I'll Drink to That!

In the course of a long life, I can recall only two memorable encounters with drunks.

The first was when I was thirteen. I was traveling home in a bus with my family. The bus stopped outside the Mackinnon Hotel and a drunk boarded. He smiled glassily at my mother giving her a cheerful, ’G’day Missus.’ Then he nodded amiably at my sister and myself before he focused on my scowling father. He studied my father’s disapproving expression with interest through the 20-minute journey. When our stop came and we got up to leave, he said in a friendly way, ‘Well, goodbye then. I’ll see you all again’. Before my father could pass, the drunk leant over, gripped his arm and said in a sincere and pitying tone, ‘You know mate, you really ought to join the Cheer Up Society!’ Our laughter didn’t improve my father’s temper.

My second encounter was more dramatic. I was 17 and returning late at night from the city after study.

In those days, trams consisted of two enclosed carriages joined by a breezeway with canvass blind drawn down on the non-passenger side. Women would sit in the carriages while men, hardy sex that we were, would freeze their butts off on the lattice wooden seats in the breezeway. From time to time, the canvass blinds could shoot up without warning. This happened to my father once after we had been on a holiday at Launching Place in country Victoria. My mother and sister sat in the carriage section while Dad and I did the manly thing and stayed on the breezeway. Dad had placed our large suitcase hard against the canvas blind. As the tram belted down Glenhuntly Road, jolting and swaying with speed, the blind suddenly hurtled up and our suitcase shot from the tram. Mum wailed in horror, ‘Oh Bert!’ Dad swore as the case hit the road. Its lid flew open and corsets and clothes exploded across the road. We hurriedly disembarked and my mother made many bitter remarks to my red-faced Dad as we gathered up the now grubby clothes and underwear between the weaving cars.

Before drifting off the point, I was saying that I was 17 and traveling late at night on the tram. I was deep in my book, probably the Scarlet Pimpernel or one of the rollicking tales of Sabatini, when a drunk swayed up to me. ‘Scuse me mate,’ he slurred. ‘Can you tell me when this tram gets into Newcastle?’ ’We’re going to Carnegie,’ I replied. ’Newcastle’s in New South Wales a thousand miles away.’ He pondered this. ‘Not going to Newcastle?’ I shook my head. ‘Strike!’ he exclaimed ‘I better get off.’ The tram was going at full speed but rather than yanking the cord and waiting for the tram to stop, the drunk, to my consternation, walked straight off the breezeway and into space. He hit the nature strip and rolled in a cartwheel like a circus clown before sitting up and shaking his head dazedly. Rising to his feet, he stumbled off.

I’m glad that unlike my Dad I’ve enjoyed many a glass of beer or wine over the years. It’s made pleasant occasions even more enjoyable.

As Churchill once said, I’ve taken much more from drink than it’s ever taken from me!

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