The Good Life

13 September 2016

Back then I believed that people who had the misfortune of living that long should just crawl away and hide under a crocheted blanket in a rocking chair somewhere, leaving society to do it’s thing without the unsavoury distraction of having to look at the likes of them.

In hindsight I’m appalled at that eight-year-old version of me, thinking her ageist thoughts as she sat watching The Good Life with her grandparents all those years ago. (Clearly she had every right to point the finger at others and their meaningless existence when hers was jam-packed with action) Upon learning that the premise of this English sitcom involved Richard Brier’s character turning forty and deciding to abandon his old life and start afresh, the pint-sized, loudmouthed me proclaimed, “He’ll be dead soon anyway so why bother?” Looking back, I can’t imagine my fifty-something grandparents being too thrilled at such narrow-minded observations, but they somehow managed to refrain from whacking me across the head with a wooden spoon.

Having turned forty I’m happy to report that I still have all my teeth, get around without a motorized wheelchair and own neither a rocking chair nor a crocheted blanket. My 40th birthday also happened to coincide with me writing and performing in a show called “Livin’ the Dream”, in which I explored the notion of having, maintaining and achieving your dreams, and what it means to have dreams in the first place. This merging of momentous events forced me to look back over my shoulder at the last forty years and face a few home truths about myself – a surprisingly gratifying, if slightly masochistic, experience

First and foremost, I found myself scrutinising that hypercritical child lounging on her nana’s leather buttoned couch in Williamstown, stuffing her gob with Cadburys chocolate and Schweppes lemonade, loudly passing judgement on the lives of fictitious television characters. Did any of that gappy-toothed, mullet-headed little girl’s dreams come true?

Well…look…to be fair, some of them weren’t exactly what you’d call realistic. For example, developing the ability to fly and wanting desperately to live in The Faraway Tree (where no one ages…ever) were probably pushing it a bit. But I also wanted to be part of a blooper reel at the end of a TV show and I’m happy to say that I can tick that box.

No human being ever seemed to me to laugh as much as when he or she fluffed a line, tripped over a prop or made an entrance at the wrong moment. I needed to know how it felt to laugh like that, and as luck would have it, I found out eventually. Corpsing – i.e. cracking up laughing when you shouldn’t in the middle of a scene – is exactly like being a kid again. You’re back in school assembly and you know you’re not allowed to laugh because you’ll get in big trouble, but your friend just farted and no one else heard it except you and you feel like your head is going to explode if you don’t let it out. We all know that when you’re not supposed to laugh, laughter usually becomes completely unstoppable. However, when you’re working on a TV show, as hilarious as you and the rest of the cast may be finding yourselves, the truth is that you’re really pissing off the director and the entire crew, all of whom just want to get the job done, move on and go home.

The fact that I ended up working on TV shows at all was nothing short of a miracle. I grew up in a suburb of Melbourne where the most creative you got artistically was painting a banner ‘cos the local footy club made it into the Grand Final. Despite all attempts by family and friends to convert me to their sports-obsessed ways, I managed to resist their efforts and focused instead on  transforming myself into very loud, very annoying characters as often as possible. A favourite role of mine involved dramatically collapsing onto the kitchen floor at my mother’s feet and bellowing “What is this stench most foul that burns my poor nostrils?” upon smelling yet another silverside boiling away on the stovetop.

I continually hijacked my brothers, cousins and neighbours to be bit players and extras – you know, Guard #2, spooky-looking tree, castrated donkey, that sort of thing –in shows that I would perform from my long-suffering parents. As a parent myself now I’d hate this kid if she showed up on my doorstep, hijacked my child and then ordered me to watch her crappy little show…mind you, I could teach her a thing or two about how to create a homemade program, would blow her tiny little mind with my Powerpoint presentation skills and could choreograph some awesome moves to a Ray Stevens song.

I loved Ray’s songs because they always had a really cool, albeit somewhat bizarre, story in the lyrics. Being an avid reader since the age of four I wanted songs that had a narrative.  If I couldn’t act it out then I simply wasn’t interested. With Ray, I learnt about hairy apes that escaped from zoos, a midget named Bridget who could sing the blues, and then of course there was the masterpiece Gitarzan, which I could act out in my bedroom for hours at a time. Once I’d worked out a routine that would make Simon Cowell rise to his feet, I’d venture out to inflict my latest choreography on unsuspecting members of my family, who usually took that moment too long to make it off the couch and into the toilet the second they heard the knob of my bedroom door turning.

Unfortunately, the eight-year-old me possessed more than a few annoying traits that threatened to stand in the way of me achieving any of my dreams. Fort instance, my mild OCD meant that I was obsessed with doing things three times. On days when I was well and truly in the OCD zone, I was unable to stop myself from touching things three times, regardless of how close this habit came to me having my gappy teeth punched in. Light switches, blinds, doorknobs, tables – nothing was safe. I remember the look on my best friends’ face in church one morning when she noticed my fingers accidentally brush the earlobe of the woman sitting in the pew in front of us. Mouthing the word “No!” and shaking her head furiously at me did no good. It was too late. I was powerless to stop what was about to happen and my friend knew it. My hand took on a life of its own and we both watched in silent horror as my fingers stretched out and deftly tapped the woman’s earlobe twice before making a hasty withdrawal. As the woman’s head snapped around I made the international hand signal for “fly” and smiled as if to say “You can thank me after communion.”

So would that judgmental, obsessive-compulsive, bossy and overly dramatic eight-year-old kid be happy with any of the dreams achieved by this decrepit old woman sitting at her computer right now? Probably not. Has she at least learnt anything along the way? Yes. Mainly that having kids is a great excuse to keep making up routines to songs and inflicting them on unsuspecting family members at Christmas get-togethers.




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