Saturday, November 29, 2008

Short Story

It Was a Dangerous Time

It was a dangerous time to live. It was a time of hurdy-gurdies, pogo sticks, sling-shots and billy carts without brakes. Added to the death defying aura was the fact that there were no such things as kneepads, elbowpads or any kind of protective gear. If you were lucky your dad tied a pillow around you as you headed to certain death down the nearest gravel slope. After all, we didn't need protective gear--our mums had Dettol and they weren't afraid to use it. The memory of gravel rash and the subsequent howling sting of antiseptic would have kept us awake at night if we hadn't been so darn tired after a day of roaming the countryside.

It was the sixties. Cycling was called push-bike riding. We didn't ride our bikes home quickly before nightfall for fear of cars even though we had no lights on our push-bikes. No, we rode like white lightning for fear of our parents' wrath. When mum called the clan to tea, her weary voice parting the chill of the late afternoon air, we had better run through the back door; or else. Not for us the eyestrain of the Playstation or the muscle twitches of the recumbent. Were we bored? Perhaps, but we would never have said so, because parents seemed to interpret boredom as the express desire to be put to work on household chores. Televisions were like stars; they only came out at night.

The days were ours, we ruled the streets. Once our wobbling first efforts at push-bike riding became the steady speed of success we were off and away. Those truly spectacular riders held the honour of being able to cross the local swing bridge without stopping. There was the added peril that our 'friends' might shake the narrow bridge as we traversed its swaying course, even though they had "crossed their fingers and hoped to die" that they wouldn't. Dangerous times indeed. Many were the tears shed by young enthusiastic lungs as the front wheel jammed between the struts leaving chafed limbs dangling over the creek below. However, the accolades and applause from the other children were worth the trouble. After all, there was no bragging about getting to the next level of the latest computer game. Our glories were simpler.

It was also the time of outside dunnies. The outside dunny prepared you for life in ways that an inside toilet could never achieve. The mere act of venturing outside in the middle of the black night was enough to give courage to the faintest heart. We were disturbed by the 'dunny man' stomping through yards in the wee hours of the night disrupting the well earned rest of working men and dogs alike.

Our house was similar to many others of the time, in that rooms had been added in a completely random fashion. Many home additions of the time were constructed without any council approval. So inch by inch the law had been flouted. Some houses had so many rooms tacked on that the original house was completely swallowed up. The usual practice was to add a verandah, put a roof over it and then wall it in. The same was done to carports. It was before the time when rooms were added for parents' retreats and ensuites. If you needed the loo while someone else was there you were told to cross your legs, shut up and buzz off.

I remember an Indian summer day where soft breezes blew. My mother was lamenting to my father the indisputable fact that she did everything for 'those children'. It was late afternoon when she warmed to her latest lament, "I have to do everything for those children, bath them, feed them, dress them and put them to bed." This particular day she pronounced that 'those children' were too dirty to even come inside. I can't remember why, but the tap outside our outdoor laundry had hot and cold running water. My father was a mechanical genius and was always inventing new ways of doing things.

The tap fitted our garden hose which meant that we were the only kids in the street who had a hot water garden hose. And this is what my father used to hose us down, along with a thick yellow bar of laundry soap. He stood back with the supreme air of one who has solved a difficult problem. My mother's face from the kitchen window said otherwise. There is nothing quite like a bit of nervous rebellion to get a fit of the giggles going and my brother and I laughed so hard it hurt. When my mother came outside to give my father "a piece of her mind" (a rather large piece apparently) she also became a target of the warm water from the hose.

We children fell about with the kind of hysteria only experienced by those who see something supremely funny but know that terrible consequences or death might only be seconds away. Our joy was complete. It was a moment of exquisite happiness.

As I said, it was a dangerous time!

Excerpt from 'Don't Be Stupid, Mum!'


I was born in the Chinese year of the horse. Early in life I found that being born in the year of the horse didn't mean that horses liked me. Perhaps because I wasn't Chinese. Perhaps I should have been born in the Australian year of the kangaroo. My paternal grandmother called me 'skippy hoppy' so maybe there was a cosmic mistake.

Every other girl fell in love with horses at about 10, so I thought I would join the craze. Having proved to be an excellent tree-climber and accomplice on my brother's escapades (usually on the back of some hotted-up motorbike or 'bush-basher') I thought horse-riding would be a snack. In my fertile imagination I could picture myself flying gracefully over fences like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet. I flew over fences, but unfortunately minus the horse. Ouch!

I tried again and again but it was a love affair that ended, as many do, with regret, recrimination and wounded pride. Finally a horse that I tried to gently goad into actually moving trod on me after throwing me to the ground. I was winded. It was the first time I was speechless.

I then decided I would be a writer and circulate my own newspaper in the local neighbourhood. However, I was short one printing press. Not allowing this small detail to stand in my way I commandeered my cousins to rewrite my articles so that there would be lots of handwritten copies to distribute. They were very poor employees and after having the job descriptions explained to them they ran home shouting, "Get lost!" It was a phrase I would hear again through life.

I then decided to be a nurse. Bandaids were in plentiful supply at our house so I ran around the schoolyard putting bandaids on hapless students who fell off the monkey bars. That career choice seemed to 'take' a bit better.

Now, after 20 or so years of nursing I have decided to write again. I have written one non fiction book, "Don't be Stupid, Mum!" and written and illustrated two childrens' books and several short stories that have been published in the local Gazette where I have also published several advertorials. I have written one romantic comedy novel and am working on another and looking for someone more cooperative than my reluctant cousins to publish me.