I was looking through my old photographs for something that I could put up as a post, when I came across this old photograph of a high school friend of mine called Stephen.
My family used to move around a lot when I was a kid (no, my family wasn’t in the army), and as a result, I attended six different primary schools and three different high schools. Because I was in so many different schools I learnt how to make friends and then get over them (when we moved again) quickly. I think this has led to an ability to just move on and start afresh without any nostalgia.
I haven’t stayed in contact with a single person from my school days. Truth be known, I can hardly even remember more than a handful of names from that time. It still surprises me when I talk to people nowadays, and they reminisce about “the good old days” at school or when I meet some of their old school friends. It’s like I’m being told about some strange alien land that I don’t have a visa for and I’ll never be able to visit. I feel a little envious, but then, I just move on. That basically sums up the way how I’ve lived a large part of my life.
Experience, reflect, move on.
Experience, reflect, move on.
Experience, reflect, move on.
Stephen is one of the few people that I remember from high school and in some ways, we shared quite a few things in common. Stephen’s family had emigrated from England to Australia, and he still had an English accent. Both Stephen and I were outsiders, who were interested in other things besides, music and sports.
We used to go to auctions together. One time we went to an animal auction and tried to buy a ferret, because we wanted to go ferreting but we didn’t have enough money to buy one. Then there was another time that we wanted to buy a hawk so we could try and train it to catch animals. Luckily for the environment, we didn’t have enough money for that either.
One funny thing that Stephen used to do at auctions was to buy whatever silver trophies that were on offer. Stephen’s bedroom was lined with other people’s trophies that have been turned around, so you couldn’t see the engraved names of the actual recipients. It was almost as though he was trying to create a history of achievement for himself.
Stephen and I also used to like to go skin-diving, and we both got our scuba diving certificates when we were 14 years old. The fact that we didn’t have any money to buy the equipment didn’t bother us. We both jumped at the chance when the YMCA in downtown Melbourne offered the course in their swimming pool for a mere $11, and that included one ocean dive with the use of the equipment.
Stephen’s parents were decent down to earth people who always treated me with kindness and respect. Which at the time, struck me as rather unusual, as most of the other kids I knew, had parents who didn’t seem to take an interest in who their child’s friends were. In the past, I’d been normally greeted with just a grunt and a nod, when I went around to friend’s houses.
Another thing that was different about Stephen’s parents is that they kept a goat so they didn’t have to mow the lawn. We weren’t living out in the country, we were living in the suburbs.
One day we were in the backyard of Stephen’s place shooting his air rifle at a target with his younger brothers, when his father came home from work. Steve’s dad was a nice guy and he joined us in shooting at the target. One at a time, we would fire several shots into the target and then go and see how well we did. Every time the five of us would walk up to the target to inspect it, the goat would follow us right up to it. On one occasion when we were looking at the target, one of Stephen’s younger brothers grabbed a hold of his father’s dangling tie, unnoticed, as his dad was checking our results, and stuck the end of it in the goat’s mouth. As Stephen’s father was bent over, the goat chewed away at his tie and worked his way right up to his throat.
Suddenly, Stephen’s father felt the weight on his neck and he tried to jump up, but the goat had worked its way right up to the knot in the tie and was still attached. It made for quite the hilarious scene, as Stephen’s father danced around, trying to stand up and push the goat away from his throat at the same time. The goat had eaten the tie, fair and square, and wasn’t about to let it go.
Every time Stephen’s dad tried to push the goat away it would just chomp down harder on the tie and his efforts to free himself, choked him. The eventual solution was to slap the goat on the side of the head with an open hand to get it to bleat and release an inch of tie at a time. Slap, bleat, slap, bleat, slap, bleat, until the saliva covered and concertina shaped tie was extracted. The tie was a mess and there was no way that it could be used as an article of clothing any more.
Unlike how I imagine most people’s parents would have reacted to such an event, Stephen’s father just roared with laughter.
It was funny.
As the afternoon turned into evening, I was invited to stay for dinner. Stephen’s family were different to other families who I had dinner with in the past. Everybody spoke to each other in one big general conversation about whatever subject was being discussed. Now when I look back, it’s pretty obvious that Stephen’s parents were fairly enlightened and they encouraged their children to interact in an adult way. I really enjoyed the way how they treated me as an equal, but to be honest, I wasn’t very good at the conversation with adults thing. Not much practice you see.
To everyone’s horror I asked Stephen’s mother, what she did for a living. There were quick nervous glances around the table, and then Stephen’s mother sort of stiffly raised her hand as though to say, “it’s okay, were all adults here, I can tell him”.
” I work in an artificial insemination facility”
” A what?” I asked.
“An artificial insemination facility”
I naively blundered on with, “what’s artificial insemination?” I’ve been blessed with an unusually high degree of insensitivity, and I was oblivious to how I was cruelling the conversation.
After another quick intake of breath and nervous glance exchanges between her and her husband, Stephen’s mother swallowed, took a deep breath, and raised her hand again, in what I can only guess was a calming gesture to the rest of the family and answered me with, ” artificial insemination is when you make an animal pregnant using artificial means”
“Oh………. how do you do that?”
More nervous glances, another hand raising.
” We collect the bull semen, and we put it inside of the cows”
” How do you do that?”
Faces were getting redder and the glances more strained. Without realising it, I was really testing how enlightened these people thought they were. I bet Stephen’s mother never thought that she’d have to explain such things to a naive idiot over dinner.
Stephen’s mother was made of stern enlightened stuff, so she went on to explain.
“At the facility where I work, we have a fake rear end of the cow made out a fibreglass with a real cow standing next to it ” “We then bring in the bull and when it sees the cow it tries to mount her but we steer it onto the fake fibreglass rear end”
This was all starting to blow my mind. I could never have imagined before that moment, that such things ever happened. My brain was starting to reel.
“Then what happens?” I blurted out as I was still trying to take it all in.
Eyes were starting to roll now, and Stephen and his brothers had their heads bowed down and they were staring at their plates. Their father, just bowed his head and held it in both hands.
Stephen’s mother then said ” I sit inside of the fake cow’s rear-end and when the ball inserts himself in there I collect his semen into a container.”
“With your bare hands?!”
“No, no, no, I wear long rubber gloves” was the answer and that I nonchalantly received.
Every now and again, I wonder what kind of parent, I would make. If I was ever to have any children, I’d like to think that I would be as bravely enlightened and forthright as Stephen’s parents.
After Stephen’s mother’s straightforward explanation about her work, conversation just continued as normal.
No big deal.
When I look back on that dinner I’m in awe at how Stephen’s parents didn’t make a big fuss about something that would seem very strange when taken out of context. The bare bones of the matter is, that artificial insemination is a day-to-day reality in agriculture, that is performed by people who see it as just a part of their normal everyday working experience.
When one thinks about it, we make a big deal about a lot of stupid little stuff in our society.
Having said all of that, I don’t think I’d be too comfortable telling people that I had such a job.