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Allen Murray (AKA Allen Hall)

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Complete with Horns
By Allen Murray (AKA Allen Hall)
Saturday, March 29, 2003

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We can't choose our relatives!

Contrary to popular belief, not every member of my family is eccentric although I grudgingly admit to some rather odd behavioural patterns demonstrated by a few of my maternal relatives. Uncle Willie was a World-Class oddball.

He emigrated to Australia in 1910 when he was in his twenties and set about making his fortune. A subscriber to the theory that hard work alone can result in success, Willie progressed from hotel bellhop to kitchen hand, from motor mechanic to chauffeur and probably managed a little sheep shearing and mustering in his spare time. By the age of thirty, his labours had enabled him to make an investment in a small hotel in Adelaide and several years later, he became the sole owner.

My mother made the long journey to Australia at the age of seventy-three and returned some ten weeks later accompanied by Uncle Willie. I had never seen my mother’s brother except in photographs so I was totally unprepared for the fact that he was profoundly deaf. This disability was not allowed to impede his enjoyment of life. He carried out conversations at the top of his voice, irrespective of surroundings and frequently to the great embarrassment of those in his company. In a rare moment of carelessness, my mother took him to our local church. The customary tiny congregation was alarmed to have their devotions interrupted by a stentorian comment, delivered in an Australian accent to the effect that he had “seen dead sheep looking healthier than that bloody minister.”

The Western Australian climate and his comfortable lifestyle had treated my uncle very well and although in his eighties, he had the enthusiasm for the pleasures of the flesh normally associated with a man twenty years younger. My mother was, by her own admission, rather traditional in her views. As the former principal of the local school, she felt obliged to host bridge parties and to perform other similar acts of hospitality. As it was clearly unrealistic to remove her brother from the house on those occasions, he was invited to make up a four with three female members of the staff.

At first, the three ladies were intrigued by the extrovert colonial. As the evening progressed they discovered that his success at this genteel card game was enhanced by his undoubted skill at card manipulation, gained over decades of poker with sheep shearers. Their reaction to this revelation was only equalled by their feigned horror at the outrageous propositions allegedly made whilst my mother’s best china progressed around the table. The bridge evening terminated in total disarray, Willie dispensing Scotch whisky with a generosity only ever associated with a bottle belonging to someone else. As the guests departed unsteady and much the worse for wear, my uncle could be heard bellowing his goodnights having been thwarted in his efforts to escort the ladies home.

I suspect that the quiet area of Adelaide wherein his hotel was situated was probably quite free of vehicles. Whatever the reason, Willie was totally fearless in traffic. At the outset of a visit to the city of Aberdeen, some seventeen miles away, he announced that he would drive my mother’s Hillman Imp. My mother actively hated driving and was all too ready to believe her brother’s exaggerated claims to perfection at the wheel of any motor vehicle. Her illusions were shattered as Willie thrashed the gear lever around the floor in a futile attempt to find a forward gear. His first try resulted in a very rapid rearward progression only halted by a grass verge and a thankfully resilient hedge. Unable to hear my mother’s instructions, he finally managed, after several further attempts, to engage a forward gear and set off for the city. I understand that he accomplished the whole journey without ever discovering the location of third or fourth gear.

Claiming that the middle of the road was the safest place to be in order to avoid the dangers of local fauna springing from the undergrowth, he reportedly ignored the needs of other road users who were forced to swerve and brake violently to avoid him. The final straw was loaded onto the camel’s back when Willie, having eventually arrived in Aberdeen, spotted a small shop selling souvenirs of Scotland. Despite the heavy rush hour traffic, he simply stopped the car in the middle of the road and wandered over to the shop to stare through the window. Unable to hear the cacophony of horns as angry drivers expressed their disapproval, he disappeared into the shop. My mother was obliged to get into the driving seat and move the car to the side of the road, ignoring the double yellow lines. Some minutes later, Willie emerged from the shop triumphantly bearing an enormous stag’s head complete with antlers.

With his trophy secured in the back seat, glassy eyes glaring balefully at following traffic, he took his passenger on a tour of the city, reportedly ignoring a succession of red traffic lights, one way streets and pedestrian crossings. Eventually his erratic progress attracted the attention of the local constabulary and a police car followed him for several miles before they managed to attract his attention and convey their earnest wish for him to stop. Despite a list of offences that would have occupied the Magistrates’ Court for several sittings, the policeman despaired of trying to make himself understood and let him off with a warning and an insistence that my mother take over the duties of chauffeur.

Eventually, to the great relief of many of my relatives, the visit drew to a close. My mother and Willie travelled to Heathrow where he became involved in an animated discussion regarding the quantity of luggage that he offered for checking in. There was still a good deal of time to kill prior to the departure of his flight and he pronounced that they would travel by taxi to Oxford Street for some last minute shopping. As he had not been satisfied about the safety of all of his luggage in the airline left luggage, the stag’s head accompanied them on the visit to the shops.

Even after many years had elapsed, my mother shuddered each time she related the story of their progress through the crowds on Oxford Street. The antlers of a stag are used in courting rituals but their main purpose is that of a weapon. It was probably some primeval instinct that made the London shoppers realise that the approach of my heavily armed relative spelt immediate danger, because they dived into shop doorways, they ran into the road and some even turned and ran the other way.

The show was terminated when a large policeman came up behind them. Uncle Willie was of course unable to hear the summons to stop. The officer reached out and put a restraining hand on my uncle’s shoulder. Willie spun around in alarm and one antler jabbed the policeman in the stomach. After a great deal of explanation from my mother and an even greater deal of protest from Willie, the policeman decided that there was no case to answer and summoned a police van to convey the pair back to Heathrow before some serious damage could be done. Predictably, my uncle assumed that he was being arrested and seemed inclined towards resistance. Still clutching the stag’s head he was shovelled into the back of the police van protesting vigorously about Police Brutality every inch of the way.

Several months later, I was on an overnight stop in Athens and was chatting with a Qantas crew who was also overnighting. As is customary, the conversation turned to flying matters and one of the Qantas flight attendants related the tale of a totally deaf Australian who insisted on carrying a stuffed stag’s head, complete with horns into the cabin. He steadfastly refused to be parted from the beast and claimed to be unable to hear the instructions to hand it over for safe stowage by the cabin crew.

Eventually, he was upgraded to an unoccupied seat in First Class where the animal was able to occupy an adjacent seat. Reportedly, both passengers slept soundly all the way to Singapore. A chorus of disbelief greeted her story.
I leaned over to whisper the name of the outrageous passenger in her ear and confessed to my relationship. She looked at me with amazement.

“So you can back up the story!”

“Yes, absolutely,” I replied. “By strange coincidence, the man is my uncle.”
She looked at me with disbelief.

“You mean, you are actually related to that man and they let you fly aeroplanes?”

“It’s not as crazy as giving a free upgrade to a dead stag.” I retorted.

       Web Site: Skytrucker on Line

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