There are things we did together, Murphy and me, that I choose not to tell you about. Like why I hit a kerb late one night and punctured two tyres and then left a trumpet on the nature strip after taking it out of the boot to get to the spare wheel! And how we finished up on top of a heap of road metal with all four wheels suspended in the air at 2am one morning after a late night with Ernie Butler!
Which leads me to tell you about Ern. Those who knew him have a great assortment of stories about him and his exploits often brought on by imbibing plenty of amber fluid but all outrageous and most of them true. I did a round-the-world trip with Ern so have a few personal stories to add to the vast collection but one thing that always emerges when people start to talk about him is that underneath the buffoon he chose to show to the world, there was a unique, caring and highly intelligent individual.
Our trip started out fairly well with Ern and I keeping the hostesses busy bringing us cans of Fosters to help us through the long night as we winged our way towards Hawaii where we found ourselves in a glorious high-rise hotel apartment overlooking the famous Waikiki beach.
When we went out at night for a meal, Ern kept the American couple on the next table amused by his Ocker wit and they insisted on 'shouting' us large amounts of Budweiser so that by the time we staggered back to our room, Ern was not fully with it. I was VERY asleep when he put the light on and headed for the bathroom, babbling incoherently. He babbled still more when he returned and eventually the light went off and peace settled again. Next morning I awoke to cries of, "Who did this?" as Ern surveyed the wreckage of the bedside lamp. It had an American-style rotary on/off switch that had beaten him during the night and he had dismantled the whole thing and removed the globe!
Our flight to San Francisco was delayed and we arrived there on a Saturday around midnight to find no-one to meet us despite plenty of correspondence between Ernie and members of the 20/30 International organisation that was the U.S. equivalent of Apex. We tried to phone the contact person who Ern believed lived in Chicago because the letters had carried 'CHICO' as their destination. The phone books didn't help no-one by that name lived in Chicago or the surrounding areas. We were eventually rescued by the people supposed to meet us they had started the welcoming party without us and were in great form by the time they arrived at the carousel. 'CHICO' turned out to be a little Californian town near San Diego and had nothing to do with Chicago!
After a hectic and rather strange Sunday in San Francisco we flew to Vancouver, spent time with the local Kin 40 members and then next day boarded a coach for Montreal with overnight stopovers at Revelstoke in the foothills of the Rockies and Calgary home of the famous 'Stampede'. With us on this part of the trip was Dennis a boomerang throwing champion back in Aussie and his wife. During a mad tour with our Kin 40 hosts of all the hotels in the area, Dennis demonstrated his prowess with the boomerang but as the night wore on the curved stick showed less and less inclination to return to sender.
We had a great time with the Canadians and all too soon we were on a British Airways flight to London where Murphy had preceded us. Ern was heading for friends for a few days and my plan was to pick up the hire car I'd booked before leaving Australia, staying with cousins in London over the weekend and then taking a few days to reach the World Council of Young Men's Service Clubs convention in Edinborough where I'd catch up with Ern again. There was no desk for Kays Rent-a-Car! No-one had heard of them and the phone book had no entry for them so I tried Avis and all the others. It was a universal chorus of, "Sorry we are booked out. Try again after the weekend." Just a bit discouraged I rang cousin Barb. and she arranged to meet me at the underground station near her home in north London. Struggling onto the train with my heavy cases and wearing a cowboy hat presented to me in Canada by the boys of Kin 40, I sweltered in London's out-of-character heatwave and finally reached Tufnell Park Station where I waited for ages outside the wrong entrance until I finally woke up to the idea that there just might be another exit.
A huge Indian member of Round Table Jitty Singh came with us as we drove back to London and his turban hit the roof every time we went over a bump. Jitty was from New Delhi but had friends who owned an Indian restaurant in London and we were invited to go there for lunch before flying to South Africa. The hot curry was mild compared to the ferocious chilli-based dish served as an entree. "You've destroyed my taste buds you b.....," I cried to Jitty's great amusement. I blamed Jitty for my streaming eyes and burning throat but I believe my mate Murphy would have had a hand in it!
He certainly had a hand in our SAA flight to Johannesburg that night or it should have been that night but BM caused an engine problem that saw us sitting on the plane for hours while they tried to rectify the trouble. They served us dinner and drinks and finally around midnight carted us off to a hotel where we endeavoured to get a few hours sleep before the early call. Our luggage had stayed on board so I had to put on the same socks that I had worn all the previous day and we finally got airborne well into the morning for the long haul down the coast of Africa. SAA was forbidden to overfly the African countries and had to take the long way round and this saw us arrive at Jo'burg just before midnight. Our message to Ern's friends had not reached them and they had spent the entire day and evening at the airport.
By now the nylon socks were getting very high indeed but there was still a three hour drive into the Transvaal before arriving at our host's home and at last I was able to get those smelly things off my feet before we settled down to yarn while we munched on caviar and scrambled egg at 4am.
Oh Ern I could write another book about you. Sadly, Ern developed a rare and particularly savage kind of bone cancer and he and his long-suffering partner Jesse, bought a lovely home on a hill overlooking the estuary at Batemans Bay in NSW were he spent his last few years as the cancer gradually overcame even his indomitable spirit. With a group of his friends we scattered his ashes in the estuary at a spot he had nominated and even then his humour came to the fore. He had requested that his ashes be scattered there, "Because then I can come ashore twice a day for a beer when the tide comes in!"
Murphy kept his head down and it was a lovely sad/happy weekend until, on the way home, the approaching police car did a u-turn on a deserted stretch of the Princes Highway the other side of Orbost and I copped a speeding fine.
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