Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Space Age Wife Swappers

Ah, fun in the sun! The typical European holiday, right? One guy, two girls, and an endless beach.

I bet these folks were on school holidays, just like me, right?

That's when I picked up this mag up for the first time. It only cost me a buck and five cents

Was there some mistake? I didn't wait around to find out.

In 1970's Australia, you got two weeks of school holidays in May, two weeks in September, and six weeks around Christmas.

What you chose to do with that time was up to you and your parents -- it was MOSTLY up to your parents, actually, and you had very little say, but you wouldn't admit that. When you're eleven years of age, you have zero freedom and little credibility as a reliable human.

Which was why getting your mother to agree to let you take a train to the city took big balls (even if you're female) and big lies.

On the first Monday of my May holiday, I convinced my mother to let me travel to the city, which was thirteen train stations away, so I could look at "school books" and visit an art gallery. I did neither.

Instead, I visited a place of absolute wonder called The Space Age Bookshop. This all-genre palace of literary delights sat at the top of Swanton Street, Melbourne, between Lonsdale and Li'l Lonsdale Streets. It had a narrow front, but the interior had TARDIS-like proportions. It seemed to go on and on forever, even up some wooden stairs where outrageously priced issues of Castle of Frankenstein, Spacemen, Sci Fi Monthly, and Famous Monsters were displayed like museum exhibits.

I also became aware that there was an after hours Science Fiction Club that met at the store; I was never invited to join it, and I was firmly rebuffed when I asked about its existence. I guess it was a members-only deal. I was only a member of one club at the time -- The Bata Scout Club; you got to become a member of that when your mother bought you a pair of Bata Scout school shoes. The shoes had something that most shoes didn't -- a compass in the heal. The trouble was, the compass was on the inside of the shoe, so you had to take the shoe off if you wanted to find your home home.

I digress.

Visiting Space Age was the best thing a kid could do, especially an ugly kid with an eye patch and horrendously oversized glasses.

Suddenly, I was surrounded by images of my kind, and up against rows of BEMS (Buy-Eyed Monsters), Michael Whelan aliens and bestiaries, Basil Gogos magazine covers, and books of frame-captured images from classics such as Frankenstein, Freaks, and Fred March's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I was The Great Gatsby. Thankfully, they had no books about him.

But being in Space Age was liberating because it was everything I loved and everything my parents despised.

There were even customers my parents' age in there, and that's the part that seemed weird to me. How could that be? Were there adults out there who thought differently to my parents? I guess so. Forry Ackerman was one, although he was more like a grandfather. I'm sure HE never told anybody that they'd seen enough monsters. I bet HE didn't put the brakes on kids staying up late to watch The Slime People on Deadly Earnest. Like me, monsters were his life; they weren't something HE was going to "grow out of".

"grow out of..."

I'd be overhearing that phrase a bit lately. Whenever my parents discussed my "hobby" with relatives, the phrase "grow out of" would get tossed around. What did my love of monsters have to do with growing out of anything? My love just was. It wasn't like one of my one-kiss girlfriends who came and went with the regularity of the North wind. This was was a love like no other; a love that would never leave me.

My jaunts to Space Age were self-financed. I've always been big on entrepreneurial activities, and my childhood was where the bug began. The motivator was the hefty price tags on monster magazines and books. To a guy who earned fifty cents a week in pocket money, $5.00 for a back issue of an old Famous Monsters was the equivalent of two-and-a-half months' salary to Donald Trump.

I mowed lawns, clipped hedges and removed garbage for fat old ladies, but my biggest earner was collecting empty beer bottles with my brother. We'd ask neighbors for their empties and fill our wheelbarrow with them. We'd stack them along the side of the house until we could stack no more.

With school holidays imminent, we'd spend Saturdays and Sundays collecting. It wasn't apparent to us then, but in retrospect, those neighborhoods were filled with serious alcoholics. By jove (which was an old expression of my grandfather's), we had some regulars who kindly provided dozens of bottles to us every week. Yes, EVERY WEEK. Occasionally, we'd hit alcoholic paydirt -- a customer with so many bottles, we'd have to make a dozen trips to collect the all.

When we had close to two hundred dozens bottles, we'd call Carlton and United Breweries, the makers of Fosters, and book a time for them to pick up our bottles.

I think we got about eighteen cents per dozen, which, based on two hundred dozen, put $36 in our pockets. Split that, and we had $18 each.

That gave me $18 to spend at Space Age.

If you weren't buying too many mint condition issues of classic monster mags, that money went a long way.

$1.05 for a mag called Continental (previously Continental Films) was legal thievery.

Shit, this thing had pictures of nude women, and people having sex on cars (before David Cronenberg even thought of it!)

And how about this Agent 69 Jansen lady? Compared to her, the girls in my class were so boring. She wasn't even wearing any underwear, yet still she could hold a gun and spy.

I now had my own picture of her and I still had change!

Continental was a curious mag. I think it had an identity crisis.

You had naked folks romping on the front cover and a plethora of great photographic essays on (now obscure) sex films on the inside, but Olivia Newton John and Travolta were on the contents page, and Force 10 From Navarone was on the back cover. What was that about?

I rode the train home with several new Dr. Who paperbacks...

... an edition of the brilliant The Monster Times, a great horror newspaper...

...and my mint condition issue of Continental.

I felt quite continental myself reading the mag in front of adults who gave me disapproving glances.

I stood by the door, front cover visible, leafing slowly through the pages, my public protest against adult conservatism the first of many.

When I arrived home after a one hour train journey and a one mile walk, I quickly rushed my purchases to a safe place in my bedroom and appeared magically in the kitchen two minutes later. My mother, who immediately handed me a bowl of peas to shell, asked me how my trip to the city went.

"Alright," was my usual answer.

This was then proceeded by her (usual) follow-up: "You didn't spend any money, did you?"

To which I supplied: "No, nothing to buy."

After dinner, I disappeared to my bedroom, which I shared with my brother, to read the things that I didn't buy.

One particular film title had my head spinning:

When my mother came into the bedroom a couple of hours later to issue her "Lights out!" order, I looked up and said: "Mum, what are wife swappers?"

I remember her looking totally uncomfortable.


"What are wife swappers?"

"Who wants to know that?"

"A kid at school wants to know."

My mother looked at me suspiciously.

"What kid?"

"Just a kid."

She wasn't buying it.

"It's not you who wants to know, is it?"

"Can I know, too?"

There was a long, awkward pause.

"It's just people being stupid," she explained. "Bad people."

"But why are they swapping wives?"

"Because they shouldn't have gotten married in the first place!"

At that she stormed off and the lights went out.


Emanuelle and the Wife Swappers is a '73,
non-Laura Gemser film originally titled Liebesmarkt.


  1. Love the anecdote and and this has also given me inspiration to track down films from Hubert Frank.

  2. I think his 'Melody in Love' & 'Story of the Dolls' are well worth seeing.'Island of A Thousand Delights' is very sleazy.

    Thanks, Nigel.

  3. Brilliant stuff.

    My mother was quite the opposite to yours, she even took me to see Friday the 13th The Final Chapter when I was 15. When the drive-in ticket seller was sceptical that I was 18, my mum angrily snapped, "Of course he's 18, I should know, I'm his mother!"

    Good times.

  4. Was your mother a horror fan, Steven, or was she just kindly indulging your interest?

    I like the angry snapping of your mother at the ticket seller.

    When my mother took my brother to see 'Motel Hell' at the drive-in, under extreme sufferance, she was asked if he was 18.

    She responded: "Nearly."

    That didn't do much for the cause.

  5. I had never seen a Friday at the movies (only on VHS) and I remember convincing her it was an important historical moment, because it was THE FINAL CHAPTER. It was my moon landing, my Kennedy assassination and when I saw Jason slide down on the machete, I did feel that way!

    She's warmed to more and more of my horror picks over the years and we often bond over the latest gory dvd. She really liked Hostel 1 & 2 and Switchblade Romance (AKA Haute Tension).

  6. Bonding with your mum over 'Hostel' and 'Haute Tension'... I like that.

    The moon landing is a good metaphor.

  7. Your mother sounds like a hero.


  8. Christ; where does one find a mother like that? My mother still chastises me about my 'gore' collection- and I am in my 40's- and yet has the cheek to devour CSI and some of that pretty grisly cop stuff on TV now.

    I think the true enemy is not WMD's or terrorists or phones or the like, but the one cover-all...hypocrisy. If I hear too much more about 'what is wrong with kids when they go to school and start shooting' given that Obama is now sending another couple of battalions over to that poor wretched Afghanistan (and please don't tell me any shit about keeping the peace) then I might well implode.

    Nice story from 'Steven'- Funnily enough, I am not a huge Fri 13th fan, but I did watch an old version of part 3 last night, and did enjoy it. Especially like the 3D gimmicks, the hilarious 'boy walking on his hands'- what a come-uppance! And old Jase pulling himself up the rope. Those films have an appeal that can very seldom be replicated today. Best to just appreciate them, and move on.

    And Phantom, I had forgotten 'Space Age' until you mentioned it. Gr8 place. I think when it packed in, 'Minotaur' took over. Last week in a local thrift shop, I picked up a VHS copy for $1 of 'Incredibly Strange Creatures who dropped acid and became mixed up zombies' or whatever it's called (RIP 'Cash Flagg') and inside was a Visa receipt for the tape from 'Space Age' to the tune of $65 Australian! It's amazing to look back and think of what we paid for such stuff way back when- I remember paying $40 apiece for 'I Hate Your Guts' and 'Plan 9' on VHS from Minotaur! I think carefully about paying for any DVD around the $40 mark!

    I never got into laser disc- I went straight to DVD, thank the stars- but I have heard it said it was not uncommon for fans to drop a few hundred on a laser version of 'Hard Boiled', or some early Cronenberg. The fact that those 'artefacts' are now rotting like the head of old Ma Vorhees, or the corpse of old mother Bates, must be a source of some chargin to those who indulged at that time. But then, if you love it, and that's what was there, and you enjoyed it, and we all might die tonight...what's the harm?

    I remember Bata as well, Phantom. As you probably know, Bata was a czeck shoe maker. My lady was telling me about him- Mr. 'Bat-ya' (phonetic) who was one of the last breed of businessmen of integrity. Look him up if interested in the opposite of selfish or exploitative- he is an excellent example. Apparently he took pride in offering quality shoes at affordable prices, built accomodation near the factories for his employess, paid them well and laid on birthday parties and Xmas functions, low interest loans, etc...a true inspiration. He's dead now, as is, I suspect, most of what he stood for; but the compass in the shoes and the shoes themselves brought back nice memories, of a time- and a state of humanity- all but gone.

    BTW, liked the Dr. Who cover of my favourite doctor. Wonder what he thinks of the untidy end his son came to in 'Doomsday'?

    I still have a few Terry Nation penned ones lying around.

    Can I salute one Alan Dean Foster, one of the few decent writers able to raise an art form Woody Allen dubbed 'truly moronic' to a level of respectability- the movie tie-in book? I'm sure you know a few, Phantom, but he was always the best for me as a young fellow.

    "Keep on truckin', R..."

  9. Wow, that picture of 'Agent 69 Jenson' would be worth the 18$ alone.

    I love the stories you tell of your mother. I cringe every time your young self asks such incredible questions like "what's a wife swapper?"

  10. Those questions are still very clear in my mind, Shon, because the looks I got were so damning.


    Mandingo, that's amazing info about Bata, and it is incredible the prices we once paid for VHS tapes.

    As for laser discs, my brother and I paid $250 each for cut discs of 'Hard-Boiled'.

    I then paid $100 for the Pioneer LD, which had no subs, but a beautiful picture.

    Yes, Minoatur did pick up Space Age's slack.


    I agree with you, Soiled. Steven's mum is a hero(oine)