I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about waterslides. I have had the word ‘waterslides’ written on my article board for about six months now. Yesterday I got a cloth and some orange oil and wiped away all the things written on the board. They were reminders of things I have to do, things I have to write. Recently I have hated this board, because nothing ever seems to get rubbed off it. It’s not actually a board, it’s a bit of desk, I guess, or you could think of it as a wall – I have a built in desk in my office (spare room?) that can be closed, like a cupboard. Ah I am trying to say, I cleaned my to do list. I am writing at my desk, and when I write at this desk I write under a to do list. I didn’t work last night, but if I had, I would have been writing under a beautifully blank board that usually has a messy and old to do list that makes me not want to sit under it.
Today I wrote what I could remember of that old list back on the board, but in smaller, neater writing, and in order of due date, by imminence. I ordered things 1-5. Then, after waiting a few minutes, I made a second, parallel list. And wrote ‘1. Waterslides’. After thinking for a while, I wrote ‘2. Ada Driver’s Painting’. I’m not sure why I wrote this second item. I think it belongs somewhere on the first list, as it relates to my job. Ada Driver was an Australian woman photographer and my main job is to research, well to assist research and research on the topic of Australian photographers, women photographers, that is. I am a research associate, and I associate with a specialist on Australian women photographers. I help my boss write articles about Australian women photographers and I’ve never really known if that’s the right way of describing the overall research topic. The grammar seems weird. Australian women photographers? Anyway Ada Driver was a studio photographer at a time when that meant something, and she also made these paintings that depicted subjects in an act of recollection. She visualised memory by way of, I guess, essentially thought bubbles that looked a lot like magic lantern slides, somehow projected on a nearby wall from the subject’s mind’s eye. I think I wanted to write about these paintings but other than what I just wrote, I don’t think I really have anything to say. So I don’t think ‘2. Ada Driver’s Paintings’ really belonged in the first list after all; I could probably rub it off the second list too now.
I have wanted to write about waterslides for what seems like forever. I don’t know why I have put it off so long. I don’t know why it seems to me to be very important to get the phrasing and timing of this waterslides essay just right. I have just been waiting and waiting to write this thing and in the meantime all these other pieces of writing have been building up behind it, making the desk like a dam. Like a 1980s Perth waterslide, even. I’m blocked. I don’t know how many writings are backed up behind this.
These days waterslides are highly regulated, with staff in attendance at the top/entrance and the bottom/exit. Once you reach the top of the line and it’s your turn to go into the slide, the attendant checks either by radio, or video, or simply by looking at the bottom of the slide, whether the bottom of the slide is clear. No one can still be in the slide when someone enters the slide at the top. Not these days at least. I think I’m one of those people that doesn’t really mind that health and safety has evidently run rampant. Those blocked slides of the 1980s in Perth actually scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. I was nervous about slamming so violently into a stranger’s body with my body, all wet and fast. The memories I have of a blocked waterslide, and waterslide culture of the 1980s in general, are somehow really close in my mind to memories of V8s and burnouts and ‘Asians Out!’ graffiti and all the shit that made me a nervous kid. It is an unspoken truth that I don’t miss the past. Despite my loudly professed theory that ‘everything gets worse’ (I’m quite tiresome) I think time or history or whatever it is, change, has actually been pretty kind to me. For example when I was growing up it was all Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer. But when I left school it was Kate Moss, and it’s about 20 years later and it’s still Kate Moss, which is good for me because I’m thin and flat chested, which sucked in the Cindy and Claudia era. Especially in a bathing suit. I think that somehow it became good to be part Asian too, but I don’t think Kate Moss had anything to do with that. Anyway what I’m saying is that it’s much safer to ride in waterslides these days than in those days, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in my eyes.
A trip to Darwin two years ago still resonates with me – it was unquestionably defined by waterslides. The first day we got there our host took us to her baby shower (not hers actually, but I remember it as hers because she was so pregnant when we visited) – which was held at the Leanyer Recreation Park, simply her local waterpark. Leanyer Recreation Park is on the surface a low key affair, utterly suburban with ample parking, free barbecues, lawned areas and teenage YMCA staff in pool attendance. But entry was free, which is unheard of even in the lamest of suburbs, and right there, on the edge of the Rec, was a proud triple helix of enclosed water slides. Really tall, long waterslides. They were part of the rest of Leanyer Recreation Park. They were therefore free. And even though it was not a school day, and the weather was swimming weather, there were no long lines. In fact, I don’t think there were any lines at all. You simply walked over, skipping over the prickles in the lawn, and a YMCA attendant in that ubiquitous red rashie would hand you a giant inflated tube, which you would half-carry, half-balance as you walked that toppling walk up the concrete stairs towards the top of the slide.
I don’t know if you understand how exceptional this is: a waterslide as good as any regulation waterslide park, for free, and with no lines. We just walked in. Can you imagine the concept of all joy and no misery? I still simply don’t know what to make of this, but any time I think about going to Darwin, Leanyer Recreation Park is the main reason the thought occurred to me.
By coincidence the two family friendly movies we watched together on Netflix used waterslides a lot – Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and BMX Bandits. These films served to bookend days longing (and twice fulfilled) for a trip back to Leanyer Recreation Park. On other days, we endeavoured to visit the proper tourist destinations – Parap and Nightcliff Markets, Berry Springs (pretty much the superlative Australian water hole) and a couple of days 4WD-ing around Litchfield Park. It was all very very wonderful; my host, a genius then heavily pregnant with what has now become the most sublime boy you could ever see, couldn’t place a reef shoe wrong. At Berry Springs and Lichfield Park I thought about how similar water holes are to water slides. I thought about how inexplicably linked waterslides and time travel seem to be, at least in the movies. I learned from my friend that the waterslides were free in Darwin to dissuade children from swimming in crocodile infested creeks and rivers.
I thought about how usually ‘a bit of fun’ like these working class waterslides were bureaucratised and monetised. Angela Carter came up with the idea that fun, especially ‘a bit of fun’ was a predominantly working class conceit; that the middle class seem to only enjoy fun at one remove.
I thought about what the long lines for waterslides teach children about time. I thought about what my son kept talking about every time he went on a waterslide: the drop. The drop, originally a dubstep measure, may be the best metric for how much fun a waterslide is.
I tried to think about waterslides as non-aleatory art, but a colleague reminded me of those 1980s urban myths about razor blades being left in waterslides at those big suburban water parks. And then everything about waterslides seemed so predictably fluid and superfluous and Freudian. And then I didn’t write about waterslides for about six months, or perhaps ever.