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Friday, 20 August 2010

Savanah and memories 2004!

Hello all, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say how great it was to catch up with our old friend Savannah Keegan last night, and to meet her boyfriend - a very nice guy whose name escapes me due to the lack of short term memory that impacts all those with receding hairlines!!

Back in 2004, just before Mel and I arrived in Brisbane, we visited a town called Newcastle, which is in New South Wales - you can see it on the map, just above Sydney. Now, on one particular day, we visited an Internet cafe in the town, attempting to keep up with friends via email etc, bearing in mind that there were no social networking sites back in those days, black and white TV etc! The owner of the Internet cafe was a very congenial character who was very interested to learn of my previous experiences as an actor and a acting coach and by the end of our conversation he had enlisted me to come with him to a town named Scone which is in the Hunter valley, to judge a Bush Poetry and Yarns competition. I was flattered and Mel and I were excited to have the opportunity to experience some real Aussie culture and to get away from the typical backpacker trails worn by the feet of so many over the years who think that to travel is to go with other backpackers to backpacker bars and get drunk and then to move onto the next backpacker bar and get drunk and see precisely 0% of the real country and people during their visit. OK, rant over.

We joined the nice chap at his home and he drove us to Scone, telling us all about his role within the setup of this competition and how my being external and presumably impartial, this would benefit the competition which could get a bit rowdy if people felt that they were being wronged by any of the judges.

On our arrival at Scone I was introduced to a man who goes by the name of 'Blue, the Shearer'. He is DJ on ABC Radio - which is BBC Australia, and he took us under his wing as we visited local schools in the area and I did workshops with the kids, who it has to be said were all lovely, polite and well turned out - where did we go wrong in the UK?!

On the evening of the competition, Mel and I were checked into a local Hotel. Hotels in rural Australia are more often above pubs and this was no exception. It was a comfortable and rustic room with a window which looked out onto the typically wide township road which was flanked with privately owned shops, including a wine and bottle shop, a blacksmiths and convenience store. We had dinner with some other famous bush poets and then it was time to go and judge.

I was invited to take my seat on stage-left with the other 2 judges, Mel sat nearby with a good view of the stage and me. Blue was compering and it was he who stepped up in front of the gathered masses, I estimated around 300 including local tv and radio and began the proceedings by announcing: "Ladies and Gentleman, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all here this evening to the annual Bush Poetry and Yarns competition here in Scone, I also delighted to welcome our judges and contestants for the show this evening and they include an unfamiliar face to you all, he's an actor and a bit of an entertainer too, his names Charlie, and I don't know he is going to do for you tonight, but I know your going to enjoy it. Put your hands together for Charlie."

Much applause and expectant looks from the people followed. At the same time, my head spontaneously combusted with a combination of shock, nervous tension and the feeling that I may have in actual fact began to soil myself.

I stood up and walked up two steps to the makeshift stage, preparing with every beat of my heart for the inevitable lynching that would surely follow when the folks there realised that not only had this 'Pommie' (Prisoner of Mother England as we are called down here) come to judge there show, but he doesn't have any idea how to entertain an audience!

I searched my brain for anything to say, anything that might just get me through this terrible moment in my life.

"Hi, thanks umm, Blue, wow" long pause, all eyes on me...
"I am delighted to be here with you in sunny Scone, err"
The next 5 minutes are a blur, but apparently I told a few jokes which seemed to go ok and I was able to take my seat with the other judges and begin the real work of judging the competition.

Bush Poetry and Yarn telling is a craft which has evolved over the 200 years that the white man has inhabited this immense country, to entertain each other round the campfire during the long hot nights, people would create poems and tales about all sorts of things to entertain each other. You can find all sorts of them online, all different, all fascinating examples of a new world's ever evolving culture. I watched and laughed my way through several of these often hilarious performances until the favourite stood up - the man they called big Tony.

Big Tony began to tell the audience of his drinking problem and how his wife had warned him that if he was ever to get drunk and drive home again and get pulled by the cops then she would kick him out. On one particular evening, a traveller was in the bar, big Tony was drunk, he had noticed that the traveller had not been drinking alcohol all evening, just coke. Big Tony and his mates asked the guy if he would be good enough to give them a lift home and the traveller agreed. They left the bar and stumbled over to his car.

Some minutes later they were speeding along on the highway in the middle of the 'bush' when Big Tony decided top ask the traveller why he didn't drink alcohol. "I hate it." said the traveller.
"I just don't like alcohol."
"So, you're a reformed alcy then?"
"No, I just don't like to mix stuff you know"
"What are you on about mate?"
"I have been taking LSD and it doesn't go well with beer"
A long silence descended over the car. Big Tony and his mates looked at each other uneasily.
"Er, LSD? You have been taking acid?"
"Yes, I have, I love it!! I love LSD, I am the best driver in the world. I can fly, I will NEVER DIE!!" - At this moment, back in the real world of the competition, Big Tony lent over his mic, let out the most bizarre groan, threw his arms up in the air and fell off the back of the stage. In a moment so similar to the death of Tommy Cooper to be called a coincidence, he had suffered a massive heart attack. Fortunately, with the competition being populated with almost everybody from the township, a local doctor and a nurse were able to save Big Tony and some hours later he was sitting up a local hospital somewhere asking if he could have a beer!

Needless to say, the experience is not something easily forgotten.

Some weeks later, when Mel and I were in employment at QPAC here in Brisbane, we met Savannah. She quickly became a firm favourite of both Mel and myself, with her own rather intense way of describing things which to other people may have seemed benign, but not to Savannah.

One day, whilst on a shift together, I was about to tuck into a sandwich, delighted to have the chance to enjoy a hassle free snack before the public turned up to see the show. Savannah had clearly been watching me open up the packet, she felt compelled to say something. "STOP"
"Eh, what? What the hell have I done?"
"Don't eat that, but!" (but means dude)
"What the hell are you talking about Savannah? It's a sanga, not cyanide."
"Do you have any idea what white bread does to you?" Savannah's eyes had widened to the point where I actually believed they may explode if my next answer were not sufficient enough to appease the pressure building up behind her corneal lenses. A similar feeling to that which I experienced walking up onto the stage at Scone enveloped me.
"I have no idea what you mean."
"Jesus, but - if you eat white bread, it'll clog you up like a baarstard - you'll never crap again Charlie - NEVER, CRAP, AGAIN! It's not good for you mate!"
I decided not to eat the sandwich, after all, I didn't want to end up with the same affliction which lead to poor old Big Tony having his heart attack on stage. In fact, so severe was the glare I received from Savannah, I have been reluctant to eat white bread ever since.

Yes, it's fair to say, Savannah had left a big impression, so when Mel and I got the chance to meet up with her again yesterday evening and drive up to a look-out over the city together, it was something to cherish. The views up there were sublime, so here's to you Miss Keegan!

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