Electric Fence

CowEyeI love electric fences. I love how portable and practical they are. I love how you can turn an acre of bare pasture into a veritable Gulag for bovines in about ten and a half minutes. And how many hours of the ABC have been listened to on shed radios with the reassuring tic-tic-tic of the electric fence in the background? More than all that, I love how cantankerous they can be.

I got my first serious kick from an electric fence when I was seven years old. We’d parked our bikes on the side of the road. The only thing between us and the dam that was seething with tadpoles was a flimsy-looking fence. Three measly strands of plain wire.

Fifteen thousand volts later, after I’d stopped screaming and my joints had begun to retract to their original position, my very knowledgeable companion pointed out the insulator and said that I’d been electrocuted. Instant hero status.

Later, after we had enough space to warrant a unit of our own, we started getting cocky. We matured from testing the fence with a blade of grass between us and the voltage to grabbing it with our hands like dad did, but only while we were wearing gumboots. The gumboots stop you from getting thrown on your back, but you still get a bit of a kick. The wetter you and the ground are, the better conductor you become.

I guess it’s just a logical extension to take your charged finger and zap one of the friends that are standing near by. The lighter you touch, the bigger the zap. If they grab you and make good contact, the next person they touch gets an even bigger shock. I think our longest chain was seven friends and family members one Christmas day. Used every spare pair of gumboots in the road. Aunty Jess declined to be involved on account of her pacemaker. Sensible move.

And I guess it’s just a logical extension for a thrill-seeking group of adolescent boys, full of dares, bravado and testosterone, to want to pee on the thing. Strangely enough, no one got a shock that way. It wasn’t until my brother set up a strobe light in the outside toilet —in a fit of artistic genius at one of our shed parties—that I worked out why. I can tell you for a fact that you’d have to be homicidally close to get a shock. A stream very quickly becomes a train of disconnected droplets under the flashing strobe. The circuit and the myth were broken.