In Memory of Oscar
[ Issue 20 ]

In Memory of Oscar delights Emily Bronto

Bikwil is pleased to present In Memory of Oscar

In Memory of Oscar

Joan Willmott-Clarke here describes her fond memories of her beloved steed Oscar.

I was soon to realise that it was Oscar's soft whine that unsettled the animals. They could hear it long before we approached them

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In Memory of Oscar — Joan Willmott-Clarke

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He was old but still frisky when we first met. I ignored his dints and bruises and he ignored mine. It was love at first sight. I was living at Byron Bay then and after breaking my polio leg was forced to rely on crutches to get around, so I lost no time in mounting Oscar, whose only protests were a few tinny grumbles, but when I carefully headed him out through the gate towards the park he responded with alacrity. It was a weekday, school was in and there were no football or cricket teams to threaten us. The path that led through the park to the town road was deserted. With no traffic and a crisp breeze to cool the sun's heat, I coaxed Oscar to increase his speed.

The birds picking in the dirt and dust flew off bewildered; a couple of cats squealed and turned tail, while dogs heading towards us suddenly stopped and stood rigid with ears stiff and upright. I was soon to realise that it was Oscar's soft whine that unsettled the animals. They could hear it long before we approached them. The road up to Byron Bay's shops seemed too rough so I kept Oscar on the footpath, rough as that was with broken kerbing and ramps on our side of the road and long grass on the other side. Difficult as our progress was, though tough on Oscar, it was better for me than struggling on crutches over such terrain. Soon, ignoring the bumps, we quickened our pace. As we passed the well-mowed bowling green, the bowlers paused and waved to us. “Take it easy, love!” one called to me. “Don't let the coppers catch you speeding.” “I won't!” I shouted back, as an excited Oscar bumped over the broken kerbs.

Dear old Oscar! For months he took me everywhere, to coffee shops, restaurants, and down to the Byron Hotel overlooking the ocean. He was a bit clumsy at first, entering a coffee shop and knocking over chairs and tables, then having difficulty in turning around and getting out of the shop, but most shopkeepers were very tolerant, sometimes laughing as they lifted Oscar with me on top of him and turned us around clear of their furniture and facing the door.

We were both contrite as we slowly made our way out of the shop. Oscar was a big bloke. I doubt that he had ever been nimble, even when young. Now at whatever ancient age he was, his furrows and creases were becoming more conspicuous.

He had always been very fond of children and they of him. They would follow him around, pat him, try to mount him, talk to him and ask me questions about him. My own grandsons, then quite young, knowing they were not allowed to get on him, would run by Oscar's side, challenging me. “Go on, Nanna Joan. Go faster. Go on!” I don't think Oscar enjoyed those challenges, and they scared me too.

Maybe his eyesight was deteriorating for he was most clumsy in the Supermarket, knocking packages off shelves and tipping over stands in the aisles. But when we headed for home he needed little help from me to find his way there. On the porch I would connect him to his sustenance and when he was finished, I would cover him and say goodnight.

Then one day our happy journeys were interrupted. I had to go to hospital with my broken polio leg. Eventually I was flown to Sydney for an operation and had to leave Oscar with my son. I don't think he liked that, nor did I. We had become very close to one another. A few months later, the operation over, the hospital surgeon said I could leave but was not to walk any long distances yet. He recommended that I use a wheelchair but when I told him about Oscar he agreed that I could use him instead.

There was great excitement when Oscar arrived at the hospital. All the nurses wanted a ride on him. Everyone thought he was beautiful. Oscar wallowed in their admiration. I was allowed to ride him in a safe space, but was warned not to let him loose around hospital staff, patients or visitors.

When I left for a stay in a hostel, he came too but to our mutual sorrow, Oscar was relegated to a back yard with no protection from the elements. What was most disturbing was that I could not get to him. I moved on from that hostel, trying out a number of others. In the ones in which he was welcome, the terrain was too difficult for me, or there were too many fast cars. Then I moved to Manly, lovely Manly, where I had lived with my parents during the war years.

What fun we had there! I would ride Oscar along the ocean front, then down to the harbour. As I rode him down past the Manly pool where I used to swim, and onto the wharf to watch the ferries berth and leave again, I would tell Oscar stories of travelling on those ferries in the blackouts at night, with the ferry musicians playing “When the lights come on again”, an English wartime song. Or I would tell him what it was like to go for a ride on the Ferris wheel where at the top you felt you could almost touch the stars. Oscar was a good listener never interrupting.

Some days we would go for coffee on the Corso. The shopkeepers never resented his presence at their outside tables and would rush to move chairs out of his way. Then came the day when builders started digging up roads and footpaths. Getting around was no fun, unless we stuck to the Corso. Small children loved him and would race up to ride him sitting in front of me. Oscar was very gentle with them, moving slowly and being careful to avoid the bumps. But I was finding it difficult to ride him over the broken roads and footpaths. One day we both nearly had a bad fall. I knew his time was almost up. But first the local newspaper wanted to take his photo with me riding him. That really was our last ride together.

It was very painful having to part with him but a man bought him and promised to be kind to him. The last I heard was that he was enjoying the fresh air and open spaces of country life.

To replace him I bought the “Rascal”, a frisky little devil, younger and smaller than Oscar, and very fast. A “show-off”. If I don't control him, he'll tip me off, run into a restaurant or even people without stopping to apologise. Guess I'll learn to control him one day. He's a clever little scooter but I doubt he'll ever be as faithful as my first scooter, dear old Oscar.

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