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Portholes in Your Coffin

Page 5

Wheeled vehicles travelled the street delivering and retrieving. The ice-man delivered blocks of ice which in a week disappeared down the gutter of the ice chest into the tray underneath. Children ran to him for lumps of ice which they sat on the kerb and sucked on, on hot summer days. The bottle-o edged his way down the back lane in a horse drawn cart. Bottle-o, bottle-o he cried. The baker’s cart was painted and panelled like a gypsy van, drawn through the decades, drawing the decades together at the pace of a horse’s walk. The milk man came in the early morning. In the dawn I would wake to the crisp rattle of bottles and the clop of horses’ hooves. One night after the milk company progressed to a truck, a night dreaming milk-man ploughed into our ornate Victorian veranda. It sank submissively to the ground.

That’s had the chips, said my father.

Next door lived Mrs Hocking and her fifty year old son, Syd. My mother owned that house. They paid her five pounds a week for twenty years. She didn’t have the heart to put it up. Every morning of my childhood, chain-smoking Syd coughed his way to the backyard bathroom. Sounds like Syd’s up, my father would say.

Our world was bounded by the great thoroughfares of Lygon, Nicholson, Pigdon and Park. I’d be sent up Nicky-bob with a note and a string bag, which had belonged to my grandmother.  I would shuffle into the decorated Versailles of a butcher’s shop run by father, mother and son who conducted a non-stop vaudeville routine in striped aprons behind the chopping blocks. Half a pound of gravy beef please. Half a pound of baby’s griefs? Ha ha. Mrs B would sternly instruct the customers on the cheapest way to prepare each cut of meat. She would brook no interruption or contradiction.

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