Lost for Words

Episode 1

Episode 1 of wireless serial from Lost for Words: Australia’s lost language in words and stories.
This was an attempt to recreate the serials we used to listen to, using the old phrases and sayings of the era.

Most Australians in the 1940s and 1950s and early 1960s listened to serials in their lounge room. One of the kids would kneel in front of the wireless, bathed in the green glow, and turn the white needle around to the correct station to catch the family’s favourite radio serial. Then, as the valves warmed up, a voice would crackle through the speaker… ‘This is Episode 1 of our new radio serial, Lost for Words, the story of Bert and Grace and their trials and tribulations bringing up a young family after Bert returned from the War.’ The music would rise and the reading begin…

Grace is sitting at her dressing table putting her face on, getting ready to take three of her kids — Morris, Delma and Ima — to visit their Aunty Myrtle.

GRACE: Dearie me, I look like the Wreck of the Hesperus. I look like a high wind in a mattress factory. I look like I’ve been dragged through a bush backwards. It’s a good job I scrub up well.

(Grace snaps shut her compact and pops it into her enormous handbag, which has two handles and sits on her wrist like a giant navy blue leather pillow.)

GRACE: Kids! Get a wriggle-on, or we’ll be late.

DELMA: I’m coming, Mum.

GRACE: So’s Christmas. Shake your feathers. Make it snappy! What’s keeping you? Get a move-on!

MORRIS: I can’t find my windcheater! It’s been stolen.

GRACE: It must be there somewhere. Use your eyes instead of your mouth.

MORRIS: It’s not in my room. Someone’s taken it!

GRACE: You can’t see for looking.

MORRIS: But I’ve looked everywhere.

GRACE: Then use big eyes.

DELMA: It’s up in Annie’s room, behind the clock.

MORRIS: It must be lost!

GRACE: Where did you lose it?

MORRIS: If I knew where I lost it, it wouldn’t be lost.

GRACE: No giving cheek! I’ll say a prayer to St Anthony.

MORRIS: Oh, here it is.

DELMA: Come on, slow coach.

MORRIS: Oh jings, now I can’t get the zipper to work.

GRACE: Take your time and hurry up! Don’t shilly-shally, will you, or we’ll miss the tram. Shake a leg. You kids are strung out like Brown’s cows. If you don’t get cracking this instant, I’ll light a fire under your tail. Morris, have you washed your face?

MORRIS: Of course, Mum.

GRACE: Let me see. Huh, a lick and a promise by the looks. Your ears are so dirty we could grow spuds in them.

(Grace looks in the hall stand mirror.)

GRACE: Well dears, I’m going to play the Duchess at Aunty Myrtle’s. That’s why I’m wearing my blue charmeuse and my pearls. Or I could wear my midnight satin trimmed with shallots. I’m done up like a sore thumb. I’ve never been a fashion plate, but you must admit I can put on the dog as well as anyone.

(They troop to the front gate, past the gerberas, gladioli, mother-in-law’s tongue, ochna, fishbone ferns, oleander, and azalea.)

GRACE: We’ll duck into the paper shop on our way. We haven’t seen Myrtle in a month of Sundays, so I’m going to buy her a Casket Ticket. You never know your luck till a dead horse kicks you.

(The tram sets them down at Myrtle’s front gate.)

GRACE whispering: Now, mind your Ps and Qs.

LITTLE IMA: What’s a P, Mum?

GRACE: A great relief. With my Woolworths bladder it is.

MORRIS: Mum, I’m busting to go! I need a widdle!

GRACE: Morris! Haven’t I always told you to go before we leave? Not that I can talk. Well, ask Aunty Myrtle when we get in, and make sure you pull the chain. And be on your best behaviour, remember, be courteous, or you’ll get the wooden spoon.

(Some mothers carried a wooden spoon on visits, and they would rap the child on the knuckles or the bum to keep them in line. No one ever went visiting empty handed. Usually people ‘brought a plate’, which meant bringing some food to contribute to the event.)

GRACE presenting Myrtle with a home-baked cake: Here you are, Myrtle. I made this cake from scratch.

MYRTLE taking a peak in the cake tin: Well, Grace, it’s almost as good as a store-bought one.

(This is said in jest, because they both know, as everyone does, that home-made cooking or sewing is invariably superior.)

(The kids are told to be still and quiet while the ladies have had a good old natter in the Genoa lounge chairs, which can hardly be seen under the arm protectors and anti-Macassars which prevent the velvet upholstery on the back of the chair from being stained by hair oil – Macassar Oil.)

GRACE: Now kids, will you stop that fidgeting. And Morris, stop jiggling around like the Wild Man of Borneo.

(Sitting still is excruciatingly boring, but outings are for the enjoyment of the adults, not the children. In most things, the grown-ups’ enjoyment takes precedence over the kids’.)

MYRTLE: While you’re on your feet Morris, fetch me a serviette from the table, there’s a dear.

(Morris hands over the serviette.)

LITTLE IMA: Aunty Myrtle will you fetch me my glass? There’s a dear.

(Grace and Myrtle snort in disgust at this audacity.)

MYRTLE: What are you, a cripple? You’re big enough and ugly enough to get it yourself!

(So Little Ima gets up and is standing exactly between Aunty Myrtle and Grace, blocking their view.)

GRACE: Little Ima, who do you think you are, the glazier’s daughter? Move out of the way. And shut your mouth, are you trying to catch flies? And Morris, don’t talk with your mouth half full, fill it up! And don’t point with the cutlery, and keep your elbows off the table. It’s unseemly. And Delma, stop licking the knife. I didn’t know we had a sword swallower in the family. Get your hands out of your pockets Morris, or I’ll sew them up. And Little Ima, stop sniggering, it’s common. Now Myrtle, you know I’ll be doing the books for Janice’s new frock shop, don’t you?

MYRTLE: Fancy. That will be fun. Janice is such a sweety. She’s an unclaimed treasure.

LITTLE IMA: Aunty Myrtle, what’s an unchained pleasure?

MYRTLE: Unclaimed treasure, dear. It means Janice is a spinster, but she’d make any man a wonderful wife. (Whispering to Grace) Little pitchers have big ears.

GRACE standing up: Yes, little pigs have big ears too. Now, small fry, we’re sick of the sight of you. Get out and entertain yourselves. Run along and go exploring the neighbourhood. But keep your wits about you.

(That is the 1950s equivalent of a Stranger Danger lecture. The kids leave.)

GRACE: Oh, that Alfie, Easy to see he’s been to charm school. He must have kissed the Blarney stone.

MYRTLE: Yes, and he’s a snappy dresser, a snazzy dresser, isn’t he? And a handsome devil.

GRACE: He’s a bit of a rogue, though, don’t you think? A ne’er do well.

MYRTLE: He did get in with the wrong crowd for a time there. Still and all, he’s certainly a wag, a card, funny as a circus.

GRACE: And a bit of a scoundrel. Don’t forget, Myrtle, a man can laugh a woman into bed.

MYRTLE: Alfie can put his shoes under my bed any day of the week. He always has a smile on his dial.

GRACE: A bit of a rough diamond.

MYRTLE: A fancy dan, a dapper dan, a dandy, no doubt about that.

GRACE: All mouth and trousers. He talks a lot of palava, a lot of malarkey.

MYRTLE: But then he’s always been a bit of a rascal, a loveable rogue.

GRACE: But he is a bounder, I’ve heard.

MYRTLE: Flash Jack from Gundagai.

GRACE: Yes, well they say his brother, Clem, is a bit of a stinker.

MYRTLE: Some say Clem is lower than a snake’s belly.

GRACE: Yes, he married that girl, Enid, then shot through on her, left her stranded with all those kids, and ran off with the woman from the bakery.

MYRTLE: That Enid is a saint. She won’t hear a word against him.

GRACE: Clem has led a charmed life, that’s for sure. He’s never got what was coming to him, and he deserved it, I’m sure.

MYRTLE: Not a nice man, a real so-and-so.

GRACE: A grub. A bit too seedy, you couldn’t guess what he gets up to.

MYRTLE: Clem’s a real creature. He’s nothing but a hood.

GRACE: And he thinks he’s crash hot.

MYRTLE: Crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

GRACE: A real mongrel.

MYRTLE: A vile creature.

GRACE: He charmed the pants off her.

MYRTLE: I could tell you a thing or two about that!

GRACE: Well, he always thought he was a killer diller.

MYRTLE: Get the stance he put on outside the pictures on Friday. He’s got no shame.

GRACE: He’s got more front than a rat with a gold tooth.

MYRTLE: Yes, he is a lovely article.

(When the kids arrive back, Grace is cross.)

GRACE: Who do you think you are, the Scarlet Pimpernels? I’ve been looking for you uphill and down dale, you will-o-the-wisps. We were about to send out a search party.

MORRIS proudly: We covered more ground than the early explorers!’

(He means early British explorers. Few people think of Aborigines as explorers.)

GRACE: Put your skates on, kids, and off we go. Thank Aunty Myrtle for having you at her place.

(All leave Myrtle’s.)

GRACE: Well, we can’t live on fresh air — I’ll duck into the butcher shop on the way home. And Delma, I don’t want to hear you asking the butcher again what his sign means. He’s told you a thousand times, it’s not No Expecting. The sign says No Expec-tor-at-ing. It means no spitting in the shop. He should have a sign up: No Giving Cheek.

(Theme music returns.)