Penguin gave me two Cabcharges to get to Burwood and back. As you know, I live in St Kilda and it's a fair hike out east. There's a perfectly adequate tram service. I should have used that. This is what happened in the cab on the way home. The driver asked why a grown man like me would be carrying a novel that looked as though it was aimed at readers younger than myself. And why was there a pig on the cover? He seemed especially upset about that. I explained a little about the book, that it was about a boy who’s going through a tough time, and he is helped through it by an uncle who happens to be Buddhist, among other things.
The cab driver asked if I was a Buddhist, and I said no. Then he asked me a question that cab drivers rarely ask me. 'Who made the universe?' This is a difficult question to answer, especially on the corner of Burke Road and The Burwood Highway. I admitted I didn’t know. But apparently the cab driver did. And he told me, at some length.
Now I can tell you who made The Milky Way. That’s much smaller than the universe, so it’s easy. The goddess Ops, who was the wife of Saturn, got annoyed when her husband started swallowing the children. He did this so he could remain boss of the Pantheon and be unchallenged by his offspring if they ever reached adulthood. Ops would come home from doing the shopping, her bags full of Ambrosia, and notice that there were fewer children than when she left.
'You haven't been eating the children again?' she would admonish her errant husband, Saturn.
'No,' Saturn would say, because lying comes fairly easily to a child-eater.
'But I'm sure there's another one missing,' Ops would say.
'It's probably fallen down the back of the settee.'
But Ops wasn't fooled for a second. Despite Saturn being lousy at rearing children, Ops had another baby to him and called him Jupiter. She loved him like crazy and she certainly didn't want Saturn eating him, so she hid him. But when Saturn demanded to see his new son Jupiter, Ops was worried that her husband might be feeling peckish. Rather than show Jupiter to Saturn, Ops played a trick. She dressed up a rock in a blanket so that it might be mistaken for a baby, and she cradled it in her arms.
'That doesn't look like a baby,' said Saturn. Being a god he was not so easily hoodwinked.
Had I been Ops I think I would have biffed Saturn with the rock, then gone off to find someone with better parenting skills. But Ops was determined for her trick to work. To make the illusion look more convincing, she tried to breast-feed the rock. This, as you can imagine, didn’t work awfully well. Ops' milk spurted out everywhere and became The Milky Way.
That's how The Milky Way was made. That's the truth. Or it would be if you were an early Roman. If you didn’t believe it, you’d be likely to end up in the Coliseum, having your head chewed off by a lion.
Saturn guaranteeing he'll get no presents on Father's Day.
I didn’t tell the cab driver about The Milky Way. He did most of the talking and wouldn't have listened anyway. Now, there is a very parsimonious side to my character, which may have something to do with Scottish ancestry. I hate to spend money unless I really, really need to. I had only one Cabcharge left. If I told the driver to stop the cab and let me out, I’d have to pay for a second cab ride with my own money. Sure, I’d retain my honour, but I’d lose some cash. Was it worth it? After the cab driver mentioned his bloody deity one more time, I decided it was. At the next set of lights I stepped out of the taxi, handed the driver the Cabcharge, then told him to go forth and multiply, but not in those words. (Thanks, Woody Allen.)
Postscript 2011: I will miss my trips to Deakin. Now that Tumble Turn is out of print, it is no longer being studied. This, of course, does not mean you shouldn't read it. Yes, it's another plug for the free e-book on my site. Go forth and read.