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Wednesday, 31 January 2007

1975's Night to Remember

There are only a few of my autobiographical tales that show me in a good light. Generally, I find that, while I've tended to daydream about being courageous, heroic and noble, I have continued to behave in a thoughtless, cowardly and selfish manner (when I haven't been simply lustful, lazy and stupid). This might make for good reading, but isn't calculated to make the edifying impression I should aspire to in these pages.

And, the fact is that the one or two genuinely good things I might have done in my life happen, if they happened at all, to involve other people who are still deserving of my consideration and a discrete silence. I am left with the merely clever deed, but it is mainly clever deeds that have gotten me this far.

I believe that I was seventeen on this occassion, when my brother celebrated his sixteenth birthday at our Invercargill home. In those days my brother, unlike his weirder older sibling, was a lady's man, which sounds like a good thing but has its disadvantages. The birthday was a private affair for a handful of his friends, but unfortunately some wench who, however briefly and lightly attached, now felt scorned by some recent ditching manoeuvre of his – I believe her name was Nicola, an odd detail to remember – had advertised the fact of his "party" among the vast, bored youth of our town. Come the night, our house quickly filled up with friends, then continued to fill with strangers. At first we had little concern; our parents had thoughtfully barricaded themselves in the rear of the house, which its design allowed for. I should remember more about the party, but I fell in love early that night, and for the rest was rapt in contemplation and more than usually uncurious.

I see people and lights reflected in dark windows, hear the clink of glass and the surge of a crowded human congress, and I realise, from the stench of stale beer, cigarettes and patchouli that was left the next day, and that hung in my bedroom for months to come, so that a woman in patchouli is safe with me even now, what it must have been like there, but I was probably the last to wake up to the fact that things were going wrong. My mother and father came through to discover that the party was hundreds of times the size of the one allowed and anticipated; they made an angry stand and cleared the crowd from my bedroom, which had been its hub; but, instead of leaving the property altogether, the crowd gathered outside and in the hallways and got uglier.

It looked like a job for the police, but they had reckoned without my 8 watt amplifier and the surf fuzz-wah effects pedal I had recently purchased. I hurried back to my room, turned on the amplifier, a converted valve radio, with the volume set to zero, and pressed the button at the head of the pedal. I slowly turned up the amp's volume, then clicked off the switch, continuing my slow increase of the volume. A low whine had become audible in the room, rising in pitch as it increased in volume, then dropping in pitch when I clicked it off, to rise when I again clicked it on; the siren got louder and louder, and the crowd froze as one, then broke and ran. From where I sat I watched through the bay windows as gatecrashers scattered every which way - more than one hoon was seen throwing himself over our low box hedge and scrambling into his car, Holdens and Cortinas that pulled away with revving engines, grinding gears and squealing tyres, passengers in desperate pursuit. The street, the driveway, the house were clear of all but family and invited guests before the siren had even reached its full 8 watt crescendo; in less than a minute, is my guess.

From then on, it was just a matter of cleaning up. I basked for a while in the admiration of my brother's friends; my parents probably held me partly responsible for the original disaster, rather than crediting me for saving their house. In any case we boys spent the rest of the night cleaning up cigarette butts and beer bottles in a funk of flat booze, rancid perfume and stale tobacco fumes. I didn't care; my life had finally begun its long awaited transformation.

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