50 to 50 #5: Dangerous play

[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.


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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.

Actually there were snakes. Red-bellied black snakes and brown snakes. I was never, ever bitten by one.

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?

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9 comments

  1. Sean the Blogonaut’s avatar

    You set Rabbit traps by getting your brother to do it? 🙂

  2. yewenyi’s avatar

    so clearly your attempt to burn down the pine tree was an abysmal failure, even with half a bucket of petrol…

  3. Nick Hodge’s avatar

    Setting Rabbit traps? Easy. Hiding them so the furry little buggers would step into them was the trick. The rusty metal traps had a small catch that was tricky, but you got the hang of it.

    Skinning rabbits was difficult, too. Their limbs were too spindly to hold onto. As I recall, our cats were way more successful than I in the rabbit catching stakes.

    Mice? now that is a way different matter. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH4EFgRB4bU

    There is so much I can relate to in this posting. The loyalty of dogs, and how they just loved following you around. You were in their pack.

    Snakes (seen & killed them) – although sleepy lizards did give me a couple of heart attacks as their scales and sound sneakily looked like snakes. Pools of water/tanks/dams, rusting items, left over detritus of 70 years of farmers. Living as a free-range kid on a farm in the 60s and 70s was probably like being a kid in the 20s and 30s in a city.

  4. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    Pine trees can absorb a surprisingly large amount of heat before they really get going.

    I can’t really remember skinning and gutting the rabbits but I know that I did it, both on the farm and later in the Scouts. Some memories get suppressed? Repressed? Simply forgotten? But I remember the frustration of seeing the rabbits’ pawprints just a little bit each side of where the trap was hidden under the sand, but so rarely on the trigger-plate itself.

    And I’ve just remembered the wire hoops that you stretch the rabbit-skins on to dry, so they can be sold for fur. Clearly dad was one of the many men who, as a kid, “made do” during the Great Depression by catching and selling rabbits.

    Every farm had its fair share of rusting hulks, equipment abandoned where it failed. Why move it? Too many other things to do! Fussing about what things looked like, everything having to be neat and tidy, everything having to look new and shiny, was a city-slicker’s obsession.

    That reminds me why I like Robbo’s blog posts Wreck of the Week.

  5. Matt Tulk’s avatar

    Still

    some great old photo’s and interesting stories always good to talk about the childhood good or bad.

    My cousin recently got hold of really early rheels of film of us as kids and has begun to edit and its been quite funny.

    all the best

  6. Emma Hawkins’s avatar

    I wonder if any children are allowed to grow up free range any more?

  7. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Emma Hawkins: Yes, there certainly are still FreeRangeKids, and plenty of blogs and other people’s thoughts linked from there. I particularly like that writer’s column from two years ago now, Why I let my 9-year-old ride the subway alone.

    @Matt Tulk: Thanks, Sir, I’ve had so many positive comments about this series, it’s quite heartwarming.

  8. Rick’s avatar

    After ice cream in tins came ice cream in cardboard. The development of ice cream production and distribution shownmg signs of violent extremes, much?

    Terrific read. Thanks.

  9. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Rick: Thank you. Now, ice cream packaging. What was the correct order? I remember half-gallon cans, was it, that were replaced by two-litre square plastic tubs? Where did cardboard packs fit in?

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