1990, and the Commonwealth Games. Months of jump rope practice in Sunnybrae Normal School’s hall comes to nought as we up sticks to little known Paekakariki – a seaside idyll on the windswept Kapiti Coast. Who needs opening ceremonies anyway. 65 Wellington Road, up the steep driveway that would see many a white knuckled screamer descend, and countless wheels spinning fruitlessly off the edge in space – chewing through the rhododendrons. It all almost never came to be. A previous recky scoped out a ramshackle compound in Whanganui. But a cracked tennis court and high unemployment rates must have been the reason we gave that a miss. And why Jane threw a favourite toy of mine from a speeding vehicle. Whanganui be damned.

Paekak. Land of the green parrot, cheeky boys, and the Rumbling Tum. Mopping its floors in the wee hours of the day, after dreaming of a false dawn and a job done. Crumbs, bleach, Mr Whippy, and squashed mice – with returning dividends in hotdogs in buns and endless credits in the spacies. The latter was probably for the best as Dad’s wallet only housed so many 20c pieces. Sorry Dad – yes, that’s where it went. But if it makes you feel any better, Ben did it, too. Elan and I (my childhood right hand man) even invented the Tum’s ‘Mexican’ pie that went on to – in my humble estimate – sell millions and send the owner to an early retirement in the Seychelles. Or at least Paraparaumu. You’re welcome, everyone.

Then there was Tatou. Tatou master. The broken Maori boy with a broken smile, from a broken home. The poor devil. How he terrorised and entertained us all. Those days, though grim, were the lightest for him no doubt. Wet socks on hot water heaters and booking time to play Carmen San Diego in the class computer. Danish rounders, endless ties for 2nd in three-man sprints, and idol worship the order of those days. Not to mention hedonistically long swims in a shallow sea stretching to the lee of the distant south island. Flounder wriggled underfoot and crabs nipped at toes as Mandy and her blonde bevy of girls giggled in the sand.

BMX bikes through Queen Elizabeth Park – or Queenie – saw me fizz along the noisy track with the two Dutch giants whose house contained not only the Sega Megadrive we all dreamed of (and a pool and the cricket bats) but also an older sister with a heaving bosom. I’d dream of that later when our nether-regions caught on. At the halfway point of our rides we’d swim the dirt out from underneath our fingernails at the Raumati Pool and eat raspberry liquorice straps.

Then there was the paper run that put hairs on my chest early, by putting the Gulf War in my face daily. The ineptitude and malice of war, and those normalising plumes of smoke, became wallpaper. Distant atrocities that fell on deaf ears, gore from Kuwait that hardly compared to the real world. To seeing that cat run over in front of my eyes. The tire went straight over its stomach, squeezing it like a sausage so that bits came out both ends wherever there was give.

And yet more blood, but this time in battling boys’ noses – a misguided, extracurricular attempt to right the balance of power in the school yard. The better man won. Or at least, the bigger. Broken windows, fugitives and their ratting out followed. And an honest, yet feeble, attempt at doing to boy scout movement proud. Dib dib dob dob and all that. We proved too loose for that, though – us Paekak boys. Far better suited to roof-rattling and underachieving as it turned out.

Though with that all cunningly figured, it was now time to start all over again and learn anew. It was off to college – for all eight of us – where the inevitable drift of time, and puberty, was waiting to begin.

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