Sunday, 8 July 2012

Excerpt from The Camp by Paul B Spurling

The following is an excerpt from a chapter in my book Ways To Fall

It happened in an instant, my defection to the dark side. At the start of the bus trip down to the Phillip Island camp site I had been firmly on the side of the gods, strongly of the belief that whilst Kenworth trucks were aesthetically pleasing pieces of machinery, their appearance on the traffic landscape was not cause for the sort of wild celebrations a select group of boys from 6B insisted on indulging in. (The ‘Kenny Boys’, as they dubbed themselves, were led by Chris McDonald and David Burns (‘Macca & Burnsy’), a self-styled double-act who, with their bawdy banter and difference in their respective sizes, saw themselves as a junior version of The Two Ronnies; although the more general consensus was that they were a pair of cretinous buffoons.)
     It was Kenworth trucks that they were interested in rather than trucks per se. In fact the only time either Macca or Burnsy acknowledged any other brand’s right to even exist was when a particularly splendid Mack came into view. (“Not bad,” they had grudgingly admitted in unison. However this was quickly followed by a stern qualification from Macca: “Not as a good as a Kenny though.”)
      This Kenworth fixation stemmed from the fact that in the inexplicably popular BJ and the Bear – a TV show that explored, with great subtlety, the relationship between a man and his monkey – the central character (‘BJ’) drove a red and white Kenworth ‘K-100’.

Michael Russell and I occupied the twin seats that separated Macca & Burnsy from most of their constituents; and along with hearing “Kenny!” every five minutes, we had to endure, in the down time between Kenworths, the Kenny Boys’ self-penned theme song – a largely tuneless (and disappointingly tame) ditty that portrayed them as a band of lovable rogues who were “always up to mischief wherever (they) may be”.
      It would have been an untenable situation but for a running commentary on proceedings that Michael and I instituted just after the appearance of the second Kenworth.
      We started out by discussing who we thought was “the stupidest” of the Kenny Boys. (Michael nominated Matthew Smith, citing his habit of yelling “Codger!” at any passing motorist over the age of forty as ample evidence of his intellectual shortcomings.) Then, as a direct response to a particularly distasteful episode whereby a Hino driver was cruelly mocked for driving a “shitbox” for a living, we started to theorise as to how each Kenny Boy would fare once they themselves made it to adulthood and found they had to hold down jobs of their own. (Michael’s forecast for poor old Burnsy was particularly bleak, having him jobless and living alone in a “shack” on the outskirts of town.)
      But somewhere around the sixty minute mark it occurred to me: these guys may have been facing bleak futures as bit players on the fringes of society, but right here right now they were centre stage; right here right now girls were watching them. And as enjoyable as it may have been, by sitting there making snide comments, Michael and I had fitted ourselves with the roles of mere spectators to the main event.
      This sat well enough with Michael. But not with me. After several years of soaking up compliments about my running ability (including regular assurances from no lesser an authority than Macca himself that I’d “go to the Olympics one day”) I had developed the sort of ego that meant that I could only go so long with the spotlight shining on someone other than me.
      So, when the Kenny Boys stood up to gauge the progress of the next Kenworth on the horizon as it made its slow but inevitable way towards our bus (which had maintained a funereal pace since the outset), I joined them.     
      Michael was less than amused.
      “What are you doing?” he said, his anger palpable.
      “Sorry,” I said, avoiding eye contact.
      I turned away from Michael and towards the Kenny Boys; but it seemed that there were doubters wherever I turned.
      “I didn’t know you were into Kennys,” said Macca, as he looked me up and down contemptuously. He wasn’t going to come right out and say it, but it was obvious that he didn’t consider me ‘tough’ enough to be granted Kenny Boy membership.
      What I needed was a pithy rejoinder that both established my credentials as a genuine Kenworth aficionado and debunked any notions that I was too effete for the supposedly rough and tumble world of cross country trucking.
      I couldn’t believe that they seemed to be buying it as I spewed out a hastily cobbled together ode to the trucker’s way of life, which I concluded with a suitably foul-mouthed reinforcement of the myth that truckies were forever having indiscriminate sexual interludes in their cabins.
      “Yeah!” said Burnsy lasciviously. I was in.
       As the truck prepared to overtake our bus I stood in hunched anticipation with my newfound comrades. Macca and Burnsy had, just seconds before, given the driver the all-important visual directive to ‘pull’ his horn. But so far: nothing. (Getting a Kenworth driver to sound his horn was the ultimate prize for the Kenny Boys. Again BJ and the Bear was to blame: the most moronic scene in the show’s opening credits sequence (and there were several strong contenders) depicted the chimpanzee (the confusingly named ‘Bear’) grinning idiotically whilst pulling the truck’s horn in order to attract the attention of a fellow Kenny driver (a ludicrously attractive human female); when she returns fire with a horn blast of her own it presumable sends Bear into a delirium (although we are thankfully spared having to witness such a disturbing spectacle). 

      Then, just as things were starting to look grim on the horn front (Burnsy for one, had given up hope and had started to openly speculate about the hapless truckie’s private life) the truckie sounded the horn.
      The slightly mournful quality to the cow’s ‘moo’ of the horn was lost in the jubilant scenes that followed: some (including Burnsy who had presumably reversed his decision as to the truckie’s character) raised their arms in victory; some shouted indiscriminately; and some gave the truckie a spirited round of applause. Following Macca’s lead, I pumped both fists and yelled “Kenny!” like a sociopath.     
      The truck passed. Excitement levels returned to normal, and I sat back down. Michael looked at me. He didn’t have to say it: he now had a new contender for the stupidest Kenny Boy.

While all this had been going on the radio had been locked on 3MP; however MP’s relentlessly inoffensive, some-would-say boring playlist had meant that it had gone largely unnoticed. It turned out however that Frank Wood, who occupied a seat near the front of the bus, had been lobbying hard for a) the dial to be turned to the more palatable 3XY, and b) for the volume to be increased.
      Frank was that rare breed: a boy from 6B with no interest in Kenworth trucks; and, unlike myself, he was unwavering on this issue; and I suspect that his campaign, whilst mostly fuelled by an understandable loathing of Anne Murray’s ‘You Needed Me’ (which 3MP seemed to play it on the hour, every hour), was, in part, a ploy to drown out the Kenny Boys.
      (It was at the previous year’s house sports carnival that Frank had first announced himself as a unique character; a man who ran his own race, if you will. It was the second to last event of the day: the Grade 5 boys 4x100 relay; and I just anchored my team to a relatively easy win. After crossing the finish line I looked back to the crowd expecting to accept a few plaudits, as presumably the emphatic victory could only have served to enhance my reputation as a future Olympian; but, for once, nobody was interested. They were all looking at Frank, who was running the last leg for what must have been one of the weakest relay teams ever fielded in house sports history – he was still a good 70 metres from home and had the straight to himself. And the reason everyone was looking his way, and not at me (the rightful star of the show) was that he was taking full advantage of the similarities in shape and dimension between a gold relay baton and a particular musical instrument. Yes, he completed the final 70 metres of the race skipping and simulating playing the flute. I may have won the race, but Frank had won over the crowd; my, I thought, awesome display of athletic prowess turned out to be no match for the world’s most sarcastic Pied Piper impersonator.)
      The bus driver gave in to Frank’s hectoring about five minutes after my induction into the Kenny Boys and the radio was switched to 3XY. The first few songs came and went without incident; neither Dire Straits’ ‘Water Of Love’ nor Nicolette Larson’s (sublime) ‘Lotta Love’ was ever going to cause a riot. In fact, they were drowned out by another round or two of the Kenny Boys theme (which I declined to participate in, citing unfamiliarity with the lyrics – a relatively weak excuse as they were tattooed on my brain by that stage).

      Next up was ‘YMCA’ by the Village People; and its galvanising effect was immediate, managing as it did to bring several disparate groups together including (but not limited to): the oft-maligned Recorder Girls, some of whom were so musical that they nonchalantly sang close harmony lines during the chorus; the Guitar Boys, nominal guitar students who, between them, barely managed to pitch a single note; and of course the Kenny Boys themselves who, with Macca acting as the sort of choirmaster one might find in prison, belted out the irresistible chorus with such conviction that the seemingly impossible happened – a Kenworth went by completely unnoticed.
      So, for just over four minutes we were all singing from the same hymn book; united by a song with possibly the most homoerotic subtext in pop history no less (its only serious rival in this regard being the Village People’s similarly themed follow-up ‘In The Navy’).
      And it should be noted here that our enjoyment of ‘YMCA’ was entirely genuine; there was not a trace of irony, no sense of kitsch.
      Those things hadn’t been invented yet.