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An albatross swan song – Verse 3: A ghost story

An albatross swan song – Verse 3: A ghost story

Pumpkin makes a deal with BOG at the Nanjing Crossroads


Let’s go back to the where the ghost tale began (for me); in that hotel room in old Shanghai.

Pumpkin wanted to tell me a story, a special story about a Ghost known only to a few. As such, in the wee hours of a balmy Shanghai night Pumpkin told me the tale of the Magical Flying Dragon Ghost.

As it was really dark and the lights were out, I asked Pumpkin if she wanted the lights turned on (I never listen to ghost stories in the dark), but Pumpkin said “sissy” (I think that’s what she said), so I toughed it out.

Oh, apologies for any confusing stuff but I suspect Pumpkin and I do get a little lost in translation from time to time. But we manage, mostly, you’ll see.

Anyway I’ll try to recall the tale as Pumpkin told it to me. But Pumpkin did state that although she knew the ghost intimately including his name/s and profession, she was bound by a death pact with the Boss of Ghosts (BOG) to remain silent for ever more. Yep, my poor dear Pumpkin made a death pact with BOG at the Nanjing Crossroads on a dark and bitter winter’s morning in 1976.

Sadly, although Pumpkin knew who the ghost was, she had never seen him.

Pumpkin knew her ghost had done good things for his people, but she did not know the whereabouts of the fruits of his labours; “Which gardens, havens and icons had he created across our planet?" she whispered. “I want to see them all but most of all I want to see him, if only just once."

BOG said if she remained silent and never uttered the Dragon’s profession or name he would make her dreams come true. The deal was done and BOG picked up a stick from the ground and wrote the following in damp clay:

Last Tango in Yanjing – when the Bull roars.

BOG then added, “But you must forever remain silent, ‘wise you will be sent out for a night with the Bulldogs.” Dear little Pumpkin hasn’t whispered a word since, and has been desperately trying (for yonks) to figure out the first bit of BOG’s script.

The last bit of BOG’s script was easy to reckon but the first bit meant naught to Pumpkin – until recently. But you will have to wait until we introduce you to Mona Loser and her house of ghosts.

Pumpkin then began to tell her tale, which began over 400 years ago, and a bit. It was back in the dying days of Big Iron Ming (I think that’s what she said), and then Pumpkin took me on a boring history lesson.

Briefly (sort of), the Ming mob ran the show for the previous four hundreds years; they made a pretty good fist of it for a while. China became a strong maritime nation – apparently they deknackered some poor bloke then gave him boats to play with and to explore the globe in. He did a very good job indeed, they say:

“You know it’s amazing what a man can do when he’s not thinking of rabbits, hehe,” Pumpkin said with a cute but evil little giggle – it was a western giggle, not an eastern giggle.

After that I was starting to feel a bit uneasy (twice) and asked Pumpkin if she would go straight to the ghost part of her story. Pumpkin, sounding a bit like a turnip, snapped, “You men are all the same, so impatient, I’m getting to that bit”. So I shut up.



Pumpkin continued with words to the effect: everything eventually went belly up for the worn out Ming mob. They were bogged down in costly wars in Korea and elsewhere; a punters rebellion grew strong; a whole bunch of guys sans testicles were left in control of the finances (when a guy can’t pinch your girlfriend what else will he steal?), while the very conservative Ming mob spent too much time with concubines and consorts and far too little time with consultants and planners.

In short Ming was stuffed, so one of his generals opened the gates and let in the warriors from the north to help crush the punters, who were raising hell by now. The northern warriors had been bashing on the gates for yonks and asking for 451 work visas but Ming refused.

Eventually the frightened general allowed the warriors to pass (without visas) on the condition they could have a look around, take a few pics and murder thousands of very angry punters, after which they would go home with complimentary rabbits and a set of steak knives (I think that’s what she said). The warriors said “Coo.”

The warriors marched through the opened gates and with efficient haste and great brutality did a job on the punters, then promptly marched into the northern capital (Beijing/Yanjing) of China and set up shop for the next 400 years. Ming retired hurt and was last seen writing poetry that made many an Empress (and Vogon) cringe.

The Last Dynasty had a pretty good run for a couple of hundred years until the Westies developed a taste for China’s fine silk, tea and porcelain. The only problem was the West didn’t want to pay for it and had nothing to trade (mmmmm).

Then one of the Westie nations had a really cool idea – they set up a meth lab in India and flogged dope to the Chinese big time. And thus, mighty Britannia with the help of a Trading Company from East India became the world’s biggest drug dealers, but not pushers. That came later when the boss lady of China said “no more crack” or words to that effect.

“Tough,” said Britannia to boss lady Wu, then bombed the crap out of the poor Chinese (twice) until they submitted to a really humiliating and expensive peace. That’s drug pushing. After that it was good times for the carpetbaggers; China became a big juicy pie to be shared and exploited by all those capitalist roaders.

“Bet they won’t let that happen again,” I interrupted.

By now I was starting to get really bored and asked about the ghosty bit of the story (again) and with a little bit of trepidation I might add; fortunately Pumpkin understood: “Yes darling,” we snuggled up and everything was good.



Pumpkin f.i.n.a.l.l.y began her tale: I’ll translate best I can OK.

Once upon a time, around the time my Father was born, a Prince was born in China. He grew up to enjoy all the nice things one would expect a prince to have; good food, fine clothes and the best education.

The Prince was a most handsome prince and exceptionally clever too. He paid attention to life around him while he learnt to read and reckon; to play piano and violin (like an angel, they say); he even learnt to cook beautiful meals. He was creative, artistic and had a burning desire to learn – and share. The princesses adored him. By design or by chance he was a lucky and contented Prince – but all was not well.

It was in luxury and security the Prince saw the Rising Sun rape and murder; a nation ripped to pieces. The Sun went down and Red Stars grew strong, the battles raged and a decision made: the prince decided he would secretly fight for the punters.

One day the Princely university student was warned, by a caring and kindly professor, that a guy named Cash My Cheque (I think that’s what she said) found out about the Prince’s decision (and associates). Mr Cash wanted the Prince big time. The Prince was on his list – a traitor to his class. The Prince ran off but was picked up by Mr Cheque’s bank tellers.

A .303 slug travels around 27 hundred feet per second. Sound travels at 11 hundred feet per second. You never hear the one that kills you; you can never kill a dragon that hears you.

Within a flash that handsome prince turned into a Flying Dragon Ghost and quietly navigated his way through enemy lands and joined up with the Red Stars.

But The Flying Dragon Ghost had now a ghost of his own; the ghost of his living past. Would it haunt him or help him?

1950 – the battle is over now and the Ghost weds a beauty of ordinary blood; a baby girl is born and the Ghost gets a job doing what he loves – creating useful stuff. A baby boy and another girl are born as our nameless Ghost reaches the top of his department and travels the world. He worked bloody hard and long; a dedicated Ghost he was.

Life was getting better and the Ghost had great hopes for his people. He had a burning desire for them to connect with others across the Globe. He travelled all over the East and the West where he learnt all sorts of new things. He even learnt how to cook a new dish from every country he visited, and then he would teach it to his children when he came home. China was slowly moving forward, mostly. One and a half steps forward, one step back.

This intelligent and caring Ghost knew not of hubris and always solicited the expertise of others to ensure his craft was people safe. He was a team player.

When the red arm bands appeared the Ghost of his living past came back to haunt him, humiliation and pain – a sandwich board, a people's court.

Nobody knows how he did it but on his judgement day our sweet and gentle Ghost turned the burden of his living past into the dialectical saviour of his family’s future.

The Red Stars decided he was OK. The Flying Dragon Ghost carried on with his work and dreams of China opening up to the rest of the world. China had to. Mao died and Deng opened the doors. The Ghost was pleased, then decided to pack up shop and moved to a chunk of leased British real estate where he continued to work and create. In the mid 90’s he fluttered into the silent pages of our history past.

Pumpkin’s Flying Dragon Ghost now flies all over the globe, sometimes using his wings, and sometimes he prefers to hitch a ride on an aeroplane, a bicycle, a passing train or bus – so Pumpkin reckons. I didn’t believe her but nodded just the same.

Some say the Flying Dragon Ghost left a sign, a signal. A naughty little message (a key that may unlock a vault) left upon his craft – the key for some one he loved.

Pumpkin finished off with, “I’d like to find that signal that key – I love that Dragon so much – but we’ll have to wait until the Bulls roar.” And then Pumpkin yawned, gently closed her eyes and shed a tear.

One day we’ll sort it, I thought – and then I drifted off into an uneasy sleep.



Then for some strange reason I dreamt about the Opera House.



We albatrosses reckon that creation/design above was inspired by us. We think it looks just like albatross chicks all fluffy in their nests. Seagulls reckon same and so does Billaburra (Bill Advent hi) but us white fellas know that Billaburras (although we love them) are the wrong colour. Billaburra has been complaining about it every morning for bloody yonks. I suppose in avarian terms it’s a bit like arguing about who invented the Pavlova. Regardless, I bet you’ve never seen an albatross shit on the Opera House – the bloody gulls just hate it when I say that.

Anyway, as I fell into a deeper sleep I found drifting above Sydney’s Great Big Fluffy Albatross Pumpkins. All of a sudden they collapsed onto the deck into a pile of rubble. As I watched in despair I heard my Father (a civil engineer) say, “I told you so.”

And then the Fluffy Albatross Pumpkins lying in pieces on the ground rose, like a Johnny Farnham concert from the dead, and flew to the stars above – circled Uranus for a bit then dropped back to the Ship Inn for a quick pizza and beer.

Sometimes designers who create these challenging structures forget about the ghosts of the past and the lessons to be learned. The Opera House, as designed originally, was never going to be built: it couldn’t have – for it would have simply fallen down.

Was it hubris, lack of due diligence or carelessness? Who knows but it cost the New South Wales taxpayer dearly for an engineering oversight. Large dome shaped constructions are complex and costly to build. It is always wise to consult the team to make sure one’s grand designs are people (and albatross) safe.

Coming up: 10 toes for Geoff, a budgie and neat little numbers and Mona Loser’s house of ghosts – maybe.


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I'm going to need to reread this with a bottle of whisky beside me.  No maybes, Justin... please? 

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