Saturday, September 22, 2012

Columbo Memories

Inspiration for posts come from all directions, this time Dina is the culprit.

I was a teenager and good friends with a neighbour. Ann and I used to hang around together and no one could make me laugh like she could. Her mother Phyllis worked in a dress shop, and late night shopping Friday nights Ann and I would keep her mother company at the shop and walk her home.

I also grew to know and became friends with the owner of the shop. The last time I saw Bette, she and husband were running a milk bar with an attached residence in North Fitzroy.

The clothing shop was quite upmarket and Bette always looked so glamorous. Although she was short, her black hair was always teased up very high and with high heels on, she had quite a presence. Once when Bette was unwell, the local paper boy, Rick, and myself visited her at home. We were so shocked to see her hair down, dressed in casual clothes and without makeup. Had we seen her on the street, we would not have recognised her. Bette also spoke very well, a plumb in her mouth as my step mother used to say, yet she was anything but a snob. My father did some building work for her and they got on like a house on fire. I did notice them being slightly flirtatious with each other. Maybe she had tradie (tradesman) fantasies.

If anyone was a bit posh, it was Phyllis. She was tall and carried herself very well. But she had the catholic habits of smoking and drinking, always repenting at mass on Sundays.  Once home on a Friday night, Phyllis would kick off her shoes, open a bottle of beer and we three sat in the lounge and watched the tv show Columbo. It was a fantastic show back in the days when the US used to make extremely entertaining television, and if you ever get a chance to watch an episode, do so. I hope it is not better in my memory that it actually was.

As we watched tv, at some point Ann's father would arrive home from the pub. Phyllis would ignore him as he stood swaying in the doorway, saying nothing for at least ten minutes until eventually Phyllis would say, 'Can you bugger orf Norm', and a few minutes later he would burst out, 'Bed for me. No funny business now', and I could feel his eyes staring into the back of my head.  'No Mr Hutchenson, good night'.

By this time Phyllis was on her second bottle of beer and getting quite cheerful. By the end of Columbo, her words were becoming slurred and as step mother mentioned once, she rather loses her poshness when she has a drink. I can recall she would always lose her 'g' from ing words after a drink.

For how long did this Friday night ritual go on? I can't remember. Months? More than a year? It all came to an abrupt end when Ann was diagnosed with a brain tumour and a month or so later died at the age of sixteen. I last saw Ann at the Peter MacCallum hospital and to see her without hair, thin and trying to smoke an Escort cigarette (join the club,join the club, join the Escort club) was quite distressing. I left the hospital and caught one of the new fangled lurching Z trams to the station. The seated conductor was very disagreeable. I don't recall going to Ann's funeral or ever seeing Phyllis or Norm again.

I carried this photo of Ann around in my wallet for a few years and rather ruined what I think is the only photo of her I have.

Yes, Ann did have a big set of knockers, but they were of no interest to me. Her laughter and wittiness was. It was she who was warned by the school nuns to not talk to boys through the cyclone wire fence, lest she became pregnant. Hmm, it is possible.


  1. This is such a touching remembering of an old friend and those close to her Andrew. How interesting people are!

  2. Anonymous9:42 am

    i agree, i liked this story very much

  3. Memories never disappear and sometimes when they reappear they are clearer than we thought possible

  4. There's something wonderful about recalling people who left a positive mark on our lives. She was obviously very special for you to have carried that photo around for so long.

  5. Colin1:37 pm

    Yep completely agree - US 'sitcoms' and serials have gone backwards - all canned laughter now.
    My favourites were Hawaii Five 0 and Hawaiian Eye.
    That was a very moving tribute that you wrote about that lady. Well done. Some people are really so precious to us all, especially when we are young.
    PS: You'll be pleased to know that I now have sorted out this coding system on products.

  6. Colin1:54 pm

    Oh I forgot!
    I could tell you about wire,cyclone and barbed wire fences from my PNG teaching days, when I was at Dregerhaffen, a big war time base for injured men in
    WW2. Two boarding schools, boys and girls - up to Grade 6! Now in those days (1963/64) some of these pupils were my age - 20! The girls lived in far better accommodation, the boys in the old time hospital buildings. Virtually falling down.
    The female teachers at the girls school lived in dread of "predators" of the night for their girls. But woo they did, in the dead of the night - barbed wire was no obstacle - ha ha!
    Very difficult for the teachers at the boys school to find out just who was the culprit! Ah those were funny days indeed.

  7. Anonymous3:02 pm

    That really was a lovely story. It's nice to remember the people who have touched our lives.

    Columbo was also regular viewing in my family. Every week we'd think he wouldn't work out who the culprit was but he did - magic! V.

  8. Amusing tale of PNG, Colin. Neither cyclone or barbed wire could stop the human sex drive.

    V, he was such an apparent bumbler. What name did he use for his wife?

  9. oh what a tragedy dying so young. Such lovely memories Andrew.

  10. It was very sad indeed Fen.

  11. I remember Columbo! We loved it and I don't think we missed any episodes, but I can't remember much about it now, except the scruffy trench coat, hat and cigar.
    Sad to read about your friend. There are places that can restore old photos that have been damaged.
    Why not have Ann's photo restored and framed?

  12. River, I might get it restored, but it is not cheap. I priced another photo once and it was about $100 and it wasn't in such bad condiontion.

  13. Anonymous3:31 pm

    very sad to die at 16, sympathy from me for your loss then.
    At the time, the Columbo dialogue was one of the best things on TV ... "oh wait, just one more thing, um ... " and the state of his trenchcoat must have inspired people to put in their drycleaning next day.

    was the Bette boutique in Swan St 1972?
    annie o'd

  14. Ann, Bette's upmarket shop was in a downmarket country town, but there must have been some aspirationals who lived there.

  15. I'm sorry about your friend dying.

    It's very sweet that you carried around her photo for awhile.

    And now it's on your blog. That's very cool.

    I like reading about your teenage memories.

    Your friends sound fun.

    When you told me you might write this post I was worried it would be boring to me. Can't say I'm all that interested in Columbo.

    But I would have felt obligated to read...since I'm an American.

    Or maybe I could have left that job to Rubye Jack.

    American television is STILL good. I have to disagree with you there.

  16. Dina, we will agree to disagree about American tv. Mind, I don't think much of ours either.