Saturday, February 22, 2014
YOU know what? I am sick of hearing this nonsense that goes on all the time in the Australian media about asylum seekers. It’s been going on for years. I know that people say, ‘oh, just tune out, and ignore it’ but it’s not always possible. I like to read the papers. The Herald Sun’s ok, it just puts stuff in when something big happens, like when that boat crashed onto the rocks near Christmas Island years ago. But The Age really gets my blood boiling. Why do I buy The Age then? Well I don’t, my husband Laurie buys it. I do the crossword and there it is on page one sometimes, or on page three, the big headlines, ‘Manus Island Crisis’, and ‘Morrison Changes His Tune’, and crap like that. You know, I wouldn’t tell this to everybody, but I was secretly glad that boat crashed into those rocks years ago. I thought ‘serve you lot bloody right for trying to push your way to the front of the queue.’
How did I get to first come to Australia? Well I came by boat, didn’t I? Was that the answer you were expecting? I was a ten pound Pom. But people like you don’t get the difference. I was invited. And I was invited for a reason. Australia needed us. The average Aussie wasn’t having enough kids. It’s as simple as that. And we had the right character. The difference between my situation, and the situation of these interlopers from places like Afghanistan and Indonesia and Africa and what not, is that we had a lot to offer. We spoke English, we were skilled, we looked like your average Aussie, we were Christian’s for God’s sake and we had a lot to offer the community and didn’t fight with other people and looked and felt the same.
What do you mean ‘why is looking the same important?’ How comfortable do you feel, if you want to be totally honest with yourself, with those women in Broadmeadows who wear those spooky clothes and cover their faces and hair and eyes? That’s not the Australian way. I remember all of us Poms arriving on a hot day back in 1956. That was the year Melbourne got the Olympics, when people with names like mine, and ‘Cuthbert’ and ‘’Norman’ were running around, and there were hot days when we pulled our arm sleeves up and worked bloody hard, and had Christmas trees in our living rooms, and had a drink at the pub until six o’clock close, and had a blue heeler for a dog, and went to our Catholic or Protestant churches, and there were lazy BBQ’s under our Hill’s Hoist and the bloody flag meant something, and blonde haired kids played with sandcastles at Portsea and Cronulla, and the kids’ hair whitened and you could see each other’s blue eyes and everyone said ‘strewth’ when the storm clouds came up over the bay and we danced to Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers in our church halls, and every young girl I know had a picture of Errol Flynn or Alan Ladd on their mirror at home…
My parents, Alan and Diane Lane, came to visit us in our Glenroy home in 1962. They couldn’t believe how big our back yard was, and how quiet the streets were, and they loved the English names like ‘Essex Street’ and ‘Sussex Street’ in the next suburb. They realised we had bought a little patch of paradise. Yes, ‘paradise’, I’m not exaggerating. My parents are dead now, but my God, if you could see the looks on their faces if they could come and visit me and Laurie now. We have these little woggy kids next door who go to some fancy temple on weekends, and there’s Paki’s across the road who are the rudest people you would ever meet…yes, rude. I call it rude when you still speak your own language even though you’ve been here for five years, and then there’s a funny looking Chinese or Japanese lass a few doors down, with white boyfriend and all (you’ve gotta laugh), with all these cats and a mangy looking brother who drives up in his old bomb of a car with Buddha hanging from the rear view mirror… if I had my way I’d put ‘em all on Manus Island where they can get their hands burnt.
Yes I am making reference to that story in The Age about those illegals who allegedly had burnt hands because the RAN did it to them, you know, oh we are so cruel aren’t we? Now who would you believe, the Royal Australia Navy or these suspicious looking illegal arrivals who try and sneak in and expect to be given Royal status on the Australian mainland? Gee, news sure does travel fast. My sister in Bristol, back in England, tells me that on Channel 4 last night there was some special about the so-called ‘hardline policies’ of the Abbot Government. Well let me tell you, life on Manus Island could be a lot worse, you know. If these people really did have such shocking lives under their corrupt governments, why should they be complaining now that they are given food three times a day, a comfortable bed to sleep on, as much freedom to walk around with their boat friends as they like, and if the stories you hear are true, access to books and education and children’s games on top of all this, and no bombs or guns or hand grenades in sight.
What’s that you say? Manus Island is a dangerous place? It’s no island paradise? Don’t tell me that these people haven’t brought it upon themselves. There is such a thing, believe it or not, as an orderly process where genuine asylum seekers, and I stress genuine asylum seekers, can be patient and one day go to a place like Australia if they must, and wait until their pathetic excuse of a country sorts themselves out, and go back again later on and run around with their ridiculous clothing, and chant their songs, and go to their temples and pray to their Buddha or Allah and practise their Muslim religion and eat their third world food. We can’t take them all, we take thousands already, and if we’re not careful little ghettoes like they have in parts of England will spring up and we’ll have chemical warfare in the streets.
John Howard was called a racist years ago when he said ‘we will decide who comes into this country.’ I still watch that speech on you tube sometimes. What gets my goat is that there are bleeding heart do gooders from places like Carlton and Fitzroy who think there’s something wrong with that! What, are we supposed to just open up our borders? Let all these black African’s in, who come from a country where killing someone is like buying bread? Oh, great, I really think Glenroy needs more black kids in gangs marauding around Safeway and the local library. Before you know it, they will start up another branch of the so-called ‘Asylum Centre Resource Centre’ in the northern suburbs as well. My friends Gail and I ripped a sticker from off the library window: ‘Glenroy welcomes Asylum Seekers.’ Well I’ve got news for you, matey, whatever Sudanese or Afghani or Iraqi stuck that there, it’s not true. There is such a thing as a silent majority, and one day the silent majority won’t be so silent, and if Scott Morrison closes Manus Island down, or that stupid bitch from the Greens- whose name I can’t remember- is on TV too many more times, and if Bill Shorten becomes weak like I suspect will happen, well I can tell you there will be a lot more people like Reza Berati being flown back home, coffin and all. Enough’s enough I say, and people will wake up but sometimes it takes a very long time. That little kid the other day, killed by his own dad, now that’s the real tragedy, that’s the stuff that tears at your heart strings, and that’s who we should be all talking about. Well I’m glad to see you agree with me on that one, at least. Don’t worry, I’ll turn you away from your lefty do gooder bleeding heart attitude one day. You’re not some little naïve university kid just out of mummy’s arms now, you know.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
WHEN you’re not feeling quite right, a lot of what excited you before loses some of its lustre. Just like the speaker in Sylvia Plath’s ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’, much of what I’ve read or watched or listened to these last days has not set my world on fire. I found the Henry Miller novel Tropic of Cancer titillating, and in various places beautifully written, but I forgot about it after an hour or two. I had trouble finishing Cheever’s Falconer novel, even though I’d been wanting to read it for years. It seemed repetitive, somehow, and a bit like the latter day Cuckoo’s Nest, but not as compelling. Then there’s been the problem with films. The sequel to The Year My Voice Broke- Flirting- seemed to meander and seem totally implausible, the way Noah Taylor kept rowing across the lake to the lovely girl of his dreams. And the new, much heralded Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, was captivating to a degree, but also seem to meander, and in the end, whilst I found the idea of making a film for a change about someone who doesn’t quite make it (like the man in Joni Mitchell’s song, ‘For Free’), totally refreshing, instead of yet another biography of someone who has made it, like Johnny Cash, and no doubt, Mick Jagger, someday, I didn’t really like the main character, or anyone else for that matter, even Carey Mulligan who I usually like a lot, except when she’s trying to be Daisy.
So it was no real surprise that I only moderately enjoyed E L Doctorow’s 2009 novel ‘Homer and Langley’ which I have read these past two days. As I said I think it’s partly because I feel a bit off, so the colours of literature and music and art are a bit dimmed, and the food doesn’t taste as good, and I have no thirst for alcohol or any of the other well- known pleasures that a healthy body craves.
I have a lovely bookcase filled with hard back books, mostly of Lawrence. Sometimes I imagine in a bourgeoisie sense what it would be like if I could choose, with money not being an impediment like someone like Tom Cruise or George Clooney, if I could choose the hundred or so books that could fill this bookcase of mine. A couple of books I would leave exactly where they are. But for the most part how glorious to choose first editions of your favourite books of all times. Amidst The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and Women in Love, and As I Lay Dying and Tender is the Night, I would have E L Doctorow’s Ragtime, such a beautiful book, and it has been so long since I read something that moved me as much as this.
Homer and Langley is no Ragtime, but it is still a pleasure to read an E L Doctorow novel at any rate. He probably knows he hasn’t reached that Ragtime standard again. I think he wrote it back in 1975. Homer and Langley has echoes of Ragtime and is still, regardless, a fairly captivating story. Here, once again, he blends real life world events into his narrative. The brothers Homer (of course, blind!), sensitive and intelligent, and Langley, made cynical and world weary after the physical and emotional damage of the first world war, live in their New York brownstone, mostly indoors, whilst the world and all its history revolves about them, both in the house and outside. They survive all the big wars, the era of the gangster, the hippie movement, the encroaching world of high tech communications. Homer mostly plays the piano and slowly becomes deaf, like Beethoven, and Langley is proudly unorthodox and opens the big house they inherited from wealthy parents to the outside world in the form of parties, hippies, feral cats. The gangsters move in, uninvited, and there is a series of cleaners and cooks and other helpers, including a terrorised Japanese couple, who they form great attachments with.
It is Homer that narrates the story of the revolving outside world, and its impact on the brothers’ lives, and the way the brothers become a source of fascination to the people of the neighbourhood for all the wrong reasons, mostly because of their eccentricity and unorthodox ways. Langley looks after his handicapped brother and is wonderfully resolute against all outside authorities who don’t agree with their way of life, including the police, fire brigade, various utilities, neighbours, even mischievous children. Doctorow spends an inordinate amount of time detailing the pig sty that the interior of the house becomes as Homer and Langley become more and more dysfunctional in the living of their daily lives (tragically, in the end), and the clutter of the house, mostly in the form of an obsessive compulsion of Langley’s to bring in whatever he finds from the outside world (especially newspapers that when on top of each other almost touch the ceiling), and most amusingly, the deconstructed body of a Ford paraded forlornly as a generator in the lounge room.
I was struck by the power of Doctorow’s writing in a few passages. Here, he describes Langley’s experience in the first world war of the infestation of rats: ‘Once, with an officer in his wood coffin and the lid not fast, they nosed it back and in a minute the coffin was filled with a hump of squealing rats squirming and wriggling and fighting, a wormy mass of brown and black rat slime turning red with blood. The officers shot into the mass with their pistols with the rats pouring over the sides and then someone leapt forward and slammed the coffin lid back down and they nailed it shut with the officer and the dead and dying rats together.’
I can imagine it may be a bit of a challenge, to write a book in which the narrator of the story is blind. I don’t even know if there is a precedence for this. So how do you get to describe the details of the action for the reader? This is also a novel that is very visual. There is always a lot going on in Homer and Langley’s household. Well, sometimes Doctorow cheats. We get detail that can only really be provided by an all-seeing narrator in the style of someone like Nick Carraway, very aware of what is going on around him, open to the subtleties of living and of life. Other times we are told, by Homer, that he knows certain things, visually, because Langley later told him, or his hearing is so acute for much of the story that he can piece bits together and tell a lot from what is happening through his ears.
Because he is blind, Homer has a very tactile way of describing things- things like food take on newer and more interesting dimensions than they would for others. And much later in the novel there is a scene, a bit like a scene from Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, where the hippie inhabitants of Homer and Langley’s brownstone form a human train at Homer’s urging as they navigate the hazardous journey inside the mansion filled by this stage with a labyrinth of newspapers and odd assortments of junk. They all start doing this ‘hip-shifting-one-two-three followed by the leg-out BAM!’ which creates further chaos, and suddenly all the hippies are heading for the exit outside the front door (who wouldn’t, in a madhouse like this), and Doctorow describes their sudden emergence onto the street like the opening of a cage and the flight of birds. Homer must feel a sense of relief as his working senses are opened and he inhales the ‘earthy fragrances of (Central) Park’, and can taste the ‘metallic taste of moonlight’ and can hear the ‘diminishing’ laughter of the hippies through the trees.
There aren’t many good times left for Homer and Langley as people become curious about them, the services are shut off, neighbours complain, Langley becomes more paranoid and rails against the outside world, and their habits become more and more eccentric. In the end their lifestyle becomes unsustainable and they bring about their own undoing.
Of course, a lot of this is absolutely real. The Collyer brothers did live like this in a brownstone in New York. The actual story is fascinating, and it came to an end in 1947 when their bodies were discovered. The outside world finally managed, with a lot of difficulty, to gain access, and what a sight it must have been. Thousands of books, the car, musical instruments, boxes, a mass of furniture and a telling stench of a decomposed body wafting through the house. It is fascinating story of hoarding that must have been perfect for Doctorow. First of all, it occurred in his beloved New York, and secondly. It gave him great scope for creativity. Doctorow could do his old trick of writing about real people’s lives, and imagining interior and exterior worlds for them in order to bring them to life. This is not biography, it is more creative imagining.
I found myself wondering a lot about Homer and Langley at the end, and how they must have looked like, with their long, matted hair and unruly appearances, and how they must have suffered in their reclusiveness, and how steadfast Langley must have been in keeping the outside world away as much as he was able. And how Doctorow shows the outside world to be turning all the time. And why he chose Homer to be his narrator, when all seeing and all-knowing Langley would have been the easier choice.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
WE came home a different way, and it felt like it made a bit of a difference. Virtually the Hume Highway all the way this time, instead of crossing the Snowy Mountains. The weather, this time, was the dominant factor. Melbourne had had a terrible period of 40 + degrees, and we were heading towards the final day of it. It was also hot in NSW. So a hot, hot car full of hot, hot people, much hotter than New York on the day of Tom Buchanan and Gatsby’s showdown. We looked out for spot fires on the sides of the road for the final hour or so. The radio informed us that there were bushfires not far to the west of us, towards Lancefield. We were. Fortunately, a day early. At the same time, the next day, much of the Hume Highway on the outskirts of Melbourne was closed because of fiery paddocks.
The other role the weather played was not long after our arrival, home. I went to Brunswick to get something to eat and the sky was nasty, aggressive, spitting. It rained huge, heavy drops, and the thunder roared. Like Gil, in the lamentable Midnight in Paris, I felt the urge to walk slowly along Sydney Road, in the rain. It was lovely.
Predictably, the one thing I enjoyed the most about the return journey home, besides the cold drink in Albury, and the rest at the Tucker Box in Gundagai, was a final tour of Braidwood in the morning. I filmed sections of the main street this time, instead of taking photos, and behind a wooden door, just down from Freya’s parents’ café, is a little lane that Danny wanders down a couple of times in the film. It leads to Freya’s house, and was an additional serendipitous discovery. We also visited the town 30 kilometres away that features the old train station, where Danny says goodbye to Freya for the final time. It is in a little town called Bungendore. The train station fits the period and mood of the film beautifully.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
A terrible evening of trying to sleep with a lower back feeling like it is on fire. The pain shifted during the night from the middle of the lower back, to my left hip region. Causes- probably these hopeless beds, a long run on hard sand in bare feet, being thrown around in the surf, and that marathon 12 or 13 hours of driving in the car. Oh, and of course pre-existing back complaints.
Speaking of surf, Malua Bay today. We have been concentrating on these beaches south of Bateman’s Bay. The northern ones don’t seem to be as interesting- Long Beach, Moloney Beach, unless you’re prepared to travel a fair distance to somewhere like Jervis Bay. Malua Bay was very windy. However, I quite liked it. Smaller and less pretentious than Broulee. A rocky outcrop on the right. The water as clear as ever and those lovely complications in the water- the dips and breaks of the rolling waves.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
About a kilometre and a half away is an Indian restaurant called Kholi’s. If you are ever out this way I would recommend it. Good service, no glitz, well presented food. Opposite is the Soldier’s Club which we couldn’t resist. It is everything that is tacky, but also in a contrasting way, fabulous as well.
A typical NSW club that people from Victoria travelled to in droves years ago before poker machines were introduced everywhere. You show your driver’s licence at the reception. The kids go off to a child minding room where they can play with toys and other kids, supervised. What a racket for some parents! Then you go upstairs to be hit by the razzle dazzle of millions of colourful and noisy gambling machines, tables everywhere filled with people in smart sandals and shorts, eating roasts and steaks and salads, and a long window opening up to the incredible vista of the sparkling bay across the road. J and I put a dollar coin into a machine for the hell of it and immediately five one dollar coins bounced back at us. So there you go, the ultimate paradox. Huge NSW clubs that are disgusting and compelling at the same time.
Outcome: stomach full of Indian food, pockets jingling and back killing me.
The ‘city centre’ of Bateman’s Bay is one of your regular coastal shopping areas. Seafood places, and malls, and Coffee Club shops and newsagents and post office, and arcades full of beauty treatment places, a Rivers shop, Smiggles, chemists galore and lots of hotel places situated right on top of the bay for a pretty penny. It was depressingly hot walking in, but coming back there was a really nice bay breeze. The tops of the masts of the boats marooned on the water bobbled around a bit. I read The Sydney Morning Herald and it was just like reading The Age. The Sydney stories didn’t interest me much.
I am reading some Henry Miller for the first time. His first novel, Tropic of Cancer. It’s overly long and rambling and I can’t be too bothered with some of it, and parts of it are a bit like if D H Lawrence had’ve lived another ten years or so, except in most places it isn’t very lyrical. A lot of sex which gets tiring after a while, but some really beautiful and well written passages too. In case you don’t know it, it is all about his madman experiences of being young in the 30’s in Paris, very Holden Caulfield-like, but with lots of stream of consciousness added, a cross therefore between Salinger and Joyce is how I would put it (perhaps with a pinch of Dickens thrown in).
“ The windows of my hotel are festering and there is a thick, acrid stench as of chemicals burning. Looking into the Seine I see mud and desolation, street lamps drowning, men and women choking to death, the bridges covered with houses, slaughterhouses of love. A man is standing against the wall with an accordion strapped to his belly; his hands are cut off at the wrists, but the accordion writhes between his stumps like a sack of snakes. The universe has dwindled; it is only a block long and there are no stars, no trees, no rivers. The people who live here are dead; they make chairs which other people sit on in their dreams. In the middle of the street is a wheel and in the hub of the wheel a gallows is fixed. People already are trying frantically to mount the gallows, but the wheel is turning too fast…”