Snap Shot #65 – World’s Worst Babysitter


My fourteen-year old son is offered his first ever babysitting gig – a significant milestone. I’m fondly reminded of my own babysitting career back in Canada and how I always saw it as easy money compared to shoveling snow, pulling weeds or painting fences. I would be told to make myself at home and would immediately do so by eating whatever took my fancy, listening to my Kiss records and watching old movies on TV. So I think the $50 offered to watch an eight-year old boy for four hours before the ‘real babysitter’ arrives is indeed easy money. All seems to be going well until I learn there’s an issue. The four hour time period has expired and the relief sitter hasn’t arrived. So, according to the call from my wife, our son has had enough and is about to leave the kid on his own and head home. I’m shocked. If there’s one fundamental rule to babysitting, it is, simply put, to sit with the baby. No pissing off home to jump on your Play Station. I tell my wife not rush over and to let me call him first. When I do, he slides into whinge mode. “I’m so bored. He’s just sitting in the other room on his own and my phone’s almost out of charge and I was only supposed to be here for four hours.” I explain, as calmly as I can, that he just needs to literally sit tight until the other sitter arrives. He decides to hang up on me. I call again, fuming but still determined not to lose my shit. I’m unsure if he’ll even answer. When he does, I coolly explain to him that if he hangs up again, I’m taking his Play Station and throwing it in the bin. This seems to get his attention. I go on to tell him that he is under no circumstances to leave until someone else gets there. He agrees, unhappily. I hang up and shake my head. My son is a boy with many talents. Babysitting, however, is not among of them.


Snap Shot #64 – Early Morning Surprise


I am up much earlier than usual, getting the teen ready for school – a job usually done by my wife. But as she’s away, it’s up to me. Bleary eyed, I remember there’s something I wanted to show him on the computer. “Hey – look at this story that broke last night.” I retrieve an article about the Melbourne woman who consented to having her photo taken by one of the victorious Richmond Tigers, his AFL Grand Final medallion hanging over her bare breasts. Though her face wasn’t in shot, she’d asked him to delete it. And he did. Or so she thought. Turns out he sent it to some of his team mates. In no time, it went viral. My son stares at the photo – which the Herald Sun posted but with a black box over her boobs. I make a point of telling him that this is being investigated and a number of Tigers will be in trouble, having broken the recent laws against ‘sexting’. I then casually look away from the screen and out the window. I see a figure framed in the kitchen window of the apartment opposite ours. My eyes are still bleary so I’m unsure of exactly what I’m seeing. I check with my son. “Um – is that a topless woman standing in that kitchen?” He turns from looking at a censored picture of a topless woman to the real thing. “Yep.” We stand there for a moment, stunned. The timing is what makes it especially bizarre. Becoming conscious that she could look up at any moment and see us staring, I grab my son and pull him into the lounge room. The windows are still shuttered, so we can no longer see her. I guess it’s kind of like putting a black box over the whole thing…

Snap Shot #63 – My Number

ST J Canoe

9:56. Every time I glance at a clock displaying 9:56, I’m hurled back through the decades to the two years during which 956 was my number. I was the the nine hundredth and fifty sixth teenage boy to be admitted to the original St. John’s Cathedral Boys’ boarding school, located about an hour out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Labels featuring 956 were sewn into every article of my school issue clothing – my lumberjack shirts, my black and gold sweaters and my quick drying army pants. Given every student had the same limited attire, these labels were crucial in assuring that the boys assigned to Laundry Crew put the correct clothing in the correct cubicle. But no clothes were washed during my first couple of weeks – at least not in a laundry. Every student starting  St. John’s had to survive the ‘New Boy Trip’ – a three hundred and fifty mile canoe trip along routes once used by the ‘Voyagers’ to transport furs from the wilds of Canada to civilisation. It was a confronting and, at times, terrifying experience – boot camp with canoes, burnt porridge and wooden paddles: most used to propel us through water, one used to whack us on the backside. This was called getting ‘swats’ – sanctioned corporal punishment paid for by our parents. The most a boy could receive at one time was ten – usually reserved for the most extreme transgressions. But I was unlucky that my first ‘swats’ experience was for something I didn’t do. Perhaps the only pleasure during this hellish trip was occasionally getting a small square of chocolate. But when a thief (or thieves) stole all the chocolate rations, they were given a choice – fess up and get ten swats or keep quiet and everyone will get ten ass stinging smacks. He (or they) choose option two. Perhaps they figured that if they were going to get their butts smacked anyway, then doing so anonymously was preferable to also getting beaten by boys pissed off that there was no more chocolate. I did my best not to cry when I got my undeserved punishment, furious at the people who had put me in this position – my parents. Any relief at having survived the New Boy trip was short lived once we encountered Old Boys upon our return. Various ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenarios played out over the subsequent months – sadistic Old Boys dishing out cruelties they’d once suffered during their own time as New Boys. We were assigned to our various work crews and I soon discovered, to my surprise, that cleaning toilets was preferable to looking after chickens or making sausages. But there was no escape from selling these (dead) chickens and sausages door to door – the money from which helped to keep our school fees so low and attractive to parents. Also minimising fees were teachers (‘masters’) willing to work for just a dollar a day – plus their food and board. The temperature dived and the snow dumped. The rivers froze – making canoeing impossible but enabling us to walk on them with cow gut tennis rackets tethered to our feet (also known as show shoes – though nothing like the light as a feather modern day ones). Every Saturday afternoon in winter, despite the sub zero temperatures and howling winds, we would walk on rivers for hours. Before my time, a boy actually died of hypothermia. He then came back to life minutes later. Needless to say – he was a St. John’s legend. Eventually, spring shuffled along and the rivers flowed again. This meant it was back into the canoes for any boys returning the next year. Sadly, that included me. So, on my way to being an ‘Old Boy’, I started paddling the longest route the school tackled – the eight hundred and fifty mile ‘Grande Portage’. A ‘portage’ is when you have to carry the canoes across land – with the ‘Grandest’ being eight miles long – an ordeal which reduced me to a whimpering mess. But I had a smile on my face days later when we pulled into a small town and were given a bit of cash for a much desired  sugar hit. When we returned to the canoes, babbling and carrying on, we were told that our trip leader (who happened to be our Head Master and founder of St. John’s and its two subsequent schools in Alberta and Ontario), had an announcement. The man was as white as a sheet. He told us that while checking in with the school via payphone (these were the days before mobiles or even satellite phones), he was told that an accident had occurred during one of the Ontario school trips. Thirteen boys and two masters were dead. They didn’t drown – their life jackets wouldn’t allow it. Instead, they had succumbed to hypothermia. Unlike the St. John’s legend, none came back to life. We were shocked – especially when I discovered that three boys on that trip had been in my canoe months earlier during our New Boy trip. One of them was now dead – one of a pair of identical twins. In a bizarre twist – that doomed group had three pairs of twins. One of each pair had perished. We got back into our canoes without our Head Master. He had been whisked off to face the media and defend a school that pushed boys to the extreme – and beyond. With each stroke of my paddle, I thought about those dead boys. I wondered if their parents regretted sending them to St. John’s.