Miscellaneous writing

Strange night star seen

If I was to marry an Australian and move over there I had to learn to swim. I hated water. Not just hated – feared. When I was about six or seven I’d been with my parents in a rowing boat on a river in Somerset. It had capsized and I can still recall being underwater and drowning and somehow being pulled out and the next thing I’m sitting in someone’s bathroom being comforted. But if I had to learn to swim then learn I would. At the time we were living in south London, with a public pool filled with muck, pubic hair and excrement. However, I was fortunate enough to have a good teacher who made me confront my demons. Within a couple of months I could swim a width. Victory.

So, swimming wasn’t an issue.

What about the heat?

My father, always a pragmatic man, reminded me Australia was a hot country. Would I cope? I don’t know, I replied, but isn’t being warm better than being cold? It saves heaps on heating bills. I doubt that convinced him but I was certain Australia was the way to go. Buy acreage. Build a house. Live the simple life. I am a romantic in outlook.

In 2003 we finally took the plunge and put the house on the market. Over the 16 years we’d lived there we’d made huge improvements: an extension at the rear that led directly on the garden and, just finished before we decided to sell, a master bedroom in what had been the loft, complete with en-suite. And, of course, my ‘art studio’ at the end of the garden.

South London was a good place to live. Sure there was crime and violence. Police helicopters would buzz around some nights, searchlights hunting out someone on the run; and we were burgled once by an intruder who got in over the garden fence, slipped in through an open door while we were upstairs, snatching a laptop and a handbag. Then there was the afternoon I returned to find the street cordoned off and police cars stationed at either end. There had been a shooting and it was a few hours before we were let back in, while police patrolled up and down the road far into the night.

But these were isolated incidents, part of living in London. You took it as it came and just got on with things. A few of our Australian friends, especially those who had not travelled, would ring us after some particularly bad incident, a bomb going off or a particularly hideous murder, and ask if we were okay, believing London to tumbling into anarchy and not safe after dark. They watched police shows like The Bill, co-incidentally filmed not far from where we lived, their suspicions confirmed.

Our neighbourhood was culturally diverse. Our son was in the minority as a white kid at school. Not that it mattered one jot – one of his best friends was from Sri Lanka. A couple of doors up from us was a Caribbean family, their daughter a distinguished athlete. They lived next door to Derek, a retired tradie who was always on at the ‘blacks’ and teased them in a roguish way without malice. There was no political correctness here, no need of it, because everyone got on with one another, like people do, helping out when needed, leaving one another alone most of the time.

The house the other side of us was owned by a church and had various tenants, though for a long time there was a family there with three teenage kids who worked and studied hard and were hardly in the garden, which I always thought a little odd. The church didn’t spend on maintenance but when it did come time to redecorate we were taken aback at the sea green colour chosen for the window frames, perhaps because it was going cheap at the hardware store, a colour no one in their right mind would select. When they left a young couple moved in, whose humping antics we could hear clearly through the party wall most nights. They didn’t stay long and were followed by a Ghanaian couple who we never saw until after the birth of our daughter. Seeing so many cars and visitors calling at our house, they knocked one morning thinking there had been a death in the family and wanted to offer condolence. Some months later we knocked on their door and they answered holding a baby we had never known was due.

My father kick started the sale. The agent’s board had been up for some weeks and, though there had been a few viewings, no sensible offers had been made. It was the end of summer 2003, our plans had been to be in Australia by the year-end but that was looking unlikely. Then one Sunday my parents came to visit. Dad was still out the front fiddling with something and when I went to find what was keeping him found him talking to a young couple. They lived in a flat around the corner, had noticed the sign and were interested. My Dad, who had spent his life as a salesman, said: Why not come in now and take a peek? He looked at me encouragingly, biding me to agree, which I did, though the house was a mess, Sunday lunch being prepared and not a bed made anywhere. Everything a house shouldn’t be when showing around prospective buyers. This didn’t bother my father who guided them around, extolling this and that feature, as I made the rear and gradually fell into the pitch.

That night we received a phone call. They would like to make an offer.

Miscellaneous writing

Speak up 2021

Black Lives Matter. The scream on the streets of America. The scream has circulated the world [within its media net]. In Australia it is also heard. People here ask why we have statutes and monuments to colonisers who were slave traders and murderers of Indigenous people. The King of Belgium is another target, with WA to rename a mountain range – once called Leopold. History is suddenly alive. I remember in Greenwich Park, London, bronze monuments to Generals I’d never heard of, astride horses usually. Churchill has been layered behind wood in Parliament Square, London, his racism exposed. It is about time the 19th and 20th centuries were excised, and the 21st liberated. Let Lives Speak, whatever colour.

Miscellaneous writing

Racing to normal after the pandemic

The race to ‘normal again’ is on – economic normal. The graphs have been pointing down a while and now the politicians are eager to see those lines heading north again. Some commentators point to the V effect, and to resume that upward tick is about pumping out more growth targets – more shovel-ready projects. Hopes for a rational re-think of how we pursue our lives [shops are open again and the TV news screens crowds gathering outside before the doors are thrown open, the pent-up frenzy palpable through the tube] gone in an instant. Yet I think I caught a news item [by caught I mean I spotted fleetingly a flash on my mobile of a news item seeking my attention; or I may have been browsing a news site and caught this ‘flash’] somewhere today about scientists emphasising we have ’50 years’ before climate reversal becomes untenable.

Miscellaneous writing

Solzhenitsyn was big back in 1974

The Russian novelist won a Nobel Prize in 1970 and was kicked out of the USSR in 1974. On 24 June 1974 I write

Solzhenitsyn is…in my opinion, Possibly the most gifted and talented writer that Russia has produced in the 20th century and possibly the number one writer living in the world today. He has immense and exhilarating power which is typical, indeed symbolic, of so many Russian artists, whether in music [Shostakovich] arts or literature. It is at times poetic and metaphysical and surrealist and mystical all at the same time yet he manages, within a book of some 500 pages, to keep the many and varied characters alive and to maintain the readers interest. As the book progresses, I find that I become the book, I become the characters because, I become Solzhenitsyn!

Miscellaneous writing

Welcome 2021

Welcome back. Much has changed since my last post back in July 2020. But let’s not talk about the C!

This year I’d like to try something different: to expand the scope of the blog beyond typography, in fact to everything! What got me thinking this way was checking out Substack this morning. I was wondering if this might be the way to go but then realised – hell no. I’ve already got a blog and some who follow it. Surely be better, I mused, to build on this small following than start out afresh. Therefore, I propose to incorporate my musings on life as seen from the perspective of a 60+ year old, white, Englishman who’s lived in Australia for the past 16 years. Yes, there will still be typography from time to time but a lot more too.

Let me know what you think.

To begin here’s something I wrote in 1975: my recording of a conversation between two women sitting on a station platform in south London as they patiently wait for their train.

Someone was singing Waltzing Maltida. The air was given a shrill rendering by a man just coming down the steps leading to the London platform. People cast an eye towards him – someone too gay in the morning is one person too many; it makes all others sad. The two women turned to each other. Both wore glasses, both had their legs crossed.

‘You know you can’t get the bus from Kingston now?’ one of them started. ‘So I’ve had to catch the 171 which takes you right round the world. It’s fortunate I can catch that or else I wouldn’t be able to visit my sisters regularly. You know it’s dreadful the way they’re operating these services. Just like the trains.’

‘And what about the 161?’

‘That goes right out of my way. It has to be the 171.’

‘Yes. Do you know I’ve discovered you can have your teeth repaired as you wait? I never go to work without my teeth. I’d rather have a couple of days sick than be seen without!’

‘How are they now, your teeth?’

‘Well, to be honest, I’ve had some trouble with them. When I first got them they kept slipping out and, of course, I had to send them away for a week or so. But they’ve been okay recently.’

‘I think it’s going to be fine today, though they’ve forecast the rain. There was a red sky this morning.’