The Summer of 1993 in Tassie was turning out to be cool. For starters, Uncle Nigel had rocked up from the mainland to visit Nan & Pop for six weeks. He was the family member I knew the least but was growing to like the most. He was friendly, sporty and above all, a crack up. With my own popcorn humour warming up we cackled and sputtered over impressions of cricket commentators and family bloopers while fostering a mutual appreciation for T-bone steaks and Pearl Jam’s Ten cassette.
Meanwhile, come Christmas morn there was a bag of happy spuds at my feet. Santa always left his ‘sack’ in the form of an empty pillowcase which by morning was filled with all manner of toys, treats and trinkets. My 7am ritual was to sit up and savour the radically logoed array of bouncy balls, cricket cards, furry friends and glow-in-the-dark anything. This time there was a mothership in the middle – a hefty box with a flying child on the front. Cowabunga dudes! It was my very own waterslide!
Last summer, a backyard waterslide had meant Pop rustling up a huge sheet of black tarpaulin from the garage while Nan applied a combination lather of laundry powder and hose water. Plusses were Nan and Pop’s naturally sloping keyhole-shaped lawn while minuses included
“scratchiness.” I noted the lack of a backstop – instead of ending up in a pool I tumbled arse-over-head into Nan’s marigolds.
Nah, this was a ramp up. Santa had delivered. A sun kissed, professional fun kit! This was the state of the art ‘Surf City’ waterslide system. Like any board game, you knew it was guaranteed coolness from the picture of the kid getting serious air via the Wahoo Bump™ technology (a long inflatable cushion halfway down the slide.) Liquefying the graffiti-art mat was the Bonzai Pipeline™ sprinkler design. By golly was my pulse racing, and not just from the gold chocolate coins I’d scoffed.
Waterslides (along with computers and fireworks) had always been one of my favourite things. I lived in the industrial township of Burnie on the North-West coast. Half an hour away was the colossal twisty tower of the Ulverstone waterslide. This spiralling tubeway filled my chest with buzzy delight whenever our yellow Beetle approached. I usually went with my best friend Nick. We wore our silky Adidas ‘Enforcer’ shorts for extra speed and went in pairs, slalom style, to get the maximum height in the turns.
With only a few days left of the already memorable Summer holidays, Uncle Nige and I set up Surf City. My fingers met the satisfaction of smooth factory plastic, folded as crisp as Nan’s bedsheets. The biggest buggar was the Bonzai Pipeline, which ended up being a tangle of tiny yellow hoses hell-bent on kinking. The impatience of tangled Christmas lights met the improbability of stretching a water bomb over the fat nozzle of Nan and Pop’s rainwater tank. After busting Nigel’s smokers lungs blowing up the Wahoo Bump, we finally had the chequerboard fluro orange and yellow F R E E S T Y L E slide assembled.
It was officially “Time to Boogie ®.”
With sprinkler mist casting faint rainbows over roses, I removed my glasses and began sprinting for the sleek Hammer Pants runway. This test pilot was wearing nothing but Piping Hot parachute shorts and a squint-eyed smile. I buckled my knees and sailed my arms as tum met warm slippery plastic with a playful “oof.” My face burst the spray like Kernahan through a Carlton banner as my legs floated skywards like a dutiful carriage.
For a moment I was air born. Like my favourite TV helicopter, Airwolf. Justin Marcus! Only child of Mum (still lying on the bed). A thoughtful, clever Gemini, about to start high school. So much worry on those shoulders, but here I was shirtless and sun surfing – just another blond kid on the box. Uncle Nigel stripped off and even though he was a fully grown man with a hairy chest and equally poor vision as myself, he reduced himself to brilliant-kid level, scampering in with the same glee he bowled spin in backyard cricket.
With Nan watching on and yelling gentle encouragement from the swing seat, we tag teamed the backyard strip and became the undisputed champions of radical water sports. Only when our slap-happy stomachs could take no more did we stroll in under the translucent blue afternoon. With feet cooling on bathroom tile, I towelled off the goose bumps. It was the end of holidays and I’d had my fill of play.
Published in The Big Issue #603, Jan 2020.
GRAMMAR ADVICE: ‘Blond’ VS ‘Blonde’
The word originally came into English from Old French, where it has masculine and feminine forms. As an English noun, it kept those two forms; thus, a blond is a fair-haired male, and a blonde is a fair-haired female.