25) 1994. Casuarina Drive, then Aralia Street, Nightcliff (Darwin) NT 0810

This next address, Casuarina Drive, holds the record for the shortest amount of time I ever spent in one place: ninety minutes. See, moving back in with my mum, sister, brother and horrible stepfather was great for familial bonds, but not so good for the tetchy two-bedroom apartment they were living in. So on the day I arrived back in Darwin, we were already moving house.

I actually wish I’d arrived two hours later, so I wouldn’t have seen the gorgeous, high-rise, waterfront-facing apartment they were giving up. I actually tried to bargain a deal where I would sleep on the couch in the living room, but of course the leases had already been signed. I had to live with the guilt that I had made my family give up one of the nicest properties they had ever inhabited.

This is the view I made them give up. And, more importantly, never got to fully enjoy myself.

Instead we ended up in a much larger three bedroom apartment in Aralia Street. It was a perfectly nice apartment—in fact, as a third storey apartment big enough to house five people, it was tremendous—but it wasn’t a tiny palace overlooking the beach.

Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 9.37.43 pm

Note the modesty walls on the left hand side. (I assume they have some kind of sun-blocking application, but all I can think right now is it looked like we lived in a department store fitting room.)

My high school, Nightcliff High, was right around the corner (I didn’t go back to Dripstone High, partly because Nightcliff High was literally across the street from our house, partly because it was called Dripstone High, and also not-insignificantly because mum was still skittish that the last time I was there I’d been in a music class taught by a child molester).

My start at the school was ignominious: the principal nearly refused my enrolment because apparently I had acted “surly” and “uninterested” during my entrance interview. To be fair, I was surly and uninterested: I had just moved to my fourth postcode in 9 months, I was still wearing the guilt of being responsible for the loss of waterfront splendour at Casuarina Drive, and I was in grade nine. Grade nine. Everyone knows all grade nine kids are the worst. My mother, torn between dismay that I had behaved so churlishly in front of a school headmaster, and joy that I was finally engaging in a spot of teenage rebellion, demanded a follow-up interview. She put on her sternest face and reminded the principal of his legal duty as a shaper of young minds to provide me with an education, I offered an apology for my behaviour in a tone that was approximately 4% less surly and uninterested than the last interview, and ta-da! The next day I was a student.

Nightcliff High was fucking amazing. I don’t think I have said, or will say, that about many of the schools I attended, so it’s important to give credit where it’s due. Nightcliff High is my second favourite school out of a total of 22, so I know of which I speak. (My first favourite is about a year away yet.)

Little-known fact: high schools in Darwin operated very similarly to American high schools when I was there. At least, what we saw of American high schools on TV. There was no uniform, the first class of the day was called “homeroom”, classes were numbered (English 1.01, Biology 2.01, etc.) and the classrooms were contained in large, centralised buildings with air conditioning; not the sweaty, open-air verandah-and-louvre clusters that abound in Queensland high schools. I think that’s why I liked Darwin high schools; it made me feel like I had something in common with the characters on Beverly Hills, 90210.

I even had friends at Nightcliff High! Brendan and Yasmin and James were excellent people. I would spend afternoons at Brendan’s house where his mum would make us iced coffees, and Brendan would spend afternoons at my house where I would…uh, wrap him in cling wrap, apparently:

I’m pretty sure this was a one off. By the look of the background, we were packing? THERE’S A SURPRISE. I think I was hoping to mail Brendan to myself, because making friends was a rarity. Also pictured: my amazing hair, and my sister, coming to the conclusion that I’m an idiot.

I’ve since learned that Nightcliff High School is now Nightcliff Middle School. Apparently dwindling student numbers caused the change in the late 2000s. Also it now has a uniform. Whatever the changes, I hope it’s as excellent now as it was in 1994.

Notable teachers at Nightcliff High during my time include maths teacher Mr McPhee, who won his students over with a winning charm, a warm smile, and more than a passing resemblance to Mr Bean. Mr McBean (an actual nickname) taught algebra so effortlessly that what I learnt in his class in grade nine meant I wouldn’t have to listen to a maths teacher for the rest of my schooling career. At least I hope that’s the case, because I didn’t  listen to a maths teacher for the rest of my schooling career.

There was also my homeroom and biology teacher, whose name I am ashamed to have forgotten. He was super young for a teacher; not Doogie Howser young, but still pretty fresh. He was the only teacher to openly acknowledge how toothless school anti-bullying policies are, and after I complained to him about being roughed up by another student, he admitted there really was nothing he could do, adding “but if it helps at all, I think he’s a total wang. Also he’s failing, so there’s that.” It did help.

There was my P.E. teacher, a hard woman who unflinchingly sported a voluptuous camel toe through her bike pants every single day. But nobody ever spoke about it, or even so much as smirked about it behind her back, because if ever there was a teacher likely to go Ms Trunchbull on a student populace, she was it.

And then there was my art teacher, Mr Glasscork (not his real name, but it did rhyme with that), a soft-spoken hippie who let the students play mix-tapes in class, but was so perpetually stoned that he didn’t notice that four of the girls in our class would make tapes in which every second song on both sides of the tape was All-4-One’s “I Swear”.

It was literally every second song: “I Swear”, then “Cotton Eye Joe”, then “I Swear”, then “Streets of Philadelphia”, then “I Swear”, then “100% Pure Love”, then “I Swear”, then “Doop”, then “I Swear”. Mr Glasscork also used to get SUPER stoned in the art studio on weekends, and throw out all our unfinished projects because he simply couldn’t remember assigning them, and assumed the room was filled with junk. At least, that’s what he did with mine. Maybe I was just really shit at art. Whatever, I thought my clay sculpture of a dragon on a rock was great. It even had dorsal spines.

As 1994 drew to a close, the tumult of the first three quarters of the year seemed so far away. I was back in Darwin, a city I loved, back with my immediate family, at a school I was thoroughly enjoying. Life had finally levelled out.

So it will come as no surprise to learn that we had moved back to Queensland by Christmas.

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21) 1993. 14 Hibiscus Street, Nightcliff (Darwin) NT 0810

We left the treacherous Bagot Road and moved back to Nightcliff while I was still nursing a great gap in my face, courtesy of losing three adult teeth. Today this would earn me cred as a hardcore Finn the Human cosplayer, but in 1993 just meant adults and children alike recoiled in horror whenever I opened my mouth.

finn

Me IRL.

But we didn’t just move back to Nightcliff. We moved all the way back. Back to Hibiscus Street. To the house next door the one we’d lived in not six months earlier.

Those palm trees were there in 1993, but it was NOT that overgrown with greenery. Also when we get to the part a bit later in the story where I hid behind the solid part of the front fence: I must have crouched REALLY low?

The house next door was much nicer than the house we’d been in originally, but it was still the house next door. It felt weird. It’s one thing to have a past, it’s quite another to look at it over the fence. Luckily, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking over the fence, I spent most of my time inside.

In my room.

In the cupboard.

My bedroom had floor-to-ceiling built in wardrobes, with shelves on one side, a hanging space on the other, and the top three feet were a separate shelf. Great storage if you’re an adult; to a kid it’s a ladder to a hidey-hole. And my need for a hidey-hole was growing proportionately to my impending teenagehood: months away from turning 13, my attitude was rapidly beginning to sour, and Dale and I were fighting more than ever.

This should give you a pretty clear idea of exactly how bad a teenager I was: My giant movement of rebellion was to hide in a cupboard. I was exactly as assertive and full of attitude as nine-year-old Harry Potter.

It would be another twelve months before I would throw my first (and only) teenage temper tantrum. It would be two years before I would run away from home (for exactly one hour). It would be three years before I would utter my first swear word. But for those few months at 16 Hibiscus Street, I was drunk on the power I wielded when I could disappear for hours at a time by crouching behind a suitcase in a wardrobe.

When I wasn’t hiding in my room or fighting with Dale, I was playing games with my sister. A six and a half year age gap is hard to navigate, but during this period we were kind of on the same page with some stuff. Sometimes my sister and I would play a game that she liked but I hated (Hold This Barbie So I Can Brush Her Hair left me quite bored), and sometimes it would be a game that I liked and she hated (Hey, Barbie Doll Heads Make Great Shuttlecocks I Wonder How Many I Can Lob Onto The Roof With My Badminton Raquet was a riot, but Lauren never got into it because she’s so selfish). But most of the time it was a game that we both liked: acting out Disney films from beginning to end in the backyard.

Specifically, one of three films: The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and the Lion King. We would act out the film, from beginning to end, complete with songs, playing the characters ourselves. We never deviated from the script, and we never had an audience, this was just what we did for our own amusement, and it amused us greatly. If I’m going to be really, 100% honest, I think we did The Little Mermaid the most number of times, because Lauren desperately wanted to be Ariel, and I…okay I’m going to say it. I loved being Ursula.

In hindsight it would have probably been better if mum had just bought us a board game?

*****

By the end of 1993, Dale and I were at complete loggerheads. This was still within the context of grown-ass man vs. 12 year old boy, so by “loggerheads” I mean I was slightly more whiny than normal. But still, I was starting to get more defiant, starting to talk back more, and also I hated him.

Every post-school afternoon was a battle. I hid in the cupboard a lot, and a couple of times I would hide on the other side of the solid brick front fence, just sitting on the nature strip for the afternoon. On one occasion I tried to get on my bike and ride away while he was yelling at me for something, and he grabbed me and pulled me off it. He let go again pretty quickly; apart from a bruised arm I wasn’t hurt, but I was a bit shaken. I probably put in some quality time with the cupboard that particular afternoon.

It eventually got to the point where Dale was coming after me for every single little thing, and I was petulantly arguing back on every single little thing. I tried to keep it as hidden from mum as I could, but one afternoon I timed things poorly and she came home from work to find me in my hiding spot in front of the fence on the nature strip. Everything came out and eventually mum asked if I wanted to go back to live with my grandparents for a while. I can’t remember now if I was hesitant about leaving my family again, especially after the whole “my mum” adjustment period with Lauren earlier that year, but I was on that cusp of teenagehood, so I was pretty incapable of thinking through long-term consequences. Also, I still hadn’t realised that my time spent with them the first time around was preeeetty miserable. I decided I would go.

I think part of the reason I said I would go is because the act of asking me if I wanted to go to my grandparents made me furious at mum. It was like she’d taken his side over mine. I was pretty sure he was the enemy in this war, but it was me who was forced into retreat. (I now know this was not, in fact, the case; my safety had been the only concern. Not to mention mum (and I) still thought that living with the GPs was a fun adventure, and not an exercise in self-imposed misery, military-school style reprogramming and cultural isolation. But hey, that sullen teenage solipsism had to start some time.)

In hindsight it was (SURPRISE!) a mistake to go. Partly because it would mean I would be broken up from my regular family unit again, and partly because I would soon forget all of Ursula’s dialogue, but mostly because it would lead me to the darkest timeline: back to my grandparents in rural Queensland. They’d left Tin Can Bay and had moved to Murgon (which, if you haven’t heard of it: everything you need to know about it can be gleaned from the name. Say out out loud: MURGON), and it, along with the following two towns in which I would live, would be the three worst places I would ever encounter. If a Sliding Doors-esque situation had kicked off when I made the decision to go back to my grandparents, kicky blonde Gwyneth would have got her groove back by staying in Darwin. But upon moving to Murgon I became sad, drab, brown-hair Gwyneth, and would remain so for the next full year.

Huh. Weird. Minus the hair, that's kind of how I looked as a teenager?

Huh. Weird. Minus the hair, that’s kind of how I looked as a teenager?

20) 1993. Hart Court, Coconut Grove (Darwin) NT 0810

Later on in the year, Robby moved back to Queensland, and we moved somewhere smaller: to a “cosy” top-floor apartment in Coconut Grove, right next to Nightcliff.

hartcourt2

The first house so far with a colour scheme that actually matches the border of the photo.

It was a warm October day in Darwin. Being that it was Darwin, the term “warm” sits on a very steep scale. It was a Saturday morning, and mum had hit peak Clean Mode. This was a regular Saturday occurrence: Every single door and window would be flung open, Jimmy Barnes’s “Soul Deep” would be cranked from the stereo (or Melissa Etheridge’s “Melissa Etheridge”, or UB40’s “The Best of UB40 Volume 1”, but most often “Soul Deep”), and shit would get picked the fuck UP.

On this particular Saturday, mum. had. had it. Orders had been barked, fingers had been pointed, stomps had been stomped. But we really hadn’t paid much attention, because…well, MUMS, am I right?

So, she had to pull out the big guns: a grand (but empty) threat. Each of our most beloved possessions—my Sega Mega-Drive, my sister’s stuffed monkey called Samantha, and my brother’s…I don’t know, he was three; probably a stick—were GOING IN THE BIN BECAUSE YOU KIDS REFUSE TO LISTEN. It worked: terrified, we picked up all our things in approximately 45 seconds and begged for her mercy. But she was not budging. We pleaded, we cried, but she had made up her mind.

Years later she would admit that she had no intention of throwing our things away, but had bluffed herself so hard into a corner that until she figured out a way to give us our stuff back without looking like she was capitulating, she had to follow through on her gambit. To buy herself time, she got me out of the house by sending me to the shop for a bottle of Diet Coke: When in doubt, invent an errand.

The nearest Diet Coke repository was a Mobil across the street, and by “the street” I mean the six lanes of Bagot Road. Usually crossing this road was a snap—cross three lanes during a break in traffic, huddle on the road island, cross the other three. I never bothered with crossing at the lights; it was too far away. (Yes, I would rigidly follow film classification guidelines to my own detriment, but I was all “meh” about road rules. I’m aware of the stupidity on display here.)

On this occasion, traffic was heavy. The lights way up ahead were red, and it was a car park: rows of cars stretch both ways in front of me. I figured it would be easy enough to dart between the stopped cars.

What I didn’t see was that the third lane was not backed up. At all. Cars making their way to the red light ahead were still clipping along at quite a pace. I didn’t realise until it was too late.

I didn’t even see the big red four wheel drive.

Don’t worry, I missed the four wheel drive. I must have even subconsciously spotted it because my mouth opened in a gasp. I know my mouth opened in a gasp because the first thing that slammed into the catamaran being towed by the four wheel drive was my teeth.

meangirls

Ugh, I know those feels, Regina.

Crunch.

To recap: For the second time in my life, I had been hit in the face with a seafaring vehicle. To further recap: I got into a boat accident on dry land.

bagotrd

This is where it happened. Right on the other side of that (as it turns out, pointedly useful) sign for the hospital.

I woke up underneath the catamaran trailer. I woke up howling. I don’t remember howling; I don’t remember anything, but I was definitely howling because at that very moment my mother, several hundred metres away and three floors up, heard the sound of howling. She looked up from the dishes and thought “oh dear, somebody’s run over a dog.”

6… 5… 4…

“Lauren, is Christopher back from the shop yet?”

3… 2…

“Nah.”

1…

Mum was out the door and down two of the four flights of stairs before the cup she dropped had even hit the bottom of the sink.

hartcourt

This staircase was NOT built with “running down in a panic” in mind.

By the time she got to me, I had crawled out from under the catamaran trailer (this is an important point later), and a group of people had gathered around me, trying to make sense of the boy-shaped blood fountain. Why was this child, who appeared to be relatively intact, with no major gashes or missing limbs, gushing red over everything and everyone?

425.blood.fntn.lv

Artist’s impression.

Because three of my teeth were still wedged in the catamaran’s hull. The blood was coming from my mouth.

When mum saw me, she instinctively got down on the ground to hold me. I instinctively started to apologise. Both were idiot moves, as all I did was cover us both in more blood and make mum cry harder, and all she did was give herself terrible burns on her knees and feet: bitumen roads in Darwin in October are brutal. Some guy next to mum kicked off his thongs and told her to kneel on them. A woman from a couple of cars back, who said she was a nurse, grabbed a towel and put it underneath me. The ground was still unbelievably hot to lie on, but at least my legs and mum’s knees were no longer blistering.

An ambulance was called, and Mum realised Lauren and Tommy were still at home. Dale was there as well, but as he worked night shift he was sound asleep. Another bystander offered to go up and let him know the situation, that I had been hit by a car boat and had to go to hospital. He ran across the street, down the path, up four flights of stairs, and gently woke Dale up…

…who immediately tried to beat the shit out of the very kind man. Admittedly, Dale had been asleep, and was entirely nude, and there was a strange guy in his house going “um hello excuse me sir are you Dale can you wake up”, but still. Ugh. It was handy to know that even in times of blood-soaked crisis, Dale remained a hamfisted fuckhead.

By the time I was put in the ambulance, everything was burgundy and sticky. Me, my clothes, my mum, the stretcher, the paramedic, the donated towel and thongs: everything looked like it had recently lost at paintball. While the paramedic set about doing whatever it is they do to bleeding boat accident victims, mum noticed I was gripping something in my right hand. It, too, was sticky with blood, and almost unrecognisable. She had to pry it out of my grip because the shock of the accident and locked my fist up tight.

It was a five dollar note. The five dollar note mum had given me to buy the Diet Coke.

I had run through the traffic of a six-lane highway, been struck by a yacht, run over by said yacht, woken up, crawled out, been bundled into the ambulance, bled EVERYWHERE…and yet I never let go of the five dollar note. This remains, to date, the most careful I have ever been with money, ever.

And then Mum gently took it, wiped it off and put it back in her purse. BACK IN HER PURSE. I DIDN’T EVEN GET TO KEEP THE FIVE DOLLARS I HAD SAVED FROM AN ACTUAL BLOODBATH.

(To be fair, I had failed to buy the Diet Coke.)

Once in the hospital, we found out the extent of my injuries. As well as the three missing teeth, I had fractured my neck. I had also broken my jaw and some ribs, but that seemed much less significant than the neck thing. The look on my face when I realised I had hauled myself out from underneath the boat with a fractured neck was the same as the doctor’s when I told him the same thing. Well, it was nearly the same: he combined his horrified look with a sassy neck tilt; something I wasn’t able to do as I was clamped in place with various neck braces.

Incidentally, I don’t recommend sustaining a spinal injury and ingesting litres and litres of your own blood simultaneously. It is extraordinarily difficult to barf every fifteen minutes when you’re lying flat on your back with your neck trussed up, displaying the same range of movement as a vintage Barbie doll. For a whole day, every time I felt a barf coming on I had to ring the buzzer (with the emergency code of three quick presses of the button), so that FOUR nurses could meet at my bed and roll me onto my side safely. They didn’t always make it on time, which…look, I won’t go into too much detail about the clean up process, but let’s just say the inside of my neck brace didn’t smell so great. Eventually they sent a tube up my nose and down into my stomach to suck out all the ingested blood, which might have been horrible in every way imaginable, but it has given me a handy excuse to use to this day to get out of vacuuming floors: because I had a tiny vacuum cleaner inside me once! I have a crippling phobia! Don’t be so insensitive, I couldn’t possibly, etc.

For three days, I wasn’t allowed to move on my own. While, after the first day, I no longer had to call code red on the buzzer to avoid choking on my own vomit (thanks, several feet of plastic tube up my nose!), the patented “four nurse roll” manoeuvre was still deployed every fours, so I could enjoy a change of scenery and not get bedsores. (When you are unable to look at anything but a hospital ceiling for hours at a time, a hospital wall suddenly becomes the most interesting thing to look at ever.)

Those four hour blocks during those three days remain one of the longest, most torturous periods of my life. It was endless. I wasn’t allowed to eat food (can’t chew lying down), I couldn’t see the TV (wrong angle), and I couldn’t sleep (too hungry, too bored, too sweaty, too bloody). Oh, except for the time I did fall asleep and immediately started sleepwalking. I woke up to the sound of alarmed shouting: my neck scaffolding was still in place, I was still attached to my drip, which I’d dragged with me, I was completely nude except for the hospital gown, and I was standing in the middle of the ward. The alarmed shouting had come from a nurse who’d spotted me looking like some kind of horror movie ghost, slammed the emergency buzzer, and once again four nurses raced into the room to manoeuvre me into my correct position. Oh look, I can see the ceiling again. Hello, old friend.

My small unconscious constitutional nearly meant more suffering for me: they wanted to put restraints on my wrists and/or ankles. MORE scaffolding. Mum managed to talk them out of it, on the grounds that I promised not to sleepwalk again; a promise I could only keep by not sleeping again. WELL I COULDN’T EAT FOOD OR WATCH TV OR MOVE MY OWN ARMS OR SAFELY VOMIT, WHAT WAS ONE MORE THING?

During those long hours in hospital, literally broken and bleeding, but also sleepless, foodless, unable to move and with a small hose running through half my alimentary canal, I started to despondently wonder what would have happened if only I had only crossed the road at the pedestrian crossing. Or if I’d only waited until all the cars had gone. Or if Lauren and I had only kept the house tidier and not driven mum into such a cleaning rage. If only I’d been one second later. If only I’d gone to a different shop for the Diet Coke. If I had avoided the accident, I wouldn’t have broken my knee, jaw and ribs. I wouldn’t have fractured my neck. I wouldn’t have lost three adult teeth, and ingested all that blood. I wouldn’t have had to spend a week in hospital. I would have been able to remain a member of my school’s team in the World Solar Challenge; a solar car race from Darwin to Adelaide that was only held every three years. and which is a pretty big deal. (How big? Halle Berry and Eliza Dushku star in film about it:)

And, on top of all that, I would have been able to go to my music teacher’s house for my first violin lesson, which had been scheduled for the Sunday; the day after the accident. But I couldn’t, because I was in hospital; bleeding and being rolled every four hours.

On the following Tuesday; four days after the accident and three days after my cancelled violin lesson, my music teacher was arrested on several counts of child molestation. So. Silver lining? Maybe the universe was trying to protect me?

On the Saturday, one week after the accident and three days after leaving hospital, still nursing my fractured neck, I fell out of the top bunk of my bed.

Dropped the ball on that one, universe.

19) 1993. 16 Hibiscus Street, Nightcliff (Darwin) NT 0814

I can’t remember why exactly (I really wish I’d taken more of an active stake in my own well-being as a child), but at some point I moved back in with my mum. Whatever the reason, it was the right decision to make: nearly two years living in whatever toxic rehabilitation camp for perfectly normal children my grandparents were trying to run was long enough.

By early 1993, Mum and Lauren and Thomas (and yes, Dale) had moved on from Townsville and were living in Darwin. Moving that far was a giant, scary move for a twelve year old to make alone…

…and so Robby came to my rescue! Again!

Robby had decided that she would move to Darwin too. She was even going to live with us again. So Robby came up to Tin Can Bay to collect me, took me on the train down to Brisbane, looked after me for a few days, and then accompanied me on the flight all the way to Darwin. With Robby by my side, I didn’t feel anxious even once. Except, maybe, for that first moment we stepped out of the air conditioning of Darwin Airport into the actual Darwin climate, and felt the heat for the first time.

actual footage

I make fun, but to be honest, I loved Darwin, and I still do now. It is an amazing place and I had such an incredible time living there. No gags here, no irony, I highly recommend Darwin. Especially Nightcliff, which is not only the loveliest part of town, but also has the loveliest name.

hibiscus

Shout-out to the Google Street View van, who took this photo at the right time of day to really drive home the point that Darwin is quite hot. Look at that sun! Right in your eyes!

By the time I had moved back in with my original family, I had aged by two years, and so had they. My baby brother had gone from an actual baby to a walking, talking three year old, and my sister had grown into a school-aged six-year-old, and had almost entirely forgotten about me. She knew who I was, but her grasp of how I fit into our family had gotten shaky.

As a result, she would continually refer to our mother as “my mum”, which ruined me every single time. On more than one occasion I would scream-cry at her “SHE’S MY MUM TOO” and then she’d scream in response (because my sister has a rule that no scream anywhere should ever be lonely) and we’d both scream until we got in trouble.

She got out of the habit of saying “my mum” around the same time I stopped caring about it, so that sibling battle was a nil-all draw.

One of the benefits of being older was that I was considered responsible: responsible enough to babysit my brother and sister when mum and Robby went out for a girls night, which happened like once a quarter. It might not sound like a lot, but it technically means she partied harder at 33 with a shitbag partner and three kids than I do now, at the same age, completely single and dependent-free.

And anyway, it would have happened more than once a quarter, only we were all so very poor. How poor were we? So poor that when mum and Robby decided they wanted to spend their evenings playing Yahtzee, they couldn’t afford to buy the game Yahtzee. So instead they bought five dice for thirty cents, an exercise book for 49 cents, and red, blue and black pens for like a dollar each. They ruled up the scorecards and instructions in the exercise book, and used a pillowcase (which they decorated with the same pens) as a game mat, to muffle the sound of the dice. Mum and Robby essentially MacGyvered a board game.

But, on the nights when Mum and Robby put down the dice for a night out on the town, it was a night of blissful freedom for them, but also for me: once Lauren, Thomas and Robby’s daughter Taren were in bed, the world was my oyster, by which I mean the TV remote was mine. I resented not getting paid for the gig, but I enjoyed the autonomy.

On one of these quarterly occasions, while mum was still getting ready, I decided that once the TV was in my control I would watch Police Academy 3.

Why did I want to watch it? Why was there a VHS copy of Police Academy 3 in our house? These are mysteries to which we may never have answers. But what I CAN tell you is I faced a big hurdle:

Police Academy 3 was rated ‘M’, for audiences 15 years and over.

I was only 12. Nearly 13, but still technically 12.

If you hadn’t worked out already: I was, am, and always have been, a massive—MASSIVE—goody two shoes. I will follow every instruction given to me, up to and including videotape labels. Remember: this is the person who once sat on a still alive shark because he was told to. I did what I was told, when I was told, and I was probably insufferable because of it.

So I had to ask permission.

Me: Mum, can I watch Police Academy 3 tonight?
Mum: It’s rated M.
Me: I know, but will you let me watch it?
Mum: You can’t, it’s not for children.
Me: But I’m mature!
Mum: It says you can’t.
Me: Why not?
Mum: Because it says you can’t.
Me: But you’re more the boss of me than the videotape!
Mum: Classifications are there for a reason.
Me: But muuuuuuuuuum.
Mum: I don’t make the rules.
Me: This is so unfair. You are happy to leave the lives of your OTHER TWO CHILDREN in my care. You think I’m mature enough to HANDLE HUMAN LIFE. But you won’t let me watch a stupid movie! I’ve SEEN M rated movies before, MUM.
Mum: Well you can’t watch this one.
Me: MUM.
Mum: My hands are tied.
Me: This is so unfair! WHY?
Mum: We’ve been through this.
Me: MUUUUUUUUUUUUUM.

In case you hadn’t cottoned on, because I sure hadn’t, mum didn’t actually mind, she was simply getting some amusement from my insufferable goodness. My mother was, when the mood struck, a Class A Shitstirrer.

Mum: What does it say on the tape?
Me: M.
Mum: And underneath that?
Me: For audiences fifteen years and over.
Mum: And how old are you?
Me: Nearly thirteen.
Mum: Is “nearly thirteen” “fifteen years and over”?
Me: No, but—
Mum: WHAT DOES IT SAY?
Me: M. But MUM.
Mum: What can I do?
Me: YOU CAN SAY I CAN WATCH IT BECAUSE YOU’RE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE VIDEO BOX.
Mum: (having finally squeezed the last drop of fun out of her trolling): OH, MY GOD. CHRISTOPHER. IF YOU HAD A BRAIN. IN. YOUR. HEAD. YOU WOULD JUST SHUT UP AND WAIT UNTIL I WAS OUT OF THE HOUSE AND THEN WATCH THE BLOODY MOVIE ANYWAY.
Me: Oh.

*long pause*

Me: So you’re saying I can watch it?
Mum: OH MY GOD.

Then she left. And she still technically hadn’t given me permission to watch the movie. And so I didn’t.

And I still haven’t.

Out of protest.

(Well, okay, at some point the “not watching it out of protest” became “not watching it because I just don’t want to”, but if I’m being really honest with myself, that point didn’t arrive until some time in 2011.)