Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Underbelly Experience

In another life I was a policeman.  No secret there, I’ve mentioned it a few times in past posts and also posted photos of me in uniform at various times.  But I haven’t spoken a lot about some of the things I did and it’s probably getting far enough in the past now that I can start to mention a few things without causing any harm to anyone.

In the early 80’s the witness protection program in Australia was in its infancy. Some joint Federal and State police task forces had been set up and were concentrating on organized crime, specifically the drug trade and there was no bigger unsolved crime at that time than the disappearance and presumed murder of Donald McKay.

In the mid 80's I was attached to the Protective Security Groups within the Victoria Police and late one shift around 20 of us got called into a meeting with one of our Inspectors.

"I'll open by saying that you are about to be briefed on a highly confidential matter and if you choose to accept it your lives may well be in danger."

Well as you might imagine that got our attention.

"None of you have to stay unless you want to," he continued, "but if you want to then you should leave now."

We all looked at each other and not one left.  It was then we were introduced to a Vicpol copper who had been working in a joint task force and he commenced to brief us on a criminal investigation that we were told reached into the highest echelons of government and had the potential to see some very high profile people charged with major criminal offences.

The case he was talking about was the murder of Donald McKay and we were to be used to protect some of the key witnesses in the case.   The person we were to be baby sitting was Gianfranco Tizzone and his family.  Tizzone had turned on his boss Robert Trimboli and decided to give evidence against him.   During the briefing we were told that Frank had a lot more to tell and that as it unfolded we would be amazed at what would come out.

So over the next year or so we did look after Frank and my memories of him are mainly to do with his ordinariness.  A small man who wore an Andy Capp hat, polite and soft spoken, but here was a man who was deeply involved in the drug trade and who had been a key person in the murder of an anti-drugs campaigner.

I have to say that over the ensuing years our witness protection methods changed significantly.  At this time though we were very much learning on the job.  Tizzone owned an asparagus farm and in order to keep him happy and to ensure that he kept giving the investigators information it was decided to actually house him and his family there.

It was an old post war farm house with a bungalow and a few large sheds housing tractors and other machinery at the rear.  We boarded up the doors and windows and left only the back door as an escape route and had an armed guard stationed there 24/7. 

We lined half the shed with panelling and set it up with a lounge suite and camp kitchen.  The bungalow became our sleeping quarters and there were four other observation posts around the property from which we recorded the registration numbers for every vehicle that came up and down the road.

I remember having to scramble out of the bungalow quickly one night after a shot gun blast went off.  Turned out to be a colleague on guard on the rear patio who fell asleep in the wee small hours of the morning and jerked a shot off through the ceiling.  Needless to say he was banned from that work for a few months afterward.

At the time our boss was Chief Superintendent Chippy Norton.  Chippy was an ex Scotland Yard Metropolitan policeman what had been in Vicpol for a long time and risen to that rank years earlier.  Hard nosed, tough but fair, I had a lot of respect for him. 

Every shift we had to parade and had a uniform and equipment inspection.  He took great pride in us looking at our best in uniform all the time and I remember one morning standing next to a colleague on parade and quivering in my boots as Chippy stormed out onto the roof, smoke billowing from his pipe, pointing and yelling "YOU!   YOU!" at the top of his voice.  I breathed a heavy sigh of relief when he dragged my colleague from beside me and asked him to pull up his right trouser leg.  Instead of his standard uniform issue black socks this bloke was wearing footy socks and chippy had caught a glimpse of them when he raised his leg coming to attention at the start of the parade. 

I did get a major dressing down from him at one time when I was late to an appointment with him after getting stuck in a lift for half an hour at Russell Street Police Station.  Lifts were banned for us, we had to use stairs because he saw it as a way to aid in our fitness, so when I came clean and told him why I was late I copped a mouthful.

Chippy was one of those blokes who could rip shreds of his men, but woe betide anyone else who tried to do the same thing.  He went to bat for anyone under his command and wouldn't let anyone criticise any of us.

Early on when looking after Tizzone he visited the property with a high ranking Federal Policeman.   Right around the perimeter of the house we had set up strings of hootchie cord with bits of metal attached at intervals set to rattle against other bits of metal is anyone tripped over them.   They were made from bits and pieces we found lying around the arm and served the purpose.  This particular Federal copper offered chippy some electronic surveillance equipment which was politely refused.

The farm was primarily used to grow asparagus but also had an annual crop of wheat.  That made it difficult for us because the view away from the shed at the rear of the property quickly became obscured by the wheat as it grew.  Line of fire now wasn't working in our favour and we later were told that Christopher Dale Flannery aka Mr Rentokill had cased the place and told people he could have taken Tizzone out but wasn't confident of getting away.

We spent a week on week off for months looking after this bloke and later on went into an apartment in St Kilda Road.   After the court case started he was separated from his family and we had him at another location in the city.  I'm not convinced that part of the reason for the change wasn't simply to save money.  In the city we could work three shifts a day and only needed a crew of four.  On the farm we were paid our normal day plus 8 hours overtime per day and there were 12 of us on hand 24 hours a day.

I can tell a few more war stories so let me know if this is of any interest.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Emails and Privacy

A person close to me asked me to look at a chain of emails the other day because they were feuding with another member of their extended family.  I said that I would not look at them because it wasn't fair to show someone what was essentially private correspondence between two people. 

I would have felt an utter hypocrit if I had read it because I've complained on this blog that emails I wrote to people containing intensely private thoughts had been passed onto others without my permission.   The problem is that the person receiving it cannot possibly know the full context of what has been said and the person who wrote the email has no chance to respond or to defend themselves.   I've had people tell me that I will never be forgiven but that they don't wish to tell me what they won't forgive.  I am pretty sure that some of that attitude came from misuse of emails I had written.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Spontaneous Combustion

While I’m on funny sayings I used to work with a bloke who was a master of malapropisms and for those who don’t know what that is it means the malapprorpiate use of words.  And yes that was an attempt at rather bad joke.

There are a couple that stick in my mind.  The first was when he asked one of the other guys in the office who was a keen gardener to help him pick out some periannuals to grow in his garden.

The funniest though was when a young lady who worked on another floor pooped into our office for the first time in a number of months and she was noticeably pregnant.

“I didn’t even know she was married,” he said, “it must have been spontaneous combustion.”

Now let’s see if you can guess exactly what he meant

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chindians errerring

I have a young Chindian bloke who works with me and I like him a lot. He’s efficient, thorough and has a great sense of humour as evidenced by his self description of Chindian being an Indian from the province of Assam with some Chinese blood in the dim dark past.

That’s enough praise Leon because I don’t want you getting a swollen head and I know you do visit the blog occasionally.

Leon has been in Australia for a few years now and is an avid student of the vernacular. We’ve had a lot of fun teaching him such Australianisms as –
  • Pointing Percy at the porcelain
  • Shaking hands with the wife’s best friend,
  • Black as a dogs gut
  • Dry as a dead dingoes donger
  • Flat out as a lizard drinking and
  • [although not necessarily Australian] milking the python

And a word of warning don’t use the last one to someone who doesn’t know the meaning as a young lady happens to walk past because they may well ask them if they know what it means.

And there have been sayings like –
  • I hope your chooks all turn into emus and kick your dunny down
  • All over the place like a mad woman’s spit and
  • Mad as a cut snake

Anyway, the other day I got back to the office and he said to me, “What does errerr mean?”

“What?,” I asked, not really having a clue as to what he was talking about.

“Errerr, I’ve heard people saying errerr lately.”

“Can you give me the context?”

“Sure, Alex was on the phone the other day and when she hung up she said ‘Errerr’”.

And then it hit me. It was "hooroo" which means Goodbye.

I threw him a few others today including dry as a dead dingos donger and we decided to check his Fair Dinkum Aussie dictionary and side by side with that one was the old favourite “Dry as a Nun’s fanny”

“That’s not true,” he said.

“How many Nun’s have you met,” I asked.

“None, but some years ago I read a Sidney Sheldon novel about the life of a Nun and if that’s true then the saying isn’t!”

So give me a few examples of your favourite Ozzie slang – or make it up if you like.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blogs and change - The theme meme

I have tended lately to blog only when I have found the time to do so rather than make the time like I once did.  There are a few reasons for that, a busy job, a more settled life, and sometimes maybe a lack of inspiration.   I think all bloggers face that at times.   I once had delusions of being a writer and blogging was a vindication of that, there were plenty of visitors, a lot of comments and Technorati links of more than 100.

But it was hard work getting there, lots of memes done, linking to lots of people, some of whom I never read, commenting on as many blogs as possible in the hope that they would visit mine etc.  And the nature of my posts keeps changing - at one stage I was trying to maintain three separate blogs but since blogger allowed the feature of merging them into one, I did that.

Lack of time has also meant that I haven't found as much time to visit those of you who I consider to be my blogging friends so first and formost I apologise for that.  I do still try and return the favour of commenting back on people's blogs who show me the courtesy of doing the same and I try and visit those who follow me.   But instead of daily, that tends to be something of a weekly event.

If I was to line up every post on this blog and try and put them into a category I would say that the majority may fall into the reflective category, followed by current events in my life, things that have moved and or angered me, and a bit of whimsy thrown in now and then.   I once thought that there was a theme but I do tend to wander a bit more widely now in my thoguhts than I once did.  I think that I've let go of some of the loneliness and anger that categorised a lot of the early stuff but what I'm moving onto I will only know when I get there.

So if there is a meme to this post then let it be this.   Tell me what the theme of your blog is and how it has changed over time.  I tag all those who follow me, all those I follow and anyone else who is on my blogroll or who cares to comment.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

One loaf short of a curl

I was coming in on the train this morning and was sitting near a bloke with shoulder length curly hair who looked a liitle like James May with the craggy features of  Don Chipp and the beginnings of a Friar Tuck tonsure.  Which will mean nothing to anyone who wasn't a Top Gear watching, Australian Democrat voting, Robin Hood fan of roughly my vintage.

And before I cop too much flack let me explain that I did in the dim deep past vote Australian Democrat when Chippy was party leader and before they became wig wam living, tofu and lentil eating believers in the doomsday version of climate change and that trees have souls.  Not that I'm saying trees don't have souls, just that for me the jury is still out, just like it is for global warming, which is another whole reason for a blog post.

But I digress.

Seeing the curly hair on this bloke on the train [remember him from paragraph one] reminded me of my two male cousins on my Mum's side, both of whom had curly hair.  Actually I had three male cousins but one of those is 10 years younger than me and therefore he is set aside for the purposes of this story.  My hair, on the other hand was straight and I always had a crew cut as a kid, so it wasn't until the 70's came and I grew my hair that I found out it did have a bit of a wave.  But both these guys had tight ringlets and I couldn't understand why given we had at least one set of grandparents who were the same that I didn't end up with curly hair too.  Any knowledge of genetics and hereditary were still a long way in my future.

Then my Mum came up with a fantastic bit of folk wisdom - "Eat your crusts and your hair will curl" she told me.   So I did.  I even took to eating everyone elses crusts and it didn't work.   Sometime around the time I stopped believing in Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny, I stopped believing that crust eating would curl my hair.  As it turned out one of those cousins joined the army and had his head shaved and the other grew his long but spent so much time trying to comb it straight that he went prematurely bald.

I like to think that Mum didn't really lie to me.  That maybe I just had stubborn hair.  After all when I did grow it long it did have a bit of a wave to it.  Maybe I was just one loaf short.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Changing Language

I've noticed another trend in the pronunciation of a word recently and I don't know why these things happen.  Given you my readers [sounds like there's a lot doesn't there :)] are from many different places around the world let's see if you can help me here.

My name is Laurie, short for Laurence having been named for an Uncle who was killed by the Japanese when they invaded Rabaul in World War 2.   Now the phonetic pronunciation of my name is like that of the truck - "lorry".    Some of my American work colleagues call me Lawry, and a Malaysian guy I used to work with called be Rorry and himseld Lobert - I didn't get that.

Anyway the word I'm actually talking about today is worry which I pronounce wurry as in slurry.  But I've noticed a lot of people lately pronouncing it worry as in sorry or lorry.   What is that?  Where did it come from and how do you say it?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Prius Drivers the new Volvo Drivers

Everyone knows that it is best to avoid certain types of drivers - mothers dropping kids to school, old men wearing hats, young men wearing baseball caps backwards, women applying mascara and of course anyone who drives a Volvo.  Each and everyone of these classes of people seem pretty much oblivious to other road users. 

Well let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, having had the pleasure of driving to work several times over the past couple of weeks or so, I want to add another group to the list.  Prius drivers, absolute tools.  Maybe they think driving an semi-electric car shows they have a green conscience and the rest of us owe them something.  I've been cut off, held up, denied lanes and found my presence totally ignored by these Prius driving priapic pricks.  And yes I know there is a certain tautology about that statement but I don't care.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Remember 911

I am not going to write a long post about this because many writers better than me will do so but I think I would to spend a little time reflecting.   There aren't too many events in a lifetime where you can remember the exact thing you were doing when you first heard about it.  For me they include such things as the murder of John Lennon, Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, the death of the Princess of Wales and seared into my brain are the events of 911.

I was working two jobs at the time, full time as a security consultant and another 40 hours a week, supposedly part time as the Executive Officer of the Victorian Basketball League.  I'd come home from one job and sit down immediately to start work on the other.  That was the source of my ex-wifes comments that even when I was home I wasn't there, and maybe there was some truth to that even if it was unfair.  But I digress.

In April 2001 I had attended a Counter Terrorist Conference in Washington DC and there were a number of keynote speakers form the US Intelligence community.  There were two major topics of conversation.  The first the fragmentary nature of the US CT effort and the second the threat Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden posed to the West.

So after my usual 16 hour working day on September 11 2001 I sat down and turned the TV on to watch the late news and watched in horror the footage of those planes crashing into the twin towers.  I spent the next several weeks in my security consultant role gethering and analysing whatever open source information we could find, writing threat assessments for our clients and reliving that horror as more and more details were revealed.

In my other role I had been organising our teams to compete in a National Basketball final series to be held in Bendigo which were cancelled because at the same time the domestic airline Ansett collapsed and I fielded a lot of complaints from people about how upset they were at the cancellation.  I wrote an article for our website at the time which said in part that we needed to put things into proper context.   Around the world tonight are, I wrote, are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, who would never see their loved ones again, not because those people had done anything wrong, but because someone somewhere had randomly chosen that they were to die as a part of campaign of hatred, as a symbol of philosophical difference.    I told people to put things into proper context, that the cancellation of a basketball series was not something which could truly be considered a disaster.  Crashing aeroplanes into buildings and destroying lives was a disaster and we should remember the sacrifice of those brave men and women who selflessly entered those burning buildings in an effort to save others lives.

On Friday I asked a number of people at work if they knew what the day was and for most it took a while to make the connection.  That came as a surprise to me and the only comfort I took was that when it hit them what the date was that there was an element of embarassment that they had forgotten.   Let us never forget because if we do and we let our guard down these things can happen again - we've seen it on October 12 a year later in Bali and on July 7 2005 in London.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Musical Monday - My Little Girl

It's been a long time since I did a musical Monday post but having spent yesterday reflecting on what it's like to be a father I thought I'd post this one for my daughters.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Happy Fathers Day

My Dad died on 14th August 2004, a little over five years ago and that was the catalyst for starting this blog and in so many ways the trigger for most of the changes in my life.  It was the moment when the midlife episode hit leading to an awakening and a realisation that things would never be the same again.   There's been good and bad since that time for me.  I have changed, in some ways becoming more honest, mainly with myself.  I have learnt where I was weak and in the process I think I have become a better person.   But you know what, hardly a day goes by when I do't think of my Dad, when I don't wish that our relationship had been better, that I had taken the time to spend more time with him, that instead of being just father and son, that we had also been mates.

And I sometimes wonder in looking at myself in terms of that relationship, how I might have been a better father to my kids.   I know now that my biggest failure as a person is that I am a master at keping feelings to myself.  Ironically that has been seen as a strength by many work colleagues because they percieve me as someone who is cool calm and collected and always in control.   They don't realise that sometimes that facade is hiding a little boy who sometimes quakes in hs boots.

That little boy tends to reflect on days like today.   I remember going to the local shopping centre on Saturday mornings and getting a hair cut with Dad and then sprinting along the street to the milk bar for a milkshake.  I remember him sitting on my bad at night smelling of beer and cigarettes and fetching me a glass of water.  I remember the cubby houses we would build out of sheets of masonite he would bring home from work, and the days spent setting up my cowboys and indians and farm yards on the lounge room floor.   I remember playing marbles in the backyard.

After I separated from my then wife and whilst I was living alone in a flat no one came to about two years after Dad died he came to me and sat on my bed.   I know I was more than likely asleep but it was a very vivid dream and I was once again that little boy who got comfort from that nightly visit by his Dad.

I expect to see three of my four kids today.  I fear it's not because they want to but because they think they should and maybe that is a reflection of the type of father I have been.  My ex did tell me after I left that they kids had discussed things and thought that I was never there when they were growing up.  And it's true I worked long hours but I never missed an event or any of the many games of sport they played.  I didn't play cowboys and indians with my sons, nor marbles, nor did we build cubby houses, but we played basketball and built lego towns and I read them stories at night whilst they fell asleep.  Could I have done more?  Undoubtedly.  But I was what I was and that is all I was.

For anyone who is interested I have looked back over the posts on this blog and found some familiar themes in older posts.

Bad Jokes Good Father?
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Father
Things I miss
Cats in the Cradle
Parents and the Damage Done
Josie's Interview Part 2 - A non-sozzled Loz

So if you happen to be lucky enough to still have your Dad, make sure you contact him today and tell him you love him.   Don't end up with some of the regrets that I have.   And if you happen to be a Dad make sure you also tell your kids how much you love them, that if at times there have been some cats in the cradle moments, that is a weakness most fathers have.   We carry that burden of provider, pre-programmed into us and for some of us it is something we will bear till the end of our days.  If we're lucky our inevitable midlife episode may give us a shake and awaken us to some of the other possibilities.  Maybe that's why some of us make far better grandparents than parents.   Perhaps being that little further down the road means that we can choose to live the moment differently.