A Short History of Me Part Three: “A Land Down Under”

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Unlike my son, who at the age of twelve is already a bit of a jet setting world traveler, I did not board my first commercial airliner until I was sixteen. But when I did – I rapidly clocked up some serious sky miles. In August of 1979, my family boarded a flight from Winnipeg to Vancouver. Disappointingly, we only had a stop over at the airport before then heading south to California. There we were met by my uncle and spent time with him and my Granny from Colorado. Sadly, this would be the last time I ever saw her. Then from California it was over the Pacific and onto Honolulu. After a couple of days on the beach, it was time for the marathon leg – Honolulu to Sydney. When we landed, they sprayed the entire cabin with pesticide. Perhaps they knew that there was a Canadian family of five on board with lice lurking in their hair. Not taking any chances on the success or otherwise of the pesticide, my father was dispatched to an all night chemist for lice shampoo while the rest of us collapsed at our Kings Cross hotel. The next day, suitably de-loused, we boarded our fifth jet within a week for the five hour flight across our new continent to Perth.Euky-Bear-Nitz-Blitz

I remember how we all laughed as we drove through Perth for the first time, looking out the window at all the greenery and exclaiming: “And this is supposed to be winter – ha! This is paradise!”. Once we arrived at the house, we dragged our bags inside and immediately felt a bit of a chill. No problem – all we had to do was turn up the central heating. So we looked. And we looked. And all we found was a tiny little electric bar heater. So we all put on several ‘sweaters’ each, huddled over the heater and proceeded to experience the coldest winter of our lives, dumbfounded by a country that didn’t believe in centrally heated homes.

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There were other shocks in store, though some were imagined – like when my little brother woke me the next morning screaming: “They’ve got monkeys in Australia – they’ve got monkeys!” Now, I didn’t think monkeys were on the list of strange local animals but I wasn’t entirely sure. So I went outside, half expecting to see long limbed primates swinging from the trees. Instead, I heard a chorus of cackling, which, especially to a wide eyed eight year old, might sound a lot like monkeys. “Um – I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of bird, Ian.” And so we were introduced to what soon became my favourite bird, the laughing kookaburra.

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But there were other very real things that were unique to our new homeland. Opening hours especially blew our minds. We had come from a country where supermarkets were open seven days a week until about nine or ten at night. But on our first Saturday afternoon in Perth, when we headed out to do our weekly shopping, we discovered that virtually everything shut at midday on Saturdays – and remained closed until Monday morning. But don’t worry – they stayed open till nine on Thursday nights. What the??? And forget about fueling your car on the weekend. Most ‘petrol stations’ (“But we want gas!”) were shut all weekend, except for a few scattered ‘roster stations’. If you didn’t have enough in the tank to make it the nearest roster station – tough titties. And we soon learned that should someone, especially a tradesman, ever tell you “She’ll be right, mate”, you may as well abandon all hope.

But on the upside – I was no longer sentenced to Canadian Concentration School. In fact, not only did I finally get my wish of attending a co-ed high school, it also happened to be called ‘Hollywood High’. Perfect! And in a rather interesting move on part of the school, it was decided that, rather than complete the last term of year ten, which I had just finished in Canada, I would be leapfrogged to the end of year eleven. This limited the sort of subjects I took (bye bye physics and chemistry) and proved to be somewhat of a challenge. But hey – it was nothing compared to canoeing 850 miles or being assaulted with a wooden paddle.

My biggest challenge turned out to be finding acceptance in an Australian school with the name ‘Chuck’. In Canada I would cop flak via ‘upchuck’ and ‘how much wood would a woodchuck chuck’ references. But in a country where my name was synonymous with the act of vomiting (or ‘chundering’ or ‘spewing’ or ‘driving the porcelain bus’) – I couldn’t have been an easier target. Those first few months were rough. But my skin thickened and my resolve strengthened. I found the peer group I wanted to be a part of (the guys who were smart but not nerds, who smoked a bit of dope but weren’t druggies) and basically hung around them, copping barb after barb, until they finally gave up and just accepted me for the weird and mildly amusing ‘Yank’ (arrrggg!) that I was.

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Of course the main attraction of a co-ed school was exactly that – I was no longer surrounded entirely by testosterone pumping teens but, at last, got to mix with the opposite sex. And although in some ways I struggled with this (like most teenage boys – in fact – like most males), in other ways I actually found it far easier to have ‘real’ conversations with girls. Consequently, I developed a few fairly close friendships with some Hollywood Girls. Of course that’s all they ever were – just friends. Though there was one exception, a girl I could not only talk to but with whom I also felt a certain chemistry. But she had a boyfriend – a university student no less – so that was pretty much that. Until… she split up with him shortly after we ‘graduated’ (graduating doesn’t really happen in Australia – you just sort of finish high school in a fairly unceremonious manner). She then invited me to a party. And post party – she kissed me. I was over the moon! Until two days later – when she said she was getting back together with her ex-boyfriend. And thus resulted my first ever broken heart.

My 18th birthday had long been this magical date within my family circle – often referred to during heated exchanges. “When I’m 18 – I’m out of here!” “Good! Only 12 more years to go!” In fact, it was ten days after my 18th birthday when I moved out (but I had been away camping for about a week of that period). Because most of my mates were still 17 and none quite in the hurry that I was, I moved into a ‘granny flat’ by myself at the back of a house that was, strangely enough, owned by a granny. I was so happy – though occasionally a little lonely.

Although I did well enough in my matriculation exams to earn a faculty of arts offer at the University of Western Australia (where my father was still lecturing in anthropology), I decided I had earned a year off. I’d like to point out that this was decades before the concept of a ‘gap year’ had become a standard option for school leavers. So I would like to take some credit for starting this trend. Anyway, I had a fantastic year accumulating ‘real life’ experiences like working as a labourer for a landscape gardener (extremely hard, hot work) and moving in with a couple of mates and getting the dole (far more fun, not work).

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At the end of my ‘gap year’, I had itchy feet. I was desperate to see more of my new country. So I did what a number of my peers did back then – I hitch hiked from Perth to Adelaide to Melbourne to Sydney. Then back again. The start of my trip coincided with a visit from a few of my Canadian mates, so it was fun to at least begin the journey with them (I remember that they were obsessed with ‘Men at Work’, who I hated, but who later became especially huge in Canada). For much of my journey I had glandular fever and remember having an out of body experience while waiting for a ride in the blistering South Australian sun. A particular highlight of the trip was seeing the Clash at the old Capital Theatre in Sydney – not once but twice (we used our pass outs from the previous night to get back in). I fell in love with Sydney and had been accepted into a communications degree at Macquarie University. But it was immediately obvious that it would not be an easy city in which to survive as a student. So I returned to Perth and began communications at Murdoch University.

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Murdoch came onto my radar the previous year when my Hollywood High mate David started the course there. Like him, I was attracted to how one could do some traditional arts subjects (philosophy, literature, political theory) as well as some fun stuff (film, tv and theatre). Even though David decided to have his year off when I started, we were both in a very out there theatrical interpretation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. At one point in the piece, I was go-go dancing on stage to The Dead Kennedy’s version of “Viva Las Vegas” – in a loin cloth! While I enjoyed the thrill of the theatre, I became much more attracted to the audio visual side of things. David went the other way and headed to Adelaide to embark on a theatrical career that later included directing Circus Oz (he also ended up doing the film course at Swinbourne, has directed documentaries and written a couple of books – a classic overachiever!).

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I imagine that going to uni is a special time in most people’s lives and it was certainly the case for me. I loved the stimulation of learning about things I was genuinely interested in. And then, of course, there was the social side. I was fortunate enough to meet someone there who, though not  my brother, within minutes of meeting, felt like he was. In fact, Duncan and I looked vaguely similar and were on occasion mistaken for siblings. It was an honour. I was also friends with a wonderful young woman, Rae, who soon partnered up with Duncan. Even though they have lived across the country from me for over three decades now, I still believe we have a very special bond, forged in those heady days at Murdoch.

In 1982 I was at a party when I saw the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen: long dark hair, pale skin and amazing eyes. I, of course, did the natural thing and stayed well away as a conga line of young jackals vied for her attention. This beauty was obviously way out my league. I left the party and didn’t give her another thought. But there she was a few weeks later at a night club, accompanied by a friend of mine (possibly the most successful jackal from the party). When he went to go get drinks, we chatted. Feeling no pressure to impress, I was relaxed and natural and we had an animated conversation. And that was that. Until a few weeks later when yet another friend rocked up to my place wanting to borrow a coat hangar to break into the car of his new girlfriend, who had locked her keys inside. Lo and behold, it was her. Keys rescued and that, once again, was that. Until the next week when she came to my place herself and invited me out to a gig while my mate was away camping. This felt a little weird but I agreed. And we had a great time – talking well into the night. And so began my love affair with the extraordinary Julia.

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Although I had already experienced heartbreak, I hadn’t tasted true love before. And it was life altering. But it could have been tragically short lived. A few months after we’d been a couple, we were driving on a gravel road in the country when I lost control and rolled the car (her father’s car!). We were upside down in a ditch, unharmed but in shock. So much so that, once the car was pulled back up to the road by a farmer with a tractor, we calmly got inside, the caved in roof just millimetres above our heads, and drove the wreck for five hours back to Perth. Julia’s mother was understandably hysterical when we arrived. But to his credit, her father, a true English gentleman, calmly walked around his beloved car, surveying the damage. I am forever grateful to that man for not throttling me then and there.

Not long afterwards, Julia and I moved in together to a fantastic apartment across from Cottesloe beach. We developed friendships with two very different couples within the building (‘the hippies’ and ‘the hair dressers’) and, despite the occasional lovers’ tiff, lived a fairly blissful existence.

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After three semesters of Murdoch, I took a break and got a great gig at a teacher’s college – handing out audio visual gear to the young teachers in training. This also gave me access to all the gear and I took the opportunity to make a short video movie about a psycho killer (in a spooky casting co-incidence, the guy I got to play the killer ended up being man hunted across the state a few years later after a series of armed robberies).

Towards the end of 1983, I was flown from Perth to Sydney for an interview for the screenwriters’ stream of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. This was largely because of a short script I had written at Murdoch about, funnily enough, a car accident. The night before my flight coincided with the ‘Australia ll’s America’s Cup victory (and Bob Hawke ‘s proclamation that “any boss who fired someone for not coming into work was a mug”). The interview went okay, though I think my ignorance of certain Australian cultural references (like Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series) probably let me down. But it was while walking along George street before my flight back that I made the decision that, whether I got in or not, Sydney would be my new home.

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In January of 1984, I turned 21. To celebrate, my parents bravely hired the local yacht club for a huge party. My mate Duncan’s new band, ‘Pride and Punishment’, had their debut gig. And ‘Chad’s Tree’, who I had done a cheap music clip for, were the main act. It was an amazing night. Surrounded by all my friends, I felt like I was the centre of the universe (perhaps not an unusual feeling for twenty one year olds). Within days of the party, Julia and I packed up what we could, heaved it into my old Holden station wagon, loaded it aboard an eastbound train and bade Perth farewell forever.

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A Short History of Me Part Two: “Oh Canada”

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In the summer of 1970, I was packed into the back of our red VW wagon and shuttled north from New Mexico towards the Canadian border. Shortly after spending nearly a year in Alaska living with the Inuit for his major research project, my father returned to Albuquerque and received an offer to lecture in anthropology at the University of Manitoba. My parents thought Canada was a preferable option to a country that was by now at war with itself at campuses across the nation. Me – I don’t recall having an opinion one way or the other. I didn’t really have any strong ties to Albuquerque at that stage. I think I may have been intrigued by the idea of a place with snow on the ground for months at a time but generally wasn’t overly enthused to be swapping countries. I guess it was the sort of ambivalence only a seven year old can muster.

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We drove into Winnipeg one day in August and almost immediately ended up at some big rock festival celebrating one hundred and fifty years since the province of Manitoba had been established. It was supposed to have been held at the local football stadium but crappy weather forced it next door into the covered ice hockey arena. I remember walking in and seeing a smoky haze hovering over thousands of hippies – many throwing fresbies. This was not my first long haired rock fest (after all – I was a child of the sixties who hung out at a university campus) but it was definitely the biggest – and loudest. I remember bouncing along to Iron Butterfly’s epic ‘In a Goda La Vida’. Who I don’t remember seeing were the headliners – a band starting to make quite a name for themselves. Perhaps I was exhausted by the epic journey north. Or maybe the thick herbal hippy haze knocked me cold. Either way, for years I’ve worn it as a strange badge of honour that I managed to sleep though Led Zeppelin.

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Our first place of residence in a city known for its long harsh winters was a three bedroom townhouse located on…wait for it… ‘Snow Street’! It was also near a golf course, a swamp (both of which provided great playgrounds) and a newly opened hospital (where my split head was sewn up after a misadventure with an unforgiving gas meter). There were also a number of other kids in the the townhouse complex so I was no longer short of playmates.

My first Canadian school was Dalhousie Elementary – a brand new windowless building with several ‘open classrooms’. For a child easily distracted, this should have been a disaster but in fact the opposite occurred. It was decided that I would repeat first grade, given my struggles with reading. After just a few months of open plan learning however, I suddenly clicked and started finally getting it. So I was hoisted back up into the second grade, where I was a pair of scissors in the school parade and an Inuit (of course) for our rendition of “It’s a Small World After All”.

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It was at Dalhousie that I met my first Australian, a lovely female teacher from Sydney who fascinated us with tales of a strange land with bizarre buildings, bridges and creatures. She must have taken a shine to me because I recall going to her nearby house for lunches and after school to play with her two kids. Of course neither of us had the slightest clue that less than a decade later I too would be experiencing her weird homeland.

When ‘Snow Street’ finally lived up to its name, I was so excited. In no time at all there was heaps of the white stuff everywhere. It didn’t take long to realise, however, that this was not the snow of my Colorado Christmas but what was called ‘dry snow’. Dry snow? What the hell? How is that even possible? But the upshot was – there would be no Frosty or even snow balls made with this powdery stuff – it just fell apart in your hands like sand. Terrific.

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December 3 1970 was a landmark day in my life. After years of desperate pleading, my parents had finally come through and delivered my greatest desire: a little brother. And they obviously thought this kid was pretty special – not only did he get his own unique name – he even got an extra one! Ian George Benjamin Amsden. Impressive name. And an impressive kid – virtually fearless. But my getting acquainted with him was initially delayed. Shortly after the birth, the newborn had to stay in hospital for much of December. This led to my most uneasy Christmas ever.  And a somewhat unsettling guest.

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A friend of my father’s from his Alaskan days was in town and was invited for Christmas dinner. He was a very interesting man – especially given the fact that he had lost several toes to frostbite. Now, as a little kid experiencing his first ever Canadian winter, it did my head in to think that it could get so cold that bits of you could snap right off. Obviously the only thing to do was to stay inside for six months!

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Before the next school year began in September 1971, we moved to an amazing house, conveniently located across the road from my new school (which proved handy when I used the five minute warning bell as my alarm clock, throwing on some clothes and staggering across the street for my first lesson of the day). Compared to the townhouse, this place was huge – four stories including a basement – and with beautiful wood paneling throughout. It was also one block away from my soon to be best friend, who claimed not only to be living in a house where Neil Young grew up but to also have the Young’s original piano in his living room. I remember not being overly impressed at the time, mostly because I thought Neil Young had a weedy voice and boring songs. However, it didn’t stop be from pulling this story out in later years to impress my Australian mates who were big fans of Mr Young.

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Winnipeg does actually experience relatively hot weather (and HUGE mosquitos) during its summer months when it holds a couple of festivals. There’s an interesting multi-cultural one called Folklarama where community centres serve different ethnic foods and Manisphere – the annual fair with its carnival rides and sugar coated crap. And it was in the summer of ’72 that I was so excited to be heading to Manisphere – an outing that I had been looking forward to for months. But it was not to be. The day before we were to go, my brother decided to eat some sort of unidentified mushrooms. He was rushed to hospital and thankfully was alright. But the incident proved too much  and that night my parents headed back to the hospital – this time to deliver my sister – Kirsten Joy Amsden. Honestly – it took me at least a few days to appreciate this ‘Joy’ that had robbed me of Manisphere. But I soon grew to love the hairless wonder and was very relieved when about a year later she survived her own close call with death after she stopped breathing on the way back from our summer holiday.

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But of course, it is the season of winter that defines Winnipeg. And the sport that is played in winter is ice hockey. I was never a very good skater but had a talent for getting in the way of things, so had thought maybe it’d be a good idea to become a goalie. It was not even close to a good idea. Firstly, I had some ability but it was sporadic – good games and bad games. No one likes a goalie who has a bad game (except for the other team). Secondly, it was freezing – or to be precise, about thirty degrees below freezing. Almost all of our games were outside and it’s the one position where you are always standing around, usually not doing much. And lastly – it’s bloody dangerous! Other kids far more talented than I were using long sticks to whack frozen discs of rubber in my general direction – and it was my job to get in the way. I remember one time getting in the way with my face. True, I was wearing a mask but this was the time before compulsory cage masks – when hard plastic masks (like the one made famous in the ‘Halloween’ horror movies) were ‘cool’. The puck flattened me and knocked me out briefly. I came to in time to see the coach standing over me saying – “Good save Chuck! Now up you get.”

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The beginning of my teenage years were, like most people’s, awkward. For grade seven I began junior high school at “River Heights” (or as my sister dubbed it – “Rubber Heights”). I did okay academically and socially. But at home it was a different story. Always a fairly strong willed individual, this accelerated somewhat once the hormones kicked in. This resulted in repeated conflicts with my parents, which inevitably would lead to me being grounded. Unfortunately, it got to the stage that, since I felt I was pretty much permanently grounded, I decided that I would run away. This sounds far more dramatic than it actually was. I believe I spent one, maybe two nights, sleeping in my best friend’s brother’s car – parked about a block away from our home. I do remember my dad looking for me one day as my friends and I literally ran away from him, laughing. I feel ashamed thinking back on this now as it must have been a gut wrenching experience for him.

But in the end – the joke was on me. My brief running away episode was the final straw for my parents and they finally followed through on a long standing threat – they sent me to boarding school. Or as I later called it – ‘Concentration School’.

Now, my two years at ‘Concentration School’ (aka ‘St. Johns Cathedral Boys School’) is definitely worth a stand alone post and I intend to eventually write one. But in the meantime – here’s a little taste. The school was set up in the early sixties to turn boys into men – mentally, physically and spiritually. This involved the following: canoe trips ranging from 350 – 850 miles; weekly winter snow shoe (think tennis rackets on your feet) expeditions between 20 – 50 miles; the boys performing all cooking, cleaning, laundry and maintenance duties as well as selling frozen chickens and sausages door to door; and – the big one – discipline via receiving “swats” from a wooden paddle on one’s butt cheeks. The whole idea was to push boys to the edge and beyond – to prove to themselves what they could achieve. Unfortunately, there were casualties. More than a dozen boys and two teachers tragically lost their lives on a canoe trip at the end of my first year.

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Towards the end of my second year at St. Johns, I began a campaign to convince my parents that I had in fact already come a long way and was now ready to re-enter normal society and, most importantly, attend a co-ed high school. I wasn’t making much ground however. But then, divine providence intervened – my father was offered a lecturing position at the University of Western Australia in Perth. Yippeeee! My parents gave me the option of staying behind to finish my final two years at Concentration School but I declined, thinking Australia was a preferable option. Frankly, even Antarctica would have been a preferable option (and I would already have had the snow shoe skills to help me get around).

So in August of 1979, almost exactly nine years since arriving in Winnipeg as an only child, I was now getting ready to move to the under side of the world as part of a family of five.

FullSizeRender 13There is no doubt that Canada had a huge impact on who I had become as a sixteen year old. Despite officially remaining an American citizen, I had adopted many things from my Canadian upbringing – including, ironically, a disdain for all things American. Moving to Australia helped give me some perspective on this phenomenon. Although Canada and Australia both have British and American cultural influences, geography plays a big role. Australia is far enough away from other countries to have developed its own unique identity. Canada, however, sharing a border with the most influential nation in the western world, gets culturally swamped by the USA and, naturally, desperately tries to define its points of difference. This pretty much translates as a chip on its collective shoulder. It’s what I call the ‘little brother country syndrome’. And it is the main reason why, as I would soon discover, that the worst possible question you can ever ask a Canadian is: “So – what part of the States are you from?”

A Short History of Me Part One: “Born in the USA”

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I was a teenage love child – born on the fifth day of 1963 in the snow covered Colorado Rockies to parents married six months earlier in the neighboring state of New Mexico. As my father tells it, he was in the Boulder Hospital waiting room watching the nurses walk past with bundles of laundry. Suddenly, he saw a nurse with a load of laundry that looked like him. It was the large satellite dish ears that would have been the dead give away. It turns out I also inherited his freckle gene (as a little boy who looked like a walking chocolate chip cookie, I was promised that the freckles would fade from my face when I grew up – they didn’t), his relatively quick wit, his relatively quick metabolism (the skinny gene) and… his name. Yes, I was dubbed Charles Wynn Amsden Junior. I have since spent my life being called Chuckie, Little Chuck, Chuck, Upchuck, Chuckles, Charlie and, of course, Charles. What my dad didn’t pass onto me was my lop sided face. I had thought for years that this was due to a forceps birth but have since been told that I entered this world forceps free. So I suppose this Picasso-esque feature is uniquely mine.

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Little Kid – Big Ears

I have no memory of Boulder but many of Albuquerque New Mexico, where we later moved. There were bunches of red chilies hanging from front porches. ‘Old Town’, with its mixture of Navajo jewellery, cowboy shops and the world’s best sweets store with candy rocks and sugar crystals on a string. And there was the wonderful scent of mesquite smoke in the air – a lost memory that was re-booted after a visit to Albuquerque more than twenty years later (turns out smell is a powerful memory trigger).

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Little Kid – Big Mouth

I don’t have many recollections of other children, partially because we moved around quite a bit but mostly because I was surrounded by university students: my parent’s peers – all of whom were childless. There are two kids I do recall though – ‘Didi’ and ‘Dodo’ – our Mexican neighbors for at least a few months. I doubt those were their actual names – but ‘Dodo’ was a boy (the youngest) and ‘Didi’ a girl. I don’t recall the specifics but vaguely remember that we had numerous adventures in an era where even the littlest of kids took off in the morning and returned home in the evening, dirty, scruffy and hungry.

The upside of being surrounded by adults was that I felt like they were my equals and was often treated as such. The downside was when my parents reminded me that this was not the case and I was in fact a little kid who had to do what he was told. These episodes often sparked such a fierce blind rage within me that I would bang my head – against walls, floors – any hard surface would do. Yes – I was a ‘head banger’ long before heavy metal made it a popular past time.

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Carrying on the trend I started in the 60’s

Yet there was also a flip side to this angry, manic behavior. I remember having a rocking chair and would rock for quite some time without saying a word. This would usually occur after waking, either in the morning or especially after a nap. My parents might try to engage me but often I would remain silent, rocking back and forth. One exception to this was on the morning of my fourth birthday when my parents saw me rocking away and wished me a happy birthday. My reply: “It’s not my birthday until tonight when I have my cake and get my presents”. Yep – I was a little brat (but one who was thrilled to unwrap a G.I. Joe later that night).

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Just don’t call it a doll!

This was also the time when my love affair with tv began. Batman, The Green Hornet, The Beverly Hillbillies, Get Smart, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Bonanza, The Lone Ranger and I Love Lucy. I didn’t just love Lucy – I loved them all – and then some. Looking back, the 60’s really were a golden era of television – especially half hour comedies. There was a level of imagination and craftsmanship that doesn’t exist in today’s sitcoms. Sure – we are currently in another golden tv era but these are mostly drama (or ‘dramedy’) series. Of course trying to watch these 60’s shows now is usually disappointing. But at the time – it was magic.

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One of my best ever childhood memories did involve some tv magic – and two very thoughtful parents. One night I was asked to dress in my Batman pyjamas and then told we were going out. Yipppeee – no bedtime! As we drove through the city, I was very excited – hoping we were going to Baskin and Robins for ice cream. So I was disappointed when we pulled into the parking lot of a car seller. Oh well – beat being in bed. So I accompanied my parents inside and there it was – the Bat Mobile! I nearly wet myself – I was so excited. Of course being a little guy in his Batman PJs, I got to actually sit inside the coolest car ever. So instead of Baskin and Robins – I got Batman and Robin (well –their car at least).

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Best car ever

There were also movies that swept me away. While I saw the usual Disney classics (and like most kids, was traumatized when Bambi’s mother got shot), the movies that really had an impact on me were pitched to a much older audience. I saw ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ with my dad, ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ with a family friend (and it really blew my mind – didn’t have a clue what was going on but was completely transported). But the 60’s movie experience that had the biggest impact on me (and caused the biggest stink) was seeing ‘Easy Rider’ at the drive-in with my parents. Wow! Not long afterwards I was asked by my Granny what I wanted to be when I grew up. “I want to be a hippy and ride a motor bike and smoke grass.” My parents were then marched into the kitchen where I heard my Granny shout several words I hadn’t heard before.

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My role models

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Me, Frosty & Granny

My Granny was also part of another, less controversial, episode of my childhood – my best Christmas ever. In the winter of ’68 she, her husband and my teenage uncle hosted our family, my adventurous Californian Uncle and his gorgeous wife for a white Colorado Christmas. They say everyone has a stand out Christmas and this was mine. Making a snowman, sledging and being the only grandchild on the scene all made for a magical holiday. There were tears on Christmas morning, however, when Santa’s letter confessed to his reindeer having eaten my beloved beagle, Chewy. All was rectified once a very live and slobbering Chewy was released into the living room. For years I thought that Santa had a bit of mean streak, though I now believe this was my teenage uncle’s mischief making.

My first year of school occurred in the last year of the decade. Interestingly I seem to recall more about what happened in the huge playground and cafeteria than in the classroom. This may explain why I spent much of the summer break alone in the cafeteria with a reading tutor. To his credit, this guy pulled out all the stops, including comic books, in an attempt to interest me in reading. But I remember just staring off into space, towards the shuttered kitchen. At that stage of my life, reading wasn’t really floating my boat.

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Not actually me – but a kindred spirit

Looking back at my first seven years as a strong willed, little freckle faced American during some of the most turbulent times in that country’s history, I wonder to what degree my personality has been forged by this period. After all – there’s that old Jesuit saying – “Give me the boy until seven and I’ll show you the man.” And although it’s now been over four decades since my time as a Yank, certain things like my taste buds (I still love the combo of peanut butter and chocolate) and my appreciation of American football (possibly the most confusing sport ever created) – things like these remain evidence of an American upbringing.

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YUM!

But change was on its way. At the age of seven and a half, I was about to do something that, in only a matter of a few years, would have me despise all things American. I moved to Canada.

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Oh Canada!

Why Bother?

So the question needs to be asked – as a self confessed underachiever – why bother telling my story? And, of course, as a reader, why bother surrendering any of your own precious time learning about someone you could really care less about? After all, mine is not a tale of great triumph over adversary (though I did survive a “Canadian Concentration School” – not everyone did); I am not a talented and driven personality who has attracted fame (though I have had a number of encounters with gifted people who have) and I haven’t had any especially lurid and depraved sexual adventures (at least none I’m willing to share). So again – why bother?

Firstly, let’s deal with the whole ‘underachiever’ tag. To dub oneself an ‘underachiever’ is a double act in self deprecation and trumpet blowing. On the one hand it’s an admission of failure and on the other it’s a declaration that, at least at one stage, the potential for better outcomes once existed – or so one believes. And I do believe that, especially in my twenties, I was showing promise of fulfilling at least one of my many ambitions of becoming either a writer, director, producer or media baron. The fact that a number of my peers from that time have since written books, directed movies, produced documentaries, television series etc. etc., only re-enforces my own sense of underachievement.

I have actually made numerous attempts over the years to write (scripts, stories, a novel), direct documentaries and create tv series. But although I can come up with decent ideas and begin the process, it is often in the follow through where I come unstuck. I attribute this largely to ingrained laziness and fear of failure. In fact – I even wrote a kid’s story about overcoming one’s fear of failure but gave up trying to get it published after a couple of knock backs. So given this combination, underachievement will remain my destiny.

However, I also believe that I have had a rather blessed life. I was fortunate enough to be born a white male in the world’s most prosperous country to loving parents who never beat me (though they did send me to a place where people did – you guessed it – “Canadian Concentration School”). I have lived in three different countries and have been lucky enough to travel to many more. I earn a living from home by watching tv and then re-arranging it in an effort to entice others to also watch tv. I am currently married to a gorgeous and, for the most part, tolerant woman who indulges me more than many would. I live about two minutes walk from one of the world’s most magnificent beaches. And, although somewhat of a late starter, I am the father of one of the most interesting, weird, lovable and infuriating boys on the planet. Oh – and I have a woolly two toned cavoodle who thinks I’m God. So I hardly consider myself a total loser (though you may already disagree).

So then – with such an underwhelming track record, is there really much point in attempting to document my life? Probably not. But here’s the thing – even though everything I’ve attempted in the past has not come to much – I’ve always enjoyed the creative process involved. I love the buzz of creating something new, something that starts as inspiration and then takes shape as a new entity. As lazy as I am, I still seem to have a creative itch begging to be scratched. And for some reason, the idea of writing my own story and flinging it out into the universe is one that has been gnawing at me for some time now.

I’m attracted to the idea of doing a ‘blog-oir’ – an internet memoir – but one that I do on my own terms. Apart from a  series of condensed overviews  (“A Brief History of Me”), the rest will not be a linear, chronological unveiling of my experiences. Instead, I will post individual episodes as I wish – most likely beginning with some of my encounters with famous high achievers such as (cue appropriate name dropping music) David Lynch, Michael Hutchence, Nick Cave, Timothy Leary and The Wiggles. Then I imagine I’ll move on to detailing what it was like to survive a “Canadian Concentration School” in the 1970’s. After that – who knows? In all likelihood my laziness will have won out by then and this will just be one more of my many unfinished under-achievements.

But why put this out into the world? Why risk being judged? Why not just write this for the creative buzz and leave it as a file on my laptop? These are valid questions. Perhaps I want to release my story via the net as some sort of exercise in self-validation – to prove that even though my life has not turned out how I once imagined, maybe somebody else out there might still find it interesting enough to spend time reading about it. Is this a pathetic notion?

The best advice a parent ever gave me was: “It doesn’t matter what other people think.” While this is a wonderful ideal, it is one that is difficult to always adhere to. After all – we all seek some sort of approval from others. Having said that, I am discovering that, the older I get, the easier it becomes to not give a stuff about what other people think about me. As an example – I am a grey haired man in his fifties who often gets around riding a scooter – not the motorized kind but one powered by my foot pushing against the pavement. This attracts various reactions from onlookers but I suspect the most common is them thinking: “What a dick.” I know this because, even though I’m a scooter pusher myself, as soon as I see another adult on a scooter, I always think: “What a dick.” Yet still I ride my scooter because I enjoy it and it’s a quick and fun way to get around.

So yes – assuming anyone at all stumbles across this and decides to read it – there is every possibility I could be judged to be a ‘dick’ – or worse. But as with my scooter, as long it continues to be fun to write my fading memories, this underachiever won’t really give a stuff about what other people think.