George Young, Boofy and Monty

Boofy, George Young & Monty

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“Dad, next time you go to George Young’s place, can I come with you?” Dad looked at me with that look that said, what’s he on about now… but in the end, he was used to me and my crazy requests, Dad had heard so many over the years and in some ways was not well equipped for a son like me. But he tried hard to accomodate a curious non conforming child who was quite mysterious to him. Dad had six brothers and sisters, he was used to conformity, but didn’t understand the opposite.

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‘Why do you want to see George again?’

‘I don’t know Dad, George scares me and he doesn’t scare you.’ I wasn’t really sure how to answer that one,  George did frighten me as he did most of the kids in the town. Port Fairy had more than its fare share of great characters and that possibly accounts for my special brand of insanity. In a town of 2500 people, 1250 were crazy characters. I have a list.

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George Young: George was a victim of the wars, he had been shell shocked, I suspect that his mental state had been deeply affected by some of what he saw. He was not harmful but also not harmless. As kids we were terrified as lots of kids are of anything that they cant understand, the sight of George Young, summer and winter in his ex army great coat and fingerless gloves, reeking of wintergreen oil and moving at a fast pace, or at least a lot faster than most locals, with eyes flashing this way and that, accompanied by a herd of black dogs, was more than enough to scare us all. George also muttered and made noises as he moved about his business. He drove a small dark car around town, where he went, his dogs went too, I think there was either three or four dogs that always accompanied him, but more at home.

My father was very fond of George, they maybe shared the injuries of war since Dad had been too close to some bombing raids on Darwin and had developed ear problems, indeed in years to come, Dad’s life was taken by a brain tumour that doctors said was due to his war years.  Dad’s family were one of the local butchers, there was just one other, Keatings, they mostly supplied the Catholic population, my lot the rest. Dad was also the one who did the killing, I spent a great deal of my time at the slaughter yard, but that’s another story.

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George depended on Dad for the meat scraps to feed his pack of dogs, dad always obliged, I think that he slipped in some meat for George too, but it was a two way street, George supplied Dad with beautiful fresh vegetables and fruit that he grew on his tiny bit of land that also housed his small home. The dogs shared the house with George, on the one occasion I ever went into his house with Dad I recall the over whelming smell of wintergreen ointment and dogs. George had a crooked kind of grimace, it couldn’t be described as a smile, but in Georges case it was the next best thing. Life I don’t think, apart from his dogs, garden and maybe my Dad, did not hold many thrills for George.

George was the first organic gardener I met, he worked hard on his gardens and was always seen at the greengrocers in town collecting the vegetable and fruit scraps and mixing them into the dark black soil, or for giving to his chooks, mixed as my dad did with bran and pollard, George’s chooks produced the best eggs, every year he scooped the pool at the Port Fairy Agriculture Show with his fruit vegetables and eggs. George became very popular with the local ladies around this time as they curried favour for a few of his ultra great eggs to get that winning edge on their cake entries. His vegetables were extraordinary. George lived in the last street in the town, behind the hospital in a very neat house with the whole of the garden given over to fruit and vegetables. The house was painted with tar in order to preserve it. There were some tin sort of outbuildings that housed the over flow of dogs. The front fence was made of wire netting, the gate a metal affair that had been covered in wood. George’s garden was unique, it had the darkest blackest soil I have ever seen, when you looked at the vegetables he grew, they seemed greener than green and I suspect, gave my father lots of inspiration.

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‘Dad, how does George get to have the blackest soil in Port Fairy?’ I was hanging out the car window. I knew that Dad was a great fan of George’s garden although my mother would have thought it weird had my father decided that ‘organic’ was the way to go.

‘Lindsay, what about the cabbage moths? What about the slugs. What about the yudder yudder yudder’ Mum would have gone on and on and with great fears that her much anticipated summer crop of preserves would be in peril. My mother would have nagged Dad into submission sure that he would see the wisdom of her ways. Dad did use the chook pooh though, he and Mum spent a lot of time scraping the chook yard and putting it directly onto the garden… that was a big mistake, chook pooh is highly acidic and needs to be composted. That year between the two of them they destroyed the pea crop, the lettuce crop and sent the tomatoes into a downward spiral from which they barely recovered.  I suspect George Young was asked for his opinion, unbeknown to Mum who would not have approved. Secretly I think that George also frightened her and at least a good three quarters of the women of the town. But George did know his garden, he would have laughed a lot at my father and mother not knowing that chook pooh had to be composted.

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As a small aside, at one point when I dragged my family off to Queensland in search of the dream of better climate, more organic living, started a restaurant in the packing shed on the small farm we had purchased in the Sunshine Cost hinterland and installed a whole host of garden beds meant to supply the restaurant, I too made a fatal mistake with chook pooh. I rang one of the large battery operators, asked how much a truck full of chook pooh was going to cost, we agreed a price. I had forgotten it was impossible to get a truck into the vegetable garden and so had to have it tipped onto the road side at the front of the property. I also had not thought for the merest millisecond that the stench of the pooh as well as the ammonia was overwhelming. In no time flat I had  a delegation of neighbours complaining bitterly at the horror of it all. We tried covering it with sheets of plastic, didn’t work as the dam stuff just belched its way out of the covers. In the end the solution was to wet it down and allow a top crust to form, took about two weeks and the neighbours had to be placated with cakes and pies and sweet talk.  Ah the vagaries of living organically.

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The car that George had been driving for all his life, was a small black Ford Prefect, 2 door. They started making these in 1938. George kept his immaculately, yet I have seen three or four dogs pile out of the car as George cannoned about the town collecting his scraps and doing his chores. I suspect George was on some sort of disability pension from the war.

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‘Dad, that’s the same car that Miss Bowker has isn’t it?’

‘Yes it is, they all came from Warrnambool, the dealer sold a lot of em… go on for ever those cars will!’

Dad looked longingly at the cars and dreamed of one day owning one of his own. It was when I was fourteen years old that Dad got his first car, a blue Vanguard, big bulbous frog like creation that he just loved, it had moroon leather upholstery, he drove it very proudly. On the weekends we would all pile in for a picnic and load the boot with food or in the event that no activity was planned, after the very traditional Sunday roast, we would fill the thermos, mum would pack some cakes and biscuits, we would head out for the round Port Fairy drive, usually ending up at Martins Point where we would all drink cups of milky sweet tea and have slabs of Sultana Cake, after that Mum and Dad would snooze in the car while I annoyed the fishermen or headed over to Griffith Island to see what was happening there. Until my eighteenth birthday, there was not a scratch or dent on that car. But during one of my fathers driving lessons, I managed to back it into the side of the garage and dam near bring the whole thing down on us. Dad had the great good sense to make me back it out and drive around the block a few times.

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George’s dogs were always on leashes, they were a pack of snarling, long teethed wolves as far as I was concerned, they scared me to death. Dad on the other hand had no fear of them he would open the gate and head into Georges lounge room that opened straight from the front door to deliver the meat and bones. Meanwhile I would be hanging out the side window of car shouting for Dad to come and get me so I could also be part of the vegetable collecting expedition.

‘Awcome on Dad, please let me go in, you never do, always leave me in the car!’ I tried it all, bit of moral blackmail, coercion or anything else that would get me into George Young’s house and therefore make me one of the very few people in the town to have been there.

‘You promise not to ask him questions! You know how that makes him cross’

‘Yes Dad I know. I promise.’

I was in, out of the car with the black dogs going mental at the possible encroachment onto their territory. George had them corralled in a chicken wire enclosed area, but I was still afraid that they would leap the wire and tear me to shreds.

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‘Your fault Peter, you asked to be allowed in. Now look what you’ve done to the bloody dogs, this will send George mad.’

True to his prediction, George’s face was half way between grimace and smile as he roared at his hounds, in time they settled, meanwhile I had remained stock still like a statue, waiting for Dad to come and collect me, Dad on his part was waiting while the dogs din abated to a rumbling growl and George, red in the face and coughing from all the shouting, had regained his breath, once again chatting amiably with him.

George grew the best potatoes, the greenest silver beet with the reddest and sweetest tomatoes possible. Dad always came away with a large armful and we headed straight down to Bank street to drop them off to mum.

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I have just returned from the kitchen, I was so excited about George Young and his green green vegetables, I have just popped a dish of green s in the oven with a great cheese sauce and topped with fresh white breadcrumbs minced with bacon. That’s what memory can do… I think the only thing that Mum would never have used was some parmesan, she would instead have sacrificed a small slab of her very ear tingling tasty cheese. None the less… try this.

Greens in Cheese Sauce

1 whole bunch of young Silver Beet or if you wish, spinach, I prefer silver beet.

1 large Zuccini

1 large red onion

place all of this in a flat dish and I must confess that this is one of those times when I use the microwave and cook for 11 minutes on high covered with some plastic… allow to stand as it cools a little.

Cheese Sauce

1 tablespoon of butter (heaped)

2 heaped tablespoons of plain (all purpose) flour

a good big handful of freshly grated parmesan

a good big handful of a zesty tasty cheese

a good big handful of a mild cheddar

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped

1/2 a red chilli finely chopped

500 mil of milk.

salt and pepper to taste and a good grind of fresh nutmeg

Melt the butter and when melted, but not bubbling, mix the flour in until a goo paste is made, place over heat to cook the paste a little and then start adding the milk…I am not even slightly good at being patient, so it all goes in along with the cheese, garlic, chilli, salt, pepper and nutmeg, I then stir with a whisk till it thickens.

Remove the plastic from the vegetables which will have made a little juice. If its too much, drain some off, but otherwise leave it, it is full of flavour. Add the cheese sauce and mix a little to disperse through, but don’t over mix.

Use your blender and chop up finely some good bread, your choice, I always add a little butter and in this case I had a couple of pieces of very good bacon and so in they went. Top the cheese sauce with the breadcrumbs, if you want to be very decadent, a little more parmesan. Bake in a hot oven till bubbling and the crumbs browned.

I am going to serve this with a good steak, rump as it turns out and it had better be tasty of else. For the vegetarians amongst us, try finely chopping a tomato with the breadcrumbs, if the tomato is to juicy, remove the inner pulp.

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George grew a selection of fruits as did almost every house in the town, not exotic, but practical fruits that would be picked and eaten fresh or preserved or made into jam. Plum, usually two or three of these very popular fruits, blood plum, a normal plum and in our case, a greengage since that was mums favourite jam. One apricot, always a couple of peaches, mostly the cling stone varieties as they grew better and of course nectarine. Lemon trees were in every home. Apples and oranges were usually not grown, but often a pear would be. Fruit trees are generally not huge trees, so even on small blocks, quite a few could grow. George had surrounded his perimeters with his trees, and I recall he also had a fig tree. In his garden beds every summer, George grew strawberries, luscious small luminously red berries that were sweet and filled with explosive flavour. Dad also grew strawberries, but somehow his were never quite as good as Georges and so mum was always nagging Dad to drop some meat up to George and get some strawberries for jam. She always made two types and it was a question of technique, not of content.

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Strawberry Jam.

So many differing opinions on how to make this delicious jam. The variances are such things as Lemon Juice/no Lemon Juice, weight for weight of sugar/less than the fruit weight in sugar/more than the fruit weight in sugar, pectin or no pectin.

Lemon Juice will help to cut the very sweet nature of this jam and I would recommend its inclusion, say the juice of one lemon to every 2 kilo of hulled strawberries. (Hulling a strawberry means cutting out the stem and the white centre of the berry, this is easily done with a small sharp knife).

Sugar – less/more/same. I have in the past been an advocate of the same, weight for weight, but over the years, as my taste buds seem to reject excessive sweetness, I have been opting for a little less sugar for most jams, I would suggest that to every two kilos of hulled fruit, use one and three quarter kilos of fine grade caster sugar.

Strawberries are notoriously low in pectin and although the lemon juice will help the set, in order for you not to have to cook too much to get a set. Testing for a set is easy, have a well chilled saucer or plate and test small drops of the jam until it is set (means you can run your finger through the jam and the jam will stay parted) Commercial pectin is not easily obtained, but try http://www.bakeandbrew.com.au and you will find it. Follow the instruction on the packet.

Hull the berries and with about half the sugar, mix together and leave stand for the juices to run, then put into a jam saucepan (or a big stainless steel pan) and slowly allow to come to heat. It is said that to warm the balance of the sugar so that when you put that into the pot along with the lemon juice, it will not ‘shock’ the jam. The pectin is usually added three quarters of the way through the cooking process, so when the jam has started to show signs of setting. If the foaming of the jam is excessive, then a knob of butter dropped onto the surface of the jam will stop that.

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Don’t stir vigorously, this will break up the fruit and the object is to retain as much of the fruit as possible. Bottle in clean, warm jars and seal with paper seals, also available from Fowlers Vacola.

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By contrast the other very public dog in town was Boofy, the proud pet of one Mrs Snow. She, like George lived up near the hospital in a neat home that had immaculate front flower gardens, not many trees and shrubs as was my mothers want with a front garden, but over plantings of flowers. I doubt very much that Mrs Snow herself had ever ventured into the garden or indeed, ever ventured off the pathways that defined activities on the block, its even hard to imagine Mrs Snow being anything but the complete lady and never, never touching the soil, cooking was I am sure her province and once again, my father Lindsay was a firm friend and either he or Morrie Condon always delivered Mrs Snows meat order.

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Mrs Snow used what was then described as a Clara Bow lip line, it was sort of an exaggeration of the lips when lips simply did not exist or for the young, a fashion statement. Things like botox and other methods to puff up the lips were not available. Mrs Snow, along with one or to other women all sported the luscious exaggerated lips. I was fascinated. Mrs Snows life was Boofy the dog, he was a rather small yappy sort of pug who seemed to take offence at anything that was not 100% to his liking and was loud about it. None of the kids in the town were in the least bit afraid of Boofy, but terrified of Mrs Snow. Mrs Snow was all about keeping Boofy clean and had developed the practise of wiping his small bum and penis when he performed his natural functions, which in the case of a dog, could be often. The minute she saw him either lower his rump or lift his leg, she would dive for the wiping device in her bag and Boofy was given the once over. None of us could believe it, so we followed Mrs Snow until we had seen the occurrence enough times, laughed heartily and stayed a good long distance from Mrs Snow who would swing her bag at anyone she thought was misbehaving. She was deadly accurate with the swinging bag, so we all kept well away, but enjoyed the experience.

She was, above all a lady, married and I think childless, Her house was immaculate, so too her dog. I remember that Mr Snow was an on going enigma and I can only recall seeing him on one occasion, Dad said he worked at the local milk factory. My Poppy was the only one allowed to call her by name, they went to school together and Pop knew them both well. In later years when Pop was installed in the old age section of the local hospital (which he hated and was constantly escaping) Mrs Snow would cross the street to the hospital from her small, neat house and bring pop an extra sandwich or a slice of cake.

 

I knew that I wanted a dog and so began a program of persistent nagging and starting to take note of all the expectant dogs in the town. It has to be free, even when I had convinced Mum and Dad to let me have a dog, the concept of paying for it was quite alien and impossible. I promised everything, I would take care of it, of course I would feed it and of course I would collect more bottles and sell them to Mr Dillon for a half penny each to help defray costs. I promised all and everything that Mum and Dad asked, nothing was too much trouble. I was a good nagger and in the end they gave in and said yes. I was overjoyed.

“Mum, can you get me a collar when I get the dog?” I asked and Mum gave me one of those looks that said ‘Oh god here he goes again!! But the dog had to be real or I was going to be unmercifully teased and taunted by those kids who had dogs that had it all. It was a bit of a status symbol.

Port Fairy was not all that big, I could easily get around it on the Bike that Dad had repaired and painted bright red for me the previous Xmas. I started my campaign, I knew most of the dogs in town, either to say hello to or to avoid for fear of getting the seat of my pants ripped by them. I wanted a dog that was not too big, not too small, just sort of in the middle. It didn’t take me long to find out that Lorna Osmonds mother’s dog was expecting puppies. Great!! Only three doors from my house and a house into which I was not afraid of venturing.

“Mrs Osmond!” I sort of nervously asked with a look of pure pleading on my face…”Can I have one of the puppies when they come?” Mrs Osmond was a tease, Norma said so, she looked at me with one of those slightly cross looks she was good at “what makes you think that Dolly is having pups my lad?” I looked over at the reclining body of Dolly, stretched full tilt in front of the wood stove, with a belly that was seething with life and tits that had even begun to show signs of milk, “I just thinks she is Mrs Osmond… pleaseeee!!” I whined.

“Well if your mother says it’s ok, then yes!” I let out a whoop of joy. ‘Boy or Girl?” asked Mrs Osmond, ‘Boy if I can please, Mum says they are easier to look after. “Done!”

Norma Osmond had a speech impediment and was confined to a wheelchair, but I understood her easily, I had been talking with Norma all my life. She was no fool and despite the fact that many people treated her as if she was mentally deficient, she was far brighter that most of the people in town. I pushed Norma’s chair up and down Bank Street for a bit, kind of doing wheelies around the pavement cracks and asking about how long Dolly had been pregnant. “She has about a week to go!” Norma reckoned. ‘But you will not be able to have a pup for three or four weeks” Norma said, has to be fed by Dolly to make it strong. I’d forgotten about that. “Can’t I take it home and bring it up to your place three or four times a day?” I was trying. “Not a chance Dolly will not let it suckle if you do that.” Norma was right, I had to be patient.

Monty was born six days later, a ball or golden brown fur with a wet black nose. Part Corgi and part who knows, he was destined to be a good runner, a good swimmer and faithful to the point of pain. Monty was mine from the first moment I set eyes on him as he blindly sought his mothers teats after she had licked him all over. Love at first sight. I even named him moments after he emerged from his mothers womb. My Monty.

~ by peterwatson on April 30, 2013.

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