A hot afternoon close to Christmas. I was in the car heading north on the Sydney Road hill in heavy traffic, so I wasn’t so much driving as sitting behind the wheel and punching the radio to try to make it play something good. It wouldn’t, so I turned it off instead. The boys were in the back seat finishing off their most recent riot. We were behind a tram and it was inching forward and we were inching forward with it, along with about a million other cars whose drivers were probably all punching their radios. Or texting.
The tram lurched forward with an electric whine and we made a whole hundred metres before it braked at Bell Street and I stopped behind it again. Passengers hunched over with shopping bags got down from the tram and laboured across the road to the footpath. Then the tram clanged and rocked across Bell Street through the red, and we stayed right there. The boys, suddenly silent, gazed out the window. I looked at them in the rear vision mirror and followed their gaze to the north east corner of the intersection. There's a churchyard there, and they were staring at the nativity scene that the church sets up every year. The nativity characters are painted timber cut-outs and are bolted onto a plinth set into a stable background nearly as big as a bus stop. Mary and Joseph and the baby and the shepherds and the Magi and even the animals look as if they are waiting for the next bus to Heidelberg.
Thomas was pointing now to one of the shepherds, a tall fierce-looking character with a black beard instead of the usual brown and holding a crook. Thomas turned to William.
"Look! It’s Dr Müller!*" he almost shouted. "And he’s got a rifle!”
Then the lights changed again. We crossed Bell Street and the boys craned their necks and we left the infiltrated nativity scene behind.
2010 was the year of Tintin. The boys have made their way through the entire series, ‘reading’ them painstakingly. The fact that they cannot yet assimilate text is testament to the brilliance of Hergé’s drawings and visual story-telling ability.
*Press image 6 to see a shepherd-like Dr Müller.