I have always deeply resented the adult
imperative of putting away childish things. At nineteen or twenty, when I still rode a
bicycle instead of driving a car, my friends and I felt we had our lives ingeniously
organised. We did not care that the government of the day had recently been sacked. We
cared only about the infinite limitations of our perceptions. Our suburb was our oyster.
For a while these were our priorities: that every Wednesday afternoon we would go to one
or other of our houses and smoke joints and eat Bertie Beetles and laugh. A lot. We had
come a long way since banana skins. Bertie Beetles were a delicious chocolatey snack
riddled with golden chips of honeycomb. This is not an advertisement, but without a doubt
they were a favourite with stoned youth of the day. University in the seventies was
something of an idyll. After these activities we would pedal home and pretend to study,
until we began to get our licences and our degrees and childish things were put away. I
was very good at browsing for quotes I could insert in future essays.
If this were fiction I
would not have to explain what Bertie Beetles have to do with Ned Kelly. I would have
planted the blunderbuss in act one. However I will explain.
The priorities of our
lives were so ingeniously organised that all four of us, (there were four of us), had
Wednesday afternoons exempt from our studies. None of us had been forced to get a job.
None of us wanted a job. Wed been fruit picking in the holidays and could stretch
our savings with remarkable elasticity. In those days, you may recall, an ounce cost only
thirty bucks. God knows what it costs these days, more than gold, I should think. But then
I should also think that the stoned youth of today have rather different and less
also happened to be the time our mothers were out taking an active interest in the world.
My mother, for instance, took painting classes in the Max Meldrum tonal realist style. She
always painted still lives of onions. Brown Onions with Holly. Two Onions Plus Lemon.
Seven Layered Onion. Onion with Candlesticks. Onions in a Fruit Bowl. They are still
selling to this day. My favourite was one of a brown paper bag full of pickling onions. I
advised her once to paint a picture of a dead cat, but she looked at me as though I did
not know anything.
My friends mother,
Rolf, (my friend, not his mother), went to patisserie lessons. And the other mothers were
likewise out of the house. Wed take it in turns to meet at each others houses
and smoke cones and laugh and eat Bertie Beetles. The profound ephemera of our
conversation. If this were fiction I could more cleverly draw all these disparate themes
together. Sadly I cannot. The Bertie Beetles came from the milkbar on Main Street in a
suburb called Blackburn. We often thought the milkbar owner gave us suspicious glances as
we pored over the lolly cabinet. What were university students doing poring over a lolly
cabinet? The neighbours were never suspicious at the sweet smoke wafting over their
fences, because we were never at the same place two weeks in a row. It was perfect.
said Kendal, when were old men well be able to look back with fondness
on these hedonistic Wednesday afternoons.
really talk like this, but Im sure he would have liked to. I do not think he would
mind me saying this, because I have not seen him for twenty-seven years. I do not know
what he would think.
About us: Kendal was
short. Darren was tall. Chalk and cheese. Rolf and I were in between. Kendal was so short
he would wear platform shoes on the beach. It was the era of platform shoes. And dismissed
governments. None of us were virgins, although we behaved as if we were. Enough about us.
Enough about our mothers. Enough about politics.
have occurred to me which, if this were fabrication in the Platonic sense, I would have
introduced earlier. Darrens father, although we hardly cared, was an historian and
screen writer. You can check out his name and credentials in any filmography. He wrote the
screenplay for the film of Ned Kelly. Not the first, and not the latest, but the
one with the unlikely casting of Mick Jagger as Ned. Mick Jagger should also learn to put
away childish things. As a souvenir from the movie, Darrens dad had been given the
suit of armour worn by Mick, complete with pop-stars aura and head-lice. It was
stashed in a cupboard gathering dust. We tried it on. It was one quarter of the weight of
the original, but still as heavy as all get out. We rapped on the helmet with our
knuckles, imagining bullets, and the metal rang in our ears.
In the spirit of
Wednesday afternoons, and in the spirit of childish exploits, and indeed of Ned Kelly,
after smoking our fill, we stole the suit. Kendal had just got his licence, and his
mums car, and his horizons had expanded. Two things he did not yet mind doing were
driving round in his platform shoes, and driving around with Ned Kelly in the back. I had
the suit on. My breath echoed in the helmet. It was Wednesday afternoon. We were
shitfaced. It was all a matter of tradition. I entered the Main Street milkbar, staggering
a little under the weight of the suit. The lolly cabinet in the eye-slit.
There was a gun. Did I
forget to mention the gun? A blunderbuss. Or something like one. Also a souvenir from the
movies. The milkbar owner, whose name I forget, closed his mouth. A detail I mention only
for the fact that it had been open for so long. The others were in Kendals
mums getaway car. Laughing.
Bail up you fat
necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splay footed sons of Irish
Bailiffs, bail up and give me all the Bertie Beetles.
And he did. A whole box.
Of course we paid. We let him try the helmet on. Kendal came in with tears in his eyes and
money in his hand. We took them away and we ate them, before drifting home and pretending
to study. Of course we returned the suit. And it is with fondness that I look back on
those hedonistic afternoons, before we had a care in the world beyond the limit of our own
perceptions, before we put away childish things.