Boy racers

Boy Racers

Simon Comber has written a wonderful song called ?The Jaws of Life? on his new album ?Endearance? (plug plug, out soon I think) so I thought I?d take a shot at the subject as well (while we've been on the subject of demonising the young). First, a childhood memory.

Not sure of the year but somewhere in the 70s. As a young man I preferred my own company a fair bit and as a keen fisherman I used to take myself off fishing the waters of Leith (the small stream that runs through Dunedin). Back in the day it had an abundant supply of small, but tasty enough fish (less so now but that?s another story). This particular day I was exploring the upper reaches beyond anywhere I had gone before. This involved fishing new spots as I found them and traipsing up the meandering Leith Valley gravel road in the patches where the stream was inaccessible. At one point I heard behind me an incredible roar and then from around the corner came a large green car (Vauxhaul, Vanguard, can?t remember, but one of those lumbering behemoths New Zealand inherited from British engineering), rolling end on end in a cloud of midsummer dust and flying stones. This disturbed me on two counts, the safety of the occupants first and foremost and the delayed shock, half a second later, that for fate (I had walked that stretch not a minute earlier), the monster might have taken me clean out. I ran back down the road to ascertain any injuries. By the time I got there a couple of young men (can?t quite recall their age) had already clambered out and were hooting and hollering in what sounded like triumph. ?You fellers all right? I hollered through the lingering dust cloud that was obscuring them. ?Yeah, fucking great mate!? was the reply (or some such). They quickly set to righting the vehicle (strong buggers it had to be said?maybe there was more than two . . . too much whisky under the bridge) and having done so simply floored it back up the valley.
    I felt dismal. The shock had spoiled my appetite for fishing and feeling a long way from home at that point decided to start making my way back. ?Idiots could have killed me?, I seethed. The shock deepened in part because it began to dawn on me it likely wasn?t an accident at all. It was deliberate. In later years I pondered this incident and increasingly came to grips with it. It was probably no surprise given the culture of the time, when comedian Fred Dagg (aka John Clarke), had a skit involving Fred?s phone call to his mate Trev, chronicling the previous night where, pissed as, he?d driven his car over a cliff (?Christ only knows how we got home! But anyway, the reason I?m calling is we?re going out tonight and ah, Trev, can I borrow your car??).
    So what?s changed? Not much really. The mindset of those addicted to speed and the prospect of taking on death and not losing, and the triumph and thrill that engenders, is the same now as it was then. The difference is technology, better engines, two lane motorways, power steering, and lighter vehicles. If the blokes in the 70s had possession of the technological advancements we have now and the asphalt real estate straight enough to test its limits, would they have been in convoy in the small hours of the morning at 180 K? Of course they would have. A fully laden Vauxhaul (or whatever), going up hill on a gravel road meant they had to make do with much less, but in essence one generation is much like another.
     I wondered who those idiots were and if they survived into adulthood without irreparably harming themselves or someone temporally less fortunate than I (wrong place, wrong time whereas I lucked in not to be). Simon Comber does a very good job of  getting inside the mind of one such creature, trying to locate what desperate circumstances?alienation, purposelessness, God knows what?contributes to his character's essentially semi-suicidal behaviour. I?m glad of it and the thinking it provokes. Maybe they are as much to be pitied as vilified, that their lives offer no avenue of enjoyment beyond courting their own destruction. Sad. But no more than a brother in law I know only from a photo. He temporally lucked out. He was nice bloke apparently, handy with a hammer, free with his favours?would have been a nice guy to have around, but, sometime in the 70s, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.


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