Southerly by David Haywood

Of Men and Monotremes

"Well, there was this woman who worked with a friend of mine," I said. "And she was engaged to this bloke, and they were both Christians."

"And because of their Christianity they had decided -- as you do -- that there would be no hanky-panky before the wedding. Now for some reason this weighed on my friend's mind. In fact, she even expressed her concerns to the Christian workmate by saying: 'Wow, I don't know if I'd be too relaxed about getting married without knowing how he performed in the hanky-panky department'. But the Christian workmate replied: 'I know that God has chosen the perfect man for me, so I'm sure the hanky-panky will be a real knockout'.

"Anyway, the wedding was fast approaching, and already the happy couple's parents had paid for the venue. All the female friends and relations had bought new dresses, and the blokes had hired penguin suits. The church pastor had interviewed them both. It's even possible that the majority of the wedding presents had been wrapped.

"Neither the bride nor groom wanted a tacky bachelor party or hen night. So they decided to spend the weekend before the wedding at the hot springs in Hanmer with their close friends from church. I don't know why, but hot springs are a magnet for Christians -- they just can't get enough of them. Maybe it's because they don't expect to be particularly warm in the afterlife.

"The whole situation was extremely wholesome, of course, and there was no hanky-panky amongst anyone in the group. But naturally they had to wear swimming togs in the pool. And, as it happened, this was the first time that the happy couple had seen each other without full attire. And this was the moment when everything went to custard.

"It transpired that the groom had a certain amount of body hair. And it also transpired that the one thing the bride couldn't stand was body hair. Of course, it had never occurred to her that God would choose a guy with body hair to be her perfect bloke -- and naturally she was quite upset.

"So she called a crisis meeting among her women friends. And they suggested all sorts of solutions: 'He could shave', 'He could wax', 'He could have electrolysis'. But the bride wouldn't even consider it. 'It'll grow back," she said. 'Even with electrolysis.' And so, in the end, she actually called off the wedding. She totally ended the relationship. They never got married.

"And, I repeat, simply because of her fiancé's body hair."

I swigged down the last of my beer. "Makes you think, doesn't it?"

"The Lord moves in mysterious ways," said Michael from Bavaria. "But even so, I don't think you should give the English Writing Competition prize to Carl from Sydney. Maybe it's not so bad to be hairless, but he had chronic sweating as well. You can't give the prize to someone like that -- it would be disgusting."

I had agreed to meet Michael for a quick beer at the Twisted Hop to discuss his entry. He rapidly pinned me down with a remorseless line of argumentation. The logic being roughly as follows:

  1. Michael should win.
  2. His prize should take the form of alcohol.
  3. The prize should be awarded right now.

I had explained that I could only stay for an hour because I had a blog to write. But as the delicious pints of Challenger Ale slipped down, the evening seemed to speed past on fast-forward. At one point a chap drove his Landrover SIIA up onto the footpath. He tooted his horn, and one of the barmaids handed him a pint of beer.

"That never happened when I drove a Landrover," said Michael.

"Me neither," I said. "And I owned a Landrover for thirteen years. But even if I had been handed a pint every time I tooted the horn it wouldn't have been worth it. I had to spend half my life fixing the thing."

"Me too," agreed Michael. "I'd never buy another one."

I staggered off to visit the lavatory. Two blokes were standing at the urinals having one of those standing-pissed-at-the-urinals-having-a-piss conversations.

"Now take your monotremes, for example," the first bloke was saying. "You've got your platypus."

"You've got your Short-beaked Echidna," said his friend.

"You've got your Western Long-beaked Echidna..." continued the first guy.

Back at the table, Michael had procured our fifth pint. The bloke in the Landrover was sitting with his feet on the bonnet smoking a massive pipe -- the stem alone must have been half a metre long. When he'd finished the pipe, he tooted his horn again, and a beautiful woman emerged from the pub. She climbed into the Landrover beside him.

"She's probably Dutch," said Michael. "Dutch women are very uninhibited. You know, I would buy another Landrover."

"I'd buy one in a heartbeat," I said.

We watched a fight in front of the pub between the barman and a drunk. It occurred to me that my hour of drinking might be up. I looked at my watch. More than six hours had elapsed. It was time to go home.

Michael wobbled off on his bicycle -- while I tried to flag down a taxi. It was nearly two in the morning before I sat in front of my computer, and began to read through the entries in the English Writing Competition. Perhaps it was the evening of beer drinking, but I thought that all of the submissions were excellent. It seemed to me, however, that three writers showed exceptional talent.

The first finalist is Moira from Glasgow, who produced this minor masterpiece:

Last Rites

The rituals surrounding an English funeral are as old as England herself.

"It is time to place Klaus in the special burial deckchair," said Mr. Brown. "Following our age-old custom, his footwear must be removed and his trouser legs rolled up to the knee. On his head we must place a white handkerchief. A knot on each corner of the handkerchief will represent the four great Englishpersons of history -- Walter Raleigh, Lord Nelson, Shakespeare, and Princess Diana."

"Lastly we must place a newspaper over his face," said Nanny.

"Yes," said Miss Brown. "Because Klaus was an Englishman it shall be The Sun -- opened at Page 3."

After three days it was time for the burial. Everyone at the funeral displayed the famous English stiff upper lip

During the ceremony the Brown family were given bloater paste sandwiches and boiled ham to eat. "This is the only food allowed at an English funeral," explained the vicar. "This rule cannot be bent."

Very subtle humour, and -- may I say -- nice to see Princess Diana assume her rightful place in history. Alas, however, there is no such subtlety in the second finalist, a last-minute re-entry from Carl of Sydney:

The End of the Browns at the End of the World

Englishmen often take their holidays in the British colonies. "Welcome to Australia," said the immigration officer. "Your luggage has been stolen."

"This is good," said Mr. Brown. "As an Englishman I know that all Australians are criminals -- so this confirms my ignorant prejudices."

Later that day the Brown family visited the outback. Nanny cooked a barbeque while the rest of the family went swimming.

"Goodness! We have experienced the real Australia today," said Nanny, when she returned. "Miss Brown was poisoned by a box jellyfish, and Gretchen was poisoned by a funnel web spider. I tried to call the hospital but my handy had been stolen. Then, while I was burying their corpses, I was bitten by a serpent. Now I am waiting for the toxins to reach my heart."

"I have been stung by a platypus," said Mr. Brown. "In my English ignorance I had not realized that monotremes are venomous."

"Oh look, a crocodile!" said Nanny.

Funny how you hear a word for the first time, and then just a short while later you hear it again. Luckily, for all the platypus fans out there, I can reveal that monotreme venom is not actually fatal. Well done, Carl. Underneath your hairless and sweat-soaked skin lies considerable talent.

The last finalist is Listener and Avenues art critic Andrew from Christchurch:

The Browns Visit the Country

One Sunday the Browns drove to the country after church.

"This is a very pretty village," said Mr Brown, "but not nearly as pretty and well organised as those in Bavaria."

"Yes," agreed Nanny, and then she died because someone shot her. The English are prone to criminality.

"Oh dear," said Mr Brown, "this is a rum do, what?"

There is no police presence in the English countryside, and all rural crime must be solved by elderly spinster women or lesbian gardeners on television. They have a Landrover.

"I wish we had a BMW or a Mercedes Benz, or some other excellent product of German engineering," said the lesbians.

"It was Klaus," said Miss von Marplestein and the two lesbian gardeners.

"Tickety boo," said Mr Brown. "I will now marry Miss von Marplestein because the gardeners are both lesbians and do not like Englishmen. Please now cook me some eggs."

Nanny was displayed in the garden.

Andrew has produced an evocative and moving tribute to English country life. And, incidentally, he should be given full marks for including a subtle allusion to Jake "Cook the Man Some F**king Eggs" Heke. I also suspect that Andrew's lesbian gardeners will greatly enhance Public Address's search engine hits.

And now the winner...

It transpires that I'm terrible at assessing the nuances of quality, and so it seems to me that this can only be judged a three-way tie. On this basis I'd like to declare all three finalists as joint winners of Southerly's inaugural English Writing Competition. Congratulations to you all! I'll be in contact soon to arrange delivery of the prizes.

Furthermore, in the interests of fairness, I shall also award a prize to Morris from Vienna whose superb work was featured in last week's post. Michael from Bavaria's consolation prize (which took the form of beer) has already been awarded.

I had meant to spend my last post of the year doing something of a post-mortem on my first few months at Public Address. But it's getting very late (or very early), and my bed is beckoning irresistibly. So I'd just quickly like to thank all the Public Address readers who have written to me this year -- I really appreciate that you took the time to send me your thoughts.

I'd also like to thank the other Public Address contributors for their helpful suggestions and reassuring words. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to step into Che Tibby's big shoes. I realize that I haven't quite managed to fill them yet -- but I'm working on it.

And on that final note: goodnight and Merry Christmas. See you next year.