Tuesday, April 1, 2014

'BENEATH THE BLUE AND WHITE WE STAND...'



 
                

WHAT attracts us to sport? That is, sporting matches, sporting players, sporting codes, sporting culture and sporting traditions. For some, the whole thing is absolutely abhorrent, and they associate it with ‘low brow’ or ‘bogan’ culture, a kind of antithesis of anything that is useful, or intellectual, or pragmatic or worthy. There are plenty of people I look up to and admire for their intellectual prowess who would not dare let an evening’s football or rugby match take them away from a game of chess or backgammon, or a night out at the cinema, or a walk in the park with the kids, or a chance to finish a bottle of red, as well as the latest novel they have just purchased. Think Phillip Adams for example.

Then, on the other side of the coin, there are others who are universally respected for their manners and good taste who absolutely love going to a sporting venue like the MCG or the tennis centre, and get anxious and highly involved both before and after the game.

So in a way I guess sport is a bit like religion, as the Australian poet Bruce Dawe once said. You are more likely to have a passion, or interest for it, if it is part of your DNA- if you grew up with it, if you were exposed to it, if influential people around you when you were young encouraged it.

My own interest in sport stems mostly from growing up with football and cricket. If Australia is involved in a test cricket series, particularly against England, I find myself getting emotionally involved, with a voracious appetite for keeping up with the score and watching or listening to the progress of the game when it is available.

More important to me, however, is football. I started going to see North Melbourne at their Arden Street headquarters when I was five, or even younger. I am the youngest born. I had no choice. The rest of the family were going, so I had to be bundled along. It wasn’t long before I was hooked. How could I not be? My brothers and sister all had their favourite players. I developed mine too. My earliest memory of a favourite player was when Wayne Schimmelbusch was at his peak. I even met him, and presented him with a Ballarat Sovereign Hill ‘Wanted’ poster.
                           

I go past the ground sometimes. The club hasn’t played there for decades, though they still train there. The place is much altered. However, with a slice of nostalgia and imagination, I can picture all of us, my cousins included, standing in the outer nearer to the smaller, manual scoreboard end, barracking with our hearts and lungs for North Melbourne, and just as vociferously, against the opposition. I remember games from decades ago when we were the poorest team in the competition, perpetual winners of the shameful ‘wooden spoon.’ Collingwood, with its spearhead, Peter McKenna, would give us the biggest thrashing. And then, all of a sudden, we had a new coach in Ron Barassi, and we were flying. Malcolm Blight was the new hero, and he could kick goals equally well with either foot, and was a magnificent mark. We had a great team, mostly borrowed from other teams. The mid seventies were the halcyon days, as they were for Hawthorn as well, and the two clubs had a fierce rivalry, playing off in Grand Finals is ’75, ’76 and ’78. In between times, in ’77, North Melbourne beat Collingwood in the replay of the famous drawn grand final, and suddenly we disappeared again off the radar, fielding good teams and good players, but no match for the power of teams like the newly resurgent Essendon Football Club.
                           

My family travelled to away games as well, even venturing down to Geelong when we had to, and for a number of years winning more often than not, with lethal attacks featuring players that are household names in the club’s history, like Doug Wade, the aforementioned Malcolm Blight, Arnold Briedis and Phil Baker. There was nothing like finals football, and I have lost count how many finals- including preliminary finals, and semi-finals and qualifying finals- we took part in during those wonderful years between 1974 and 1979.

As I said, things became quieter, especially in terms of grand finals, after this period. By 1993 we were near the top of the ladder again, and thankfully a new, and in some ways more devastating  era of success began again. Amazingly it was still only two premierships (in the seventies we won in ’75 and ’77). In the nineties it was ’96 and ’99. However, we were able to reach the preliminary final of every year from ’94 until ’99 which was no small feat. During this era, I remember players such as Glen Archer, Wayne Schwass, Corey McKernan and John Longmire, Mark Roberts and Craig Sholl. There was one player who stood head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, however, and that was the captain, Wayne Carey. It might be reasonably said that without Carey during this era we may not have made any grand finals. He was the pinnacle, even, in my eyes, exceeding the skill of Malcolm Blight, and was the best footballer I have ever seen.
 

I enjoyed this period of success just as much as the one two decades before, and again you don’t ever really believe it is going to end. During both dominant periods, the successful times just seem to go on forever and you become sort of blasé about it. It is finals appearance after finals appearance, and as well as the great joy of winning, in ’96 and ’99, there is the heartache of losses late during finals campaigns in ’94, ’95, ’97 and ’98. This last one, 1998, still sends a shiver down my spine. We were the best team that year, and we allowed ourselves to be beaten by Adelaide. We kicked ourselves out of the match, holding only a precarious three goal lead at half time despite having all the play. I remember there were a horrendous amount of points in that half, all gettable goals. The lead should have been unreachable. The players were even clapped off the ground by the trainers at half time!

Since that period of the late ‘90’s… well, let’s just say we haven’t achieved any further ultimate glory, but for most of that period the supporters have had something to cheer about. The finals appearances have well and truly dried up, though. I miss those times. The tickets themselves had colourful little stubs you tore off to give to the man at the gate. You could keep the rest- which I did. We no longer play there, as I said earlier, but it is the memory of the days at Arden Street that are the fondest. I was too blind to see the main scoreboard, so I used to gaze at the man on the roof of the secondary scoreboard, manually altering the figures after each score. There was a short walk to the food area to buy a pie or a hot dog. The little building across the other side of the ground was white with the words ‘Stoke Motors’ emblazoned on it. I’m pretty sure it’s still there. The huge gasometre is gone, though. We rarely sat in the stand- we could only afford general admission tickets, Sometimes we went into the rooms after the game. There was a male-only ‘family day’ one year in between seasons whose details I better not go into here. This was a period of drifting for the club before Denis Pagan came along with his hard-line but effective approach to football coaching.
            

So here’s to the memory of seeing the players relax and have a drink and a cigarette after the game like you could back then. Here’s to the days of going onto the ground at the end of the match and marvelling at the boot stud holes in the ground, and standing where Malcolm Blight took another fantastic grab. And here’s to the days when every game was played at the same time on the Saturday afternoon, and each team had a letter of the alphabet, and Carlton might be ‘C’, and Fitzroy ‘D’, and you could look at the scoreboard and see that it was late in the last quarter and ‘C’ was on 96 points and ‘D’ was on 63. And here’s to the long days when, as a family, you would travel to Geelong or Waverley Park, that huge, vacuous ground, and you could talk about the game afterwards, or even better listen to a summary of the North game on a station like 3KZ. And here’s to seeing North Melbourne at Arden Street, parking the car a few blocks away, walking through the autumn leaves, wearing a football jumper and feeling either hopeful  or despairing, or cocky and confident, depending on the decade it was and the fortunes of the club. And afterwards we would all go back to Nana’s house on Glenlyon Road, Brunswick, and she would be excited to see us as she was undoubtedly a bit lonely, and the TV show ‘The Winners’ was on in the lounge, and the dog, Jessie, was going crazy outside, and Mark and I would be tearing around and jumping off the balcony out the front onto the grass, and Carol would probably be playing with Wayne, and Gordon with Craig, and sometimes if I recall correctly we would ride on the old, dilapidated wooden scooter up and down the drive, and eventually dinner would be ready. If it wasn’t fish’n’chips it would be a roast, not as good as mother’s, but still tasty after a day of eating junk and yelling ‘come on North!’ until you were beginning to go hoarse. And then evening would come on, and father would insist on placing bets at the TAB on the way home (trots they were, at night back then), and we would patiently wait in the car, sometimes going mad. At the end of the night my head would hit the pillow and I would reflect on the magical day’s events, thinking about every player in order from jumper number 1 until jumper number forty something. At school that week there would be something to talk about, and it felt good to me somehow to be different because no one else ever barracked for North.

Arden Street, North Melbourne, 2014. A shadow of its former self, but still a place of fascination and joy, as you drive past sometimes, no longer a kid, but with kids of your own, and you try to snatch some of the magic, with the window down, and with your hands clenched, pulling, pulling snatches of the magic into the car, but the snatches missing the mark, and the kids with total disinterest, creating their own unique memories of other things in the back seat of your car.
 
 

 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

SCHOOL, 2052






‘WHEN I was a young boy

Back in Orangefield

Used to look out my classroom and dream

Then go home and listen to Ray sing

“I Believe To My Soul”, after school.’

                                      Van Morrison, 1986

                                          
 

Grandpa went to school back in 1986. He told me he used to do the same thing as Van Morrison. I’ve been asked to compare school now with what it was like back then. Here are my findings. It can be summed up in two neat sentences. No wonder grandpa, and Van Morrison, used to look out their window and dream. School must have been that dull.

My interviews and research both tell me that school students early this century, and, incredibly, for the whole century before that, used to have lots of different teachers verbally giving instructions the whole time, and students were supposed to take it all in and listen and act upon their teachers’ instructions, every lesson. At least, it seems, this was the case for senior school. In junior school it was limited to two or three teachers, but the same thing effectively- that is, human instructions all the time, the whole class at the same level more or less, bells ringing like church and telling people when to come and go, handing in sheets of paper and getting them back with written comments in red pen!

Now grandpa, mercifully, things are no longer like that! Surely it occurred to people back then that education cost so much unnecessary money. Teachers were paid reasonable wages, and there were thousands of them here in Victoria. Yes, we save a lot of money these days, no longer being so inefficient and paying these superfluous wages. The money saved goes on ever expanding digital tools to make this generation the brightest Australia has ever produced.

 So here goes grandpa- I bet your day was never like this. My alarm’s whirring sound informs me it is half past ten. I pack my software, noodles and fruit bars in my knapsack and I am out the door by eleven o’clock. The underground train stops at ‘Education Station’ and the whole crew of midday starters (there are about 30,000 of us in the northern region) pedal with one of the awaiting bikes to our respective building. The glass elevator takes me to level 63 in a matter of seconds. We all walk through the silver doors and find the nearest terminal. I have just made it. The screen on the glass panel clicks over to midday, June 17, 2052.
             

Next to the panel is an array of different coloured tutorial sticks. Being Saturday, the last school day of the week, today’s tutorial sticks are yellow. ‘Language 5’ glows in its plastic holder. This is the one I remove and I plug it into my computer and place my headphones on. I settle in the comfortable chair and devour today’s lesson which is all about Indonesian transitive verbs-‘ Saya suka menonton televisi.’  Reaching the target set for me by one o’clock, I browse the news for ten minutes before I resume. The tabloid site is by far the most fun. ‘Another plane load of asylum seekers intercepted at Nokia Airport.’

A second stick is fitted and this time the hour long tutorial is a multiple choice test on Shakespeare’s King Lear, the text I have chosen this semester to study. I love multiple choice tests. A correct answer provides you with soothing electrical currents that glide over your whole body. A wrong answer results in an uncomfortable tingling and burning sensation that runs all over your arms and your thighs. This is what’s great about these tests. Rarely do you get the answer wrong, as you are so keen to experience the warm, soothing sensation. Question 46 is: ‘Lear’s daughter, Cordelia, is banished by Lear because a) she is jealous of the other sisters, b) she has always been the ungrateful and unruly daughter, c) she is tricked into being unco-operative by Regan who manipulates her, or d) she is unwilling to go along with the false charade her sisters seem to be engaged in.’ I press ‘d’ on my screen, and sit back in the chair awaiting the sensuous soothing that is coming my way.

Modern day learning is such a powerful thing. We learn at our own pace. We embrace the fun tutorials that we are presented with. We don’t have other people around us to distract us, who are often either ahead of us in terms of learning, or are behind, potentially slowing us down. We don’t have clumsy and faltering adults standing in front of us spoon feeding our lazy minds. There are no adults to be seen, anywhere. We are all adult, anyway, in our own individual circumstances. I have no doubt we are the generation of thinkers. We are the brightest students this country’s ever created.
 
I eat and drink at my terminal. My mind does not wander, uselessly, into mindless chat with other students about what happened last night, or who is in the tabloids. That kind of gossip and frivolity was for grandpa’s generation. At this point he would be gazing out of the window and dreaming. Our generation doesn’t dream. We stay focused. When we finish at school most of us will find employment in technology or elsewhere overseas.

My afternoon continues, with tutorials about ancient Greece, twenty first century science, and Klimt and the Vienna Secession. It isn’t always multiple choice of course. A learned professor informs me about the wonders of ancient mythology. I am presented with lovely, extreme digital close-ups of Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze. I listen, and take notes, and ask the professor questions when it seems fit. He answers promptly, and engagingly, from somewhere in the cyber world. Of course he isn’t live. These days all questions are predictive. He is able to correspond with thousands of students across the planet at the same time. It becomes a fun game to try and stump him.
                       

After I have exhausted my fifth yellow tutorial stick, I decide enough is enough for one day. Another day in which I have learnt an incredible amount. It is six o’clock in the evening and my trip home awaits. Before I leave the building, however, and descend the 63 levels, there is one more pleasure that awaits. The same thing all six days of the week in the name of education. There is a real time teacher on a large screen near the lifts who wishes you goodnight. He or she always has a smile and they invariably have such an amusing face. Although brief, it is a lovely bit of interaction, and deep down you know that the teacher knows that you have worked hard today, and that you know so much more now than you did before you went to school this morning. I really like that time of day, as it is slowly getting dark outside. The exit tonight has a lovely purple and silver light splashed over the lift area.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Mavis Clarke: a monologue on asylum seekers

 
 

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.
 
                
                                                                      REZA BERATI

Saturday, January 25, 2014

ON 'AUSTRALIA DAY' 2014



 'AUSTRALIA DAY' - JAN 26



  

E L DOCTOROW: FICTION AND NON-FICTION IN 'HOMER AND LANGLEY'



                                            

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

SWELTERING HOME



JAN 17
    

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

SWIMMING IN PAIN



JAN 16

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.