Freezer Ep: 31 Dinner with Uncle Elliott

When Sky’s grandfather died some years ago, her father John Price, as the oldest son, had automatically inherited the family estate: A quaint practice, which the aristocracy of the old country and the squattocracy of the new still had in common. The original Price property was one of the largest and most prosperous during the colonial days, but those days were just a distant memory by the time John took over the reins.

Younger brother Elliott, had not objected to John getting the family property. That was just how things were in the bush. Elliott Price always knew he would have to make it on his own. With the right connections and innate cunning he had acquired the first of his many millions and a substantial property of his own by the time their father had died.

John Price was neither a farmer nor an entrepreneur. In short, when it came to making money he wasn’t awfully good at anything. Frightened by progress and change he had been largely oblivious to developments in agriculture. Within a few years of getting control of the Price property, a series of mergers, takeovers and some polite thievery saw all the surrounding properties replaced by five large, impersonal agribusinesses. John blundered on, but when the wool price collapsed during his daughter’s last year at school, John’s wife, Emily, suggested they seek the advice of younger brother Elliott.

Elliott’s advice was simple, sell out and retire. He had a plan: Subdivide the property into small blocks and offer them to the potential new market of absentee landowners: Weekend farmers, escapees of the corporate jungles of advertising and stockbroking. Once again Elliott was ahead of the pack and the strategy proved to be a good one.

John and Emily Price moved to a large comfortable apartment in the city, which they purchased on Elliott’s advice. Over the years, John and Emily became increasingly dependent on Elliott’s business skills. He handled all their investments, much to their relief as neither was remotely interested in financial matters.

After finishing her last year as a border at Lushers College for Ladies, Mary Price lived with her parents in the apartment for a few months before going on the grand European tour with a couple of school chums. The friends returned at the end of the northern summer. Mary however, had remained in Europe for another three years before travelling through Asia and America. When she finally returned to Australia, it was with a new outlook on life, and a new name, Sky Crystal.

Emily Price never called her daughter anything other than Mary and insisted that everyone else do the same. She hated the name Sky and was horrified when Mary used the money from her grandfather to establish the “Sky Crystal” shop.

On the first Tuesday of every month, Elliott’s wife, an active patron of the Australian Opera who regularly graced the social pages, attended the opera or some other arts event. She loved opera and music with a passion that her husband most definitely did not share. While his wife enjoyed the swirl of the arts world, Elliott talked numbers over dinner with John and Emily at their apartment.

Elliott would outline the current state of John and Emily’s investments and propose new strategies. Brother John would listen with interest and nod with feigned understanding, while Emily, who usually did understand, nodded with feigned interest. John and Emily always agreed to whatever Elliott proposed and at the end of the meal they would retire to the lounge to play gin rummy until it was time for Elliott to pick up his wife.

The Tuesday arrangement, with its mix of interest and disinterest, satisfied everyone.

Elliott Price’s surprise request that Mary join them for their Tuesday dinner the following week had tweaked Emily’s curiosity. Emily was happy to oblige and her daughter had agreed to come.

Elliott arrived early. Over drinks he told John and Emily about the shopping centre proposal and his intention to invest his own money as well as some of theirs in the project. News of Mary’s refusal to sell her shop to the developer Ray Purvis provided Emily with an explanation for Elliott’s sudden interest in his niece.

“It would be a shame to see her miss out on such a good opportunity.” Elliott told John and Emily. “But, don’t argue with her, or demand that she sell, otherwise she never will.”

“You can rely on me,” John assured him, as the door bell rang proclaiming the arrival of Sky.

The greetings were pleasant enough, but the meal did not go well. Emily knew her daughter Mary was a vegetarian and had prepared fish. However Sky, who had recently become a vegan without mentioning it to her mother, said she would eat only the vegetables.

“Go on have the fish,” John gently suggested to his daughter. “Your mother bought it specially because you’re a vegetarian.”

“I didn’t ask her to get fish,” Sky reacted. “Besides I’m not a vegetarian, I’m a vegan so I don’t eat any animal products at all.”

“I thought it was just red meat that you lot objected too,” John Price said he passed the vegetables to his daughter.

“That’s right, ‘we lot’ say nobody should eat red meat,” Sky said with more than a touch of sarcasm. “But, if we all eat fish instead there will be none left in twenty years.”

“Bloody hell,” John fumed. “First you want to send the graziers bust and now it is the fishing industry!”

“Don’t you realise the resources of the world are running out?” Sky demanded of her father. “We can’t keep eating animals. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to get all our protein from plants.”

And so, John and his daughter were arguing again, as Elliott knew they would. “I don’t think it is quite that bad Sky, but I agree we do have to look at the way we produce our food and the effect it is having on the environment.” Elliott said

Sky, momentarily distracted by the vague words of support from her uncle, said nothing allowing Elliott to steer the conversation in the direction he wanted, namely the success of her shop.

Sky soon conceded that business wasn’t as good as she had hoped, but told her uncle she was confident things would eventually get better. “Just like America, its big business over there now.”

Elliott praised Sky for having the wisdom to look to America for marketing trends, but with some skilful probing had her doubting whether the shop was in the ideal location. Sky told Elliott and her parents about the offer she had received from Ray Purvis and what she thought of him and his shopping centres. Uncle Elliott full heartedly agreed with his niece’s opinion of Purvis, a shark in shark’s clothing as the family had always said.

“But, don’t be too hasty. Business is all about knowing when to buy and sell.” Elliott quietly advised. “You should look at every offer dispassionately, and if it is as good as this one sounds, then grab it with both hands.”

For perhaps the first time in her life, Sky listened with genuine interest to what her uncle had to say. She found it strangely similar to the main message of the recent course on ‘Self Visualisation and Realisation’ she had attended: ‘If you really want something then you deserve it. And, if you deserve it, then you are denying your full potential if you don’t do everything in your power to get it.’

In the next episode, “Drinks with Biggles”, Purvis, Price and Sir Murray celebrate, and Ray Purvis gets a tour of Biggle’s chilly secret.

Leave a Reply