Speech Transcript: Reg Cribb launches Boy on Wire

( If Jon were launching a book that I had penned I’m sure he wouldn’t have a speech prepared. He’d fly by the seat of his pants, coz thats what he does.. But I am a good Aquinas boy and we dont fly by the seat of our pants. )

Jon…Jon…Jon…. a brave man you are. To write this book then have the audacity to launch it at Christ Church Grammar informs me with no fear of retribution, that you have kahunas the size of a space hopper. Methinks Its the equivalent of Ian Fleming launching ‘From Russia With love’ at KGB headquarters in Moscow or Peter Benchley launching ‘Jaws’ in the shark tank at the Miami aquarium.

Jon and I met at the Sprung Writers Festival in Albany. Both the town and myself obviously made an impression on him because here I am launching his wonderful novel and now…well he calls Albany home.

Suffice to say that I dont know Jon that well but like everyone else who comes into his radius I am aware that he is an extremely funny bugger. Jon also fulfils the criterion to be a West Australian writer in that he had a rural upbringing and bears the bruises of boarding school. I can rattle off a rather long list of other WA writers with the same upbringing. It seems to be a prerequisite.

As I was reading Boy On A Wire with its ‘fictional’ boarding house, I was trying to guess where it might be set. It was screaming Guildford at me..because well….Guildford always looked to me as imposing as something out of Tom Browns School Days with its ivy covered walls and foreboding Tardis -like chapel. By one third of the way through I was thinking….for no apparent reason, perhaps Hale then by the end with its High Anglican sensibilities it waS anywhere but Aquinas. But then I received the invite to the launch right here at Christchurch and all was revealed. Who would have thought? But I can’t judge this esteemed school too harshly, lets just call Jon a product of his times, the 60’s had a lot to answer for.

Boy On a Wire leapt out at me with the anarchic energy of one of my favourite autobiographies, ‘Bound For Glory’, the amazing story of travelling Depression era folk singer, Woody Guthrie. That is a tale that threatens at times to spiral beautifully out of control and often does. And for that comparison there is much to admire then in Jon’s story.

Teachers will always tell you to write about what you know first up then second time round, perhaps expand on that. Maybe by your third book, you should be attempting to write about what you dont know. Well I hope Jon keeps writing about what he does know because its more than enough and bloody entertaining to boot. Methinks Jon asked me to say a few words today because he knows that I too am a product of the Boarding House system. And a Catholic one to boot. John is a child of the 60’s I am a child of the 70’s. But as we all know, the 60’s didn’t arrive in Perth until the 70’s which means that Jon was actually living through the 50’s but wont admit it. And why would you. It’s just not as sexy.

Anyway. thank you Jon for making me read this book and rubbing my face once again in a part of my life that I have done my utmost to exorcize from my psyche. I still wake up in cold sweats over that period of my upbringing.

As the litany of adolescent suffrage cascaded out of these pages in ghastly torrents, I couldn’t help think that Boy On A Wire was right up there with the greatest horror novels I have ever read. Short sheeting, toothpaste on the genitalia, cadets (not compulsory at Aquinas I am pleased to say) and nights and days filled with endless, experimental and very audible…. wanking. Short sheeting. I was the victim of short sheeting all the bloody time. Why would you short sheet someones bed? What purpose does it serve? I thought about this long and hard and could only find one inevitable solution. We do it because like a bad ‘Carry On’ film….its piss funny.

But the most pungent memory that Jon evoked was the first school social and the perfumed odour of the opposite sex clinging to the school jumper post event. Post Pride Of erin, Boston Two Step, Barn Dance. The jumper that you never ever washed again. Jon views adolescence the way we all do , the way we all did but were way too emotionally stunted at the time to admit. Like an impartial observer to his own inadequacies and the changes that are taking place within him. Your body becomes its own horror movie and although you wish you could tear your eyes away from what is happening to it… you just cant.

Like all good humorists Jon knows just the right time for the story to become poignant. He understands instinctively that the harder he makes us laugh the harder we will cry in the end. And like all great WA stories it has to all come to a head, to culminate, to explode at Rotto. Jon, I too had schoolies week at Rotto, it has been around methinks since the Swan River was called Derbal Yerrigan .I too stole furniture from an unsuspecting hut to keep a beach fire burning, because if you couldn’t keep the beach fire burning your chances of snaring an unsuspecting Santa Maria girl were next to nil. Any parent who harbours the idea that making their impressionable young son read the story of Jon Doust, responsible Baby Boomer elder ,because it will lead them toward the light, will be severely disappointed. Jon tells us in no uncertain terms that no matter how much we frown on the current , Generation of wayward youth Gen Y and Z, Gen whatever…. Twas ever thus.

Jon understands that when you go to boarding school, you are basically an independent spirit from age 12. You form your own thoughts, make your own bed, fight your own fights and thus a knock down, stand up showdown with your parents at the end of it all is sadly inevitable. Day bugs, they just dont get it.
My Wholehearted Congrats Jon. You made a sea change to Albany and instead of writing a crappy, sappy TV series starring David Wenham, you wrote a beautiful, honest testimony to adolescence in all its smelly, warty, effluent glory. You have showed us in Boy On A Wire that being adolescent is a time of being barely afloat, bobbing uncontrollably in a merciless raging sea of hormones, with two choices, sink or grow the hell up. Thankfully for us the growing up part is still a work in progress for Jon. His growing up sometime in the near future, would be our literary loss.

I wish we could launch books the way we launch ships. When you smash a bottle of champers against the side. Boy on the Wire should be launched by dousing it in something long gone. A can of TAB, a can of Frist perhaps or a bottle of Weaver and Lock lemonade. Maybe we should sprinkle some confectionary cigarettes on it or douse it with a mini bottle of milk, the ones that used to come in crates at primary school. then get the milk monitor to clean it up afterwards. In the absence of these sweet, nostalgic comestibles, Jon…consider Boy On A Wire launched.

Books discussed
Boy on a Wire

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