Gipps Street

Between my sojourn at the Cross and my time in Golden Grove I spent a brief period—a few weeks—living in Paddington. Gipps Street is narrow and higgledy-piggledy and runs up the hill from near the beginning of the Oxford Street end of Glenmore Road. The house, like those around it, was a small, one storey terrace that appeared to have been made out of a combination of sandstone and cardboard, with a tiny concreted back yard where palms and frangi-pani trees grew in pots. I cannot now remember how I came to be living there nor, with the exception (again) of Diana, who else was there; I think it must have been by invitation in the casual way that pertained among my cohort in those days . . . we’ve got a spare bed you can use, come round, that sort of thing. From memory it wasn’t even in a room but a hallway of some kind. Anyway, beside that bed, on a blue plastic milk crate, lay a book with a white and green cover showing a boneyard moon shining over impossibly jagged mountains: the peaks of Cerro Torre and other mountains in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, which also feature in the 1991 Werner Herzog film Scream of Stone. It was of course the 1979 Picador edition of Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, cover art by David Bergen aka Hawkwood, and naturally I read it all the way through. Chatwin became an enthusiasm for us and those who took ourselves seriously as writers immediately set to work imitating his sparse prose style and attenuated, even fey, narrative gestures. This must have been before Diana got together with KC, whom we used to call KC the Cocaine King (sometimes abbreviated to KC the CK), but I still associate him with that house; perhaps, like Moody, another of Diana’s beaux, I first met him there. KC was a tall, rangy bullet-headed fellow from New Zealand with piercing blue eyes beneath his buzz-cut blond hair; he was a lawyer by training and rumoured to have been a swimming champ once; he certainly had the body for it. Now he was free-lancing in Sydney as an end man for a syndicate that was bringing quantities of cocaine from Colombia via Tahiti to Queensland and thence south onto the streets of our town. KC was enigmatic, charismatic, always carried a black briefcase, never said much but was generous with his drugs and there were nights when it seemed we consumed mountains of the powder almost as tall as Cerro Torre. How he spent the money he made was unclear but he did announce one day that he wanted to found a record label. It was to be called Vinyl Voice and I still remember the hurt look on his face when I quipped: so long as it doesn’t turn out to be Final Voice. He booked a studio and some time and turned up one day at Golden Grove with a putative producer, a tall, mane-haired Texan in cowboy boots called W G ‘Snuffy’ Walden, once of Stray Dog, the Eric Burdon Band, Free, later the composer of many movie and TV scores including that for The West Wing. He stretched out his considerable length along the floor of the tiny front room at Thomas Street and talked engagingly of people he played with as a session man (guitar) in LA: Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan. I don’t recall now why the recordings never went ahead but it could have been because, around this time, KC began to look like a worried man. There was something wrong further up the hierarchy but he would never say what; in retrospect, it seems to me that the problem was most likely KC’s generosity to his friends, and his own inordinate drug use, which not only left him in debt to the syndicate but also rendered him incapable of pursuing proper business strategies. I met him one day up the Cross and realised he was in the full flower of cocaine psychosis: a wreck of a man, shaking, muttering, twitching . . . while we were talking he accidentally triggered the catches on his mysterious black briefcase, into which I had never seen before, it fell open and there were a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, half full, and a crumpled carton, also half cut, of Gauloise Bleu cigarettes. Nothing else. KC left town not long afterwards and returned to Auckland, where he put his money into property and did quite well, I hear. One day I was in the bar of de Brett’s hotel when he walked in with a beautiful blond bitch, that may have had some dingo in it, trotting at his heels; and walked out again before I could make myself known to him. I know where Moody is (Dunedin) and Diana (Waiheke Island) but since I can’t remember anyone else from that short-lived time in Paddington, it seems a bit futile to wonder where whoever they were might have gone. As for Bruce Chatwin, I find him to be one of those writers who become less easy to read over the years; not that he is not facile, he is, rather too much so. Reading him now is almost like taking cocaine in quantity used to be: there’s a brief surge of energy that might be verbal as much as of any other kind followed by a lull that is itself succeeded by a gnawing ache for more of what made you so excited only twenty minutes or so ago. And yet you know before you even try again that some law of diminishing returns has already reduced your future options . . . to scant.

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