Nostalgia can be such a seductive liar.
As the wise amongst us know, revisiting stuff from one’s past, stuff that at one time we may have held dear and close to our hearts, is hit and miss at the best of times. Some things hold up over the passage of time better than others. Sadly, the late 70’s/early eighties hit show DIFF’RENT STROKES, which I used to hold in the ultimate high regard as a kid, what with its laughter-track assisted antics of Willis, Arnold and Park Avenue Mr Drummond, no longer hits quite the same high notes of hilarity it once did 40 years ago. Funny that.
I recently revisited a book I first read some twenty-five years ago:
CHOPPER : FROM THE INSIDE
Mark Brandon Read was a Melbourne-based career criminal who at one point in the early 2000’s was listed as Australia’s best-selling author. ‘Chopper’ as he was known to friend and foe alike, ended up writing more than a dozen tell-all type books, all of them documenting with characteristic lashings of dry wit, an undertaker’s sense of black humour and near unparalleled word flair his real life adventures as a Headhunter: a bare-knuckled and weaponized stand-over man who terrorized and extorted money and favours from other criminals for profit and pleasure, back before the term became widely adopted by the Human Resources Recruitment Industry. Preying exclusively on the no-good types of the underworld, a case exists for such a person to be regarded as the criminal version of pest control.
In spite of what your personal view may be regarding criminals profiting from their crimes via publishing deals, films, paid television interviews etc, the fact is Chopper always stuck to the story that he never bashed, belted, iron-barred, axed, shot, stabbed, knee-capped or set on fire a single law-abiding, tax-paying civilian amongst his sizeable tally of victims. To his mind, at least, these were acts of community service that resulted in society being rid of several dozen killers and violent crims.
I’m a little reluctant to admit now that the twenty-five years younger version of myself became somewhat fascinated (I’ll stop short of using the word ‘enamoured’ for fear of the wrong impression that word might likely create) by these books back in the early nineties. A quarter of a century later had I matured and outgrown the blood-splattered vigilante aura of this type of true crime confessional?
Well, it appears, sadly no.
Rereading the first book in the series all these years later ended up only reinforcing my view that this was a person who lived one hell of an extraordinary life on their own terms and survived against all odds and countless attempts on their life (Read died of natural causes in 2013) to eventually earn an honest living as a highly entertaining author and paid public speaker.
By this point there may be people who’ve stopped reading because I’ve declared my liking for written accounts of a person and subject manner they find distasteful. For everyone else here’s a little taste of Chopper’s writing smarts. In this excerpt taken from page 33 of CHOPPER : FROM THE INSIDE he’s talking about his dear old dad Keith –
“Once, when he was young, Dad got the idea that the next-door neighbours were mistreating their family pet. Every time he looked over the fence the animal seemed to be getting thinner and thinner.
He complained to the neighbours and said he hated cruelty to animals. Every time he asked them if they were feeding the dog, they swore they were.
But it seemed skinnier than ever, and one day Dad could take no more. He jumped the fence, threatened the neighbour with a beating, then took the dog and drowned it to put it out of its misery.
It was the first time he had ever seen a greyhound.”
Not everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, but after twenty-five years and withstanding the ultimate test of time, I’m gonna have to finally admit, it is mine.