This week’s topic is provided by Clayton Bolger. What are your thoughts about ‘city’? Are you a city boy or a country gal? Have you lived in more than one city. What is a city: a lot of large buildings? Somewhere that lots of people live? A social label or construct? Did any of you see ‘Sex & The City 2’? What a load of old bollocks that was supposed to be ….
I grew up a country lad. Nothing was more exciting than school holiday time when I was put on a train and sent to stay with my Nanna in the city (now there’s a gritty reboot for Sarah Jessica and co.) for a couple of weeks. I’d have my View Master, a new ‘Secret 7′ book and a box of Ripe Raspberries to keep me occupied during the three hour journey and the train hosties would have been given $20 by my Mum to keep an eye on me.
Once a rib crushing hug had been received as Nanna collected me from East Perth train station, we’d catch a taxi back to her house for a big glass of dry ginger ale and without fail there was always a new meticulously wrapped Star Wars figure on the coffee table.
My Grandmother had the magical ability that is only bestowed on someone once they become a grandparent that allows them the knowledge of which toys I already owned so there were never any double ups, just the pure excitement of unwrapping a Stormtrooper or Greedo or Lando Calrissian and the joy of having a whole week in the city ahead of me.
Nanna’s house was on a property close to the city centre and was directly behind Catholic priest’s living quarters, where she worked full time managing the housekeeping and kitchen. When I got to visit there all the staff, most of them grandparents themselves, were excited to see me and would spoil me rotten.
I only met a few of the priests. One – Father Brennan – was a huge man and a horrible grump who I imagined was a close relative of the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk. I feared that at any given time he was only seconds away from killing me and grinding my bones to make his bread.
My favourite priest was Father O’Donnell, an Irishman as his name would suggest. He’d pop in to say hello whenever he heard I was about. He would walk in and pretend to go to shake my hand, then stop dead in his tracks and exclaim he could see so much dirt behind my ears I was about to sprout potatoes.
He and Nanna would then grab my arms and legs and pretend to to be about to throw me in the huge stainless steel sink with the dishes, yelling to one of the kitchen staff to grab the special ‘grubby kid’ detergent. They did this every visit until I was too big for them to pick me up. Or perhaps I just got better at behind-the-ear-hygiene. I doubt this was the case though.
Father O’Donnell also measured my height every year by making a mark against the door frame between the kitchen and the main dining room. This was one of my favourite things, having my name and height written in such an important building in the city made me feel very proud.
While Nanna worked I spent most of the day glued to the TV. Being that we only had one channel in the country town I lived in, the sudden chance to watch Wacky Races, Captain Caveman and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters was so exciting. I’m pretty sure I came close to developing an actual case of the often-threatened ‘square eyes’, an affliction made up by parents to deter their offspring from spending too much time in front of the idiot box.
There would be Cartoons on every morning from 6am and I remember sneaking out of bed to sit in front of the TV in my pyjamas at 5.30 am, eyes glued to the test pattern, willing time to hurry up and present me with some Scooby-Doo or Pink Panther.
After a couple of hours I’d have a bowl of cornflakes that I was allowed to eat in the lounge room. Then the TV would be switched off and I’d have a break to play with my Star Wars toys, or even better dress up and create my own adventures as Han Solo or with some surprising support from my Grandmother, Princess Leia.
One day Nanna watched me change out of the gumboots, pants and white turtleneck with black waistcoat that formed the Han Solo outfit that Mum had made at home.
Being a creative young man I then proceeded to pull one of the white linen sheets off my bed and fashioned it into a somewhat clumsy replica of Princess Leia’s white dress from the original Star Wars and ran outside to tell a rubbish bin to take my message to Obi-Wan then refuse to tell a large potted ficus tree where the rebel base was.
A couple of days later she presented me with a home-sewn Leia costume complete with a black fabric belt with a little holder for my gun (a wooden spoon that we coloured black with a marker).
Nanna for the win.
Frequently during my stays there would be an official lunch at the priest’s quarters in the elegant formal dining room when the Perth Archbishop or an overseas guest would visit.
It still makes me laugh to think with all those officials sitting there that during the soup course a seven year old boy in a white dress with a pair of pantyhose on his head (the perfect way to fashion Leia’s famous ‘Star Puffs’ hairdo was by twisting up the legs and holding them in place with tape) would run past the windows holding a wooden spoon, screaming “Run, Chewie!!”.
Then Father O’Donnell would say “Oh that’s just Kath’s grandson. Lovely lad. More butter, your Grace?”.