I have a lot to thank my brothers for, but would rather give them both a dead leg followed by the typewriter, a few thigh slaps and top it all off with a hen-peck. Add a couple of 'Woo Woo Woos' ala the Three Stooges and you get my drift.
Robert is two years older than me (tallest one on the left, in 1981) and David is two years younger than me (The human Bowl-Cut Boy nearer left), and, as the only girl, a lot of my non-reading and non-Abba-record-dancing time was spent participating in brotherly pursuits.
Franzy got the ball (or more specifically, marble) rolling the other day during his nostalgic piece on playing marbles at school. Rob and Dave also jumped on that particular boy bandwagon and as the sister, I sometimes participated and learned a skill or two. Whilst I was never good enough to win any decent tombolas or cats' eyes from the bros, it did surprise a few of my classmates when I could flick a few of the leaders' marbles out of the ring, scoop them up triumphantly and put them in my own, customised marble bag (a purple paisley draw-string number lovingly created by Mum). During the fanta and coca-cola yo-yo phases though, I was utter crap and could only silently admire Rob's dazzling skills at 'around the world', 'walking the dog' and 'the pendulum'.
Robert always seemed so much bigger, smarter and worldly to me: two years was a huge developmental gap in primary and early high school years and I learned very early on that starting a fight with him was guaranteed to end in tears - and a few of my precious possessions being slung into the huntsman spider-infested cubbyhouse as a triple retaliation. Plus he was the master of the cutting and witty insult and my addled younger brain could never come up with a retort wittier than, "You are!". It was easier for me to retreat to the 'good room' (ie the front living room that was never actually used, let alone lived in) with a 1940s Enid Blyton my Mum had saved from her childhood and stay out of his way.
Sadly, Dave was too young and too dumb to adopt this approach. In his spindly, skinny, sickly little seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, twenty seven, thirty five year old heart, he honestly thought that one day he'd be able to throw Rob a punch that would render him out for the count. Approximately three times a day (triple figures if it was a Saturday or Sunday), he would walk up to Rob and give him a swift kick up the arse or in the shins and stand there, in genuine open-mouthed shock when Rob's body refused to crumple to the floor.
In the manner of a saltwater crocodile lazily inhaling a mosquito, Rob would almost carelessly thump Dave in the thigh and turn back to reading the newspaper or thrashing me at Monopoly. Dave's ear-drum piercing screams would reverberate around the house as he raced off to dob the Evil Giant in to his parents for the punishment of a lifetime. The little pipsqueak would rush into the dining room, his mouth an agonised square of pain and indignation, only to have Mum speaking from her cup of weak tea or Dad not raising his eyes from the bowl of weetbix in front of him, saying in a disinterested monotone: "Buzz off David, you asked for it."
Sometimes I'd feel sorry for the little pest and promise him that I'd be his 'Slave For the Day' from then on.
The poor little sucker fell for it every time. No sooner had I brought him his summoned cup of green cordial, a slice of Balfour's swiss roll and whatever Star Wars figurine was in favour, than he'd push his luck a bit too much. "I order you to give me a piggy back ride to Tom the grocer's and spend all your pocketmoney on Wizz fizz, Fags and Hubba Bubba all for me." The phrase, 'Yeah, whatever' wasn't in vogue then, so I'd just walk outside, hop on my malvern star and head off to Jodi's house. I'd hear his high pitched accusation in the distance: "Hey MillyMoo, come back here! If you don't, you're not getting the twenty cents I promised you!"
Life for Dave wasn't all about bullying and abandonment. He was frequently very seriously ill from asthma and had to be transferred to my room when Robert's patience at the night time attacks grew thin and he'd give Dave a dead leg or two to indicate his displeasure. In my room he could continue suffering for hours because my sleep patterns were far longer and deeper than they are now. When he was feeling well, he was an ideal testing ground for Frida costumes (it was a non-negotiable choice; I was always Agnetha), dance moves, art classes and maybe - just maybe - be persuaded to share some of his hoardings.
Dave used to have more saved twenty cent pieces, airline packets of peanuts and ancient easter eggs than a 1976 Don Dunstan time capsule. Rob and I would either bank or spend our pocket money and eat whatever treats we were given long before their due date, but David kept his stored for years. Those peanuts will still be around somewhere - alongside his perfect Star Wars figurines and his 'Have a Great Day' t-shirt that he wore constantly between 1975 and oh, about 1992. On our big Queensland trip in 1979, he thought we'd reached Nirvana when he clapped eyes on the Big Banana. The only way we could persuade him to leave the place was by describing the various kiosks, gift shops and souvenirs he could look through. That night, on the tiny top bunk of our caravan, he had decided his future: "I'm going to run a kiosk that sells souvenirs that rip off the tourists." Awww, bless his little eight-year-old heart of stone.
Finally, in my early teens, I worked out a way to defeat Robert at Monopoly. By quitting. He hated me saying, "Oh, I can see you've got hotels on Mayfair and Park Lane, as well as the greens and yellows, so I'll quit now - you've won, well done." That was more painful to him than slicing his back with a cheese grater and sprinkling it with salt: "Noooo MillyMoo, you've still got a chance, look - you've nearly got the whole set of pale blues....Hey, come back - how about I give you $500 and chuck in Fenchurch Station..... PLEASE come back!" The thrill of the drawn out thrashing was denied him as I hunted out Dave who was invariably in the 'poolroom', slumped in the brown velvet beanbag watching the exciting channel ten 'Midday Matinee' featuring Jason and his argonauts or Hercules roughly kissing what looked like a 1960s Italian porn star.
It wasn't all a physical fizzle however: I could kick a footy reasonably well, but marked it as though I was catching a netball and refused to tackle. And whilst I may not have been the ultimate tennis opponent for Rob, he was a fabulous form of training for me. His utter competitiveness and willingness to risk a hernia every time he strained for the ball meant that I did the same in return and regularly thrashed my female opponents (and even a couple of teenage boys) during Saturday morning junior tennis. The only thing I chose not to borrow from his on-court prowess was his tendency to stick his tongue out when concentrating. He denies that he ever did this to this very day, but I bet his tongue's out when installing a particularly complicated piece of plumbing equipment!
Over twenty years later and those two hilarious, infuriating, annoying and odd-ball boys are my friends and pretty bloody hilarious, loving, generous and kind ones at that. I love youse, Robert and David!