A little while ago Cyranny was expressing a degree of surprise to discover that Australians enjoyed hot Christmases and asked for further information on the subject here
I was recalling only this morning, to someone else, a story my father told me of a Christmas long ago and I thought, then, that I might share it whilst it was still in my mind. The story is true but the names (I’m not sure why) have been changed. Forgive the lack of editing, please.
My father flew as a decorated bomber pilot during the Second World War. At the age of 19 or 20 he commanded four-engined aeroplanes on raids over Germany where he dropped explosive devices on people he had never met before. Those people, quite understandably, did everything in their power to kill him. What must have this felt like? I don’t know. According to Dad it didn’t much feel like anything. Not something he could describe, anyway.
I mention the war only because it presented something of an abrupt professional turning point for my father who had, until that point in history, been carving out a career in journalism and who had, like the son who would follow him, held vague aspirations to represent his country in Rugby Union.
The war changed all that. In the late 1940’s my father found himself at the crest of a wave that was to become the Australian aviation industry, although it was little more than a ripple at that point, of course. He flew DC3’s around New South Wales and Queensland and would continue to fly them all over the world for much of his life. He accumulated fifteen thousand hours of flight time in DC3s alone (he flew a lot of other stuff as well, including 747s), and so it could be that he was the most experienced DC3 pilot in history. I don’t know.
The peacetime crew of a DC3 comprised of 3 people. A Captain and a first officer (let’s call them Dave and Geoff), who were always male, and a flight hostess, who was always female.
Aviation stops for no one. Pilots and their crew often find themselves working over Christmas. And so it was that one hot Christmas Eve my father and his crew stayed overnight in an outback Queensland hotel during a week long trip away. To mark the occasion they met for dinner in the bar and enjoyed a few cold drinks. The flight hostess, according to my father’s report, was a remarkably attractive young lady (let’s call her Deborah), but also a sensible one, who excused herself well before midnight to go to bed. My father and the first officer continued drinking a while longer and struck up a conversation with the publican.
Life on the land in Australia after the war was not easy. When times are hard for farmers the next in line to suffer are the publicans, many of whom (allegedly) looked towards insurance companies for a solution. In outback Queensland there was something of an epidemic of ‘electrical faults’ and ‘lightning strikes’ resulting in hotels being burnt to the ground.
On this particular Christmas Eve my father enquired as to how things were going for this particular publican.
“Well, mate,” was the reply, “let me put it this way. If things don’t turn around soon I won’t be here next Christmas.”
“Oh, yeah?” my father responded in jest and grinned at his first officer, “then if you push a couple of beers our way tonight we’ll see what we can do about burning the place down.”
The publican said nothing. He poured two beers. And two pilots didn’t pay for any further drinks that night.
Eventually, having had perhaps more beer than is medically recommended, those two pilots stumbled off to bed. It must have been very early on Christmas Day that my father was woken from one dream and ushered into another one. Deborah was standing above him dressed in almost nothing and whispering in his ear. As she was stroking his shoulder he could feel not only her sweet warm breath on his forehead but also the soft touch of her breast as it brushed against his skin.
She seemed to be suggesting, none too subtly, sexual congress, and for a few beautiful moments my father imagined that all of his Christmases had come at once. He was a little shocked, however, to hear that she may also have been suggesting a threesome.
And as he continued to wake from his slumbers my father gradually began to realise that he may have slightly misinterpreted the message. Deborah, it seemed, was not gently arousing him and speaking softly of love. She was, in fact, shaking him violently and yelling at him.
“Dave, you fucking drunk, wake up!” she was screaming, “The fucking pub is on fire! I’ve already woken Geoff. We’ve got to get out of here!”
And so it was that in the early hours of one Christmas Day during the late 1940s, in sweltering Queensland heat, my father found himself gathered with others in front of an old wooden pub as it burnt to the ground. At one point, it is reported, the publican appeared amongst the assembled crowd in the same clothes that he had worn the previous evening when serving free beers. Upon noticing that everyone else was wearing bedtime attire (or less) he disappeared, only to materialise shortly afterwards dressed in pyjamas.
I don’t know what really happened that night. My father was a little unclear about it himself. Perhaps there was a lightning strike or a wiring failure. That’s what I choose to believe, anyway.
Hopefully the insurance company believed it too.