Cracker by Damian Christie

Telling Tales

There's an aphorism, "most people have a book in them; and that's where it should probably stay".

Six months ago I wrote of my fledgling novel – Pirates! (possible subtitle, "A Metaphor"). Well surprise of surprises, it hasn't progressed much past the initial flurry of six pages. Although I did decide a while later that those six pages were probably enough to comprise the first chapter. So I have made progress in theory, if not in practice. And I still consider my novel to be embryonic, rather than abortive.

Increasingly though, I've become interested in stories. Everyone's novel might be best left internalised, but I'm sure everyone has at least one story worth telling. One really cracker story that stands on its own merit and appeals to everyone – you don't have to know Uncle John to see the humour, it's not 'a guy thing', and you didn't have to be there.

My mate Ben and I have been friends for years. We've heard each other's tales - the good, the bad and the boring - far too many times, so much so we can recite them verbatim. One night at a party, surrounded by strangers, Ben just started telling my stories as though they were his own. "Yeah, I used to live in Upper Hutt," he'd begin, and before I could protest he'd be recounting the lowlights of my school years. I'd counter with how *I* used to get beaten up each day getting off the bus in Mt Roskill.

It was amusing, frustrating and probably completely boring to the strangers. But who cares, surely that's why God makes Strangers? That'll learn 'em for always trying to offer kids sweets and rides home.

Anyhoo. Even knowing all Ben's stories, I'm still hungry for more. I want a story from everyone. Eventually I might try and do something with the idea, a doco, a short film, a book – who knows. But knowing me, probably not. The least I can do for now is post my favourites, and probably give them a prize or something, a book or computer game or whatever. Christmas is coming after all.

So would you mind? Telling me a story? Short or long; funny, sad, heartbreaking, romantic, dirty, poignant, coincidental. The more colour, flavour and relevant detail the better.

I only ask two things:

1. It's true.

2. It happened to you. Not your wife, sister, grandfather or my mate Ben.

Change the names if you need to, or just tell me not to post your name if you want to be completely anonymous. If I do ever decide to use these for anything bigger, I will seek express permission.

I'll get you started with my favourite story.

When I was growing up, my father was in the army. We moved around quite a bit, but for two and a half incredible years, we lived in Singapore. Always having a bit of a knot fetish, I joined Scouts. My friend Joshua called it Hitler Youth, but I think that was just because his dad, a liberal English teacher, wouldn't let him join.

As the Scout leaders were generally military men, we always went on the coolest trips. On one occasion we paddled two-person kayaks, leaving from the NZ Navy wharf, which was often full of huge foreign naval vessels, and paddled a few kilometres out to an island in the Johore Strait.

We camped on the island at night and went crab hunting, while those kids old enough to use deodorant set fire to things by spraying it onto a flame. During the day we practiced tying knots, learnt how to right capsized kayaks and other pursuits bound to prove useful in later life.

After a couple of days on the island we paddled back. My kayak companion was my Scout leader, whose name escapes me. As we approached the navy yard an enormous US battleship, many storeys high, was docked at the wharf. Steps on the side of the wharf led down to concrete jetty at sea level. We slid our kayak between the towering battleship and the jetty.

We got out of the kayak and started to unload our gear. A slight change in the wind, or maybe a small swell caused the huge battleship to list ever-so-slightly. It became noticeable down at sea-level though, as the little kayak wedged itself between the jetty and the battleship. As the ship listed further, the fibreglass of the kayak splintered with a loud crack.

The funniest thing I have ever seen in my life – the most preposterous, ridiculous illustration of the word "optimism" – was my Scout leader standing on the jetty, with every ounce of effort in his body, pushing at the huge grey wall of iron, trying to displace tens of thousands of tonnes in order to save the little kayak. He looked at me, face red, veins bulging and gasped "push".

And that was the day a Battleship destroyed our Kayak.