All of sudden, you’re a blank page - nobody has a clue about your past so you can be anything -- or anybody - you want to be.
The mysterious stranger in the dark hat who has suffered pain, loss and hardship, but nevertheless exhibits a stoic calm and innate steadfastness. Charles Bronson in The Magnificent 7. Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josie Wales. Shellsuit Bob in River City.
Of course, as time goes on and people get to know you, it gets harder to keep up the facade as eventually your true character emerges and you become accepted as the person you always were, warts and all.
Some things in your past you keep quiet about however, since you know your new friends simply wouldn’t understand.
For instance, I have a grubby little secret the good people of Swifts Creek couldn’t possibly thole, a foible I wouldn’t want broadcast for fear of ridicule, derision and banishment.
You see, back in the late 1980’s for a while -- a really short while -- I -- Oh God, how can I say this -- was a vegetarian.
I have an excuse -- a plea in mitigation, you might say. It was around the time of the mad cow disease epidemic and the idea of chomping down a meat pie that consisted of a beast that had been fed on his big brother somehow didn’t seem all that appetising a prospect. And we’d all seen the horrific film of that poor steer staggering around a farmyard like it was chucking out time in Dumbarton Road on a Friday night.
It was terrifying, an extraordinary time and such times result in extraordinary responses. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
(Contemporaneous joke: 2 cows in a field. 1st Cow: What do you think of that mad cow disease? 2nd Cow: Doesn’t bother me, I’m a penguin.)
Now you might think being a vegetarian is not that big a deal. Hardly controversial is it? Not exactly shameful or unconventional; there are literally hundreds of thousands of vegetarians around these days aren’t there?
Not here in Swifts Creek, there aren’t. The Creek, I can assure you, is a tofu-free zone. (Incidentally I once worked with a bloke whose nickname was Tofu because he was so unpopular. Nobody likes Tofu).
See, this is a farming community. The future of the town depends on providing sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, chickens and ducks destined for the butcher’s window. And what they don’t sell, they eat. When a new born lamb is born here, the farmer’s children don’t say ‘aw, the nice’, they say ‘yum’.
We’ve already picked out the young gambolling fella who’ll be our Christmas lunch although we haven’t been so crass as to give him a name. Put bluntly, if he wasn’t destined to be marinated in honey and soy then served up with roast spuds and green beans, this lamb wouldn’t have been born -- or even conceived -- in the first place.
It’s not a cruelty issue.
Every farmer I’ve met cares about the welfare of his beasts -- they’re fed on lush green grass and allowed to roam relatively freely, it just so happens that, sooner or later, they’ll become someone’s dinner. That’s the way it is.
Actually, having fully recovered from my vego phase I’ve gone native and become quite an adventurous carnivore. Kangaroo can be tasty when cooked very rare and I’ve also tried snake, crocodile, possum, wombat and ostrich with varying degrees of satisfaction.
Local creatures I haven’t sampled include koala, goanna and platypus although you’d have to wonder what an egg laying mammal which looks like a cross between a duck and a beaver tastes like. (Horrible according to people who’ve tried it -- like fishy chicken.)
I’ve eaten horse meat in France, and whilst I wouldn’t write home about it -- (it was neigh good) - I’ve had some pretty ordinary beefsteaks in my time so maybe I was just unlucky.
Something I’d never consider eating is dog, not only because they’re affectionate and loyal but also due to their highly suspect personal habits, the details of which I don’t think we need to go into too deeply.
All I need say is this: because it can.
But then, a dog is no mankier than a pig and that doesn’t seem to stop me wolfing into a bacon roll of a Saturday morning. Whilst we’re on the subject of animal hygiene, cattle don’t rate too highly either. Uncouth isn’t the word. Chicken will eat anything you feed them, including each other given half a chance. And don’t even get me started on goats.
On reflection, maybe being a vego isn’t such a bad idea.
But don’t tell anyone in the Creek I said that.