Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bottle Top Boat Racing

I’m working pretty hard today considering…
Considering I’ve got a flu happening…but I’m reminiscing even harder about old times and my old chum Florstar, when we were kids and bottle top-flotsam and jetsam boat racing in the man-made creeks of Sir Charlie Gardiner hospital’s parkland. It was so much fun. I remember enjoying it so much that it sears into the present now…
and I’m there, splashing water, warm air and clear blue skies. I remember a couple of little objects that became like champions to us…maybe a slightly crushed white plastic milk top and a stubby stump of anonymous orange plastic. These were vessels that won several races in a row…fast, consistent performers…continually in the top three of a race. One of our favourite flotsam-boats won again and again. The mythology grew, we had a little character here…our own private champion. Through the treacherous conditions they sped, gloried over by us as race stewards bounding nimbly across the rocky creek bed, along the slick grassy banks of the watercourse chasing fields of boats as they hurtled to the finish line. Magical play.
Then the time we lost one: A close race that put too many boats across the finish line too quickly for us to steward…too quick to gather them all, lost in the excitement of a probable dead heat, too quick to grab them all to safety as we’ve lunged and splashed… “Plastic Whiteys gone!” Shot through for a win or a place…it was too close…hit on through the rapids as we scrambled to grab the fleet…a great close race, four, five or even six vessels tightly bunched on the finish line and we’ve lost precious seconds in our roles as stewards and adjudicators…there was a race won, but by who?…Hearts pumping, paused mid stride hovered over the finish line, trying to pick the winner, then mad scramble, reports go out…The champs missing! The final collection of little boats normally a relatively simple affair…races where boats usually only came through on their own or in groups of two or three…but this whole fleet of flotsam & jetsam bundled through “race of the century!” Hair raising frozen with glee at the prospect of it all… lunging for the boats… “the boats… the boats!”
“Florstar! Have you got Plastic Whitey?”
- “Nup”
Splashing and cursing… Our little champion, our little genius piece of trash elevated to mythic nautical speedster in our minds…our new sporting world expanding with every passing second, but he’s gone…
we scour on, searching the reeds at the edge of the run through the rapids, out along the banks to the greater lake that the creek plunges into. “He’s gone through the rapids and gone out to sea!” We scan the surface of the lake but can’t see him. The excitement begins to give way to a mournful recognition that we’ve lost the champ. Reality briefly shines through the curtain of fantasy…but we were vigil:
All other races are temporarily called off. Proceedings halted. No more championship regatta till there’s been an inquiry…a reckoning. Renewed searches for the plastic fantastic Plastic Whitey. To no avail …we stop empty handed…
Everything is quieter for a few moments…just the popping and sploshing of the creek and the low distant hum of the hospital generators.
But the game must go on and there are new rounds of elimination trials to be held. Search for a new champion…up away from the creeks and reeds, by a lunch area with benches, looking for bottle caps and popsicle sticks, down by a drain entrance …push through the reeds for a bit of old rubber thong…or a shapely branch stub, or an old comb…Things we should have enshrined with notes, but time is not passing when your young and there’s no end to finding new bits-n-bobs to try their speed as grand rapids racers…and new days and new ways to celebrate our love of such story and high drama and competition…the uplift of the winners…our winners. The arvo dims and we head down Abedare road to the deli on the corner of Florstar’s street for pre-dinner hotdogs and cokes…Florstar has a twenty, he is the treasurer.

* Bottle Top Boat Racing first appeared on the creative arts website Fabulist Savannah

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