The reported death of old-time Sydney crim ”Nervous” Norm Beves has provoked my nostalgia gland. According to the SMH:
Nervous Norm’s criminal ineptitude was so legendary that for years ”Norm’s form” was used as the case study on recidivism for police officers studying to be detectives. …
Colourful Sydney racing identities, ex-crims, lawyers and golfing buddies were on hand to farewell Beves, who had once worked for George Freeman and later, when he wasn’t shoplifting, on the wharves.
”No one is unluckier than me,” Beves was heard moaning to his wife in an intercepted call played to the Wood royal commission on police corruption in 1996.
Actually, my great uncle Andy was quite a bit unluckier than Nervous Norm. What’s more, he moved in a much lower class of criminal than old Norm. No-one in their right mind would ever have considered employing Andy as caddy master at the Australian Golf Club, not unless they were keen on daily trips to pawn shops to redeem the members’ clubs. Andy even presided over the theft of all the grog from my parents’ wedding reception at Paddington Town Hall by engineering a brawl out the front to give him cover to back a truck up to the rear entrance while all the guests were milling around in Oxford Street. The brawl hit the Daily Mirror at the time, but not the fact that Uncle Andy had ripped off the liquid supplies.
Andy had a nickname too. The Crossword Bandit. He used to fill them in to relieve the boredom of long hours spent “casing the joint”, but always left the completed crosswords behind at the scene of his crimes. And when the CIB found them and came around to see him, he always confessed. Uncle Andy was institutionalised. He couldn’t cope on the outside. One of the few clear memories I have of him was when I was about 8 and Andy accompanied us to Central Railway Station in Sydney where our grandfather was managing to hold down a regular job for one of the few times in his adult life. He was selling papers on the ramp at Central. “Sun or Mirror” he’d yell every few seconds as the commuters surged past. It was the best he could manage as an epileptic with a metal plate in his head after a fair slice of his brain had been shot away in France in World War I after enlisting at 16 by lying about his age.
As Andy accompanied the Parish tribe up the station ramp to see granddad, a couple of burly blokes in ill-fitting suits passed us. “G’day Andy”, one of them said , smiling. ” G’day George, Fred” Uncle Andy replied in his thick Scottish-Australian brogue. “Who were they?” my mum asked, impressed and nervous at the same time. “Oh, that was Detective Inspector Jones and Detective Sergeant Oldfield (or whatever) from the Armed Holdup Squad” , Uncle Andy explained. It wasn’t the answer Mum had been wanting.