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TRAVELS IN CHARLOTTE by Graham Whittaker

This is a taster, unedited and incomplete. It is the follow up to Eats and Treats and will be available soon. NB: Errors are not corrected and the teaser is not exactly as it will be published. But I WOULD like your comments on facebook or here on this page. Travels in Charlotte Mumbles spent…

This is a taster, unedited and incomplete. It is the follow up to Eats and Treats and will be available soon. NB: Errors are not corrected and the teaser is not exactly as it will be published. But I WOULD like your comments on facebook or here on this page.

Travels in Charlotte

Mumbles spent so long attempting to break a beer bottle on the sandy soil at the Golden Orchid Caravan Park that he forgot whose face he was going to shove it into.

The Golden Orchid was directly across the road from the Top Pub. Mumbles was banned. Just as he was from the Middle pub, and the Bottom pub.

The old caravan in which he lived had pretty much rotted to the ground. As long as he paid his rent every Thursday, or Friday, or Saturday- whenever he was the most conscious, that was okay.

Cooktown was short on population between late November and late February. The majority of residents of the Golden Orchid who had stayed on had nowhere else to run to.

Only the incredible fishing off the Cooktown wharf made the heat and humidity bearable. The monsoonal rain too, forced us all to wear as little clothing as possible.

Mumbles could stagger down the main street, his filthy long hair scattering droplets, Ned Kelly Beard as unkempt as any rat-breeding nest, and greasy from gnawing on brisket bones. There was, of course not another soul in sight.

Anyone who had happened across the unappealing spectacle would slip into a shop doorway and refuse to acknowledge Mumbles the naked banshee.

He was, dear companion, a murderer.

Mumbles’ brain, someone said, had been blended and served with vodka decades ago. The two policemen in Cooktown had found a way to deal with his violent outbursts. He could easily be diverted with loud shouts of “Crocodile! Crocodile!” Crocs fascinated mumbles.

He had worked himself into a lather. The campfire, sodden in the monsoonal rain gave the half dozen others a reason to pretend to be moving everything undercover with haste.

Then there was me. “Mumbles! Mumbles! maaate! What you doing son?” He was now hitting himself over the head with the bottle and feeling no pain.”Gnr fkn killenfricker!” Hence the name Mumbles.

“Aw! Come on son!” Holding my hand palm up against his head so that the apparently unbreakable bottle slapped it hard. It hurt.

“Dontyergerrinmyway!”

“Stop worrying mate!” I said gently. Mumbles, as with many feral creatures had an ability to sense fear. To a feral animal, fear often means attack. “Let’s go get a drink eh?” Now with an arm around his shoulders, not quite gagging from the smell of him.

“Gonnafkn killyer!”

“Nah! You won’t do that Mumbles.”

“Gonnafkn killyer!” He repeated.

“Okay. Just remember that I will kill you right back.” With the bottle out of danger, I tossed it at the waste bin, big and green, ten yards away. A top shot actually. Straight in.

Mumbles adorned his face, what anybody could see of it, with a puzzled frown. “Whatyawannakillmefer?” He was genuinely puzzled. “Because you said you were gonna kill me?”

Mumbles laughed deep in his throat. “Hey! Yergottasee this!” He yelled. “This longstreakopiss gonna kill me!”

My arms tightened around his shoulders, at the same time guiding him towards his dump of a caravan. “Bravestfukr around this place!” He was shouting. “Gonnakill me!” Then he turned, laid his head on my shoulder, and allowed me to quietly lead him through the door, (what was left of it,) and push him gently onto what appeared to be a large mound of dirty washing, but was in fact the squab on which he slept. Curling up in a foetal position he muttered “Whatyer wanna killmefer?” Ridiculously, I noticed he was weeping. I put a hand gently on his shoulder. “But only if you kill me first Mumbles. You gotta kill me first.”

“Me.” He was actually articulate. “You longstreakopish!” And then he was snoring. What few people never noticed was that Mumbles responded to the gentle touch. So, from then on, even when the police were on to it, it was I who got the call to settle him down.

Chapter 2

Getting to Cooktown in those days was an act of dedication. Unless one was piloting a vehicle with caterpillar tracks and a steel cocoon in which one might also be wearing an F1 crash helmet, it was a brave and probably insane adventure in the wet season.

The final thirty miles from the end of the hardtop into Cooktown was graded somewhat during the winter dry. A perfunctory job generally. In the main the road was littered with boulders the size of a baby’s bathtub. Too far to the left and you could cause a mudslide/rockfall. Too far to the right, and you might slide off the edge. Only about twenty feet, but for those who had done it was a most unpleasant experience.

During the wet season in the tropics the heat is stifling, the rain unceasing, and the road into Cooktown, dear companion, closed.

Also the road out.

Now, in early December wise residents without criminal backgrounds and/or an urgent need for alcohol or drugs had already closed up their businesses and homes, and headed south.

That left just a few die-hards and those whose jobs insisted that they stay.

And the rest of us.

The Golden Orchid played host now to a small band of brigands, alcoholics, and victims of domestic and societal abuse. Of those who fell through the gaps, most eventually found their feet again thanks to a couple of police officers who spent as much time on dispensing compassionate welfare as they did detaining bandits and foot pads. Only a few of the cars, caravans, trucks and buses, were roadworthy. Most were rotting on their chassis, and in the 100% humidity and 34°C heat, things rotted quickly.

The Big Blue Bus, a thirty-eight foot Leyland Viking, roadworthy and well appointed, became the de facto social club. A Sunday motor race or footy game was popular. No drinking, smoking, or drug use allowed. Not even mumbles ever put up a fight. He would curl up on the passenger seat staring at the television, issuing incoherent threats to wayward footballers; or, he would scrunch up his face and shiver dramatically at anything involving car smashes. Sure, he was a murderer, but he was also a child with a massively decayed brain. The poor man could not understand why almost everyone was afraid of him.

“Wasammadderwidne?”

“What’s the matter with you Mumbles? Nothing mate! You’re cool!”

“Amcool?”

“Mumbles! Mate! You’re as cool as a block of Antarctic ice!”

“Fuckincool!Wannabeer!”

“No mate. You want to drink, you go out.”

“‘sfucknrainin!”

“Yeah mate. It’s going to be raining for a few days yet.”

“Getmeadrinkmate!”

“Mumbles. No. You can have a Coke out of the fridge.”

“Gonnafucknkillyerbastardfuckyou!”

“Oh come on mate! You killed me yesterday!”

“Fbuckneverdid!”

“How’s about a drink Mumbles? I’ve only got Coke but it’s chilly.”

“Yougotcokeferme?”

“Sure. Help yourself mate. In the fridge. “

One thing that few people could not understand about Mumbles was that both his short-term and long-term memory were almost non-existent. The two local police officers understood the art of diversion and I had become the wall of reason. While almost everyone was afraid of Mumbles, it was clear that the poor man was a victim too.

2.

Cooktown was the port in a storm. Not without its amateur dramatics. There will always be a mumbles, Dear Companion. To some, Mumbles was an exercise in humility. Compassion even. The cracks they fall through have cracks to fall through, and they do.

Australia is a big, largely in hospitable continent. People live on the rim of the saucer. At the right time of the year and with God on your side you can follow the highway all the way around and return to your starting point.

The thought appealed but while the bus was comfortable and roadworthy the pilot was neither.

This viewpoint is debatable, Cooktown now, against Cooktown then. I am a then person. Now there are million dollar plus homes upon the hill and from May until November the resort is fully booked. Commercial fishing boats hedge their bets and take parties out to catch reef fish. Snapper, coral trout, red emperor. The Internet is a comforting link to the greater civilization of the cities. Cooktown bless its cotton socks has turned the arrival of Captain Cook on his little ship the Endeavour and its history of catastrophic cyclones, Chinese gold miners and rich fishing, into a frenzy of electronic transactions

Some would say that the clearing out of the misfits, the drunks, users, runaways and losers is good. For the town, for civilization in general. It is a safe place for “grey nomads” in their Winnebagos , their luxury caravans with his and hers Seadoos. and speedboats towing water skiers in wide arcs across the once placid green waters.

Green sea turtles, always friendly and available to be hand fed a piece of fish bait now turn up on the beaches around Lizard Island and Cooktown, their shells shattered. Or else they are found floating and unable to dive and feed because they are so filled with plastic. It is a part of the Cooktown now that the happy vacationer rarely sees.

The runaways, the alcoholics and losers have retreated into the bush (from where I emerged after my enforced sabbatical.) There they live in cars that can travel no further. Some die with no one to remember or care. Others make some kind of life aided by the local native Australians.

Some live on the periphery, coming out like park pigeons queuing for crumbs. Or thieving magpies swooping in to steal whatever shiny baubles they can.

As with society in general, the poor, the weak, the humble and the dispossessed have been split asunder and disowned. It is truly amazing what 40 miles of asphalt can do.

Chapter 4

It heals an old man’s heart Dear Companion to share with you another walk in the then. There is comfort in knowing that I am not sitting in an armchair muttering only to myself.

Cooktown could have been a place to settle and prosper. Settling was certainly an option, and a valid one. Prospering might take some time. Seeds have to be planted.

In the mid-1990s computers were not ubiquitous. By today’s standards they were only just emerging from the obscenely expensive to the middle-class affordable. The information superhighway was then still an information uphill and down dale winding road.

Thanks to a little-known, government created and quickly defunct service, I had what was then the best gear available to an ordinary human being. The service was well intentioned with just enough funding to guarantee its failure. Even the acronym is now lost in the folds of my memory. It was a government service to provide cripples and those with manifold disability a budget to become productive individuals. Oh! Dear companion, before I’m accused of the act of cultural appropriation one should note my rolling gait, (sort of John Wayne, with a beer bottle between my butt cheeks!) In the then the five minutes a day on the vertical was a triumph of the will.

It was a case of covering one’s arse as the Australian vernacular might put it. With Debbie driving the Big Blue Bus and taking care of the markets in which we sold novelties, balloons and kid stuff, funds had swiftly dwindled. The profits were there but they kept being funneled through Debbie’s urinary tract, leaving barely enough for diesel and a meat tray with veggies, won at some club or another. (See Eats And Treats Catering For Couch Potatoes.)

Cooktown could have become a comfortable domicile. I had steady work with the local real estate agent, and the local seaplane pilot. Jigging for squid from the Cooktown wharf at night was fun and provided fresh calamari and bait for other fish. Work came in from the photography shop. Business cards and printed material were in demand, and there was a burgeoning call for computers and computer repairs.

Some people will never learn. A friendship with a young woman brought me one step closer to Charlotte. An agreed partnership with her, and an investment of several thousand dollars hard earned, in a shop lease and fit-out turned bad on day one.

The shop would be the first dedicated computer shopping Cooktown. On the evening before opening day her boyfriend installed a huge Roland sign making and cutting machine, purchased with my seed money. There was an argument about the agreed business partnership. Tossing the keys and walking out did for that relationship before it began. Several years later the shop still existed but no amount of requesting repayment, even in installments returned any of the investment. That investment left me broke. Flat, scarily, hopelessly broke.

I wandered aimlessly back to the Big Blue Bus and cried; no, sobbed uncontrollably for a day and a night.

In the early morning it was a cool 25c. No way to drive the bus. Horribly alone, and with a deep, hollow pit in the stomach. Sometimes though, a good cry can focus the mind. You pick yourself up, hold your tongue and suck it up. That morning I offered the real estate agent the bus, furnishings and all the computer stuff for $5000. Less than a year before I had paid $17,500. It would be hired out on their own caravans/mobile home park.

The little white Subaru four-wheel-drive, bought for $1000 in Kempsey took me out of town. Bedding, Motorola phone and some fresh fruit and vegetables to accompany canned beans and spaghetti were the sum total of personal possessions.

Chapter 5

If you have read eats and treats, or listened to the audio book dear companion you will have met Tammy and Craig and Dak Dak motors. Meeting Charlotte the purple VW Combi, and the value of friends who never let you down are all part of that first memoir so let’s just drive on out of the pretty mid-North Coast town of Ballina and go on an adventure. Charlotte was not just a hippie beauty on the outside. Her living space was newly built by a master boatbuilder; with genius storage and tiny retractable kitchen for use in inclement weather. Her big queen sized futon, handmade to fit, was fashioned by another craftsman and filled with ducks down.

Even for a (culturally appropriate) partial cripple the driving position was nearly perfect. A bit like sitting, back straight, in a comfortable chair. Clutch, brake and accelerator close enough not to need to stretch. The steering wheel close enough to lean on if needed.

Tammy had made and fitted matching purple curtains, and Tiny, my delightful little terrier (who had a long and eventful life) found that sitting on my lap in transit was the comfortable ideal. Later you will meet Yena the stripey black and brown Chihuahua (who also had a long and eventful life.) She was not yet a co-owner with Tiny and me.

Tammy and Craig may never know how broken I was before Charlotte. They were doing it hard themselves with the business, trying to build it up, and Craig working his genius on anything VW or Porsche. They could easily have walked away with the business set up money just as others had. They had no cash to give me, but Charlotte was more than ever could be expected. No one ever in my experience could make a VW motor whirr and purr like Craig could.

I might have mentioned, Dear Companion that making lots of money had never been a problem. Over the years several million dollars made, then lost through unwise and undocumented loans, or simply given away are now just part of the rich tapestry called life. A good life is served in phases. You win some, lose some, and hope that in later life the pendulum is still on the upswing.

Driving north to the subtropics and then the tropics I no longer felt homeless and helpless. I had Charlotte, Tiny, and a full pantry, a comfortable bed to sleep on. There was the thousand dollars Craig had got me for the trusty old Subaru after he had reconditioned the engine and given the old girl a pressure wash. No loss there. I had $4000 of the $5000 paid for the Big Blue Bus. And a large bag of the illegal medicinal cannabis rather than prescription morphine, since the back operation had been deemed a failure by the operating surgeon. I was closer to fifty than forty.

Chapter 6

For a while there was the stomach dropping, sickening sense of panic and failure at becoming homeless and broke beyond description. For those of us prone to clinical depression or manic depression another layer is added. I do not like the current fad of the catchall diagnosis “bi-Polar”, which according to the psychiatrists Bible the DSM, I am. It is no mean task to wander through the “psych Bible” and find a diagnosis for excessive nose picking. I understand that in comparison to “THE NORM” my moods can range between extreme on one end of the scale to extreme on the opposite.

This day was neither one or the other. Taking to the road and having amazing adventures in one’s teens and twenties when one is still invincible and love, a constant probability, and with a family to return to, or receive funds from, is an exciting proposition.

Tiny had settled down on my lap, already dreaming sweet dreams when I turned out onto the highway at Ballina. With that iconic crustacean The Big Prawn to my left, looking just as silly as it ever had, motorists and pedestrians were smiling and waving. At me? Or at Charlotte? Perhaps a combination of the two, for my hair was still well over my shoulders, thick and wavy and gleaming copper in the sunshine.

I turned up the radio. Ironically Janis Joplin was growling and wailing “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” and it did not sound as gut wrenchingly sad as my soul remembered. It morphed into a double play. Another Kris Kristofferson song, lesser-known. “Why me Lord? What have I ever done/to deserve even worn/of the pleasures I’ve known…”

I am manic depressive. I don’t have hallucinations or hear voices in my head. The songs teased out thoughts of Margie and my son, but they were not jagged. Nor did they last much more microseconds. Charlotte-Her Purpleness might happily have been a jolly cartoon complete with bluebirds of happiness chirruping along above her.

Author: grahamwhittaker
What do I call myself? A novelist? A journalist? Writer on demand? Copywriter? Ghostwriter? Poet? Is there a single word to describe all these things? if anyone knows one please tell me. I started out life as a journalist after my service time in the RN. I was 22. My love then was music writing, contributing articles to most of the pop/rock magazines of the time. As time went by I ghostwrote biographies for celebs, wrote novels, and made a general living from writing everything from love letters to translating menus in China to acceptable English. I have written greetings cards, manuals, How to books on so many subjects I forget. My living has been as a writer on demand. So, my blog is an eclectic collection of HOW MY BRAIN WORKS. Recently I started writing blogs for company blogs. In my retirement I find myself writing more, about more subjects than I ever covered as a roving journalist. I ask myself why having reached the age of leisure why I am now busier than ever before! My last novel, The Girl From Kosovo has led to a second, which will be in your bookshops next year 2019, and my new anthology of shorts with the title Picking Up Peas With Chopsticks has just been uploaded as an ebook. (It's a pot boiler so don't expect a print version any time soon.) If you have a blog, or a job to offer, I'm an obsessive researcher and turnaround time is fast. Yes, I know, I'm a HACK. A writer for money. A gun for hire. But hey... we all have our failings. Thanks for calling in. Feel free to chat and comment. I'll even get back to you with a thank you note!

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