When I was young(er)

When I was young I thought life would be complete if I had a beard like Grizzly Adams, a car like the one in Smoky and the Bandit, and a girlfriend like Michele or Dale in my class. I always knew the girls at school were always better than the ones in the films, they were real. But I still held on to my signed photo of Wilma Deering from Buck Rogers. Just in case.

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When I was young I made a pop-up Valentine’s Day card for the most beautiful, funny and athletic girl in my class, but she never received it. I remember looking at the pink ink running down my hand as I stood in the rain, three doors down from her house, trying to summon the courage to ring her doorbell. I’ve still got the card, I think it’s important to remember how big those small moments can feel. And my Mum found it hidden in my wardrobe and stuck it to the photo-board at my 21st birthday party.

When I was a boy I understood that people died. I remembered the sight of my Grandfather’s chair when he was no longer around to sit in it, and laugh loudly, and hand me giant tins of oysters. He died in his sleep, and I presumed that was the way I would go, not riding my BMX off the skateboard bowl, or running down the train tunnels as the train entered the far end, or being put in a ‘sleeper hold’ until I passed out. Years later people tell me that I’ve grown to be a little like him, and that makes me swallow, and blush, and feel proud.

When I read the comics I found at garage sales, I thought that Sea Monkeys and X-Ray Specs and Joy Buzzers would be and work exactly as advertised. Some adults feel the same way about international trade agreements, capitalism and world heavyweight boxing matches.

When I was young I thought that selling the life-size picture of Boba Fett I drew (with 18 felt-tip pens) to Kelvin for a can of coke and a go on his bike, was a sure-sign of my artistic future. Then I took art with Ms Manthell. She inadvertently taught me that the power of art was no longer in the hand of the artist, and never to trust an art teacher that didn’t like Kate Bush.

When I was nine my main rival for smartest kid in class was Kieran Bleach. It didn’t matter that she was a girl, it did matter that she beat me in spelling tests. She went to a girls school when we turned eleven, and I missed my nemesis. And learnt the word nemesis. A year later a ‘Fijian prince’ joined my class. It didn’t matter that his skin was a different colour, or that he had an accent (ok, maybe the accent was a bit fun), and eventually it didn’t matter that he was a prince. It did matter that he was funny, and fast, and had the biggest smile. It’s the truly important things that matter when you’re a kid.

When my Dad told me he went to school with the Six Million Dollar Man, and beat him in running races on school sports day (pre Bionics, obviously), I kind-of believed him. I also believed in George Lucas. My Dad never let me down.

I believed with great certainty in my own form of god, and in reincarnation. I can’t pinpoint the moment that being reborn in another form no longer made sense, but god lost his/her/its hold as I was drawing Wonder Woman in art class. I’m still not sure about Wonder Woman.

When I was young I sometimes wondered if the whole world existed to contribute to the story of just one boy or girl – that child was the star, everyone else was just ‘extras’. I wondered if I was the star, or just another player. Then I wondered if I had enough coins for a k-bar. Philosophy is transient when you’re eight years old, sugar is forever.

When I was maybe eight or nine years old I had my first dream in which I realised I was in a dream, and as such I had the power to do ANYTHING I WANTED, without getting in trouble. So I splashed in lots and lots of muddy puddles, then woke up clean.

When I was at school, and girls were almost as much a mystery as now, I loved and feared the furtive communications network of note-passing in class. As I aged, email or texts had a little of this power, but you don’t have a chain of giggling friends passing your email to you, threatening to read it. And email doesn’t smell like a freshly torn piece of maths-book paper.

I read about other lands, other countries, but at times they seemed so impossible, so far away. I thought that there was a good chance that New Zealand was the extent of the world, and that perhaps when people boarded a plane “they” simply gassed them all, and the people dreamt they went to far off lands. “They” didn’t figure very much in my childhood. In those days all burglars wore masks, all cowboys wore hats, and all policemen had moustaches. Then one day a girl who had always teased me, upset me, and called me square-head… she kissed me. All bets were off.

When I was young, I valued the idea of valour, I wanted a code of honour, I loved the idea of chivalry. I believed that most adults had my best interests at heart, and that the ones that didn’t were cautionary figures; at worst cartoon villains – scary, weird, but not capable of true evil. I had no idea how fortunate I was that this belief lasted my entire childhood.

One of the most important and telling things about my younger years was that I believed I could be or achieve anything. There was no such thing as probabilities, possibilities or impossibilities. Any objective could be realised with a mix of imagination and time. Imagination was more powerful than adults, film-reviewers and physics. A childish idea of Time was the key though, it could negate all barriers, if I didn’t achieve something today that didn’t make it impossible or unlikely, it just meant I might have to wait until tomorrow, or until I was ‘old enough’, or until a blue moon. When I was young a week was like a year, unless next week was Christmas, in which it was forever.

I’m at a different stage of young now, I think (hope?) that youth is a spectrum rather than an on/off state. I’m still in the lower end, just up from the BMX loving, shy-around-girls section, and hope I always will be.

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