One of the most arresting of all book covers—definitely the sort that you should never judge the contents by—adorned the novelisation of the movie (by JM White and Val Guest) of The Camp on Blood Island. It depicts a British POW on his knees, head bowed, while towering above him a Japanese guard has samurai sword held high, about to lop his head. It is a painting—the incident does not occur in the book and the film does not feature such a scene. But it is stunning, nevertheless, and, it emerged, is based on an actual photograph from WWII. Book and film are sad events. Like the cover, the idea offers much and delivers little. The war is over and every prisoner will be slaughtered if the commandant learns of the Japanese defeat and efforts are made to prevent him from finding out. It was a dull B-picture with gratuitous off-screen violence and weak acting. The book was a fair match for it.
What happened next will never be entirely clear to me for my world had become a watery blur. But what appeared to happened was that the grey fuzzy blob that constituted Mrs Thompson and her shopping jeep suddenly became two blobs going off in different directions, one creaking and one shrieking, both frantically. Intrepidly, I tried to steer a course between the two blobs but in doing so misjudged the proximity of Mr Harrison’s picket fence, and my knee struck there, immediately pitching me over the fence and into one of Mr Harrison’s prize rosebushes.
Now this is not as unfortunate as it sounds, for Mr Harrison had no less than five prize rosebushes lining the garden patch just inside his fence, although it must be stated that it was apparently the largest, rosiest and most prized of them into which, flailing madly, I plunged. Busy there being scratched almost beyond recognition, I therefore completely missed the final scene of this tragic minidrama. This concerned Mr McKenzie mounting the footpath in his new Ford in an effort to dodge Mrs Thompson’s runaway shopping jeep; and the bicycle which, having survived the collision with the fence and obviously determined to prove that it could manage perfectly well without a fool like me in supposed control, continuing along the footpath for a few more yards to meet the Ford and managing to shatter one of the headlights before the vengeful Ford squashed it flat.
The view of this incident taken by my parents was rather understandable. There was the necessary expense of one replacement Ford headlight to be made, although Mr Harrison incurred no cost for his ruined rosebush, declaring it priceless, and has never spoken to a member of my family since. Less fortunate and probably more costly in the end was Mrs Thompson who not only continued to speak to the family but did so referring at endless length to what a danger it was for a body to walk the streets these days—although both she and her shopping jeep had escaped completely unscathed. Needless to say, the replacement of one flattened bicycle was at no time contemplated, and so it happened that when the scholastic year of 1958 began, I donned the drab grey uniform and caught the rattling red bus along South Road to Moorabbin Tech, where I would spend five fairly wasted years within its cyclone wire confines.