Crocs. I mean crocs as in footwear. Now here’s a fact about them you may or may not know. They are banned at my local casino here in Hobart. And that’s not the only place. Seems the local council responsible for keeping the natives in an acceptable state of dress have banned them in the little seaside resort of Bridport. How do I know? Well, my son told me so. I was visiting him and his lovely wife and we were preparing to saunter down the aptly named Main Street to the pub for a counter meal. When I emerged, casually dressed for the occasion, my son pointed to my comfy crocs and stated, ‘You can’t wear those down the street here Dad’. Well, who am I to flaunt what are obviously local regulations, so I quickly changed into sandals, which it appears the local governance have no objection to whatsoever.
So I guess there are those who are not as enamoured of crocs as footwear as I am – and author William McInnes. And it is thanks to him that I now have perhaps a handle on the origin of my love of them. He claims his comes from the fact that, back in the day, come summer, thongs were his main foot apparel – and that was the case for me too before age and common sense caught up with me. Here’s the man himself on the subject – ‘My love of thongs probably led to my affair with the much maligned crocs.
I love a pair of crocs; weird, clunky bits of foamy whatever they are, they were originally designed as a spa shoe. Well, that says it all. My mother called them ‘formal thongs’ and I have committed many footwear sins with crocs.
I wore them once to an awards ceremony, simply because I forgot to have them on. Too comfortable by half.
A word to the wise: they’re not very functional in wet weather, especially when you run out to the bin in early morning drizzle trying to catch the rubbish truck.
Slipping is an understatement. I went Torvill and Dean-ing down the footpath as if the bin and I were going for gold in the pairs figure-skating.
And like slipping one’s feet into a cherished pair of crocs, dipping into a new William McInnes memoir is like returning to an old mate who will give you value for money. As with ‘A Man’s Got to Have a Hobby’ and ‘Holidays’ before it, ‘Full Bore’ entertains with a cycle of yarns that are sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes poignant, sometimes full of love for fellow humanity and invariably chortle-inducing. These days, like my trusty (except in stormy weather) crocs, you know what you’ll get with this fellow and he delivers in spades.
His tales commence and finish in an auction house, as is entirely suitable as McInnes was once host of an ABC series with the moniker ‘Auction House’ (2012). A friend of mine happened to be producer of that series and relates that WMcI was a bit of a funny bugger to be around, with this sure reflected in his wordsmithery. I reckon my old Dad, had he still been with us, would have loved his yarns. Now my father was a dab hand at the old bush art of brewing billy tea and would have had a giggle at Will’s own dad’s attempt at the dying art – ‘He picked up the tea towel, carefully folded it over a few times and wrapped it around the billy’s handle and said casually, ‘Show you a trick to get a good cup of tea.’
My mother looked up from distributing egg sandwiches with a slightly anxious note, ‘Colin?’
‘I know what I’m about love.’ He stood, carefully, positioning his legs wide apart and staggering them slightly with his front leg bent at the knee.
‘Watch yourself,’ he said with a look at us, and then to himself, ‘Here we go.’ He slowly started to turn his stiffened right arm around in a full circle, and the steaming billy went with it.
‘Colin!’ my mother said again.
‘It’s right, don’t bend the elbow, that’s the trick!’ grunted my father. He kept rotating his arm and then for a bit of fun, I think, he went faster and faster. The billy became a blur.
‘Colin!’ my mother shouted.
‘It’s right!’ my father yelled back happily.
‘It looks like you’re about to take off!’
My father giggled and was about to speak back to my mother when something did take off – the billy.
‘Christ almighty!’ yelled my father and staggered forward in little steps, the handle of the billy still wrapped in the tea towel clutched in his hands sans the billy.
‘Lift off!!’ cried my mother and we kids ran screaming in all directions as the billy soared up into the air with a graceful arc; courtesy of the handle giving out at the bottom of one of my father’s great swings, and landed in the carpark with a thud as it spat tea everywhere.
After that tea-bags, and occasionally coffee, were taken on the picnics.’
I bet my dear old Dad would not have ever made such a schmozzle of it as Will’s father did in the early pages of ‘Full Bore’.
Further into the memoir there’s both poignancy for himself and his brother involved as their mother approaches death – ‘On one occasion I walked into her room and a sister on a pastoral visit sat beside her. I thought my mum was sleeping but the sister smiled up at me and waved a little and then said to my mother gently, ‘Iris, your son is here.’
My mother didn’t move.
‘Iris?’ said the sister again, just as gently, but a little louder.
I looked down at my mum, a big wonderful woman, not always perfect, sometimes shy and prone to quick judgement, but always there whenever any of her children might have needed her.
The woman whose arms had held me, whose voice had soothed me and whose love had surrounded me all my life, now diminished and stricken in bed.
‘Iris,’ said the sister again. ‘Your son.’
My mother’s mouth opened slightly and she said, ‘Is it the fat one or the stupid one?’
The look on the sister’s face I will always remember, it was all she could do not to laugh, a hint of a smile was there as she just as quietly and gently, while keeping her eyes on me, ‘I’m not sure, Iris.’
My mum’s head slowly turned and one eye opened and took me in and then she sighed. ‘Bound to happen, the stupid one’s gotten fat.’
I loved it when he got into the sharing of music with his daughter – something that I adore doing with my own treasured, beautiful, writerly one – My daughter said something. I didn’t hear. I kept driving and she said something again so I nodded.
Music began to play. The music from my daughter’s phone was booming through the car’s system. Music collected from her life. I drove along with traffic on the freeway…
The first three songs were all Beatles; she sang along with them. ‘Love Me Do’, ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ and ‘Revolution’. ‘This is really good, this one,’ she said as ‘Revolution’ howled away…
‘Really good,’ said my daughter, bopping away beside me in her school uniform.
Next was Florence and the Machine. Then a UK Squeeze song, ‘Another Nail in My Heart’. I sang along with her. She laughed and then clicked ahead a bit and it was dear old Mental as Anything with ‘If You Leave Me Can I Come Too?’ I laughed.
‘Your mum and I loved this song.’ I told her.
‘I know,’ she said.
Then a group I didn’t know.
I said this to my daughter and she laughed. ‘Of Monsters and Men.’
She clicked again and let me have a Dean Martin. ‘On an Evening in Roma’.
We sang along, the way her mother and I used to.
‘You can hear his smile,’ said my daughter.’
My daughter is about to have a rite of passage for every mother when, in a few weeks, our beloved Tessa Tiger, with much anticipation and excitement, will pass through the gates to her first school day. McInnes has that covered too – ‘I remember walking her up to school. She was wearing the big, green broad-brimmed hat that barely stayed on her head and, just before she walked into the assembly hall, holding my hand so tight I thought she might break something, she looked up to me and gave me a little smile.
Then she let go and disappeared into the lines of children who all looked like green-topped mushrooms in their big hats. I looked at my hand, at the marks her little nails had made and, by the time I was halfway back down the street the marks had disappeared and I felt a little odd. Not sad, but as if some part of my life was changing, as if something had left.’
At one stage he gets on to dead people – the ones that have left an imprint on our collective lives, such as the many who left us during the last twelve months. He riffed on the touchstones of further back such as John Wayne and Bing Crosby. But for William, perhaps the one who meant the most was fellow Aussie thespian Wendy Hughes who passed in 2014 – ‘As he stalked off down a tunnel to obscurity (in the film) Wendy Hughes gave a wonderful, unexplainable look of love and admiration towards him and said in her warm, lovely Australian voice, ‘He’s just old-fashioned.’
At the age of thirteen I thought her beautiful and smart and strong, and I hoped somewhere in my adolescent dreams that someday someone would say something like that about me… somehow that moment on screen buried itself deep in my mind. Perhaps it was the look she gave, perhaps it was the film. Perhaps it was just a moment.
At a friend’s party one New Year’s Eve (much later) I met Wendy Hughes. ‘Met’ is too big a word. We were both introduced as we headed in different directions.
Wendy Hughes. Nineteen seventy-eight was a long time ago by then, but when she turned to me and said hello, I just stared, a little in shock. And then said, like a loon, ‘Good evening.’
Wendy Hughes laughed and looked a bit surprised at the formal phrase, especially on New Year’s Eve.
My friend said, ‘You’ve got to forgive William, he’s from Queensland.’
Wendy Hughes looked at me, smiled, and said, ‘He’s just old-fashioned.’
I don’t mind admitting, I nearly cried.’
It’s all lovely, lovely stuff, like the extracts above. I admit I’ve used William’s own words to compliment his work in ‘Full Bore’ rather than my own praises – but I think it speaks for itself. So if you’re in the market for a bonzer yarn-spinner of the laconic Aussie variety you’d be hard up to better this guy. He can produce belly laughs and tears of sadness on the same page such is his magic. He has the knack. He makes the ordinary and everyday for those of us, lucky enough to live in this wonderful country, simply extraordinary.