My mother insisted we got permission before opening the fridge. She had a preternatural ability to know where I was heading. She would be upstairs, 30 metres away, and shout out, “Timothy, are you pouring orange juice from a carton?” I just didn’t understand how she knew.
Dad was known for his barbecues at weekends and bubble and squeak on Sundays. We’d all have to set the table and clear the table. We had our own seats, totally structured. When my sister Nel was born, when I was eight or something, my parents decided that I should sit at the foot of the table, with Dad at the other head with Mum to his left and my baby sister to her left. It was a compensatory status move, because my brother was good at everything.
I can tell you who ate the fastest as children, the order it went in – it was Katie, born three years after me, Dan, who predated me, then young Nel. Then me, always the slowest.
When Dad, who’s a surgeon, came home late for dinner my mother would berate him. She was an amazing woman but there’d be frequent arguments over roast lamb, including: “You care more about your patients than your family.” We’d say, “But he’s saving lives,” so she’d ask: “How can I compete with you being some kind of messiah?” Dad, being so modest, wouldn’t mention: “Today I did a 10-hour operation – I might have lost the patient, but I didn’t.” He had no ego, at home, that I could detect. He certainly doesn’t have the desperation for affirmation that his second son has on stage.
In my book for kids, I write: “When I grow up I will eat sweets on the way to work” and “I will have treats every day”. I remember in primary school the most desired thing was “crumb sausage roll on sauce”, as we called it. That’s actually a list – crumb sausage, comma, a roll, comma, and sauce, which was basically a hotdog. You could also get a High C orange juice of 200ml and a cream bun in a paper bag from the tuck shop, and my focus was very much on that.
My paternal grandfather bought 1,500 acres to build a hobby farm in what’s now wine country. There were up to 1,000 head of cattle and 2,000 sheep. He kept it going until he was 80 and it was a huge project – I was there half the time. By the age of 10, I knew how to put a rubber ring around the testicles of a splayed male lamb. We could pause here and have a whole complicated conversation about animal sentience, real philosophy. These days I’m a hypocritical philosophical vegetarian. Vegetarianism would be the right choice but I really, really love meat.
I lived at home while attending the University of Western Australia in Perth, while doing a gap year and – partly – while attending the academy of performing arts on the other side of town. There’s nowhere to go except a few thousand miles across desert. I worked in bars and restaurants. At the Blue Duck cafe in Cottesloe, where I was never a great barista but did the dishes well, I practised accents – often British – while serving customers. I’d often work 5am-9am, the early breakfast shift, and eat sourdough bread, Vegemite and butter. I ended up buying a flat 300 metres away – because it’s the most beautiful place in the world really.
I didn’t woo my wife Sarah with food at university – God no. Except at Burger King’s drive-thru. We were both pretty grotty, absolutely hopeless, feral things.
After we moved to London, I recorded a massive eight-minute punk track with a 54-piece orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall about cheese, which I love, but which the next day makes me feel bad. It’s a damaged relationship song. I also attended a dinner party and got into a row with an Australian woman who thought Perth was a shithole. But what really upset me was her talking enthusiastically about homeopathy and breast feeding – something Sarah had gotten into after swallowing all this bullshit from a homeopathist about violet ending nipple pain. I have a feeling of righteousness about how quacks give non-evidential health beliefs and exploit the sufferers. What I believe is that science, not superstition, has caused the average person to live twice as long as a century ago.
My most visceral childhood memory is getting home from hockey. Much of our family time revolved around hockey, and it rains a lot in Perth, and we’d get home tired and wet in our tracksuits, and the smell I’d hold in my nose is of mother’s vegetable soup.
When I Grow Up is out now in paperback (Scholastic, £7.99)