There is nothing worse than the sight of a grown man crying. We aren’t robots of course and sometimes we just have no choice. Like most of my gender however, I make every effort to shut myself somewhere out of sight or sound of anyone else before allowing myself to break down.
The thought of dissolving into tears in front of a large group of strangers is the stuff of my nightmares. Last Friday night that nightmare came true and it was Larry I wept for.
Why Larry? I’d like to say that him and me were best mates, thick as thieves and sharing a special bond. It wouldn’t quite be true though. We have become very close and I thought the world of Larry. We were good mates, and I loved spending time with him, but I have lost closer friends and never even welled up over it. So, what was so different about this old bugger.
I’ve known Larry for about 5 years I guess, but for a long time, I didn’t get too close. Larry was quite a private person and I didn’t really want him thinking I was trying to push my way into his world. There are plenty of social climbers about and I didn’t want to be mistaken for one.
Strange as it may sound, me and Larry are both quite introverted and slow to open up to people. Sadly, it wasn’t really until after Larry’s first brush with death when he had a lung removed that we started to get to know each other.
I think Larry was glad to be alive. He was probably thankful he hadn’t had a lung transplant (I can’t imagine anything worse than coughing up someone else’s phlegm).
Whatever the reason, we got to know each other much better after that and I spent many a happy hour with Larry. Most of the time I spent with him, he was sat on his chair in front of his giant TV, rolling up ciggies or occasionally something a little stronger to enjoy through his one remaining lung.
We might have lived very different lives, but we somehow had a lot in common. I always remember the picture he had in his living room. I recognised it as soon as I walked in. It was Rose Hill racecourse in Sydney. I have never been there, unlike Larry I have zero interest in horses or horse racing.
I knew it however, because in the background was Shell’s Clyde oil refinery (long since demolished) where I had worked as a welder on a couple of shutdowns.
It was funny to laugh about daft things which I had done in a dirty old refinery while Larry would tell stories of funny things he had done on racetracks.
I have a lifetime fear of horses while Larry trained, and clearly had an extraordinary bond with them. He trained a horse which came within a whisker of winning a Melbourne Cup. He remains convinced that if the jockey had done as he was instructed, that the cup would have been his.
We laughed about stupid things I did on old motorbikes. We laughed about how he lent his Aston Martin to a friend who didn’t have the hang of the weird gear change mechanism.
He shoved it into the wrong gear and the thing came to a screeching halt in a plume of smoke from a well fried clutch. “Cost me thirty bloody grand to fix the thing,” he laughed.
He told me how Rupert Murdoch loved to come into his office and gas bag for hours on end. “It was alright for Rupert, he didn’t have a bloody deadline to meet,” he chuckled. “I had to get a frigging cartoon out by 3 o’clock.”
He loved to talk about flying his helicopter. “I would fly it to the pub, have a skin full and then fly home - no breathalysers up there,” he snorted.
The thing with Larry was that he wasn’t trying to impress you with the fact that he had owned an Aston Martin and a helicopter, or that he was friends with one of the world’s great media moguls.
To Larry, he was just a bloke having fun in an Aston Martin or a helicopter or with Rupert bloody Murdoch. The fact that his toys were bigger just added to the fun. He was just as happy to talk about his life as a runaway 14-year-old living in a phone box and stealing eggs from a local chook farm to survive.
That was what was so special about Larry, he never forgot who he was or where he came from. He never looked down on people for who they were, or where they came from.
I wasn’t anyone special or famous when I met Larry, but he never ever made me feel that way. He always heaped praise on my work and had huge confidence in my abilities.
I know that Larry believed it too because he wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t. Larry Pickering never peed in anyone’s pocket.
Those compliments were special to me however, for two reasons. Firstly, praise from a writer of Larry’s calibre is deeply humbling. But there is another reason.
Larry was a media superstar with a huge following. I was a much younger nobody. When Larry posted articles of mine, particularly on Facebook, sometimes people would mistake them for his own. On some occasions, commenters would praise Larry for writing such a great piece.
That used to make me nervous. Larry could have felt jealous or threatened by that. Many lesser men would have been. He could have started sniping and picking faults in what I wrote. He could have rejected articles. But Larry never gave me anything but praise and encouragement.
That is why I admired Larry so much.I know that Larry’s success never came at anyone else’s expense. Larry Pickering never climbed over anyone else to get where he was.He did it all on his own merit.
Larry was always ready to give someone else a hand up without worrying about whether that might diminish his own position or status. When I measure the size of a man, that quality adds considerably to the numbers on my tape rule.
People may think that Larry simply had a talent for cartoons but talent or no, you still have to put in the hard yards. There is a proper way to draw a cartoon which needs to be learned. Larry told me he drew three cartoons, every day for a year before submitting one to the editor.
That was what made Larry special. As well as his talents, he had true grit and never backed away from a challenge.
It is a couple of years now since Larry’s doctors told him that if he didn’t take the Chemo, that he would be dead by Christmas. Larry stuck two fingers up at them and confounded them since.
Who does that?
Larry’s toughness was legendary. He would fight tooth and nail for what he believed was right. To see him succumbing to the inevitable was beyond sad for me. On Friday, I spoke to his wife who was passing on instructions on the eulogy he wanted to go on the website.
If that isn’t hard enough to take, he grabbed the phone part way through. “Hello Chief!” he exclaimed with his old enthusiasm for life and began telling me what he wanted me to include.
Before long however, he was struggling to get words out and had to hand the phone back to his wife again. It broke my heart and that is why I broke down last Friday night and cried in front of all those people.
Larry was fighting like a tiger to spend just a little more time with his beloved family. He refused painkillers because he didn’t want to miss what little time he had left with them. Sadly, it was a fight that even Larry Pickering couldn’t win forever.
They broke the mould when they made Larry and we can’t all be like him. But the fact that Australians made a hero of Larry speaks volumes as to why this country is one of the most envied in the world. Larry did everything he could to keep it that way.
He leaves behind a gigantic pair of boots to fill.
I can never be Larry, but I will do my best to keep this site running and the community together. I know that was what Larry wanted because he told me so. The Pickering Post was never just Larry. All of us have added to The Post with our comments and links, and all of us are still here for now.
Farewell old friend. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten and the Pickering Post lives on as your legacy and a gift to all of us.
Harry Richardson is a long-time student of Islam and author of best seller, "the Story Of Mohammed - Islam Unveiled', http://thestoryofmohammed.blogspot.com.au