Saturday 27 July 2013

Homage to my dad - memories from my childhood - happy 70th dad!

On July 31st seven decades will have passed since my father, Michael Kosewähr, first entered this world.  His arrival was heralded by a bombing raid over Berlin in the last years of the war by the Allies. Those same Allies would later mould and shape his life in unexpected ways. Later in life he would marry one of those ‘bloody Poms’ and acquire a son-in-law of Pommy stock.
As a young boy my father grew up under the stalwart care of my diminutive grandmother, Omi, and his older by seventeen years sister, Tante Gisela. My grandfather died in a Russian concentration camp in Buchenwald when my dad was two, leaving Omi to fend for the two of them in post-war Berlin. My aunt became a school teacher and when my dad was old enough he had the (by his accounts dubious) pleasure of having her as his teacher. She showed him no favouritism and one day kept him in after school for detention. Leaving him alone in the classroom to write out ‘lines’ he hastily scribbled his lines – his hand writing still carries that forward slanting speed as though his hand can’t match the pace of his brain fast enough to convey his thoughts on to the paper – he then proceeded to hang out the window, chatting with the gardener, that is, until he was sprung! Tante Gisela dragged him home to Omi whilst my dad landed a sound kick to her shin and declared, ‘You’re so mean! I’m telling mum on you!’ For picture and more stories see my dad's post here
Food was fairly scarce in post-war Berlin so on one occasion Omi was forced to catch the train far into the country to go digging for potatoes for their supper, leaving Gisela in charge of my dad. As the day drew to an end and there was still no sign of Omi returning, Tante Gisela fretted over what might be delaying Omi. My dad however, looked up hopefully at Tante Gisela, and with the logic of every small child said, ‘I hope mum doesn’t come back tonight, then we can have noodles for dinner every night!’ His passion for noodles over potatoes carries certain symmetry now that he’s at the other end of life – he is renowned for his homemade pasta! Sometimes I think he does this to prove once and for all that Germans are NOT ‘potatoe Germans’, which in true neighbouring country ridiculing, is what the Danes call the Germans and the Germans call the Danes. This very argument would, with great regularity, arise when I was growing up, my mum being Danish. She would start a sentence with ‘You potatoe Germans …..’ when she wanted to emphasis the fact that she thought my dad didn’t know what he was taking about, and he would counter with, ‘No, it’s you potatoe Danes that haven’t got a clue….’ Which would always make me giggle because even I knew the Germans (in the north at least, where it’s closest to Denmark) ate lots of potatoes (in the south towards Italy the staple is noodles).
My dad as a teen in West Berlin
My mum and dad before I arrived
After building of The Wall commenced, Omi decided to flee to West Berlin with my dad. Tante Gisela decided to stay in ‘East Germany’ having since married and secured a good home and job. In West Berlin my dad spent summer weekends ‘sailing’ his boat on the nearby lake and when he finished school he apprenticed in a hardware store. On one his holidays, he backpacked up to Denmark. He spotted a lovely girl wearing a green skirt printed with camels sitting outside the youth hostel he was staying at. In a modern variation of ‘How many camels for your daughter?’ he approached her and asked, ‘How many camels are on your skirt?’  As they talked he told her he owned a boat. She was most impressed - that is, until he showed her a photo of his ‘boat’ – a rubber dinghy! Luckily she was so impressed with the camel-line and the promise of bigger boats yet to come that a few years later I appeared.  
My dad with me and my mum at the zoo in Czechoslovakia
As my dad quickly adjusted to married life in Copenhagen, one of his early jobs was working for a ships chandler. There’s nothing quite like the dockside for picking up the essential elements of a new language and my dad soon became proficient in Danish swear words. On a visit to the doctor one day, the poor doctor nearly fell of his chair when he asked his patient, ‘And what seems to be the problem today?’ to which my dad replied in his best Danish, ‘I have a pain in my ARSE!’ Not the polite ‘bottom’ or ‘backside’ or even ‘bum’, which would have been within the realms of acceptability, but ARSE!  Having equal disregard for formal protocol regarding anything to do with Danish royalty, my dad one day on his delivery rounds for the chandler had to return a van load of smoked cod, which had gone off, to the supplier. The rotten cod stunk to high heaven and the less time spent in the van the better, so my dad quickly calculated the most expedient route – this involved a shortcut through Hillerød castle! He thought he would drive straight up to the castle, veer off to the ‘tradesmen’s entrance’ leading around the back and continue on out through the back of the castles grounds, thereby cunningly cutting kilometres off his route – the royal guard on duty had other ideas. He stopped dad’s delivery van and said ‘No unauthorised vehicles past this point!’ My dad said ‘If you would be so kind, I need to return this delivery before I die and this is the quickest route.’ The guard then made the dreadful mistake of sticking his head in the window of the van to see exactly what my dad was going on about and nearly fainted and vomited at the same time. Clapping his hand over his mouth and gasping for breath he waved dad on like the Furies where after him, anything to get rid of the stinking cod!
Hillerød castle
Soon after this, in an effort to escape the lingering scent of rotten cod, my dad took a course in the fledging science of computer languages and went to work for NEUCC (Northern European University Computer Centre) back in the day when a computer would fill an entire room and people were astonished when the thing, after grinding away all night, would eventually spit out the answer to a fairly basic calculation. This gave him unparalled experience in computing science, so when our little family finally decided to set sail aboard the ‘Ellinis’ for Australia, he quickly landed a job with American company Kodak, heading up their fledgling computer division. Kodak sent my dad off on many overseas reconnaissance trips, and on his first expedition to the States he arrived at his hotel, the Avery, that Kodak had booked for him, and presented himself to the receptionist. 'Good evening sir, how many hours are you booked in for?' the man enquired. ' Three days,' my dad replied. 'REALLY?!!' An astonished receptionist replied, 'Sir, we normally only book by the hour here!' looking at dad like he must be in possession of quite some stamina! Yes, unbeknown to Kodak it was THAT sort of hotel!
With his innate ability to quickly assimilate into a new culture, my dad soon embraced Nino Culotta’s ‘They’re a Weird Mob’ Australia. He learnt a ‘tinnie’ could be either a boat or a can of beer, to ‘bring a plate’ to a party did not literally mean just the plate but something to eat, that shortening people’s names was a form of endearment –so my dad who was Michael soon became Mike in his new country-and abbreviating any word and adding an ‘O’ on the end of it showed you had a strong grasp of the language. The milko would drop the milk off by horse and cart in the mornings, the garbos would collect the rubbish, he’d check the speedo on the way to the servo to get petrol and in the arvo at work he’d take a smoko break and talk about the Girl Friday who was probably a lezzo and remember he had to pop in to the police station to pay his rego on the car – a Holden, mate!
Me on top of the beaut Holden station wagon
He built a holiday house up ‘in the sticks’ in Flowerdale and when we went to the outdoor dunny (toilet) we had to check under the toilet seat for redback spiders. One day when he was framing the roof he stuck one leg of the ladder in a bull ant’s nest (those mothers are huge with a bite to match). The bull ants eventually found their way up the ladder and up one of my dad’s trousers – my mum said she’d never seen anyone descend a ladder and whip of their trousers so fast.
BBQ at the front of the house my parents built myself in Flowerdale
Some lessons about the new country were learnt the hard way, like when we took a trip up to ‘the snow’ on Mt Bulla. My dad thought he knew all about snow being from Europe and thought ‘No worries mate, I’ve got this!’ He didn’t account for the fact that the snow in Australia is not soft and powdery like it is in Europe but hard and hence slippery. The old Holden soon slid off the road into a ditch that required my dad to get out and push it out of the ditch. As he strained to push the Holden out of the ditch, a ominous loud ripping noise issued from the region of his 'arse' -yep, he'd split his trousers!
My dad sking on Mt Bulla
We had a Swedish friend Peder Kristensen who had married an Australian girl, Judith. One Christmas when Peder’s parents were out visiting from Sweden, we had them up to stay at Flowerdale so they could experience the ‘real Australian bush’. My mum had bought a smoked leg of ham and hung it from the ceiling, mistakenly thinking that because it was smoked the flies wouldn’t get to it. When she went in to prepare the dinner the ham was crawling with maggots. Not having anything else to give the guests she scraped off the maggots and then proceeded to boil the hell out of the ham – yep, everyone ate the ham, blissfully unaware! The following day we took the Swedes to the local pub and my dad, recently returned from a work trip to America, said to the barman, ‘We’ll have 6 Rusty Nails please’. The barman looked at him like he was joking, saw that he wasn’t and replied, ‘Okay mate, I’ll just have to go get them from the shed out the back.’ My dad had to hastily explain that a ‘Rusty Nail’ was a cocktail of Scotch and Drambuie over ice with a twist of lemon. After a pub lunch accompanied by numerous Rusty Nails,  Peder’s mother was poured back into the Holden for the drive home, singing praises about the marvellous Australian pubs, the marvellous Australian bush, the marvellous anything else she could think of. My dad in fact, enjoyed being a sneaky little drinks saboteur! He had a secret recipe for punch which involved soaking the fruit for several DAYS in brandy or vodka, before topping it up with the rest of the mixers. All the ladies at parties would go for the fruit in the punch thinking that was the harmless part and end up terribly sloshed! We had a mad Egyptian friend Kemi, who brought two girls up to Flowerdale for a visit. After a few ‘harmless drinks’ to stave off the cold winter he started the drive back to Melbourne with his two ladies. Noting that something seemed to be rattling under the car, he stopped the car and in the freezing cold got out to take a look. He slid under the car and about an hour later the girls were like ‘What’s happened to Kemi?’  They got out taking a look and there he was, the poor guy had fallen fast asleep under the car!
Tanja with the pup Wolfy
At this time in Melbourne my dad also indulged in his love for German Sheppards. We had a female called Tanja whom dad used to show. He mated her and we ended up keeping the youngest pup, Wolfy. 
Dad 'showing' Tanja
In our backyard my parents along with all the other migrant Italian, Greek, Australian and Yugoslav neighbours kept ducks and a white chicken. One day the black chicken, belonging to our neighbours over the back fence, decided it would prefer to come and live with us and hopped over the fence. That black chicken knew exactly how long the chain was that Tanja was leashed to and it would strut around just out of reach, winding the dog up constantly. One night Tanja managed to escape her leash whilst we all slept on blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding in the backyard. That black chicken had strutted its last tease and the dog had its day. By the time we awoke the next morning the entire backyard was covered in black feathers and one solitary chicken leg with foot was left sticking up out of the ground. The way to cope with this sort of brutality in 70’s was to sequester oneself in the living room with the sliding doors shut and smoke a joint, which my parents duly did. Tanja was in the hallway outside the living. As the living room filled with smoke it also began to seep under the gap in the sliding doors and Tanja in true sniffer dog style wasted no time in sniffing out this most unusual smell. By the time my parents emerged from the living the dog was walking up and down the hallway on her back!
In the mid-seventies my dad was seconded to set a new ‘microfiche’ company in sunny Western Australia. As he left Kodak and cold Melbourne behind his colleagues presented him with this cartoon which showed the awe he inspired with his computer knowledge. (The cartoon shows 3 men in a computer lab where the size of the computer engulfs the entire room and one of them is saying, ‘You mean it’s going to take two of these things just to replace Kosewähr?’)

This meant seaside living and of course more boats – this time real ones. The first boat was a stinkboat (petrol powered) and it took dad a few goes of running past the fuelling dock before he worked out he had to go against the current not with the current to avoid over shooting the dock. The same boat sprung a leak from the head (toilet) on the way back from Rotto (Rottonest Island) one day and mum and I had to bail like crazy to void sinking in the middle of the ocean. The next ill-fated boat was an old fishing boat and the day after my dad bought it he got a call from the police, ‘I’m ringing to inform you your boat’s just sunk on its mooring in the Swan River’. Then came another yacht and this time whilst my dad was busy playing captains at the wheel with his captains hat on and pipe smoking, he neglected to notice that the mast WAS NOT going to fit under the Canning bridge – oops! When they finally made it out into the ocean on this one my mum, who was fishing, proceeded to haul in a huge blowie (blowfish or puffer fish), landing it much to my dad’s horror in the middle of the cockpit at his feet. According to my mum, Nek Minnit he was half way up the mast.
Taking a break from yachting, once I had finished university my parents decided to pack up and spend a year overlanding it back to Europe.
My dad travelling
My mum had never seen my dad, who is renowned for his patience and sense of equality and justice, hopping mad before, but by the time they reached the Indian city of Lucknow, she could actually say she had witnessed this rare phenomenon. It happened at the Lucknow railway station. They had stood in some semblance of a line for several hours, surrounded by a heaving mass of humanity. Finally it was their turn to approach the ticket counter. As people tried to crawl under my dad’s arms, around him and in between his legs in order to reach the ticket counter ahead of him, my dad was having none of it and as forced his way onward to the ticket counter. The ticket master wobbled his head and said, ‘I am very sorry sir, there are no more tickets available!’ It was at that precise moment that my dad flew into a rage, throwing his bags on the ground, shouting and stomping his feet. This brought a bevy of concerned station officials who escorted the irate foreigner into their offices, offered him tea whilst telling him to ‘Please calm yourself sir!’ and informed that if he wanted tickets all he had to do was slip someone some baksheesh and no problems!

The ill-fated Betty, me with black hair and my dad
In Germany where my dad landed a plum job, they were visited by Australian friends Ted & Betty. One night dad 'cooked' his favourite dinner for them. Everyone really enjoyed Mikes steak tartare, that is until Betty asked for the recipe, discovered the meat was raw and promptly went to the toilet and vomited the whole lot up again! After three years of living in Germany getting paid lots for a job that my dad declared he was never quite certain what it was he was being to do, my parents decided to move back to land of Oz and further yachting adventures, the most infamous of which was reserved for dad’s last yacht, appropriately named ‘Delinquent’
My dad captaining Delinquent
Mum and dad had set of for a few weeks of sailing on a Monday and told me they were heading north for Jurien Bay and would call when they got to port to let me know they’d arrived safely. By the Saturday there had been no phone call, so I figured that seeing as 5 days had passed, it wasn’t unreasonable to be a bit worried and called the police. They promptly initiated a sea search & rescue AND informed the papers – the headlines read ‘Missing Perth Yacht Riddle’ and it was all over the TV and radio. The next day the headlines read – ‘Couple under Fire as ‘Lost’ Yacht Turns Up’. They had set sail northward bound but the winds where playing havoc and not cooperating so my mum and dad decided they would just sail over to Rotto instead (a few hours’ sail west of Perth). They’d been happily moored in one of the bays when they heard on the Sunday morning radio that they were ‘missing, with fears for their safety’. Dad dutifully rowed ashore and with his usual tongue-in-cheek, said to the coast guard, 'My good man, I am here to inform that we are not lost! We know exactly where we are and we have been here all week. You may call the search and rescue off now!'

Not long after this, my parents separated and I acquired a new brother & sister and stepmother.(See my post 'How to get a sister & brother in 10 easy steps) Poor old Delinquent was sold and swapped for a farmlet in the middle of Woop Woop – Popanyinning. Every Australian knows that there’s a universal place called ‘Woop Woop’ located in the middle of nowhere and now my dad had moved there! Strike-a-light Mike – what was my dad thinking? He now had 5 sheep all with pet names who had to be ‘shorn and weathered’, he owned R.M. Williams moleskins, oilskins and boots, cut firewood with a chainsaw for the barbie (BBQ) and road around on a ride-on-mower cutting the firebreaks. Two decades on he still resides in Woop Woop, has just retired from working for the ‘Germans’ (a German company called Inotec who manufacture the world’s best and largest capacity scanners – and who, by the way, love visiting dad in Woop Woop to see the kangaroos and play a round of golf at nearest golf course with its dry bush setting and sand greens – not a skerrick of green in sight) and I hope he can now get on with amusing us with interesting tales of his life and times at his blog and writing that novel! Love you dad, life sure has been entertaining with you! xxx

Picnic in the Pine forest - a family tradition