An EOY Wrap

Journal: 025

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, table and indoor
Christmas at Milly’s

This is one more end of year post than I ‘normally’ do, and I more or less wrapped up the end of my driving year in Season’s Greetings.  But thank you all for encouraging/putting up with my Journals. And here’s wishing you a prosperous 2019.

At the works Christmas party I spoke briefly to Dragan, but the trailers I’m planning to buy are away, Brisbane probably, so there’s no hurry on that score. I was just going to have one beer and leave, but Dragan’s mum got hold of me and made sure I sat down to salads, arancini and crumbed prawns – the others had roast lamb and pig on a spit.

My break has been busy ferrying family – Ms 15 to and from work,  children and sisters in law from the airport to Milly’s and so on, though Psyche is staying with me. I’ve already locked her out of both the toilet and the bathroom. I live on my own, I’m not used to doors being shut. We learnt in a hurry how to unsnib them from the outside! And then I locked her in the flat when I went out, rode my bike to Milly’s to retrieve the ute early Boxing Day morning, and deadlocked the screen door. Today we all went shopping forgetting she was out running and locked her out of Milly’s. She’s getting a complex.

Big family parties Tuesday AND Wednesday. Weight no longer under control.

Lou and Psyche are with us for another week then, big news!, Lou flies to Morocco, to Casablanca, for a teaching job in Rabat. I still can’t believe he cleaned his flat out in the few days between the end of the Victorian school year and flying to Perth overnight on the 23rd. Here and here are Michelle Scott Tucker’s marvellous photos from her work trip to Marrakech a couple of years ago. Lou’s initial contract is for 18 months and then I think he’s hoping to work with disadvantaged kids in East Africa. He has some paid flights home but I hope he uses at least the first summer holidays to jump over to Europe. Meanwhile I’m going to have to learn to Skype.

Up till now Lou has been my Mum’s only rello in Melbourne and being a good grandson, has trained out to lunch with her most Sundays. Now mum’s nearest family are B3 and all his lot, and our cousin Kay, in Bendigo, a couple of hours away. I’d better stick at interstate for a while longer and see if I can do more trips over there.

Having time on my hands today I copied the stats for the year’s reading onto a spreadsheet to reveal the following: –

208 books read: made up of 19 non-fiction, 43 Literature, 39 general fiction (mostly romance), 14 SF, and 93 crime/thriller/mystery; the all-important male/female writer split is nearly even, 105/103; countries of origin: Australia 43, USA 73, UK 55, Europe 26, Asia 9. That left 2 books I didn’t have a column for, sorry Canada! I tried also to analyse the year the books were written and came up with: 2010-18 114, 2000-2009 40, 1960-99 25, 1900-59 15, pre-1900 14. The median (most common) entry was Male, Crime, USA, 2010-18 which shows what the library buys, not what I’d read for choice. As I’ve said at other times I will use Project Gutenberg and if I’m really pushed, Audible to weight my reading (listening) back to classics, literature (and SF).

Finally, over the last week I published two posts on Tracker Tilmouth, the late Northern Territory Aboriginal activist. Sue and Lisa warned me you guys might be distracted! The following story highlights one of Tracker’s main complaints – that most money given to the NT for Aboriginal disadvantage ends up staying in Darwin.

The Territory has always made a convincing case for the disproportionate cash: the country’s worst life expectancy rates, poorest performing hospitals and schools, the worst health outcomes. But Indigenous groups routinely say the money rarely finds its way to the communities where it’s needed.

“We’re going to say we need [more money] because we have remote Aboriginal communities, then we’ll spend it on a water park,” [sacked NT Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken] Vowles told Guardian Australia [24 Dec. 2018]

“It’s untenable, it’s disgusting. There’s a lot of anger out there. We have ripped off countrymen in the bush for many, many years to prop up the [Darwin] northern suburbs. The money not spent on Aboriginal communities is disgusting.”

I loved Alexis Wright’s Tracker, as I’ve been banging on since I started reading it. It will be one of the great biographies, up there with David Marr’s Patrick White and Brian Matthews’ Louisa.

Today (Thursday) I think Perth’s pre-xmas heatwave reached the Eastern states. It shouldn’t last long, it’s already considerably cooler here today. Time now to stretch out on the verandah and read a book.

Recent audiobooks

Joseph Conrad (M, Eng), Heart of Darkness (1899)
Josephine Wilson (F, Aust/WA), Extinctions (2016)
Camilla Lackberg (F, Swe), The Ice Princess (2009)
Carrie Fisher (F, USA), The Princess Diarist (2016)
Vikas Swarup (M, Ind), Q&A (Slumdog Millionaire) (2005)
Lee Child (M, USA), Never Go Back (2013)
Ann Lewis Hamilton (F, USA), Expecting (2014)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Arthur Upfield, Cake in the Hat Box (1955)
Anuradha Roy, All the Lives We Never Lived (2017)

Books I gave for Xmas

Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase (1982)
Tricia Sullivan, Dreaming in Smoke (2018) SF
Morris Gleitzman, Help Around the House (2018)
Bill Condon & Dianne Bates, The Adventures of Jellybean (2018)
Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner (2017)
Ruby J Murray, The Biographer’s Lover (2018)
Iwaki Kei, Farewell, My Orange (2013)
AS Patric, The Butcherbird Stories (2018)
Kenta Shinohara, Astra Lost in Space (2016/2063) Manga

Advertisements

Draganned again

Journal: 024

greek_folk_dance004-1024x683.jpg
It’s time to imagine Dragan in a dress.

If I thought I had been Draganned last week, it only got worse! I upset a customer, Dragan got angry. I loaded my trailers on Thursday, he held me over (in Sydney) till Friday. We argued. He harangued me about how ungrateful I was. I spent all Friday stacking freight for one customer around the freight of another customer, on another driver’s trailers, and took off for Perth the minute we were finished. An hour out … it goes on and on. In the next 24 hours I was diverted around the countryside and swapped the combination I was towing twice, as other drivers had problems. And still we’re fighting.

I’ve had my truck serviced – the oil alone costs $600 – on the basis that the company will want me to do one more trip before Christmas, but that is looking increasingly problematic. Last night I picked Milly up from her Tuesday meeting and we went for a late meal at Neho, a Korean fusion restaurant in Vic Park. Very popular. Great food. And happy to squeeze us in before they closed the kitchen. Anyway, Milly: it’s time I stopped living the Legend and spent some time in Perth doing family stuff. So one way or another, no more Dragan in 2019.

down-and-out-in-paris-in-london.jpg

On the way here I listened to Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). I thought I had a copy at home and could write a proper review. As it turns out I have lots of Orwell, but not that one, not on the shelf where it should be anyway. What I do have is a biography, The Unknown Orwell (1974) by Peter Stansky & William Abrahams. They write:

It can be argued that of all the books he discovered while at Eton, the one that was most to affect him was Jack London’s The People of the Abyss. Years later it would have a direct influence upon the writing of the first book he was to publish, Down and Out in Paris and London. As an Etonian, [he] read of the ‘abyss’ and incorporated it into his fantasies and life. Written in 1903, the book was (and still is) a vivid,  powerful and appalling first-hand account of poverty in the East End of London in the summer of 1902 …

I was a big Jack London fan years ago, but that was one book I could never find. Orwell, born Eric Blair (1903-1950) was at Eton from 1917-21. From there he went directly into the Imperial Police in Burma, from which he resigned to become a writer in March, 1928. He began almost straight away to get essays accepted, including, in 1929, The Spike, an account of his experiences living as a tramp in England [And also the name of chapter in London’s book]. I say “living as” because it was clear he always had options available to him, to borrow or earn money, which real tramps didn’t, and his account was actually the conflation of a series of experiences separated in time. Interestingly, he says he never attempted to modify his Etonian accent, and in fact was sometimes offered, and accepted, better treatment on the basis of his obvious gentleman-ness. A ‘spike’ if you’re wondering was a dormitory for the homeless. Tramping was mandated by the law that specified a man (or woman) could only stay in a given spike once in any month. Amazingly, it was an imprisonable offence to enter a spike with more than a few pence in one’s pocket.

Although Paris precedes London in the book, he was actually in Paris after this, in the Latin Quarter, and became a scullion – my son says “dish pig”, a job he often turned to as he scraped through his seven year Bachelors degree – after having all his money stolen by a prostitute he brought back to his room. In the book, not to offend his mother’s sensibilities, he says it was a young Italian.

He put the two stories together and eventually found a publisher in Victor Gollancz, who also came up with the title. (I looked, unsuccessfully for a Gollancz cover, but don’t you love the one I did come up with). It was at this stage that he adopted the pen name George Orwell. Down and Out is journalism/memoir with the names changed, a form I think he used again in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), but I’m pretty sure Homage to Catalonia (1938) which I reviewed here, is straight memoir.

Orwell, like London, was confirmed in his socialism by his experience of the actual living conditions of the underclass. But he had a strong libertarian streak which made it impossible for him to be a Party member, and which enables the Right to present him, wrongly, as on their side. He doesn’t judge his fellows, neither the fact that they have fallen so low, nor their behaviour, and is scathing of government policies which forced men willing to work to spend all their time and energy tramping between spikes and cheap lodging houses. He even suggests an alternative, accommodation with land attached which the homeless could use to grow their own vegetables. As it is, their principal sustenance was cups of tea, bread and margarine. I think that what he finds saddest is the loneliness, the impossibility of these men even meeting women, let alone being in the position to marry. He is also scathing about the cleanliness – or lack of – of French hotel kitchens, so you’ve been warned!

Orwell doesn’t mention the Depression. I have a very clear conception of the Depression years (1929-39) from Australian and American literature, but not so much from British and European lit. and perhaps anyway the bulk of his experiences predate the Wall Street Crash of September 1929 from which the Great Depression is usually dated. Stansky & Abrahams say extreme poverty (in Britain) was very similar in London’s and Orwell’s works, which are a generation apart, and no doubt right up to and beyond the War (as we see in Cotter’s England for example).

Last but not least, he relates some shockingly anti-semitic stories for no discernable reason, and I think it is more than “just the times”. Orwell is a writer I admire, and I need to follow this up.

 

George Orwell (M, Eng), Down and Out in Paris and London, first pub. Gollancz, London, 1933. Blackstone Audio, read by Frederick Davidson

Peter Stansky & William Abrahams, The Unknown Orwell, Paladin, London, 1974

More Orwell: Homage to Catalonia (here). 1984 (here)

Recent audiobooks

Ken Bruen & Jason Starr (M, USA/Ire), Slide (2015)
Terry Brooks (M, USA), A Princess of Landover (2009)
Irena Gut Opdyke (F, Poland), In My Hands (1999) – Holocaust memoir
CJ Box (M, USA), The Disappeared (2018)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Alexis Wright, Tracker (2017)

 

Today it rained

Journal: 023

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, glasses and indoor
MST’s book launch. Photo by Lisa Hill

Today (Wednesday) it rained. If you’re a Sydneysider you’ll know what I mean. Though it wasn’t just Sydney, grain harvest and carting was suspended all the way across South Australia as I came over at the weekend, to Melbourne, arriving early enough to have coffee with MST and her wonderful children and then tea with Lou (teacher son) in non-rainy, post Dan-slide Victoria.

MST gave me a copy of this year’s Stella winner, Alexis Wright’s Tracker which I hadn’t intended reading, but which having started I can’t put down. A review is coming, though it may take me till the xmas hols.

I’m sure I’m not the only reader who misses Michelle’s blog since she started working at Stella. She says she has 160 books to read for next year’s prize (or some such number). Even if there’re half a dozen judges, that’s still a lot of reading. But she has undertaken to review the Billabong series, of which she has long been a fan, for AWW Gen 2 week. That’s 13-19 Jan. Michelle.

Lou had a book for me too, on an episode in Australian working class history, which has long been absent from my library, but I told him to wrap it and give it to me when he comes over for Christmas. Psyche has phoned just in the last hour to say that she has booked her flight from Darwin, Milly and I have booked time off, Gee and the grandkids won’t go on holidays till the new year, so that’s all of us, in Perth, on the actual Christmas Day, and Milly is planning a feast (my jobs are transport and grog, purchase of).

My deliveries in Melbourne were quite straightforward, though way down in Dandenong (an outer south-eastern suburb), but after that I got thoroughly Draganned. I had a pickup in the outer west, then a second in Frankston, back past Dandenong (we’re talking two 100 km round trips, in traffic), and a third in Cowra – yes that Cowra, 500 kms north in NSW. That was this morning, which means the rain had come. I’m not used to rain. And it got worse. With three quarters of a load I came on into Sydney. Unloaded it all at a depot for transport at a later date. And now I sit at the Eastern Creek truckstop. The rain still falls. I await further instructions.

Sitting around in Melbourne – there was a 24 hour break somewhere in those cross-city back and forths – I started sorting through the newspapers that populate my passenger seat. I know I said I’ve given up paper newspapers, and I have, but Milly and I bond over cryptics, so when I think of it I buy a weekend paper. The West, which has the cryptic we’re used to, or the SMH/Age which we find harder. I keep the motoring sections ‘for later’, and then there’s Owner-Driver which is free in truckstops, and in amongst all these I found the last six Australian Book Review, which subscription I will not renew but which I must have paid a couple of years ahead – and still the reviews are mostly not Australian and if they are, are mostly not fiction.

But I found a few interesting Indigenous stories. In Wright’s wonderful biography Tracker Tilmouth seems to identify various groups within his community by the matriarch, so ‘Geraldine mob’ or ‘Ursula mob’. This is not a usage I’ve run into before but it comes up again in ABR May 2018, “The Paradox of Recognition” by Richard Martin, about native title in the Ceduna area. I wrote in Crossing the Nullarbor, “… from Yalata to Ceduna, were the Wirangu whose language was subsumed by the related Kokatha, another member of the Western Desert family of languages to their north.” Ceduna’s Aunty Sue Mob are identified as Kokatha and are initially excluded from the Wirangu native title claim. The article – a review of two books – discusses how legalistic views of native title are breaking up communities.

Two other articles on Indigenous issues are Kim Mahood on archeology (April 2018). Indigenous occupation has been extended back 65,000 years and the book she reviews, Deep Time Dreaming by Billy Griffiths studies the question ‘Who owns the past?’; and Alan Atkinson on The Sydney Wars by Stephen Gapps (August 2018). “In response to invasion, various Indigenous groups on the Cumberland Plain were drawn together from time to time, apparently in innovative ways …” to fight back.

On a different subject altogether, Beejay Silcox writes ‘We are all MFAs now!’ (August 2018). Over a number of pages she argues that MFA programmes make no difference to what we read, but have merely taken the space formerly offered by cafes as forums for budding writers to meet and criticize each other’s writing. Studying in America she discovers, quelle surprise!, that American courses teach only American writing. My own opinion is that Masters degrees have taken the space formerly occupied by tech college diplomas.

 

Recent audiobooks

Mary Burton (F, USA), The Hang Man (2017) – More dead young women, their deaths described in loving detail. Do the authors get off on writing this stuff?
Blake Crouch (M, USA), Dark Matter (2016)
Andrea Camilleri (M, Ita), Angelica’s Smile (2014)
Eve Chase (F, Eng), Black Rabbit Hall (2016)
Kate Atkinson (F, Eng), When Will There be Good News (2008)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Alexis Wright, Tracker (2017)

Stuff on the Internet

The NY Times flies out to Australia, to Goroke in western Victoria to meet the next Nobel Laureate in Literature (thanks to my brother in law who sent me this) and finds him behind the bar at the local golf club (here).

 

Who Does the Dishes?

Journal: 022

katherine-mansfield.jpg
Katherine Mansfield

Following on from my last, I got out of Sydney ok on Wednesday morning and dropped my trailers at Tolls, Perth late Friday, hopefully to be unloaded overnight. I’ve been asked to turn straight around, which I’ve agreed to, Milly’s away working on site till some time next week, but as I write, on Saturday morning, I’m yet to hear from work. Still, I can take today as a 24 hour break and leave this evening.

Despite what I wrote, I did pick up Mothers of the Novel for a while. The next authors after Aphra Benn are Delarivière Manley (1663-1724) and Eliza Haywood (1693-1756). Spender is furious that Manley worked with Jonathon Swift on the Examiner and succeeded him as editor, yet Swift is a celebrated satirist and Manley a forgotten ‘gossip-monger’. Alexander Pope describes her “as one of those shameless scribblers who, in libellous memoirs and novels reveal the faults and misfortunes of both sexes, to the ruin of public fame or disturbance of private happiness.” High, if unintended,  praise! Spender writes:

The entry I would like to see for Delarivière Manley in the history of letters would be as follows: A prolific and innovative writer who helped to develop the genre of fiction by her use of the epistolary form and her introduction of political satire.

I have Haywood’s The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) which I had better not read until next year, until I have some Australian reading out of the way. So I will put off dealing with Haywood until then. But Spender, in lamenting that Manley and Haywood had family duties which made it difficult for them to earn an income from writing, includes by way of illustration this extract from a letter from Katherine Mansfield in 1913 to her lover, John Middleton Murry.

… the house seems to take up so much time if it isn’t looked after with some sort f method. I mean … when I have to clear up twice over or wash up unnecessary things I get frightfully impatient and want to be working. So often this week, I’ve heard you and Gordon talking while I washed dishes. Well, someone’s got to wash dishes and get food, otherwise – ‘There’s nothing in the house but eggs to eat”. Yes, I hate, hate, hate doing these things that you accept just as all men accept of their women. I can only play the servant with a very bad grace indeed. It’s all very well for females who have nothing else to do … and then you say I am a tyrant, and wonder because I get tired at night! The trouble with women like me is – they can’t keep their nerves out of the job in hand – and Monday after you and Gordon and Lesley have gone I walk about with a mind full of ghosts of saucepans and primus stoves and ‘Will there be enough to go round?’ …. and you calling (whatever I am doing) ‘Tig, isn’t there going to be tea? It’s five o’clock’ as though I were a dilatory housemaid.

I loathe myself today. I detest this woman who ‘superintends’ you and rushes about, slamming doors and slopping water – all untidy with her blouse out and her nails grimed. I am disgusted and repelled by the creature who shouts at you. ‘You might at least empty the pail and wash out the tea leaves!’ Yes, no wonder you ‘come over silent’.

Well that all sounds very familiar. I didn’t go down the pub, or gamble, and I cared for and cooked for the kids when Milly was at her (part-time, manual) work. But I had satisfying full-time employment and on-going education, doing degrees part-time throughout our marriage, and Milly had neither, and I made no effort to back off, or take over housework, to give her space to do either of those things. Milly is not one who “rushes about, slamming doors” but she did try to talk and I couldn’t or wouldn’t hear.

Nine am. Still haven’t heard. My washing’s done, I’d better pay some bills, I’d better go and check my PO box! There’s not much left to do except the library for more audiobooks. Food I can get at IGAs along the way, got some very sweet mandarines from a roadside stand a couple of days ago near Mildura.

Spender has made some remarks about the influence of the middle classes on eighteenth century writing, and when I have time that is what I will be following up next.

 

 

Recent audiobooks

Jeff Abbott (M, USA), Panic (2005)
Gillian Flynn (F,USA), Dark Places (2009)
Camille di Maio (F, USA), The Memory of Us (2016)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel. 

Dragan’s back

Journal: 021

Beechworth mudmap2

Last trip – I’m doing one trip a fortnight out of Perth to the east coast – Mum and my cousin Kay were in Toowoomba visiting Mum’s sister, I got two trailers to Toowoomba, unloaded, took a 24 hour break, got a room in their motel, had a pleasant time. This trip I had deliveries in Wodonga and Canberra. Great, I’d finally get to meet Sue, the famous Whispering Gums.

I let her know I was on my way (as a comment on one of her posts, I think).

Sue: Just a quick response. Meeting you somewhere for a cuppa Monday early, mid or even late afternoon should be easy …

Nothing is easy with Dragan. On Friday, I’d left Thursday, he books me to load out of Tolls, Sydney on Monday night, never mind that I’m due one 24 hour break a week. Tolls collect freight all day, we drop our trailers in the streets nearby, and during the night they tow them inside and load them. Then phone us after midnight to say they’re ready.

I update Sue.

Sue: I’m guessing the DRAGON’S (haha) change in plans for you mean we are not going to catch up this time?

I get to Wodonga midday Sunday, to the BP truckstop 15 km south. My paperwork is addressed to “name to be supplied”, 245 Beechworth Rd, Wodonga. Dana, Dragan’s sister, has sent me a text with the mud map above. I can’t read it, on my phone or on my laptop. I get Dragan to come into work. After a dozen phone calls we establish (a) he should have warned the client of my ETA on Friday; (b) it looks like the delivery address is back to front, should read Wodonga Rd, Beechworth (map). I finally get on to the client direct and he tells me to come before it gets dark and he’ll try and get a tractor with forklift attachments. Doesn’t that sound promising!

Beechworth’s not far away but it’s in the Great Divide. So, into the mountains we go, picturesque and exciting! I pull up on the edge of town and Darryl comes out in his ute to guide me. I follow him a short way, he jumps out, gesturing to a narrow gateway into a bush block on the far side of a drain. I swerve around the end of the drain, between the gateposts, drop more than a metre at 45 degrees, find a space to park between the trees (yellow and grey box he tells me). If it rains I’ll need a bulldozer to tow me out. We pull back the curtains but it’s too late to unload.

Up at 5am next (Mon) morning, get all the straps off, the gates stacked under the trailer etc. Eventually an old guy turns up with a tractor with hay bale tines. My load is fireproof sandwich panels that by the end of this week will have been assembled into a house. The old guy makes a meal of getting them off. The tractor has to drive up onto home workshop ramps to reach the highest packs, and of course he drops one that isn’t balanced properly. No harm done. Job done. I find a way to back up and turn around, make a very limited run at the jump-up out the gate, and I’m away. Hook up my front trailer again, head north up the Hume.

Me: ‘Wodonga’ turned out to be a bush block in the mountains near Beechworth, I’ve been having “interesting ” times. Still hours from Canberra, no hope of making Sydney in time to load, but that doesn’t mean Dragan won’t make me try.

Sue: That’s OK … I assume we’ll hear about Beechworth/Wodonga in a Journal post??

‘Canberra’ of course means Queanbeyan. Between Google maps, a real map and advice from the (next) client I find my way around Canberra (map) and get my delivery done. It’s now after 5.00 pm.
I text Dragan in hope, but apparently Tolls is still on. I give up on the “Alternative Heavy Vehicle Route” out for a simpler route through Canberra.
Me: On my way. Dragan still has plans. Heading out via Ipswich St, Monaro hwy.

Sue: Such a shame … Fyshwick would be very doable for me. Good luck.

Three hours later I pull up outside Tolls, Eastern Creek, drop my trailers in the street as requested, go round to the truckstop. But wait, there’s more …

Me: Dropped trailers Tolls 8.30. Went round to BP for shower and was just having a quiet browse before going to sleep when Dragan messaged to say (a) load was off till tomorrow; and (b) another driver would be doing it anyway. So all that rushing for nothing, as usual … Might be easier if your next trip, after the Mallee, is to Perth.

I see Sue has just responded to a comment, so I guess she is still up. She replies, wishing me well.


Interestingly, there is no mention of Indigenous people on the Beechworth tourism sites nor in their wikipedia entry. I have found a detailed post (here) Where were Aboriginal people during the Beechworth gold rush? (decimated by settlers as you might expect – Giving more weight to my belief that it was unforgiveable of Peter Carey to exclude local Aboriginals from his True History of the Kelly Gang). The same blog in a different post (here) names the locals as the Yeddonba. The map I used for Joseph Hawson’s Journal gave the language name Waveroo to this area, more research needed!

 

Recent audiobooks

Edna O’Brien (F, Ire), The Country Girls (1960)
Margaret Atwood (F,Can), Alias Grace (1996)
Linwood Barclay (M, USA), A Noise Downstairs (2018)
Leena Lehtolainen (F, Fin), Before I Go (2000)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel. No I’m not but I have it with me, and half a dozen others, notably Eleanor Dark’s Waterway .

Stuff on the Internet

Mrs B’s Book Reviews has reviewed Seven Little Australians (here). A reminder, to me as well as you, that my AWW Gen2 week (13-19 Jan, 2019) is fast approaching.

And the latest issue of Australian Literary Studies (here):

“Helena Kadmos’ essay, ‘Re-Imagining Indigenous Australia through the Short Story:  Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven’, presents a welcome discussion of van Neerven’s acclaimed collection.

Jonathan Dunk examines the use of the short story form by Henry Lawson and John Kinsella.

In addition, reviews of the edited collection Teaching Australian and New Zealand Literature (by Dougal McNeill) and David Game’s D. H. Lawrence’s Australia (by Barbara Holloway – no relation).

 

Childhood

Journal: 020

 

William Inverloch 1955

Coming out of Caiguna on the way home, listening to G&S’s The Gondoliers (Youtube), the USB stick I dug up to save Project Gutenberg audiobooks on turning out to contain my long lost ‘classical’ music selections, I started planning a post on childhood memories. A few rousing songs in – I’d listened all the way through earlier, and was this time just seeking a musical interlude between books, not that I couldn’t listen to endless G&S, Pinafore is my favourite, though The Mikado is probably their best – I started my next book, coincidentally The Night Child (2018) by Anna Quinn, a story of one woman’s repressed memories and her consequent PTSD, which has had the effect of colouring how this post is written. An hour and a half later I came to a bend and realised I’d travelled the length of the Ninety Mile Straight without noticing. You may conclude I’m not an attentive driver, it took me ages when I first started crossing the Nullarbor to even work out where the Straight was.

I had an idyllic childhood. I often said so once, but not so much as I got older. Perhaps now I’ve written My Father was Busy and I’m still Angry I might feel easier about saying so again. I grew up in country towns all round Victoria, a life of sunshine and freedom: visiting my grandfather’s, my uncles’, my friends’ farms; exploring the countryside on my bike; school, at which I excelled and which I always enjoyed; camping, in the Mallee, in the Grampians, down the beach at Yambuk or in the bush at Mt Eccles, with scouts and youth groups; swimming, playing football, tennis, cricket, hockey; going to country dances, “50:50s”, from the time I started high school, back when all ages danced to the same music.

Writers write about childhood because they can? Who knows. But we read writers writing about their childhoods because we love their writing, because we want to know their childhood influences. I don’t think childhoods are intrinsically interesting, well, except for my own and my children’s. Out on the Nullarbor I could only think of two, Miles Franklin’s Childhood at Brindabella, and Sartre’s Words. I will review the Franklin one day when I’ve run out of other stuff but it’s a terrible book. I pulled down Sartre when I got home, it’s years since I read it, the front cover proclaims “I loathe my childhood and all that remains of it.” Of course I soon thought of others, Gerald Murnane’s fictionalised in Landscape with Landscape, Ann Frank, The Children’s House of Belsen, Norman Lindsay’s Redheap trilogy, The Getting of Wisdom, there must be hundreds of others, The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony, MF’s two Career books and Cockatoos.  Fellow blogger Nathan Hobby’s The Furan SF bildungsroman which I imagine draws heavily on his boyhood in WA’s southwest. Funnily enough Alien Son, the earlier parts anyway, is the one that feels closest to home.

Wm, Underbool 1952

My earliest memory is of crawling up the stairs into the rear of the one room school building where my father was teaching, at Underbool in 1953 probably, or maybe Bonnie Doon in ’54. Our house was in the school grounds and the little girls would play mothers and fathers with me as baby. I can remember in the ordinary, patchy way most of my life from about 1955 on. The rooming house above the fish and chip shop we lived in in Inverloch when dad got Leongatha but no house; the subsequent 3 BR housing commission weatherboard, one of five in a row down a dead-end gravel street, facing out onto paddocks of cows and blackberries; hiding in an abandoned car with the girl next door (one year older!) and taking down our pants for mutual inspections; a party for my sixth birthday – I said to Gee yesterday that it was the only party of my childhood, my next was a joint 20th with my housemate, Russell, and the next after that was my fortieth, and she said that we had only given her one too, her eleventh, though I reminded her that Milly and I had gone out for her fifteenth, which she wasn’t game to for our granddaughter’s fifteenth last month, and come home late to a garden full of bottles – at which I got a cowboy belt and holster and a new 24″ bike, blue, which mum pushed round and round the clothesline, giving all us boys a ride, and it occurs to me only now that she was then, aged 24, 20 odd weeks pregnant with B4; the next two years I would ride everywhere through Leongatha and then, when we moved to Murrayville in the Mallee at the beginning of grade four, for miles out into the bush or along the highway.

Television came that year, which for nearly all my growing up I would see, especially the commercial stations, I Love Lucy, The Man from UNCLE, Laugh-In, only at the homes of other children.

For the move from Leongatha to Murrayville, dad and I left mum and the boys at grandma’s and came back to supervise the movers. Dad’s grade six, the big kids!, had performed Pinafore at speech night and as we set off back to Sea Lake, 300 miles, in the FJ, dad sang the whole thing from beginning to end.

35390279

Milly and I had superficially similar childhoods, hers in working class Hammy Hill, mine in the Bush, those seemingly innocent, long passed 1950s and early 60s, a contradictory mix of books and all day out of doors, but problems at home truncated her schooling, left her with stuff she talked about quite freely in those first weeks I first came west and stayed with her and Xenia, (and Psyche, and Rivervale girls constantly in and out) but didn’t start dealing with really until everything else fell on her, me leaving, Psyche leaving, Psyche getting us all into family therapy.

She says she chose me for my ‘stability’, an illusion I fostered through equal measures of ignorance and confidence. An ignorance compounded by my all-boy childhood in no way alleviated by adolescent fumblings, and an almost total lack of empathy. I think I was 40 before I even began to understand that listening involves a lot more than just listening.

The thirty something woman protagonist of The Night Child has some pretty vicious childhood stuff to deal with when it all starts coming back, and if her acceptance of her repressed memories, her ‘voluntary’ hospitalisation, and the subsequent resolution through therapy, all feel a bit pat, then others, and women in particular, may feel differently, I’m not in any position to judge. Either way, it’s a well written and dramatic story. And set in Seattle which seems to this outsider to invoke more genuine affection in its residents than any other US town.

The Man Who Loved Children with it’s controlling father I should also have remembered. Christina Stead, somewhere, told an interviewer that every word of it was from life, from her own childhood in Watsons Bay, Sydney.

 

Recent audiobooks

Anna Quinn (F, USA), The Night Child (2018) Read by Cassandra Campbell
Jane Austen (F,Eng), Pride & Prejudice (1811) Audiogo, Read by Lindsay Duncan
George Orwell (M, Eng), 1984 (1949) Blackstone, read by Simon Prebble
Ruth Rendell (F, Eng), The Babes in the Wood (2004)
Heather Graham (F, USA), A Dangerous Game (2017)
Ian Rankin (M, Sco), Mortal Causes (1994)
Gaston Leroux (M, Fra), The Phantom of the Opera (1910)
Herman Koch (M, Neth), Summer House with Swimming Pool (2011)
Wendy Wax (F, USA), The Accidental Best Seller (2009)
John Le Carre (M,Eng), The Spy who came in from the Cold (1963)
Ann Patchett (F, USA), Commonwealth (2016)
Emile Zola (M, Fra), Thérèse Raquin (1867) – a seven hour sermon on the sin of Adultery contained within the metaphor of Murder. Lisa at ANZLL gives it a more favourable review here.

Currently reading

Toni Morrison, Beloved
Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel

More Mistakes

Journal: 019

images.jpg

Not a mistake at all. I said I almost never saw wombats these days, so it’s inevitable that from then on I would. At dusk last week between Morgan and Burra, mallee country, there were wombats all along the verge. One started crossing the road, saw (or heard) me coming, and broke into an impressive gallop. I should get dash-cam and take my own photos like the above.


I wrote I’m Making a Mistake at least partly to see how long it would take me to rectify it. The answer, so far, is a while. I thought I might have a job lined up which would keep me closer to home but it fell through, and anyway, while Dragan’s away Sam and I seem to be getting used to each other. There’s regulatory stuff I have to do too. Meanwhile, Milly seems mellow. I took her out to dinner for her birthday and gave her The History of Bees, Maja Lunde and Mary Leunig’s brand new, One Good Turn. We all used to love Mary Leunig and the kids would pore endlessly over her drawings.


Last trip I made a mistake of a different kind, or more correctly I guess, a wrong turn. Following the multiple secondary roads which are the official cross country route (in South Australia) for trucks from NSW heading to the West, I got from Renmark to Burra ok, but then, in the dark with oncoming traffic, turned left 100 m before the correct turnoff to Spalding, Warnertown, Port Pirie and thence via Highway One to Port Augusta. I quickly realised my mistake but, unable to turn around, pressed on. The road turned to gravel, kilometres passed, tens of kilometres, I pressed on. I was forced into a left turn when I needed a right, I pressed on. Finally, I came to a bitumen cross road with a sign pointing right to Clare. I was way, way south of where I hoped to be.

I hadn’t been through Clare for 40 years, there were hills with 35 kph hairpin bends I’d forgotten, then just as the road levelled out:  “Bridgeworks”, “Road Closed”, “Detour”. I turned on to a track through the trees, under a railway bridge with 8 inches (0.2m) to spare and came out at a T-junction onto the main street. No signs. It was after 9.00 pm local time, the town centre was deserted. I stopped where I was in the road and went for a walk. A lone truck came along. The driver said turn right, go over the hill and turn left to Lochiel (which is on Highway One but a long way south of Port Pirie). I took his advice, I was sure there were shorter routes but it was late, drove an endless straight road to Lochiel, turned onto the highway, went to bed. I was hours and 100 km out of my way (map).


I’m not sure if it’s a mistake or just old age, but I’m 20 kg overweight. Since starting this job in April I’ve gone over 100 kg. I feel (and look) like a blob. Yes I’ve stopped swimming, but even in full training four or five years ago, 20 km/week, the best I could hope for was the high 90s. I’m a vego. I live on fruit, vegies and nuts. It’s not fair. And then there’s this article in the Age about the Zoo no longer giving fruit to animals because it’s making them obese. I eat 5 pieces of fruit/day, more if stone fruit or grapes are in season. I’m back on the 5:2 diet. ‘Starvation’ days are porridge, one apple, one orange. It’s already killing me.

When I met Milly I was a rake, and I don’t mean the Georgette Heyer kind. I was 10 stone, driving all night on diet pills; half a briquette, 2 shakers and a bottle of coke every two hours. Eyes like saucers. Hair buzzing. A year into marriage and that little belly started coming. And kept coming. I stood it till 40, then mid-life crisis, vego, competitive swimmer. For a while most of my less than 90 kg was muscle. Now it’s just a foundation for all that extra flab. Hang ageing gracefully, I want to be that 40 something guy again. I want to pull chicks. What is it again I should do with them?


I’m not going to a review any of the books I’ve read recently. Lincoln in the Bardo was try-hard (read Lisa/ANZLL’s post (here) on David Malouf’s comments about “clever” fiction). The 7th Function of Language (Lisa again) was fun, with a Lit. professor hero, and lots of lectures about literature, but in the end was just ordinary crime fiction. The Natashas (2016) by Yelena Moskovich was interesting, worth reading, I wonder if I bought it because one of you recommended it. The other day, waiting for the car to be serviced, I picked up Beloved for $2.00 from an op shop and I’m loving it.

Recent audiobooks

EM Forster (M, Eng), Howards End (1910) – Project Gutenberg
Terry Pratchett (M,Eng) , Strata (1981)
Ian Rankin (M, Scot), Blood Hunt (1995)
Matthew Quick (M, USA), Love May Fail (2015)

Currently reading

Toni Morrison, Beloved
Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel


If you look on the Menu bar you’ll see I’ve started a Journal page to make it easier for new readers to find earlier posts. (Which begs the question, what brings in new readers? In my case it seems to be mostly posts about early Australian and English Lit.)