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Life's all about your nicknames: signed Garibaldi, aka Fireside

The day I was awarded my Australian permanent resident's visa I was given a neat little lesson in how even Aussies in official positions still like to exude a relaxed-no-worries-she'll-be-right national vibe.

As I was handed my officially stamped passport, the immigration clerk smiled and said in a typically breezy manner: 'Welcome to Australia, Gazza.'

Nicknames here are a way of life - there is almost no name that can't be shortened (and sometimes lengthened) for the purposes of friendliness and familiarity.

Having said that, most Aussies don't try too very hard to find a moniker that suits, plumping instead for an easy derivation of the actual name in question.

Generally this involves the simple adding of an 'o' to a given name - Dave becomes Davo, John is Jono and Steve is Stevo. (Obviously it doesn't work if you're called Hugo, Leo or Otto. Or, for that matter, Yoko.)

I don't think I know any Aussies who don't have a nickname that doesn't immediately imply their real one - and that's a pity, because sometimes the 'o' just doesn't work.

For instance, a bloke called Ryan is always known as 'Rhino', which is fine if you're a big bustling type with hands like shovels, but much less fitting if you're a sensitive type who likes flower-arranging and attending Lady Gaga concerts.

How I hanker for the inventive nicknames people in Scotland manage to concoct - or at any rate certainly used to when I was at school.

Some of my all-time favourites are 'The Shed' for a bloke who didn't spend his recreation time in a garden hut but had a clinically precise parting in his hair which seemed to almost cleave his scalp in two.

(Incidentally, I've noticed that the shed look seems to making a comeback in recent times, in Melbourne at any rate, where sundry young fellows have really taken it to heart...well to head anyway, another indication that nothing in fashion is ever new, but merely recycled from the past. In fact, it's probably only a matter of time before the old Bobby Charlton hairstyle, the famous sweeper system where baldies calculatingly reprocess hair from under their oxter in a hopelessly unconvincing attempt to appear hirsute, makes a long-awaited comeback. I bet the girls can't wait for that one - I'm sure it really turns them on.)

Other superb nicknames from my schooldays were 'Wisey' - not because the boy in question was particularly bright or a devotee of alleged comedian Ernie - but because whenever you went to his house, he was always cutting about in his y-fronts.

The piece de résistance however was an otherwise unremarkable and frankly kind of boring fellow who was known, due to his thin sloping shoulders and disproportionally large head as 'The Sauce Bottle'. How we laughed. Though, come to think of it, I don't remember him ever finding it especially comical.

And, in some ways, that was the point. A nickname is something you should always have to bear with fortitude: if you're lucky it isn't anything too offensive, but even if it is, tough - you're going to have to live with it.

In fact, the more you hate it and try to circumvent it the more your 'mates' will inflict it upon you. I've never been to a school reunion - my school doesn't actually exist any more - but just about the only reason I can think of to attend would be to watch all these middle-aged successful types cringe as their old school chums greeted them with cries such as - 'Hallawrerr Bawjaws, hey, you haven't changed a bit!'

Even worse than trying to eschew an unacceptable sobriquet was actually giving yourself a nickname - an egotistical action which was basically another way of admitting you weren't very popular.

For instance, we had a bloke at school who told us one time to 'Call me Captain', so naturally enough we didn't.

(Well, not really. We called him Captain Tit which not unsurprisingly was very quickly shortened to the simpler and much easier to say - Tit.')

Personally speaking I had both good and bad luck when it came to nicknames.

Early in the piece I was 'Garibaldi' an observation which was originally entirely coincidental but has since proven to be - sadly - somewhat prescient.

Then I was 'Sourbier' after a long forgotten (even by me) Dutch footballer I was said to resemble. Garth got a run after that which then led to 'Fireside' given me by one of those guys who used to like rhyming slang.

Fireside Hearth. Geddit?

Actually, the bloke who conferred Fireside on me was a biggish-boned fellow called Willie Barrett- (I think he used to retain water - or was it chips?) who was known by all and sundry - even his wife I seem to recall - as El Grottisimo.

I don't think he minded it. But even if he did, it wouldn't have made any difference. That was his name, any dieting regime would have been pointless. I'm given to understand he now makes his living as a fitness trainer and now considers his body shape to be 'athletic'. But then, so is a shot putter.

Strangely enough, nicknames always seemed to be guy thing - I can't recall any girls having one - which was a pity because, as in everything else, I'm completely in favour of this type of equality.

I'm sure Willie Barrett aka El Grottisimo could have come up with something apt and fitting - he certainly did when it came to his missus.

He's divorced now - did I mention that?

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