I read ‘Pobby & Dingan’ years ago, when it first came out but last night I pulled it off the shelf and when I opened the book I was immediately back in Lightning Ridge with Ashmol Williamson and his little sister Kellyanne and her two best friends, the imaginary Pobby and Dingan.
Ben Rice, the author, is an Englishman but maybe it’s his outside perspective that helps make the landscape and the people of Lightning Ridge so real. ‘Pobby & Dingan’ is a slender little book – more a long-short story than a novel, barely meaty enough to be called a novella, but I liked the way it sits neatly between adult or child readers. It probably got pitched into the adult market because there’s a bit of swearing, though it always mystifies me that adults think kids don’t swear, or at least they shouldn’t read books with swear words in them. Mysterious. Not that Kellyanne, Ashmol, Pobby or Dingan doing any swearing in the book. Only the adults are foul mouthed. Pobby & Dingan have almost nothing to say for themselves, which is part of their charm.
I love the idea of imaginary friends, those spirit companions that little children can see so vividly. My daughter, Ruby, had two best friends called Boo-boo and Widdo. Whenever anything naughty went down – the biscuit jar raided, all the shampoo tipped onto the bathroom floor to create a slippery slide, the picture books hacked to pieces with a pair of scissors to make paper dolls; it was always Boo-boo’s fault. And poor old Widdo was always the one we had to be considerate of. She was a fragile creature who often had a headache and couldn’t get to sleep so Ruby had to stay up late to keep her company. I was almost sorry when Boo-boo and Widdo left our house. Maybe they wandered north and caught up with Pobby and Dingan. Maybe there’s a whole community of imaginary friends out there in the deserts or the opal fields. I never get tired of reading about those invisible souls.