Vacuuming the cat
The other day, I was using the vacuum cleaner with the small brush attached so that I could clean
around the computer. My young cat, Tommy, began nosing around, so I put the nozzle close to him.
I expected him to take fright and run away but to my surprise he seemed to like it and put his snozzle
in the nozzle :) and then rolled on the floor to play. I brushed him gently with the vacuum and cleaned
him all over and he seemed to think it was wonderful. The noise around his ears didn't worry him, nor
did it concern him when his tail disappeared into the suction pipe. It was unexpected and funny and it
made me think of other unexpected, funny or freaky things that have happened. So, here are a few
of my favourite things.
If the pants fit, wear them
I once had a business partner who was 40 years younger than myself. In 1997, during a business trip to
Melbourne, we went to a clothing store because I wanted to buy a couple of pairs of pants. While I was in
the fitting room, the middle-aged lady shop assistant asked my partner if I was his father. Although we are
not related, my partner told her that I wasn't his father but that I was his grandfather! When I came out
of the fitting room the lady was as nice as pie to me. The dark trousers were about six inches too long and
she made a note of the alteration to have them shortened. I then returned to the fitting room to try on a
pair of light trousers. My partner told me later that the lady said she was amazed at how young I seemed to
be. When I came out of the fitting room she was even nicer to me than before - all over me like a rash, as
they say. These light trousers were about an inch too short and again she made a note of the necessary
alteration to have them lengthened.
A week later, we returned to the shop to pick up the trousers. The same lady was on duty and almost fawned
over me when she handed me the altered trousers. I said that I would try them on to be sure they fitted.
When I put on the dark trousers I was surprised to find they were longer than before the alteration and now
completely covered my shoes. The lady was in shock!
I then tried on the light trousers and got another surprise - they only reached a little way below my knees.
Wearing my new trousers, I pranced out of the fitting room, strutting like a model on a catwalk, and I
thought my partner and I would die laughing. After recovering a little, we looked for the lady but she had
gone. The manager apologized and then remeasured me for new trousers. When I picked them up a week later I
asked after the lady but was told she now worked in women's lingerie.
Sour taste in the mouth
Many years ago, my uncle made some wine; from elderberry flowers, I think it was. At a family gathering a
few months later, uncle opened a bottle of his brew and we sampled it. It tasted awful but a friend of the
family, Les, took a tiny sip and declared it "Very, very good."
A few minutes later, I noticed Les move to the back of the room. He continued to face inward and from time
to time added his voice to the general conversation. Suddenly, he put his glass of wine behind his back and
tipped it into a pot plant.
As he placed his empty glass on a tray, uncle offered him a refill, but Les said he had to drive home and
had had too much already and that it was "Very, very good."
As I farewelled Les, he said, "Ye gods, that wine was terrible, but I didn't want to upset the old boy."
I replied "That's ok, Les, I saw it all. I only hope you haven't killed that pot plant."
A Ticket in Tatts
Where I live used to have the biggest lottery in Australia. It was run by a business called Tattersalls, but
popularly known as "Tatts". It became a common thing to give or receive 'A Ticket in Tatts' as a gift.
At one time I worked for a friend in his jewellery shop. Whenever he sold engaged couples their engagement
or wedding rings, he always gave them 'A Ticket in Tatts' with a wish they might win the big prize. One
particular young couple arrived to choose their ring, and it was evident that the young lady was well endowed
in front. I think it soon became apparent to all, including the young lady, that the most engaging items of
interest were not the engagement rings. I think my friend struggled to concentrate on the sale, his mind not
being on the job. Eventually the couple chose a nice ring. On completion of the sale my friend, still with
his mind elsewhere, presented his lottery ticket gift, saying, "Please accept 'A Tacket in Titts' with my
A few years ago, nearly every weekend, I used to get a telephone call from a person who would ask:
I always answered, "No, you've got the wrong number" but still the calls persisted, week after week.
What to do about it? At last I dreamt up a plan.
The following weekend the call came in as expected.
He: "Olympic Bakery?"
Me: "Yeah, what do you want?"
He: "This is TRIPLE X [a corner shop]. I have to order some things."
Me: "Ok, what do you want?"
He begins reading from a list and I make out that I am writing it down. I make it realistic, telling him
to slow down and make him repeat some items. I fake my pencil breaking and that I need to look for a
sharpener. I leave him hanging while I make a coffee. I then tell him that I have found a biro and he
continues with his list. When he completes it, I ask him to repeat everything so I can check it off
against my 'phantom' list, and I make out that I correct a few minor mistakes. My favourite is apologising
for having written down 16 and not 60 after having asked him to tell me how many five dozen really is.
I then say, "We will deliver this to you in one hour. Ok?"
He replies, "Very good, very good."
I then settle down to drink my coffee and prepare Plan B.
A couple of hours later the phone rings and it is the fellow from TRIPLE X.
He: "Olympic Bakery?"
Me: "Yeah, what do you want?"
He: "This is TRIPLE X. Where's the stuff you promised an hour ago?"
"You're not getting anything. [I yell at him, and I ignore his attempts to protest and act getting more
and more angry]. You owe us so much money. Thousands! When are you going to pay your bill? You get
nothing until you have paid every last cent."
Then I slam the phone down and start sipping my coffee and I don't answer the phone when it rings a few
times over the next hour. I have never since had a call from TRIPLE X.
Exhibition billiards match
I have played in a billiards and snooker league for more than 60 years. One time, when I was a young bloke,
my club was invited to spend a social evening at the local RSL. It so happened that the league's best
billiards player, Alan, was also a member of this RSL. The evening was enjoyable. They entertained us with
carpet bowls, darts, cards and refreshments and their billiard table, which they rarely ever used, was in
Well into the evening, it was suddenly announced that Alan would play a short exhibition game of billiards.
Alan was a skilful cueist, a real stylist with some beautiful shots at his command and so there was a buzz
around the room. The tiered seats either side of the billiard table soon filled with about 50 eager
spectators. Out of the blue, I was approached and invited to be Alan's opponent. I accepted, but as the
evening had been light-hearted I assumed I was basically only there to make an occasional shot for the
continuity of his exhibition. My own cue was at home and so I grabbed a nondescript stick from the
cue-rack. It felt as useful, or as useless, as a broom-handle and had probably been one years before!
The game was only 50-up, that is, first to reach 50 points wins, which usually takes about a quarter of
an hour to play. Scoring is simple in that each scoring shot is worth either two points or three points.
After a scoring shot a player plays another shot and continues until he fails to score. The total points
from such a sequence of scoring shots is called a break.
The game began, Alan playing his delicate little shots with finesse, me having an occasional whack at
something. I had no idea of the score-line, except Alan was clearly in front, but I couldn't have cared
less, it being a fun game. I waited in the corner during Alan's visits to the table. The same corner each
time, except once, when I moved quietly to the opposite side of the room. While there, I overheard a
whispered remark, "Who's this bloody idiot they've got playing Alan?"
When it was my next turn to play I emerged from the corner and walked directly to the scoreboard and
looked at it for the first time. The scores were Alan 38, me 12. I noted that if he had my 12 points he
would have 50 and win and conversely, if I had his 38 I would have 50. There was, however, only one
place to get those 38 points and that was on the billiard table. Although I liked billiards, snooker was
my main game but I had confidence in my stance and cue action that were considered by many to be the best
in the league. I aimed with great care and played with the speed and spin to not only score but to send
the balls to a position to ensure that the next shot would be an easy one. By repeating this process,
shot after shot scored and relentlessly my total grew. I listened as the referee called the break ... 30
... 33 ... 36 ... 38. I expected him to call "Game over" but he didn't and so I aimed for one last shot
and smashed the red ball to the back of the corner pocket. In my whole life, that is the hardest I have
ever hit a ball with a broomstick or anything else. I then turned and shook Alan's hand and was instantly
surrounded by people slapping me on the back.
Behind the curtain
When I was in Vienna in 1957 I suddenly had the idea that I would try to go behind the 'Iron Curtain'
by traversing Yugoslavia to get to Italy. This was the Cold War era and although it was not illegal for
Australians to go into a communist country it was certainly not encouraged. However, Yugoslavia under
Marshall Tito was pink rather than red so I thought it would be safe. Firstly, though, I had to get a
visa and so off I went to the Yugoslavian embassy. I was surprised to be ushered into the ambassador's
office to be handed my visa by the gentleman himself. He shook my hand and in perfect English wished me
a pleasant stay in his country.
Before I left Vienna I went to a bank and bought some Yugoslavian dinars. They were cheap with an
exchange rate of several Yugoslavian dinars to one Aussie deener and so I bought a lot. When I got to
the customs at the Austro/Yugoslav border I had to fill in a form that was written in both Yugoslavian
and French and it was this form that eventually caused me a serious problem. One question seemed to be
asking, "What foreign money are you taking into Yugoslavia?" At this time, black-marketing was rife and
liable to heavy punishment and particular so when currency was involved, therefore I was most careful to
itemise the several currencies I had picked up in my travels, the French and Swiss francs, German marks,
Dutch guilders, Austrian schillings plus English and Australian pounds. The form was filled out in
duplicate and I was handed one copy for presentation to the custom's checkpoint when I left the country.
After several days in Yugoslavia I eventually reached the customs office a few kilometres from the
Italian border. I handed in the form only to have it handed back with an indication to fill out the
one empty box. The box asked, in French, "What foreign money are you taking out of Yugoslavia?" This
was the critical question but I had no worries because I had only spent the dinars I had bought in
Vienna. I simply copied the list of foreign currencies from the other half of the form, signed the
declaration, and handed it to the customs' officer. A moment later it was apparent that there was a
problem. The two customs officers, neither of who could speak English, pointed to the currency lists
implying that something was radically wrong. Being in a communist country trying to resolve a currency
situation with two armed customs officials who are becoming annoyed is not the happiest place to be.
Attempts to find a common language failed as I could not sprechen Deutsch nor parli Italiani and they
had even less French than I had. My almost desperate insistence by sign language that my two lists of
currencies were identical only made them more and more angry. I had visions of a future in a Siberian
salt mine but it was suddenly dispelled when a woman spoke to me in English but with an American accent.
"Are you havin' some trouble here?" she asked.
"Yes, but I don't know what it is. Something to do with the list of foreign money."
After she looked at the list she said, "You never spent any money in Yugoslavia. What did you live on?"
"Yes I did. I had heaps of dinars that I brought into the country. I spent most of them drinking vino
in the pubs trying to talk to the locals."
"But you didn't list that money on the form," she said.
"I didn't have to. The questions only ask about the foreign money I brought into the country. Dinars
aren't foreign money."
"You've read it wrong," she said. "The form asks 'How much money is the foreigner bringing into the
country? and 'How much money is the foreigner taking out of the country? They want to know how much
you spent in Yugoslavia. To these two guys it looks like you spent nothing."
"Oh, for God's sake! Would you please explain it to them for me?"
Within a couple of minutes we were all laughing our heads off and slapping each other's backs. Even
so, once that big rubber stamp was on my passport I scampered as fast as I could go across the few
kilometres of "no-man's land" and into Italy.
Cycling in Europe
Many years ago I cycled from Holland into Germany. As I hurtled down a cobble-stoned street I waved
to the local people to acknowledge their friendly waves and calls of welcome to their country. My
German is worse than my Greek and I could not understand their greeting though I imagined it was
probably the exact opposite of "Auf wiedersehen." or "See you later." There were one or two nice
buildings but this was a heavily industrialised town and not on the usual tourist route which
probably accounted for the enthusiasm of the townsfolk at seeing an obvious stranger. I felt somewhat
guilty for my ignorance of the language and not knowing what was being called to me. In the hope that
I might come to some understanding of the greeting I began to listen more intently. "Einbahnstrasse!
Einbahnstrasse!" As I rode on I puzzled over its meaning: "Ein, One; bahn, bahn?, er er, railway;
strasse, street. One railway street?" Suddenly it dawned on me! "One Way Street" and I was going the
A few weeks later I reached Switzerland and began cycling up and down the countless bends of those
high alpine passes. One hot day I took a delicious drink from a cool stream that came tumbling from
high above. Wow! It tasted ever so nice! A short distance from this stream a side road headed upwards
and looked so inviting that I took it with the hope of a good view from the top. It was steep and I
had to wheel the bike but an hour later the steepness flattened out to the high grassy plateau of an
alp. The view of the distant snow-capped mountains was breathtaking. As I wandered beyond a grove of
pine trees on this beautiful alp I was surprised to find a compact little village. The immaculate
chalets were ever so pretty with that sparkling brook weaving past them and disappearing into the
valley below. Suddenly I realised the source of my thirst-quenching stream. It was here! This stream
was virtually a sewer for it received the effluent of the septic tanks of the village.
During the next month I cycled my own Tour de France. One mild evening I rode a few kilometres from
my country hotel to a neighbouring hamlet. After having a look around the few monuments and memorials
in the town centre I sought a refreshing glass of vin blanc at the local hostelry. This part of France
was called Champagne and not surprisingly the wine was tasty. The company, too, was convivial and the
language barrier proved less and less so with each new sparkling glass. Eventually, the time came to
bid a sad farewell and to take the road. I mounted unsteadily onto my bicycle and wobbled off in a
series of sinusoidal curves. One of these wobblings put me flat on the road; another wobbling hurled
me into the table-drain. On I rode undaunted until another fall had me on the road once more, still
firmly clutching the handlebars but with the front wheel twisted into an ellipse. I lay there,
half-stunned, but within a minute I was being lifted to my feet for I had fallen immediately in front
of the house of my rescuer. In my semi-inebriated state I failed to realise that I was incapable of
riding my bike or even to realise it was unrideable and though I sought to continue my journey my
rescuer was firmly opposed. We had no common language but I vaguely understood his point when I noticed
that the funny hat he wore was that of a gendarme. With his help, I managed to stagger up to his home
and into a room with a comfortable bed onto which I plopped gratefully and immediately fell asleep.
The next morning, I opened a bleary eye and took a look at my surroundings. The room was bare but
brightly lit by the early morning sun shining through a high window. Suddenly, last night's
half-remembered events filled my mind. I jumped out of bed but, still partially under the influence,
bumped into the wall and gave a moan. A moment later the door opened and there was my gendarme saviour
greeting me with "Bon jour, mon ami." A few minutes later found me at his kitchen table munching a bun
smothered in strawberry jam and with a massive bowl of coffee to wash it down. Communicating with my
new friend was difficult but when I said I was an Australian he produced a photo album and began
pointing to various characters. I began to realise that he had formed a friendship with Australians
who had fought in this part of France in World War I.
We then shared the fixing of my bicycle, which proved to be less damaged than first appeared. Now it
was time to leave, but first the good gendarme wanted to show me something. Back into his house we
went and toward my bedroom of last night, but instead of entering that room he stopped and rolled
back the carpet. This revealed a door in the floor. He slid back the latch bolt and swung the door
upwards on its hinges, revealing a staircase leading down a dozen steps to a small cell-like room.
He uttered some words that I failed to understand and then the door was shut and the carpet replaced.
It was now time to depart and after a handshake and a hug I was on my way, riding away wondering, as
I wonder to this day, strange questions but with no answers: Was that cell a hiding place during World
War I, perhaps concealing Australian soldiers? And did I spend a night in gaol or was I the guest of
a Good Samaritan?
Lost luggage mystery
In 1989, I flew from Melbourne to Cairo, via Athens, with the Greek airline, "Olympic". There was a
10-hour stopover at Athens and so my partner and I visited the city. Nothing was needed from our
baggage and so it remained at Athens airport. When we returned to the airport to complete the Athens -
Cairo leg we found that passengers had to carry their baggage onto the plane, the logic being that
if you had a bomb in your baggage you wouldn't want to blow yourself up. My partner's bag was there
on the luggage trolley but mine was missing. An intensive search was made of all possible luggage
storages both in the airport lock-ups and on the plane but my bag could not be found. The plane had
to be delayed half an hour before we flew off to Cairo. Throughout that journey I wondered how I would
manage to track down my bag or even get things started as we were arriving in Cairo on a Friday, the
Moslem day when everything is shut. At Cairo airport there are a whole lot of baggage carousels in a
great long hall. One carousel was completely empty except for a solitary bag. I never paused or missed
a step as I grabbed that bag. It was mine! But how did it get there? Amazingly, it now had a Royal
Danish Airline sticker! Who carried it onto the plane at Athens? I never found out.
Appearances are everything
Many years ago, a delightful fellow called Spider and I became friends. Spider was one of those characters
to whom things seemed to happen, or he caused to happen, however innocently, and they invariably turned
out to be funny. He and I worked for the same large company. He was a painter and at one time repainted
everything in the factory of which I was the manager. He painted a milk storage facility we called 'the
dairy' and its walls shone. I praised Spider for the wonderful job. A couple of days later I got a shock.
When the cleaner used a steam hose to wash the walls the paint blew off in great white sheets. I
immediately called Spider for an explanation. He told me that to make the walls shine he had added
varnish and Vaseline to the paint. The story soon went around the plant and everyone thought it was
hilarious. I immediately got Spider to redo the areas of damaged paintwork. This proved not too difficult
for he had, at least, put down a good undercoat.
There were three giant storage tanks and three milk pumps housed in the dairy. They, like almost all of
the equipment throughout my department, and all other departments of this vast complex, were painted in
the traditional yellow of the company's livery. Although my tanks and pumps did not need repainting at
this time, I chose to get Spider to do them anyway and, against tradition, to paint them white. To
finish off the dairy, I had all the stainless steel milk piping polished and the concrete floor scoured
with detergent. It was so clean; you could have eaten off it!
There is always a day of reckoning and eventually it came for me. I was blasted for deviating from the
company's traditional colour and for buying expensive white paint instead of using any of the company's
stock of yellow paint. My budget over-run for excessive paint usage, too, was indefensible, as I daren't
mention Spider's big blunder. I was given a severe dressing down by the engineering director [Eng Dir],
with threats and warnings against future budgetary indiscretions.
A couple of days later, I received a phone call from the Eng Dir on another matter. He had a VIP visitor
whom he wished to bring to my department and requested I meet them at the factory entrance and give the
VIP a guided tour. A few minutes later they arrived and after the usual introductions I pushed open the
double-doors to begin the tour and invited the VIP to enter. On stepping through the doorway, he entered
the dairy, followed by the Eng Dir, and me behind him.
Well! If you could have heard this VIP! He went into raptures about the dairy, "I've heard about your
company's reputation for hygiene and cleanliness but I never imagined it would be anything as magnificent
as this." This was followed by lots of "Oos" and "Ahs" with the VIP waving his arms around in great
expansive gestures like the Pope blessing the multitude at St Peters! He praised the Eng Dir who had no
option but accept some credit for this symbol to health and antiseptic food processing. I made sure the
Eng Dir received the full extent of the praise by easing back a little, much as underlings do for royalty.
Inevitably, some praise came my way to which I answered, almost blandly, "It's just... just the way we
do things, here." The tour went off without a hitch.
A few months later, I had to submit a budget for the coming season. Naturally, I was particularly careful
about the allocation for painting, making sure it was less than the estimate of the previous year. I
don't think it would have mattered, however, for when the review committee sat around the table to
consider its pros and cons, the Eng Dir finalised it instantly with, "I think we can confidently accept
everything as proposed." Painting was not an issue then or at any time in any future budget.
The new butcher
Clarrie was a tiny woman, five feet and half an inch in her socks and, tipping the scales at only
100 lbs, weighed less than many a small jockey. Her size, though, was irrelevant when it came to
taking on tasks, and the tale I tell of her is of a time she took on a big task.
She was married but her husband deserted her when her child was only five weeks old. Life was
suddenly hard for her and a struggle to survive. What little money she had was used to feed and
clothe the baby and at one time she ate nothing for four days.
A few years later, this city girl, now in her mid-twenties, moved to the country to become a
temporary housekeeper on a large prosperous farm. Clarrie's task was to take over the running of
the farmer's house during his wife's confinement for she was expecting their sixth child. This
was a big task for Clarrie as the children's ages ranged from 12 to 6 and they, with her own
6-year old son, went to the local school. She needed to maintain the house and prepare all meals
including school lunches and a midday lunch for the farmer's three farmhands.
The farmer was also the local butcher and dozens of families in the neighbourhood relied on him
for their meat. This was vital to the community and vital to him for it provided a regular and
essential income, whereas the farm, though prosperous, was seasonal.
Everything seemed to be going as planned and without a hitch. The new child, a daughter, arrived and the
farmer's wife, Dorothy, returned to find her children healthy and happy. She was delighted with the way
Clarrie had managed everything and they were to become lifelong friends. But then a disaster occurred.
The farmer, though apparently healthy, was diagnosed as needing an immediate operation. Suddenly this
family was plunged into worrying. The farmhands said they would stay on for a while but might have to
look elsewhere to earn cash. Where would money come from to keep things going? What about money to keep
the family fed, and money to pay the doctors and the hospital bills? Who would provide meat for the
families in the neighbourhood? Would the butchery close and some rival become the new butcher? Anxiety
and despondency cast a sad pall over this usually happy household but suddenly there was a ray of hope.
"Stop worrying," said Clarrie, "I'll fix it. I'll be the butcher while Bill's in hospital."
"You!?" said Bill, "you are not a butcher."
Even in the prevailing gloomy mood this seemed a joke and evoked smiles and laughter.
"I can do it," said Clarrie, "I've watched you doing your butchery work and how you make the cuts
and prepare the packages. I use the meat to prepare our meals and so I've seen it at both the
beginning and the end, and I think I could do it."
"But you are too tiny to handle those great sides of beef. They are so heavy that you could never
"That is easily fixed. Your farmhands help you when you slaughter a beast, so get them to help me.
They can slaughter and skin it, or I can do that because I've watched you do it. All I need is for
them to hang it on a hook. From then on, I'll make the cuts as you do now."
And so it came to pass that there was a new butcher in the community. The farmer had his operation
and gradually recovered and returned to his butchery. After things were back to normal a strange
thing occurred. When his customers came to pick up their meat they asked where the 'other' butcher
was. The women, in particular, wanted Clarrie to stay on as butcher.
"She prepares the cuts just right," they declared, "Obviously she knows how to cook and knows what
good cuts look like and prepares them perfectly."
Bill was somewhat shocked at this revelation, that the women preferred Clarrie's butchery to his,
but being a friend as well as a good businessman he made Clarrie an offer.
"Would you like to stay on and run the butchery while I concentrate on the farm?" he asked.
Clarrie answered, "It's a wonderful offer, Bill, but I'm turning it down. You are ok now and Dot
is looking after the kids again and your sons will soon be old enough to help you. I've still got
other lives to live."
Embarrassing a famous scientist
In the early 1950s, I was the youngest member of the Astronomical Society of Tasmania. I did a lot
of observing and at each monthly meeting gave a short talk about what could be seen in the heavens
during the ensuing month. At this time, Dr Grote Reber attended the monthly meetings. Dr Reber was
famous for being the world's first radio astronomer, but even that needs to be put into perspective.
Radio astronomy was an entirely new science that he brought into being. Dr Reber was a happy soul
and a great raconteur and told us some exciting stories of his researches and discoveries and of
his current work in Tasmania, where, incidentally, he settled and lived out the rest of his life.
At one meeting, in my monthly address, I named the giant southern galaxy NGC 253 as an interesting
object for observation. The thought suddenly crossed my mind that such a significant object was a
possible emitter of radio waves. I said as much but to get an authorative opinion added "Perhaps,
Dr Reber could tell us if he has detected radio waves from this source."
All eyes turned to Dr Reber but he said not a word, for he had dozed off. After a nudge or two he
awoke and looked from side to side wondering, no doubt, why everyone was staring at him. He asked
what was up and several re-asked my question. This proved futile for the dear Dr was somewhat
deaf and the volume of his hearing-aid was set to zero. After the necessary adjustments and an
apology, he responded to the question but what he said I don't recall. I think I was probably a
pretty boring speaker and when I thought about it after the meeting I concluded that he had shown
good common sense in turning me off. My admiration for Dr Reber rose a notch or two.
The nickel touch
I used to play the share market, buying and selling whatever took my fancy. In the late 1960s, a
Tasmanian-incorporated company called Tasminex began exploring for minerals. I decided to invest
$250 in 500 Tasminex shares which at that time were available at their par value of 50c each.
I mentioned Tasminex to a friend, Allistair, who said he knew nothing about shares but because of
my enthusiasm he, too, would like to put $250 into Tasminex.
My usual procedure to order shares was simply to phone my stockbroker, but this time I did something
different. Because Allistair knew no stockbroker, I suggested introducing him to my broker, and at
the same time we could place our orders. This particular day was a Friday and we only ever worked
half a day on Fridays, so it was convenient.
We arrived at the Murray Street office of my broker about 1:30pm to find his office closed and a
"Gone to Lunch" sign on the door. We had other things to do, and as Allistair had no real interest
in shares and I bought and sold shares willy-nilly this was no big deal so we agreed to leave it to
From this point, things for me went pear-shaped! You will note that I have failed to place my order
for 500 Tasminex shares. By Tuesday the shares had risen to 55c cents and by Friday, a few more cents.
The market goes up and down, so I delayed buying the shares, anticipating a drop in the price. It
never happened! Three months later the share suddenly sky-rocketed to $92 each, and I didn't own even
one. I missed out on $46000 which in modern terms would be about a quarter of a million.
Tasminex created a boom in the share-market and caused such a gigantic increase in activity that the
morning and afternoon sessions were rolled into one. No longer is there a break for lunch. I find it
particularly ironic that the share I wanted to buy to make my fortune eliminated the thing that
caused me not to buy it!
And why, O why did this happen on a Friday? Any other day of the week and I would have placed my order
by phone. So why am I laughing about it?
Shares versus horses
From 1958-62, I worked closely with an office colleague, Arthur, who was 30 years my senior. At the time, I used
to buy and sell shares and also used to bet on racehorses and I was frequently on the phone to my stockbroker or
to my bookie. Arthur over-heard many of these calls but, of course, only my end of each conversation.
Arthur knew very little about stocks and shares and absolutely nothing about racehorses. Nevertheless, he praised
me for my stock exchange dealings, which he called investing, and criticised me for my racecourse dealings, which
he called gambling.
I ignored his opinion of both my pastimes but as he persisted in commenting about them, sought to challenge his
viewpoint. One day, I told him I would make two phone calls; one to my bookmaker and the other to my stockbroker
and that he was to listen carefully to what I said and then tell me which was which.
I made both calls in the usual fashion, but was careful not to utter giveaway words such as "shares", "options",
"odds", and "starting prices". When I talked to the stockbroker I named the stock I wanted to buy, asked its price
and then stated how many shares I wanted. To the bookmaker, I named the horse I wanted to back, asked its price
and then stated how much I wanted to bet on it.
When I asked Arthur which call was which he said they sounded so alike that he couldn't tell the difference. I
remarked that there was no difference, except that whether I won or lost on the horses would be known within one
minute, whereas, it might be a year before I knew whether I had won or lost on the shares.
I once had $ 20,000 invested in a major bank's highly-recommended venture. My account grew very nicely
with two annual interest payments, nevertheless, on the day the second interest was added I decided to
close the account. The money came through quite ok and I even got a separate cheque for $ 00.03 for the
new interest earned, presumably, for the 10 minutes it took to finalise my account. The very next day
the bank declared its venture had gone bust and its investors got nothing. How lucky was I?
I have kept my 3 cent cheque as a souvenir.
An odd thing happened one time when I had to bank $ 5,000. I rolled the notes into a sausage-shaped
scroll and slipped it into the fob-pocket of my trousers and headed out for the bank. When I got there,
the money was gone. I got a nice surprise to find it floating loose inside a fold of my pullover.
The Master Manipulator
Back in the 1960s, Mike used to bet on racehorses but lost his money just like all the other punters. But where
he was different from the average gambler was in cunning, and he worked out a way to win.
He usually placed his bets with a leading Hobart bookmaker called "Dasher" Eaton, who, decades before, had been one
of Tasmania's greatest-ever footballers. Typical of most bookies, Dasher laid the odds on races at the well-known
racetracks that punters liked to bet on. Mike, though, rarely ever bet on those races but chose insignificant
races on remote, minor racetracks across the country that no-one else was interested in. Mike only ever made
tiny bets but lots and lots of them and Dasher was prepared to hold them. No local radio stations or newspapers
bothered with these minor interstate events and so Mike had to provide Dasher with lists of runners. On large
sheets of paper, he listed his selections and included the amount he wanted to bet on each one. There were so many
bets that Dasher was snowed under. To get rid of the iritation of handling these trivial bets, Dasher invited Mike
to write his bets onto his official betting form but had his clerk double check that it was entered correctly. Next
day, Mike returned with the "Sun" newspaper that had results of all the races he had wagered on. Dasher even let
Mike tick off the winners on the official betting form and once again had his clerk check it. It sounded like a
pretty straightforward procedure, although a bit of a nuisance for Dasher, but almost for sure, a profit-maker for
The amazing thing was that it was Mike who made the profit. Dasher was astonished that Mike was winning
because punters who make lots of bets never win. The amount Dasher lost to Mike's tiny bets was microscopic, and
so it never in the least threatened Dasher's highly successful business. He didn't believe that Mike could win,
yet it was happening. He felt sure Mike was cheating him, but couldn't work out how. He became so fascinated with
the problem that he continued to accept Mike's bets, in the hope of catching him out. Dasher put his suspicion
directly to Mike with a threat, "I know you are cheating me, somehow, and when I find out you better watch out."
One time, Dasher invited Mike to his home for dinner and slaughtered a fatted lamb especially for the
occasion. Mike declared its chops to be the best he had ever eaten. Why Dasher wined and dined Mike is a
mystery but it got him no nearer finding Mike's cheating method, assuming he was cheating, that is.
Most of Mike's bets were if-any each-way doubles. In other words, he bet on one horse with a proviso that some
of his winnings, if any, would automatically be bet on another horse in a later race. This meant that if his first
horse failed to do any good there was nothing to bet on his second horse. That first horse being successful was,
therefore, vital for him to have a winning day, so he just had to get that first one right.
Every now and again both horses won and he had a big collect, but bookie's odds are less than the true odds and the
ultimate fate of punters is to lose and Mike was a punter. The amazing thing, in his case, was that he didn't
lose! Despite only a few of Mike's bets being successful, they managed to wipe out all his previous losses and
he finished in front. To repeatedly achieve a net profit despite the bookie's odds was mathematically impossible.
No wonder Dasher believed Mike was cheating him. And Mike was cheating him!
Mike had very little money, and so his bets were small. He usually made a list of his selections but in a few
places left it blank, with the blanks to be filled in later. His next move was clever, though crooked. He went to
the telephone box next door to Dasher's betting shop and with a pocketful of 20c pieces made an interstate phone
call to radio station 2KY in Sydney. He asked the 2KY racing editor for the latest race results from the various
New South Wales country tracks. He then filled in the blanks on his betting sheet with the names of winners and
placegetters but, as a blind, also included horses that had got beaten and even scratchings. He then quickly went
into Dasher's betting shop to place his bets. To Dasher and his clerks, Mike's long list of bets, including
the winners he had just written into the blanks, to all intents and purposes, looked as though it had been written
out over the last hour or so.
Mike phoned 2KY so often that they got to talking on a first name basis, although Mike used the pseudonym Wayne.
They got so used to his calls, and so friendly, that they often let him listen in to the actual call of races
direct from the track. On hearing the name of the horse first past the post, Mike could rush into Dasher's and bet
on it. Even if Dasher had a direct link to that very track, and at the actual time, and made enquiries about that
particular horse, he would been told that it had won but that correct weight had not yet been announced. This
would cause Dasher to regard Mike's bet as honest beyond doubt.
Had Dasher seen Mike on the phone, which he could so easily have done, but apparently didn't, he likely might
have tumbled that something was amiss and been shocked the swindle was being set up on his door-step, but he
remained oblivious. Given the then cumbrous ways needed to make interstate phone calls, when compared to today,
one can see why it would be almost impossible for Dasher to work out Mike's ingenious scheme.
So that's Mike's swindle. Each swindle bet put part of its proceeds into his pocket while the rest of it became
a free bet on a horse in a race later in the day. If that horse lost it cost nothing but if it won and was a longshot
he would have a big winning day.
Of course, if Mike placed swindle bets only, they very likely would start to stand out, particularly with Dasher
conscientiously trying to find his method. To conceal his roguery, Mike secreted his swindle bets in a morass of
tiny genuine bets to tire out and frustrate Dasher and so cause him to give up his fruitless search. Another thing
Mike did was to bet backwards. Mike could lose money on this particular bet because it depended on the result
of a race much later in the day, and, naturally, Dasher treated it as a perfectly genuine normal bet. In fact, it
was a variation of the swindle, in that Mike bet on the last race of the program with an if-any proviso to put
a bet on the horse that his phone-call told him had won only moments before.
Mike was quick to see opportunity where others wouldn't think of it. When Dasher invited him to enter his bets
on the official form, Mike instantly saw another way to cheat Dasher. He usually made small to medium bets, from
a $1 to $20, but with no apparent order in the chaos. When he wrote his bets into the bets column of the official
form, he deliberately left a tiny gap to the right-hand margin. When he came to enter the results the next day, if
the horse carrying his $2 bet had won, he would slip a 0 or 5 into the gap alongside the $2 and suddenly he would
have $20 or $25 on the winner. Other tricks were to convert 1 into 7 or 9, and no trouble to turn a 3 into 8.
Mike was so quick inserting these little extras that Dasher's clerk never noticed them.
Mike, the master manipulator, has retired and Dasher has passed on, and their little private conflict is just
one of the thousands of weird and wonderful stories one hears on the racetrack.
Beating a bookie
One meets some odd characters through life, including a few rogues. What is rare to find, though, is
that occasionally one of these crooks will tell his story with complete honesty. Such a character was
Mike and here is a despicable episode he divulged with relish. Mike liked to bet on racehorses. The
trouble was he was a poor judge of horses and had no idea about the mathematics of odds. However,
what he did have was cunning and the knack to see opportunity where others would not notice it.
It was Wednesday, and as usual he bought a weekly horseracing newspaper called The Sporting Globe
which came out every Wednesday. It was printed on a distinctive pink paper and had a reputation for
accuracy. When he opened to the inner pages he read the headline "Nyah Trots tonight" and below were
listed the fields for eight races. Nothing unusual about that, it being a typical announcement. He
then bought the daily newspaper, The Herald, and opened it to read the race results that had
been run the previous day, that is, the Tuesday. He was surprised to see the results of Nyah
trotting races that had been run Tuesday night. Quickly he compared the horses named in the results
with the fields listed in The Sporting Globe. Amazingly, they were the same. The supposedly
infallible The Sporting Globe had made a mistake.
Mike's mind moved into another gear. How could he take advantage of this mistake? He often bet with
an illegal SP bookie, another rogue, in other words. So off he went to see this bloke and found him
halfway up a ladder on the side of his house.
"Can I have a bet on tonight's trots?" Mike asked, waving The Sporting Globe.
The bookie came down the ladder and had a look at the paper.
"Ok," he said, "but you will have to bring the results around tomorrow morning."
Mike had already marked his selections, being careful to make it look normal. Obviously, he had
marked a few winners but to make it realistic he included horses that had been beaten and even a
couple of horses that had been scratched. Overall, he wagered an amount typical of previous days.
Having got his bets arranged he now had to complete the swindle. At home, he cut the Nyah race
results from the Wednesday edition of The Herald. There was a problem, however, for on the
back of the race results was a news story that showed it to be Wednesday. He could not risk the
bookie seeing this article, so what was he to do? Then he had a brainwave. He glued the black and
white race-results below the race fields of the pink page of The Sporting Globe.
"There was only ever one danger and that was if the bookie tried to remove the race results," said
Mike, "but I needn't have worried. After he had paid me about $3000 he was a bit upset but not too
"Here," he said, handing me the results page, "take this away, I'll be glad to see the back of it."
"I took it with a smile, and thought, lucky for me you can't see the back of it."
Whistling a different pitch
Mike was an honest crook. Well, not a real crook but just someone who could never make a living in the conventional
way but somehow managed to survive by using his brain in unconventional ways. One time someone actually offered him
a job saying "Would you like to make an honest dollar?" Mike's reply was "Does it have to be honest?" Needless to
say, he never got that job, nor any other job as far as I can recall.
Although he had no obvious means of support, he somehow managed to find a few bob to bet on the races, both horse
racing and greyhound racing. He was a hopeless gambler and always lost his money but seemed to prefer losing it on
the dogs rather than the horses. His failure as a punter didn't deter him and he was always trying to think up a way
One time, he had a brainwave and had a serious go at trying to make it work. He knew this bloke who owned a few
greyhounds and he offered to 'walk' one of them, the best one, in fact. To 'walk' a greyhound is much as it says.
A greyhound needs to be exercised, and it used to be a common practice for greyhounds on leashes to be led along
suburban streets every night.
Now, this greyhound given into Mike's care was to be his pathway to success. Mike doted on the dog and called him
"Toby." Toby also doted on Mike because Mike fed him every time he called him and gave him his favourite bits of
meat. And that was the basis of Mike's plan. One time when Toby was lying asleep, Mike blew three short blasts on
a dog whistle. The whistle was pitched far too high for human ears but just right for dogs. Toby woke up and
instantly Mike fed him his favourite delicacy. Mike repeated this procedure religiously, day after day, and it
wasn't too long before Toby became conditioned to the sound of the three short whistle blasts and came running as
fast as possible to get his reward.
So, where was all this leading? To the racetrack, of course!
At last, the big night came. Toby was entered for a race at the TCA track on the domain. Mike borrowed as much money
as he could and bet the lot of it on Toby. He then positioned himself so that directly in front of him he would be
able to see the dogs coming down the home straight in their run to the winning post.
The race got underway, and Toby raced along in the middle of the field. When the dogs entered the home straight Toby
was running fifth. Mike gave three short blasts on his whistle and Toby, hearing the familiar sound, redoubled his
speed, charged through the field and won the race running away in track-record time. In fact, the whistle worked
even better than Mike expected for the other dogs, hearing the whistle for the first time, were so distracted in
their race that they slowed down.
Mike's success was short-lived. Toby's owner was over the moon with Toby's win and immediately took him to the
mainland in the hope of winning all the major races. Toby was an utter failure. He obviously lacked something.
Despite the amazing success of his brilliant idea Mike was not prepared to do it all over again and so dropped the
Lennie the Loser
One meets some rare characters on the racecourse and one of the rarest I ever met was Lennie the Loser. Lennie
the Loser loved betting on racehorses. He was a died-in-the-wool punter, and would bet to his very last dollar.
After I got to know him, though, I realised a big mistake people made about him and how wrong or even ridiculous
it was to call him Lennie the Loser, for his name was Mike.
He was always losing his money. Sometimes he nearly won but somehow or other his selections would manage to get
pipped on the post.
Then Lennie the Loser had a brainwave, although there probably wasn't much brain used in what he thought up. He
invented a system and he let me in to its secret.
"I've worked out a sure way to win. Because I'm known by everyone as the loser, I'm going to ring up the owner
of Melbourne Cup favourite, Let's Elope, and tell him he had better give me $1000, otherwise, I'll bet on Let's
Elope and it will get beaten."
Of course, Let's Elope's owner never gave Lennie the Loser a $1000, not even a single cent, and Let's Elope went
on to win the race. So what about Lennie the Loser? Let's Elope was the horse he said he would cause to lose by
betting on it. Surely he must have won for a change.
But no, he didn't win. He didn't even bet on Let's Elope because he had already gambled away his money on earlier
races and had nothing left to put on Let's Elope, and so Lennie the Loser's winning system still remains unproven.
The hare and the tortoise
Aesop's fable tells how the tortoise got so far behind the hare that the hare stopped for a rest. The tortoise kept going,
went past the sleeping hare, and won the race.
This horse-racing story is not a fable but a fact. It tells how the tortoise got so far behind the hare that the tortoise
stopped for a rest, not the hare. The hare kept going. Then the tortoise, as in Aesop's fable, went past the hare and won
the race. How could that happen?
When my horse Sobig won a race at Brighton, I was congratulated by an old trotting identity, Tom. Tom told me that a
few decades earlier he, too, had won a race at Brighton, when it was a bush track. He owned a mare called Trial Offer
that he also trained and drove in its races. The horse wasn't much good and in this race she was the rank outsider with the
bookmakers. Despite seeming to have almost no chance of winning, Tom bet on her for a small fortune.
Brighton racecourse is a big track, about the size of Elwick, and on this occasion there was a patch of thick fog at the
back of the course opposite the grandstand. The race distance was a little less than two laps and so the race started about
a furlong down the track from the winning post. The race got under way and Trial Offer trailed along, like a tortoise,
at the rear of the field. When Tom entered the fog patch he stopped his horse and took her to the outside of the track and
hid behind a clump of trees. The race continued and a couple of minutes later the other runners came around on their second
lap. No sooner had they gone past than Tom brought Trial Offer out of hiding and tagged on to the tail of the field.
On the home turn he made his move, urging her out wide in the run down the home straight. In the dash to the winning post,
the other runners, now tiring from their prolonged exertions, were unable to withstand the burst of speed from Tom's
During the short delay awaiting validation or otherwise of the race, Tom wondered, "Did the stewards fail to notice the
absence of Trial Offer the first time past the post, being only concerned with the horses they saw in front of them?"
And would he be collecting the winner's trophy and the prize money for the race and a fortune in the bets he had with the
A minute later the All Clear siren sounded. Tom had got away with it! The tortoise had won!
Dreams go by Contraries
Back in 1962 a friend of mine named Eric was following a horseracing system which, believe it or not,
rarely lost. The system was highly selective and only rarely produced a horse to wager on but on
"Debutante Stakes" day at Caulfield it nominated two horses in consecutive races. Eric backed them
both and had a nice collect when Young Victoria won the Debutante Stakes for fillies and
Time and Tide won the Debutant Stakes for colts. Amongst other things, Eric bought a
motor-mower out of his winnings.
Exactly seven weeks later he had his next system horse. It was a three-year old colt named
Jerkin and was to be ridden by Melbourne's top jockey, Roy Higgins. As 5/1 was readily on
offer by all the bookies, I visualised my friend's future if Jerkin won. "A motor-mower last
time, Eric, a motor car this time. Heh! Wacko!" I said to him, clapping my hands to express my
excitement at his likely success. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he was not going to
back Jerkin. I asked him why not. "I've had this dream," he said, and now I quote him
verbatim, "I interpretated my dream using Zurko's "Book of Dreams" and it says I'm going to
have bad luck with my horses." A few minutes later, when I had managed to stop laughing, I asked
him, "Eric, I know the only thing in your life is horses but how in the hell did you work that out?"
He told me that in his dream he was mowing the lawn with his new motor-mower when the mower broke
away from him, charged across the lawn running over a dove and killing it. The motor-mower then
split down the middle. "What's that got to do with anything?" I asked. "Everything! Everything!"
he replied, with feeling. His interpretation of the dream, with the help of Zurko, he explained
as follows: Because a dove is a bird of peace or good luck, he was due for bad luck for killing
it, and because the motor mower symbolically represented his horses he had lost control of them
and was due for bad luck. The motor-mower splitting apart only emphasised the breakdown of his
method, therefore, he was not having a bet.
Nothing I said could persuade him to show some commonsense. I pleaded, "This is your system, Eric,
and it's won almost every time. It's seven weeks since you've had a bet and your last two horses
both won so you can have this bet for nothing. Put something on it, anyway!" Nothing would change
his mind. "Consider the horse," I said, "and the jockey. Jerkin has won 4 of its last 6
starts, 3 out of its last 4 races, and Roy the Boy, Higgins, the best jockey in Melbourne is in
the saddle and you've got about 10 times the true odds. You've gotta be crazy not to bet on it.
What more do you want?" No! Nothing got through to Eric, he was adamant. "Well, Eric," I said.
"You are crazy! But I'm having my twenty quid on it because Jerkin is gonna bolt in."
The race was duly run and Jerkin "bolted" in, winning easing-up by a neck that could have
been many lengths if Higgins had ridden him out. Eric was astounded and extremely dejected. I had
expected him to wager a few hundred pounds on Jerkin, so it represented a big difference
to his bankroll. Despite his sad state I insisted he celebrate my success and I forced him, a
teetotaller, to drink my health with a glass of champagne. Eric's downcast spirits did not improve
when I pointed out to him that his dream had, in fact, come true. "Huh? How do you work that out?"
asked Eric. "Easy! Eric, easy! Easy as pie, have another drink." You see, Eric missed out on
backing a 5/1 certainty which is about as bad as a punter's luck can ever get.
Long wait for a winner
Eric's wife was a staunch soldier of the Salvation Army.
"How come you tolerate Eric betting on racehorses?" I asked her.
"He doesn't drink or smoke and he has to have some freedom, so I don't mind his betting. Besides,
he is careful and has few bets, and usually wins and always buys something with his winnings."
I can vouch for that. Eric rarely had a bet but when he did it was always a giant one. I know,
because I used to help him spread his bets over several bookmakers.
One day he made a weird declaration: "My next bet will be on a horse called Siwai. I am
not having another bet until I've backed it."
"But where is Siwai?" I asked. "It races in Victoria but it's gone for a spell and could be in
Queensland or Tassie or anywhere for months and its next race could be God knows where."
"I know," said Eric, "but I'm sending away for newspapers all over Australia to check the race
entries to see if Siwai is listed. Also, I bought a terrific radio that can pick up race
broadcasts all over the country."
This was decades before easy communications with cell phones and the Internet and it took days
to get some newspapers.
And so that's how it went for months! Siwai, where are you? One morning, when I opened The
Mercury, there was Siwai listed on the race page, first up after a spell and entered to
race up the bush in Victoria.
Eric and I worked for the same company, so I raced up to his department to be sure he hadn't
missed it. He wasn't at work. Was he sick? Might he have missed Siwai after all of his trouble
to search for it? I thought about taking time off to go to his home but I was too busy.
"I reckon he will see it," I thought. "Anyway, I will have twenty quid on it in case Eric
I phoned my bookie and placed a bet, taking the 9/2 that he offered. I managed to escape from
work for a few minutes to hear the race broadcast. It was a great result, Siwai won easily! I
thought of Eric, praying that he hadn't missed out.
That night I drove to Eric's home. He was there alone and he was celebrating. As was said before,
he never drank but this was a special occasion and so a drink was appropriate.
"Come and have a drink," said Eric, in a voice that slurred enough for me to realise he had had
quite a few. And was he celebrating with champagne as you might expect? No, it wasn't champagne.
From the remains of a flagon of cheap plonk he poured me a great glassful. It tasted
dreadful but I toasted him, anyway. He was no judge of wine but he was a great judge of horses.
Many years ago, my friend, Eric, received a letter that went like this: 'I get secret information
from a top horse-racing stable. I will send you the name of a sure winner of a future race.
Don't pay me for telling you, just put a bet on it for me and send me the winnings. There is
no point in me sending you losers, otherwise I will get nothing. To show my good faith, here
is your horse for next Saturday's races at Flemington: Put a bet on "Fighting Force" and
put something on it for me.'
Eric didn't put a bet on Fighting Force but it won the race. He then got a second letter from
Mr X, this time touting a horse called "Pandie Sun". Eric didn't bet on Pandie Sun either, but
it also won its race. He then got a third letter suggesting he place a bet on "Ark Royal".
Just like before, though, Eric didn't bet on the horse but just like before the horse won.
Suddenly, Eric was hooked! He was determined to bet on the next horse he was tipped and
on every future one. I told him he was stupid, that there must be a gimmick, but he wouldn't
hear of it. How he waited for that next letter and then plunged on "Matinee Idol" including
an extra $100 on it for Mr X, the letter-writer. To Eric's amazement Matinee Idol lost the
race. Letter after letter arrived with Eric betting like crazy on the tips. Problem: No more
Eric couldn't understand what was wrong. I pointed out, after examining the race listings,
that his bets were always in small fields of about six horses. My guess was that this guy,
Mr X, was sending six letters to six different states with a different horse named in each letter.
He was always on a winner. Those three winners in Eric's first three letters were just a fluke.
Coincidence - thirty years on
When I used to go racing I often talked to an old bloke called Vic. He liked to reminisce about
horses of the past. These were usually not the great champions but rather those good courageous
horses that could carry the grandstand and still win in a tight finish. One day, Vic praised one
of these honest horses more than usual. Thirty years earlier, he had backed it many times and it
had won a lot of races. He told me its name but I had never heard of it.
That night, when I read the Saturday Evening Mercury, I looked down the names of the
horses that had won on the various racetracks around Australia that afternoon. In Adelaide, the
winner of one of the races had the same name as the long-dead horse Vic had been praising. I was
amazed. I felt sure that Vic must have heard this horse's name or read in the newspaper and
confused it with his horse of the past.
Then I had a strange idea. What time was it exactly when Vic told me his story? That was easy to
work out from the times in the race-book. And what time was it exactly that the same-named horse
was winning in Adelaide? After allowing for the half hour time zone difference they were
identical. In other words, at the exact moment Vic was telling me about his ancient horse there
was one with the same name winning a race in Adelaide. Next race day, I told Vic about the
coincident names and he was flabbergasted. He confirmed the name of his horse and declared he
took no interest whatsoever in Adelaide racing. That's weird!
I recall a time when I had to make a choice between two things but got myself muddled. How can
one get muddled with only two choices, you may well ask? Well, I did!
I used to go to the racetrack and it was there that I got muddled. Tasmania's best horse, a
stayer called Macdalla, and Majestic Master, the best sprinter in the state, were
to meet in a sprint race. This race was ideal for Majestic Master. He had been winning easily
in recent sprint races, and not surprisingly was the 6/4 favourite. Macdalla, the winner of two
Hobart Cups, was having his first start from the spelling paddocks and was still fat and in
need of several races to get fully fit for the longer events that were his forte. He was a 33/1
It was the usual custom to list horses names in order of the weights they were handicapped to
carry, the top-weight being No.1 saddlecloth, the second top-weight being No.2 saddlecloth, and
so on. However, in this particular race Macdalla and Majestic Master were to carry identical
topweights. The usual procedure where there were horses with identical weights was to list
their names in alphabetical order. Macdalla is m-a-c and Majestic Master is m-a-j.
The tote, also, uses saddlecloth numbers rather than names, and so if you want to make a bet,
you make it on a number, not a name. I picked Majestic Master to win and went to the tote and
made a $20 bet on No.2. I then went to the grandstand to watch the race. Majestic Master ran
a wonderful race and had it in his keeping until, in the shadow of the winning post, in the
very last stride, he was beaten by Macdalla. I cursed my luck to be beaten by a nose.
In despair, I descended the grandstand but when I casually glanced at the semaphore board it
displayed Winner 2, Second 1. Surprised by this unexpected result, I pointed to the board and
said to a friend "Oughtn't that be 1 2 not 2 1?" My friend opened his race-book to check for me.
"No, it's correct. Macdalla is No.2."
"I can't believe it," I said, "I've accidentally backed the wrong horse and accidentally won
hundreds of dollars."
To this day I don't know why the usual practice of numbering was reversed. Perhaps the person
who organised the race thought Macdalla was spelt Mcdalla or Makdalla but whatever the real
reason I couldn't care less!
One particular dealer was always friendly to me and sometimes hinted at card-counting, implying
that I might be a card-counter (which I am). One night, when the count went positive I put out
an appropriately larger bet, this being a perfectly sensible thing for a card-counter to do. I
drew 16 and the dealer drew a 10. The strategy for the count indicated, "Don't take a card" so
I said "No card."
The dealer didn't move to the next player as expected but, instead, asked me a question, "Don't
you want a card on 16?"
"No thanks," I said, "not when I've got a big bet out."
At the end of the shoe he gave me this little lecture, "You shouldn't alter your strategy because
you've made a bigger bet."
I replied, "I always chicken out when I make a big bet. I know I shouldn't but I always do."
He said, "God! I thought you were a card-counter. A few of the croupiers think you are. Maybe you
should stick to basic strategy."
"I think you are right," I said, "I'll try to do that in future. I might have a go a card-counting
After that, I always tried to play on his table. I would ask him about points of basic strategy
and take his advice when it happened to agree with the count. Our falling out came when I had made
a very big bet out and had drawn 15 against his 10 with the count way up high. The strategy for the
count indicated no card, so I said "No card."
He pleaded with me, "You've got to take a card. Don't you remember the 16 against my 10? You've
only got 15 this time. You've got to take a card."
"No way," I said, most emphatically, "not when I've got that much out."
He got worked up, almost screaming, "You're hopeless, you wouldn't make a card-counter in a
million years. If you're a card-counter I'm Mickey Mouse. You can't even play basic strategy."
After that, he refused to offer any further advice. In fact, he wouldn't talk to me at all.
Always quit while you're ahead!
I got this sage advice from this bloke, Andrew. I was there when he had his flash of insight.
Always quit while you're ahead!
It's obvious when you think about it.
You can't win if you do the opposite.
I am sitting at one end of an idle BJ table, sipping coffee. Andrew, who for the umpteenth
time has lost his dough, is sitting at the other end engaging the dealer in conversation. He
says some things about blackjack and she, regardless of what she actually thinks, politely
agrees with him.
Suddenly he makes his insightful remark, saying "Always quit while you're ahead! That's it!
That's what we all should do. I was winning early. I should have quit while I was ahead."
"But Andrew, you are, you are," I call to him.
Andrew half-turns to look at me and says. "What do you mean?"
I reply, "Andrew, you are a head. You are a dick-head."
Killing the table
I recall a funny happening in a no hole-card game at Jupiters. With the true count on 4, I
placed a $300 bet. I drew A9 against the dealer's 6. The first player, watched by his friend,
had the biggest bets out, namely 2 boxes of $500 and nice hand totals on both. By the time
the dealer got to me the true count was up to 5 so I took the soft double, it being the
correct play for that count. There were a few gripes at my play, but nothing like the gripes
when the dealer hit a 9 and a 6 to get 21 and wipe everyone out.
What would have happened if I had not doubled was then discussed. The dealer would have
received different cards, of course, but the 'post mortem' found that the dealer would have
needed one more card to finish her hand. The first card out next round would be that card
and we all waited with bated breath to see what it would be. When the card was dealt it was
a 10! The dealer would have busted! I copped abuse from everyone.
The big player, in a fury at his $2000 turnaround, jumped up, grabbed his chair and hurled
it across the room between the rows of empty BJ tables. I don't think he aimed it at me but
I'm not sure. He then stormed out of the casino only moments before the security arrived to
quell the disturbance.
A few days later, as I slid in to play box 1, I was met by an icy stare from the player at
box 2. It was the friend of the big player.
He growled, "You're the bloody idiot that took that stupid double the other day. My mate is
still spewing over that."
I replied, "Your right, I'm the idiot, but tell your mate that I'm spewing, too."
ESP, or luck, or what?
An incredible thing happened one time I was playing blackjack at Wrest Point. It was Saturday
night and the casino was packed and, not surprisingly, the table I played was also packed. A
blackjack table has seven boxes and I played box 3. For more than an hour the game proceeded
as usual with a reshuffle of the 6-deck pack of cards about once every 20 minutes. In the
course of one particular round of play I made a bet of $30. I drew a pair of 10s against the
dealer's 10 card.
To the surprise of some and the complaints of others, I asked to split my pair of 10s so as
to make two separate hands. I was strongly advised against splitting them, it being pointed
out that I already had an excellent hand and it was bad play to break it up, and particularly
risky against the dealer's 10 card.
"I'm definitely going to split them," I said, and placed an additional $30 bet on the table.
The player prior to me, on my right, that is, had already drawn a card to his hand; it was
an Ace of Spades. As I split my pair of 10s, and to make a joke of it, I pretended that I
only now noticed my neighbour's Ace draw. I pointed to the Ace and said "Oh, there's the
card I wanted. Please give me an Ace of Spades, too."
The card was dealt and it was an Ace of Spades and a roar of surprise went up from all the
players. "And could I have an Ace of Spades on my other 10, as well please?" It, too, was
an Ace of Spades. An enormous cheer went up from the players and from several spectators.
I was tempted to say, "And give the next player an Ace of Spades, too," but restrained
myself. The unbelievable happened. That player was also dealt an Ace of Spades and the
uproar was deafening. The dealer then drew cards to her hand and it busted and we all won.
In the ensuing 'post mortem' I was asked, "What possessed you to split your 10s?"
I replied "It was the only way to stop this lucky dealer. If I had not split my 10s she
would have got another blackjack and beaten us all." Everyone immediately realised that's
exactly what would have happened. That, though, was not the reason I split my 10s.
It certainly had nothing to do with mathematics or chance, for the odds against four Aces of
Spades coming out one after the other after many reshuffles of the 312-card pack must have
been extremely high, quite astronomical. Also, it was weird that I not only made an abnormal,
freakish play that could only be improved by drawing aces, but that the cards I named fell
as if magically ordered to do so. The incredible thing is that the moment that first Ace of
Spades was dealt to my neighbour's hand I knew that the next three cards were also Aces of
Spades. Was it ESP, or luck, or what?
Hit the deck!
National Service began in Australia in 1951, during the Korean War. 18-year-olds were
called up for basic training and I did mine in the army. Weapons training was comprehensive
and included throwing hand-grenades. These were live ones, not dummies. We recruits, two at
a time, stood behind a thick, chest-high, earthen wall of a bunker where two instructors,
both corporals, explained how to throw our grenades. This was their instruction: "Pull the
pin, aim at the target and bowl it, don't throw it. Bowl it, like a test cricket bowler,
like Ray Lindwall or Keith Miller bowling a full-toss, so that it lobs on the target. Watch
to see if it lands where you aimed and then get your head down behind the wall - Quick!
I was the first to throw my grenade and it went more or less according to the instructions
except that I missed the kerosene-tin target by a couple of metres. It was then the turn
of my companion. His name was Horace and Horace had led a sheltered, sedentary, inactive
life. He was extremely tall but unbelievably thin like skin stretched over a skeleton. His
skinny little arms were without a muscle and as soft and snow-white as a baby's. And he was
frightened. He feared his grenade and what it might do to him. After considerable urging
from both instructors, Horace at last pulled the pin. His eyes bulged, his legs shook and
his knees knocked. "Bowl it, Horace, bowl it," ordered the instructor. Horace swung his
arm in a giant circular cartwheel.
Suddenly the instructor yelled, "Hit the deck!" We did, except for Horace who stood as
petrified as a marble statue and had to be dragged to the ground by the instructors. Within
a few seconds there was a big explosion barely a metre away. Then the instructor started
laughing, "When I saw Horace let go of that grenade I thought he had dropped it INSIDE the
bunker. Lucky for us he dropped it on the other side of the wall." We all, including Horace,
joined in the laughter.
Man on the moon
In the early 1950s I was a young draughtsman in an engineering design office of a large
factory. A thing I liked about this office was that we (there were seven of us) were
encouraged to share anything we read in trade journals or magazines or found interesting in
the world of engineering, technology, science, or, in fact, virtually any field whatsoever.
It was stimulating and, essentially, it made us better engineering types and more inventive.
The result was that we were always discussing something of interest and we learnt to
simultaneously do our work and participate in these verbal free-for-alls.
At the time, my hobby was astronomy and mucking around with telescopes. During our discussions,
I said I believed Man would stand on the Moon in the 20th century. Well, that was like a red
rag to my colleagues. Despite their usual forward-thinking ideas and progressive attitudes
they vociferously disagreed and I was laughed to scorn for my over-the-top ludicrous idea.
I still maintained my opinion to the day I resigned from that job in August 1956. In October
1957 the first man-made object, Sputnik, went into space. In July 1969 Man stood on the Moon
only 13 years after I had been decried for saying it would happen within 44 years.
Cheval-stop in Mousey
Many years ago, I hitchhiked around Europe and it was wonderful and fairly easy to get picked up.
In Europe, hitchhiking was called "auto-stop" and the "hitch" signal was done by flagging with an
up-and-down hand movement and not by pointing one's thumb down the road.
When a car stopped to offer me a lift the driver would usually say, in his or her language, "Where are
you going?" I would say a placename and that would draw the appropriate response: either I went to the
place or missed out on a ride.
I soon learnt a clever trick. When a car stopped to pick me up I would quickly ask the driver, in his
or her language, after having checked that from the car's number-plate, "Where are you going?"
Regardless of what place they said, I always replied "Hey! That's where I'm going!" Inevitably, this
took me to places I never considered visiting and it also took me on some long trips! Marseilles
to London was the longest. It took two days, including a night crossing of the Straits of Dover
My favourite hitchhike occurred as a result of my "go wherever the driver goes" policy stranding me
miles from nowhere in a tiny French village called Mousey. Despite hours of waiting under a hot sun,
no car came around the corner to save me! My patience was rewarded when some transport eventually
came into view. It was a horse and cart. Time stood still as the horse shuffled sleepily down the lane.
Its driver, a fat French farmer, with his hat pulled down all around, shading his eyes like a miniature
umbrella, might have been asleep. In sheer desperation, I gave the "auto-stop" hand-signal and I am
delighted to say that he stopped. "Where are you going?" I asked as usual. "To the wine-bar down
the road" is what I think he said (my French is not too good). "Hey! That's where I'm going," I replied
as usual. And that's where we went! We drank a lot of vin rouge and nibbled fromage and somehow
communicated. He set his usual drinking mates laughing by telling them about my auto-stop or, as he
preferred to put it, "cheval-stop." An hour or two later I said my au revoirs and walked unsteadily away,
eventually getting a "hitch" to somewhere.
Double digit dumbness
Doing 'dumb' things reminds me of something that happened where I used to work.
There was a vat that had a discharge opening, about nine inches square, at the bottom. This
opening was sealed by a door-plate that was lifted by a hinged lever to allow the contents
to flow out. It needed a light pressure to push down against the flow to shut it.
From time to time the vat was emptied for it to be cleaned. During the cleaning the hinged
door-plate was raised to access the discharge opening. One time, the cleaner was careless
when cleaning the opening and had his finger in the opening when suddenly the door-plate,
with no flow now to resist it, fell like a guillotine and chopped off his finger.
Immediately, the supervisor of the department was called and when he fully understood what
had happened he contacted the factory manager. When the manager arrived he wanted to know
exactly what had happened and so the supervisor re-enacted the events. Unfortunately, he
did it too well, for when he raised the door-plate and put his finger into the opening,
the door-plate suddenly dropped and guillotined his finger, too.
Unlocking a lock-up
On Easter Sunday, 2006, my niece phoned me from 2000 km away on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, where she was
holidaying. She had a problem. She and her boyfriend had placed their valuables in a locker of a lock-up facility
but when they tried to access the facility their key codes would not function. There was no attendant on duty, or
likely to be until after Easter. She is, however, a resourceful person and realised she needed to break into the
system, but as she is also honest, she called the cops for help. Two officers arrived with a key that
unlocked a panel giving access to a computer screen and a keyboard. It was obvious that the lockers were controlled
by this computer, but neither officer knew how to work it. Busting open the locker door was considered but she
suggested they allow her to try triggering the program. With the policemen and her boyfriend watching she entered
a few key strokes and a new screen appeared. After a few more key-presses, the screen suddenly displayed the
C:\ prompt, to show that it used an old DOS system. Her memory is pretty good and she remembered that about 25
years ago, when she was an inquisitive 7-year-old, I had shown her how DOS commands made a computer run. She
entered the command DIR and a long list of entries were scanned but were instantly lost as they whizzed off the
screen. It was at this point she rang me.
"What do I do now?" she asked.
Half an hour later, she called me. "We got all of our gear without a problem. Actually, we only went there for our
roller-blades. The officers thought I was a computer whiz-kid and began questioning me. Maybe they thought you and
I were a pair of hackers. I told them that computers were not my line and that I was only the speech-writer for
the premier of Tasmania. They didn't believe me until I showed them my
credentials. 'You learn something new every day,' said one cop. 'You sure do,' replied the other.'"
"Enter DIR/P and you'll get one page at a time. What do you see?"
"COMMAND.COM is the first item."
"Ok, now enter DIR *.EXE/P and tell what you see."
"There are a few listed. One called LOCKERS.EXE sounds about right."
"Enter LOCKERS and see what happens."
"Hey! We are in. We have the screen where we keyed in our codes yesterday."
"Ok, call me later."
No doubt, this event has given those two cops a story to share with their families and friends and their
fellow-officers at headquarters. I'd love to read their report.
A Big Surprise
In 2003, I did a flight around the world. When I was in Beunos Aires I phoned my niece to let her
know I would be arriving home on the following Friday. She asked what time and I said it would be
about 8 pm. She then said, "Oh, that's bad luck. I'm flying out on Friday morning bound for
Europe. I won't see you for a couple of months."
My flight was via Santiago, in Chile, where I was to have a 24 hour stop-over. When I arrived at
Santiago airport, I made a sudden change of plans. Instead of staying overnight in Santiago, I
changed my flight arrangements and was able to fly out that same day after a 10-hr wait at the
airport. Everything went ok and I got into Hobart about 8 pm Thursday.
I immediately went to my niece's home. When I got to her front door I didn't knock but instead
used my cellphone to call her. We chatted for a few minutes about missing each other and when we
were likely to see each other again. Then I knocked on the door.
She said, "Oh! There's a knock at the door. What a nuisance calling at this time of night."
I said, "That's ok, I don't mind waiting. Go and see who's there. You never can tell who it might
be. You might be a big surprise."
She opened the door and got a big surprise.
Climbing Graeme's Folly
When I was 15, I lived in a first-floor flat of a house which had an old-fashioned laundry on the ground floor. This
laundry had a copper that was heated by a wood fire with a tall brick chimney that reached above the roof of the
two-storey house. Between the laundry chimney and the brick wall of the house was a gap about 18" wide all the way to
At this time, I got interested in rock-climbing and began to learn the technique. For example, a wide vertical crack
in a cliff is called a chimney and is climbed by wedging one's way to the top. When I looked at that gap between the
laundry chimney and the wall of the house it reminded me of a mountain chimney.
"What a wonderful place to practice chimneying," I thought, so, instead of walking up the stairs to get to my flat,
I decided to climb this gap up to the top and get in through a back window.
I donned my climbing boots, and began my ascent. Progress proved easier than anticipated for the mortar between some
bricks crumbled away exposing tiny ledges creating minute toe and finger holds. I should have realised that the very
sandiness of the mortar, here and there, exposed a weakness in the structure. When I had ascended about 12 feet I
heard an ominous crack down below and then the whole chimney-stack, from top to bottom, swayed outwards. It fell in a
great arc with me riding it down to crash into the backyard vegetable patch. The chimney lay completely shattered
amongst the broadbeans and on it I lay, uninjured, but black from the ancient soot clouds that had emerged and now
billowed over the scene.
The landlord was in a fury but was soon pacified when my uncle said he would repair it all. Within a day it was
rebuilt, better than ever, but I had to promise never again to attempt the first ascent of Graeme's Folly.
The Great Red Spot
I did my National Service in the army in 1953. My most unpleasant memory of that episode of my life was having to shave
in cold water.
My billet was in Hut 22. From the very first day, Hut 22 became notorious for the gambling that was run there by two of
my fellow recruits, Jack "Shieldsy" Shields and "Punchy" Skidmore. The gambling game was "Unders and Overs" and Shieldsy
and Punchy won a lot of money, although not much from the 18-year old recruits but plenty from the professional soldiers,
the NCOs, who were to train us to be soldiers. One lance-corporal, who went broke, was said to have sent 'home' to England
to get more money from his mother.
I never had a bet but, along with everyone else, watched the play as there was nothing else to do. "Unders and Overs"
is a dice game played with two dice. The total score showing on the dice determines who wins. A score of Under 7 or Over
7 pays even money. An exact score of 7 pays 4 to 1. This gave the two operators a big 16.7% edge and a big profit.
The spots on both dice were black except that the single spot on one die was coloured red and was much bigger than the
others. In the course of the game, I noticed that this red spot seemed to pop up quite frequently. To get some idea of
how often, I listed the red spot's appearance. On average, it should have turned up one time in six spins but it turned
up about one time in five. Clearly, that die was biased, but not enough to make the Unders a favourable bet. But
then another factor came into play: The two operators, to coax more participation, offered better odds, 5/4 instead of
even money on the Unders. Those new odds, coupled with the biased die, made the Unders a favourable bet and this
brought me into the game. Sometimes, the 'boys' offered even better odds on the Unders, 6/4. This was over the odds
mathematically-speaking, and coupled with the biased die, made it a certain winner and I won a heap of money.
After our first fortnight in camp, we were given leave and I headed for the city to spend my winnings. The first
thing I bought was an electric razor, a Philishave, just about the first electric razor ever sold in Australia.
Back in camp that electric razor did the rounds of Hut 22 every morning. No one, ever again, shaved in cold water.