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Now We Are Ten…at Timbuktu
Now We Are Ten…at Timbuktu

Now We Are Ten…at Timbuktu


Somewhere in Sydney, 1960


‘Why don’t you buy him a theodolite?’

‘Eh? Isn’t that a surveying instrument, Jean?’

‘Yes, Dad.’

‘What the hell is Phil going to do with a theodolite?’

‘Peter!’, shouted his wife Marie, who forbade bad language.

‘What the hell is Phil going to do with a football?’


Their daughter continued,

‘He’d be more of a surveyor than a sportsman. You know he’d swap a football for Phantom comic books.’

Peter Danté grimaced as he did when he knew that everyone else was right.

‘Dad, you know he has no interest in sport, his teachers know he’s awkward, I know he’s uncoordinated...’

‘He tries…’, Marie Danté pleaded; for she said something good about everyone.

‘He doesn’t try enough!

‘Dad, the more he tries, the worse he gets.’

No one disagreed.

‘Not everyone can be a sportsman like you were, Peter, or a tennis player like you are, Jean. Maybe he could go into the priesthood?’

‘He’s too much of a smartarse, Marie! He’d make fun of his parishioners in Latin and make those who went to him for confession do practical jokes for penance! I’m surprised they haven’t excommunicated him!’

No one disagreed.

Indeed, Phil came close to excommunication and split the family when he was expelled from his Roman Catholic school for providing a detailed dossier to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation on his communist, socialist, republican Irish Christian Brother schoolteacher. Philip helpfully suggested in his letter with the dossier that the Brother be tried for High Treason and specific Acts of Sedition against the Crown. Mother was embarrassed, sister outraged, and father so proud of him that he introduced Philip to the head of his Democratic Labor Party, Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria himself at a luncheon at his British Ex-Serviceman’s Club.

His school’s Monsignor called Phil and his parents in to inform them that the Brother was being deported back to Ireland, and what had Master Philip to say to that?

‘Maybe I could send him some potatoes?’

‘That’s like sending snow to an Eskimo’, Dad answered.

The Monsignor’s face turned as purple as the piping on his black cassock when the two male Dantés roared in laughter…Phil’s book was shut, his candle quenched, his bell rung, and he was in public school…forever…

‘Philip always means well…’

Jean nodded; Father grimaced.

‘Marie’s taking him to buy clothes and go to the pictures; what are you buying him for his tenth birthday?’

‘I’m still thinking about it, Dad.’

She didn’t reveal she already purchased what her little brother wanted, the latest Ian Fleming novel.

‘You know him better than we do, Jean.’

She wouldn’t admit that she didn’t, because no one knew Philippe Jeanpierre Danté; he was unexplored territory.

‘What do you think I should buy him?’

‘A book…He loves history!’

A book!!! He’s got enough books already! And we’ve got school and public libraries I pay for with my money! Who in their right mind would buy a book?’

‘Who indeed, Dad? Someone in their right mind.’

He continued his tirade as he strongly considered using the unused cricket bat he bought his son for his last birthday on his daughter’s bottom.

‘And don’t tell me he wants toy soldiers! He’s got enough of them too!’

Marie hid her expression, for she had bought him some.

‘Why not, Dad? He’s going to be one. That’s what he wants.’

‘At least there’s not going to be any war.’

‘Mumsy, there was a war 20 years after the First World War, and it’s coming up to 20 years from the end of the Second…Korea, Malaya…who knows, maybe Indochina’s next?’

‘Don’t be silly, Jean. The very idea!’


Phil was so excited that he didn’t get much sleep. It was his birthday! He had set up his 2nd demi-battalion of Britains foot guardsmen on parade with his Queen mounted on Winston for his birthday trooping of the colour on top of his bedroom chest of drawers. His 1st demi-battalion were in firing positions to massacre the obnoxious tourists. He wasn’t thrilled merely because of the presents, or the cake and ice cream…his mother would take him out of school for the entire day!!!

Unlike other boys, Phil revelled in dressing up in his best suit for the adventures of going to Sydney to visit the department stores whose names rang like worlds of enchantment. Grace Brothers! David Jones! Mark Foy’s! The Catholic owned Walton’s! There would be morning tea, shopping, lunch, and his choice of a matinee. He loved seeing his mother dressed up in her white gloves and hat and genuinely praised her appearance. His father thought him a fop and a dandy.

The only sad thing was that the trams he loved had ceased two years ago on his route, but a double-decker bus and a train ride on the City Circle to Circular Quay to see the ships was fine too. They also rode the last tramline in Sydney for several blocks.

His mother repeated her usual warning,

‘Now Philip, please don’t embarrass me!’

* * *

They agreed on the clothing she bought; Philip only wore solid colours, never patterns, plaid or stripes.

Marie Danté’s big treat in life was shopping, not only for herself, but for anyone else. Unfortunately, she was so addicted she would go off on her own and forget she was with her son.

Philip was gone!!!

It wasn’t like him to wander off without saying anything. Had her son been kidnapped by a white slavery ring hiding behind a mirror?

She frantically retraced her steps, her rapid movements creating a scene.

A refined male voice came over the public address system.

‘Attention please, ladies and gentlemen…your attention please…we have a los…pardon me, sir? My error, ladies and gentlemen. We have a young well-dressed gentleman in a grey suit named Philip who knows where he is, at the concierge desk…he says that his mother is lost…Would his mother please find her way to the concierge desk? Philip is worried about her. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen for shopping at…’

Everyone on every floor broke out laughing, those facing a red-faced Mrs. Danté knew just who the lost mother was…

Marie had no appetite for lunch.


Philip’s choice of movies always embarrassed his mother, though his father loved them; such as the so-called comedies of Jerry Lewis and Norman Wisdom who his family believed Philip regarded as his role models. His choice of matinee was an adventure set in the epitome of the exotic Faraway, Timbuktu.

They arrived early; Phil enthusiastically inspected the film posters as if he was in an art gallery.

A grandmotherly woman smiled and spoke to them,

‘My…you are a very well-dressed young gentleman.’

‘Thank you, Ma’am. You’re exceedingly well dressed yourself. That colour really brings out your eyes.’


‘Your son is as ga-llant’, she pronounced the word in the French style, ‘and well-mannered as he is well-dressed.’

Marie beamed in pride.

‘It’s Philip’s tenth birthday today!’

‘Happy birthday, Philip!’

‘Thank you, Ma’am; you’re very kind.’

‘Ten years old! What are you and your attractive escort going to see today?’

Timbuktu, Ma’am.’

Timbuktu! Do you like the Foreign Legion, Philip?‘

‘Yes, Ma’am. My Auntie works with them.’

Marie’s eyes widened in terror.

You don’t say!’ The elderly woman wore a children say the cutest things expression, ‘What sort of work does your Auntie do with the French Foreign Legion?’

Phil proudly smiled,

‘She parachutes in with the Première Régiment Etranger de Parachutistes to hunt down and kill FLN terrorists; then she interrogates the survivors…if any…’

Mrs. Danté dragged Phil into the cinema as the elderly woman’s expression matched Marie’s.

‘Come Philip, what did I tell you about never speaking to strangers?’

‘Oh, I don’t think she’s a child molester, Mumsy.’

The elderly woman went further into shock…


They proudly stood for God Save the Queen, enjoyed the kangaroo presenting the Cinesound newsreel, laughed at Bugs Bunny, endured the serious short subject, then Phil loved and Marie cringed at The Three Stooges who she thought five times more embarrassing than Norman and Jerry combined in a fifth of the time. They savoured ice cream at the intermission.

‘Oh yes…he’s good!’

Marie had been fond of Victor Mature since One Million B.C., though Peter called him an ‘Eyetie Greaseball’ and ‘the hunk of junk’. She was uncertain whether Timbuktu was meant to be taken seriously or was an avant-garde satire. Though a recent film, it had the appearance of something filmed a dozen or so years previously.

Vic played an insolent devil-may-care sarcastic soldier of fortune who lived in a tent and casually sauntered about in a slouch hat and bush jacket eating beans out of a tin. He romanced a married Yvonne de Carlo wearing a short French hairstyle. They teamed up to stop Timbuktu revolting against France and joining the Third Reich.

Marie suddenly shuddered,

Your son is going to end up exactly like Victor Mature’s Conway character!

* * *

When Vic dressed as the Sheik of Araby came to her moonlit balcony, Mumsy loudly chastised the wanton Yvonne.


The entire cinema broke out laughing.

By contrast, she found the insurgent ‘Lion of the Desert’, John Dehner to be an extremely well-spoken and polite gentleman. She grew fonder of him when he showed off his roses to Yvonne’s cuckolded husband, the Legion Colonel, for Marie loved her roses.

‘Now, there’s a wonderful gentleman to emulate, Philip!’

John Dehner showed off the prize of his garden…the severed head of a traitor. She turned her head in horror.

‘Nobody’s perfect, Mumsy.’

* * *

‘I’ve got the holy man stashed!’

Philip smiled and nodded at Vic’s comment, Marie feared he would use the same phrase about the unfortunate Irish Christian Brother.

She became terrified when a handsome bound French officer was menaced and murdered by half a dozen tarantulas.

‘You can get up off the floor, Mumsy! The spiders are gone!’

The audience roared in laughter.

* * *

‘Which one of the spiders is your mother?’, Vic sneered.

Marie cringed as Phil joined the cheering of the loafers and riffraff as if they were at a sporting match.

A tarantula coming down a string like Philip’s yo-yo went for Victor Mature; an adult male shouted,

‘You can get up off the floor, Mumsy! The spiders are gone!’

The laughter was twice as loud, and some gum on the floor had stuck to her shoe.

Thankfully the film was nearing its end.

Her son was the only one to laugh at Victor Mature firing his tommy gun.

‘Why are you laughing?’

‘Vic looks just like you did when you picked up that dead mouse!’

The audience laughed again…and again when they saw Phil was right.

Vic gunned down John Dehner; Phil joined the enthusiastic applause.

‘It’s not very polite to cheer and whistle when a poor man is machine gunned!’

The audience not only laughed at, but applauded her comment.

Had the floor of the cinema not been so filthy, she would have sunk to it and crawled out in shame.

At last Vic and conveniently widowed Yvonne rode off into the desert sands as the Legion saluted them. Phil imagined himself grown-up and riding with his Auntie.

The pair exited, facing the expectant crowd waiting for the next performance.

Philip tugged her dress as he did when he was much younger and wanted to say something; she looked down at him.

He lovingly hugged his mother and enthusiastically looked up at her on what had been the best day of his life,

Je t'aime Mumsy, tu es la meilleure mère du monde entier!’

She pushed her son away.

Philip!!! Where do you think you are? We are not in France! Never ever behave that way in public again!’

Her son looked as if he was about to cry, the waiting crowd’s happiness disappeared. She continued,

‘Je vous garantis que vous aurez de gros ennuis quand nous rentrerons à la maison!’

She lectured him quietly and continually on embarrassing her all the way home on the double-decker bus. Phil sat in shock and silence.

A sympathetic male put his hand on Phil’s shoulder,

‘Crikey, mate! If I were you, I’d run away and join the circus!’

‘I’m already there.’

After the laughing man walked down the bus stairs, Mumsy clamped her white gloved hand over Philip’s mouth and continued lecturing...


Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).

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About This Story
9 Aug, 2023
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