I remember when I was about five I used to amuse myself by scampering around to the local Telecom phone box, picking up the receiver, pressing some random numbers and having pretend conversations with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. The particulars of these discussions is appropriately vague and mysterious. I suppose ‘we’ discussed the sociological and political issues of the day. Perhaps I used them as a sympathetic ear for the existential complexities of suburban Tasmanian kiddie life. Should I buy a new matchbox car? Did Fatcat jump or was he pushed? Why do my toys smell funny when I set them on fire? Would the princess from The Never Ending story ever like to share a minimum chips with me? How good is condensed milk?
One day, for the first time, the random statistics of my fictional dialling got the better of me and I was suddenly faced with jarring curtness of the operator. Instead of my own cordial voiced playfulness, there was a cold, plain adult asking ‘What number please?’ To my only-child one man play it was the equivalent of Mr T popping up in the middle of Alice In Wonderland and doing a spiel about testicular cancer. I hung up, ran home, and hid under the bed.
Around the same age, I was down at the Burnie Kmart Plaza with my Mum, to witness some of the stars of the local production of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. I was gazing at the colourful fabrics and elegant faces when one of the dwarves walked past me and accidentally stepped on my foot with his hard, black heel. ‘Sorry’ said the small, bearded man, earnestly. I peered back at him, eye to eye. It hurt my foot a little, but I was more effected by the jolt of this fantasy world clumsily encroaching onto my reality. Had I made it happen somehow? I asked Mum to take me home.
A couple of years later, when I was seven, I was sick in bed for a couple of days. After the usual combination of Lucozade and a double dose of Sesame Street failed to raise my spirits, I decided that I wanted a cat. Mum drove me down to the pet store in our yellow Volkswagon Beetle. The shop smelt like fur and warm birdseed. There were about five kittens flopping about in the cage. I knelt down and put my finger through the wire. A rather serious little black thing peered back with LCD green eyes and nuzzled my finger. Destiny had nuzzled. I named him Blossum, not wasting any time on contemplating his gender. Looking back, I like to think of him as the feline equivalent of Johnny Cash’s ‘Boy named Sue.’ I imagine that on the street, other cats called him ‘Rex,’ and spoke in hushed meows to each other about what happened the day the late ‘Mr Tibbs’ called him by his real name. Blossum turns 19 this year.
That year was also my debut as a Nipper for the Burnie Surf Life Saving Club. Plunging into the subzero ocean armed with nothing more than Speedos and a sense of junior optimism were commonplace. Under 8’s weren’t allowed to use the hard surfboards, and instead were trained on ‘foamie boards.’ Foamies were literally the foam core of a surfboard, and in rough surf, it was like trying to negotiate a motorised block of ice through IKEA. Being extremely short sighted, my ‘prescription goggles’ involved my glasses strapped to my head with underpants elastic. For my first Burnie carnival Foamie race, I got into trouble early, being swept well off course by strong winds – left to finish the race in last place, stranded, freezing, near-blind and crying. In the crowd were Mum, Nan and Pop, cheering me on. The thought of their boy flailing on that godforsaken foam is still one of the most miserable things I can imagine.
At the same age, I had one of the best dreams I’ve ever had in my life. The clock radio had come on and Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ was playing. My subconscious mind created a personal film clip for the song. Three perfect women in white flowing dresses were interpretive dancing in unison. They moved as if underwater, in outer space. I awoke that Saturday morning with the sun pouring through the window, certain that the world was trying to tell me something.