I lie in bed at night staring at the ceiling...


Trying to face the truth...

I have a problem that won't go away. It's made it hard for me to have friends. I know there are people who say that they are my friends, but I think they just feel sorry for me and pretend to be my friends.

Although recently Sarah's cousin, Dido, has become a really good friend. But I suppose it won't last long. Every one who gets to know me soon thinks I'm some sort of nut case. Then they cool off and don't seem to want to have anything to do with me. I mean, Kevin was like that. At first we got on really well. He would come to my place after school and weekends and I would go to his place. His dad said it was good for Kevin to have a friend who wasn't totally obsessed with mathematics. Perhaps that's why Kevin said his parents 'encouraged his relationship with a normal person'.

Well, thank you, Mrs Yen.

I mean, we would wrestle and all that sort of stuff that they thought would help Kevin get out of himself more. Make him exercise and all that. They said it was better than aerobics and cross country skiing on the machine in their garage.

Well, I got sick of wrestling.

I mean, every time I went to Kevin's place (which was on top of where his Dad worked so you had to press the buzzer then tell them who you were on the intercom, then they'd unlock the door by pressing a button in their kitchen and then you'd have to go up all these stairs because they didn't like Kevin's friends using the lift after hours--although it was all right if Kevin was with them)... any way , I'd climb the last flight of stairs (by now I would be puffing and panting) and ring the doorbell.

There'd be this huge racket of dogs barking like the hounds of Baskerville or worse and a man would shout, 'Down, Bruno, down! Down Tiger! Quiet boys!'

If you had to wait for long and you rang the doorbell again there'd be this huge racket of dogs barking like the hounds of Baskerville or worse and a man would shout, 'Down, Bruno, down! Down Tiger! Quiet boys!'

And so on. It was just a recording playing through their state-of-the-art CD-player thing. They had other recordings, too, like a lady's voice would say, 'Could you go to the door, darling? I'm on the phone,' and there'd be this tremendous thump, thump and a man's voice would say real loud, 'Wait till I finish this kickboxing routine.'

And so on. You can imagine the sorts of things. Although any one would realise almost straight away that it was a recording. In which case they would guess that there was someone in there who was afraid of unexpected visitors. Although why they should be afraid at the top of a bank, I don't know. I mean, they lived on the seventh story of an impenetrable chunk of concrete.

Later I found out that they weren't worried at all. It was just something that amused Kevin's big sister Charlie, and somehow she got away with it.

Then Kevin would answer the door.

He'd always say, 'Hi, ya, dicky boy,' (for some reason) and then scruff me by the neck and try to drag me to the floor.

Luckily I am experienced with this sort of thing (having had three older brothers to torment me) so I knew how to get out of things like half-nelsons and so on.

But then Kevin would try to attack me in some other way. He wasn't very good but he was strong and he never seemed to get tired. We'd be crashing all over the place. Sometimes a picture would fall from the wall or an ornament would be knocked off the little knick-knack tables they had everywhere. But all Kevin's mother would say (if she was there), was, 'Would you boys like a milkshake?'

Or his dad would say, 'Go down to the staff room and play table tennis for a while.'

Kevin wouldn't pay the slightest attention, so eventually I would have to wrestle properly (which I hate doing because I'm afraid people won't like me if I'm better than them at anything).

Usually Kevin would end up with his mouth in the carpet and me sitting on top of him, twisting his arm and saying, 'Give in? Give in?'

After that we could have a reasonable conversation, look at some comics, play a video game or whatever.

Or drink coke from the coke machine in the bank staff room on level 6. Kevin had worked out a little code on his laptop that made the coke machine do whatever he told it--release cans of coke or fanta, or give us change or whatever.

No one ever found out it was him. Although I used to feel a bit bad about it, but Kevin said, 'This is just good practice for when I hack into the bank when I get older.'

I think he was joking, but I'm not sure.

Any way, back to Dido. (You pronounce her name 'DIE-DOH'.)

At least I don't have to wrestle with her every time I see her. I think I'd lose. She's got that wild red hair like Sarah and she's as quick as a crocodile grabbing someone from a muddy river bank in Kakadu...

I read somewhere that a crocodile can move two metres in an eighth of a second when it's attacking. But I'm not sure if that's right or not. I mean I've seen pictures of people wrestling them, including that Australian muscleman whose name I've forgotten who wrestled with crocodiles that weren't drugged and who still had their teeth! I mean, a human could never beat anything that could move that fast.

I suppose they're fast because they sit around not doing anything most of the day--they don't need to because they're cold blooded so they don't need to do things to keep warm, and they only need one eighth of the food that a mammal of the same weight would least that's what Hilary told me once, and she's the expert on reptiles, and birds--although I still don't quite understand what she's talking about.

So Dido's fast in her movements. Like she's the only person I know who can catch a five dollar note when you drop it between her hands when they're 30 centimetres apart.

'That's nothing,' she says, as she zips the five dollars into her tracksuit pocket, you should see Aunty Penny'--that's Sarah's mother--'She cuts flies in half in mid-air with her pocket knife.'

Well, I've tried that and it's impossible. I mean, I can understand why it's hard to swat them with a newspaper or whatever because I saw that on a TV program once. It was in slow motion. As the newspaper moves through the air it creates a pressure wave in front of it. When the newspaper gets close to the fly it blows the fly safety.

I thought for a while that that was why they called them blow flies...until I saw something awful one day and my mum said when I told her about it, that it had been fly-blown.

The flesh fly (or blow fly) lays its eggs (or larvae) in dead flesh (meat, a dead animal, whatever). When the maggots hatch out they eat the dead flesh. The fly is one of Nature's recyclers, Ms Rubenach says.

I still don't know why 'blow' means 'flesh' in this case.

Or is it that they seem to blow the eggs out of their egg-laying orifice thingummy? In the dictionary it says that to blow is to fill a place with eggs. And Ms Rubenach (who always forces us to use the dictionary whether we want to or not) says that in the very olden days people did not know about germs, so, say, when a dead animal had fly eggs in it that were hatching into maggots, the animal might also be inflated because the bacteria in its gut were producing gas that was making it swell up, fit to burst!

But that's only a theory.

And Dido is not the sort of person who would care. I mean, Dido (Dildo Dialdough, Ian calls her, and she doesn't even care except she hits him later when no-one's looking)...

What was I talking about?

I get off the track.

Oh, yeah...

Dido just likes to do things all the time. She doesn't like to sit around and talk too much. And she doesn't like to think or daydream or anything like that.

For instance, when Jane (my mother who I hardly ever see) came to visit us a while back (it was the first time Dido was at our place--she came with Kevin and Dirk and Jenner) she said (my long-absent mum, that is), 'Why don't we go horse-riding this weekend?'

Well, that was all right by me. I'd never done it before, and neither had Dido. Although Jenner had been riding before, so she thought she was some sort of expert.

Any way, Saturday came and while I was trying to nudge my horse, Nehru, into a walk, Dido jumped on her horse and off she went, first go. She was supposed to be a sedate horse--a good one for a learner. But she was too slow for Dido. So she kicked her hard in the ribs. I mean, hard. And kept on kicking. At first the horse (whose name was Panditjee and was supposed to be fourteen years old, but I don't believe that) didn't respond at all. So Dido dug her heels in again (although Jane was saying, 'No, Jane, no. Be gentle!').

Panditjee suddenly took off like she had bombs up her bum. She rocketed round the riding school as if she was in one of Dad's old Road Runner cartoons. She bolted through a gate that someone had left open and took off into the bush on the other side of the paddock. We could see Dido bouncing up and down like on a rodeo horse.

Mrs Davis, the instructor, said, 'Come on,' and we jumped in the back of her truck and held on, as tight as Dido had, and hooned over the paddock and into the bush.

We swung and jarred and bounced along this track till we came to a fork. Mrs Davis got out and looked at the ground.

'There are no hoof prints here,' she said. 'Panditjee must have taken to the bush.'

So we drove back slowly, our eyes peeled for a sign.

Suddenly we heard Dido yelling in the distance. We drove as close as we could then we had to get out and walk. I ran as fast as I could and came to Dido hanging in a tree. The horse had gone under the tree and Dido had been knocked off by a low branch.

When Mrs Davis arrived, she said Dido was lucky. By then Panditjee had tired and had slowed down. Otherwise Dido could have been killed.

Any way, the point of this story is that Dido was still in the tree (and hadn't climbed down) because she had found a nest in the tree with eggs in it. She was sort of hanging on to a branch by an arm and a leg and at the same time she had scratched a hole in each end of one of the eggs with one of her eye teeth and then had blown hard through one hole so that the stuff inside came out the other end.

There were yellow stains and white slimy stuff on her T-shirt.

She kept that egg a long time until one day Sarah sat on it by accident. That would have upset me but Sarah said Dido only laughed.

My mum says, 'Don't count your chickens before they hatch.'

Which reminds me, I was telling you about my problem when I got interrupted by something.

My problem is I'm shy in ten ways.

So I'll list them straight away and you can decide for yourself whether or not I'm really shy--or only imagining it.

Well, first and foremost--as my dad always says when he's trying to explain something to me, like the cause of the Irish potato famine or why there are more spiders than people or why my cousin Geoffrey ran away from home or what was the cause of the Black Death or the joke about the new policeman and who killed Abraham Lincoln...

What was I talking about?

Oh, yeah...

First of all, I get embarrassed easily and the worst thing about it is that I blush. I mean, I really like Dido (as you may have gathered) but she's really only a friend. But when I was coming out of the movies one afternoon in the holidays with Felix and Frith and Dirk and Paul, Dido came up. I had already seen her in the distance (Dad says her red hair stands out like a house on fire) and I had given her a look that said: 'We have something private and good between us but can we pretend we haven't seen each other here in the foyer at the movies?'

I know Dido can read my thoughts. And my looks. But she comes up anyway.

Dido says, 'How ya doin', Dill?' like a cowboy in a Levi's commercial and my friends just crack up. The looks on their faces say: 'Who is this?'

By now my face is as red as Dido's hair.

'Well, ain't ya gunna interdoose me?' says Dido, tossing her curls and poking out her hand like she was holding a burning newspaper.

I say in this tiny voice, 'Oh, yeah. Fellas, this is...Dido. Um ,Dido--meet Dirk, Frith, Paul, Feel...'

But they snigger away and sort of walk off. The last one to go is Frith, who says, 'We can see that you two want to be alone together. Feel ! Ha ha.'

It was only later I realised that they just didn't know how to handle Dido. I mean, she's probably the first real woman of their age they'd met.

So to my Dad says after he cracks one of his 'bon mots', which means saying something smart. I think.

The second thing that embarrasses me is rude words. I never actually realised this till I went to Ian's place one day and we were stuffing round in his bedroom, looking at his shrine and talking about girls.

He says, 'Come and look at this cool thing I've just got on my computer, Dill.'

I pull up the black chair with the red cushion, just like normal.

'Actually,' says Ian, 'Listening would be better. Close your eyes, Dill.'

'Yes, master,' I say, hoping he's not going to do something like put ice down my neck or whatever.

Then I hear this weird voice, coming from his computer. It's a woman's voice, but sort of mechanical. A computer voice. She's saying these disgusting things to Ian, like...well, I can't really say the words myself. But it is all about her and Ian and sex-type things to do.

My skin gets so hot my whole body blushes. My face is on fire. My hands are prickly.

I open my eyes. Ian has typed all this filthy stuff on the screen and somehow his computer is reading it aloud in a female voice.

'Listen to this,' Ian says. Then the computer reads stuff for a man to say in a deep man's voice. The man is saying really disgusting things to the woman. (The man is called Ian, of course.)

But by now Ian has realised how I feel about this. He changes tack. 'Would you like to hear a Darth Vader voice?' he says. And he puts on something with the exact words from this old Star Wars video that he always watches. And knows off by heart.

It definitely sounds like Darth Vader. I start to cool down.

Ian sure has worn out some videos. Not like me. We never had videos at our place at that time. I must have been the only kid I knew whose family didn't have a video.

We just had home movies. We didn't even used to have a TV at home. My dad always brought home movies (16mm movies on reels, that is) from the library where he worked. He reckoned it was much more cultural. He didn't want our little heads filled with all sorts of nonsense. He couldn't risk our becoming selfish members of the me-generation just like every one else brought up on a diet of sex and violence and commercials., violent commercials.

So he brought home all these old movies instead.

Max said that he (Max) wouldn't be able to survive without watching at least one video before breakfast every morning. So when he came to my place he forced me to get up and play him a movie on the projector. How was I to know that it was an uncut version of The Cars That Ate Paris ?

Anyway in the end we got a VCR and a telly. And I started to collect commercials. With our video editor (Dad had to go the whole hog once he decided to get into video in a big way) I can quite easily mix all sorts of commercials together. So my descriptive video is an example of what you can get. Hope you like it.

By the way...Compare it with Becky's MTV video. You'll soon see what I mean. I mean...whoerw!

Look, I know I said there were ten ways I get embarrassed and I've only told you two of them at the moment. But I don't want to bore you, so I'll list the others quickly.

I get embarrassed (and blush) if:

3. Any one talks about me in public.

4. Any one talks about sex in public.

5. I have to speak to a group in public.

6. I can't think what to say in public.

7. I get embarrassed in public. (As you know, being embarrassed is very embarrassing!)

8. I get embarrassed when I see other people are embarrassed.

9. For some reason I can't explain, I especially get embarrassed when Farrel gets embarrassed.

10. Woops! I think I said before there were ten ways I was shy, not embarrassed !

How embarrassing!

Tho' I suppose it's an easy mistake to make.

I mean I'm shy about all sorts of things. Except when I'm really interested in something. Then I forget about it till later.

Like when I found these snails near the compost heap. I took them to school next day and showed every one and explained it all, etc. I didn't even think of getting embarrassed.

My mum said to me (on her last flying visit) that people who get embarrassed easily are really sensitive, intelligent people who are very aware of how other people think and feel. She said that blushing is a sort of signal that the embarrassed person sends to other people to tell them the he or she feels for them.

I don't know. I wonder if, deep down, it hasn't got more to do with anger than anything else. I mean, I can never get angry. Not even with Kevin.

That's not normal, says Danielle.

I don't know.

The really good thing about being shy (and getting embarrassed a lot) is that when you get home to your place you have come to a retreat. Not all my older brothers are shy like me but each one of them (Graham, Mason and Jeffrey) loves living in his own room in our cool house at 19 Jasmine Court behind the rivulet down in deepest darkest South Hobart. I mean, our house is practically invisible, it's so covered with creepers and flowers and ivy and overhanging trees (which all make me sneeze in spring, but I can put up with that). Oh, yeah, and the spiders, scorpions, caterpillars, slaters and cockroaches invade us more than in the average home where they don't have a father who likes to live at peace with all creatures (except for sheep and cows which he says are only meat machines so it's OK to eat hamburger and roasts and stews and stuff so he's fat and he's hardly a vegetarian).

Any way...

 I also love lying in bed for hours staring out the window.

It gives me time to dream and think and imagine. Which my dad says is better than watching commercials on the telly, he supposes, since he's a bit of a dreamer himself.