xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: She launched over a thousand battleships

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

She launched over a thousand battleships



I spent most of the summers of my youth at North Cottesloe Beach. My mates and I would congregate at what we affectionately called North Cott. We did not need to make any arrangements with each other. If the sun was shining we just made our way to the beach because we knew that is where our friends would be.

Perth has great beaches along its coastline, but for us North Cott was the place to be in the summertime, which is anytime from early November until late April. North Cott had numerous attractions. We started going there in the mid 1950s when we were students at Graylands Teachers College; we were in our late teens. In those days it was illegal to drink in a Perth hotel unless you were over 21. However, we soon discovered that dressed only in our bathers, a towel draped over our shoulder like a Mexican serape, wearing a hat, sunglasses and white sun cream, we could mingle with the people at the beer garden bar of the Ocean Beach Hotel and the barman did not seem too concerned as to our age. What a thrill to be underage, sitting in the sun lounge, carefully disguised as the pub’s backyard, drinking on the cold amber fluid and acting just like all the other young men and women, who were of legal age and sitting around in their swimsuits.

Another reason we liked North Cott was that it produced reasonable waves for some body surfing. There were reefs to the north and south of the main swimming area which seemed to straighten up the waves as they came rushing to the shore. In those days we called these surfing waves “Loom”. Not quite sure why. Perhaps it was because we often swum out beyond the line of breaking waves and looked westwards for any surfable waves that were “looming” on the horizon.
North Cott was also a great place to play beach cricket. We usually chose a flat patch of sand between North Cott and its more fashionable and upmarket sister beach at Cottesloe. We also used to jog up and down the 1000 metre strip of sand between the two beaches.

Of course we mainly came to North Cott because of the beautiful girls who came and sunbathed on its golden sands. We looked at these girls and called it “birdwatching”. Of course we knew quite a few of these young ladies and they often joined our company and vice versa, but we also were ever vigilant, scanning the beach for fresh “birds”.

When there were no girls in our group we used to play the “Helen of Troy” game. Of course this game is so politically incorrect that if you played it today you would be too embarrassed to speak about it with any women of your acquaintance. But we were young then and Political Correctness had not been invented.

We know that Helen of Troy was married to King Menelaus of Sparta. Depending on whether you believe Homer, or some of the other Greek poets, Helen was abducted, or else she eloped, with Prince Paris of Troy.  King Menelaus was understandably upset when his very beautiful wife, Helen, left with Paris. He quickly launched his large navy and set off for Troy to bring her back. Thus started the Trojan Wars and the legend of the beautiful Helen, whose face had “launched a thousand ships.”

In our game we used to study the various females at the beach and give our opinions as to how many ships they would have launched. We would say things like that girl in the red bikini is worth 700 ships or that blonde girl just getting out of the water is a definite 650 ships. Of course we could be cruel and say some girls were worth the South Perth ferry or a small fishing boat.

To balance the gender equation we also developed a game involving men. Fat men! We, of course, were in the prime of our manhood. Lean, lithe, bronzed and well-muscled. OK, slightly well-muscled in my case. Anyhow, we used to look at the potbellied men, sometimes accompanied by 800 ship launching beautifully bodied ladies, and try to put a value on how much food and alcohol they had spent on developing their rotund tummies. We would say things like I give that bloke $12 000; that fellow there is definitely $14 000 and so on.

Well it helped to pass the time when there were not any girls to actually talk to in our group. Which reminds me of the time, in about 1965, when I was at North Cott with my good friend Sean Walsh. We were casting our eye around and giving our opinions on the ship launching qualities of some of the girls on the beach when we spied a friend of ours coming down the stairway that led to the sand. It was a fine fellow named Frank Prendegast. However, it was not Frank who had caused us to pause. At his side was a vision of loveliness, a girl we had not seen at North Cott before. We would have remembered!

We watched Frank as he escorted this beautiful creature onto the sand. We tried to catch his eye but he did not see us and eventually he and the girl sat down about forty metres away from us.

“I think we should go and say hello to Frank,” Sean said as he rose to his feet and moved in Frank’s direction. I quickly followed. As we got really close, Frank saw us and invited us to sit with him and his luscious companion. We already had.

Up close and personal it was clear that this girl was a stunning beauty. She had very lightly tanned skin, a beautiful smile and bright, sparkling eyes framed by her long black hair. She was wearing a blue string bikini that was straining every thread to maintain her modesty. 

After introductions were over we discovered that this gorgeous creature’s name was Helen and she was the younger sister of Tania Verstak, the former 1961 Miss Australia and Miss World International of 1962. Tania Verstak had  married a West Australian businessman and now lived in Perth. Her young sister Helen was over from Sydney for a family visit. Frank’s family knew Tania Verstak and her husband and so he was the lucky fellow whose fortunate duty it was to show the young and very lovely  Miss Helen Verstak the sights of Perth.

We spent a delightful twenty minutes in conversation with Helen and Frank and then we all entered the water to cool off. Shortly after we had left the water and dried off, Frank indicated that he and Helen had to move on and after a smile and word of good bye they moved away. Sean and I sat there watching as the beauteous Helen ascended the stairway. 

He turned and said, “Helen of Troy may have launched a thousand ships, but Helen Verstak just launched the entire Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy.”

“And the Atlantic Fleet, too,” I added.

By that time she had faded from our sight, but not from our memory.. We never ever her saw again.



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