…The great dreamy lounge lizard, the nonchalant phenomenon, the long-time holder of ancient undelivered invites gone coffee coloured, a man of song and silence, a sometime gatherer of freaks and deviants, sneaky djinns, green demons, vice riddled gnomes; in short those made of flesh and magic; with the great many of you it would appear with small child-like hands and the sour aroma of cabbage gone bad emanating from your unwashed bodies.
Is it not a many splendid thing that, in spite of your collective “halitosis and cabbage” combo, that the great society magician Huwie Houdini is here nonetheless, to demonstrate in person his not insubstantial stores of social charm. His favourite ploy and most common used trick is of course the sleight of voice called “The Magnificent Mumbling Mambo”!!!
When executing the “Magnificent Mumbling Mambo” Huw utters, in mutters, an incoherent incantation. His target of wide eyed dupes and rubes lean in to try to catch what it was that he has just said when “whoof!”, he disappears, leaving nothing where he stood moments before. Except, on the odd occasion, a small yellow puddle. It’s a super trick that always has everyone asking each other “Where did he say he was going again?”
Huw’s other great tricks include chaining himself to great sweeping statements, pulling handfuls pigeon droppings out of his hanky, sawing himself in half for laughs and your general amusement, and of course that old crowd favourite: tying himself in knots using circular arguments. He is also known to devour items by dislocating his jaw, like the time he ate 153 apricots in one afternoon (and spent the rest of the afternoon with the green apple splatters) or 9 boiled eggs in as many minutes in year 12 when he heard that eggs were brain food (The poor boy suffered what he subsequently described as a protein heart attack).
I can well imagine how hard it is for those here gathered to think of Huw as a young turk cutting his teeth in the great Bull ring of early life, due in part to the panache he now offers his performance of running, from both clowns and bulls alike. Huw’s first choice in the fame and glory stakes was not so much centre stage as centre court amongst the balls and wood implements of his childhood. And as a general, gross understatement he was quite a competitive young lad.
Huw’s childhood training regimes are urban myth. The megalomaniac aspects of the personality of our brother, the young Captain Ahab, became evident when he started playing tennis. While his siblings were fairly sport oriented none could satiate the hunger that Huw as a four year old had for smacking the ball against the exterior wall of the house. Like Ahab in desperate search for the confounded white whale, Old Moby. so constant was the self imposed training regime he would practice serving against the wall again and again, through lunch (even his favourite of white bread Devon/strass and sauce sandwiches), regardless of the searing heat or the pitch black playing conditions.
This infatuation began when he was told by his parents that he would not feature in the local tennis team (and thus, logically, the Professional tennis circuit) until he could serve in an over-arm fashion. This was considered the end of the discussion as the racquet head of choice at the time was roughly the same size as Huw’s full length body. Not a completely thought out tactic when you consider this same weatherboard exterior wall that Huw was to practice on, with great acoustics for the inside of the house, was also his parents bedroom wall.
And so began the period in Huw’s life that so reminds me of a scene in WW2 film The Great Escape depicting Steve Mc Queen in solitary confinement retaining his sanity by throwing a ball against a wall and catching it with one hand. Although I am not sure that Steve was in action before 9.00am on a Saturday morning (earlier for Huw on Sundays when the cartoons were not screened). The other major difference was that unlike Steve, to me this repetitive action indicated Huw’s loss of sanity rather than his retention of it. Recognising that they had been outwitted by a four year old Pat Rafter who was now viciously smacking the ball against their bedroom wall at all hours with increasing power his parents now agreed on anything providing he stop. We were all shocked and to be frank a little frightened by his pernicious fanaticism.
So the day came when the local tennis club required a fill in for it’s ‘A’ grade team, Invergordon Gold. The resultant ripple down effect left a vacant spot in the aptly coloured Invergordon Dark and Splotchy Brown, the “F” grade team. Using all his 4 years of logic the little master was heard to say in all seriousness that for that day he “could have filled in for A grade”.
This was the beginning of a brilliant tennis career that spanned many years of brilliant un-returnable serves as well the three wild double faults that would inevitably follow. The punishment dealt to Huw’s tennis racquet showed opposing teams that even at age 4 he would not suffer failure kindly. That it was his own head that he was beating the tennis racquet up with (in a highly sado-masochistic way) was a worry to team mates, supervising parents and opposition alike, and was a cause for the opposition to throw points at vital stages of matches at the behest of spectators who wished to avoid watching another outbreak from the 4 year old Terretz sufferer.
I remember when during the skateboarding faze in the late 80’s Huw’s social capital shot up overnight when he received a board for Christmas. Huw disappeared immediately and he wasn’t seen all morning as he made good use of the only serviceable slab of concrete in the neighbourhood (as we lived on a farm), which happened to be the greek styled garden in the backyard of our next door neighbour’s who lived across the paddock. Within the next two weeks Huw was showing off in front of friends and family how he could tic tac at high speed and how he had a rare talent for the ollie. Sic mate!
Huw’s obsession with sport at this time did not limit itself on-court. Off the field of play Huw would reconstruct from his own memory personal statistics from each weekly basketball game he played, and armed with these statistics he would forthrightly berate himself (generally visiting his head with one of his fists) from one game to the next for not reaching his average point score or not really putting in defensively. How much Huw loved facts and figures!
One instance of Huw’s fanaticism is the following short cautionary tale. One day Huw asked to go with his mother Helen on her morning walk. Huw took the opportunity to take a stopwatch to time and record Helen’s leisurely walk. He was mystified to hear that she did not record these times in a ledger anywhere, and was completely flabbergasted to hear that she was not even interested in beating her own Personal Best time. Needless to say that was the first and last time Helen had the pleasure of Huw’s company on those relaxing walks of hers.
Although quite willing to put facts and figures to use analytically Huw was fairly naïve and gullible as a child. As a child Huw lived in constant fear of his belly button untying, which apparently would cause all the guts contained therein to fall out of his rather pregnant looking belly onto the floor. I am a bit sketchy as to how he got this particular idea into his head. And again it’s a bit hazey as to why he would try prevent his siblings access to the area in question, if he could. However being smaller and slower and somewhat outnumbered, mostly he could not prevent a trial of this theory. When, having just had his belly button untied Huw would run, in great distress, and with at least one arm holding onto his enormous guts to keep them in, to his mother, that caring sympathetic guardian, he was promptly told not to let anybody touch his belly button, as once his guts fell out they really were very hard to get back in.
Other highlights for Huw were his early childhood flights that he and Helen would take in the now battered and lately departed Silver 9 seater people mover Holden “Shuttle” bus as they took in the sights along Numurkah Rd. As they approached the required speed and trajectory Captain Helen and her Co-pilot would announce to their non-existent passengers that they had undergone “Take-off” and were now “Flying”. The revisionist story Huw now tells is that he knew that they were not airborne all along; he was just humouring his mother in an intergalactic explorer makey-up. But anyone can see that despite the bravado, deep in his heart deep, deep down … he still has that smidgin of doubt eating away about that one time out on Numurkah rd …
I know that many of you gathered here think that if Huw was to be likened to say a sea faring literary character, he would be less like the Captain Ahab I have attempted to present to you, but more like a present day Intergalactic Captain Cavalier, explorer of the “Laid back” seas, circum-navigator of the “Belt of Indecision” near the Serendipitous Constellation just a few clicks away from the Destiny galaxy. Using the literary figure Captain Ahab to explain Huw’s early behavioural focus on sporting achievement is nothing more than a caricature of “sporting” Huw and you may well recognise that this has little benefit in explaining Huw’s current metamorphic state.
Huw is a man to take on all on comers on principle – whether they come at him one by one (as chivalry demands) or all at once like rascally and base scoundrels, relying completely and absolutely on the justice of his cause. The similarities with modern gentleman Huw Patrick Ryan and there is another man that I am reminded of that is of the same belief. I am reminded of a Knight Errant of the 16th Century. I speak of that adventurer and apostle of chivalry, Don Quixote. I beg your patience a moment while I recount two stories that show this contemporary link to a medieval past. In one of Don Quixote’s grand adventures the greatest Errant Knight practices his combat in arms, by unsheathing his mighty sword and issuing forth against a wall that stood before him, sweeping fore strokes and back strokes, engaging in what in his mind was fierce and unequalled combat. And when he was heartily tired Don Quixote would tell bemused onlookers that he had killed four “giants” as tall as the tallest of steeples and that the sweat that ran from him was the blood from many manly wounds that he had received in glorious battle. Though these were not complaints but statements of fact for knights do not complain of any wound even though their entrails should protrude through them.
Where Don Quixote relied on romantic medieval stories such as “Sir Baldwin, the Marquee of Mantua and the Courtesan Charlotte”, Huw is inspired in a more contemporary romantic fashion by that great epic tale of a young lad being beaten up on by a gang of neighbourhood toughs. The first Karate Kid movie was a significant event in Huw’s childhood. Huw began training to implement the famous “one-legged stork” kick soon after his first viewing. However as he did not live in the proximity of any beach pylons with which to practice in secret, at great length he adapted the trampoline that we had in the back yard for this purpose. I think Mr Miyagi would have appreciated the training session, as much as the impromptu family gathering did, not so much in terms of his technique (which totally sucked arse incidentally) but more at the passionate cries of “hiyah” and “hyah!” as Huw leapt into the midst of imaginary foes and belly button untiers. It was after a good ten minutes of aerial kung-fu Huw style that he found that his “secret training base” had its flaws. Namely that it was in clear view of dining room by a very mean bunch of family members who were currently mimicking him in what I remember as being a hilarious manner. Poor Hoobes was mortified and stormed off in what was then known as, and probably still is,”a good old fashioned sook”. And didn’t the tears run hot and heavy, when during question time over tea several hours later the Member for Karate Kicks was questioned by several amused back benchers over his conduct that afternoon. “Mum knows!” was his exasperated cry through his then beatle-esque bowl hair cut. That utterance has long since gone down as the Huw-typical response. This is a response that has not been provided with as much articulate and frank explanation as is required by a shared understanding of what the hell it is he is talking about.
It is interesting to note that like Don Quixote’s adventures Huw was drawn to those adventures with an overt theme of violence and self mutilation in conjunction with his various childhood friends. Huw loved to gather wacky, crazy fearless friends around him. It all began with Will (affectionately known as the Terror) whom Huw befriend from Kinder and happened to belong to the green grocer just down from Helen’s shop in Numurkah … my memories of Will were that he used to love burning things (animate and inanimate objects alike) with the green grocer’s in-store strapping machine. Next there was Peter Ash, sadly missing from tonights bill of entertainment. Within seconds of entering our two storey house Peter was seen swinging (without a safety net I might add) from the top beams of our two storey house like a playful primate trying to earn a banana from a tourist at the zoo with a show of acrobatics. Huw would also remember having sordid tomato sauce fights (yes folks, your ear horns do not deceive you … not water but tomato sauce fights) in the kitchen, lounge room and bedrooms of his favourite friends’ house, the Handleys.
Employed at an early age Huw’s first job was as a crash test dummy for another friend Josh Bicknell. A typical visit to Josh’s place, might have Huw being asked to place his hand on the muffler of Josh’s motorbike as Josh revved the shit out of it “just to see what would happen” or generally blowing things up. After several visits Josh’s parents began to offer their pre-emptive apologies to Helen and Danny for the inevitable damage done to Huw explaining that Huw “really was good for Josh”.
And it wasn’t just his friendship groups that were tinged with violence. Huw’s sporting life blossomed with a multiplicity of hairline fractures in basketball tournaments, broken collar bones playing football and church car park incidents in which Huw managed to scrape half the skin off his face during a game of adolescent chasey. The other half was not too attractive either let me assure you. So much so that I distinctly remember Huw crying Marsha Brady style “Now I’ll never be a teen model”. The basketball grand final that week was a push over as no-one on the other team wanted to defend the leprosy sufferer “ol scarface Malone” and the oppositional defence vacated the court each time he waltzed through the key. Suffice to say he was top scorer for the night!
Over-achieving Huw settled more comfortably into his skin as his years gathered. He soon realised that he could take on his older brothers in basketball and beat them hands down, even though they were taller and had arms that dragged along the ground. Mick, Huw’s godfather and uncle was taking a professional interest in seeing the young lad succees and to this end was providing sporting equipment in the way of birthday and Christmas presents. Soon it was football that he was the greatest thing since sliced bread in. And later still he found that the skills he was honing were social skills. Girls had suddenly appeared somewhat belatedly on the scene and Huw was being introduced to the online social networking and the mobile phone as means to get at them … quite the modern man! Huw the metro-sexual.
It is at this time that the façade of “laid back sport loving” Huw and “low talking lover and confidante” Huw, Dr Jekyell and Mr Hyde type personality changes, came into conflict. Huw applied what he had learnt in a star performance on the Great Victorian Bike ride where he was leader of the Karaoke club, last to leave the pub, last to drag his hungover carcass out of bed and first to ride into camp putting the tent up for his co-riders … snoozing in same said tent to gather energy for the performance of that night dancing on roofs and police vans. Huw was a blithe spirit, flitting and flutting like cult figures do if they have had a skin-full.
Leaving home for Melbourne and a University experience, Huw’s days were filled with late nights, exercise books filled with anatomical references, Simpsons 24 hours a day on cable, guitar sessions that have fuelled his long standing love affair with long hair and longer finger nails.
But this was a difficult period in Huw’s life. His self-described life dilemma (and I paraphrase somewhat here) was that he knew what he didn’t want to do but not what he did. And thus he arrived at the crossroads which lead in all directions. There were so many directions that lead to places and states of mind unheard of, Reservoir, Northcote and urbanity and insanity. Like a fart in a colander Huw stopped still for a while, and then after his mature and deep consideration let go of the reins to submit his own will to be guided by that of his horse. His horse took the shape of a great green Kenwood which headed down Sydney road bound for that same place and in his trunks he had nothing but his guitar and good looks to recommend him.
And luckily, they accept credit here in Sydney.
Huw has thrived here amongst the Glebans, in this tropical climate, as has the aroma of his socks. He has changed much since arriving here, recognising that the decision about what you do want is made without certainty and sometimes you have to do put yourself into a position to find out if it is for you or not. The wide, open road is his present cause, the dream finally realised. Who knows where this man of varied, great and strange talents is headed. Huw is extremely well regarded and respected by all that he meets for his kind and gentle way of dealing with people.
I often wonder where it is that Huw’s various skills and unique relationship building qualities will lead him. Most times I am reminded of these words strung together by J.R.R. Tolkien:
The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I can not say.
And knowing Huw, as we do, as a man of forging forward on principle I am sure that wherever it is that his errands and paths lead him to he will put his head and heart into it.