Tuesday, June 16, 2015
CHAPTER ELEVEN… MUSIC TO MY EARS...PURRRFECT....OR...TO ALL THE CATS I'VE LOVED BEFORE...AND STILL
The resort was a hive of industry. Much had to be done before the designated re-opening date…8th March.
Our crew on the island wasn’t dissimilar to the United Nations. Amongst us we had a Kiwi, a Dutchman, Brits and Aussies.
The two Pommie fellows sent to help with the renovations etc., were as useless as tits on a bull. They thought they were there for a holiday and acted accordingly. Their respect for the female gender was non-existent. Not once did they clear away their plates after finishing a meal, whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner; nor did they once thank me for a meal I'd prepared for them. I didn't them to bow down in gratitude, but a simple "thank you" would have been suffice. A woman’s place in the world was to wait on them they foolhardily believed. They were soon to discover they’d been living in a fool’s paradise throughout their misguided, ill-informed lives!
Randall and I were there to co-manage the resort; my position was of equal standing to his; but in the eyes and mind of the two tradesmen (and I use the word “tradesmen” very loosely) I was just “the little woman”…all 5ft 9 inches of me! And seeing I was a woman, anything I said was to be taken with a grain of salt…before I added it to their food! They would talk over me and not direct any work-related discussions to me, or include me in them. They wouldn't or couldn't look me in the eye, an immediate turn-off to me if anyone does that to me. They only spoke with Randall…the male. In other words they were rude and ignorant.
Another bad habit they’d picked up while drifting around in their “man’s world” was to toss their empty 375ml beer cans and/or glass beer stubbies onto the rocks fringing the ocean below the staff quarters. My opinion about their practice was soon impressed upon them, leaving the two brainless “builders” with no doubt about my feelings. Randall stepped in and told them to clean up their mess, and to cease and desist from that moment forth.
After they finished their day’s chores and before arriving at the restaurant’s dining area for their evening meal, they’d sit on the verandah of the staff quarters to enjoy a couple of beers. They were welcome to do so to their hearts’ content as far as I was concerned – at day’s end we all enjoyed a few drinks while discussing what had transpired during the day and our work plans for the following day - but the discarding of the empty beer bottles and cans onto the rocks below and into the ocean was a definite “no-no” in my book!
I couldn’t stand either one of the men, and they soon came to know it. I couldn’t have cared less; but more about the despicable two later. I have great difficulty in being a hypocrite. Hiding my disdain for them wasn't one of my talents.
The rest of the crew gathered around the little cocktail bar or around the dinner tables at the end of each day. We enjoyed relaxing and conversing together at that time of the day, but the two Poms rarely joined the rest of us. Their absence never bothered me much. If they didn’t want to join their workmates over a few drinks while planning our next moves regarding jobs to be done that was their prerogative. I found them to be cloudy dampeners on what otherwise were enjoyable, pleasant interludes.
The late-afternoon/early evening get-togethers were good opportunities to get to know each other, too. They were fruitful hours spent. Good working relationships were formed. We were all living together in reasonably close proximity away from the rest of the world on the mainland. Our “happy hour” (which always extended more than an hour, of course ) was a time to wind down.
Naturally, Ruska never joined us. He kept the home fires stoked over in our little studio-style house, sitting out on the deck with a Brown Cow or two in his paws enjoying the sunsets over Cardwell in the west. Brown Cows…for the uninitiated are….Kahlua and milk. And take my word for it…they are delicious! It’s very difficult to have only one Brown Cow…it soon can turn into a fully outfitted dairy – a whole herd!
Building materials were needed urgently to enable us to get the construction of a new jetty underway. Along with other important projects work also needed to begin as soon as possible on the deck and tables planned to surround the swimming pool. As well as the deck planned for the pool area, a covered deck with a loading bay was also part of our plans. The much-needed expansive covered area would extend out from the rear of the restaurant kitchen to meet up with the laundry room. The extension would house a large new cold room and a second, separate dish-washing area. The existing cold room stood out in the open like a pea on a pumpkin! It wasn’t under cover, which meant when it rained one got soaked going to and fro from the kitchen to the cold room – an extremely unsatisfactory, unworkable situation.
However, the resort was the last cab off the rank as far as receiving building materials, and it was understandable. Transport to the northern regions remained disrupted in places and building materials were at a premium. There were shortages all round. We accepted our position at the tail end of "feeding chain".
In the wake of Cyclone Winifred there were many people on the mainland whose needs were far more important, more urgent than ours. Our requirements, if one chose to be pedantic, were mostly cosmetic, except for the jetty. The extension at the rear of the kitchen was by no means cosmetic, for the running of a successful kitchen it was a necessity, but there were many others on the mainland who had lost their homes, businesses and everything pertaining thereto. Their predicaments were more crucial than those of the resorts. We were prepared to stand in line…at the end of the line.
There were other jobs that needed our attention while we waited for the material, not the major works, but minor bits and pieces of renovations etc. Our days weren't being wasted.
Shortly after we arrived at the resort, an order for a load of timber was placed with the hardware shop in Cardwell. They, in turn, had to order the timber from elsewhere. The day finally came - we were advised our timber had arrived.
The two Poms volunteered to take the resort’s old barge across to the mainland to pick up the load and ferry it, slowly, very slowly back to the island. The motor from “Lady” the island’s Abalone powered boat was transferred to the barge to assist it in its journey to and fro from Cardwell. I welcomed a day without their annoying presence hovering about.
Night was descending rapidly when the two men arrived back to the island waters. Darkness soon replaced daylight. They anchored the loaded barge out from where the old jetty had once reached out to sea. Randall asked the blokes to pull the timber-loaded barge into shore as far as possible and tie it up securely, or to take the barge around to the main beach, Orchid Beach and drag it up as close to the shore as possible, and tie it up accordingly so the timber could be off-loaded at first light the following morning. They refused to do so saying, as they rushed off to grab a couple of beers, the barge was fine anchored out where they’d left it. They knew what they were doing...after all, they were experts!
Next morning we discovered through the night the barge had slipped its anchor, overturned and generously donated its cargo to Davy Jones’ locker! We now had a timbered ocean floor out from the island!
Some of the timber had begun to float around the headland…some had already washed ashore onto Orchid Beach, the rest was resting on the sea bed.
To say Randall and I weren’t happy would be one of the greatest understatements ever uttered!
I suggested to Randall we should just get rid of the two men – they were incompetent, cocky hindrances. He said it wouldn’t help sacking them not only because they were actually under the jurisdiction of Quentin, the owner of the resort – they were part of his construction team in his civil engineering company – but we needed the extra hands. Useless hands as far as I was concerned! I didn’t care if they were part of the Queen’s household. I was prepared to kick them off the island there and then, without hesitation, but I my wishes were over-ridden.
Out of character, one afternoon they joined the rest of us for drinks. From the beginning I suspected something was underway in their muddled minds. Before long, they announced their grand scheme. I blew a fuse. I spontaneously combusted! I imploded and exploded simultaneously.
The two bright sparks- the Poms - decided, seeing we couldn't progress with our deck-building etc., until we received the replacement load of timber to cover that which was lost (by them) it would be a good time to remove the roofs off the guest cabins.
It was our intention to replace the existing roofs with new ones, but not before roofing material was on the island! The roofing hadn't arrive and we had no idea when it would; also another delay was in the offering regarding the replacement timber. Our hands were tied every which way but loose!
One mustn’t forget it was the month of February. February in Queensland is a summer month. Summer here in Queensland is our “wet season”. February in North Queensland, otherwise known as “Tropical North Queensland” is hot, humid and awash with tropical downpours later in the day (almost every day). I
In Queensland and, more particularly in tropical North Queensland, summer extends its stay from November (sometimes it pokes its nose in as early as October) through to April. The northern Australian monsoon season lasts, generally, from December to March. Annually, the monsoon trough pays a visit during those months. It hovers above and over the northern areas of Australia, including North Queensland producing heavy rainfalls. During those months cyclones also love to pay a visit or two; sometimes more.
And those two brainless clowns wanted to remove the existing roofs off the guest cabins when we had no roofing on hand to replace the discarded materials! They could’ve starred in their own version of “Dumb & Dumber”!
I leapt out of my chair in disgust and disbelief! Their plan took the cake as far as I was concerned. It was the straw that broke this Aussie camel’s back.
Glaring at them, I fired them on the spot. Wasting no worlds, I told them to get off the island. They were fired. I never wanted to see their useless faces ever again!
Everyone at the table fell went quiet. Randall reached out to me in an effort to sit me back down in my seat, but I shook him off angrily. Nothing he or anyone else could say or do would appease me. My mind was made up.
Randall didn’t back me in that instance, and his lack of support made me even more furious. He was being “hail fellow well met”; being “one of the boys”; and I was having none of it.
I told the two men they were to be off the island first thing the next morning…no ifs…no buts…be gone!
Going straight to the resort’s office, my office, I phoned the Toowong headquarters in Brisbane to inform them of what I’d done and to impress I wasn’t going to back down from my decision. I asked Maree, the company’s bookkeeper/accountant and Quentin’s right-hand-woman to tally up what was owed to the Poms in wages and to deposit whatever was due to them into their respective bank accounts as soon as the bank opened the following morning. This was long before the convenience of online banking etc.
After speaking to Maree in the Toowong office, I rang my brother, Graham in Mackay.
At the time it was off-season in the cane fields. I knew Graham would be keen to have some work until the new season commenced. He was a very capable fellow, one who could turn his hands to most things. I asked if he would like a job on the island for a while, and if so, could he be, if not on the next Greyhound bus headed north, but the next one after that. He answered “Yes” to both questions.
Steam continued to billow out from my nose and ears when I stormed outside to the pool area, to stand alone, looking at the beach and ocean below. I needed space. I needed to exhale and be away from people…for their safety!
Having had enough nonsense for one day, I left them all to it. I couldn't be bothered with anyone. If they wanted to be fed, they could feed themselves. Dinner was half-prepared. It was up to the lot of them to feed themselves. I’d washed my hands of the whole affair. I’d had enough of everyone, but Randall in particular for not standing alongside me in the decision made. The operative term in the whole catastrophe was - "co-managers". It didn't appear to be working!
I didn’t want to be around people. At that moment Ruska was better company for me than any human could ever be. He certainly had a better brain than most of the humans I whose company I was sharing!
Ruska was a very affectionate, sensitive cat, particularly when it came to me. He was my cat and I was his human. He loved to be picked up; he loved being loved. His affectionate ways with me surprised many of our friends when they visited. Many weren’t used to seeing a cat so tender and devoted. I suppose most weren’t “cat” people; and I’ve always been a “cat” person since I was just a toddler. My first best friend in the world was Socksie, my beautiful grey and white tabby, who came into my life when I was about two years old. I wrote about Socksie in a previous post a year or two ago.
With his head under my chin, Ruska loved to snuggle as close as he could into my shoulder. One of his front legs and paws would gently reach up to the side of my face to my ear as if he was hugging me. He could pick up on my mood at any given time. I’ve always talked a lot to the cats I’ve had; and I still do with Remy and Shama, my two cats who’ve allowed me to be a part of their lives for these past nigh on 13 years. My rewards have been their responses, their actions; their love.
They’re more talkative than I am! The majority of times they probably make more sense, too!
Wearily, feeling drained from what had and had not transpired, as soon as I entered the house I sat down on the bed, staring out at the ocean beyond. Ruska came straight to me. There was no doubting he understood something was amiss. To some it might sound whimsical imaginings on my part; but it’s fine…I can live with that.
Randall finally turned up, saying I shouldn’t have done what I’d done, but I told him in no uncertain terms how I felt…about them…and him for not supporting me. We argued a little, nothing too dramatic. He tried to explain his philosophy on the matter, while I counteracted with my own. Randall felt we needed the extra two sets of hands. I reckoned we didn’t because they were useless hands. He said if I was going to sack the two men I should’ve kicked them off the island there and then because overnight the two Poms could do damage if they felt that way inclined. I said they would be even more stupid than they already were if they did so because they had no way of escaping. We surrounded by water. All Randall had to do was go to their boat…they’d arrived to the island by their own mode of transport and would be leaving by the same method…all he needed to do was dismantle the boat’s motor to a stage making it impossible for the motor to start. If push came to shove, I’d do it…with a sledge hammer!
As it eventuated the two fellows left with their tails between their legs shortly after dawn the following morning, leaving no trail of destruction behind them, other than my lack of faith and disgust in some of my fellow human beings.
They skulked off without saying goodbye to anyone. I never expected nor wanted a farewell from them, but I thought they could’ve at least said goodbye to their co-workers. By not doing so they proved their lack of respect for others as well as their disdain for the environment.
Graham, my brother, arrived on the island ready to get his hands dirty well within 36 hours of my telephone call. It was great to have him on board. I felt I had an ally.
And within a day of Graham’s arrival the Army landed with little forewarning.
In the aftermath of Cyclone Winifred troops were sent to assist in the cleaning up of areas devastated by the wrath of Winnie, giving invaluable assistance where needed. The soldiers were on the last leg of their secondment before returning to normal duties when they landed on our doorstep; or should I say - our beach.
Out of the blue, literally, the peace of the resort was suddenly interrupted by an almighty roar. A thundering noise drowned out the calming sounds of the ocean. Ruska would’ve gathered together his food bowls and headed for under the bed.
Rushing to the top of the slope leading down to little cove where the old jetty used to hold court we were confronted by a sight we’d never expected even in our wildest of dreams. There before us rested a huge metal intimidating creature like something we’d never seen before up close and personal. Thoughts of Robert Duvall’s character in “Apocalypse Now” flashed through my mind.
With our adrenaline flowing freely and wildly we hurried down the incline towards the monster. Our clothes clung forcibly to our bodies; our hair was windswept by the hurricane caused by the rotor blades of an UH-1H Iroquois Army Helicopter!
Now I’d seen it all, I thought…until a cockpit door opened. Out from the throbbing helicopter an imposing being began to disembark.
I say “began” because time slowed down; it seemed to take forever for the high-ranked soldier to disembark…all 6ft 6 or 7 inches of him.
In awe of his stature and the aura surrounding him I tried to not to appear rude by staring, but it was nigh impossible not to do so. I think the rest of us watching him dislodge – unfold from the helicopter were in similar states of shock as I was. He was imposing; a large man in appearance, but proportionate. Nothing about him was out of line or place. He was quite the specimen of mankind, to say the least!
With my crazy mind running wild, I immediately nicknamed him “Major-Major-Major”, the character from Joseph Heller’s satirical war novel (and then movie). I kept my thoughts to myself, of course, other than to share them with Randall…when we were alone!
Feeling somewhat stunned still, but managing to disguise our shock and awe, Randall and I extended our hands in greeting. A firm handshake and a smile befitting the man gifted us in return.
Once “Major-Major-Major” had untangled himself from the helicopter the rest of his crew, which numbered three crew, from memory, along with four other soldiers disembarked. They were there to do a job. Standing quietly awaiting further orders from their commander their demeanour showed they took their role in life seriously.
They showed no signs of relaxation as they went about their business.
Randall and I invited our welcome visitors to the restaurant for coffee, but other than “Major-Major-Major” the others politely declined choosing to remain with the helicopter to unload what needed unloading.
The leader of the band of brothers told us we were not to cater for his men; that they would take care of themselves. They were trained to do so; they were accustomed to doing so when “out in the field”. Their arrival was in no way mean to “put us out”.
However, after much “to-ing and fro-ing” a compromise was agreed upon. Randall and I could be very persuasive when we had to be; and, we, too, together could be a force to reckon with. The men were now “out in our field” – and our rules applied!
If the men were going to be using their muscles, time and energy while doing some hard yakka out in the tropical heat and humidity doing us a mighty favour we demanded we return the favour; otherwise their next move would be to re-pack up their kitbags, jump back into the Iroquois and fly off across the waters, over the far horizon!
There was room enough in the staff quarters to house the soldiers during their brief working sojourn. Free reign of the staff quarters, including hot showers were at their disposal. We informed “Major-Major-Major” he may as well save his breath for the work that lay ahead - we’d hear no further argument.
Furthermore, they wouldn’t be catering for themselves in the food and beverage departments, either. My larder was well-stocked. I had food enough to feed an army. I’d always said (and still do) – “I cater enough to feed the army” – so now I could put my food where their mouths were!
It was the least we could do for our men of the Defence Force.