[This post is part of the series 50 to 50, fifty posts in the lead-up to my 50th birthday in May. Originally intended to be one per day, with the final one on the birthday itself, it's been disrupted by my work schedule. There will still be fifty posts, just not one per day.]
The great thing about growing up on a farm is that there’s about eleventy hundred ways of killing yourself and you get to try them all.
In the photo, there’s a pine tree on the right behind me and my brother. Yes, a brother. He was born in 1963, so there’s a three year gap. I’ll get to the pine tree in a moment.
On the left is the cement-brick milking shed. Immediately to its right, off in the distance so you might want to look on the embiggened photo, is the pumphouse. And then the truck, well, that’s just a truck — although my father built it like Dr Frankenstein from bits of other, dead, trucks.
Just behind the truck’s engine compartment is dad’s shed, a crumpled heap of corrugated iron that’s no longer there. It was poorly lit and full of tools and wood scraps and junk and half a dozen unfinished projects. I didn’t like going in there, it was creepy. Strange creatures lived in the dark corners and would kill small children, I know that for sure.
Even if they were good children.
Mum and dad were pretty busy most of the time. My brother and I were left to our own devices. The huge open spaces of the farm, the sheds, the random bits of equipment all meant I could invent my own imaginary world.
Every trip out with the dogs — and the dogs went everywhere with us and took care of us, so we couldn’t possibly get into any trouble — became some sort of combat patrol.
But watch out for the snakes!
See the red line on the map? That’s the Snake Line. If you go any further north than this fence WATCH OUT THERE ARE SNAKES YOU’D BETTER BE CAREFUL WATCH OUT THERE ARE SNAKES! That’s my mother’s voice screeching. She was always getting agitated about the risk of snakes. I think we saw a sleepy lizard there once.
Also, I’m not quite sure why there were only WATCH OUT FOR THE SNAKES in that direction, as opposed to anywhere else we might have gone on the farm.
View Stilgherrian’s Life in a larger map
My mother was also worried about us drowning. If we went anywhere near water deeper than an inch, “LOOK OUT DON’T GO NEAR THE WATER YOU’LL FALL IN AND DROWN!” As a result, I too associated water with panic.
To this very day, my two biggest phobias are snakes and water. I can’t even look at a snake through glass without my pulse rate rising. Being in water deeper than my chest can trigger a panic attack. A spa is usually not a relaxing experience.
Nor did I ever break a bone, which is pretty rare on a farm.
There were so many ways we could make our own fun…
There was an old sheet-metal box-on-wheels contraption that used to be the projection booth at a local outdoor cinema. Dad reckoned he’d turn it into… well, something one day. Meanwhile it sat behind some bushes at the back of the garden, and it was my space ship. A metal disc on the floor was the thing you stood on for the transporter beam to go buzz buzz BUZZ and then you’d be on another whole adventure.
Ice-cream came in metal cans in those days, with metal lids. A Frisbee was an expensive luxury — all “bought toys” were expensive luxuries — but the lid of an ice-cream can was just as good. What’s more, you could get a pair of tin-snips and cut the rim into a series of jagged metal blades and then use your brother as a target.
He annoyed me so much one time I hit him on the head with a cricket bat. The bloody little wuss complained to mum and she screeched at me and took away the cricket bat. I never really liked cricket anyway, I preferred going out walking with the dogs.
It wasn’t a proper cricket bat anyway, just a plank that dad had cut into the shape of a cricket bat. And a tennis ball.
Under the pine tree — yeah we’re finally getting to the pine tree — there’s always a rich carpet of brown pine needles, smelling 100% nothing like the “pine-scented air fresheners” in supermarkets but in fact 100% like actual pine trees and their sticky oily sap. If you rake all of the pine needles into a heap you can set fire to it, but it takes ages to get going and there’s heaps of smoke. Maybe you shouldn’t start the fire under the actual pine tree branches either but what the heck it’s going now. You want to get the flames going properly too ‘cos the smoke is annoying. But even though you want this, my professional recommendation is not to throw half a bucket of petrol onto the fire.
I know how to set rabbit traps. Do you?