Cocoon

May 31st, 2015 | By | Category: Featured Article, Laurie's Blog

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The dust motes floated serenely through the sunbeams split by venetian blinds streaming into my bedroom.  I used to imagine that each one was a whole new world filled with civilisations that built wondrous things and looked out upon us as gigantic Gods like the elephants on the turtle that the ancients used to believe held our world.  My room was on the northern side of the house, the only bedroom on that side and therefore the only bedroom that got the benefit of low winter sun in which the dust motes danced.

I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, lucky to be the only boy and not have to share a room meant that it became my own space in which I slept and lived out much of my life.   The early years I can remember a small bed with a bookshelf bedhead upon which I lovingly placed my teddy bears and Mickey Mouses.  There was a tall ugly yellow one given to me by my Uncle Andy and a small furry orange one with a red collar.   And I had three mickey mouses which I slept with.  They were all different ages and therefore in different stages of dilapidation.   Mum repaired two of them who had lost their faces by covering them with some white muslin clothe and sewing them up.   I have no recollection at all of how the faces were lost just remember that I loved them dearly and wouldn’t let Mum throw them out even as they became more and more worn.

The room had one wall of vintage car wallpaper and instead of counting sheep going to sleep I’d count the cars on the wall.  There was no heating in the room so we were piled high with blankets in the winter, flannelette sheets and hot water bottles and an old eiderdown which was green on one side and khaki on the other and filled with kapok on top of everything to keep me warm.   Mum also had a small pouch she would pin to our singlets into which she would place a square camphor block which for me is one of the smells of winter, a strong powerful stimulant for the recall of memories from a simpler time.

At night time when the world was still I could hear the toot of the trains on the Box Hill line and the steam being let out at the Bowater Scott Paper Mill in the Gardiners Creek Valley.  And I also had a little crystal set radio with an alligator clip I attached to the bedside lamp with a dial I could twirl and sometimes pick up short wave radio from around the world.  Not as exciting as the very first battery operated AM radio I got for Christmas one year which introduced me over the years to Casey Casem’s American Top 40 Countdown, the XYZoo and 3AK “Where no Wrinklies Fly”.

At some time in the mid 1960’s Mum’s Uncle Alfred Laurence Carroll came to live with my Nana and Grandad.  He was a war hero, something I didn’t know at the time.  He’d been awarded the Military Medal in the First World War and his commendation read –

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During the attack on the Green Line on 7th June 1917, he captures 30 prisoners alone, and later when an intense artillery barrage was on he volunteered and successfully carried an urgent despatch to the rear. During the whole of the action he carried despatches to and from the firing line with utmost speed.’

Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 219

Date: 20 December 1917

He was 18 when he enlisted with the 4th Light Horse on the 8th September 1915 and was reassigned to the 49th Battalion on the Western Front.   This honour was awarded for action during the Battle of Messines which commenced on the 7th June 1917.  He was still a boy but the gas attacks he lived through were to accompany him to his death only 50 years later when he died in bed at my Nana’s house after succumbing to lung cancer.

So I didn’t know him as the boy hero, nor as anything other than a sick bedridden old man.  We did go in to say hello when we visited but it was a scary place, dark and smelly and I don’t recall ever having a conversation with him.  I did inherit two things – I got the ribbon from his military medal which I still have and I got the bed in which he died.and I slept in that until I left home in 1982.

I think I probably knew that someone had died in that bed but it caused me no grief and I suffered no nightmares nor felt any presence.  I was really happy to have been given a ¾ bed, now probably the equivalent of a King single.   The mattress eventually fell apart because it was only made of foam rubber and it had some indentations where Uncle Alf had rested his elbows and worn holes in the rubber and tear marks on the mattress material.   Mum was shocked to come in one day when I was around 16 and see how bad the mattress was so went straight out to buy me a new one.

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This is the only photo I have of my bedroom and it’s of my sister Debra sitting on my bed with our dog Bamby.  On the wall above the bed is a map of the world which I think came from tynee tips tea in packets of which you could collect flags of the world and paste them onto the appropriate spot on the map.  On the wall opposite (but out of the photo) was a painting of the planets of the solar system.  So I knew my geography because I was looking at that map every day and I often flew off amongst the outer planets in my imagination.

I’ve already said that this room was my sanctuary and many hours were spent reading and re reading the comics Mum would shout us on a Friday night.  I learnt a great deal of trivia that served me well from the Look and Learn comics and loved the adventures of Superman and Batman and a little later as I earnt pocket money and could start to buy the comics myself, came to love the marvel universe.  The walls that had held the maps in my younger days were soon plastered with copies of superheroes and pages from the comics that I meticulously recreated and coloured.

I was particularly envious of the things that you could buy in America, xray specs that would let you see people’s skeletons, food that turned weaklings into Superman and sea monkeys.  Oh how I’d wished that I could have an aquarium full of those little creatures with big smiles and a king who wore a crown.

The room also saw my introduction to science fiction and fantasy books with Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury featuring prominently.  I loved our fortnightly visits to the library in Box Hill and would eagerly seek out the yellow bound Gollanzc science fiction range and devoured Clifford D Simak, Phillip K Dick and many others.   In my early high school years I discovered Tolkein and Frank Herbert, and journeyed through the Galaxy with Doc Smiths Lensmen, travelled Barsoom with John Carter, fought evil wizards with Conan and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and marvelled at Moorcock’s Eternal Champions many incarnations.  There was Doc Savage, Fu Manchu, Tarzan, Biggles, Eagle Annuals, Bilbo and Frodo and Sam.  I went over the hill and back again, to Mount Doom, rode sandworms and gazed on the tears of the Elephant, dreamt of Electric Sheep, soaked up the wisdom of Lazarus Long and Hari Seldon, learnt the Three Laws of Robotics and that 42 was the answer to Life the Universe and Everything.   There was nowhere I couldn’t go in that room.   It was my very own Tardis.

I had hobbies apart from reading.  I built model planes and painted toy soldiers.  You can see in the photo behind Debra a piece of chipboard and I spent many hours with that board laid on my bed fighting the Roman Invasion of Britain and the American war of Independence.  I built a creek out of plasticine and forts and houses out of the cardboard from cereal boxes.  Those battles were sometimes fought with my mate David Palmer and there were weekends spent with soldiers spread all over the lounge room of his parents’ house while we measured out the advance of our units with foot long rulers and calculated the damage of cannon fire and melees by rolling dice.  David’s Dad was also a wargamer and so had no problem with us using the room for this.  Unlike my home, where we only had one living and dining room the Palmers lived in a new house in East Burwood and actually had a separate family room, something that was pretty unusual in those days.

But when I wasn’t there I could easily while away an afternoon in my own room playing both sides, in fact unlike when I played against David, I could at least win a battle against myself.

And I drew.   I copied pages from comics, inked the pencils and coloured the drawings with Derwent pencils, and as each piece was finished I’d find another spare spot on a wall where they hung for years.

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When I turned 13 or 14 Mum and Dad decided to get me some proper bedroom furniture.  It consisted of a desk and bookshelf a corner unit and another set of drawers with bookshelves above them.   Saturday afternoons I would sit at that desk with an exercise book ruled up with the Carlton team entered into it and take down stats as I listened to the footy call on the radio.   Favourite callers were the Captain and the Major (Ian Major and Jack Dyer) on 3KZ and Harry Bietzel and Bill Jacobs on 3AW.   I hated those days when the Carlton games were broadcast on the horse racing stations of 3UZ and 3DB because you’d only get five minutes of football per quarter between heading off to Flemington or Randwick.  And the rest of my weekend was coloured by how my team went.  If we won, I was happy and as the skies darkened with night I’d head up to the lounge room for dinner to sit down and watch footy inquest and the replay.    If we lost, it was like that dark cloud followed me for the rest of the weekend.  Nothing much has changed really even now some forty plus years later I still sulk when we lose.

When I started work after high school in 1975 I saved up and started to buy and piece together a stereo, Sony amp, Technics SL-1200 direct drive turntable, Teac tape deck and desk top speakers and with them the music that defined me.   There is another post on that but suffice to say here that the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Elton John and Billy Joel all copped a hammering in that room, loud enough to continue to build the barrier in my own private space.

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