I bumped into my very old mate Johhny in India of all places. It is a very small world that we live in. Johnny is Tasmanian and he is also a redhead. This is a double curse in any one's book. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Tasmania, it is an island state of Australia. If you are English think Welsh . If you are American think Canadian. If you are Canadian think American.
Tasmanians are the brunt of many Australian jokes. It is a small and rural state that by comparison with other Australian states is cold and miserable. Tasmanians are a very simple people. There is often speculation that Tasmanians inbreed. Here is a Tasmanian joke. It is a letter from a Tasmanian mother to her Tasmanian son:
I'm writing this letter slow because I know you can't read fast. We don't live where we did when you left home. Your dad read in the newspaper that most accidents happen within 20kms from your home, so we moved. I won't be able to send you the address because the last Tasmanian family that lived here took the house numbers when they moved so that they wouldn't have to change their address.
This place is really nice. It even has a washing machine. I'm not sure it works so well though: last week I put a load in and pulled the chain and haven't seen them since. The weather isn't bad here. It only rained twice last week; the first time for three days and the second time for four days.
About that coat you wanted me to send you, your Uncle Stanley said it would be too heavy to send in the mail with the buttons on, so we cut them off and put them in the pockets. John locked his keys in the car yesterday. We were really worried because it took him two hours to get me and your father out. Your sister had a baby this morning; but I haven't found out what it is yet so I don't know if your an aunt or an uncle. The baby looks just like your brother...Uncle Ted fell in a whiskey vat last week. Some men tried to pull him out but he fought them off playfully and drowned. We had him cremated and he burned for three days. Three of your friends went off a bridge in a ute. Ralph was driving. He rolled down the window and swam to safety. Your other two friends were in the back. They drowned because they couldn't get the tailgate down. There isn't much more news at this time. Nothing much has happened. Love, Mum
P.S. I was going to send you some money but I had already sealed the envelope.
I have known Johhny for a long time – for more than twenty five years in fact. As well as the bane of being Tasmanian Johhny is also a redhead. I have repeated this fact for emphases. Johnny is a ginger nut. He is a bluey. He is a Ranga. He has been the subject of taunts and jokes all of his life.
Many redheads are.
Johhny has been living in Asia for a long time. He has done stints in Manila and Hong Kong and Bangkok and like me he now lives in Singapore. It was bizarre to bump into him in India. I haven't seen him in Singapore for ages. Neither of us knew that each other was here. India is a country with a population of more than one billion people so the statistical likelihood of us running into each other is extraordinary.
Like many redheads Johhny is freckled. We all know that freckles are skin blemishes. They are clusters of concentrated melanin on the skin. Freckles are also known as 'ephelis' and they are most common on redheaded people and are exacerbated by exposure to the sun.
The word 'freckle' is a fine one and it is Old Norse in origin. It is derived from the word "fracklen" which means 'spotted'. I quite like writing it and saying it. I will write it again just for the pleasure of it. Freckle.
I occasionally call Johhny 'Freckles' and he doesn't mind.
He has been called much worse.
Johhny and I only had time for a quick coffee and a chat in India. We are both here for work and we had a day full of meetings and other such nonsense. It was a pity as I enjoy Johhny's company a lot.
We reminisced a bit - as Australians often do when they haven't seen each other for a while. We caught up on each other's news. Johhny reminded me of his fiftieth birthday a couple of years ago. He is a few years older than me although he looks much older.
Redheads whither early.
We talked fondly about Johhny's birthday celebration in Phuket which is a resort island in Thailand. It was a black tie and mens only event at a mansion in a place called Cape Panwa. More than fifty close friends gathered in Phuket from all around the world for Johhny’s birthday. He is a very good bloke and he is well regarded by his mates. We all like him a lot. The tuxedo was a ridiculous idea though as it was more than forty degrees centigrade and steaming hot.
We all baked.
The evening started with several rounds of gins and tonic and Pimms and ginger ale on the outside deck of the mansion. Everyone was so hot and thirsty in their tuxedos that drinks were hurled down.
It was drunken carnage after a couple of hours.
Johhny had asked me several weeks before the event whether I would give a speech at his birthday celebration and I told him that I would. As I have already mentioned I have known the Tasmanian for a long time and I was honored to be asked. As I quite often do when asked to speak at friend's milestone events - I wrote a poem. Johhny knew this and he was I think expecting the same. I have written and orated several poems for other events. I scribed one for my best mate Berty's wedding and I have occasionally slipped some home written prose into other public speaking gigs that I have done. People seem to like it.
It is a bit different from run-of-the-mill speeches.
In Johhny's case the poem was more of an ode and we referred to it as 'The Ode' in fact. Johhny sent a copy of the ode that I wrote for his birthday to me just now - by email. He asked for an electronic copy of it after the party and he has kept it.
I was struggling to think of anything to write about tonight so it gave me fodder for this post. The poem is unremarkably titled "An Ode to Johhny".
It is a very far cry from my best piece of prose but you need to keep in mind the context and the audience. It was written for a redheaded Tasmanian to a crowd of drunken animals.
Here it is:
An Ode to Johnny
Well Johnny is a mate of ours
We’re here today for him
To celebrate his fiftieth
With wine and beer and gin
So here we are in suits and ties
And some of us in jackets
Gathered from around the globe
From different social brackets
And me I’m charged with the task
To tell you one and all
Of how this boy from Tassie
Does drive us up the wall
So how do I commence this job?
And what have I to share?
Well I’ll start at the beginning
And I’ll work my way from there.
So let’s wind back the clock a bit
Well fifty years in fact
When John was just a twinkle
In the eye of his Mum Pat
1960 was the year
That Cassius Clay he fought
And Ben Hur won the Oscars
And Adolf Eichman caught
Belgian Congo ‘came a nation
The Aswan Dam was shaped
And from a womb in Tasmania
A red-haired boy escaped
And for those that don’t know Tassie
It’s where inter breeding thrives
Where cousins marry aunties
And cattle become wives
So John’s brother is his uncle
And his mother is his sis
And when he sees his family
It’s with their tongues they kiss
So 50 years ago
This ginger nut did drop
A wailing and a screaming
And still he does not stop
The doctor at the birth of John
Was quite unsure of gender
For tiny cock this boy did have
All shriveled small and slender
This little cock remains just that
The subject of much mirth
Some call him little Johnny now
By length and width and girth
But I’ll not dwell on such matters
Which are crass and somewhat cruel
For we must not measure Johnny
By the length of his small tool
Nor should we measure Johnny
On his claims he is neglected
For ugliness is subjective
And looks can be corrected
What can we say of Johnny then
That all of us agree?
We know he loves to wine and dine
As long as it’s for free
We know that he loves tennis
We hear that he’s well read
He claims he does play cricket
Can’t bat or bowl it’s said
We know he’s on his second wife
The first one was from Rome
He’s very good in bed he says
Especially when on his own
And John he thinks he’s charming
And he has some charming ways
But sometimes he’s delusional
For sex he mostly pays
Well I better say some nice things now
In this hero ode of mine
Coz Johnny’s quite a decent chap
He tells me all the time
He isn’t cruel to animals
He doesn’t chop down trees
He sometimes buys me coffees
And he gives to charities
He’s happy when he’s drunk
And he sometimes likes a toke
All in all he’s not too bad
And quite a decent bloke
Oh Johnny, Johnny, Johnny
Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, John
I am running out of words here
And I feel I’m still not done
For I have not yet mentioned Carlton
His beloved football team
And I have not told the story
Of why his favourite colour’s green
And I haven’t broached the subject
How he wooed sweet Tsesko san
Nor why she still is with him
When she could be in Japan
Nor have I mentioned nudie days
With Katrina – in Manila
Her skin was brown but his was not
Twas much closer to vanilla
How rambunctious is our Johnny
Much what he says preposterous
To some of us his words are wise
But to most he’s just obnoxious
And so my friends I’m all but done
I think I’ve said enough
Coz all this rhyming’s done me in
And words are not my stuff
So can I ask you one and all
To rise now and please stand
And lift your glass to Johnny boy
Our half centurion man!
It was good to see old Freckles again and how strange it was to bump into him in India.
We have made arrangements to catch up soon back home in Singapore.