Ben was born under a big old redgum tree on the banks of the Murumbidgee River sometime after the second world war. (exact date unknown) His mother was a bar maid at the nearby Etamooga Hotel. His father was a six day bIcycle rider. Ben was brought up a strict Atheist and was thrashed soundly for reading the Bible under the bedcovers. He has eschewed the use of footwear since leaving school. He studied Life Matters at The University of Hard Knocks but failed to graduate. He has frequented these parts for many a long year and has been a presenter on W.M.A. in various guises on and off since 2010.
Ben is a card carrying member of The Possum Stirrers Guild and claims he can talk the leg off a chair.
Ben’s faithful companion Rusty Nails, is never far from his side.
Rusty Nails (Trusty Rusty) has been my faithful companion ever since
Molly Meldrum was Queen of Moomba. Through droughts and flooding rains and countless near-death-experiences she was by my side. Her pedigree is impeccable, being the great grand-daughter of Rin Tin Tin and White Fang. She was the presiding judge at the National Sheep Dog Trials, along with Inspector Rex. (Lassie was found guilty of Cattle Duffing )
Rusty has a keen interest in food.
Fire in the Henge
– Where two hapless hengemakers face the full force of the law
This story involves little drama but much melodrama.
Either a great calamity is averted due to scrupulous adhesion to the letter of the law, or a great deal of time effort and water is wasted due to a failure to apply just a modicum of good old fashioned common sense.
You be the judge.
The story begins right here in Sleepy Hollow, just across the road from our brand spanking new fire station. It is mid-March 2015. The Fringe Festival is taking shape. My contribution is a henge of fridges.
After much wrangling and cajoling and begging and pleading l finally wrestle 40 fridges from the clutches of the Lords of the Landfill, who are reluctant to part with them for reasons l cannot not fathom.
Studious students from all the local schools except South School have gone to great effort to adorn the fridges with pictures of food and filled the shelves with mock food; good food, bad food and absolutely rotten food.
Before we have even begun to arrange them, all hell brakes loose, a hue and cry from all corners of the shire.
The council, who see their primary role as keeping us all safe from harm, is flooded with distress calls laden with angst and anguish concerning the danger of the little kiddies becoming trapped inside the fridges and slowly being asphyxiated. Many old people still alive today vividly remember such horror stories from their youth, indelibly etched in their consciousnesses.
I try to reassure the agitated officer not to fret, modern fridges do not have latches or catches, any child can open them with ease. But he is not to be reassured. The fridges must be lain down lest someone climb inside, rock the fridge till it falls on its door, thus trapping the poor unfortunate till she inevitably dies of asphyxiation. After complimenting him on his vivid imagination l point out that on the other hand whilst inside the fridge she would be protected from the far more likely event of being struck by a passing asteroid.
So we dutifully put our fridges to bed that night. Next day my trusty off-sider Dean Bigfoot – the human forklift, places the fridges exactly according to the dictates of the ancient texts, in the sacred circle of the Druids, with the columns equidistant and the lintels on top. Dean throws them up there like they are made of balsa wood.
Next day we arrive to find them strewn about like confetti at a giants wedding. They are daubed with lewd graffiti making reference to unmentionable parts of the female anatomy.
It seems we have been visited in the night by a mob of hoons.
Dean must spend all day resurrecting. We determine to guard our beloved creation from marauding hoards of heathen barbarians, an all night vigil. This is where the nub of the story begins to unfold in all its farcical absurdity. As the sun sinks and the light fades we soon get cold and hungry. l happen to have a squashed rabbit and a fry pan so naturally we light a campfire to cook our dinner and warm our cockles. With full bellies we recline on our banana lounges and stare into the flickering flames, swapping yarns about the good old days. We are jolted from our reverie by a piercing screech emanating from yonder fire station across the way. Cars soon arrive from all points of the compass, humans rush about, donning yellow jackets and yellow hats and yellow gloves and jumping into shinny red fire trucks. The giant roller doors ascend, lights flash, sirens wail, engines roar and the big red trucks pullout onto the road…. and keep coming, straight towards us. They surround the henge, leap out, connect the hoses and blast our little fire with both barrels. We have not moved, we stare gob smacked as the steam rises from the wet coals. Not a word has been spoken. The big chief with the epaulettes marches up and officially informs us that our smoldering remains do not have a permit. He deftly and appropriately produces a fridge magnet and says:
“To get a permit you must ring this number.”
He strides up to the nearest fridge, slaps on the magnet and strides off, beckoning his team to follow. The engines roar and away they go as quickly as they came. Soon after the police arrive to take a statement. After they leave we ring the number on the fridge magnet, inform the relevant authorities of the nature and location of our fire and get the go ahead to relight it and resume our reverie. The cruising hooligans see the flickering flames and continue on their way, seeking the less vigilant.
A nice lady from the fire station comes over to lend us a fire extinguisher.
Each night of the festival we light our fire in the centre of the henge. It soon becomes a sacred ritual, replete with sacrificial rabbits. There are no further incidents.
Some weeks later l am informed that my case has been referred to a higher authority, a judicial committee of eminent experts in the law of the land who dutifully pontificate upon the severity of my transgression. Some more weeks later l am informed that my transgression is indeed a grave matter that warrants further action. l am summoned to appear before a magistrate at the Castlemaine Court House along with the rest of the great unwashed: drug fiends and lunatics, vexatious litigants, serial shoplifters, recidivist graffiti addicts, suspected kiddy-fiddlers, the dregs of humanity – all those whom society has utterly failed. The poor magistrate is plainly bored shitless with his dreary job, dealing with this endless parade of misfits and ne’er-do-wells day-in and day-out. He manages to dredge up just enough interest to dispatch them to the relevant welfare institutions that will oversea their attempt at rehabilitation.
At last, when the courtroom is almost empty l am called upon to rise and present some visible display of my subjugation to the authority of the court. The magistrate has left the really nasty cases till last: The arsonists and pyromaniacs that threaten life and limb. For these miscreants and psychopaths he saves his most damning diatribe. The policewoman reads out the fact sheet, describing the incident as a ‘burn-off’. l leap to my feet to correct her:
“Your Lordship, l take exception to this gross exaggeration. It was no more than a humble campfire to cook our victuals and ward off evildoers.”
His retort is swift and blunt:
“Why then did it require two fully manned fire trucks to extinguish it?”
To which l ruefully reply:
“l often ask myself the same question.”
Despite my protestations l am ordered to rise while the Magistrate reads out my punishment:
“You, Benjamin John Laycock of Mosquito Gully Road Barkers Creek are hereby ordered to donate the sum total of $300 to the Castlemaine Fire Brigade, a mere fraction l might add, of the costs that your wanton disregard for the law has incurred. Furthermore, from this moment on you shall enter into a probationary period of not less than one year. If, during this time you engage in further unlawful acts involving the combustion of inflammatory substances you will be placed on the Known Arsonists Register and required to wear a tracking device at all times during the Fire Danger Period.”
Ben Laycock 2016