Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Irish Goan

 Mal and Margaret Ferris


I AM indulging myself just a little and you will forgive me for doing so. I write about my once pukka Irish friend who with his twilight headlights on is more than most of us in the diaspora. They have had an apartment in Bardez, not far from Calangute but nicely hidden from the tourist gaze.

He loves his food hot and swears that any food cooked without those red demons from Goa should be barred for public consumption. There were times when we went out to dinner in Sydney and he would always put a timely two fingers into his top pocket and snick out a packet containing finely chopped red chillies.  His number one dish was Goa’s natural central heating and tongue warmer, Sorpotel. He has cooked a few times. The first was when he and Harold George D’Souza and a few mates were organising a New Year’s Eve Party. Harold and Mal were actually the kitchen hands and not the chefs (they will claim otherwise). I have got it on good authority that the chef was actually Harold’s late mother. The girls would not fib, would they. Anyway, the Irish chap has never raised the issue again, so I say let sleeping pigs lie … somewhere.

It was not so long ago that Rebecca and Tony, Tony and Lucinda, Harold and Hazel, Mal and Margaret and one or two other friends would meet at least one Friday or Saturday each month for dinner. COVID has buggered that up but I also think that age is wearing us down a bit. Driving those few kilometres without a friendly driver is simply not worth it because you cannot drink and drive. The Friday Club which has not met since February or March is another victim of the COVID. One or two or three or even four are recovering from this and that and the rest are twiddling their thumbs and remembering the good old Friday drinks at the Baulkham Hills Bowling Club. Is this the end of the famed Friday Club, I hope not. Certainly, Leslie Scott, Andrew Scott (if he can catch a ride), Loy D’Souza and I would be raring to go. Drake Shikhule, fired by his successes in the medical marijuana business, has been ringing around, urging a meeting of the club. I am confident that once the prison walls come crashing down and we are all freed from the COVID prisons, we will have a full quorum. 

Back to my Irish friend. The small group of Moira villagers who used to celebrate the village feast with the help of their friends began dwindling after Sheila and George Pereira left this earth.

Sheila was a powerhouse. She was always the belle of the party, the feast or the dance. For the senior citizens, she used to get up on a table and sing and dance her heart out.  Since no one was coming forward, my Irish friend let some rumours fly like the kites, suggesting that he might lead the Moidekars (from Moira, Goa). Goodness gracious me! The spark that lit that storm was nothing like the annual bushfires the eastern part of Australia is victim to each year in Summer. Suddenly people were invoking the saints, others were seeking out Goans who used to deal in matters of disht (evil eye) and this and that. Needless to say, my Irish friend was well and truly hammered.  Shame really because he is a very special, hardworking and generous man.

A young Mal Ferris

My Irish friend was once Vice President of the Goan Overseas Association of NSW. He was simply brilliant especially since he increased the profit from the sale of alcohol to the point where the association’s coffers were bulging with healthy profits. However, on one occasion he did go home with a lot of skin off his back missing and he was suspected of having huge scratch marks running from his shoulder to the buttocks. A relation had taken him to task for overcharging for a glass of lemonade. If I remember correctly, he was charging $1.50 for a glass when the two-litre bottle cost only $2 from Woolies. Big overheads, he was explaining to anyone who would listen. However, jokes aside, he was one of the best workers the association ever had in the days when we could run  our bar and most committee members were hands-on as opposed to hands-off and armchair drivers.


In the end, his enthusiasm and collective financial ignorance by some drove him out of the association. The committee of Harold George D’Souza invested the association's funds in stocks and shares. No sooner had this been done, there were raging volcanoes erupting everywhere. The committee was torn to shreds at an extraordinary general meeting and had to undertake the sale of the shares. Today they would have been worth quite a bit, maybe even a million. Not only would they be worth so much but in the intervening years just think how much we would have received in tax paid dividends. The association could have given free functions twice a year along with the children’s Xmas party. Never mind, we live and learn.

On the other hand, the naysayers were strong in making the case that investing stocks and shares could bankrupt the association. What was their thinking! Most of the funds were invested in the big banks if they went under, so would the country. Try telling the doomsayers that.

I think I have met M&M in Goa on two or three occasions. If memory serves me right, the last time was in 2009. My sister Flora and her family and I had been to Sri Lanka and had come to Goa for Christmas. We were living in Salcete and M&M were in their Arpora sexy apartment. They paid for an apartment for me and came and picked me up and in no time, I was nestled in a pretty nice place. We did anything and everything but the most essential thing was dinner. We would check out the restaurants and their respective chefs in the morning and try and see if could find a menu to our liking even if the things we were asking for were off-the-menu. Most restaurants obliged because they were familiar with M&M. One of the first things they did was to bring all their grog and shelf at my place. The reason is that, at my place, there was a pretty little swimming pool. No one swam in it, at least I did not see anyone swimming in it. So, after dinner, we would sit by the pool, solve all the world’s problems and then before the sun peeped out, we would hit our respective beds. Their nest was just five minutes away.

Oh, by the way, for brunch we to Mal’s favourite little café for samosas and other Goan pastries. He just can’t get enough of them. Well, neither does anyone else coming from outside of Goa.

It turned out to be a delightful week. The night before they were going to drop me to Salcete, we agreed that alcohol that night would be limited to war-time rations: a couple of sips and that was that. Single Malt, of course. While they were there, I felt a pinch in my left shoulder and put it down to the late shower that I had had that evening and thought nothing of it and went to bed in pretty good spirits. As the night wore, the pain continued and increased until around 5 am, I thought I was in trouble. So, I rang my Irish friend and told him to come quickly and take me to the hospital. Being in no fit state to drive (I don’t how he did that, a secret horde of nightcaps?) he suggested that I go and see a mutual friend in my block of units and ask him to ask his doctor to come and see me in this emergency. I did that but his doctor told him that he stopped making house calls a “century ago”.

Rang M&M up again and they there in 10 minutes and we headed for a clinic in Baga. They duly processed the ElectroCardioGram and we waited for the result which came about 10 minutes later: “Sorry,” said the girl. “Our ECG machine has broken down. Please go to our other clinic in Calangute.” We shot off faster than a rocket heading for the moon. We went through the ropes and got the same result: Machine broken down! Was it me, my body breaking these machines, can’t be!! This time they told us to rush to their private hospital in Mapusa. When we got there, it was a completely different world.

I had this test and that test, this blood test, this X-Ray, that ultrasound and that other X-Ray. It was all clockwork, no waiting. Minutes later, I was talking to the Cardiologist/Surgeon. He said I had a blockage in one of my major arteries and he needed to put a stent in it.  I asked if he could give me some medication that would look after it for the next day or two while I returned to Sydney that day or the next. He said: “You might want to take a chance, I won’t.” That was that. For some reason, my credit card did not have a PIN but M&M said they would pay for it. I suggested that they go back to my place because there was enough money in a stash there. Anyway, minutes later, I am on my back watching a TV while a cardio team is discussing various aspects of delivering the stent. Several minutes later I am in lalalalalal land.

When I eventually wake up, I am in a state of hell. Hell is not always fire red, it can be pitch black, too. Worse, the thing that worried me most was that I had no idea where I was. Took me a while to figure it out and turn around to discover the gizmo little lights around the bed’s headboard. I also finally located the buzzer which as just an inch or two away, and virtually on my body. After I had done the pressing thing, two Goan nurses appeared.

They were speaking in Konkani but I could not hear too well.

One of them said something to me, and I said, “in English please.”

“What is the problem? Are you in pain? Do you need anything?”

“I need some light. Where am I? I know I am in a hospital but where in the hospital?

“In the Intensive Care Unit.”

“Why is it so dark?”

“It is designed to calm our patients who may be recovering from major surgery.”

“Can I get some light, any light?”

“A few minutes later, the other nurse returned with a little oil lamp and a candle”.

I fell asleep again with the oil fumes assuredly in my nasal passages.

Next morning the boss of bosses, the owner, arrived on his rounds, dressed in his General Manager attire, along with his gold watch. I insisted that they get me out of that black hellhole of Mapusa. Eventually, they got me into a private room. The best thing was that my sister was able to bring me some decent Goan food.

The next morning, I left for Benaulim and later that evening for Sydney via Mumbai. We had to buy new Business Class tickets for my niece and me.

When we got to Sydney, the initial carrier refused to refund the price of the ticket but I headed for mediation at a tribunal in Melbourne. Lasted 10 minutes. I simply made the point that this man sold us the tickets but did not deliver the product. Got our original money back. Meanwhile, the insurance refunded the business class tickets because the cardiologist gave a certificate saying that I was asymptomatic. And the rest is history.

Back to my Irish friend. He used to own two log cabins on a small mountain not too far from Sydney’s wine country at Eaglereach. Someone had the bright idea to buy a mountain (well not quite, but big, 1000, acres) and sell plots for the construction of eco-lodges under strict licence. So, we used to go up there regularly. It was the life of the other Reilly. Lots to drink, lots to eat, great walks and plenty to please yourself. The only problem was that when the rest of us were having such a good time, he would be busy doing this, that, or something else. He would stop in time for lunch or dinner. Both events were long because everyone brought one, two, or three dishes and he would barbecue this or that. Breakfast was huge. I have to confess the drink had the better of me on a couple of occasions. And then I never had another drop. My Irish friend married a beautiful Goan girl. He met Margaret at a Catholic Club in London while he was in training with Tesco in 1967. They got married in September 1969. How the hell did an Irish Tesco manager get to marry a Miss World could have been girl?  They have three children and five grandchildren. I rang him up the other day and told him I needed to interview him and he told me to “bugger off”, with a few smiles and sniggles.

After he quit Tesco, he went out to work for himself, selling bacon, sausages and whatever else he could lay his hands on. It was hard yakka but that was nothing to him.  After a year, he bought an old Co-op Building in North Wales. Then started producing his own-branded prepacked food.  In the end, he was the boss of a major meat factory, turning over a considerable amount. The family then sold out to migrate to Australia. That was a blessing for us.

An exceptional couple, we are all truly blessed. I could not wish for a better pair of friends. I am blessed, yet again. By the way, he will swear to anyone who cares to listen that he is pure Irish right down to the last drop of Guinness. In a moment of whimsey, he might admit the Goan part of him is mainly curries, pastries and feni.

Mal with his daughter Leonie ... on top of his world, at least on Sydney Harbour Bridge

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