His plaything

The algae in the dog bowl grows
back as fast as I can clean it out, a dark green velvet on the base of his
otherwise blue bowl.  It has the
appearance of close shaved moss and when stirred up makes the water murky.  
I am vigilant about keeping up the
dog’s water supply.  Dogs unlike
cats need a constant and fresh supply. The dog has none of the cats’ ingenuity
in locating water. 
If only new ideas grew as readily
as algae, or at least fresh and good ideas, but they’re as hard to keep up with
as fresh water.  They take
effort.  At this time of the year,
so close to its beginning, I have run dry. 
My father came home with his first
television set when we lived in Healesville in a log cabin styled house nestled
in the valley off Myers Creek Road. 
Reception proved a problem in those days and it was necessary to fix an
aerial to the roof, stiff and angular like a scarecrow, but not a scarecrow to
scare off birds, rather a scarecrow that might draw in sounds and
As well we had a
small portable aerial that sat either on top of the television itself or nearby
and needed constant adjusting whenever the picture began to run reel by reel
over and on top of itself. 
Sometimes one of us needed to hold the aerial in a particular way
throughout the entire movie to stop the picture on the screen from warping and
running on.  
The frustration of early television
watching was only matched by the pleasure of entering into this new black and
white world where people in the movies never seemed to bother with the trivia
of life like earning a living or going to the toilet.  
Why ever not? 
Why did these people in movie land not need things like toilets or
money?  They ate food occasionally,
or at least they gave some impression of eating in so far as they sat in front
of a table of food set for dinner but rarely did they hoe in.  
They reminded me of the nuns at school, those black robed women whose bodies were completely concealed under layers of
material.  They never ate or used
the toilet, or so I imagined as a child. 
Underneath their bodies were not like ours.  They did not therefore need to function as did we with eating
and elimination.  Nuns were
Advertisements were the most
intriguing aspect of television in those days, the way the model, the beautiful, bright smiling, impeccable model might bite into a chocolate coated ice
You could hear the crunch
of chocolate as it cracked but never a drip of ice cream dribbled down the model’s chin, and although she closed her mouth over the bite and smiled broadly as if
savouring the sweetness, I imagined a spittoon nearby into which she might spit
out the concoction, mostly because I had heard such advertisements take many
cuts to make and if she needed to eat all that ice cream over and over again she
would soon be sick.
By the time I reached adolescence
my imagination was caught up in the bodies of these actors.  The way a man might hold a beautiful
woman close to him to kiss her or to dance with her and she wore a backless dress.  His hot hand stroked up and down her
back.  I imagined him doing the
same to my back in horror.  My back
by then was lumpy with pimples. 
I spent my time comparing myself to
these on screen heroes and heroines imagining that no such life awaited
me.  I was too imperfect.  Too hungry, too spotty, too poor to be on screen. 
By the time we left Healesville and
moved to Canterbury, my TV tastes had changed from preferring a rich diet of
cartoons, only available in the late afternoon, to the midday movie which we
watched as often as possible while our father was away at work during school
When our father was at home, he
commandeered the box.  He decided
on boring stuff, the equivalent of Meet the Press with Bob Santamaria or the News, but we preferred Disneyland with
its choice of destinations, Frontier land, Adventure land, Fantasy land, of
which trips into fantasy land usually in the form of cartoons or fairy tales was my
preferred destination. 
One day, I must have been around
thirteen years old and conscious of my body in a different way;  conscious that tiny breasts were
beginning to bud on my chest; conscious that I was beginning to outgrow my
clothes at a much faster rate; conscious that my underarms and pubic bone were
sheathed in fine hairs; and conscious of my father as he sat me on his lap in
front of the television. 
We were watching Brian Henderson’s Bandstand.  Singers and musicians
performed while my father played with the zipper at the back of my dress in unison to the music.
My father stank of alcohol and of
cigarettes as he rode the full length zip up and down so that my entire back
was one minute exposed the next covered. I wanted to get off his lap but felt
glued to the spot.
I wondered that my mother who sat
in a chair only inches away with her eyes fixed to the television set did not
notice my father, or not so much my father as my discomfort at what he was
doing. She smoked a cigarette, while tears rolled down my cheeks. 
Silent tears. I did not dare let my father know that I objected to his zip
It felt wrong, as if my father were
doing something he should not do, as if he were teasing me the way he liked to tease my
mother when he tried to take her apron off as she stood at the kitchen stove. 
When she pushed him away he
lurched for her and she pulled back. 
He ripped at her dress and tore the front half away from her body.  My mother stood in shock in her
petticoat.  Bits of dress fell to the floor and my father looked triumphant as if
he had exposed her at last. 
Was this what he was doing
here?  All this activity on the
television and my mind was a jumble of thoughts about the drama going on in our
lounge room, only no one could see but me and my father.  To this day I am
not sure how conscious he was of what he was doing, or of how he had made me
I was his plaything.  

33 thoughts on “His plaything”

  1. My heart quickened as I read this, such was the tension. I find the way you write tension astounding — it appears effortless, and while I am horrified at what is happening, thinking of you, that young, vulnerable girl, I am in awe of the woman you became — so formidably strong in the telling.

  2. Groan, Bob Santamaria would have to be the most boring person on tv at that time and still is. I to much prefer to watch Disneyland while growing up and was very sad when Walt Disney passed away.

  3. Years ago, I banished hate from my life because it is such a destructive emotion, but I hate your father. HATE him. And I believe he did know what he was doing as I'm equally sure your mother must have been aware.

  4. Ah, the one-eyed god in the corner—my father’s name for it when he was feeling especially pious. I don’t know why some writers look down on the telly. I think it’s wonderful and always have. Before the Internet it’s what opened up the world to us. It’s what saved us from having to read all those stodgy books: all my knowledge of the likes of Dickens and Austen comes via TV and film adaptations. That freed me up to read the kind of books that really interested me. I don’t remember our first TV but I do have a vague memory of our first colour TV and us just sitting there watching the test card in colour. Now I have a hi-def TV and can’t tell the difference.

    It used to bother me too that no one on TV used loos. That’s all changed and I’m glad of that but how things get paid for is still something that often gets skirted over. I didn’t mind characters like Bruce Wayne who was introduced to us as a “millionaire philanthropist” but I used to wonder about people like Simon Templar who just swanned around looking for trouble and we never really knew what he did for a living. I really hated comics for that. Every month they’d wreak havoc, destroying everything in their path but there were never any consequences; someone just came along and pressed the rest button. Later the writers started addressing these issues—I recall an issue of Animal Man where a repair crew arrive after his house has been partly destroyed and he’s told that since he joined the Justice League of America that was one of the perks of the job. That made sense.

    One of my childhood heroes died about a week ago, Gerry Anderson. One of my earliest memories of TV dates back to 4th October 1964, so I’d be five. It was time for the new Gerry Anderson series, Stingray. I’d been a big fan of Supercar and Fireball XL5 (I have models of both in my room—you can see Stingray on top of my hi-fi on my website) and everyone at school was talking about the new show. I can even tell you what I had for tea that night: chips, peas (tinned) and fish fingers covered in batter (another first). I was sat there with my tea on a tray in front of the TV in Dad’s chair primed and ready. Not actually sure how much I enjoyed it—odd that that’s slipped from my memory—but it’s my first clear memory of me and the TV. I’m aware of programmes before that—Watch with Mother—but nothing so detailed.

    Now sex and TV is another thing. I have two memories that involve my dad, both from much later. The first probably dates to about 1982 so I’d be about twenty-three. There was a film on the box, The Passage (released in 1979 so I’m guessing three years before it got shown on terrestrial TV). In the film there is a scene where Malcolm McDowell who’s playing a Nazi catches up with Kay Lenz in a hotel room and, preparing to anally rape her, drops his pants to reveal a jock strap with a swastika on his crotch. My mother, who was also in the room, decided enough was enough and objected to the subject matter but, much to my surprise (shock really), my dad defended the filmmakers and we continued to sit there and watch. All I can remember is sitting there as quietly and still as I could hoping I wouldn’t be noticed. It was incredibly awkward being there. I mean you saw nothing but that wasn’t the point. Why was my dad allowing this? This brings me to me second memory although I’m not sure how old I was, probably a teenager. It was an art programme and there happened to be a nude model onscreen. This was not a major thing—this was art—but when she changed position and spread her legs now that was a different thing and the channel got changed by Dad and no arguments were brooked. Looking back—hindsight is a great thing—I have my suspicions as to why the one caused offense and the other did not but I’m not going to go into that here.

  5. I see books, TV and the Internet as variations of the same thing: communication. We can learn thing (sometimes the wrong things) from all three.

    I can't say I was all that shocked about your father's inappropriate behavior toward you, for the simple reason that you've written about it before. I WAS shocked about your father's inappropriate behavior toward your mother, even though it happened within a marriage. Playing with apron strings is one thing, but ripping her dress off in front of you children? Sounds like a prelude toward marital rape.

  6. The tying in of both the wonders of the tube as children with the realities of troubles children shouldn’t have to bare is handled very well. Such things should not have to be endured..

  7. Oh, this made my chest hurt.

    I don't know what to do with how I feel about your father right now. I think I shall just be glad that he was not mine…


  8. I note posting a comment as anonymous and yet quoting my blog. Tricked myself into revealing … who I really am. An embarrassment. A slip of the tongue.

    I feel terrible: I'm disobedient. The Bible says to keep your promises. I am disloyal. You should honour your mother and your father. The Bible says … I, Woman, am the original sinner. I, Woman or Daughter have no right. Apparently.

    I subscribe to Eve being a Goddess in her own right. And probably so was Mary Magdalene. I can't imagine a perfect, almighty God looking at Adam chasing the deer and thought, oh, I forgot something. Better make him a woman to fuck. I do not believe Eve was an afterthought.

    Forgive. To a degree I did. Measure of compassion in an effort to heal us both. He did stop. I do feel, I think I know, there is something good inside such a person. That such a person got terribly hurt somewhere along the line, even in a previous lifetime if there is support for such an idea. It's an atrociously low self esteem that produces such acts, I think.

    The pervading apology: A woman on the local radio show apologises about mentioning the subject of rape and child and woman abuse – to the men phoning in. A woman at an exhibition of artworks about child abuse apologised for making so much noise. WHY?

    I'd like to rend the invisibility of a child on her father's lap in a shared space with her mother while he's playing with her (zip). The cloaking darkness.

    Why the immobility, paralysis, helplessness of both the mother and the daughter? Because e'd not be honouring Father, The Authority? He is Man and we must Obey? the Bible says so. Or Else. Something terrible might happen if we didn't? A Bible that has very much been written by mere man. Dear God. Elisabeth, your father did know what he was doing. I commiserate. There are many instances where the mother was aware o what was happening. I call that being a silent accomplice. The disempowerment of women has been almost complete. Almost, but not quite.

    Why are no solutions being put forward, no finding of remedies?

    On a feminist blog: Feminism 101 for those that will take the trouble to look it up, don't feel like making it easy by providing a link … an article: a woman asked her male friends whether they ever talked about issues o child abuse, woman abuse, rape, amongst themselves. No, they never did. WHY EVER NOT? Women do. Because it concerns us. Very intimately. It doesn't seem to concern men so much that their female friends, sisters and mothers, female fellow workers and female neighbours are caught in this vicious cycle, very much because of the Goddamn Silence about it! If not in God's name. The statistics of crimes perpetrated against women and children resemble war figures.

    An art teacher once said: if you make art for the sake of therapy, make the best art. You write very well Elisabeth. Keep going. If you've written about it before, write about it again. And again. There is too much to say.

    And I think it was Jesus that said: bring orth that what is within you, else tht what is within you will destroy you.

    I think Jesus was a very misunderstood guy. Willfully so by most – men and women. pviljoen

  9. The build up of how your mind reaches the crux of the matter is amazing – looking from a literary point of view; tThe actuality disturbing and sad.

    The beginning I related to as I had exactly those thoughts and was desperate for art to imitate life and include its trivia …. there were never even toilets around in those films to be seen in the passing and everyone arose for the day in full make-up and with perfect hair.

  10. Oh Elisabeth.

    Your writing, your ability to see things with such clarity years later and the shame you had to endure…!

    Whether your father was, at the time of watching TV with you on his lap, conscious or not, is neither here nor there. What he did was wrong.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. That sounds clumsy but your bravery – and yet, the somehow poetic and lucid style you reveal things to us – leaves me gobsmacked with awe.

  11. I fear that I go over the same uncomfortable – to use your word- ground, Elephant's Child, but it seems important to me to keep at it till it shifts. Thanks.

  12. The comparison between Walt Disney and Bob Santamaria is apt, Windsmoke -one the creative genius the other a political being.

    I'm with you on the sadness of losing Walt Disney for all his foibles.

    Thanks, Windsmoke.

  13. The tension you describe, Elizabeth, comes out of the associations in my mind, but as I said earlier, it seems for me 'all roads lead back to Rome'. I'd like to travel elsewhere and one day I'm sure I will.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

  14. Awareness is a funny thing, River. I recognise that at some level both my parents were aware of what was happening but they hid it from themselves, very successfully.

    Thanks, River, for your compassion, even if it means you have to dredge up those
    hateful feelings, from which I understand you want to free yourself.

  15. I reckon we all tend to tell ourselves lies about ourselves everyday, Pat, about the things we do or have done, in order simply to survive.

    People do their best in most instances but even so we fall short and then have to live with the consequences which is where the denial or watering down of our knowledge comes in.

    Thanks, Pat.

  16. The ‘one-eyes god in the corner’ is a great name for TV, Jim. My husband calls it the idiot box. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that we do not own one. when my youngest was three I took the box out to the workshop and it never came back again.

    I got rid of it one evening because the three girls were so consumed by Home and Away that they would not come for dinner. Something set off inside of me and I took it away. I’m glad we do not have a TV, though my children over the years have felt very deprived. Not so now I think. Now we have DVDs and computers and all manner of technology including iview, which means you can watch select TV shows on the computer. So life without a TV is not quite so isolating.

    I was taken by Simon Templar, too, Jim. Those suave good looks and the way he deported himself as if he had not a care in the world. You also give some wonderful descriptions of sex on TV years ago. I suspect parents of our parents’ generation often shut the box down to protect their children and maybe even themselves.

    These days there’s so much more on view. I’m glad my daughter and her husband have also decided not to invest in a TV with their two small sons. Too much exposure too soon is unhelpful. In our day it seemed all so tame but then again the very fact of sitting hours in front of a TV can’t help however benign the content. Still in some ways the same might apply to sitting in front of the computer, which I do with great abandon for hours on end.

    Thanks, Jim

  17. In my time as a young woman, Kirk, I don't think people considered that marital rape existed, at least not like it's viewed today.

    And yes, it is a shocking thought, this idea that a man consider he so possesses his wife that he can do as he pleases with her.

    I agree with you about the value of communication via all media, the only thing is that some communications need a little sifting through. They seem to lack a certain level of predigestion before they hit the screen, though not all stuff that reaches us I expect, just a lot of it.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  18. It's amazing what we can endure as children and then if we remember and describe it in later life it can seem almost unbearable, but at the time, it just was.

    Thanks, Anthony.

  19. I had an uncle, Pearl, one of my mother's brothers, I once wished that he had been my father, not my father himself. But as my father is now long gone I realise I could not be me without him. Therefore it's hard to say I wish he never existed, now, though when I was young I did.

    I too am glad for your sake that he was not your father, though if he were, we two would be siblings. A pleasant thought.

    Thanks, Pearl.

  20. Thanks again, pviljoen. I'm sorry that you should feel bad for revealing your thoughts here, but I also understand your reservations. I've read widely about why it is that people find it challenging both to write about and to read about incest. The taboo and shame associated with it are so powerful.

    And the tragedy of course is that sexual abuse has a tendency to get repeated over time, which is one of the reasons I have more compassion for my father now than I did as a child. He too was once a small abused child, as perhaps was his father before him.

    Husbands and wives are often complicit in the abuses perpetrated against their children, often unwittingly. It's a hard life we lead. Even when we do our best not to repeat the past, we often do.

    Thanks again, Pviljoen.

  21. It's lovely to see you here again Aguja and to read that you too struggle with the old yearning that art should imitate life. So often it seems we're meant to imitate art and neglect the authenticity of our human experience.

    Thanks, Aguja.

  22. Again, Kath, I'm so grateful for your responses to my blog. You know how hard it is to write about hard things. I wish I had some of your sense of humour to soften my perspective, but I suppose I can only do the best I can with what I know and have.

    Thanks, Kath.

  23. Just another quick response to you Elephant's Child for my distorting your word, 'reality' to uncomfortable ground, and then ascribing it to you. I was intending to paraphrase but went too literal.

    I recognise and am deeply grateful for your understanding of my efforts to write about these experiences.

    So once again, thanks, Elephant's Child.

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