by Blake Dawson* <email@example.com>
From the Preface to Chapter 1:
If you like to read this kind of story but are concerned about possible legal implications, work to change the law! If you don’t, why are you here?
*Blake Dawson is the person the otherwise anonymous author would be if “trading places” became magically possible.
Our plane to Europe was not to fly out till late in the evening, but I was up at the crack of dawn making sure I had everything I would be taking ready and packed. Before breakfast, I had already got mum to double check what I had laid out, and by the time I would usually have been getting out of bed on a winter Saturday, I had both my big bag and my little bag packed and closed by the door. By mid-morning I was driving mum and myself crazy with my less well planned efforts to gather everything that my brain might need for the trip, when she came up with a much better idea for what I should do with the rest of what had turned into a very pleasant winter’s day. “In just three weeks we will be on our way home again, so you could do something to make sure you will be as enthusiastic about that as you are about leaving. Why don’t you take yourself out for a few hours and check out all your favourite haunts so you can keep a space in the back of your mind for the reasons we call this place home?”
By early afternoon I had found my way to the track to my most secret hideaway, a long overgrown diversion from a track down to one of our less fashionable beach coves. There had always been a tiny break in the bushes along this track where soft grass grew so tall you only had to sit down to be completely hidden from everything but the clear blue sky. “Cap’n.” As I reached the grassy spot, I was confronted by a familiar unruly crop of red hair in mock salute just where the track emerged at the other side of the clearing. “What the fuck are you doing ... here?” Not expecting an answer, I quickly remembered that young Nicholas O’Donnell lived a lot closer than I to this tiny paradise .. and that the last time I had seen this cheeky brat to speak to was at my final Under 12 presentation night. He was the kid who had been happy to go back to the B team when I got Sean Douglas promoted after Bermagui. With two more years Under 12 Nicholas had struggled a bit in the few games we had given him in the top team, but dropped back to win the batting award for the latest bunch of tackers, which reminded me of something I didn’t get a chance to do on that presentation night. “Well seeing you’re here I should at least thank you for saying something nice about me when you got your trophy ... but you can still cut that ‘Cap’n’ shit. That’s many months behind us.” By the time he rediscovered his tongue it was inches from my face: “Orders, always orders ...” he mocked, about me rather than to me, but with a twinkle in his eye and a tone of voice that made sure even I knew it was a game.
I just grabbed him and we rolled into the grass, finishing up with him on top of me. We locked eyes momentarily, then he planted the hottest kiss I have ever had on me and we just held it for what must have been ten minutes, until he sensed my mind starting to wander. “You still don’t know do you?” he teased. And it hit me. He must have been Cherie’s lover. “Look after her, I’m going to marry her one day.” “She told me that.” This time I kissed him, and it must have lasted twice as long as we playfully explored each other’s mouths, but never quite regained the passion of that first contact. Finally I broke off: “I’ve gotta go to England.” Not a bad line, and true. “If you want your arse fucked properly in a couple of years, give me a call.” “Do you propose to everybody you come here with?” The half hour’s further kissing that the little smart arse deserved did not happen right then and it would not have added any more to my reasons to call our little trampled nest home. I grimaced in defeat, we untangled, bounced to our young feet and started to continue on our opposite tracks. “Stay lucky” he called over his shoulder, and I had to admit I was. We kept our date.
It was only when I couldn’t read the signs of the road out of Schiphol that I suddenly appreciated the distance that now separated me from all I knew and loved, with the exception of mum that is and various things I had stashed in a couple of bags. We had planned Sunday in Amsterdam to find our feet after the eternity in the plane. As soon as we had checked in and freshened up, the unavoidable feeling of excitement and a calm and mild European summer’s day saw us out exploring the downtown which we finished off with a canal tour that showed me why they called this the “old world”. If one of Sydney’s storm water outlets had been half as yucky as these tourist canals our local greenies would have had it blockaded. Next morning, mum had an appointment with a Dutch firm which had an international reputation for its work in mum’s field, so I was free to explore. Doing anything but follow the day before’s tracks, I quickly found myself in the old quarter, where I found the narrow lanes to be even more exotic than the meat in their windows. Business must have been quiet for a just turned 12 year old to become the target of come ons from more than one of the ladies. Of one I enquired: “Don’t you have any men here?” my intended meaning being apparently lost in the translation as she replied “I am sure you will be man enough.” Beating my retreat back across the centre of town, I found the modestly labelled entrance to the “Blue Boys Club” which I very naively thought might have been a place a kid like me might visit. With the wisdom of hindsight, if I had known the Dutch translation for “age of consent” I might well have talked my way past the doorman, and the rest of this story may have been very different. Mum rendezvoused with me for late afternoon profiteroles, from where we went back to our hotel room and jet lag finally struck.
After sleeping around the clock, it was almost time to leave for London. Mum had spread her appointments to leave us plenty of time to take in the symbols of empire, but they proved so old and tired that browsing the shops became our main entertainment, or, when I was left to my own devices, exploring all of the places which I could recognise from my old Monopoly game at home. The papers were all cricket—almost entirely bemoaning the Poms’ disastrous form, but I managed to discover where the Australian team would be holding their final practice session and got there in time to see them close up. Mum and I had pre-booked seats for two days of the test which was as much as I could reasonably expect her to put up with, but I found that I would be able to wangle my way in on the coat tails of a visiting New South Wales official who actually recognised me, and I finished up scoring four days of an England test on location in Mr Harris’s “outdated” scorebook, before it was time to fly on to Boston.
Mum wanted to spend as much time as possible at a trade show, and my first look at the real America convinced me it would be a better idea to tag along with her than to try to explore independently. Unlike many of my sports mad mates back home, I had never really bothered with the marketing hype exported by American baseball and basketball and so had no basic starting points. I actually found ways to be useful to Mum in the battle for attention on the show floor, and some of the associated events were at interesting places like the Computer Museum. On the second day a man caught my eye, and I realised that I had seen him somewhere before. In perfect Strine he enquired what brought me to this side of the planet, and I told him about “our” little graphics arts business. I spotted mum nearby and called to her to join us, introducing her to Malcolm Forsyth by reading the name on his visitor badge, and him to Elaine Dawson, noting my amazement that we had to travel half way round the world to meet somebody who only lived three suburbs away. Malcolm handed us each a business card, suggested we should catch up back in Sydney, then turned quickly and headed for the men’s.
After we finally got back to our hotel that evening, mum asked rhetorically if I knew Forsyth ran one of the biggest graphic agencies in Sydney, then, more insightfully, whether I had really just met him there for the first time. I conceded that I had been blading through the Cross one day early in the winter hols and had asked him for the time, following which I chatted to him for long enough to establish that he was a local and then split. She saw this contact with Forsyth having the potential to open a really big door for her little business and started to scheme that if he really had the hots for me that I could convince him to put some of his business her way. She even switched to the “our business” line that I had invented and went to great pains to tell me how valuable my efforts at the show were in helping her get to people she needed to. I certainly had no moral objections to mum prostituting me, especially if the price was high enough, but the strains of the trip must have been dulling her brain more than it was mine. “Mum. Mum. Mum. No. No. No. You keep telling me not to take unnecessary risks and now you go and complicate this little opportunity out of all proportion. It’s really very simple. If he really is keen to get involved with me, the best and simplest thing you can do is to take that business card he gave you, walk in his front door and ask for some work. He will then have the clear path to develop a close enough working relationship with you that will then bring him into contact with me. Grrrr!”
On our final evening in Boston we headed for Faneuil Hall with some international representatives of a product which mum was localising for an Australian distributor. Having taken our food and drinks to an outside table to relish the twilight, who should turn up with a bunch of suits and plant himself two tables away than Mr Forsyth. I caught his eye, mum and I waved politely and he waved cheerily back. “Friends from home” I could read on his lips.
Our last leg was to be in California, staying a few days in Silicon Valley before driving right down the coast to San Diego and flying home out of LAX. Mum was actually going to try driving a hire car on the wrong side of the road, a point she always answered by repeating a warning that the real danger was to pedestrians who looked the wrong way before crossing the road. Even though traffic had been on the right in Amsterdam and Boston, she had reserved our final Sunday to get oriented to the traffic conditions, although she still did not admit any concerns about her driving. Turning left out of University onto El Camino, intending to return to our motel after lunch, I spotted some familiar costumes and movements that looked quite at home amongst the eucalypts on the playing fields to our right. Doing a quick mental check as to what was in the bag I had left in the trunk overnight, I asked her to take the next turn right. Such an unanticipated request really tested her driving but we made it and eventually pulled up next to a small pavilion on the Stanford University campus where twenty-two primarily Anglo and south Asian expatriates were playing a cricket match. Going into San Francisco would have to wait a while. I found a couple of Australians and mum found somebody who worked for one of the companies she was going to visit. The Stanford bowlers were being belted all over the park on that pleasantly warm afternoon and with ten overs still to bowl the Economics Professor who was one of their quicks hobbled off with a hammie. They didn’t have a 12th man to take his place, so I mentioned to the nearest fielder that I had my whites in the car and he got an ok for me to put them on. Coming on fresh it wasn’t hard for me to impress on the field, and with an over to go the opposing captain rubbed salt in from over the fence: “Why don’t you give the kid a bowl—he couldn’t do any worse.” “We would if you’ll let us.” And they did. If any of the profs had been able to catch, I might have had three wickets. So during the break they all agreed that they might as well let me bat as well, and mum agreed as long as I went in early. The only trouble was she forgot to tell me that I was also supposed to get out early, so we didn’t get to see much of down town Frisco that night.
The old rocker instincts that mum had suppressed for 13 years had us spending a night in Monterey, and next day we only made it to Point Lobos before this magically different coast stole half a day and made us late and hurrying past the better known attractions of Big Sur and San Simeon. Next day we made it to one last business meeting in the San Fernando Valley oven before really getting to know the Los Angeles freeways.