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THE WARM DARK TUNNEL

Freddie Hudson was cursed with a great memory. He could remember everything that ever happened to him. Every slight, every cruel comment disguised as humour, every kiss that led to heartache, every promise not kept, every humiliation, every betrayal by a friend, every stumble and fall in a life lived in search of meaning.

There were also bad memories too.

He remembered coming out of that warm dark tunnel of darkness and gazing up at the doctor painfully dragging him into a cold and clinical world. He had tried with all his might to scramble back but it was no use as the uncaring determined doctor gripped his little head harder and forced him into a place he wasn’t sure about. He always thought perhaps that was why he had a long neck. Some told him, much later, that it was the sign of good breeding but it never convinced him enough to give up his own theory.

On first viewing his parents seemed nice so Freddie decided to hang about and a short time later found himself cradled in his mother’s arms, his grinning dad beside them, in the backseat of a taxi on its way to what would become his boyhood home.

Once settled in his cozy compact blue room he began thinking about the meaning of it all and what all this fuss would eventually come to. He felt awkward imposing on this obviously struggling couple and guilty for the pain he had already caused his mother. This fear of imposing on people would remain with him all his life.

His dad like to drink stout and this miracle brew seemed put the old boy in high spirits – although it clearly had the opposite effect on mum.

“Stout is good for me!” his dad would utter with all the urgency of a serial killer pleading Not Guilty.

“Not when you’ve had ten bottles it isn’t!” Mum would counter in her best Perry Mason voice.

Observing all this sitting on his dad’s lap, Freddie was beginning to suspect he may be a genius. Well, at least in this household. After all, surely the solution to all this was simple. If only mum could just down a few pints herself she could join father and son in singing sea shanties that made absolutely no sense to anyone. And see the fun in it?

She didn’t. And so most nights his parents played another game where they would both reenacted the Battle of the Somme. Freddie very much appreciated the obvious effort they both put into this but it invariably left all three dissipated and feeling defeated.

It wasn’t long before Freddie was up and about and dispatched to school, an institution he loathed with every cell in his body. He thought it truly fraudulent that the teachers spoke gibberish and got paid for it. Yet part of him marvelled at their trickery and on several occasions offered to take over the class with his own form of gibberish which, instead of being rewarded for, got him beaten by the said teachers until he could hardly walk home. Upon completing that long painful journey he’d be greeted at the door by his smiling mum and the words, “How was school today, son?” On one such occasion Freddie found it difficult to speak so his mum cut in with her motivational skills, “Don’t worry, your dad and I were idiots at school too!” Freddie was tempted to ask if he could crawl back into her warm dark tunnel and shimmy up far enough to fall through some trap door and back to whence he came before he was so rudely awakened to this mad place. But refrained in the spirit of good taste and reverence.

Having survived school, Freddie realised he was old enough to be married so he did. He found a girl who seemed to honestly love him so he figured she was a good candidate to try and recreate the joyful association his parents had endured.  And so they took that huge journey down the aisle and thereafter were happy and life was simple and good for a time. Until it wasn’t.

Oneday she said something to him that he couldn’t forget. Or forgive.  So he went on alone trying to forget her and failing.

But as things developed, there was much to do, and shopping lists of things to clutter a life in order to distract a mind that never slept. Freddie’s religion was to stay busy. In a way he thought this would ward off death. For although this life had holes in it, it was all he knew.

He liked to hang out with his friend Jimmy Helle who’d never uttered anything that wasn’t a lie but his choice of words was compelling. Together they whiled away the days, one telling tall tales and the other pretending to buy them for the sake of a friendship. It was a fine relationship because they needed nothing from each other, other than the shared knowledge that they were witnesses to the futility of the passing parade.

Another pal was Alby who had more moves than a snake and was just as quick to disappear when a bar bill was presented. Alby was so dumb he joined ISIS thinking he was working for the CIA.

Around this time, Freddie had the sobering realisation that he had $32.56 to his name so he wrote a bunch of film scripts and hit the jackpot. Suddenly he found that he was irresistible to many women and it wasn’t long before he chose one of them to accompany him down the aisle. Again.

Things went swimmingly for a number of years and he found himself to be on everyone’s lips, especially actresses in need of a job. Or therapy.

Money rolled in but Freddie was too   busy to enjoy himself. Luckily he had a wife who wasn’t so busy so every day she very kindly thought up ways to spend his new found fortune. She was genius when it came to spending money and Freddie thought himself blessed to have her.

Freddie was also surrounded by a team of men who were good with numbers, which was a great relief to him as he’d found math to be as ridiculous as geomatry at school. He was told by these numbers men to just keep on doing what he was doing, whatever that was, and they’d handle the rest.

After Freddie had exhausted himself making 193 films in two years, the numbers men seemed disappointed that the workload hadn’t killed him. So crestfallen were they that they all took holidays at the same time and never returned. Freddie thought it was a little strange that he hadn’t received a postcard or any information on where all his money could be located. This was a major inconvenience as he’d been planning to take his wife (if he could get her out of the shops) and young son on a little holiday of their own.

The kindly men who were good with numbers finally popped up again years later and made a splash in the irrigation business before finally discovering their niche grading horse semen.

Soon Freddie’s name was mud everywhere, including his own home, and it wasn’t long before the Tax Department thought it might be opportune to lend a boot to the situation by charging Freddie with fraud. It wasn’t long before he found himself facing Judge Kafka in the Farce of the Century. Unfortunately Freddie didn’t have Paul Hogan’s millions, or even his own, to make the Laxative Department look like fools, so he had to rely on plain old common sense. Representing himself, Freddie stood and asked the Judge if the definition of fraud was “to financially benefit yourself through deception?” Judge Kafka smiled and affirmed that that was indeed the case. Freddie then stated, “Well I don’t have any money. So I guess I have disadvantaged no one through the deception of myself that the numbers men would take care of business whilst I was making 193 films. No further questions, you Dingbat” and sat.

This sent the court into an uproar. It had been a long while since common sense had been heard in public and the judge toyed with the idea of having him charged with contempt of court. The Lax Department then dropped the charge altogether and wanted to have Freddie retried on the grounds that they couldn’t understand the plot to one of his movies. Freddie stood  and asked them if they were able to follow The Lady From Shanghai to which they replied, “Not on your Nellie, no way” and asked the Judge to have Orson Welles joined in the proceedings. That’s when pandemonium broke out in the courtroom and Freddie was convicted for a parking offence, paid the appropriate fine and walked free. Then caught a tram home.

Urged by his wife (it was a public holiday and the shops were closed) to go to Hollywood and make another fortune for his family, Freddie accepted the challenge. Unfortunately, once he was away his wife, trying her own hand at fiction, told his impressionable son that Daddy had deserted them, leaving them penniless, except for a mansion and everything in it.

Whilst pounding the pavements in Hollywood, Freddie’s wife scored another bargain and moved one of her co-workers into the master bedroom to cope with those long, lonely nights and had Freddie served with divorce papers.

Pretty soon Freddie was seen drinking in bars that even Charles Bukowski would’ve turned his nose up at. He started on white wine and soon hit the harder stuff. One night he had a terrible nightmare and glimpsed hell in all its ugliness and debauchary surrounded by lost souls all screaming for mercy.  But taking a second look he realised he was actually standing on the corners of Hollywood Boulevard and Western at 3am waiting for the lights to change.

Work started to come Freddie’s way and soon he was being invited to all the right parties. Demi Moore wanted him to write a screenplay and Sharon Stone wanted him to take a shower with her.

Every day without fail Freddie sent home, well what was once his home,  gifts, cards, drawings, letters and, when he had it, money,  to his son. But strangely the money never seemed to reach his son and somehow ended up in the bank account of a doctor who shot Botox into women’s faces.

Freddie thought it was about time he wised up, so he married a bipolar movie star in Miami. They returned to L.A and settled in a rented home in Sherman Oaks and there was peace in the Valley. For a time. Some nights her mood swings suited the music and somehow together they stumbled through it. Two against the world. At times Freddie didn’t know if he was coming or going but after four years he found himself between leaving and gone. One particularly hard night, Freddie walked into the darkness and laid down in the road waiting for a bus to run over him.  Unfortunately for him there was a bus strike that night and misfortune followed misfortune until the marriage ended.

Somehow he came to be running a restaurant and proved to be so popular with patrons he was voted the unofficial Mayor of Santa Monica. He made some great pals amongst those he worked with like Ben, Gordon, Cathy, Pat, David, Neth and many drinks were consumed after closing time amidst shared laughter and stories. For a time it felt like he was part of a family again.

On the other hand, the two owners he worked for, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, were insane. Dum had the personality of white wallpaper and was the only wealthy Jewish doctor in L.A who couldn’t get laid. If he sat beside an attractive woman at the bar of his own restaurant and struck up a conversation with her, she’d be gone within 10 minutes. Sometimes less. Freddie named the empty bar stool next to Dum as the Seat of Death. His partner, Dee, always had a smile on his face even when you told him your mother had just died. He also spoke at a thousand miles an hour like a man who’d found the secret recipe of how to make speed.

Doctor Dum would sit on his regular bar stool every night after boring off every attractive woman in Hollywood and snarl at how popular Freddy was with people. It wasn’t long before Freddie was given his marching orders and on his way again, into the night with a thousand eyes and no particular place to go.

On one such night he gave all of his remaining possessions away and made his bed on the beach thinking, like the Indians do, that it was a perfect night to die. No sadness. No self-pity. In fact he welcomed the chance to now depart this strange world, leaving it like he came into it, with nothing. He closed his eyes and drifted off expecting to enter that warm dark tunnel again that would hopefully lead to a light. Or something.

But instead, he awakened to a new dawn and the disappointing realisation that a homeless person hadn’t killed him during his sleep. Then he looked around and witnessed a dawn of breathless beauty, and finally heard the voice of God as it said unto him, “Leave your cross here and find the music again.”

Freddie misinterpreted this message to mean go forth and populate so he found a jumpin’ little joint on Pico and exchanged numbers with lots of Black girls, until finally he got the right translation that it was all about the music being played at this club by a band of all stars led by Wadstar and Turk.

One night the doorman Basil Wrathbone sussed that Freddie had nowhere to go so he invited him back to his pad to share another 437 beers until they collapsed on the carpet and awoke a week later.

Sometimes between late at night and early in the morning, the bewitching hours, Freddie would see his new best friend appear giving a perfect impression of Creeping Jesus as he quietly inched in the darkness towards the Venetian blinds and nervously peeked out, whispering “The C.I.A are looking for us!” To which Freddie would reply from his living room sofa bed, “Why?” This question would rattle Basil and he’d give a knowing smile and creep back to his room. Sometimes they’d get so paranoid from this nightly activity that they’d watch endless repeats of Sherlock Holmes on TV in the hope that something, anything, would be resolved.

One day Freddie’s cousin thought he may be useful to him so he paid for his airfare to get him back to his suspicious homeland, Australia, the land of second chances and forked tongues.

Freddie returned and everyone patted him on the back.  Yes, everyone seemed pleased to see him except his old editor, the famous drunk about town Peter McBland who was genius at cutting the plot out of every film he edited.

Freddie was excited to see his son again but found that the young man’s heart and head had been poisoned by a woman who resented that her only achievement had been hitching herself to Freddie’s wagon. One night he invited his son to dinner and excitedly prepared a roast with all the trimmings and waited. And waited. Sometime after midnight Freddie turned the oven off. And something deep inside him too. Possibly the hope that the truth would win out and a happy ending might prevail. But life clearly wasn’t a movie.

An old friend Richard Masters, whom Freddie had once given a big break to, remembered enough to repay the favour. Richard was now running a very successful underground film festival aptly named P.U.S.S.Y and honoured Freddie by presenting a retrospective of 8 of his old movies. It was a roaring success and audiences cried in all the wrong places and the films were now deemed to be classics.

Freddie was hailed as a legend and people thrust awards at him in the hope that they’d weigh him down and he’d become stagnant like good old safe legends are supposed to behave. But it didn’t work and the bastard continued to live and produce new works.

In fact he lived to be 100 and received a telegram from the Queen  which read, “You’re a fucking miracle, Brad.” The fact that the silly old bitch had gotten his name wrong after too many G&Ts didn’t dilute Freddie’s delight in receiving this thoughtful correspondence and so he went on about his life, making mistakes, taking people at their word, searching for meaning in everything, and just being human.

His final words were reported to be, “Awwwfuckyasall!” Or something to that effect as he passed from this earthly world back into that warm dark tunnel of mystery, taking his place in our cherished and grossly rewritten history.

Text (c) Frank Howson 2017

Painting (c) Frank Howson 2017

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FOR CATHIE MANEY

There is a toll for every virtue
There is a tax for hearts like yours
You didn't deserve your crazy childhood
Or the loss of the brother you loved
Cut down by animals in the night
Those are scars that don't wash away
No matter how many tears you cry
When I'll think of you I'll see your smile
And think of the battles you fought to be
Let down by so many, we're only human, baby
And both had rocky roads to bear
You tried so hard to stand beside me
You tried so hard to hold me close
But you had too many ghosts to haunt you
And they all got in our path
In those hours after midnight
When I knew I couldn't stay
We were both two orphans
We used to laugh and say
But you got away, baby
But why did it have to be this way?
You were always such a loyal friend
And you loved me to a fault
Looking back you may've believed in me more than anyone
And loved me more than I deserved
But why did you have to prove your point like this?
Gone, and taking all the laughter
Gone, and taking all the kindness
Gone, and taking all tomorrows
And what may've been for you and yours
The trouble with you was you cared for everyone
Like a child in search of her own
But too many things cluttered our space
And we lost ourselves
Too many things leave us alone
Perhaps you got carried away by a foolish idea
That all romantics exit like this
But did you think of the pain you leave us? 
Did you want us to hurt so we'd understand yours?
Too many questions without answers
Just like those nights we'd argue until dawn
I tried so hard to help you
To make sense of what you'd been through
But you couldn't understand me
Your hurt was too deep to be cured
Now every evening at sunset
I'll look at that blazing sun and think of you 
It's going to take a lot to forgive
The hurt you have bestowed us with
So many took advantage
So many manipulated behind the scenes
They didn't realize how fragile you were
Or perhaps they did
And if so, they have blood on their hands
I'll remember you pretty as a picture
And a smile that'd light up a room
With the excited joy of a child
And those mad conversations that made no sense
That ended in laughter or tears
If you wanted part of my heart you have it
But this was no way to take it
It could've been yours for free



(c) Frank Howson 2017





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But Then Again..

I hate it when the TV screams at me for things I haven’t done. It’s worse than the ticking of the clock that’s always resented the time I wasted on you. The toaster purposely burns my bread having seen me being too familiar with the microwave. So many appliances in this room hold grudges over what can’t be redone.

Sometimes it gets lonely here so I go out to meet other lonely souls. Then I bring them home and leave. Who wants people like that in your home?

I remember a childhood when there was always something cooking. And always an argument brewing. My father was a small man who made his presence felt. His battles with himself and those he loved were legendary and unmade us all.

Sometimes when I think of you I play Chet Baker.  Only the junkman and angels know how deep you hurt me. I think this one is in C, but I’ll sit it out.

I have lost myself in so many books that now sit on my shelves like dead weight and taunt me. I think I last saw me in London, in the rain, standing outside Ronnie Scott’s club. But then again it may’ve been the person I wanted to be. Or just another story. There’ve been too many stories filled with too many characters battling in too many crowded hours.

They have cancelled my eroticism cable channel and now all I get is sports. Or static. The latter is free and I’ve come to read things into it.

I sometimes watch Jane Bum attempt to predict the weather but my feeling is she’s not psychic and just toying with me.

I missed the coverage of the Heavyweight Championship Title Match but caught a good fight just outside my apartment. It only went a few rounds as neither fighter had seemed to train. My advice on the finer points of boxing were violently shunned by them and I now sport scars for caring too much. Although I believe I won on points.

There is something very comforting in the voice of Doris Day. Yes, whatever will be, will be. Advice far more profound than anything in the Ten Commandments. Or in Charlton Heston’s beard.

Sometimes you have to face the cold wind of another day. That’s why God grants us dreams.

(c) Frank Howson 2015

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MY FAVOURITE BOOKS LIST

A friend asked me to pick my 10 fave books of all time. The 10 best of anyting is a hard ask but here’s goes. I have chosen those 50 books that moved me the most and had the biggest influence.

1) THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

2) GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens.

3) THE DISENCHANTED by Budd Schulberg.

4) THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde.

5) NODDY IN TOYLAND by Enid Blyton

6) A LIFE by Elia Kazan.

7) CRAZY SUNDAYS – F. SCOTT FITZGERALD IN HOLLYWOOD by Aaron Latham

8) CHRONICLES by Bob Dylan.

9) THIS IS ORSON WELLES by Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich.

10) A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway.

11) THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

12) IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote

13) A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens

14) HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain

15) WHAT’S EXACTLY THE MATTER WITH ME by P.F. Sloan

16) DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller

17) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

18) TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald

19) POWER WITHOUT GLORY by Frank Hardy

20) PETER PAN by James M. Barrie

21) DIARY OF AN UNKNOWN by Jean Cocteau

22) ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE by William Goldman

23) THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD by Ron Hansen

24) SCOTT & ERNEST by Matthew Bruccoli

25) THE POWER OF MYTH by Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers.

26) ERROL FLYNN – A MEMOIR by Earl Conrad

27) ON THE STREET WHERE I LIVE by Alan Jay Lerner

28) DON’T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD by Eric Burdon with J. Marshall Craig

29) OLIVIER ON ACTING by Laurence Olivier

30) THE MUSIC GOES ROUND MY HEAD by David Johnston

31) FREE ASSOCIATION by Steven Berkoff

32) THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE by Robert Evans

33) MARILYN by Norman Mailer

34) HITCHCOCK BY TRUFFAUT

35) A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway

36) JOURNAL OF A NOVEL by John Steinbeck

37) PICTURE by Lillian Ross

38) HOME BEFORE DARK by Ruth Park

39) TINSEL by William Goldman

40) PORTRAITS by Helmut Newton

41) THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT by Quentin Crisp

42) THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell

43) TEN GREAT PLAYS by William Shakespeare

44) FINISHING THE HAT by Stephen Sondheim

45) W. C. FIELDS – HIS FOLLIES AND FORTUNES by Robert L. Taylor

48) THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN Volume 1 by Mark Twain

49) IN HIS OWN WRITE by John Lennon

50) THE ENTERTAINER by John Osbourne

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RIVER OF REGRET

How many times
Did a father write a son
And never get a line
On the things I might’ve done?
Where did we separate
On that road along the way?
And fall victims to the silence
Of all the things we couldn’t say?

It’s a long, long journey
That we try, try to forget
When we cut ourselves adrift
On the river of regret

These bitter tears
I’ve been crying over you
Won’t ever let me go
No matter what I do
That endless mardi gra
We lost ourselves upon
Had us wasting our lives searching
For what was already gone

It’s a long, long journey
That we try, try to forget
When we wake to find ourselves
On the river of regret

Curse the moon
Where the Springfield River parts
We got ourselves banished
To the Land of Broken Hearts

Why did you call my name
Like you really loved the word?
Was it just to confuse me with
Another lie I hadn’t heard?

It’s a long, long journey
That we try, try to forget
No one hears your call for help
On the river of regret

It’s a long, long journey
That we try, try to forget
When you steer the ship of fools
On the river of regret

On the river of regret….

Recorded by David Bornstein

(C) Frank Howson 2014

Australia

THE TRUE HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA (PART 1)

Some time ago an Italian sea captain got lost and discovered a vast incontinence. Then some Dutch people, probably Vikings or Ewoks, killed him and hid the body under rocks in Sydney. That’s why it’s now called the famous Rocks area and so many Italian restaurants are built there. Captain Francesco Albineani is somewhere underneath them. True story. I think.

The Vikings raped and pillaged, as they do, then went home and forgot all about The Demons Land, as they called it.

A short time later the English arrived and, owning a lovely flag, planted it in the ground and claimed ownership. Some of the Aboriginals were not happy about this technicality, but when they raised concerns, Captain Cock put them in their places by saying, “Well you can’t bloody speak English that’s why!”

Not long after creating this bad karma, Captain Cock himself was killed, along with his crew, on another expedition to steal countries, and was turned into a sandwich by a group of tribesmen who, after viewing his thin white legs, mistook him for a chicken. That place is now called the Sandwich Islands. It was thought that the Chicken Islands was a little disrespectful to what had been great semen.

Somewhere around this time an angel appeared to King George The Turd, known to be completely bonkers, and said, “You must rename this lovely country. It does not deserve to be called The Demons Land.” King George the Nutcase, quick as a late train, said, “Well what do you suggest, oh vision?” To which the Angel replied, “Call it Orrrrstraalia.” King George said, “How do you spell that?” The vision replied, “I don’t have a fucking clue, I’m an angel, dickhead!”

And that is how this vast beautiful incontinence, known for its floods, came to be called Australia.

Back in England someone got the smart idea to get rid of all the Irish in London by sending them to this new land. When the Irish said, “Fuck you, we’re not going!” They were arrested on trumped up charges, such as your name was Paddy. Or your mother had two eyes.

Disgruntled, the Irish arrived here and haven’t stopped whining. Or beering. Sometimes they sing irritating songs about it.

The Aboriginals, a very spiritual race, were forced to watch Irishmen drink until they fell down and got up again, urinating on dingoes and each other. The Aboriginals mistakenly thought it must’ve been some kind of weird ritual from the old country, and vowed to give them a wide berth.

One of the Irish flock, Edward Kelly, known to his mates as Pansy, kicked up such a fuss about being in the Land of Incontinence the Victorian Police targeted him as a “arsehole” and offered him a job. They explained that if he wanted to be in the force he’d have to drop the name Pansy and be called something boring like Ned. Well, Neddy told ’em what to do with their job and stole a horse, riding off into the horizon yelling, “Catch me if you can you drongo coppers!” He was followed for miles by the Police in their attempt to explain to the mad bastard that he’d stolen his own horse which was not quite an offence in anyone’s book. Even if you were Irish. Pansy Ned, short time later, teamed up with a nice man sporting a sensible haircut named Joe Byrne, a former dress maker of some note. As Ned had a habit of trying on ladies dresses and staying in them for some days, the two young men had much in common and hit it off immediately. Finally, the Police said, “That’s it, we’ve had enough of Pansy Ned stealing his own horses, and setting fire to his own house (with his mum and sister in it), that we better put him away for his own safety.” That’s when Pansy Ned and Joelene (as he was now named) Byrne hatched the idea, after 4 bags of funny mushrooms on toast, to make a suit of armour. Possibly a great concept but like all things Irish, deeply flawed. The young men, tripping off their tits, forgot about covering Neddy’s legs. Some say it was a miscalculation, others say it was Ned’s vanity that was his undoing. Ned sent word to the coppers that he was intending to ambush them (on reflection possibly a fatal mistake tipping them off). He then forwarded them all free train tickets to Glenrowan. This, even the Victorian Police, world famous for their stupidity, thought was curious and got their accountants in at once to add two and two together. What followed was a big showdown at Glenrowan between Ned and a few of his mates, Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger, against the entire Victorian Police Force. Now, even though the coppers were dull, it only took a few hours for them to work out that if they aimed at Pansy’s pins they could bring the arsehole down. Ned’s last words were reportedly “(I would’ve made) Such a wife.”

In the continuing chapters I will document with the same passion for accuracy and historical detail the lives of other such incredible Australians as General George Armstrong Custer, Billy The Kid, Ronald McDonald and Gandhi.

(C) Frank Howson 2014

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PENSACOLA, FLORIDA 1986

In 1986 I’d gone to Los Angeles to attend the wedding of my dear friend John Capek and his long time girlfriend Candy Cole. Marc Jordan and I both served as best men. Well, the best they could come up with anyway.

After the lovely wedding and the rousing L.A party it was decided that the Capeks would hire a van and head off on the long drive down to Florida to have a separate wedding reception with all of Candy’s relatives. I was invited to come along for the ride.

The Coles had booked a lovely beach house across the road from where they lived and that’s where, John, Candy and I would stay. Johnny and I had been drinking cognac all the way down to Florida so we were feeling no pain on arrival. It was certainly a beautiful house, one of those ones that are situated right on the beach.

Not wasting any time, I changed into my swimming trunks and ran down the wooden steps that led to the beach, dropped my towel on the sand and took a running dive into the crystal blue ocean. I came up for air and swam until my arms began to feel tired. I treaded water, closed my eyes and lifted my face up toward the sun to feel the warmth of its rays penetrating my skin. I was in paradise. I thought of the Dylan lyric, “…this must be what it’s all about.” At that moment, I certainly couldn’t conceive of there being anything better.

That’s when I saw it. A fin. No, there were four or five of them, but who was counting. They appeared to be circling me. Heaven had turned to Hell within the blink of an incredulous eye. Hadn’t Candy told me that they’d shot some of the scenes for “JAWS” at this beach? I’d thought she was making small talk, but she’d obviously been trying to warn me. I looked to the shore, Candy and John were now sun-baking on the beach. I frantically waved. They waved back! My God, it was all over. Goodbye Lynn…Thanks Mum…Hello Maker. I remember hoping that Jaws 1, 2, 3 & 4 would leave enough of me to be sent home for some sort of burial. The return journey was looking relatively inexpensive. I’d have guessed that a postpak would suffice.

Suddenly, the obsessive need to produce another film seemed brain numbingly trivial.

But hold on, I wasn’t about to give up without a fight. Never have, never would. I drew a deep breath and started for the shore. I swam like someone in fast-forward. Without missing a beat, I was out of the water and my feet were thumping down hard on sand. I ran in an exhausted, manic sprint towards the house. As I passed the Capeks I heard Candy’s voice…

“Aren’t the dolphins beautiful, Frankie?”

“Yes, yes…yes they are,” I heaved, without dropping my pace. My only hope of saving face was to continue as though I was practicing for the next Iron Man contest. I think they bought it.

Later in the afternoon, when my lungs had stopped convulsing along with every other muscle in my body, I ventured back onto the beach to sun-bake. Exhausted after my “training” I drifted off into a deep sleep. After about an hour I woke with a start. As I sat up and my eyes found focus through the sleep and the glare of the white sand, I saw two angels walking along the beach toward me. It was an amazing vision. For a moment I wondered whether I really had died in the water. But this time my eyes weren’t deceiving me. These angels weren’t dolphins or penguins. They were nuns, dressed from head to foot in white habits, walking along the deserted beach. It was like something out of a Fellini movie.

(c) Frank Howson 2014