Thursday, January 25, 2007

je ne sais quoi

Yesterday afternoon, about 3.15, at the bus shelters in Cremorne, just before you go onto the Bridge, I picked up two women. They were going to the City, to Goldfields House in George Street. As we barrelled down towards the Coat Hanger, I was overcome by an acute nostalgia, so intense I felt like weeping, or perhaps shouting out loud. One of the women in the back seat was wearing the same perfume that Julie Till used to wear, a scent I don't recall noticing even once since the last time I went out with Julie. Huntly, circa 1967. We were both in the 5th form, hence, fifteen. Julie was in the Commercial stream and I in the Academic, so we were not class mates. Can't remember now how we got together. She was gorgeous and I was head over heels with her. We only went out a few times, to dances to which her father would bring her in his car and then pick her up again afterwards. I don't think we ever kissed. I have two photos of us together, one, rather formal, from a school dance at Huntly College and another from a dance we went to at the Huntly Leagues club one Saturday night. In this pic we are leaning together with our heads resting against each other, smiling like young lovers do. I think it was after that dance that I ended up (how?) with a tiny white lace handkerchief of hers, redolent, for months afterwards, of that elusive perfume. Our affair ended strangely. It's a small town story that I never got the full gist of, but here's what I know. I'd arrived at Huntly College halfway through the year previous, and in my fourth form class was a boy called Peter Mildenhall. He was short, tubby, with a bullet head, a farmer's or a miner's son, and very proud of his position as top of the class. Somehow, without ever really wanting to, I sparked his enmity towards me. It might have been because I was the Headmaster's son; it might have been because I was good at English and Maths and challenged his position. Anyway, he took against me. Somewhere out his way, west of the town, lived another guy, Glenn Hugill. He was older than us, a second year fifth at the time of which I write, our fifth form year. Glenn was big and dumb and a bit scary in the way of big dumb guys. He and Peter teamed up. Peter had a small blue Ford Prefect that he used to drive around in; I, most nights if I wanted it, used my mother's red and white Hillman Imp. Around the time Julie and me were going out, I started noticing that, whenever I went anywhere in the car at night, Peter Mildenhall's blue Ford Prefect would unfailingly appear in the rearview mirror. Peter driving, Glenn in the front seat next to him. They must have had me staked out; they followed me everywhere. It was weird, because they never said anything, never did anything, never referred to their game at school or any other time. Likewise, I never I told anyone about this. But it was sinister. And alarming. At some point - and I can't remember how I learned this - I was given the information that Julie Till and Glenn Hugill were cousins. And it was at this time, without any explanation whatsoever, that Julie stopped being my girlfriend. She just ... stopped. Leaving me heartsick and with only those two photos and that tiny embroidered handkerchief with its trace of perfume which gradually, over the months, faded. I never knew what it was called; I almost asked the women yesterday; but in the end ... didn't. Julie, I heard much later, got a job in Hamilton as a secretary. She would have married and probably has children. She was a farmer's daughter from out Te Kauwhata way. Auburn hair that she wore short. Plump. Very white teeth. Lovely skin, quite dark for a Pakeha. Brown eyes. A touch of Spanish or Italian perhaps. We never had that much to say to each other but for some reason danced beautifully together. To the Sapphires, who later, after the Beach Boys got big in Huntly, changed their name to the Surfires. It's peculiar now to think that I may never know the name of that perfume ...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

money to burn?

Sunday I set off with my kids to take them back to the Central Coast. It was hot, 39 degrees, so we went to Strathfield Station by way of the Ashfield pool, for a swim. Trains on that line are reliably air-conditioned so that was OK. We played I Spy until Hornsby, when the train, unaccountably, stopped. A bush fire at Kuringai. We waited through several announcements, until told the train would not be proceeding at that time, but returning to Sydney. A burgeoning plume of dirty grey smoke about a kilometre north. Jesse, my older boy, was convinced it had been deliberately lit; turns out he may have been right. Couldn't contact the kids' mother by mobile phone, so we wandered off into a vast shopping mall to look for something to eat. Turned out the F3 was either closed or so jammed up it would have taken hours to effect the handover by car, so me and the kids took a later train back to Strathfield. Next day their mum came down, again by train, & collected them. Got a call about midday, Liamh, my younger boy, saying they only got as far as Hornsby & had again been stopped. They were waiting it out in the Hornsby RSL. I went off to work. Texted them about 4.30, learned they were on a very slow train, just past Berowra. They would have got home at maybe 5.30 or 6.00 that evening. Around that time, after a desultory couple of hours, was hailed by two people in Macquarie Street. Going, they said, to the ferry at Palm Beach. Trying to get back to the Central Coast. They lived at Kilcare but commuted to the City to work. Couldn't figure out what kind of thing they did. Well, we set off on what is one of the longest rides in the Metropolitan Area. You can't go any further north than Palm Beach & still be in Sydney. They were calling all sorts of people on their mobiles, making arrangements. At Dee Why, a friend who'd gone ahead to Palm Beach called in: Don't come near here, she said, there's forty bus-loads of people waiting, a three or four hour turn around. A brief confab, then they asked me to turn around. Booked themselves in to the Swissotel in Market Street. Then the question of fresh clothes for work tomorrow came up. They'd have to buy them. Myers in the city closed at 6.00, it was way past that now; but the one at Bondi Junction stayed open to 7.00. Okay, Bondi Junction it was. The ED was jammed up as far back as the Harbour Tunnel so we crawled all the way to Moore Park. I let them off outside Westfield Plaza at the Junction. There was $107.00 on the meter, which they paid up without a murmur. Sorry I didn't really take you anywhere, I offered. That's okay, she said. Thanks for the ride. He'd worn dark glasses the whole time. Perhaps they worked in the entertainment industry.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Beautiful Lies Just A Klanger

Last week I came into work to find Italo, the Ecuadorean, returned from holidays, beckoning to me. What's you're last name? he wanted to know. I told him. He beamed. I have seen a review of your book! he said, In the Sunday paper. I will bring it. Next day, sure enough, when Italo finished his shift and I was waiting to start mine, he had with him the Spectrum for the 9-10 December last year. It was a hot day. I was standing under a tree opposite the base with my mate Garth, our boss Bob and Bob's wife Stella when Italo came over with the newspaper in his hand. Do you know who Stephen King is? he asked, showing us all a picture of the man when he was very young. Garth and I shrugged and looked at each other: Yes. But Bob and Stella evidently had never heard of him. Probably what Italo wanted to do was, having had us identify SK, turn triumphantly to the review of Luca to show what kind of company it / I keep. Didn't work, but he showed the review anyway. Stella took it off into a shady spot on a wall to read while the four of us chatted idly on. It was, of course, the mean-spirited Herald review which I had, until that moment, succeeded in avoiding seeing in the print version. The sub's heading was dreadful, the stuff of nightmares, but I felt strangely remote. Garth already knew that it was the review from hell, so he kept his mouth shut. Bob appeared to be struggling with the notion that one of his drivers was also an author. As for Italo ... such a sweet man, he was so proud, almost as if he had written it himself. The fact that it was a bad review meant nothing to him. Later he told me that his son has just given up his day job to devote all his time to his band, The Valentinos; at which point I was able to say that I knew of them, having heard them quite a bit on the radio, mostly in the days when I used to listen to FBI. It was hard for me to imagine Italo and his wife going to gigs at the Annandale Hotel, but that is what he told me they have done. His son is interested in Mariachi music, and, more generally, in introducing Latin beats into the psychedelic dance mania The Valentinos play. Later, just before I went out to drive, Stella handed the paper back to me, but I have no idea what she, a Chinese woman not long away from Shanghai with only average English, made of the review and did not really feel like asking her. As for me, I had to endure a miserable night (money-wise) in the cab with the baleful review at my elbow, like some almost laid ghost come back to haunt me again. The reviewer - may his bones be tossed by jackals in the Empty Quarter - lives in Dubai.