Shaking 1960, by David McGill

Shaking 1960, by David McGill (Fiction)

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Steve Marr launches 1960 illegally up the Eastbourne Mardi Gras pole, police waiting below. His year fast-tracks into the student protest ‘No Maoris, No Tour’ gatherings and the all-white All Black trials. He and an anarchist prankster raid the visiting American nuclear submarine and the statue symbolising the British Empire and join in the Hastings Blossom Festival Riot. His appetite for sex, beer and rock ’n’ roll swings from Eastbourne National Party to hippie star-gazer to left-wing lifestylers, sliding to backstreet abortion, the nascent drug culture and violent death. Never far away is an ex-cop minder with another agenda. Steve is at the shook-up start of the revolutionary sixties, shedding — for better and for worse — religious constraints and the cocoon of the welfare state.


Advance comments on this book:

‘An entertaining, rollicking, visceral read for those who remember — and would rather forget — and those who are coming of age.’

Linda Niccol, award-winning screen and short fiction writer, and more recently, short film director.

‘An existential blast from our pop culture past.’

Redmer Yska, author of All Shook Up: The Flash Bodgie and the Rise of the New Zealand Teenager in the Fifties and a new history of Truth newspaper.

‘They say if you remember the sixties you weren’t there.

Well, McGill was, and he remembers it all—the names,

the places, the events. Nostalgia has rarely been so entertaining.’

Roger Hall

From: Shaking 1960, by David McGill

Chapter 1

Hey, Elvis?’

I turned around and these two jokers with lopsided smirks stood with legs apart, thumbs hooked into the tops of black stovepipes seemingly glued to those absurd winklepickers. They were swaying about, and it wasn't just the wind, they were pissed. They were also at a loss, like many of the lads clustered around the climax of the Eastbourne Mardi Gras, the 22 teenage lasses parading in swimsuits. The 16-year-old Wellington blonde Elaine Miscall took the tiara, 40 guineas and a frock, my pick, Doreen Melville, 17, of Upper Hutt, was third, the shivering beauty queens were being covered up by swarming chaperones, the show was over. What next for two bodgie boys fit to burst?

I instinctively patted at my Brylcreemed quiff, which was not going to hold up in this wind. I squared the already too square padded shoulders of my green, tinsel-threaded long jacket which attracted the Elvis greeting, and stepped towards the greeters.

‘Come on,’ Liz said, tugging at my arm whilst clutching the silver alloy horse, the coconut, her glossy pink handbag and a stick of half-consumed candyfloss. It was too much to manage, even for a sporty lass. The wind lifted a corner of her cherry red and apple blossom white dress and at the same time teased her hairspray. She tried two opposing adjustments and the coconut dropped to the grass and rolled.

The smaller joker bent and picked it up.

‘This yours?’ he said, holding it out to her.

Liz eased to take it, he pulled it further away.

‘Don't you want it?’

I fronted. ‘Pick on girls, do you?’

‘Not just girls,’ he laughed. His mate laughed too.

‘Mutt and Jeff?’ I asked, looking from one to the other.

The tall guy presented a straggle of dirty blond hair and a lurid shirt the colour of cochineal, possibly intended to deflect attention from the livid neck patch of angry red pustules forming where others had gone before, a relief map detail of an intermittently active volcanic zone. His dead face was as spooky as a barn owl.

The short guy was all in black, his black leather jacket hooked by a finger over one shoulder of his too-tight black T-shirt. He was sporting a futile attempt to max his disadvantage with a greasy pompadour several tiers taller than mine. Marlon Brando's dwarf cousin, right down to the leer and fag at the lowest point of the curled lip. The T-shirt had the obligatory packet of fags tucked into the shoulder fold.

‘Better still,’ I proposed, ‘the Two Stooges?’

‘Steve,’ Liz pleaded. ‘Let it go.’

‘Hey, Max?’ the little guy said, nodding at the acrobats’ pole. ‘Reckon Elvis can climb?’

‘Not if he's chicken, Gerry.’

Liz was staring hard at me. ‘Forget it, Steve. Don't be stupid.’

‘It's their gauntlet,’ I said, eyeing the guy ropes that so far held the pole and its platform in place, if not steadily. Everybody knew the acrobats were not allowed to perform today, the wind so violent the radio announced NAC flights diverted to Paraparaumu. The acrobats might have been more miffed than relieved, given their exceptional skills. I had seen them on the first day, Colin and Clive, Australian father and son team. The father went first up the pole and on to the platform, the son followed him up like he was taking a stroll, climbed on his father and upended himself on his father's hands.

Today was different. No Ocker acrobatics. Eighty feet up, the platform was quivering and bucking about like a medieval catapult that had just released its iron ball. Time to put Elvis on the backburner and do my James Dean number. I did a quick sight check of the steel guy ropes and climbed over the thick white rope barrier.

‘Pock, pockpockpock,’ I chanted as I did hand-farting under my chicken-flapping arm, giving the two bodgies the old barnyard concerto. ‘See you tuggers at the top.’

Liz was protesting as I jumped up on to the first ladder hold.

I took off, trying for the same effortless scamper of Ocker Junior. I heard more objections, male ones now. I ignored them, pausing about halfway to check on my challengers. Both had the saggy, off-white complexion of the Gear Meat Company sheep pelts I had several months of slinging around, which I reckoned put me in reasonable shape compared to them. They were on the first rungs, but not convincing. I headed for the top, blissfully aware of the increasing pitching about of the pole. I guess our policeman had a point about a ban on the acrobatics.

Hard to tell how puffed as opposed to wind-stressed I was when I slipped on to the platform. It was so turbulent, I couldn't hear myself think. I did feel good, especially when I peered below at the bodgies doing their banana peel tango.

Now the first faint second thoughts were intruding, that this was not such a great idea. I was trapped up here, there was nowhere to go. I'd done my Ed Hillary act, but there were no prizes for it, no knighthood when I descended. Dumb thing to do. Mum always said I was too impulsive for my own good.

I had a topside view of what awaited me as Constable Hogg pulled those two dorks sprawling off the base of the pole. It was like some kind of uneven all-in wrestling match, Hogg tussling with them surrounded by spectators crowding the rope barrier. Actually, it was more like one of those rodeo turns where a cowboy tackles a steer to the ground and hog-ties it, no pun intended. With the bodgies cuffed, Hogg was picking up the megaphone.


I heard Hogg distinctly. Obviously sound as well as heat rises. I looked about for an escape route. A parachute would have been handy. Nothing presented itself. Everybody was looking up at me. I had their undivided attention. It was what I wanted when I climbed the pole; now it was the last thing I welcomed. I needed divine intervention. Was it St Anthony you prayed to for losing yourself? He was the saint to go to for lost items. I had to do something, or it was going to be literally a case of a climb down and face the music and, worst of all, lose face in front of Liz. I could not face this. Face up, lose face, no face. I was getting antic, manic, mantic. Call me a frantic romantic.

I saw that the two bodgies were taking advantage of Hogg's sky watch and were attempting a tandem escape. Being cuffed together at a wrist apiece would not have stopped them, but some of the spectators had decided to do their civic duty and assist the law. Hogg dropped his mike and joined the mêlée. One of the bodgies was on the ground, I could see arms and boots flying about like one of the Eagle comic Terrible Twins sequences, PC 49's helmet toppling off his head as he hauled them back into the ring.

Now was my chance and I thanked St Anthony devoutly. I don't know why I hadn't thought of it first off, given how much I had admired Clive – or was it Colin? The young trapeze artist had flipped himself upright on the tower, bowed to the crowd, shaken dad's hand, then jumped into space. Some girl shrieked, many of us gasped. As we all gawped skyward, a pool of expectant salmon at crumb-feeding time, the junior acrobat caromed down the steel guy rope on a short hank of whatever, something metallic and designed for maximum presentation, sparks shearing off it like an oxyacetylene torch. Spectacular. It was better than Douglas Fairbanks in that pirate movie, when he slides down the sail on the handle of a Bowie knife. I might not be able to offer sparks, but I reckon I could replicate this gimmick for the punters below.

I shrugged off my Elvis jacket, wrapped it round the far guy rope and leaned out with both hands gripping the jacket. I threw back my head and delivered my best imitation of the radio Tarzan's ape call:


I launched myself over the rail and away into space, an informal version of the Knocknagree Camp flying fox launch manoeuvre. For a few glorious seconds I was hurtling down the wire, but then the tearing of the jacket indicated I was about to find out what a freefall jump was going to feel like. I grabbed at the top of the jacket with one hand, trying to keep it on track, which caused me to sway and yaw like a P-class yacht in a Cook Strait southerly. I prayed frantically to any and all saints as I was wrenched this way and that, not at all a good copy of the descent through the air with the greatest of ease/that daring young man on the flying trapeze. I had to slap my other hand on to the top of the rapidly shredding jacket and endure the cloth burn, a secondary prayer that the fabric held and my hands did not make contact with the twisted wire rope.

I had no idea how far I had to go, what the impact would be, as I hurtled towards a blurred outline of tents. I could hear shrieking, which might have been spectators, or the wind, or me. My hands were on fire, but I was going too fast to know if they were being skinned or only enduring cloth burn. The shreds and tatters of my Elvis jacket lining were flicking me nastily about the eyes and ears like a ring of bullies whipping towels at the designated victim in the after-match shower. The roar of the elements was supplemented by blood and adrenaline mainstreaming around my skull.

The pain in my hands reached the level where all your nails have been removed with pliers and you beg to be allowed to tell the Nazi torturers everything. I flashed on Spencer Tracy in that mountain movie, holding the rope to save young brother Robert Wagner tumbling to his doom, the blood spurting through Spencer's hands, his face set in Mt Rushmore stone. No time for prayers, no time to resolve this, I was close to ignition, Fahrenheit 451 in the hands department.

The tents had to be a better potential option than hard grass. I let go of my sorry jacket and commended my body to its fate.

I bounced into glorious yielding fabric, somersaulting in discombobulated fashion like a circus clown on a trampoline, settling upside down into a collapsing tent, whence I tumbled hard on to grass. I was dazed and confused and waiting for a bolt of pain from a twisted or broken ankle or wrist. My first priority was to check my hands by the flickering light from tents and streetlights. My hands felt like the end of the first day at the Gear, after 13-hours of handling sheep pelts pickled in sulphuric acid. But they were only tender, I couldn't see any blood. God bless Elvis’ tailor.

Slowly I eased to my feet, accepting helping hands, shaking my head as people asked if I was okay. Somebody was shouting to hold me.

A large young man reminiscent of that new Clutch Cargo cartoon character had pushed his way through the crowd around me. He sported a grey tweed jacket, underneath a blue shirt, dark trousers, clodhopper black O'B boots looming. Crew cut, eyes glinting like fragments of mica in a slab of granite, the oblong blunt structure of the proverbial brick shithouse. Just my luck, an off-duty cop happy to do his sworn duty.

‘Impressive,’ he said, grinning. ‘Fun's over now, matey.’

He was overconfident, reaching out to take charge from my helpers. It was somewhat churlish, but I pulled on their helping hands until they were close, then I pushed them into Big Boy. I had time to note the grin evaporate before I was scooting around the collapsed tent, pushing apart the gathering onlookers.

‘He went thataway!’ I yelled, having seen enough Keystone Cops and other silent shorts to remember the invariable script accompanying the chase sequences, which seemed to be about all those crazy comedies had to offer. I couldn't help myself, I was pumping and fizzing like a shaken-up bottle of creaming soda.

People I passed looked baffled, as best I could judge in the darker areas behind the sideshows. I pelted for the trees, my yellow shirt unfortunately also containing glitter that would help identify my flight. It was some kind of nasty nylon fabric clinging in patches to my back and chest where my sweat was pooling.

Adrenaline was totally blotting out any sense. With a euphoric yelp, I sprinted away from all calls and commands, ducking through the tree line and doing my school gym vaulting horse act on the wooden fence. I enjoyed it so much I bounded across the road and repeated the fence ascent.

One foot landed on glass, going straight through into something squashy. Fortunately it was only a matter of a foot or 18 inches. I carefully stepped squelching out of the orbit of the broken frame, which looked by the light from an open back door to be an old window acting as some kind of cloche for what I would guess were marrows or squash. The exclamations of outrage accompanying the door opening were incoherent and possibly Italian, and the dark shape advancing was blocking the initial value of the light. I could see something being waved, at worst an axe, at best a broom. I didn't hang about, given that there were a number of people at the fence line offering aggressive advice.

‘He's the one you want,’ I shouted, pointing to his left, ducking around him, hurtling inside his house, slamming the door behind me.

Not such a good idea. Several naked bulbs of at least 150 watts apiece highlighted an old crone in masses of black clothes with a large black pan upraised, her expression leaving me in no doubt I was going to be whacked with it.

I was saved by the back door opening and more inchoate shouting. I ducked past her, just avoiding the pan smashing into the red rose-patterned wallpaper where I would have been if I had stayed put. I darted up the hallway, grabbed at the door handle and turned. It didn't open. I risked a glance back at the snowy-haired old chap inadvertently exposing himself as his pyjamas dropped in his attempt to push past his gabbling other half. I spotted the locking clip, pushed it with my thumb, the handle turned and I wrenched open the heavy door. I was through, pulling it back on its occupants, down a brick path between flower beds and out the gate and away like the scalded cat.

I scampered down the side street, virtually leapt in several seven-league strides across the beach road and through the informal pathway in the dunes. My best brown patent leather slip-ons filled with sand around and under my yellow socks as I scrabbled on a right vector off the path into the dunes and rampant marram grass.

I lay there panting and sweating and making hoarse sounds, not I guess unlike a cornered wild pig burrowing into a thicket. The mix of sand and mush in my left shoe was significantly unpleasant. On the bright side, the grass was high, the tickling bearable. If I didn't sneeze, I was home free. No sign of any pursuers. I could hear indignant voices from the coast road, but none of them were coming on to the beach.

I crawled through the dunes aiming for Rona Street, paused and sensed as much as heard, in counterpoint to the roaring wind and lapping waves, somebody moving down the pathway I had just vacated. I froze, blessing the wind whipping sand and marram grass around. Double back would be the smart move. I crabbed to the path, stood and saw a solid silhouette moving on to the beach. I crouched and returned to the road, stood and strolled calmly through the asphalt tennis courts as if not a care in the world, stoically telling myself to endure the discomfort of sand shifting between socks, squash and shoes.

I took the shrub-lined alley into the church grounds. There were still people out on the street. Some might recognise me. I needed cover.

There was a light coming through the side windows of the church. San Antonio Catholic church, which I reluctantly attended with my father, when I could not find an excuse he would accept. The church of Saint Anthony, bless his sandals, come to my rescue, so I would look more favourably on future visits to this sanctuary. I sat on the step, shook sand and gunk from my shoes, brushed at my socks, my neck rotating like a hungry owl. No pursuers. I tried the handle. It was open. I went in, shutting it quietly behind me.

The wind was still my friend, belting the small wooden church with all the abandon of a Christian Brother prodigally laying his leather strap into a classroom of kids. The noise masked the creaking of my progress from the hunched figure of the priest bent over the altar rail on his knees, muttering prayers no doubt intended for the salvation of his wayward parishioners. I marginally came into that category.

No lights on in the confessional. I carefully slipped into the penitent's booth and knelt with a blessed relief I had never known before in an imposed lifetime of confessing sins more of thought and word than any of the deeds I fantasised about.

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