The Journey to Silvers
Day dawns bright and clear. Car packed and ready. Sat nav set to Siverstone.
Paul and mumbles set off. Mumbles a bit weary and drifts off into a dreamy vision of their destination. Sort of gospel according to Saint Paul.
Images jostle for position …A bucolic scene of soft greens, a few tents under the spreading chestnut trees, Miss Marple chatting to Dixon of Dock Green outside Mrs Miggins tea rooms. A leafy Twitten winds around past the vicarage and leads to a wonderful vantage point affording a splendid view of the racetrack. Birdsong abounds. Sheep safely grazing.
Somewhere north of the M40/A279/ B something , Mumbles wakes up and glances out the window. ‘HOLY ****!!! Were their refugee camps in England? The sight that met his gaze would rival anything in Lebanon or Syria. Tents as far as the eye could see.
‘Glad we got here early’, said Paul, ‘the real influx will be tomorrow. ‘I think I can see a space a kilometre or so on the right.’ Mumbles blinking with incomprehension.
It started to rain. Mumbles needed a jab. Paul brisk, efficient.
‘Right, let’s get these tents up’, he commanded. In so doing, he produced his tent which was a combined ranch- style/ Winnebago hybrid. It was graced with Greek columns (Doric capitals) and Baroque acanthus leaves. Ample furnishings were installed inside.
Mumbles accommodation was the bog standard bottom end of the Halfords Glastonbury range. There was not a flicker of interest from a passing rabbit. In went the air bed and other sad, soggy possessions. Paul struggled with the standard lamp and the cinema sized TV. Rain hosed down.
‘What about the facilities’? Asked Mumbles. Paul rummaged in his wardrobe and produced a set of Jack Hawkins binoculars.
‘You will just be able to see them if you use these’, he said. Mumbles started to panic. ‘What happens if you have rebellious Indian curry for supper which has a 5 hour fuse?’
Paul’s answer was drowned in a ear spitting thunderclap. Torrential rain.
Episode 4 : evening meal and so to bed……
Good old mojo mumbles has left London Bridge and after a couple of belts of Jack Daniels sets off for Padders. Echoes of distant applause rings in his ears.
Tube train glides into Padders and keeps gliding. Helpful announcement says Padders is closed on this line so you can go to the next stop and walk back. Make that run in the sun,in this case. O joy! Loosely wrapped rucksack sheds bits. Dubious personal items litter the footpath.Dogs growl.
Arrive at platform 300 to just get on the Totnes train in the nick of. Thrown out of first class. At last ,dump sack in the right carriage. This triggers an astonishing train (!) of events. At the precise moment the bag hits the floor there is a piercing alarm siren, somewhere between an air raid warning and a car alarm. Fellow passengers nervous. Even more nervous when they notice that the front of mumbles jacket was rather lumpy AND his infrequent visits to the shower or bathroom gave him a middle eastern appearance. Fellow travellers eyes were almost as white as their knuckles.
What to do? Mumbles blocks the doorway. Worse , he starts rummaging in the sack to find the offending alarm clock.Garments were produced that hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine since Woodstock. Underwear the worst culprit. 50 999 calls were made simultaneously. Mumbles shuts off the noisy alarm clock, takes his spare socks from inside his jacket, produces a copy of Good Housekeeping ,tunes his IPod into Woman’s Hour and settles down to read as a fully armed riot squad whacked the carriage next door. Nobody had seen him do a discreet re- direct as they approached.
Wonderful piece in Good Housekeeping on how to train (!) men to see the error of their ways, WITHOUT making lists!!! Great reading all the way to Totnes.Time for another rinse or three and a spliff. He needed that. His buddy Paul a teensy bit prim….never mind..
Episode 3. To come….Journey to Silvers….wait for it…
The big game of the day was marbles. About a 2 metre ring, inscribed in the grass or gravel was surrounded by players who simply had to knock the opponents marbles out of the circle with a well aimed shot. Every now and then bigger kids would appear with soft clay on their boots and proceed to walk through a well stocked ring. Bastards.
Never mind that. The joy of these things were the rainbow hued cats eyes red, green blue, and all the rest… Colour again. I would hold them up to the light and watch the colours refract and glow, sometimes one to each eye. I would miss my turn doing this.
At school I had a two-tier swivel pencil case, a ruler which doubled as a spirit level and a range of soft to hard pencils. They all had a wonderful smell, even the eraser.
All art paraphernalia had a heavenly scent (like that!) which remains with me to this day.
The walls of our house were bedecked, or spotted with the usual range of ‘furniture pictures’ a phenomenon which has remained largely unchanged in contemporary dwellings. It was mostly agreeable or anodyne stuff that contributed to domestic serenity but was wholly unconnected with the visceral power of painting. Pictures again. Bits of French confectionery (street scenes) rubbed shoulders with exotic scarf/earring portraits which exhibited a certain leaden charm. A blast of the chilly wind of C17 Dutch Protestantism made an appearance, so at least we had, in these cathedral prints, moved off the picturesque.
But, I wondered, as I gazed across the unique splendour of the Tasmanian landscape, why hasn’t somebody not done something with this? By that I meant not knocking out cosy European models, but establishing the spirit of the place in a new language.
The answer to that came many years later when I was a student in Melbourne.
His name was Fred Williams
, an uncharismatic moniker, but boy, did he do what I wished for. Stunning. Met him in the print studios at the college. Lovely man, an inspiration. Still.
© Estate of Fred Williams
The Tale of Hamish
The T-bone steak seemed about the size of a dustbin lid , well seasoned and nicely cooked by the look of it. It nestled behind the near- side front wheel of my car, just outside the kitchen window. My puzzlement increased when I heard our neighbour’s wife, in a rather perplexed and shrill voice enquire ‘Brian, have you eaten your steak?’
The steak was then obscured by a bundle of orange fur.
Oh God,! NOT AGAIN! Two hours previously a group of people walked past our front gate. One of them pointed at Hamish and with thinly disguised fury screamed ‘That’s the one, BLOODY CAT’!
Some 10 years earlier, in 1977, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch was published.
One of the main protagonists in the story (and subsequent stories) was and is Hamish the ginger cat. A complete invention of course. We had no pets and were awaiting copies of the said book when, one morning, our children, aged about 5 and 3 called for Ronda and I to come to the kitchen AT ONCE!
On the doorstep sat a perfect example of life imitating art. He might as well have jumped out of the pages of the book. Even his whiskers matched. He was dubbed Hamish and lived with us for about 12 years.It seems he had been unceremoniously dumped by a distant neighbour. Why? He had demolished her young child’s birthday cake by the simple expedient of eating all the cream and fancy trimmings which adorned this exquisite creation. After a string of such incidents, her patience ran out.
Essentially Hamish was a fearless thug and as cunning as a dunny rat with a gold tooth. This had it’s advantages. One day I discovered an Alsatian bitch in our garden merrily trampling over the seedlings. I rushed out intervene but just as quickly in- rushed. Yellow fangs snarled, hackles rose and laser- like eyes fixed on my throat.
With what dignity I could muster I retreated inside. My ginger friend was sleeping off a heavy lunch. By now he had lost one eye, half an ear and had more dents and tears in the bodywork than an ancient stock-car. What remained of him was a bundle of teeth and claws held together by whipcord sinews. I took him outside and pointed his good eye at the Alsatian. What followed was the concept of an orange Exocet missile. He flew in a splendid glowing arc aiming squarely for the carotid artery. The Alsatian was terrified. It reared, stumbled and yowled as it got caught in some fencing wire which she dragged down the road.
Back inside, I glanced in the fridge and saw the ample remains of some very tender beef which was going to be re- cycled. As Hamish tucked into a goodly chunk of this, I am absolutely certain he knew it was for a job well done.
He was no mug.
His stay with us was a kind of symmetry, he came out of the blue and left to go ‘who knows where?’ The children looked everywhere for him, as did we all, but no joy. I think he knew his time was up and found some secluded spot. He wouldn’t want any of his umpteen vanquished rivals dancing on his grave.
Forty years later, he is about to entertain a third generation of readers. He lives on.
A Musical Revelation
30 or so years later… Our cottage in a Sussex village.
It is late, wife and children have gone to bed. I am in a small galley kitchen clearing up after a splendid meal with some friends. Radio 3 is employed to keep me company. My toil with the dishcloth stopped abruptly as I was plunged into a manic scherzo, gloriously anarchic stuff. It stops, starts again, stops, repeats, does it all again. Mad but terrific music. Who on earth was this? The bell-like scherzo gave way to a sublime adagio, deeply felt, almost Schubertian in its profound sense of yearning. By now, dishes done, I was sitting on the floor, keeping company with the remains of a splendid 20 year old port.
As is often the way of the classical tradition, the fourth and final movement involves a triumphant resolution of many musical arguments. ‘Right, sweetie’, I thought, if you can extend, equal, or beat what came before, I have stumbled across a musical voice that is of the highest order. Why had I got to thirty something and never heard it? He delivered, my God, did he ever. By the time we got to the closing pages I resembled a quivering bundle that could have been the result of the contents of a boiled-over pot that had oozed to the floor. An emotional wreck, contemplating an experience that will live with me for the rest of my days, and , with any luck, beyond.
Same music, Radio 3, about 10 years later, this time on the car radio as I made my way to somewhere about 2 hours from home. After roughly about one and a half hours had elapsed, I was coming again on the closing pages of this sublime musical argument. At this point I became dimly aware of a flashing blue light in my rear view mirror. Oh God! What to do? I pulled over and indicated by a series of gestures that… ‘could the officer wait two minutes until my musical journeys end?’ I desperately hoped my finger gestures and facial expressions would not be misconstrued. Tricky. I guess the noise issuing from the car confirmed my request. Shortly after, I emerged from the car, red-eyed with tears and looking visibly shaken. The young officer, bless him, assumed my demeanour and apparent distress was caused by a traffic violation. He politely told me to get my brake light fixed ASAP.
I was born at a very early age…
The aged Dakota DC3 trundled towards a rather basic building at the Hobart airport. It’s piston engines set up a splendid racket and the heat haze smelt pretty good too. This was not wasted upon a wide-eyed 4 year old child bursting with excitement within the confines of the ranch style terminal.
A trip to Melbourne! This prospect opened the door to another world, a much bigger one. One with loads of trains and trams, big buildings, clouds of people and… some of the houses even had stained-glass windows… even the sky was a better shade of blue. But more than that, if this was one door, how many more were there in this world? The child flirted with this open ended concept. The other huge driver in his short life was his greatest wish that he could learn the skills in order to draw these aircraft. The magic was spun further with the plane ride. Who remembers the sloping aisle to the cockpit? You sat in chairs rather than seats. And those boiled sweets! The hostess gave loads to the kids. AND… being able to visit the cockpit and sit with the pilots as they left the Bass Strait and began their approaches to Melbourne. Magic. Try that now.
And yet, greater excitement awaited. His aunts serried ranks of multi-coloured biscuit barrels were stuffed with a cornucopia of goodies. Viewed from today’s healthy diet platform they would be biscotta non-grata. Never mind, the teddy bears, the stars of the show, were little treasures and will forever remain so. The trip from Tassie was a harbinger of things to come. Even at the ripe old age of four it was clear that there is another world outside this insular community.
I started life in a mill town, a good chunk of the economy was predicated on that paper producer. It also established a kind of local real estate hierarchy which mirrored that found in the mill. The town was bisected by a fast flowing river, good for swimming but could be dangerous. My mother did not know how close I came to never writing this stuff when I slipped off a greasy submerged plank. A flailing arm grabbed a mooring rope. The arrival home was tricky… how to get into some dry clothes and look relaxed and happy whilst re-living the suffocating horror of the water closing over my head. I attended a funeral service for a child at about that time. Maybe that WAS me and I have entered a parallel universe. I mentioned this concept to my cat Trevor but he looked at me as though I was a chop short of a barbie.