When I was a kid, there was a show on ABC TV called You Can’t Do That On Television. Produced in Canada and marketed to American kids, the show eventually made it to Australian television in the mid-eighties and became popular with the after-school crowd. As a country kid whose television choices were limited to exactly one station — which got most of its content from the BBC — anything specifically aimed at my age group was sucked up and devoured. My afternoons were filled with shows like Press Gang, The Goodies and Degrassi Junior High.
You Can’t Do That On Television followed a pretty simple premise — in each episode cast members would perform skits centred around a theme, and the climax was always some poor kid absentmindedly saying the forbidden phrase ‘I don’t know’ and getting slimed. I was eight years old at the time; watching a cast member comically wiping green goo out of their eyes made me positively gleeful.
So gleeful, in fact, that with each new sliming I witnessed, I became more determined to join in the fun.
The first step, of course, was to somehow make some slime. I didn’t know what went into the mixture exactly, but I knew the most important part was that it had to be green, so I grabbed the Tupperware water jug and crept like a ninja to the pantry.
Eggs were definitely on the list — there was something about their consistency that made them the perfect base ingredient for slime. Flour came next, followed closely by milk, Gravox powder, crushed up Weetbix, chocolate-covered sultanas (which I thought would be hilarious because they looked like rabbit poo) and chicken stock cubes. Soy sauce? Pasta sauce? Sure why not? Toss ’em in there, and finish it all off with a liberal squirt from the tiny squeezy bottle of green food dye (every pantry in rural Australia had that Queens four-pack) and half a bottle of Trix dishwashing liquid. I dropped in each new ingredient and danced around like I was Roald Dahl’s George and this was my ‘marvelous medicine’.
When I had finished, the greeny-brown concoction looked a bit like when our calves had diarrhea and smelled nearly as bad. Perfect.
The next problem was how to get high enough to deliver the goods. On You Can’t Do That On Television, the slime appeared from above as if released by an unseen deity, and I was determined to be as accurate as possible, so I looked up. A tree? Too high, and too hard to bring the now-full jug of goo up with me. What about the roof? The idea sent a thrill down my spine.
We lived on a small rural property at the time, in a little farmhouse built decades prior. The front of the house was supported by stilt-like beams, but the back of the house, and more importantly the roof line, was closer to the ground. I was able to lift the heavy jug up to the water tank platform, hoist myself up after it, and then repeat the process to get onto the roof.
Shimmying across barbecue-hot corrugated iron on my stomach, a few inches at a time, I eventually got into position and looked over the edge of the gutter.
I was directly above the back door, and unless someone decided that the most logical place to look for a missing eight-year-old was on the roof, I was unlikely to be discovered. I pulled a piece of kitchen twine from my pocket, wedged the base of the jug into the gutter between a clump of leaves and a forgotten tennis ball, and tied the twine to the handle. I then let the jug tip forward just enough for the spout to clear the roof edge, balanced it precariously, held tight to the string, and waited.
I must have been on that bloody roof for an hour, slowly baking to death.
Finally, I heard voices in the kitchen below. Dad was asking my brother to do some sort of farm chore, and I could hear Bill — ten years older than me — pulling on his Blundstones just inside the back door.
It was time. The door swung open on its creaky hinge. I waited until I had heard two steps on the pavers and then let the string holding the jug go slack. It toppled off the roof, emptying its putrid contents as it went.
Eight-year-olds are not very smart creatures.
The unholy yell that came bellowing out of my brother reminded me very quickly of several important facts that, in my earlier haste, I had neglected to consider.
The first was that my brother was bigger, stronger and faster than I was.
The second, and far more important consideration, was that I had forgotten I was stuck on a literal hot tin roof.
I now had a slime-covered, furiously-red-faced, creature-from-the-goo-lagoon poking his head up over the roofline in seething pursuit of his brat of a little sister. I took one look at his face, stood up with pants already brown, and ran — no sprinted — across the roof.
Through the open windows below me I could hear Dad using the obscenities he usually reserved for broken-down tractors, and Mum calling out in a huff to nobody in particular, ‘Well I’m not going to clean up that mess!’
I made it to the opposite side of the roof and climbed down using the ladder we kept there to manually turn the TV aerial. My feet didn’t even hit the grass before I was off flying to my cubby house down by the creek.
I had never been as terrified as I was at that moment. I was utterly convinced my brother was going to kill me and my parents were going to pat him on the back and congratulate him for doing it. I was paralysed; I watched the sun go down, started to shiver violently, and somehow, insanely, fell asleep on a pile of dirt.
I woke the next morning in my own bed.
Oh thank God, I thought in relief. It must have been a dream.
I wandered out to the kitchen for breakfast, happy as any kid who has just received a reprieve from certain death. My parents were drinking Nescafe at the table, and my brother was face-deep in a bowl of Weeties. I stole a glance sideways as I spread my toast. He no longer looked like an angry gremlin. I was definitely safe then.
‘Don’t forget to bring in the kindling,’ my brother reminded me sweetly, as I practically skipped to the sink to rinse my dishes. I hated collecting kindling, but there was no point in arguing — farm chores were set in stone. I pulled on my rubber boots, pushed open the screen door, and made it halfway across the back lawn before I saw it.
Not it. Who.
Priscilla Beatrice, my Cabbage Patch Kid and best friend in the whole world, swung limply from the tall gum tree in the corner of our garden, hand-tied noose around her plastic neck.
‘I wonder how she got up there?’ mocked my brother, drifting nonchalantly past en route to his own chores.