Rites of Passage: Surviving Childhood

Bad quicksand scenario

I remember lying in bed at night in around 1982, worrying to death about the big problems.

I came from an uncomplicated family. We basically lived in central Suburbia. We were a “dad had a few Lion Browns last night and accidentally forget to lock the Hillman Avenger but nothing got stolen”-type level of worries back then.

Back then, there was no obvious threat of climate change. If there was it was conveniently and tidily hidden away as a simple ozone-layer hole or a bit of smog in Los Angeles; nicely out of sight. Maybe one or two kids at school would try to do a speech on it for the speech competition but none of us would know what they were talking about.

There were no pandemics to kill us all. Pandemics were something that happened in other countries, and we just all assumed someone would just sort it out.

The nuclear threat to New Zealand was confined to mild concern about what might happen to Americans if the USSR attacked, or what might happen to British people being nuked while eating their tea like in the TV series Threads. It really wasn’t on our national radar.

For some reason, though, we young folks lay awake at night, making up dramatic scenarios, sweating and terrified, for five reasons:

  1. Quicksand

Pretty much every TV show had a scene where, at one point or another, someone fell into quicksand. Therefore quicksand occupied possibly 98% of my night-time worst-case scenario thoughts. I mentally planned out what I would do if I happened to be walking across the school field, for example, and then mistakenly fell into quicksand. Didn’t see it at all. I would have to yell out to someone to bring a branch over for me to grab onto, and just hope for the best.

2. Rangitoto Island erupting

Why did we have to live in a city with an island volcano in it, I wondered. Why? The very real threat of a centuries-dormant volcano was terrifying. More so when we were made to go on a school trip to climb it. That seemed like a really solid idea for children. I would lay awake at night wondering how quickly I could outrun the lava. Lava alone was liquid terror. My Strange Stories and Amazing Facts book helpfully included a chapter on particularly ruthless volcanoes such as Krakatoa. I won’t necessarily say it hampered my childhood to own it but I also won’t.

3. A Tidal Wave

Many of us spent years wondering if we could outrun a tidal wave in any meaningful way. New Zealand felt almost constantly in the path of a tidal wave because of the asteroid problem. We would pour over atlases to locate the highest ground, and discuss with our friends how we might transport ourselves there. In the middle of the night, of course, the parents were fast asleep, sleeping right though some of the worst natural disasters of our time, so it was up to “us kids” to plan the escape route all alone.

4. Fissures

I would imagine a large, unmanageable fissure opening up in the ground and me falling in, to depths unheard of in our time. There was no real solution to this, so this was one of the worst scenarios to be fair.

5. Satan arriving in human form

Before the days of Reddit, people used to talk to each other about Theories. One of the most talked-about theories was that Satan was coming back (somehow coincidentally with the second coming of Jesus) and there would be a massive battle. People thought that Mikhail Gorbachev was the devil because of a birthmark on his head, and that the government was concealing the number of the Beast in retail barcodes. To someone who was already shit-scared of quicksand and asteroids, this was very uncomfortable news.

This really isn’t an exhaustive list. Slightly lower down in the terror were malevolent ghosts, tapeworms and going to the Hot Pools but coming home with an amoeba that would slowly eat your brain.

Coupled with an irrational fear of scorpions, which have never been found in New Zealand, the childhood of a Generation Xer was barely survivable, but sure enough we made it through.

And we will make it through this very real, very scary pandemic, I promise. <3


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