Island Life by David Slack


One sleep to go

The most memorable birthday present I ever got was a heart attack, but outside of that my most vivid recollection is of the one I was given when I turned eight.

I can see the packaging, I can remember the weeks I spent hoping I would get it and I know it was made by Lincoln International, but for the life of me, I can’t tell you what it was called.

Those Lincoln people were huge. The TV ads made that clear. The only cool lunchbox to have was a Lincoln TuckerBox. It had a water bottle that clicked onto the handle. “Boy oh boy, a Lincoln toy” was the slogan. They were simple times, but we were happy.

On Friday, Mary-Margaret will turn eight. I am mostly an attentive father and I share many of the parenting tasks, but this will be yet one more year when the gift expectations will have been relayed to Karren, and acted upon by the more organised grownup in our household. I have been able to tell Mary-Margaret with absolute truth that I can’t tell her what she’ll be getting.

You guys, I'm getting that John Ellway football helmet for Christmas.
How do you know?
'Cause I looked in my parents' closet last night.
Yeah, well I sneaked around my mom's closet too and saw what I'm getting. The Ultravibe Pleasure 2000.
What's that?
I don't know but it sounds pretty sweet.

My Lincoln toy was a kind of construction kit; a plastic version of the Meccano set. Some of the pieces survive to this day. I don’t know when I stopped playing with them, but they would have been stashed in a dusty box by the time I was lighting my first Pall Mall Menthol underneath the bridge down the road from school in North Street. Gran kept the dusty box of plastic pieces, though, and one day she gave them to Mary-Margaret, who takes great pleasure in knowing that they were once Dad’s.

My other strong memory of that year was a week staying with another family while the folks were away. I was unjustly accused by two of the kids and held to account that night by their father. While he solemnly intoned about the difference between right and wrong and telling a lie, the black and white TV on the other side of the room was playing the news. There were pictures of tanks rolling into Prague. I can truly say I was filled with indignation, but I would also have to say in truth that my solidarity with the Czech people would only come much later.

Mary-Margaret was full of questions about ANZAC day this year. We spent time talking about the horror and futility of the First World War. We told her about her granddad’s father and uncle and grandfather who all spent tormented months in trenches in Western Europe. We told her that only two of them came home, and that one of them was traumatised for the rest of his long life. She doesn’t watch the TV news as much as I did at her age, although her child’s bat antennae can pick up a news item about the smacking debate from four rooms away, and she will scamper to the source to hear more. All politics is indeed local. She has a strong sense of empathy and consideration for the people around her, and she’s a lovely kid. I hope she gets something really nice tomorrow.

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