Category Archives: Baby boomer stuff

Bill Bryson ‘The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid’


2006, 375 p.

When feeling that I need to justify being in a CAE bookgroup when, heaven knows I surely have enough reading that I should be doing, I often say “Well, you read books that you wouldn’t normally choose”. This is very much the case with this book. As it happened I didn’t really mind sinking into its fairy-floss peaks, aware that I had only two days to read it before our bookclub meeting. I’d just finished reading N and was feeling exhilarated and supremely sated, and I would have found it difficult to turn straight away to a challenging or complex book. Fortunately, in this case then, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is neither of these things.

I’ve read a couple of Bill Bryson’s travel books, and find them wryly amusing. Although this is a memoir, he approaches it in much the same way: it is a travelogue around his childhood memories. The book moves chronologically towards his adolescence, but is structured thematically with chapters titled (among others) ‘Hometown’, ‘Welcome to Kid World’ ‘Birth of a Superhero’ ‘Boom!’,’What, Me Worry?’ and ‘The Pubic Year’.

Bryson was born and raised in Des Moines Iowa in 1951. Unusually for the time, both his parents worked at the Des Moines Register, his father as sports writer and his mother in the women’s section. Bryson’s viewpoint is unashamedly child-centred, with his parents benign but almost peripheral characters, and his sibling almost invisible. Bryson is much attracted to lists, and they pepper the book- a rather lazy way, I think, of leaving the reader to recognize and make the connections. There are one-liners on every page, and it’s the voice of the raconteur that you hear.

One of the things that struck me was how self-containedly American his life was. He lists his favourite television programs (all American), films (all American), comic books (all American) and school readers (all American). It reinforced for me how much an Australian childhood (albeit five years later than his) was a mixture of British, American and Australian influences.

This is not to say that there’s not some social commentary in here as well. He points out the disjunction between the fears of the time (polio, Communists, nuclear war) and the sunny abundance and self-confidence of affluent, middle class White America.   He deals with racism in a couple of pages because it was not on his horizon at all.

All in all, it’s an affectionate, humourous wallow in nostalgia. It reminded me a bit of the television show ‘The Wonder Years’.  I enjoyed it in half-hour episodes but I know I would have drowned in schmaltz had it gone on for an hour.

Like a sit-com or a travel book, this book could have stopped ¾ of the way through, or gone on for another 100 pages, although at nearly 400 pages I think that it was plenty long enough.

I’ll leave the last words with him:

What a wonderful world it was. We won’t see its like again, I’m afraid.

An Australian Christmas c.1963

Christmas seemed so much more fun when you were a kid.  Will our children and grandchildren look back at their Christmases with such fondness? I hope so.

My Mum was the youngest of seven and no doubt as the spoilt youngest child, managed to avoid doing Christmas dinner until I was about thirteen years old. Until then, every Christmas was the same with lunch and dinner over at Auntie Flo’s and it is these Christmases that I think back on.

Father Christmas would come as he could always be relied to do, leaving presents in a pillow case at the end of the bed. He was an orderly Santa- along with larger presents there would always be a rectangular box of assorted lollies that included Fruit Pastilles (both multicoloured and blackberry), a Choo-Choo bar and a Kit Kat.  There would be a glass jar jar of puce-coloured candied peanuts: the jar itself bore a very strong resemblance to a  jar that might once have held Vegemite or Kraft Creamed Cheese spread, and I’m almost sure that it did.  Among other presents, there was always a book for me, sourced from a large box of remaindered children’s books that my parents bought at auction somewhere.  As a result, the book itself was pretty hit-or-miss, although one year it was Charles Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare , another year a collection of Greek myths.   One particularly memorable year there was a wooden paddle-board that obviously didn’t fit in the pillow case which was maneuvered into my room by Santa with much un-Santa-like giggling and muffled laughter.  On another earlier Christmas, Santa brought my doll Debbie in a pink dress in a proper doll box.  There was always, always an orange at the bottom of the pillow case.

Then over to my Auntie Flo and Uncle Ted’s for Christmas lunch. They lived in Waiora Rd Heidelberg Heights in a house with huge gardens, overlooking the Yarra Valley right across to the Dandenongs.  I always loved going there. Although I was a little scared of my uncle’s very dry sense of humour and bristling moustache, I loved my Auntie Flo, my favourite aunt and my godmother.   Girl cousins were fairly rare in my family- four girls to eleven boys.  Auntie Flo didn’t have a daughter, and I always felt very special with her. My cousins Wayne and Paul held all of the attraction of older male cousins: they were handsome, funny and big and very affectionate to their little girl cousin.   The Christmas I can remember most clearly was a very hot day, so the canvas awnings were all pulled down, bathing the inside of the house in a green, almost underwater light.  The house  smelt of Christmas pudding that would have been bubbling away for hours: I now make the pudding for my own family to the same recipe, amused every year at how much alcohol is in this pudding that was eagerly eaten by a family of teetotallers (3 tablespoons of spirits; 200 ml beer).  After lunch, more presents- always something special from Auntie Flo, and once even a doll’s house WITH STEPS made by my cousin Wayne in woodwork, all decked out in curtain and carpet scraps from their own decorating and my initials JL in gold paint over the front door.

I'm sitting on the extreme left hand side at the back. My brother Colin is sitting 5 from the left with Auntie Flo in the middle, 9 from the left. I THINK that Cousin Paul is wearing sunglasses 11 along, with his brother Cousin Wayne turning towards him. Mum is seond from the right hand side. Uncle Ted is sitting on the ground at front left, and my brother Rohan is sitting on Dad's lap front centre.

After lunch, the other cousins would come over- all older than us- and loud and funny and boisterous.  Auntie Flo and Uncle Ted had a fully tiled inground pool, which was rare in those days, complete with a changing room up the back, and footbaths set into the concrete to wash the grass from your feet before going in.  Once the obligatory and scrupulously kept hour for our “dinner to go down” elapsed (does anyone do that these days?), it was into the pool. They had inner tube tyre rings in the pool, and there would be a rough game of pool basketball, races up and down the pool and  pool-wrestling perched on top of my cousins’ shoulders.  Once our fingers were corrugated and our lips blue with the cold from being in for so long, we’d play shuttlecock on another terrace of the lawn, with the shadows from the trees lengthening around us.

Yet more food- cold meat brought by my butcher Uncle from Geelong (and maybe the butcher uncle from Reservoir?), salads, my mum’s famous pavlova and my Auntie Flo’s shortbread.  I once announced that I prefered Auntie Flo’s shortbread to my mother’s: I was not popular.  Another family of cousins had joined us by this stage, and then there would be the third round of presents, although often smaller ones by this stage.

By now, there would be much rubbing of little eyes and we’d head off home. We travelled out of our way to see the Boulevard lights in East Ivanhoe- strings of multicoloured globe lights and decorated gardens.  There would be one or two illuminated houses, then a few more, then the main display, concentrated in the middle of this long, curving street.  Crowds would cluster around these main houses, and the traffic would slow to a crawl.  Little did I realize that some 15  years later I would marry the little boy who then lived in the house on the bend with the most spectacular lights, and that 20 years later the week-long display of “the lights” would be an integral part of my own children’s Christmas.

But gradually the gaps between the displays would get wider and wider, until there would be just one or two outlying houses and the car would finally reach Burke Rd.  It was then- and only then- that I would know that Christmas was over for that year.

Happy Christmas.

Red faces

I never cease to be amazed by the search terms that bring people to this blog, and I often laugh at the bemusement they must feel when they realize what’s here.  So, given that much of my readership has arrived in unusual ways, I may as well share with my diverse readership (such as it is) some beauty tips! Those of you who know me will probably snort with derision- as indeed I do myself.

This little thought bubble was generated by an earnest discussion I had with my 60+ male doctor this week as we sat down together and discussed beauty regimes at night.  Not quite- I was there for yet another prescription to treat roseacea.  I developed this about eight years ago, at a time when my health was rather precarious and changeable.  I’m not sure whether the two are linked, or whether it was just moving into middle age where one’s body seems to be following its own secret instruction sheet.  Anyway, roseacea I have, and antibiotics keep it under control, necessitating far more frequent visits to the doctor than I’ve ever had to have for anything else.

On for a bit of a chat, which my doctor often is, he said that he’d developed roseacea himself last year and decided to do his own research on it.  He found research that linked a skin mite to roseacea.

Here it is climbing across your skin.

Eeuggh! are you scratching yet?

Anyway, he had treated himself with scabies treatment but had also been looking at sunscreen- and this is where I stopped shuddering and started listening because I’ve also noticed the beneficial effects of sunscreen on roseacea.  I became severely sunburnt on the face over Christmas, even though I had a hat on and was sitting in the shade.  Then I recalled my dermatologist muttering something about the sun and remembered that the antibiotics I take have a fluorescent sticker plastered on them warning of sun damage while taking them. The next day I plastered myself liberally with sunscreen and ended up with a magnificent outbreak of roseacea a few days later.  So onto the Googly I went and found that sunscreens with zinc were beneficial, as long as they were removed carefully at night.  So, I’ve been using Ego Sunsense Daily Face (with matte tint and under $20 for 200 ml!!!) and Neutrogena Extra Gentle Cleanser (for $10.00 for 200 ml- don’t tell me that I don’t PAY for my beauty!) at night.  My doctor, meanwhile has gone the Ego QV route with good old Country Life soap at night (he obviously pays even less for his beauty!)

What has surprised me is that my skin has cleared up so well- it’s no longer dry and stinging- that I think I MAY even be able to ease off the antibiotics, which would be a VERY GOOD THING. If nothing else, I wouldn’t have to sit there so often having beauty chats with my doctor.

And meanwhile, continuing the downward theme of this blog, you’ll just have to wait until next Saturday for my best household hint ever.

And forty years later…

Last night was Twilight Sounds at Sills Bends.  This is an annual event, held at my favourite place in the world- well, Melbourne anyway- Sills Bend by the Yarra in Heidelberg.  I’ve written about Sills Bend before. The Yarra Flats were my childhood playground; now as an adult I just love the deep shade of the oak trees, the old fruit trees and the sense of connection with an older Heidelberg.

Last night felt particularly nostalgic as Cotton, Keays and Morris were performing.  I spent probably two years of my life between 14 and 16 desperately in love with Jim Keays and the Masters Apprentices.

Their album was the first full-priced album I’d bought- my pocket money only stretched to K-Tel albums with lurid limegreen and orange psychedelic covers- and every afternoon on the way home from school I wondered if there would be a newsletter from ‘Denise and Di and Mrs G” from the Masters Apprentices Fan Club (it was, let us say, a sporadic publication).  They had played at the Scots Church Hall in Burgundy Street for my high school social when I was Form 2 at Banyule High School.

I know that ‘real’ historians are not supposed to admit to such sop, but I’ve always been attracted to time-travel stories.  I wish that I could come up behind that fourteen year old girl, screaming and sobbing at Jim Keays’ feet as, wreathed in streamers and poured into black leather pants, he endured  what was probably another dreary school gig. They sang their new song, 5.10 man and I bought the single the next week.

I wish that I could tell that 14 year old girl that forty years later, she’d be watching this same man.  She would still be the same person deep down, but she’d end up doing many of the things she wanted to do. She’d live a suburb or two away; she’d have a career; she’d have children (who would not deign to accompany her to Sills Bend to indulge such nostalgia).  She mightn’t know it at the time, but she’d find other people who liked the things she did. She’d do well at school and go to university- yep, she’d STILL be at university forty years later!! She’d fall in love properly and people would fall in love with her.  Forty years on, she’d say that she has a very good life.

And he, too, would live a life that he probably couldn’t have foreseen on that stage in 1969 and I wonder if he’d say that he has a very good life too. I hope that he would.

Anyway a good night, a good gig.  And the excitement goes on today too…..

Jersey Boys

We went to see Jersey Boys the other night. Terrific!  Although I must say that all of the grey heads in the audience were a bit disconcerting – mind you, I’d be one of them myself if I did not have such an intimate relationship with the dye-bottle.  But it really was Baby-Boomers-Big-Night-Out.

The Four Seasons were just part of the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence.  They were just THERE.  I really had no idea what they looked like- now why was that?  We’ve had television all my life (my parents bought one when I was one year old, to watch the Olympic Games) but I don’t remember ever seeing them on television.  We sometimes watched the Ed Sullivan show, but I don’t think we watched American Bandstand- we only watched the Australian one.  I think I was more aware of what British bands looked like.  In fact, I think I assumed that they were black.  Or were they the Four Tops?

But here they are, in case you (like me) don’t know what they looked like

And here’s another. Makes me realise how very, very good Jersey Boys was- you really had a sense of being there watching it

Blast from my past- The Loved Ones

I’ve just realised how good You Tube is for finding songs that you loved from one’s long-ago adolescence.  Here’s The Loved Ones singing Ever Loving Man

Of course, they’re much older here but Gerry Humphreys sure can still sing (a bit of help on the high parts, I suspect).  I grew up thinking that Gerry Humphreys was Barry Humphreys’  (aka Edna Everage) brother but as Gerry Humphreys was English, it must have been a suburban myth.

Update: Now I KNOW that they weren’t brothers- it was one of the True or False questions on Spicks and Specks last night!

And here they are singing The Loved One, complete with the clapping that to this day I still can’t keep up with, no matter how I try.

Gerry Humphreys died a couple of years ago- Barry Dickens wrote a touching obituary for him.