When I was about six or seven we lived in a well to do suburb called Brighton. It is along the beach in Melbourne. It was more of a genteel suburb when we were actually living in it. You know the sort, aging and gracious homes that over decades have sold off portions of land to allow the building of smaller homes as money became scarce. Then it kind of became a higgeldy piggeldy array of Californian Bungalows, picket fences and private schools. These days it is terribly expensive and the general female resident of Brighton would be underweight, over tanned, blonde and driving a four wheel drive down the the shopping strip to have coffee with friends.
But I should not comment on that part of Brighton, for when I lived there it was just a gracious and tired old suburb full of mostly elderly people.
We actually lived in three different homes in Brighton over a few years but the first one was in a street called Bent Street. It was named after a guy called Thomas Bent who did something important enough to get his image permanently erected in the form of a big statue that was placed along the highway.
It was the second house that my parents actually bought.
I think it was either deceased estate or the occupant had moved to a nursing home. I remember seeing the inside of the house before we moved in. It was furnished with old, old furniture. In one bedroom were twin single beds with cedar bedheads. They had matching bedspreads with a pattern that consisted of giant, ruby red cabbage print roses. There was a big wardrobe in the room with a drawer along the bottom. I opened it up and it was full of walking sticks.
When I moved to this house I had to change schools and make new friends. One of the friends I made was called Humphrey. It is, in my mind, an old man's name. Even then it was. But Humphrey was just a nice boy. He also happened to live only a couple of doors up from me. And I loved to visit him. He had the look of a boy that you may see step out of a Bill Bryson novel. His hair was dark and combed to one side, his face freckled and he always wore a checked shirt and jeans.
His house was a big, untidy old home. Over furnished and kind of smelly and messy. It was on a double block. The garden was overgrown. The backyard was huge and had a series of sheds that had been built and added onto over the years. A mix of corrugated iron, chicken wire and weathered, grey timbers joined together in some sort of adhoc manner. Inside these sheds was a vast array of rusted tools, half filled paint tins, dusty crates piled up on top of each other and obscure lumps of things that looked like engine blocks. The floor of these sheds was a dirty combination of second hand brick paving and earth. Filthy and stinky and so very interesting to children.
Humphrey's father was a plasterer. The old kind of plasterer. Lathe and plaster was his expertise. And he installed insulation batts into the roof space of peoples homes. All the waste and cut offs were dumped in an enormous pile in the backyard. It is unlikely he thought it would possibly compost away. He had a big backyard and that is what you did with your rubbish in those days.
When it had been raining, this pile of slimy plaster waste and cutoffs from the fibreglass insulation batts would turn into a stinking mess to climb upon. All the way to the very top - which at the time seemed like a mountain to a six year old. I have a clear memory of my shoes sinking into a white mass of plaster mix.
They also had ducks and hens enclosed in a huge pen. Now and then a batch of chicks or ducklings would appear, the yellow down on their small bodies the colour of soft butter against the brown mud on which they waddled along. Humphrey and I would sneak in to hold their fluffy little form in our hands so very gently. The mother duck would stamp her feet at us and quack loudly until we put them down again.
His dad stored all his insulation batts in a huge room that had been tacked onto the back of the house. Bags and bags of the stuff piled high. Some of the bags had been opened and the fat, pink and soft batts would be laying on the floor. Humphrey and I would play house amongst these fibrous and glassy slabs. Setting them up as beds and pillows and laying on them. The sun shone brightly through the louvered windows and you could see the twinkle of glass fibre floating in the air, on our hair, face and skin. Like dangerous fairy dust.
The fibreglass was laced with small pieces of the finest glass and was sometimes called glasswool. When you worked with it you had to wear gloves and cover any bare skin to prevent contact. I think they may uses safer variations of it these days as it was believed to be of a carcinogenic nature.
I would come home from Humphrey's home with my pale skin itching and covered in welts, my eyes red and watering. My mum would run a warm bath and I would soak in it until the discomfort went away.
I am certain she told me not to play with the fibreglass batts but I would be off there again the next available day to repeat the fun.
Today as I walked through the factory at work I noticed some modern insulation piled up waiting to be taken to a job. It was yellow but still had that same soft and thick look that I recall the pink ones having. I touched it's firm and fibrous surface and remembered Humphrey's house of Fibreglass.
For the short time I lived in Bent Street I learnt to ride a bike, realised my parents were not happy, saw the man across the road repeatedly expose himself to my sister and I, fell out of my bunk bed over and over again, found my mum under the lemon tree and learnt that fairies were not actually real.
Humphrey's house has long gone. Pulled down to make way for some units. Not a thing left to remind me of the fun I had there.
It was a nice time irrespective of other things that took place.
No matter what you do in life it is best to take the good memories with you for they offer the most pleasure upon reflection in later years.