Hannah Gadsby: How Siften Soften Became Friendly with the Dragon
Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to the podcast of Queerstories – an LGBTQI storytelling night hosted at Giant Dwarf in Redfern. This week on Queerstories – my girlfriend Hannah Gadsby. Oh sorry, sorry I misread that – it says famous comedian with whom I have no personal connection – Hannah Gadsby. That joke felt like a funny thing to write at home before I remembered she’d actually be here to hear it. Look, she’s a fucking national treasure and I am stoked she could fit us in – Hannah Gadsby.
Hi, calm down. Calm down. Thank you very much for having me Maeve, when you mentioned I was your girlfriend for a moment I thought ‘fuck I’m vague’. Currently I am on tour with a comedy show, that’s just from beginning to end – woe. Full of woe. So tonight I thought I’m going to tell a not sad story. Fuck that took some digging.
I had to go back till I was five, I know its queer stories but I believe you know you’re not normal early on. It’s not about sexuality, it’s about ‘aw’ by the time I was born my family had already established itself. Hamish had been the youngest child, but once I arrived he and I just joined forces and became known as the little kids. Our older siblings – Justin, Jessica and Benjamin were known as the big kids. Although given the fact we were all born within nine years of each other, no body is big.
The two years between Hamish and I were the bane of my existence for most of my childhood. As a grown up, this kind of age gap means absolutely nothing but back then it was literally a lifetime. I was too young to even understand that there was a difference, and in many ways we were treated pretty much the same. I was a larger than average girl and he was a smaller than average boy, we had the same mouse brown hair and we were often mistaken as twins. For many years I thought we were twins, I just believed Hamish was superior because I had been born with some sort of brain damage. Not only could he walk before me, but he understood long division years before I knew that the times tables wasn’t a fancy piece of furniture.
I wanted everything Hamish had, I wanted his confidence, I wanted his skills and I wanted his ease in the world. But most of all I coveted his toilet dwelling imaginary friend Siften Soften. Recently, I was reunited with a book I’d written about Siften Soften when I was in grade three. I’d called it, ‘How Siften Soften Became Friendly with the Dragon Part One’. What an idiot. Why would you put a spoiler in the title? Why would you bother reading a book when you already know no matter how dramatic the narrative twists might be, Siften Soften and the dragon will eventually end up on pretty good terms. Surely I’d read some fairytales and noticed that they weren’t called things like ‘How the huntsman chopped a wolf in the guts to save little red riding hood Part One’.
I’m stumped by the part one factor too, clearly I had an epic in mind with that title. I never got round to writing the second instalment. But one might assume I left the reader with a cliffhanger to whet their appetite for part two? Nope. At the end of part one Siften Soften and his new dragon pal wave us a happy goodbye from the pleasant shores of Holiday Island.
No wonder I never got around to writing part two I was clearly out of ideas. I couldn’t even think of a name for an island beyond the singular activity I had invented the island for. Perhaps you might be tempted to read the book to find out who this Siften Soften character is but I wouldn’t bother, because I really didn’t make that clear. Judging from my accompanying drawings Siften Soften began as a little red goat, but by the end of the story he had shape shifted into an orange squiggle because I was bored of drawing. And had also presumably lost the red pencil.
My drawings are not to be trusted, Siften Soften was neither a red goat nor squiggle. According to Hamish, Siften Soften was a tiny Carlton Football player who lived in the toilet with his friend Kinuwin. When this little book returned to me not so long ago, I was surprised by how familiar it was. I had barely given it a thought for decades yet when I held it I was inundated with a cluster of memories I didn’t even know I had. I’m not talking about repressed memories – they didn’t return with a shocking jolt. They just quietly worked their way to the front of my thought queue as if they’d never left. I remembered being really jealous of Hamish’s imaginary friends. I used to try so hard to get them to be my friends, I’d get so sad when they wouldn’t even talk to me. I did not know they were imaginary. I just thought Hamish had cool friends who refused to talk to me. Just like at school.
After it was explained to me that these friends were imagined I asked Hamish if I was allowed to imagine them too. He said no. But when he saw how upset I was he relented, and said that I could have Kinuwin. I didn’t want Kinuwin, I only wanted Siften Soften who I imagined was a small red goat I thought I could sometimes hear clip clopping on the S bend. I hated Kinuwin so much I couldn’t even begin to imagine her a bodily form. I rejected his offer and decided to just imagine my own friends and make Hamish jealous, and then he would want to swap.
And so, for a few months I could be seen galloping around on my horse Sergeant whilst chatting to my good friend Mr.Dog. Mr.Dog was a dog I had obviously named in the tradition of Holiday Island. I failed at making Hamish jealous of my imaginary friends and rightly so, I did not even like them. I felt like such an idiot for inventing such large friends, they didn’t fit into the bathroom and I still didn’t have anyone to talk to on the toilet. I couldn’t sustain my friends for very long, so I thought I’d try my luck with Hamish again but he told me that he didn’t really see them anymore. I don’t doubt that it was the sight of his little sister galloping around the house like a dickhead that prompted him to phase out his own imaginary friends. When I asked if he knew where they were he told me that they were in heaven helping god.
Throughout my childhood and well into my adulthood I worshipped Hamish, sometimes it felt, and painfully so, that he deliberately abused the power he had over me. But when I remember episodes like this I now know that this simply cant be true of a small boy who not only assumed that god would need the help of tiny Carlton football players, but also felt such levels of loneliness he invented friends he could talk to and poo on.
He clearly had his own issues. I am now going to read the story for you “How Siften Soften…” you already know what’s going to happen don’t get too excited. In it, you’ll see there are some queer clues. It’s a blueprint for my personality actually.
One day Mrs Soften had an egg, ‘not again’ said Mr Soften. I was a mistake. The next day the egg hatched, still a mystery to me how the egg…but the next day the egg hatched and out popped their new baby. They couldn’t decide what to name their new baby, ‘what about Kinuwin’ said Mr Soften. ‘No, that’s a stupid name’ said Mrs Soften. Finally they agreed that Siften was a good name. That night while everyone was sleeping Siften woke up and drank all the lemonade and ate all the jelly. In the morning Mr Soften woke up and saw that all the jelly and lemonade had gone missing. ‘Ah well’, we’ll just have to have pizza and cake for breakfast’. This is living. The Softens decided to move to a bigger house, they looked all over the land and there was only one pretty one with a garden and house. It was a cave. Clearly I’d had enough of optimism, like nah shit’s gotta go down here. They went and explored the back of the cave, it was full of snakes, they caught the Softens and took them outside and stopped at the guillotine. They tied Mr Soften up and cut off his head.
When I wrote this the teacher was very impressed and I got a sticker from the Vice Principal. It was a little pink panther holding a pen that was writing ‘well done’. Why wasn’t I given counselling?
All the years passed until Siften was big and strong. One day the snakes were going to hang mother, Siften broke through the bars to stop the snakes that were going to hang her, but it was too late. Classic orphan yarn. Siften ran away as fast as he could. Siften found a ship on the shore and got on, but the ship was cut in half by sharks. He held on to the side of the boat and kicked until all the sharks were dead and the sea was mostly blood.
He was near China, so he swam to shore. The Chinaman pulled him out, and they invited Siften to each with them. ‘You will fight the Champion tomorrow’, they said. Siften was very scared but the food was delicious. The next day Siften has to fight the big champion of China ‘The Barn Shed’. I remember the teacher made me change that, I had him as the ‘Brick Shithouse’ both not very Chinese. The bell rang, ‘start’ shouted the starter. Big Barnshed ran towards Siften who kicked him in the mouth, blood came out and he fell down dead.
Siften was very tired after his fight… I just read ahead fuck. Siften was very tired after his fight and fell into a deep sleep after a meal of honey chicken and prawn crackers. He dreamt about being a dog again. Again! There was a crash bang splat and there was a monster sitting on a brick of the China wall. He took Siften to a strange land it was full of creatures just like Siften, family, there was Uncle Joe, Cousin Andrew and Grandma. Grandma said ‘we are going on a holiday to Hokey Pokey, Andrew get some clothes for Siften’. Meaning up until then, apparently I got half way through and thought ‘fuck he’s not wearing anything, I better write that in, I better draw attention to that’. Andrew got Siften some clothes but they were too small, the only thing that fitted Siften was a dress. Siften felt very uncomfortable in the dress.
The next day on their way to Hokey Pokey Siften was run over by a bus. Uncle Joe called an ambulance. The ambulance man said ‘can you hop on both legs’?, it’s called a jump mate but anyway. Siften tried but it really hurt. ‘You’ve definitely broken your leg’ said the ambulance man. He rubbed on some Vix vapour rub, and put a plaster on Siftens leg. ‘There you go, you can go on your holiday now’.
When they got to Hokey Pokey they found a Dragon. The dragon ate Grandma, Joe and Andrew, he looked at Siften. ‘Hi’ said Siften. ‘Hi’ said the Dragon. They shook hands. The Dragon got a magic kettle, and said ‘take Siften and I to where nobody lives’. Siften and the Dragon landed on an island named Holiday Island and there was lots and lots of food. The end. Thank you very much.