making to Byron Bay, as this particular part of Australia was where they intended to spend the majority of their three week stay.

With a stroke of the pen, Sally, without realizing it, had solved my dilemma. It was thought to begin with that the suggestion made was a diplomatic way of avoiding the previous accommodation, not that I would have blamed them, but this proved not to be the case. The first few days would be spent in the house no doubt remembered well, after which the three of us would be travelling a day’s drive north to enjoy what Byron Bay had to offer. Eamonn, as intuitive as ever, did not need to be ask to move aside, as it was he who suggested that whilst my friends were visiting, he simply spend those few weeks at the Tin House. The children were no problem as there was always the Snake Pit and Bert. So with everything I had been in trepidation of now sorted, it was with a deal of excitement I looked forward to the next time Sally and Jack ventured Down Under, and at the docks I would be carrying a green balloon to ensure I wouldn't be missed in the expected throng.

It had been my suggestion to Sally and Jack, that Ma accompany us on this planned excursion, to which they wholeheartedly agreed. It just seemed appropriate Ma be included when Eamonn was available to cater for Dad’s needs but especially so due to the fond memories held of her by Sally and Jack since their last visit. The fact Gerard and his family lived close to Byron Bay would also provide an opportunity for Ma to visit her second youngest whom she had not seen since he and his wife took off for greener pastures almost a decade before, leaving behind them a debt for her to repay. Gerard had been the fourth of Ma’s children to be helped. The reason he lived where he did was a direct result of the efforts Ma had put in on his behalf. Brother John too had been included in Ma’s plan to see her two youngest better themselves. It would be Gerard who would gain the immediate benefit. A year after the land in Queensland was purchased by Celli, Ma set about organizing commercial premises on the beachfront in the area where the Tin House was situated. This was achieved after encouraging her two teenage sons to open a health food shop.

Well, at the time, just because both Gerard and John were smoking marijuana did not necessarily mean they knew anything about health food but in Ma’s eyes there was a connection, she had come up with a solution whereby her two youngest could busy themselves more with one than the other.


A loan from the Catholic Building Society was secured for what was needed to set up this shop, and as her two sons could live free in the Tin House, it was after baking them a few carrot cakes, showing them how to blend banana smoothies and making out a health driven shopping list, that she left them to it.

It was a fair distance from the Coconut House to the Tin one, and as these were the days before Ma acquired her driving license, when travelling by train and bus from the city to arrive at the Central coast would involve half a day’s effort by train and bus, ensuring she wouldn't be visiting too often. It was as well this difficulty existed, as all to be seen had she been there more regularly, would have been a continual troop of her sons’ friends who had followed them to the coast to make the most of the free accommodation and like bees around a honey pot, also make the most of whatever foodstuffs had been on the shelves, left behind with the carrot cakes. On the first occasion Ma returned, a couple of months after the shop opened, it was in the true spirit of optimism, that in sighting sleeping bags strewn throughout the Tin House, she actually considered her two youngest were doing so well in the health food shop that the need had arisen to house out-of-town employees.

But alas, after walking down the fifty eight steps leading to the beach, all for her to find was a Closed sign on the shop and a note underneath advising that her sons had gone surfing. More dismaying than this was encountered when her sons returned, followed by others just as full of the joy as being young could bring. She was to discover on entering the shop, that not much more than a few blotchy bananas, lettuce leaves and seeds were available to make the lunch time sandwiches the general public, waiting at the door with her, were expecting. Poor Ma! Only after Gerard met Susan around a year after the health food shop opened were any changes seen.

Susan was to become Gerard’s wife but this wouldn't be until after John, who was no less a part of what Ma had set in place than his brother, decided to leave Gerard and Susan to the shop and the payment of the loan Ma had taken out and along with those freeloaders, head back to the Big Smoke. It wouldn't have been difficult for anyone to see how an established shop selling blotchy bananas lettuce leaves and seeds could be improved on but not just anyone would have had Susan’s presence of mind to see that sweating night after night in a kitchen, was the only way to get anywhere.

Susan was the driving force behind the health food shop being turned into a restaurant, be this at the cost of the close friendship shared since infancy between two brothers being severed. While at the time it appeared Susan had overridden her jurisdiction, in the years to come this would prove not to have been the case. She had simply seen the waste and it could never be disputed that John left of his own volition when the supply of marijuana ceased. For Susan work came first, play was for later and even though a dispute in regard to the loan Ma took out was to follow, if it had not been for Susan, where would Ma have been when the effort made to help her two youngest did not go quite according to plan?

Come two decades later, Ma would give credit to Susan for bringing out the many talents beneath Gerard’s easy going nature and for knowing the day would come when his future security was placed ahead of how the waves were rolling. In fact, it was no sooner than John and those freeloaders were off the scene that there did not seem anything Gerard couldn't turn his hand to, for him to thereafter play an equal role to that of Susan, in making such quick success of the first restaurant seen in this beach side area, that two years later a plan was in the making to build a restaurant on the plot next door and become freeholders.

Subsequently work began on a more up market restaurant complete with living quarters with Gerard doing much of the physical work himself while Susan remained behind sweating away in the original kitchen to help make ends meet. When the grand design of the new restaurant was complete with a large spanking kitchen available for ten to sweat in should the need arise, good fortune remained with them in clientele, once happy to sit in a small dimly lit space, receiving relative value for cordon-blue rather than queue for a hamburger.

The new restaurant was a success and had been built during the latter years spent by me with Bert in the Californian bungalow. I only got to see Gerard and Susan at the family Christmas picnic in the park, seeing far more of Ma, which probably led to me automatically taking Ma’s side when, consequent to Gerard and Susan’s desire to sell the restaurant and head north, dispute arose as to who was responsible for the ongoing repayments of the loan taken out by Ma to secure the original business.

This was my first taste of how those whom Ma had sought to help, could just take off once their own bailiwick was in order but as this event also occurred before my personal experience, it would be a few years yet before I would be given reason to put more thought into how straightforward Ma’s dealings with Gerard and Susan had actually been.

On selling the restaurant, Gerard and Susan left for the northern coast of N.S.W. In 1984. Ironically by then they had two sons themselves and went from strength to strength.

There would be an upside too for John in what had started out as an effort by Ma to steer her two youngest away from smoking marijuana. In having found that he was no longer a partner in a health food shop, John began training as a chef to eventually do well in this field and within a few years, he and Gerard would once again be friends. This particular involvement Ma had with these two sons would stand as the only one where any actual success was reaped.

So, this is the history behind the restaurant built by Gerard and Susan which, in more recent times has gone from an Aussie seafood menu to Indian but still stands today as a monument to Ma’s desire to see her children succeed. On Gerard and Susan leaving, it wouldn't take a genius to figure that the Catholic Building Society would be chasing none other than Ma, who had signed on the dotted line. Luckily for Gerard and Susan, they were placed at the opposite end of what the future held for yours truly when it came to Ma’s financial involvement with her children.

With the situation I would be saddled with yet to come, my loyalty at that particular point of time had definitely been with Ma but I was still at a loss to understand how she could possibly justify clearing the debt, presumably left behind by Gerard and Susan, in the way she did.

Eamonn, at the age of twenty nine, had not as yet moved on from the Coconut House since we Murphys had arrived in a country holding so much promise, when in walked Ma one day and handed him a withdrawal slip. Beyond then being asked to sign this slip as the, presumed debt left behind by Gerard and Susan needed to be taken care of. Eamonn dutifully did what was asked of him. He was then to be left not knowing if he would see his funds again, for seven years. I was only to learn of this when Eamonn was moving into his government provided flat, sixteen years on from when Gerard and Susan headed north, nine years since being repaid. It was of some surprise that he did not seem the least bit traumatized

"Not even any interest," he said. As far as I know, no one but Ma, Eamonn and me, are aware of how the debt, assumed to be Gerard and Susan’s was repaid, or that it was during the seven years Eamonn was fretting about whether he had ever see his funds again, that he began stuffing what had taken him years to save into letter boxes at random, or throwing it from trains.

Gerard was the fourth of my siblings to have financial dealings with his mother. First had been Michael who had helped her build the Tin House for a reward in the future which came about by way of a small payout when he wed Genevieve. Ma’s second opportunity to help her children came in 1997 when she encouraged Celli to purchase that cursed acre.

Seamus was the third, as not long after Celli began making the required payments on her block, Seamus would use the collateral of both the Tin and Coconut Houses to start his first business. Eamonn was fifth in line, for his turn to come in the form of a withdrawal slip.

Three years later, in 1987, Michael, in order to secure the funds needed to set up his business had the rug pulled out from under him when he utilized more than Ma had agreed could be borrowed against the Tin House. Come 1990, Michael would have another stab at borrowing against the house he helped build and this attempt would be where I came in. Seamus In 1996, it was Seamus’ turn again as this was the year Ma approached him with a solution to save his hide, after he had allowed her to be chased for his debt. The farce involving Marcus, the Coconut House and the Townhouse occurred a few months after.

The Coconut House then became John’s when, for whatever reason, an amount was left hanging to be paid at some future time. Come 1997, Celli was to enter the fray again by way of purchasing a timber house resembling a log cabin, for which Ma supplied the deposit. It was this generous gesture which led once again to my questioning why, with obvious spare funds to scatter about, had not that loan, which I had been told would be put in her name, been given first consideration. Only Patsy had escaped but given time, something would occur to at least tie her into a few knots. In March 1998, with my fifty second, birthday behind me, I made my way toward the docks in the Magna wagon to meet the Oriana.

There was no need to have the radiator fixed as arrangements had been made before hand with Marcus, to hire the car left behind by the wife from the Philippines, to allow four travellers to make the journey to Byron Bay in more comfort. Marcus saw no problem with the suggestion made, as whilst he searched on the internet for another wife, the car left behind could pay dividends rather than be left sitting by the road side. Eight years on from when the Toyota wagon had been handed over as a contribution to Marcus’ Marriage Settlement, the only part of Michael’s scheme with Marcus to go according to plan. What is difficult to understand all these years later, is why I gave no thought at this time, to what happened to my wagon, or that Marcus could accept payment for the use of his car for two weeks when his former wife had been given the permanent use of mine free of charge.

Sally and Jack were spotted easily once again and there had been no need for the green balloon as I appeared to be the only one meeting anyone. They were just as had been remembered, charming and gracious, and did not ask what had happened to the Saab as they climbed into the Magna wagon no differently than if it were a Jag.

Still, I am sure, that on this occasion they must have appreciated the masses of space in which to place their luggage! I had bought two single beds from a garage sale to accommodate them once we returned to the house they would remember well and even though the mattresses on these beds were a bit lumpy, they would be adequate enough for the short time they would be in use.

After a few days the three of us along with Ma, would be travelling to Byron Bay in the late model car to be hired from Marcus. All was arranged until....it wasn't Ma’s fault, I accept full responsibility for going along with her suggestion that Sally and Jack would see more of Australia if we went via Victoria to Byron Bay, Victoria being around the same distance south as Byron Bay was to the north. Of course Ma suggesting spending the first week in Victoria was based upon the desire to visit Celli, who by 1998 had been absent from Sydney for three years and had only recently purchased the house resembling a log cabin which Ma had provided the deposit for but had not as yet seen. It had been well within my capability to sway Ma against her quest but the truth was I did not see the suggestion put forth as such a bad idea.

In Sally and Jack, seemingly holding no objection to this change in arrangements, if any real mistake was made, it had been in me siding with Ma’s propensity to complicate any situation she was involved in. As four of us set off south, everyone seemed happy enough. The freak forty degree heat of that March was a definite downside but as the air-conditioning in Marcus’ car was working well, none of us expired and we made it down to Victoria before nightfall. There had been no hitches along the way and what makes me believe further that Sally and Jack did not mind going via Victoria to Byron Bay, was that when we arrived at our destination, in a quaint town at the foot of the Victorian alps, where we met up with Celli for dinner in the local hotel, Jack’s comment to Celli was; I bet this place is Australia’s best kept secret!

Celli just laughed that open mouthed laugh of hers, took hold of her schooner of Victorian Bitter and said in those deep raucous tones of hers, "Cheers big ears." Ma and I stayed in Celli’s house which was sat amid lush vegetation with a magnificent view of mountains from out back but in this house only having two small bedrooms, Celli had arranged beforehand that Sally and Jack were to stay in a cute B&B just down the road.

We went trout fishing, gold panning, and when it came to seeing the sights we had an inbuilt guide of the area in Celli. This visit to the Victorian Alps at the start of that autumn was any tourist’s dream. In fact until we visited a lavender farm on day four and the woman in charge got carried away giving our party too much unasked for detail of the property's lavender. Jack left our company for the outdoors where he could be seen wandering amid fields of lavender with a, ‘I-want to-get-outa-here’ expression on his face. It had been thought he had forgotten all about Byron Bay. Only then did I understand this wasn't the way it was at all and that rather the patience Jack had shown in finding himself over a thousand miles from where it had been his intention to be, had well and truly run its course. It was as well by then there were only two days to go before we would be heading north and in now knowing where Jack, and no doubt Sally too wanted to be, those two days were not exactly the sunniest for me either.

It was still really, really hot but regardless of the heat, on the morning we were preparing to leave, Ma began phoning a woman who lived somewhere along the coast road back to Sydney intending to call in on her. This wouldn't have been so bad if there’d been prior warning or Ma had not met this woman only once when their cars were involved in an accident.

All considered, going out of our way would have taken four hours. Needless to say, Ma was out voted. This would come at a price, as when Ma’s nose was out of joint she would lapse into a stony silence. All too late then to regret overlooking her propensity to behave like a caged bird whenever free of the restrictions she had been dogged by since her father locked her out of her mother’s house.

Not helping matters, was that just before setting out on this holiday, Ma told me Michael was in jail as on the third occasion Philomena had him taken away in handcuffs, she had stuck to her complaint of assault and not withdrawn the charges. This news wasn't necessarily bad as with Michael tucked safely away, I could make the most of the two weeks yet to spend with my friends without the concern of them finding out about this particular can of worms.

All told, Celli had been great and I am sure neither Jack nor Sally would have been given any reason at all not to fully enjoy their trip to the Victoria Alps if their second visit Down Under had included a plan to go there or at least without it being so far out of our way,

It would be a seven hour trip back to Sydney where we were to stay overnight at my house before setting out again for Byron Bay the following morning and all was going to plan until we reached the outskirts of Sydney. This was when Ma found her voice and suggested that because we were coming from a southerly direction, a slight detour be made in order that we visit John who now lived with his family in the Coconut House after purchasing it almost two years earlier.

When this suggestion was made, it was as well it was me who was at the wheel of the car because had Jack been, the two of us shared the driving, I am convinced he would have ignored what had been said and kept the car pointed in the direction it was going. As it turned out anyhow, after going an hour and a half out of our way, Ma’s youngest son and his family were not home, foiling what was fast becoming a holiday more geared to Ma catching up with anyone at all rather than consider the short time available to those who had come all the way from England with the intent of discovering Byron Bay for themselves after seeing what it had to offer on a television documentary.

The house I rented was lit up like a Christmas tree when we finally arrived back there, a Holden Commodore was parked close to the top of the driveway and as the blinds was up. Michael was easily visible through large panes of glass, just sitting on the lounge engrossed in playing chess against that machine of his. Still at the wheel, rather than turn into the driveway, instinctively, I drove past to stop the car a little way ahead. As my friends knew nothing of Michael’s incarceration, in the circumstances, an explanation was in order. I had noticed Michael’s head was completely shaved and as he had something on which certainly wasn't his regular attire, it could well have been a prison uniform, what other choice did I have? After filling Sally and Jack in on the rudiments of Michael’s predicament, I turned the car around to bravely aim for the driveway previously avoided.

The headlights of the car were still on when Michael looked up from his chess board and rose from the couch. It was when he opened the front door from the brightly lit hallway that what he was wearing became clearer. "Oh my God", I blurted out, he’s wearing my clothes. Ma began to giggle in that nervous way of hers at the same time as telling me I shouldn't be blaspheming. I couldn't help but blaspheme at the sight of Michael standing in full view wearing one of the outfits I was planning on taking with me to Byron Bay; my matching set of baggy jersey shorts and sleeveless tank top in a luminous green colour. Ma was sitting beside me and I was reluctant to turn around to see Sally and Jack’s reaction.

Ma was out of the car first as she went to greet her son who had left the hallway and was striding toward her. Moments later the five of us were standing together on the front lawn to hear Michael declaring his innocence. By the time we got to bed that night, Sally and Jack knew all they needed to know, with Sally, before she retired, in one of those rare moments we were alone, putting her hand up to her mouth and whispering: ""And he was wearing your clothes!" Giving two old friends something to laugh about as if no time had passed since they were teenagers.

The sun was up again the next morning but fortunately the heat wave had passed as we finally set off for Byron Bay. One night on the way would be spent with friends of mine which had been part of the original plan, just a week delayed.

All was going well but for Ma wanting to eat in places not exactly of the other three’s choosing. Ma thought Sally and Jack were too picky and were leading me on in the same habit when any old slop would do. We’d all chipped in for the hire of the car and the purchasing of food but it would be before we reached Byron Bay that Jack changed the food arrangement. Gerard and Susan had done well in the twelve years spent close to the border of Queensland. Their lifestyle was actually enviable as they lived in God’s own country.

When first arriving in 1984, all they possessed were the proceeds from the restaurant they built which wouldn't have amounted to much after the bank had been repaid what had been borrowed to build it and with Gerard untrained in any area, what had been achieved was remarkable. When first arriving, five acres had been purchased with a ramshackle residence and in his family being reliant on what could be earned by Gerard digging driveways for new dwellings with the aid of the Backhoe purchased soon after heading north. Gerard certainly excelled, eventually building an impressive, environmentally safe house equipped with tennis court and indoor/outdoor pool whilst Susan made jams, pickles and planted a mini forest to grow rare timbers and oh yes, their two sons also turned out to be boys any parent would be proud of.

Two cabins in a caravan park had been reserved for the four of us once we arrived in Byron Bay, arranged before hand by me, just over the hill from the main beach itself. Jack was gone the first morning very early before Sally woke up, for her to come into the cabin Ma and me were sharing a little later, to apologize for his absence. Sally wasn't maintaining she did not know what had got into him, as she knew just as well as I did but she was nevertheless put out that Jack had placed her in such a position.

Jack did not return to the caravan park until three o’clock in the afternoon by which time the three he had left behind had managed some sightseeing without him. Almost a day spent by himself had clearly been the tonic needed to calm Jack’s growing irritation as he appeared settled when he was finally sighted and quite happy to go and visit Gerard and Susan; a visit which for me at least would no doubt give a favourable impression for my friends to return to England with.

For the two days to follow, Jack went back to his old self but it was with the Easter weekend then upon us that things once again took a turn for the worse. All that had taken was the suggestion made by Sally that we eat fish considering it was Good Friday, for Ma to counteract this in declaring quiche was just as good. Not quiche Lorraine because it is got ham in it, I wanted to say but I did not. It is only a guess, but as I am now trying to figure out what on earth made Ma so obstreperous on that holiday, all I can come up with is that had Sally suggested ‘Mass’ instead of ‘fish’ then this could have made a world of difference.

Come to think of it now, as no church was visited thus far on our holiday, it certainly seems possible in hindsight that not only could Ma have been suffering massive withdrawal symptoms but also left to question why a daughter born on the same date Our Lady rose into heaven, took the same path as heathens. Anyway, it was as Ma and I sat with a slice of plain floppy quiche on our plates and Sally and Jack with a nice big barbequed fish on theirs, that the discussion was held as to where we might stop off on the way back to Sydney. Ma shot up from the table we were seated at in the outdoors to return fifteen minutes later to inform us she had made the arrangement. A glance passed between Sally and Jack but both were reluctant to draw me into what I knew they were thinking. Sure enough, in Ma having gone right over our heads, she had arranged for us to stay somewhere which wouldn't have been of the other three’s choosing.

"Now, you remember Kieran?" Ma said looking at me. "Well I met him when I was around fifteen why?" "Well, now, I have arranged we stay with him and his family as they live close to Taree which is about half way to Sydney." I noticed another glance pass between Sally and Jack who did not know the son of Ma’s cousin from Adam and whom I only had a vague recollection of. We were nevertheless on our way to Taree the following day. Jack was driving and he was instructed to turn right at a sign taking us inland from the highway. Ma had been to Kieran’s place a few years before and knew the way.

Two hours later however, just as it was becoming dark, we pulled up outside a property to ask the inhabitants if they knew of an Irishman in the area named Kieran? We should have done this at the start, as only five minutes after we were driving up a hill toward where the son of Ma’s cousin lived in a big house sitting among sprawling brown fields. When we arrived there was plenty of accommodation but as Kieran and family were entertaining guests and in the middle of their dinner, it was back to the car to drive to the local R.S.L. Club to dine which had been recommended by our hosts. None of us had noticed any such place during the previous trip around the area but as we had been assured it was just down the road. We set off again.

After another hour we were finally walking into a dark place with a seedy atmosphere only to find that the food was off unless we wanted crumbed cutlets. "Never heard of crumbed cutlets before," Sally said. Ma sniffed. I was thinking we were lucky to be getting anything. Our meals arrived about fifteen minutes later and sitting before each of us were three lamb cutlets each the sizes of a T-bone steak and as dry as if they had been sitting in the sun for a week. Jack asked: "Does anyone have a chisel?" Sally and I laughed, as Ma, not amused, began eating what was before her from the outside in as the three in her company first dug their way through mounds of breadcrumbs and goo to uncover the meat beneath.

It was a much shorter return drive to our accommodation and save the embarrassment of arriving back when the family of Kieran were in bed, it was after a reasonable night’s sleep that we thanked our hosts and set off again. 'In around four hours it will all be over and I can look forward to spending two days with my friends without any more outside interference detracting from a friendship standing the test of time and distance' was the thought running through my mind over the last leg of a journey toward where Ma would be dropped off. I was still preoccupied with this thought after four hours had passed and we were lost again in some God forsaken place south of Newcastle. On leaving Kieran we had been on the motorway heading in exactly the right direction, no different to all the other cars when, once again when I was at the steering wheel, Ma told me to turn left as she knew of a shortcut. This shortcut took us another two hours out of our way and it was the silence from the back seat that said as much as if my friends had demanded to be dropped at the nearest railway station. We reached the Tin House to drop Ma off at four o’clock rather than the planned two o’clock and but for Dad’s bald head being made out from where he sat in a chair quizzically looking toward the end of the driveway After Ma got out of the car, I would have just driven off.

In noting the Commodore parked just ahead of where we had pulled up, who knew what else there may have been in my wardrobe that Michael wouldn't have given a hoot about wearing? But in having been spotted by Dad there wasn't anything to be done but open the car door and follow Ma towards where her husband was waiting. Sally and Jack, bless them did the same. Dad had no idea who had accompanied his wife and daughter on this holiday but as he readjusted his false teeth and staggered out of his chair, he nevertheless asked the male stranger present, "how many miles hav’ya dun?" Jack answered, "Over five thousand." I was thinking that was kilometres rather than miles but whichever it was it would have been less had it not been for those detours.

Michael was sitting in the sunroom, an addition built from thick plastic since Dad and Ma moved there from the Townhouse, playing chess once again on that machine of his. He could be seen clearly once again without entering, as the sunroom was an indoor/outdoor affair with all visible past strips of trellis covering the wire holding the framework together. Although it came as a great relief to note he was wearing his own clothes, it was of even more relief that in being two hours behind schedule, there was only time to pay our respects and so avoid my friends venturing further to see the other changes to the Tin House since they had last been there.

If there is a God up there, I could only hope I would be forgiven, as in leaving the Tin House that afternoon and climbing into the back seat of the car, it was in seeing Eamonn walking down the hill toward where he was living on a temporary basis that I rolled my eyes and said to Sally and Jack: "That’s all we need." He was walking stiffly; his arms not quite swinging, his body leaning slightly to the left which was the way he moved when he had his injection. In his usual innocent fashion he had stopped on his way to say hello through a car window when all I wanted was get away as quickly as I could. Jack said on the final leg of our holiday, in referring to the trip we had just been on, that it was me who had held it all together, when all I could hope was if there was a judgment day, the trials of the previous two weeks would be taken into consideration. The two days following were spent by Sally and Jack making arrangements for their return to England.

Michael appeared again to ask if he could stay. I hesitated before he said; "I will piss off if you want me to." I did not know what I wanted other than for those two weeks to have gone differently. Somehow the decision was made that Michael would be staying before he went off to see about the upcoming Court proceedings where Philomena, now the plaintiff, had no intention of returning the funds he had assured me were safe and had more than likely stuck with her latest claim of assault for no other reason.

Because by now Philomena was permanently stoned, Michael eventually won the case but a fat lot of good this did him as with the law being the ass it is, there was no penalty for Philomena to pay and she was free go wherever she chose until the day came a few years later when she was found in a car with a pipe strung through the window and the petrol gauge on empty.

While nothing was said about the holiday we had been on during the last two days spent Down Under by Sally and Jack, it was as they were driven to the airport in the Magna wagon, it was clear at least that Sally understood something of my suffering as she was looking at me with a sympathetic expression.

Sally was in no hurry to leave my company either after the luggage had been checked in, whereas Jack was off as quickly as he could toward the area of the airport where no one was permitted to enter without a ticket.

It would be as the open fire in a small living room crackled away over the winter evenings of 1998 that with my fifty third birthday approaching, I would be reminded of the two brothers my grandmother had living with her. Ma had been back to Ireland to see her father on two occasions before his death in 1992. On each of these occasions reference to all the wealth he had was made and how one day some of it would be hers. In the absence of any mention of the agreement he had put his name to, which indicated what he spoke of had already been given away. Ma looked upon what her father said as only words, spoken by a man who had allowed those who now lived on her forebear’s property, to rob him of his property.

These two meetings had not taken place under the roof Ma remembered as a twenty one year old and when I asked why this had been, her answer was: ""Too many ghosts." It was whilst I was working for Seamus that Ma heard of her father’s death. Although she was mentioned in the death notices as the principal mourner, she wasn't informed of the event until two days later and not by a member of her father’s household. Apart from this oversight making her feel too sidelined to even send flowers, it also spoke volumes of the fear that the silence she had kept for five decades might be at an end. Ma dealt with the news of her father’s death by making herself some overly bright clothes as she wanted to look her best when arriving at the office of the solicitor whom, she had been informed, through a friend was in possession of the Will her father had left.

And whether or not how Ma was dressed detracted from her being taken seriously when arriving in Ireland I couldn't say, but it is possible had she been dressed more soberly things could have worked out more in her favour. I saw Ma pack her suitcase and if I was looking twice at the clothes she had made for the trip, goodness only knows how she was viewed when walking into a solicitor’s office in a small town in County Wexford, Eire. This solicitor told her that if she pursued the matter of the Will her father had left, which couldn't stand against the Marriage Settlement he had entered into, the court costs could take the roof from over her head. Well, it took no more than this disinterest in her plight by a small town solicitor for Ma not to even ask to see the Will, and for her soon after to be on a plane back to Australia. There she had been with the only opportunity to come her way that stood a good chance of making up for a life which had robbed her of a career in architecture and she blew it at the mere mention of losing the roof over her head.

The strangest aspect about this was that at the time, with the Coconut House hocked to support Seamus’ business and the repayments on the Tin one down to me, neither roof was altogether secure anyway. Even if this had not been the case, why was either of these rooves more important than the duty she owed to herself? Why, after waiting fifty years had Ma flown off no differently to how a threatened bird would at the suggestion of losing something previously put at risk by her without turning a hair?

VK_Commodore
Brother John by 1998 had received a few awards for culinary excellence and as by this time he was running his own restaurant but the restaurant van had broken down. Ma suggested the Magna wagon be handed onto him to serve in the interim before a replacement was purchased. This was a reasonable suggestion as in Michael having gone back to driving taxis and handing the Commodore onto me by way of a gift, the Magna was then spare and the last thing I needed was two old cars on my hands. When John came to collect the Magna wagon, I had to smile as he reversed it up the driveway, as I had become so used to the gearstick leaping into ‘first’ if it wasn't held onto. I had forgotten to mention it to him. I also smiled to myself at the thought of him being one of those termed by me as The Secret Seven, as all he had really done to earn this honour, was to go along to where he had been invited and then just keep going along with whatever.

That barbeque held in the presence of Genevieve and Michael’s four sons, as thought, was the last seen of Genevieve. But with or without her, the Secret Seven would remain when referring to those gatherings which began at Ian and Patsy’s place and afterwards alternated between the homes of the other two couples involved. Eamonn was the only one of the Famous Five to be invited over to the other side, the norm only ever applying when these gatherings were held at either Seamus or John’s place. We would always have a laugh when he was invited as we made out he had be attending as my mole.

After Sally and Jack had departed, the following year went by without incident. Michael was still with me and so was Eamonn and the only break from the routine of working in the aged care hostel was another occasion when I went down to Victoria to visit Celli who had fallen from a cliff to suffer concussion and a broken arm. When Celli went to the goldfields of Western Australia she had gone there to escape further rejection from those who it had been thought could be automatically relied upon and it was for the same reason she was now on her own in Victoria.

Setting this train of rejection off had been her lost connection to Gerard back in the days of the health food shop as after Susan came on the scene, Celli, unlike John, was dependent upon one day becoming part of what her mother had put in place to prevent her two youngest from becoming aimless and so never forgave Susan for usurping the role she saw herself in. At that time, Celli would have been making the repayments on her block of land for a couple of years and as all she could lay claim to seventeen years on was this same cursed acre which, still had not increased in value, situated so far away she couldn't even camp on it if she had wanted to. Her discontent at lost opportunity had just gathered pace with each passing year. By the time she was forty, Celli may, on the face of it, have owned a house, the deposit for which was supplied by Ma but in this house being situated in an area where the only work to be found was picking apples and nuts in the spring or in the snowfields come winter, repaying a mortgage was always going to be difficult. In November 1997, shortly before Celli purchased the house resembling a log cabin with the help provided by her mother, she was visited by Patsy. Excited at the prospect of seeing her older sister again as the last time had been when Genevieve was in their company three years before, Celli set about sprucing up the small cottage where she was living.

Her fortieth birthday was the occasion for this visit and she was thrilled it had been remembered by someone she had always wanted to feel closer to. Patsy, in the company of the youngest of her three daughters had arranged to meet with Celli at the hotel in the centre of town where, as it turned out, she and her daughter would be staying. It was after meeting up with Celli that Patsy handed her a small parcel, inside of which was an Indian silk blouse in a puce colour which, at the time were a dime a dozen, available on every street corner, a nightmare to iron. Celli was then told to make the most of this offering as it was the last birthday present she would be getting. Ha, ha, ha.

Patsy and her daughter, although not staying in the cottage spruced up for their arrival, would neither set foot inside it over their weekend stay. But Celli would need to wait until the last day her sister and her niece were visiting before understanding there was yet more icing to be put on the cake of hard heartedness. It would be when the three of them were walking along the high street together and Celli went to put her arm around her niece, who was twelve at the time, that this niece pulled away saying; "Ooh yuk Mum, she touched me." There may have already been enough rejection from ‘family’ for Celli to recover from, but this recent hurt was so devastating it would thereafter undermine any positive way she could view herself.

Whatever had been said by a mother to a daughter to cause such a reaction when all Celli was guilty of was to be excited in seeing them, would never be known and nor was it known at the time that the day would come when Celli could exact her revenge at being treated as more of a worm than a sister.

It was in October 1999 when things began warming up again as this was when the monthly payments being received from Bert for the upkeep of the children, those it had been agreed were only to stop when I received the balance due to me from the Snake Pit just were not in my bank account anymore.

What had been required toward helping with rental payments whilst the roof over Bert’s head remained secure had been cut off without notice. It may have been the case that by then both daughters and son were now more permanently situated in the Snake Pit but even so, some warning the arrangement made ten years before was to end would have been appreciated. With the lack of communication between Bert and me as alive as it ever was, it appeared the time had arrived to contact a solicitor to see that the whole arrangement, and not just part of it was terminated. Of course this shouldn't have been necessary as any solicitor will tell you that ’the wife’, especially one who sits on her arse all day, receives a minimum of sixty per-cent of any property settlement. This being the case, all that needed to have been done was to have had the Snake Pit valued, deduct from my share, as per the original agreement what had been paid by Bert each April for the previous five years, and then hand me the balance of what I was due.

But instead, Bert and I would find ourselves battling and first up would see the two of us sitting in front of a Court arbitrator. Bert was dressed in one of those Houndstooth jackets looking every bit the man about town who had paid his dues as if the angry looking female sitting beside him was attempting to wring more blood out of him than she already had. I was dressed as usual in the latest second hand fashion and was certainly very put out that such an outcome had been necessary. The first question was: "Who left the marital home?" Bert, as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth answered," Asumpta", the first time he had ever used my full name, "left because I had not involved her in the renovations." He then thought to add: "But I had not realized then that women should have their say." The arbitrator, a woman of about fifty looked at him as if she was in sympathy with his plight.

It was at that point I chipped in by saying, "You do not remember there was a lot more to it than the renovations as I was so beside myself with many other grievances I asked you to leave and your reply was if anyone’s going anywhere Sumpt it is going to be you?" Bert then shuffled in his chair and I figured this was because he was out of his comfort zone, that place where he could say whatever he liked anyway he chose. There was no way of knowing where all this was leading and it reminded me of the tribunals Eamonn was expected to attend but there was little choice but to go along with it.

"This meeting is to sort out what is equitable for both parties," the arbitrator said. "Yes of course," Bert responded compliantly, as if he was the sort of man only a mad woman would leave. I was just sitting there waiting for the opportunity to quote another of his phrases when it occurred to me the most likely explanation for the need to air our dirty washing in public was that Bert was looking to quash the original agreement due to the belief that his wife was now a property owner in her own right.

In Real Estate values having doubled or even trebled over the previous nine years, this could be the only answer to the position I now found myself in. Bert, so far as I could now see was attempting to level the playing field by combining assets which, had he been successful, would have put more in his bank account than there would have otherwise been. Poor Bert, little did he know that had the circumstances I was faced with not been as they were, I would have agreed with him. After all we were in the same melting pot; he was just more in the dark than I was in regards to events it was as well he knew nothing about.

As 1999 dragged on, with no seeming end to the wrangling between Bert and me, I began buying casks of wine. Never before had this occurred to me; never before had as much relevance been placed on having a cask of wine on hand as milk in the refrigerator. Although it was only in the evenings when I had regularly become pie-eyed, as this was also when Ma sometimes rang to find out how it was all going, it could only be put down to the fact she was hard of hearing and did not notice I was slurring my words.

The most difficult word to pronounce when I had ‘had a few’, was ’solicitor’, as no matter how hard I tried, it came out ’slositer.’ As during the conversations held with Ma this word was used time and time again, it is with regret now that I never thought to say ‘lawyer’ instead as this would have presented no difficulty. Ma was kept abreast of everything. Nothing was kept from her. I had be going up to the Tin House sweeping, cleaning and chatting away just like I used to do when I was twelve back in England, to hear the old man say when I was leaving, "She’s a great girl that one," and on one occasion hear him add; "and she’s got a nice ass on her as well." There were definitely times when it was just as well Ma’s hearing wasn't up to par.

It was half way through the proceedings with Bert when, in visiting the Tin House, I thought to fill Ma in on a plan formulated which it had been assumed would suit both our futures. There was I coming into the balance of what was left of my share of the Snake Pit, which would buy me no more than a small flat with Eamonn to think of and there she was with the old man hanging off her and the two of them living in what had become nothing short of a ramshackle rabbit warren filled to the brim with painted cardboard finishes and a fading mural of a beach scene nailed to the deck upstairs. My suggestion amounted to us clubbing our financial resources together to purchase a house built of bricks where all those mentioned could live together with a real view of the ocean thrown in. Ma was alone at the time as Dad had caught the Community bus to the club; she had the shingles and was lying on the lounge in the sunroom with its blue and white checked cover camouflaging which lay beneath; her grey curls were clinging to her head in a damp mass and she appeared so weak it seemed my proposal couldn't have come at a better time.

Surprisingly, Ma did not appear in the least pleased with my suggestion and instead looked at me with those eyes seen before and said, "Is there not something you are forgetting?" "Forgetting?" "Yes", she then said, "as isn't the balance of the loan you took out still there to repay?" What was being said was clear, but not so clear was whether I should take any notice as I was aware the shingles could affect the nervous system. In as gentle a tone as could be managed I then asked if the loan she was referring to was the one she had told me was now Seamus’ to repay?, for me to then be looked at as if, had she been stronger, I would have been given the rounds of the table for my insolence. In feeble but nonetheless incensed tones, Ma then stated that she had never said any such thing, that that loan had always been my responsibility and it had nothing to do with anyone else. It couldn't be true it just couldn't.

The next time I saw Ma everything would be back to normal. It was her nervous system that had been affected that’s all. It just wasn't possible she was being serious. It was for this reason I did not actually storm out of the sunroom and race away unable to keep the car on the road afterwards.

I wasn't pleased, that much was for sure but I wasn't hysterical to the point where I wouldn't be able to sleep when I eventually arrived back at the house which had by now been rented by me for eight years. When I left I was more stunned than angry and more confused than bitter but apart from any feelings then experienced, I was still convinced when next I saw Ma she would say something like, “Oh the shingles are a terrible thing. I just do not know what at all came over me, at all."

A letter from Ma was in the mail box the following evening. There you go, I thought, she’s already come around. Come around she had not, as the contents of that letter had rather landed me as near to the bottom of the abyss I had been turning heaven and hell to avoid, which made me realize that if the shingles were not the cause of the latest coming at me from out of left field, then there was something very wrong indeed. The first thing written told me I was no good at relationships. Bert? Patsy? Seamus? I had no idea.

Next, mention was made of her needing to keep her books in order. The following sentence said I had been treating the money I was getting as if it were a personal gift. That neither Celli nor I had any sense of responsibility and that only Seamus was repaying what he owed. The reference stating I had been treating the money I was getting as though it was a 'personal gift' could only have meant that the funds disappearing out of her account were going toward a loan in my name.

Hardest to fathom was the bit which read; If you had sold that house, the Snake Pit when you should have done, then I would have had more. To top it all off, the last line read: Nothing is settled until it is settled right, Rudyard Kipling.

That letter was left in the garage where any smoking took place, for a week, when every morning, on the off chance I had been dreaming, I had check to see if it was still there. After that it was a question of how on earth it should be answered. It just so happened I knew a quote of Rudyard Kipling’s also, the only one which went, ‘It is important to keep your head about you when others are losing theirs’ and I was sorely tempted to fire this one back but I couldn't. Instead my reply said things like; I know your life hasn’t been easy, you have attempted to help your children in any way you can, you deserved more than being disenfranchised by your father, and, how are the shingles?

It was raining heavily two days later when the next envelope was removed from the letter box and as it was a little sodden, it was placed to dry out on the mantel piece above where a meager log fire was burning. I wasn't expecting this latest correspondence to contain anything other than appreciation for probably having been the only one of Ma’s children to make mention of what her lot must have been like. There was no rush to open the letter. It was around half an hour later I would discover I couldn't have been more wrong about what to expect might be written on a small page of flimsy, damp notepaper.

Ma’s reply stated I had no business mentioning anything other than how that loan was to be repaid and if she did not get an answer along these lines she would be suing Bert’s Estate. After reading what I had, I stared into the fire for a while before looking at my empty wine glass. I then glanced at the letter again, thinking there was something very amiss indeed. Suing Bert’s Estate! What Estate was this? There I had been for eleven years, sorely tested but yet continuing to protect the credibility of the very one who was now threatening to Sue Bert’s Estate. Was I mad? In reading the latest letter received, all easy to understand; was that unless I agreed to repay the amount still outstanding on that loan, then the threat of Bert finding out which member of the family he had warned me about, had dug the black hole his funds had disappeared into, would be carried out.

I began to laugh, kind of hysterically. I couldn't help but laugh at the image of Bert receiving an ominous envelope in the mail and the steam coming out of his ears in reading contents indicating that the use of his funds had a long way yet to go. I wondered which solicitor Ma would use if she did not hear back from me? Maybe the one at my end of town who had seen to the sheet of paper making me her Power of Attorney? I couldn't see her using her regular one in light of the embarrassment she had been caused in Seamus leaving her high and dry for six months; the same one she had got me to call to allay the fears I held in regard to Seamus’ intentions in repaying what he owed directly into her account; the same one who had also told me that because a loan was in my name, it did not mean I had a legal responsibility to repay it. No, based on these factors Ma certainly wouldn't be using her regular one.

It was in thinking again about the last letter received that in there having been no mention made of using a solicitor, which was most unlike Ma, I became even more concerned. I had felt on safe enough ground that no solicitor would go along with the gobbledygook I had been subjected to but what if Bert was to receive similar correspondence to that recently sent to me? Ouch, ouch, ouch.

When Ma contacted me to make the arrangement for the loan to become Seamus’ responsibility, it had been thought Ma had taken on the chin what was paid against the Solicitor’s loan by her for interest due over the six months Seamus absconded from it. As things turned out, Ma was to add this to what was perceived as owed by me.

It was clear in receiving those letters that somewhere in between Ma telling me not to think about that loan again, she had been given cause to change her mind, now expecting me to repay the balance due even though it was still within Seamus’ bailiwick. This is when I again looked at inherited traits having played their part in all of this. Ma’s mother counted bank notes one side up first and then the other to double the amount she actually had and so far as I could now see, those letters were full of the same fear, in Ma losing out here rather than profiting from this worry. At best, let’s just say there was little doubt Ma would rather gain here than suffer a loss! The payments which had been coming out of her account for four years had been gnawing at her soul. A debit to her personal account would feel like a loss, whereas had Seamus placed his deposits directly against the Housing Account, this would have shown the balance owing, gradually reducing to leave Ma more at ease.

My first slice of the Snake Pit had been used to repay that loan for more than six years from inception in 1990. Ma then rang me suggesting Seamus take over the responsibility of the loan ($85k), having taken up the debt her golden haired boy left behind on the Coconut House. Ma had been left to repay the Solicitor’s loan, ($80k) when the Coconut House was sold to John. Over the next four years, Ma wasn't to see nor speak to Seamus. This surely allowed enough time for her to realize what his intention was by paying what he owed directly into her account. The most alarming aspect of my dilemma was Ma did not appear to remember any aspect of what had occurred four years before, when she had told me to forget about that loan as it was now Seamus’ to repay and that it was to be put under Ma’s name. At that time I had been so dubious of Seamus’ intent in not returning the Statutory Declaration he had been sent, I had warned Ma then what to expect come six years time if she went along with him paying what he owed directly into her account. In Seamus not having made contact with Ma during the four years this arrangement had been in place, he was dexterously avoiding the subject of how much interest he owed over the course of the loan. He had set things in place to avoid payment of interest.

Ma couldn't be up front with Marcus when he swapped his Townhouse for the Coconut one because she had allowed Seamus to deposit to her personal account, a dreadful error. Had he paid it to the Housing loan Account with Ma filling the no-nonesense Marcus in on the debt owing against the Coconut house, it could have been left to Marcus to run with it from there. Had Ma not inherited her mother’s fear of having less than she would have liked then nothing would have gone the way it had in this aspect of her dealings.

Needless to say, judging by how Ma reacted to my response to her first letter when I was really, really, nice, after being bombarded to an extent my head did not stop spinning for a week, this time I had need to get it right. How to actually achieve this, though, without just sending her my cheque book, presented a problem. In understanding Ma did not react well to any soft soaping, how best was I to go about waking her to some reality?

If the shingles were to be ruled out of creating my most recent dilemma, then maybe it would be a good start to finally admit that I had allowed too much time to get away with nothing said about the issue closest to my heart; that all the while in assuming Ma was on the same wave length, was as far away from how things were as it was possible to be; that with barely a moment’s leisure in her youth and worn out from all the financial involvements with her children, the only avenue available to her was to make good use of my Marriage Settlement to make up for what had been lost to her in the past, for example, in her having been disenfranchised by her own father?

By this stage it was too late in the day to rectify any of what went before. In living in fear of Bert receiving a letter, advising him that his Estate was going to be sued, reminding Ma of what had occurred over the past ten years was worth a try. This effort could well jog her memory. The six pages involved in reminding Ma of what she clearly needed to be reminded of, did not take long to write.

If I was correct in believing Ma had been left too long drifting around in cuckoo land, although long overdue, what I was sending could well work the wonders required to bring her back down to earth. These pages however were never sent as after Michael, who was living with me at the time, read my account, he suggested any hard hitting letter should only ever be a One Pager, to look at how Ma wrote! I threw my response in the fire. Michael had also said, there wasn't a cat in hell’s chance of Ma ever acknowledging a mistake; not unlike himself ha, ha. He said that if Ma were to receive those pages it would be a red rag to a bull and I could expect no other result than for her to immediately write to Bert to inform him of her intentions. What had I been thinking? Michael was right.

I was disheartened at the apparent impossibility of ever having my say without being threatened in some way. Because keeping things on course so far as Bert and the children were concerned was my primary objective. There wasn't anything else for it but to fall in with Ma’s wishes. It was now necessary in as few words as possible; to say all there was to say at the same time as not letting Ma off the hook entirely. Page after page was ripped up as day after day went by until the few words eventually sent, read: Dear Mother, when my final settlement from Bert is received, the balance remaining on that loan will only be paid on the proviso that any mention of it having been ‘my choice’ to bring this loan about, be removed from your solicitor’s records. Please find enclosed the documentation relating to the only part played by me in what I am now expected to pay further for and let this serve as an end of the matter. Asumpta.

The documentation sent to Ma, were all those statements received from the Commonwealth Bank for almost seven years. I also thought, considering I had now done with her, to send the piece of paper determining I was her Power of Attorney.

It was in 1992, the year her father died and she went back to Ireland, to claim against her mother’s Estate, that before leaving she asked me to make an appointment with a solicitor at my end of town with the objective of making me her Power of Attorney. I did not know what this meant until I was seated beside her in an office, once more. It was then I was told by the young woman who attended us that a Power of Attorney only came into effect if the person for whom it was being sought was unable to take care of their own financial affairs. The young woman looked at me to make sure I understood that I couldn't do anything on my mother’s behalf unless this was the case. It felt as if this solicitor imagined it had been me who had brought Ma there in an attempt to wheedle my way around her bank account. Ma may have known what sense this visit to a solicitor made but for me it wasn't anything short of humiliating.

The next letter received would be a real hum dinger. There had I been thinking I had finally made the right move in cutting to the chase when I was hit over the head once again. Ma’s reaction to receiving the few words it had taken me a week to write was to first mention I was a ‘prima donna’, in that I had no business returning what was a legal document, no mention was made of the bank statements also sent! And that if she did not receive a Statutory Declaration stating that, apart from clearing the debt at the bank, that I also agreed to make good the amount which had disappeared out of her account over the previous four years, those placed there by Seamus before being redirected to repay that Housing loan, then the bank would be notified and the arrangement put in place to repay my debt from her personal account would be terminated.

analysis

This was the only instance of any financial involvement with her children where Ma had seen fit to hold a gun to one of their heads. Beforehand there had been a few misunderstandings where, granted, no such approach was warranted. But there had also been two deliberate attempts to dupe her, namely: when Michael, in 1987 went over the amount agreed could be borrowed against her holiday house, with the help of his friendly bank manager and Seamus’ obvious, ongoing deception. Irrespective of the lengths either of these ‘rascals’ were prepared to go to in order to feather their own nests in total disregard of their mother, not a word was said to either Michael or Seamus of her discontent and neither were either sent any threatening letters, yet there she now was honing in on me when for ten years all I was guilty of, was following her instructions which involved parting with my first slice of the Snake Pit into the bargain. Therefore, no matter what might now ensue, there was absolutely no way on earth Ma would be receiving a Statutory Declaration from me, when there wasn't a whisper of the unease Ma had felt in Seamus’ noncompliance in returning the Statutory Declaration he had been sent. There wasn't anything else to be done but call her bluff.

At this point I was reminded of my sixth birthday when, a boy came to our back door with a stick of candy as a birthday present and when the door was closed, I was threatened with Ma’s hair brush unless this stick of candy was shared among my siblings. Ma’s quest for justice on that occasion overtook mine. As far as I could see all these years later, nothing much had changed. My nest egg appeared to have been treated as if it were just another stick of candy to be shared about and that I would be punished if I dare disobey. This wasn't the only example of the expectations held of me which did not apply to the others, but for now, all of relevance was the present; a present in which it wasn't only expected that I clear the balance of that loan at the bank but also make good what had been coming out of her account for four years: or in other words, to do as I was told if I did not want Bert’s Estate to be sued. With all that aside, though, it was that I complete a Statutory Declaration to this effect which upset me the most.

Who would be interested anyway in events leading to me being in no position to abide by what Ma now expected until my last slice of the Snake Pit was received, or how it felt with one’s fifty fourth birthday approaching, to find there was no other reward for ten years of obedience but to be threatened into continuing to comply with every whim of my mother?

After my final share of the Snake Pit was received, it was now expected that I not only clear the liability in my name at the bank but also whatever amount had been transferred out of Ma’s account over a four year period since the arrangement with Seamus was made. If both of these demands were met; which judging by my track record there was little doubt they would be; then as what I had have left would only be enough to purchase a block of land in Woop Woop, I would go about finding a more up market investment. I may well not have been able to stand up for myself any more than when I was six but I mustn’t forget that I was also a ‘prima donna'.

If I now went along with Ma’s wishes and repaid that loan in its entirety, should I be correct as to what Seamus’ intentions were, then all Ma would be out of pocket for would be the extra interest those lenders would have charged over the six months that Seamus ignored his responsibility: an equation arrived at based upon the principal of what he owed, along with the payments going into his mother’s account. But I had need to wait until around two years hence for it to be shown this was the case. On the other hand, had Ma been correct that Seamus intended to honour his full commitment to that loan and he paid the interest which would have been applicable if he were to stick to his promise, she would have been looking at making an overall profit. Not that Ma would have set out to make a profit. Let’s just say there was little doubt she would rather gain a profit than suffer a loss!

Top on the list in my disgruntlement at Ma threatening to sue the Bert Estate was the memory of that hand written letter sent by Seamus after receiving advice from his accountant, that anything owed should be paid directly to who it was owed rather than into an account in someone else’s name, as it was the obvious deception in this claim which saw the start of Ma’s spiral of confusion.

During the time I would be waiting to see if Ma carried out her threat, Eamonn was assured of government housing which was where the mentally incapacitated were placed these days. Michael was also making his own arrangements. By September of 1999 the party was over and the three of us would be going our separate ways. Michael, whilst continuing to drive taxis would be moving into what he termed a “condominium” where he would pursue his latest endeavour of creating a soccer tipping site on the internet, the best of its kind on the web!. After eight years spent in this small but homely house, I would be moving in with Andy and Jane who had been friends of mine since before the children went to school. The furniture and trappings would be collected by one of Marcus’ office furniture removal trucks and delivered to Eamonn’s new abode. Only a couple of prized pieces, those removed from the Snake Pit which Bert wouldn't know or care had gone, would be going with me whilst Michael was left to pick over what he might find useful when he moved into his “condominium”.

In the wrangle between Ma and me having begun mid-way through the legal proceedings with Bert, this made for fairly heavy going when the only person who could set the record straight, Michael was well on the way to spending what was left of his life in web design. So, in there being no one in whom I could confide, the silence kept in regard to what the previous year’s delivered, was due to continue.


On moving in with Andy and Jane, the legal proceedings between Bert and me dragged on a while longer with Bert, insisting through his solicitor that I owned a house on the coast and with me maintaining I had no idea what was being referred to. For my part I simply wanted all of this Settled according to the original agreement. It wasn't until I presented papers to my Solicitor which Bert had sent me back in 1991, with the stamp of the Family Court upon them that my presumed ownership of the Tin House was forgotten and proceedings began to turn in my favour.

Those papers which I had assumed were overkill when all that was requested in 1991 of Bert had been that our agreement be approved to by his solicitor. This is what saved Bert from becoming any the wiser about the goings on which to date had been successfully kept from him. The papers in question, depicting the detail of our original agreement, may have been stamped by the Family Court but because they had never been ‘passed,’ by the same body, as I had been led to believe, Bert would now be made to look as if he had been up to some skullduggery. Because these papers were to do with the Family Court, they would have to be checked by a Barrister. My Barrister was to be a woman and on our first meet, she looked at the stamped Family Law papers and declared, “Who on earth put this load of cobblers together. There is no way this would have been sanctioned.”

It had been due to me presenting ’those papers’, that a Hearing involving the extra expense of a barrister had become necessary.

Unlike me, Andy and Jane had lots of friends; there was always someone coming for lunch or dinner or staying over and it was the day before Bert and I were due at our Hearing which no one at home knew anything about, that Andy announced a long-time friend would be coming to dinner and that this friend's partner who would be attending was a Family Court judge. In this circumstance, I immediately devised an excuse as to why I couldn't attend this dinner party. Although it was remote that come the following day I had be looked at from the bench to hear, ‘Haven’t we met before?’ I just wasn't willing to take the risk.

Before going into the Hearing the following day, it was upon being told the name of who the presiding judge would be, that purely from me not being able to believe it myself, I let my solicitor know of what I considered was massive coincidence.

It was in my solicitor sharing what I had revealed about the family court judge with the barrister that she proceeded to make a derogatory comment about the judge, as though I wasn't even in the same room. Oblivious to any offence the comment made may have caused, all of any apparent matter to this barrister was that myself and the judge had not met; otherwise the proceedings would have needed to be cancelled.

At this point, I am sure Bert was regretting not having simply stuck to the original agreement rather than operate as any dour, sexist, Yorkshire man might but it was by now unfortunately too late for any such regrets.

The proceedings between Bert and me might well have dragged on for there to be nothing to divide, once my solicitor together with the dumb cluck female barrister had finished. Given the matter of those papers not ever having been passed by the Family Court, Bert was now nervous. It was now in our mutual interest for these proceedings to be done with. It was now agreed I would receive my final share of the Snake Pit.

Over the first few months living with Andy and Jane, it wasn't only the wrangle with Bert that needed to be gotten over, as it was during this same period when I also heard from the collection department of the Commonwealth Bank. To begin with I wasn't sure how the gruff female voice I heard happened to have my mobile phone number and it was only in recalling Ma’s threat, that I became the wiser. Ma had stopped the payments leaving her personal Account, some months earlier. This woman spoke to me as if I was one of the regular defaulters she came across every day and any attempt to explain the reasons why I did not fit into this category were a waste of time when all of seeming importance was when I when did I intended paying the arrears on a Housing loan in my name.

Living with Andy and Jane was a circumstance to evolve through mutual need. Jane’s health wasn't good and I needed somewhere to live. There was no rent to pay which suited me fine and it more than suited Andy and Jane to have someone to cook the evening meal and provide the vegetables, fruit and meat. It was often maintained by my friends that this arrangement swung more in their favour which always left me wanting to explain why it was so much more the other way around but of course I couldn't.

Andy and Jane knew nothing of the predicament I was in; and even though I was living under their roof, nor would they be told. How was it possible to explain to anybody what the previous decade involved without giving the impression my mother was a grasping desperado who would sell me down the river in order to see her books balance more favourably. How could anyone possibly understand that the cold eyes of steel I had seen and the hard hearted madness depicted in those letters did not belong to the mother I knew?

I never asked Ma, how her solicitor arrived at the conclusion that taking out that loan had been my choice, for a clearer picture of what would have been involved to only emerge after receipt of those letters. And a clearer picture of why Ma did not go ahead with putting that loan into her name appeared then also.

Over the years until this time, Ma would say at any given opportunity, money is only a commodity. Whenever this was said I had always want to respond, well mine appears to be anyway, but I did not and the reason I did not was first of all because these sudden little outbursts appeared to be lame attempts to quell any misgivings I might have had in parting with what I had so far of my Marriage Settlement, which made me too furious to speak. Secondly, Ma did not respond too well to being confronted and by the time this statement first reared its head, I was already in too deep to begin upsetting the apple cart.

Sticking in my craw, more so than being held accountable for the whole of that loan, was the memory of four years before when Ma nervously handed me that letter to read, as I was now faced with what I had told her the outcome of Seamus’ non compliance in returning the Statutory Declaration she had sent him would be.

If it had not been possible to sway Ma against placing her faith in Seamus the first time around, then I stood no chance after our relationship had been shaken to the probable point of no return. So, in an instance whereby Ma would hear nothing but how that loan was to be fully taken care of by me, all to be done if Bert wasn't to find his Estate being sued, was to go along with her wishes and wait until she found out for herself that the faith placed in her once golden haired boy had been wasted.

What would her reaction be I wondered, in discovering the interest she had been so sure Seamus intended paying had only ever been a delusion? Would she be as outraged, or simply shift another goal post? After more calls from the same gruff sounding female employed in the collection section of the Commonwealth Bank, it was with that loan now in arrears for five months that I took off one day to the Tin House.

Not since receipt of that last letter sent by Ma, seven months before had there been any contact between us and even though there was a very short time to go before I would be receiving my last slice of the Snake Pit in order that I be in a position to clear my 'debt', it was in terror of answering my phone again that I rather chose to walk upon Ma’s threshold once more. Nothing had been anticipated as to what my reception would involve when reaching my destination but in the knowledge that Ma, like some of her children, was more reactionary than logical and in her also having the memory of a flea when it came to anything too uncomfortable to acknowledge, I felt on safe enough ground that my reception wouldn't be hostile.

And what had been presumed was shown to be the case, as no sooner did I arrive at the Tin House than Ma, in obvious delight at seeing me, began fussing around making tea and scrambling in a cupboard to find cake. It was a Saturday and she had just returned from taking the old man to the club in the Mighty Boy, a miniature truck, purchased in order that the two of them have some means of getting about after having had little choice but to leave Marcus' Townhouse to live permanently in an area where public transport was at a minimum.

It was in taking my first bite of cake that I ventured onto the subject of why I was there, telling Ma the bank had been onto to me when I could do no more than wait until I was in a position to pay what was due. After this was said, Ma all of a sudden disappeared for me to hear her on the phone in the hall. When she returned, it was as though with a wave of her wand she had alleviated the concern I had been dogged with since receiving the last of her letters. I wasn't too happy that the call she had made was to ask John to put a portion of what he had been let off paying for the Coconut House, directly against that loan.

Had there been any prior knowledge of how my plea for understanding would be met, I would have stopped Ma in her tracks, as I would rather have suffered more calls from the gruff sounding female at the collection section of the Commonwealth Bank than to now have John believing that ‘my need’ had separated him from some of his cash.

This concern was just brushed aside in Ma stating that the request made of John was by way of him repaying some of what he owed. It was then stated that the amount presently in question was to be added to my obligation, together with the four years-worth of payments which had come out of her account. When the deeds to the Tin House were released, a portion of these funds were to be used to purchase Celli’s land, so it could finally be donated to the church!

Maybe by then I had become fairly immune to shockwaves, as when I went on my way that day, this particular encounter with Ma was viewed as just another occasion when both of her had been there at the same time. There was no doubt in my mind that one day, Ma would put things to rights. I wished I had always taken more note of which way the wind was blowing when she said anything at all.

After receiving those letters, it would appear I should also have been more aware of what was on the cards since day one but it was still impossible to understand why Ma did not see that if she continued to believe Seamus would fulfil his obligation, all laying ahead would be the dismay of unrealistic expectation. Celli’s payments on this now cursed acre would have been finalised around the mid nineties.

It followed, that in 2002, I was in the Commonwealth Bank which I would ensure was the last occasion, transferring a large chunk of a further Marriage Settlement cheque handed to me by my solicitor only moments before, toward ensuring Ma’s instructions were adhered to.

It wasn't long afterwards that I was up at the Tin House again, by which time what had been the origin of this circus, the deeds to the Tin House, had been returned to their rightful place with Ma, on my having paid out the Housing Loan.

I had arrived to fix up the surplus of what Ma considered I still owed, some of which would soon be destined to pay for Celli’s land so that it could be finally donated to the church. As for the balance, well, for all I knew it could be headed down the same road! Dad was at the club, so unlike me, he was spared from watching his wife feverishly working out if all was as it should be.

Not long after parting with a large chunk of my second slice of the Snake Pit, I received a call from Ma to advise me that the loan now paid out had in fact been illegal!. Ma had read something in a newspaper and told me to contact the bank's ombudsman and put forward a protest. This is what I did but in hearing back from the ombudsman, it was found I was six years too late.

My time for protest had run out as the Statute of Limitations was for a period of seven years only and by 2002 thirteen years had passed since the day I met up with Ma in a bank close to where Michael’s warehouse was then located. After doing as I had been asked once again, it was considered on this occasion that Ma should have put forward this protest herself; after all, as her solicitor had once said, “Because a loan is in your name, doesn’t mean you are legally responsible for that loan.” Reckon that solicitor knew more than he was letting on!

The fact that the loan was illegal came as no surprise but it really did not matter as what was left of my final slice of the Snake Pit had been invested in a few shares and before I knew it these shares would surely quadruple to put me back where I would have been had the experience of the past thirteen years never happened.

Easy, easy, easy as everything was Attitude and I would soon have the quid required to buy somewhere to live and when that day came, Ma and I would look back on all that had taken place since we had sat together in a bank facing the young man who sat opposite and with no recriminations, laugh about the way things had worked themselves out.

On choosing the path to part with yet more of my Marriage Settlement than to see Bert and the children looking at me sideways, it had been necessary to recover quickly from what had occurred to bring this about and also understand that the mother I did not recognize may never have made an appearance had I had more of a mind of my own in the first place.

On loans being paid out now twice, inclusive of John's purchase of the Coconut House to cover Seamus' default on that Solicitor's loan, Ma attempted to make amends by telling me the deeds to the Tin House would be placed into my name. Then about a week later telling me it would be left to me in her Will. Now, which way is that wind blowing?

Six months after buying those shares, I was to wake with gratitude one day to find my initial investment still hovering around low fifty per of their original value, given other investors were suffering even more. With nothing working out as envisaged, it was even easier to draw parallels with the position Celli was in, and realize that I was no more immune to reaching desperate straits than she was.

By 2002, Celli would have been living in Victoria for seven years with the last four spent struggling to repay the mortgage on the house resembling a Log Cabin. It would have been of help to Celli to receive the $20K sent to her indirectly by me for the purchase of this acre on Ma’s behalf, the deeds of which would finally reach the hands of those to whom this land had been promised, so many years before.

The $20k sent had only been what that acre had been valued at twenty five years earlier! This contribution at least made it easier for Celli to survive in an area where the only work available was in the snowfields come winter or picking nuts and apples come spring. It would prove to be as likely to save Celli from her fate as the deposit Ma had supplied seven years ago for Celli to purchase that Log Cabin in Country Victoria.

Bright Victoria

The months to follow parting with yet more of my marriage settlement, largely due to the belief I would recoup what had been lost, was a period of optimism. But with those shares not travelling in the direction it had been hoped, it was around a year after their purchase that my thoughts returned to what was once buried under Ma’s fridge.

It was during those months of optimism that I had been up at the Tin House, just making a cup of tea in the kitchen where Ma had busied herself painting a flower on every cupboard-and drawer, when she suddenly said, "If ever you are in need, the money under the fridge is yours." "Under the fridge?" Like anyone would have been in hearing this said, I was rather taken aback. "Yes under the fridge", Ma repeated as if that was where everyone kept their spare cash.

I had figured there couldn't be much, after bending over to take a look, as there was only an inch of space, but anyhow, at the thought of what was there becoming mouldy in a dark, damp place I had suggested to Ma that she buy a safe. Ma took my advice for a safe to be purchased soon after at a store selling a variety of cheaper wares. This safe resembled a microwave oven other than it was minus a see through door. As it was also about the same weight, it took the two of us to get it from the shop into the car and then out again at the other end.

There were two keys, one of which Ma kept whilst the other was placed close to the ceiling in the bathroom on top of the crumbling plaster cement, long separated from the wallpaper it had been put there to hold up. This key was for only me to know about and was camouflaged well enough not to be spotted by anyone using the bathroom who did not know it was there.

When leaving the Tin House that day, in never actually seeing Ma’s stash, as the fridge sat on an unsealed floor of a makeshift kitchen designated as the boathouse on the original plans, I had a vision of her with a long stick levering out what could well no longer be recognizable and this being the case, it seemed as well I wasn't in need as I couldn't quite see myself handling what had been seen in my mind’s eye, let alone attempting to spend it.

What had once been buried under the fridge would instead remain with me as more of a security measure; a small key, a safety net in only me knowing its whereabouts. A few months later however, with my fifty sixth, birthday approaching, now a little more aware that ‘need’ might not be too far away, it was in looking up, which was what I now automatically did whenever visiting the bathroom in the Tin House, that I noticed my key had disappeared.

Deflated, I assumed it had slipped down one of the cracks in the area it had been placed but as it was also possible my key had been moved to another location, I said nothing about its disappearance to Ma. It was after this discovery, that as the value of those shares continued their downhill slide, I regretted encouraging Ma to buy that safe, as with my key no longer being where it once was, should need now arise to claim what I had been told was mine, it would no longer be as simple as taking hold of a long stick to replenish my resources.

self employed wonder weeder
During my stay with Andy and Jane since leaving where I had been situated beforehand with first children, then two brothers and on occasions Celli, there had been no urgency for funds as I was gainfully employed furnishing luxury establishments for those visiting from overseas, who would only be in Australia on a temporary basis.

My days of carrying buckets had by then ended but still as unsatisfied with this present employment as I had been with any other, it was perhaps time to venture into the self-employed arena. The opportunity to head down this road had already presented itself. It had been whilst living in my previous accommodation that in noting cabbage-like weeds getting in the way of what would otherwise have been a clear green vista and on going to the hardware store to seek out what was needed but finding nothing adequate was available, the decision was made to design what was needed.

Before coming to live with Andy and Jane, caution had already been thrown to the wind in having had the prototype of my concept made and in proving to do the job, this device had then been manufactured to leave me with hundreds more whilst I considered what the next move should be. If working in an aged care environment had taught me anything, it was that only a gap of twenty to thirty years separated me from those whose usefulness had run its course. It was this awareness which led to me not wanting to have regrets in never having giving my gardening tool a go.

Andy and Jane had my welfare at heart and wished me well but it was only a couple of months later when I came to understand that no matter what was created and no matter how much dreaming and believing was done, more than this was needed for success to be claimed. Although I had been optimistic to a fault, this optimism soon came unstuck after leaving where I had been situated for a year, to set up shop in a small seaside town to peddle my concept.

The start of the drought in the summer of 2002 which went on for years afterwards was largely responsible for me considering the move made had not been so wise as what use was there for a weeding tool when the earth was becoming so hard even the weeds were dying? Where I was then situated wasn't too far from the Tin House and other than now intending to sell a tool there was absolutely no need for, also dragging down the initial image of being a big shot arriving from the city, was a familiar rattle coming from under the bonnet of the Commodore.

So whilst deciding whether to spend more than had already been spent in ensuring this car brought less attention, the Commodore was left parked at the back of the shop with its garden theme, where it had been hoped word would have spread of my invention. I was renting a house close by, equipped to accommodate the children when they visited, I had no need of a car and could cycle.

My ability to lie by then was so entrenched that when the children first appeared, clutching sleeping bags, I do not know what they expected, I thought nothing of telling them I had bought the presentable house I lived in.

Aware this news would be relayed to their father, in my usual concern for others, it seemed best for the sake of Bert’s high blood pressure, he not be given the slightest inkling of the wringer his funds had been put through. Acquiring a shop had also been done for another reason, as moving to a small town, as Celli knew all about, would also be a quicker route to a sense of belonging somewhere again.

think  
It was a year after receiving the payment for her land, that Celli, in distress at the thought of being cut off from any future assistance, thought to contact her mother to enquire:“Is this all I am going to get’ - for her mother to answer,“Yes, because you have had yours.” Seeing both sides of this equation at the time, Celli, as a woman living alone on the outskirts of a Victorian Country town, with a fair few unresolved emotional issues besides, would have been more in search of reassurance than another actual hand out. Whereas Ma, in receiving such a call from her youngest daughter, in light of what this daughter had already received, would have been coming from quite a different perspective. The situation wasn't helped by Ma being so taken on the hop. This misunderstanding could so easily have been avoided had either Celli or Ma seen where the other was coming from. Now, any hope of connecting with one another had been lost and with such a misunderstanding, war between them was inevitable. Anyway, after Ma said: ''Yes because you have had yours. Celli’s response had been: ''That is what YOU think'', before slamming the phone down.

As the mother I had not recognized was back to her old self just as soon as Celli’s loan had been seen to, shortly after this call she was on the phone telling me what had been said. Ma had asked: ''So, what, do you imagine Celli meant in saying, ''That is what YOU think''. This comment had clearly put the scares up Ma. Other than my being aware that had Celli been responded to differently, the present problem would never have arisen. I had as much idea as what Ma did as to what was meant. It was around a fortnight later that we would be put more in the picture.

It was then Ma rang again and hesitantly said: ''Now, you know that...land'' - ''Which land?'' - ''Well the land that was given to the church''. ''Ah, that land! Yes'', ''Well, the fact of the matter is...that Celli’s attempting to get it back again. I have had someone from the… diocese where the land is in Queensland; ring me to tell me Celli is threatening to go to the...newspapers. It is still in her name you know, and the person I was speaking to said that because of this it would be more difficult to hold onto the gift bestowed''.

It was just as soon as Ma said 'Celli was attempting to reclaim her land from the church' that I put my hand over my mouth to hold back the laughter. By the time she had finished I did what I could to give a serious response, but the harder I tried, the funnier it became until my laughter just couldn't be held back. And the strangest thing was that Ma began laughing with me. Although it was clear I saw this situation far more hilarious than Ma did. All that was coming from the other end of the line were a few of those nervous 'hee, hee, hee’s'. There the two of us were anyway, laughing [with me like a hyena], at Celli’s second attempt to prevent the land purchased on the never, never at twenty one years of age, being swallowed up by the church.   THE CHURCH
 

deals   Even though the deeds to the land in question were still in Celli’s name it wasn't made as easy to reclaim them as had been thought. In this instance it occurred to me to view the church as a closed shop when it came to ill gotten gains and that had Celli not threatened to go to the media, her quest may not have proven successful. Another decade on, I would be given further reason to question the lengths of deception involved in the church’s grab for monetary advantage. I would come to understand that in all likelihood, the church has access to well paid lawyers, to assist in thwarting any claim on acquisitions acquired from the vulnerable or the old and frail.
In Celli’s case, it was of course possible that if permission to release the deeds to her land needed to be sought, then being named after a Pope may have been of some help. Celli was named after Pius XII, Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli - Pope after the Second World War. All in our family had Irish names or were named after Saints, except Celli.

It was a few months into being the proprietor of a small business, that with my fifty seventh, birthday approaching, in Ma making one of her regular visits, I thought to ask her if Seamus was still paying what he owed into her account, or if these payments had cease just as soon as the principal of his original borrowings had been seen to. Ma went quiet. I asked: ''Did Seamus contact you at any stage to find out how much interest had accrued on that loan?'' Ma had clearly been made uneasy by these questions as she began stammering: ''Ah, well, no he did not''.

''I told you what he would do'', I said, ''I told you, when those payments would cease and this is exactly what happened, is it not?'' ''Well, Ma said, it was always an interest free loan''. I then put my head in my hands, the way Seamus did when he was overly bothered, and muttered: ''You cannot remember me warning you what the intention behind the hand written letter he sent you was? You cannot remember me asking you whose lap the balance of that loan would fall into when he reneged on his promise?, you cannot remember me telling you what the motivation behind not returning that Statutory Declaration was?''

Nothing was said of where this debacle had left me, or for that matter anything relating to what I had been subjected to at all, and this was because there seemed no point in Ma then saying: ''Well, let's just put it this way,. If I won lotto, I wouldn't be giving any of it to Seamus''.

No matter the letters I had received, or the amount of goal posts shifted, in order to ensure that only I, fulfilled any promises made, or indeed there being times when I had wished never to set eyes on Ma again, now all I felt was Pity for her.

After all the ducking and weaving involved in attempts to rearrange what she did not like the smell of, I once more began to look at inherited traits to explain why she couldn't admit to any part of how things actually were, and why, even though by now she had not seen or spoken to Seamus for six years, for his wrongdoing she would only think to deny him some of her non-existent lotto win than sue his Estate. The old man had a much more direct way of dealing with his once golden haired boy, which was occasioned by him picking up the phone one day.

Dad always answered the phone by saying: Who is that, and upon hearing back: It is Seamus, he did not hesitate in replying: Seamus who?, before handing the phone to his wife. Even though Dad knew little of his wife’s financial musings, it was enough for him to know that in the years Seamus had been plotting to do exactly what I had predicted he would, he had not set eyes on his favoured son.

How the old man might have reacted had he known what was behind the low profile Seamus had kept would have been very interesting to know, but as he continued on in ignorance in regard to any of his wife’s dealings with their offspring, all of importance in not having set eyes on Shylock in such a long time, was in hearing, and it is amazing how these things get out that he was now driving around in a Jag and had bought his third house and that none of this news had been shared with him personally.

A few weeks after being expected to accept, that not giving Seamus any of her lotto win sufficed as good enough to explain away anything else involved, Ma asked me if I had seen the interview with Alan Bond on T.V. the previous evening. I said I had, and thought nothing of why this question had been asked until a few moments later when she then said: I cannot understand how anyone could be so blatant as to make out they had no memory of past misdeeds, and then, almost in the same breath adding; I would never have lent that money to Michael I would only have ever lent it to you. What money? I asked. Ma replied: The money for that loan was lent to you.

Only when this was said did I realize what she was talking about which, five years on, served to confirm what it had been thought was meant in those crazy letters when it was written, that I had been treating the money I was getting as though it was a personal gift.

If I did not have my say now I never would. After all, considering thirteen years had gone by since I had sat beside Ma in the Commonwealth Bank and I had said nothing about what was to follow to anyone, I was hardly being premature. The money you refer to, I said, wasn't lent to me. It was by way of an illegal loan provided by the bank for Michael’s business, and this loan only came to be in my name at your request.

That money was lent to you. No it wasn't. Yes it was as I only rang you on the first occasion to tell you I wouldn't be giving the deeds of my house to Michael, and you rang me the second time to convince me to hand them over. It seemed absolutely astounding to me then that Ma could remember two calls had been made all those years before when everything else appeared completely lost to her.

I never rang you at all, I said, you made both calls and also told me when we were in the bank that I was to cover that loan with my Marriage Settlement should anything go wrong. Wow, I could hardly believe I had finally said it.

Thirteen years - why, in all that time had I said nothing about my experience to anyone? Beyond keeping Bert from finding out what those years held there was really no answer. Why had it mattered so much what Bert thought anyway? Andin speaking up for the first time, why did not I say more of what was on my mind after Ma began turning around in circles telling me I shouldn't be saying such things and that I should talk to a priest or visit confession?

All I could think as to why I shut up like a clam at the mention of talking to a priest, was that in Ma having gone to the lengths whereby had a crucifix been within reach, Ma would have held it up toward me as though warding off Satan, she must have been as convinced as I was that a gross distortion of past events had just taken place. This was accepted. However, if as I maintained, every move I had made had been upon her instruction, I was now very interested to know how she would react to being reminded of the funds sent to Celli in payment for her acre. If only a year had passed since Celli had retrieved the deeds to her land, then Ma was bound to remember this particular outlay? To make mention of it might even help her to make a connection with the other requests she had made of me. I was wrong: ''Why did you do that?'' - came back the response, to leave me looking at someone who appeared to genuinely have no idea what I was talking about....''Because you asked me to'', I replied. - ''And why would I have done that''? ''It was part of the extra you said I was to pay after I had released the deeds to the house!'' ''I did no such thing; maybe you took a notion as people can imagine anything, just look at Eamonn''.

If Ma had lost sight of what occurred only a year before and couldn't even ask herself why, of my own accord, I would see to the church benefiting by my loss, when she must have known I wasn't exactly religious, then what was the point of continuing to believe the day would come when she would acknowledge any of what I had been put through?   religious
When Ma left the shop that day, I watched as the Mighty Boy sped past large panes of glass toward the intersection where Ma turned right to return along the beach road toward the area where the Tin House was located. After the Mighty Boy disappeared, I put a closed sign on the door and turned the lights off and just sat in semi darkness at the back where I couldn't be seen by passers-by.

That afternoon, I went over and over the events of the previous thirteen years trying to figure out at which point I should have reacted differently to the way I had, and came up with nothing. The bottle shop was just across the road, and it was after venturing in that my first cask of wine was purchased since receiving those letters amid the legal proceedings with Bert. The night was then spent in the shop with my head swimming in the awful aftermath of consuming too much alcohol.

Never again, I told myself. This wasn't the case, as after going back to where I lived the following day, I went on in the same vein every night for the following week until my innards felt raw with vomiting. All for certain over that week, was I never wanted to see Ma again, and as she had been just as vehement about her stance, why would she be feeling any different? If I were not to drink myself into an early grave, there wasn't anything else for it but to adjust to accepting that I played my part way back in 1990 and the present was the penalty to be paid for expecting there was any such thing as an easy ride into single-dome.

I imagined Bert laughing his socks off if he knew about the latest twist in my experience, but then he would have been even more surprised than I was as to which member of the family he had warned me about had set the prediction he made, of what I could expect if I left him, into play. After that week had passed, the shop phone rang, and there was Ma on the other end of the line as if the altercation we had, had never happened. She told me John was coming up to the Tin House and asked if I would like to join them for lunch.

Why, even though I did not go, did I revert afterwards to how things had been between us before that dysfunctional discussion? Why did I once again push to the back of my mind all of what had taken place to the point where come the next Christmas, only two months away, I would compose a poem, if it could be called a poem, defending Ma’s position in not having heard from six of her children?

Why, if I felt as hard done by as I did at Ma’s hands, was I still prepared to go to such lengths in an effort to ensure no such Christmas was spent again in the way that one had been by the parents of nine? Michael had once referred to me as ‘ a devil’s advocate, ’ and in not knowing what was meant, as this was said when I was putting a spanner in something ridiculous he saw as making sense, I assumed it wasn't a good thing to be.

Did being a devil’s advocate serve as the best explanation for the action I was embarking upon? - or did being falsely generous go hand in hand with being a masochist? Could it have been that what I was about was simply the act of a pedestrian? which was another term Michael often used to describe those not quite so bright as himself.

Whatever the motivation was, the poem I wrote was despatched anonymously for the purpose of allowing its contents to have more impact, as which of the recipients would take much notice of it if they knew it was me who sent it? The Secret Seven only consisted of three of my siblings, all of whom were included, but as Gerard and Marcus were also among those who forgot their parents that particular Christmas, they too, be it reluctantly, would also be receiving a copy of my prose.

Celli, still doing it tough down in Victoria and not speaking to her mother since the latest debacle over her land would be the only one of the six my poem was despatched to who was made party to it rather than it be delivered to her address minus the detail of the sender as it was to five others.


It had been in calling at the Tin House on Christmas Eve to explain I had be spending the next day visiting Eamonn, and of course also my children that Dad appeared as usual. Sitting in his chair, the bottom half of his set of false teeth were being levered up by his tongue toward his nose as he read the daily newspaper from beginning to the end as if it were a book. He looked up briefly when I appeared to say, Here she comes she’s a great girl that one.

It was Ma who did not appear quite herself as she barely looked up from a large gig saw puzzle she was working on. This puzzle took up half the dining table and was of a black cat she was in the process of completing for Eamonn.

Close to being finished, but not quite, as there were still a fair few pieces to cut into shape before filling in any gaps with black paint, it was clear that something beyond the completion of this puzzle was bothering her. Anyhow, in then telling the two of them I had be returning the following day on my way back to the shop, it wasn't until I was on the motorway it occurred to me what had been missing.

Usually at this time of year Ma would be full of the Christmas spirit filling me in as to who would be visiting and pointing out the cards sent etcetera, but as this had not been the case on this occasion, her unseasonal silence must have been due to there being nothing to report.

On Christmas Eve the last post would have been received, and although to Dad Christmas was just part of the hocus-pocus he would sooner do without, as Ma cared a great deal about this religious festival in particular, it occurred to me that concentrating on a gig saw puzzle was a way of internalizing her grief.

Ma had often made mention that this is what people did, but as this was only be said after a personal upset, it always appeared she was talking about no one but herself. The part of that Christmas day spent with Eamonn, other than perhaps consuming better food than would otherwise be the case, amounted to how our times together were usually spent -with him telling a few jokes before I would be left to crosswords as he went to lay on his bed.

It wouldn't be until the next day when visiting the Tin House again that my worst fears would be confirmed, as there Dad and Ma were in exactly the same positions since last seen and Ma just as sombre. I idly scanned the Christmas cards on the dresser before asking the question: Who have you heard from? Dad let out one of his disparaging laughs and continued reading the newspaper.

Ma bent her head over the jigsaw puzzle and said, Michael came up, and young Eamonn phoned, young Eamonn being the progeny of Marcus’s first marriage. Although there were many cards to be seen, only two were from her children – Eamonn and me. There had been other years when maybe one or two had not thought to make a phone call or send a card, but with this year delivering six, and with only one of these with any excuse, in my eyes anyway, this omission struck me as requiring a little more action than internalizing grief.

Other than three members of the Famous Five and one grandchild, as no visit, call, card or gift had been forthcoming that Christmas by the parents of nine from six of those they had born, whether it be the action of a devil’s advocate, a masochist, or a pedestrian, a way needed to be found to get the message across, or who knew what the next Christmas might bring. My poem was aimed at five siblings, but, six copies was typed on the top of the page to deliver more impact, along with C.R.A.P.S., Caring Regulation Ageing Parent’s Society.

When the poem had been completed, five brown envelopes were posted in the city addressed in the handwriting of a friend to steer suspicion away from my involvement. Even though I wasn't known for my poetry, as at some stage deductions would be made, the longer it took to discover who the author was, the better the result would be. I had a great time composing this poem, as it was beyond amusing to imagine each of the recipients scratching their heads wondering which of their brothers or sisters had also received one of the enclosed masterpieces. The poem sent was as follows:

This Christmas was a record, delivering six without a thought, beating last year's omission of only three. No card no gift no call, on the scrap heap at over eighty, cast out like an old shoe, the writing’son the wall. Tossed out with the rubbish after giving of their best. For them no Christmas cheer, no greetings from those they rear, but for three and one grandchild. No good wishes for the coming year. You teach yourchildren hate, you have an axe to grind but wait until they're feeble to give them hell. You take their money to give false account, make use whilst the going's good and when nothing left to take. Long gone when  it's time togive. Some worse than others but this crime is just the same, snigger and laugh no more, hang your heads in shame. No grumble do you hear from those you insult, no criticism made of you, only prayer that things may change and hope for better days. Fairness may yet prove victor, this day may indeed come to pass, but first here, someone willing to give the lot of you, a swift kick up the ass.

The other reason composing this poem had given me a few laughs, was that first in line to be accused as the author, there was no doubt at all, would be Michael. I could see as clear as day where the finger of suspicion would be pointed as Michael’s penchant for poetry was well known to Patsy and Ian since his prose were dispatched to a former premier of N.S.W. And with Michael now referred to by these two towers of propriety as being as mad as a hatter, it was just logical that it would be he who was held responsible.

Not that I actually envisaged a scene whereby anyone in receipt of one of these strokes of genius would be lolling about at the next Secret Seven gathering actually admitting to receiving such, but on the off chance this did come to pass it seemed best to cover my bases and have a word with my mole. My next visit to Eamonn’s place was around a week later, and in filling him in on what I had done, he was happy to oblige in what I asked of him.

Eamonn, as already mentioned, was the only member of the Famous Five to ever be invited over to the other side, and in this being the case, in the unlikely event he ever heard this poem being discussed and anyone’s name but mine being mentioned in connection to it, he was to simply reveal who the actual culprit was. it wasn't long after this request was made, that in again visiting Eamonn, the first thing he said as I walked through the door was; I want nothing more to do with being your mole.

It would appear what transpired at the latest Secret Seven gathering had placed an unintended weight on well-meaning shoulders, and I could have been knocked over with a feather in discovering why this was. Unbelievably, there Eamonn had been, in the company of the Secret Seven, and in finding my poem being openly discussed, with Pasty in particular stating”it had Michael written all over it,“in him then following through on what I had asked him to do, he wasn't believed. Eamonn was very downcast in reporting back, in great concern that it was now thought he was responsible.

Not knowing whether to take Eamonn’s news as an insult or a compliment, after apologizing for placing him in this position, I consoled myself with the first shift in a more considerate direction so far as ageing parents were concerned. John was the first to appear soon after receipt of the ‘large brown envelope’ as he and his family booked into a hotel for a full weekend close to where the Tin House was situated to visit both on the Saturday and Sunday.

The recompense for such a devastating oversight then continued, with Gerard and his family soon after appearing, all the way from the border of Queensland and even though the others were slower off the mark, it would appear my poem had done the trick and, with luck no such Christmas would be spent by the parents of nine as the last one was again. John was the only one to make mention of receiving a reminder of his duty, as he told Ma, a letter had been sent around the family by Michael berating some of his brothers and sisters for not contacting their parents at Christmas. Letter! Now I really was insulted.

Ma rang me soon after John and his family had departed on the Sunday. She was just off the phone to Michael. She said that Michael knew nothing about any letter, but as it sounded like something I would do, if any confirmation of this was needed, she was to send him a copy and he had have it put through forensics.

Clearly pleased that someone had gone to such lengths on her behalf, it was with an elated tone in her voice that this is what was relayed to me but, in me denying knowledge of any letter, which of course was the truth, I could only lament clarifying the situation, as it would have only dampened her spirits to know such had been done by someone who needed to talk to a priest or visit confession. John was the only one in receipt of what had been despatched to make any reference of it to Ma which, needless to say ensured she never saw a copy of what was actually sent and that she would remain in the dark as to who had thought to do such a thing.

Only Eamonn and Celli had been told who the actual culprit was, and although I was sure even though Eamonn had not been believed it would only be a matter of time before the news he delivered sank in, the main aim had been accomplished, and if any more success could be wished for, it would have been that the passages in my poem reading: You take their money to give false account and, You teach your children hate, had reached their intended target and had not been wasted.

swirl