top of page

We Swear It's True

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

For a person of exceptional intellect, Ben had a remarkable fondness for foul language. He openly admitted to us on a number of occasions – as if it needed confirmation ‑ that he (f#%*in’) loved using swear words.

In his latter years I always suspected Ben’s propensity for profanity was part of the way in which he sought to prevent himself being pigeon-holed as some sort of egghead scientist. That is to say, it was a means to what he very obviously regarded as being the most important of ends: ie being acknowledged, accepted and embraced as “just one of the boys” rather than a nerdy academic in an ivory tower.

To be honest, seen in that context, the (very) regular expletives never bothered me that much. The way I saw it they were just another part of the colourful fabric that made up the rich tapestry of Ben’s entertaining and engaging personality. (And the fact that I don’t mind dropping a few f-bombs myself here and there - especially on the golf course, or on one of those many occasions over the years when my beloved Melbourne Demons have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – may well have contributed to that level of acceptance!)

Indeed as I write this now it seems painfully clear that my own periodic use of swearwords may well have contributed to Ben doing the same. An analysis that would otherwise provide a logical explanation - only Ben’s love of loose language goes back a lo-o-ong way; back to a time when I rarely, if ever, let fly with verbal obscenities in front of either of the boys.

A tale from almost 15 years ago serves to emphasise the point.

In June of that particular year my parents were wondering what to get me as a birthday present – at which point my Mum had the idea of purchasing tickets for Linda and I, and Tim and Ben, to see the stage production of Billy Elliot. She consulted me first, wanting to make sure the subject matter was one we regarded as suitable material for the boys, then aged 10 and 13. We gave the suggestion the seal of approval immediately. Indeed we had ourselves been thinking about taking them to a show of some sort ever since Ben performed a routine with his primary school’s jazz dance group at the Opera House on his 10th birthday.

Billy Elliot was a big hit with both the boys. However Mum and Dad, who joined us at the performance, were a little concerned the swearing might have been excessive for their tender (y)ears. They clearly didn’t know our youngest son as well as we did. Far from being taken aback, Ben amused himself no end over the next couple of weeks by using the word “fook” (rhymes with look and book) repeatedly. He knew full well that this word, as used by the characters in Billy Elliot, was their version of our f-word; but the fact that they pronounced it differently gave him license, as he saw it, to swear with impunity.

After brief consultation, Linda and I decided to let it go, figuring, I think, that the less we protested the quicker he would get sick of trying to provoke a reaction. Initially at least, our approach appeared to have had some success. However judging by the number of times Ben dropped the f-bomb over the ensuing decade, it seems the seed had well and truly been sown. Just don’t tell my Mum!

The fact is that Ben was always ahead of his time when it came to understanding the ways of the world. Virtually from the time he could speak – and arguably even before - he was a cheeky little bugger who stretched, and occasionally pushed beyond the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. As a result, the sort of double entendres and bawdy private jokes that (some?) parents engage in when their children are young and innocent lost their effectiveness much quicker with Ben than with your average primary schooler. Couple this with Ben’s love of games, and his natural competitiveness, and you have the setting for another short story which emanates from around the same period as our family expedition to Billy Elliot.

One evening during the summer holidays of 2008-2009, or thereabouts, after we had travelled south to visit my brother and his family in Victoria, a group of us were playing the board game Articulate. For those who may be unfamiliar, the game requires participants to describe or mimic nominated words or phrases to their teammate(s) – one at a time, securing as many correct responses as possible within a strict time limit ‑ without uttering the word itself, or any part of it, and without using expressions like “starts with” or “sounds like”. Ben was very good at this game from a remarkably young age, which only served to fan the flames of his competitive zeal.

On this particular occasion he was partnered with his mother. After securing a quick and correct response to his first effort of the round, Ben spent the remainder of his allotted time holding his hands cupped in front of his chest, whilst simultaneously imploring Linda to come up with what he clearly regarded as a very obvious synonym for breasts. To his mounting frustration and displeasure, and with all imaginable variations on the theme - from your garden variety boobs, tits and bosoms, to the somewhat more exotic hooters, jugs and funbags - having been offered and rejected, time eventually ran out. Ben stared unforgivingly at Linda, and shouted, loud enough for the neighbours to hear, “RACK!” My brother nearly suffered an apoplectic fit; almost choking on his own startled wonderment when faced with Ben's haughty exasperation. And indeed, even those of us who knew Ben well enough to not be too surprised by his reaction found the scene pretty bloody hilarious it must be said.

To this day I wonder why Ben couldn’t have offered “The place where you keep your spices” as an alternative suggestion for the word rack. But things are always easier with the benefit of hindsight aren’t they?

Just backing up a little, when Ben was only 8 or 9, and Tim 11 or so, Linda took the boys to an early dinner at her Mum’s house on an evening when I was otherwise occupied at cricket training. Not having been present myself on that particular occasion you might be tempted to take my re-telling of this anecdote with a grain of salt. But believe me, this story has been shared often enough amongst our friends and family over the past decade and more that there is no room for confusion about what exactly happened.

So there they are, the four of them – Linda, Tim, Ben and Linda’s Mum, Pam – all getting ready to tuck into one of Pam’s mouth-watering home-cooked dinners when, without warning, and with no discernible connection to any of the preceding conversations, Ben pipes up with the following question: “Mum, what’s a blow job?”

Dutiful and loving daughter that she is, and remains, Linda immediately turns to Pam in the optimistic expectation of maternal guidance and support. With just a hint of a smile Pam sets her knife and fork back down on the table, crosses her arms, and responds quietly and simply to everyone and no-one simultaneously: “This’ll be good”

ie “You’re on your own kid, and may I say I am very much looking forward to seeing how this unfolds”. (With perhaps just a hint of “If I’d known how much fun grandkids were going to be I’d have had them first!”)

According to Linda a couple of dozen thoughts rushed through her head in the next few milliseconds. (And no doubt her memory was sorely tested). But pretty quickly she reached the conclusion that telling Ben the truth just might shock and embarrass him enough to make him think twice before asking such an awkward question in the future. And so, after a significant, but clearly not pregnant, pause she explained to him, to the best of her recollection, exactly what a blowjob is.

Unlikely as it may seem, Ben’s response caught Linda even more off-guard than his original enquiry had done. Face screwed up in disgust, he posed the very serious, and completely unanticipated follow-up question which, to my knowledge, remains unanswered to this day: “Eww, who’d want a job like that?”

You would have gathered from this latest tale that Ben demanded honesty from those around him, especially his parents. If he asked a direct question you better believe he expected a direct answer – as a result of which Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, to name just a few, were on borrowed time at our house.

But to his credit Ben rarely asked anything of us that he wasn’t prepared to deliver himself. He was a straight-shooter all his life. There were no hidden agendas, no airs or pretences. In a world where a lot of people are so image-conscious that they sometimes lose track of what is genuine, Ben was, as far as I am concerned, the real deal. What you saw was what you got – sometimes warts and all of course, but definitely no less lovable for that.

You better fuckin’ believe it.


bottom of page