I'm sitting here in my fifth floor Parisian flat (100 years old, no elevator, party-animal neighbours, pigeons nesting in the roof) playing with my wing-wang...I mean "musing" on where it all went wrong. How come some 21 year old Pommy prick can make nearly US$360K in six weeks with a home-based internet business WWW.MILLIONDOLLARHOMEPAGE.COM and I'm scratching to pay my milk bill? (well not really...bit of poetic license)
I mean...I started out so well. I should have been a Millionaire at 15 the way I was going.
First I had the "Funny Smells" idea. I thought it brilliant. I must have been ten, I think. I had the idea of bottling weird and wonderful smells and selling them by the roadside. Not a bad business plan. Except the road I selected to set up my stall was at the top of "The World's Steepest Hill" in Kananook Avenue, Bayview, Sydney, where I grew up.
There was no way any traffic coming up the hill was going to stop to have a sniff of my wares - they were flat out making it to the top half the time. Many a day I saw Mum and the kids having to bail out of the car and walk while Father bravely tackled the hill-climb on his own (saying "I think I can...I think I can" between clenched teeth). And once I even saw a bloke reversing up the hill in a soft-top Morris Minor Tourer - the old side-valve model with the headlights set in the grill. What a hoot! I'm talking a seriously steep grade here.
I'd put a bit of time and effort into this Smelly enterprise. I had the glamour signage - "Funny Smells 6d" written in running house paint on a sheet of old Masonite. I had the Merchandising - the bottles of rotten fish, tar scrapings, paint-thinners, Caustic Soda, farts in a Fanta bottle etc artfully arranged on a blanket. And I had "the Hook" - "Buy One - Get One Free".
I waited all day on the top of that bloody hill. A few cars went by. About one an hour I reckon. Some of the passengers waved. Mostly they just stared in disbelief at this little dickhead manfully holding his sign aloft entreating them to get their Funny Smells before they slipped back down the hill.
The first hour or so was all right. After that I got bored and started sniffing the merchandise. Wasn't it Donnie Brasco who said "Never get high on your own supply"? He must have known something because after a while I started hallucinating and saw thousands of cars streaming up that hill. All heading for Lambe's "Funny Smells" stall. It made me all the more determined. I was sure it was only a matter of time before people caught on and there'd be a run on smells.
But at Three O'Clock I had to concede defeat. The paintbrush came out and it was "All stock must go" "Funny Smells - three for threepence".
My next enterprise was more successful. They say "That which doesn't destroy you, makes you stronger". This time my younger sister and I went into the Toffee-making business. Big time. We cooked up a humungus potful of Sugar/vinegar/Cream of Tartar I think were the ingredients. And poured it into about 6 dozen little pattycake papers. No non-pareils (called "hundreds and thousands" Downunder), no chocolate logs, no shiny baubles on the top. Just your No-Frills Lockjaw. Or Broken-Jaw - depending on the state of your teeth or dentures. Entry-level toffee. I'd already figured there was a better margin in it that way.
This time the product flew off the shelves. Sold like...well hotcakes. We set up our play-shop (with built-in roller shutter) on the main road alongside Pittwater on a Sunday afternoon. With plenty of rubberneck weekend traffic. And this time I went for the jugular. I had a dirty big sign - which I mostly made my waifish sister hold aloft - which read "Our Parets (stet) have left us and we have nothing to eat". We sold those 6 dozen toffees in about an hour flat and skedaddled back up the hill to cook some more. But Mummy put the Kybosh on it when she saw what was written on the sign. And that was the end of "Lambe's Lockjaw". From what I remember, I think she confiscated the profits as well. Maybe that's why I am the way I am.
The Bottle Deposit Racket was a good one. Again, down to Yours Truly. I was a bit older, maybe Twelve, and had more street-smarts or rat-cunning by then. In those days (the Early Sixties) you could claim deposit money back on the glass softdrink bottles. It was a great way for kids to earn some pocket money and help keep parks and public gardens clean. You got threepence for a small bottle and sixpence for the larger ones. We worked this racket for a week until getting busted.
The first time we collected dozens of bottles and lugged them in billy-carts (made from fruit boxes and old pram wheels) to the corner-store to claim the money back. Made a good few bob out of it. We noticed the shopkeeper stacked the bottles in a small yard at the rear of his shop. A small yard with an easy fence for a kid to get over. So yeah...we went over the wall a few times and just kept recycling the same old bottles. "You kids have been busy" says Mr Freckle-Face the Shopkeeper. Perfect racket. Until we got a bit careless and were caught red-handed passing bottles over the fence. He threatened to call the cops and that was the end of that.
We moved into scrap-metal recycling after that. Trawling the waterfront for bits of copper sheet and piping. And sometimes brass and lead. Did quite well out of it but it was a sort of a one-off event. And there were certain occupational hazards associated with rooting around the mangroves, stormdrains and rubbish tips, as well. Four-legged hazards with sharp teeth and long tails - your common or garden variety water-rat (no not Police, that came later).
By thirteen I'd moved into the exotic bird trade. Well I tried to, but once again the old lady put the skids under it. I'd been breeding birds for awhile and they were starting to get a bit out of control. It was time for the "Liquidation Sale - All Stock Must Go".
I laboured all morning on the advertising and I'd only had the sign in the front yard for a couple of hours when the old lady came home and reefed it out of the ground and threw it into the woodpile. Broke my heart. It was a nice bit of succinct copy, too - "BUDGIES FOR SALE". I think she thought it was lowering the tone of the neighbourhood. But at least it didn't say "Budgies For Sale - our Mother doesn't feed us."
Now...where was I...ah yeah...a homepage of pixels with funny smells and budgies. And maybe your deposit back if it doesn't work.
I gotta stop smoking that camel dung.
The Bunger Wars
I hate to sound like one of those old farts that says "Tough! You don't know what tough is...we had bread and dripping for dinner every night...there were six of us in the bed...we slept under a sheet of corrugated iron"...yada yada yada.
I grew up on the shores of Pittwater, Sydney in the Sixties. A time before colour television, video games, mobile phones. A time when you made your own amusements. We didn't sleep under corrugated iron when I was growing up. We used it for building cubby-houses, billycarts and canoes. I'm not kidding. We were resourceful little shits. And that, incidentally, is where we got the corrugated iron - we ripped it off the walls of the public lavatory in the park. I tell you, the council Parks & Gardens workers had a hell of a time keeping up with our grand larceny. Those dunnies had nice clean walls fitted every few weeks, thanks to us - the Midnight Spares crew. It came to an end when they got wise and locked the sheets within a hardwood frame that was impossible to crack. But we retaliated bigtime by regularly kicking over the open dunny-cans and flooding the floor with piss and poos. They must have hated us. And I have to admit I still get the guilts when I think about it. What little bastards we were. Maybe I need to convert and take confession - "forgive me Father for I have sinned...for six weeks in the summer of '62 I pushed over 24 pots of poo".
It was about this time too that the Bunger Wars started. In those days you used to be able to buy fireworks over the counter in the weeks leading up to "Cracker Night". I forget what the celebration was. I know the U.K. had Guy Fawkes Night but I think our Australian Cracker Night was for Federation or the Queen's Birthday or something. Dunno. Don't care. Anyway...you could get really big powerful crackers called "Twopenny Bungers" (pronounced "Tuppenny") that made a hell of a noise when they went off and could be quite dangerous. Every Cracker Night there were kids losing fingers and eyes to these things.
The Bunger Wars of '62 started, like most major conflicts, over territory. The Bayview kids didn't take kindly to the Church Point kids invading their tidal swimming pool and taking over their bike track. So they prepared an ambush against the intruders when the Church Point mob arrived at the pool one stinking-hot summer afternoon. The Churchies were still in the dressing sheds when the first salvo was fired from a Shanghai mounted on a billycart and powered by a bicycle inner-tube. A bucket of gravel rained down on the tin-shed and scared the bejesus out of the would-be bathers. I believe one kid actually shat himself and the others either dived under the benches or ran in terror half-naked past the jeering gang of Bayview boys.
Retribution wasn't long in coming. These Church Point kids weren't sissies. They were hard-core. They lived in the bays and coves next to the Kuringai National Park. They knew all about tiger snakes and funnel-web spiders and Portuguese Man-o-War from the sea. Their Dads, for the most part, were shipwrights or plumbers or fishermen. Hard men. The kids were junior do-it-yourselfers. They were used to fending for themselves - making their own fun. And they had access to tools and workshops. And Boats.
They arrived off the pool a week later in several open launches powered by indoor motors. They stood off and yelled a few obscenities before proceeding to shell the shoreline with Bunger Guns mounted in the bows. These bits of ordnance were lengths of galvanised water pipe packed with a Twopenny Bunger at one end and a charge of gravel and/or ball bearings or glass marbles at the other. And they were lethal. The Bayview kids took shelter in the afore-mentioned dressing-sheds but fled for their lives when one of the projectiles went clean through one wall and out the other. Round Two to Church Point.
No-one was injured in that skirmish but a couple of weeks later a kid nearly lost an eye when hostilities escalated into a full-on battle on the beach outside the sailing club. It involved thirty or forty kids with bunger-guns on billy carts, bunger-guns on boats, glass marbles fired from an old Second World War machine gun, Shanghais, hand-thrown rocks, sticks and whatever else was lying around. The unfortunate ten year old victim was neither a Church Point or Bayview boy. Just some dopey kid that lived in no-mans land and happened to be pumping yabbies on the beach that day. He kept the eye but it was never the same. After that, a truce was called and the kids turned their attention to shelling the armies of Soldier Crabs that bivouaced on the beach at lowtide.
I went back to the Bayview Pool dressing sheds about twenty years after these events and you could still see the hole in the corrugated iron walls where the ball-bearing had gone through. And etched into the timber benches you could just make out "Malcolm Lambe loves Virginia Horton". I did too. I wonder if she still closes her eyes when she kisses. And if she's still got that bunger-gun we stashed under her house.