Thursday, July 7, 2016

I feel I could almost sing (Bob Dylan)

You angel, you (You may say I'm a dreamer - Chapter 2, part 3)

Three months after my Uncle Jack died, I turned ten.  

Of all my birthdays, the tenth stands out. The step into double figures, from child to pre-teener is special. For me, October 1, 1967 came to symbolise a jump, a leap, a catapult into the rest of my life.

I'd been promised a proper bike, a two-wheeler. The agony of waiting those long months to pass during my ninth year was tempered with the thought of that pot of gold ahead.

At that time we lived in the quiet cul de sac that was Korma Road in suburban Auckland. The house was opposite a Mormon Temple which took up the other side of the street. It was an interesting series of buildings. Even the name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in large embossed letters, was impressive.

Ross and I would play there a lot: firing acorns from the huge oak trees which overhung the car parks; climbing the roof while we pretended  to be Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuriakyn from U.N.C.L.E. (of course I was the cool Kuriakyn); watching the crates of beer bottles being stacked at the back entrance; smelling the sweet banana palms; wondering about the secret goings on inside the temple.

Even though we were right opposite, hiding in plain sight, we were not spared visits from clean cut American men in white shirts and ties, riding their flash grown up two wheelers with saddle bags. They would lean their bikes on our brick fence for me to envy.

Our house was pretty cool, it even had an under house garage!

There was no internal access to it but it had a great space to crawl where a staircase could go in the future. There was room here for surplus wood, bricks, roof tiles and boxes that needed storing. The dank earth smell added to the clandestine pleasure of hiding and listening to my name being called just above my head.

The wooden garage doors were folding ones, painted white, with frosted glass windows. You couldn't see inside the garage from the front, but a high window on the side gave a clear view of the two cars, a company sedan for dad and mum's red mini. It was something of a delicate manoeuvre to get both cars in there but I never heard any complaints from dad.

On the back wall there were work benches constructed for dad's use. He was an electronics wiz kid so there were many small tins above the benches for transistors and valves and things. All were carefully labelled, arranged precisely, and placed deliberately.

The garage was usually clean. Whenever a build up of dust and leaves happened, dad would fill a watering can and dampen down the floor before sweeping it all up with a stiff broom. 

The walls were concrete and contained that lime fragrance that's both sweet and sickly. Cobwebs, attached to the wooden ceiling, the floor of the lounge above, added to the picture.

Around the time of my ninth birthday Grandma had given me a camera, a Kodak Instamatic with flash cubes. Armed with that and a book on photography a friend of dad's had given me, I started to shoot. Dad already knew a lot about photography, so I learnt the basics of developing and printing black and white photos from him.

From time to time, the laundry was transformed into a dark room; the enlarger that lived in the hall cupboard was brought out of its protective plastic sheath and the ringer washer was pushed to one side.

An elaborate ritual took place in the dark room. It was precise, it appeared to me to be quite convoluted, and it was magic. The different coloured plastic trays of water eventually produced the red tinged black and white photograph that I had taken only a few days ago with my Kodak Instamatic. The exclusive red darkness around the enlarger, the sweet smelling developer, the soothing lapping water - all somehow conspired to produce a photograph.

Eventually, October 1 rolled around. When you're a kid, birthdays are huge and a year takes FOREVER!

Ross and my birthdays had developed their own ritual: mum would take us to a movie of our choice as birthday treats. For my birthdays I always went for pulp westerns like Scalphunters, Villa Rides, or Bandolero. This time out it was El Dorado.

I loved westerns and the ride into town to the Civic was a treat in itself!

But, before the movie this time, there was a special gift waiting for me at home after school. 

All day during classes in Mr Haydon's standard three class at Royal Oak Primary I anticipated what my bicycle would look like. For months I'd walked past the bike racks at school, dreaming of owning the latest chopper bike with the long wide banana seat and raised handle bars. They were so cool. All the intermediate boys had them!

I walk the short distance home along Oak Street in my usual dazed state, careful to avoid the long driveway where that huge black dog lives. My heart is pounding. Thoughts concentrated on the bike, as if, just by imaging it, I could wish it true.

Down the slope of Pah Road, thoughts of what film we'd be seeing now overlapping with the bike. Past Seymour Park where, every Saturday, ever since four years old, I play soccer for Eden F.C. Cutting through the Mormon car park and thoughts of dinner (always Lemon Meringue Pie for dessert on my birthday). Past the dowdy flats opposite the Temple before getting to number 18.

Into our pathway, past the brick letterbox, between the rose bushes, up the ten concrete steps to our front door. The bike. Where is it?

Nowhere to be seen is where. Maybe they'd forgotten. Maybe it's coming when dad gets home from work. Nowhere.

I walk into the kitchen, trying hard not to let disappointment slide through to the outside. Mum's at the bench making my favourite dessert. Things are looking up. She looks at me and instantly knows my thoughts.

Then she says it, "Why don't you go and have a look in the...garage?" Could she ever read me good.

"I can't mum, the door's locked." She gives me the key. I scamper out of the kitchen,down the ten stairs taking two at a time, around the path, down more stairs to the white painted doors of the garage.

As I open that magic doorway to the garage and see my brand new, two wheel, blue and white Raleigh bicycle...I smile.

Even now, looking back at the photo I took of Ross on my bike with my Kodak Instamatic, I can still feel that smile, I didn't even notice that it isn't a chopper with banana seat and high handle bars!

We wheel it out, my mother and me. I get on.

My mother behind me, half holding the seat, I stretch to reach the pedals and take my first ride away from her as she lets go of her eldest son, age ten.

I fly off, around and around that Mormon Church car park, past the oaks, over the acorns scattered beneath my wheels, making that great leap forward, catapulting into the great unknown!

Love and peace - Wozza

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