Labyrinths and Pyramids

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The other day I was down in my laundry – which doubles as my archive – waiting for the spin cycle to conclude on the washing machine. I recently attempted to de-clutter the clutter in there and a small cardboard carton containing diaries and notebooks had ended up at my elbow where I stood; so I picked up the top one and had a look in it. Turned out to be a notebook I kept during the first year I lived in Sydney. 1981-2. Found it quite interesting, not for any literary quality it has but as a record of things I was thinking and writing about back then. And then – after I hung the washing out – I thought I’d better see what else is in that box.

So I brought it upstairs and had a leaf through all of the twenty or so notebooks it contains. They cover a span of more than thirty years. 1970 until 2004, when I guess I started replacing hand-written records with electronic note-taking. Most are fragmentary and many don’t even get to the end. They provoked embarrassment, of course, but also a kind of incredulity – mainly because my preoccupations haven’t changed all that much over the years. I’ve been banging on about the same things for decades, evidently. But amongst them was one genuine surprise.

A small green striped hardback exercise book (which I must have bought when I was studying Maori language in Wellington in 1976 & 7), had been re-purposed as a diary that covered a few months spent in California in 1978-9. Two weeks in L.A. then three months in San Francisco; the record breaks off, for no apparent reason, at the end of the first week of January, 1979. I had forgotten the very existence of this diary; had certainly never re-read it. Also it had suffered a degree of water damage from when it was stored (probably) under someone or other’s house, causing the ink to run and making it quite difficult to decipher.

Its interest to me now is that I recently wrote a reconstruction of that period, from memory, from the memories of others, from various forms of archival research. So how did this recent version compare with what I’d written at the time? Well, what do you think? First of all, in my reconstruction, I had the chronology of what happened all wrong. I had my friends Andreas and Marsha, for instance, moving out of the Israeli’s apartment in the Mission into ours at Greenwich and Gough before Andreas’ arrest and incarceration; whereas in fact it was the other way round. I had the details of the ructions in the band wrong too. There are many other examples of the frailty of memory.

Secondly, there are all sorts of details in the diary that are missing from my recollection: bands we played with, venues we played at, parties we went to; anecdotes; people; drugs; and so forth. Thirdly, however, and most intriguingly, my recent account is probably more true to the feeling of that time than the diary is. This because the diary writing is self-conscious, full of ‘important’ reflections and ‘significant’ observations. I’m writing, laughably, for the future. Nevertheless, and this is I suppose the fourth point, these reflections and observations do still intersect with my preoccupations now. The Egyptian obsession, for instance.

Some of the entries might constitute a very loose essay on late 1970s California organised around two images, the pyramid and the labyrinth. That still seems to have some traction. Fifth it is good to know what books I was reading then: Walter Benjamin (Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia); Louis Aragon (Paris Peasant); Guillaume Apollinaire (a bio); Ed Dorn (Hello, La Jolla); César Vallejo (Trilce) all turn up. Along with movies like Polanski’s The Tenant and the Hercule Poirot mystery Death on the Nile.

So I guess what I’ll have to do now is go back to my reconstruction and reconstruct it, correcting the chronology and adding detail, for instance of places the band played: like The Keystone in Berkeley and The Boarding House in Bush Street, SF, where they made a live recording our agents (Fat Cat) used to secure us work during the rest of the time we spent in the Bay Area. Wish I still had a copy of that tape. The lucubrations, however, I think I’ll leave to decay in the blurred, ballooning, purple and green, black and blue ink of that best-forgotten-again diary.

 

image: the Trans-America Pyramid, SF; Alcatraz in the distance; then Angel Island State Park
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Dialogue of a Man & His Soul

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Part One 

I opened my mouth to my soul:

This is too much for me to stand today

my soul will not talk to me

It really is too much

 

It is as if you are abandoning me

Let not my soul go away

you should attend me

and my body with its net of tightening cords

 

Because on the day of pain you will not be able to flee

Look, my soul misleads me, I won’t listen to it

it drags me towards death before I am ready

casts me into the fire so as to burn

 

My soul be with me on the day of pain,

let it stand by my side as a true companion

My soul, too ignorant in life to assuage my pain

leading me towards death before I am ready

 

Sweeten the West for me

Is that so hard?

Life is a journey. Trees fall.

Tread down evil, end my misery

 

May Thoth judge me, who appeases the gods

May Khons defend me, he who writes truly

May Ra hear my speech, who calms the boat of the sun

May Isde defend me in the sacred hall of the West

 

My suffering is too heavy a burden

for me to bear

May it please the gods to relieve

my body of its secrets.

 

Part Two

My soul opened its mouth to me

to answer what I had said:

Are you not a man?

Are you not alive?

What do you gain by complaining

of life as if you were a rich man?

 

I said:

I will not go on so long

as this remains unanswered

If you run away

you will come to grief too

Every criminal will say: I seize you

Even in death, your name lives on

Yonder is the place of rest, the heart’s goal

The West is a dwelling place, a voyage.

 

If you my soul will listen to me

without malice

your heart in accord with me

I shall be happy

I shall reach the West like one who is in his tomb

whose burial his survivors tend.

 

I shall make a shelter over our corpse

so that you shall make other weary souls envious

I shall make a shelter

it will not be cold

so you shall make another soul

who is too hot, envious.

 

You shall drink cool clear water

from a pond over which I will make shade,

so that you shall make another soul, who hungers, envious.

 

But if you lead me towards death in this manner

you will not find a place in the West to rest.

 

Be patient, my soul, my brother

until my heir comes

who will make offerings

who will stand at the tomb on the day of burial

having prepared the bier in the graveyard.

 

My soul opened its mouth to me,

to answer what I had said:

If you think of burial, it is heartbreak

It is the bringing of tears, it is making a man sad

It is taking a man out of his house

so that he is left on the hillside

He will never see the sun again.

 

Those who build in granite

who erected halls in excellent tombs of excellent construction

—when the builders have become gods

their offering-stones are desolate

as if they were the dead

who died on the riverbank for lack of an heir.

 

The flood takes its toll, the sun also

The fish at the water’s edge talk to them

Listen to me

It is good for people to listen

Follow the feast day, forget worry and care.

 

A man ploughed his plot

He loaded his harvest into a boat

He towed the freight

As his feast day approached

he saw the darkness of the north wind rising

As the night came on, the boat foundered

with his wife and children therein

in crocodile haunted waters.

 

When he saw what happened

he sat down and he said:

I do not weep for that mother

for whom there is no coming forth from the West

for another time­ on earth

I weep for her unborn children

broken in the egg

who saw the face of the Crocodile

before they had lived.

 

A man asked for his dinner in the afternoon

His wife said: That’s for later!

He went grumbling out of the house

When he came back in

he was like someone else

His wife implored him

but he would not listen to her

He was heedless, he dishonoured the household.

 

Part Three

I opened my mouth to my soul

to answer what it had said:

 

1

Let my name stink

worse than the smell of bird droppings

on summer days when the sky burns

 

Let my name stink

worse than a catch of fish

on days when the sky burns

 

Let my name stink

worse than ducks smell

worse than reed beds full of water fowl

 

Let my name stink

worse than fishermen smell

in stagnant marsh-pools where they fish

 

Let my name stink

worse than crocodiles smell

worse than a muddy bank where crocodiles lie and shit

 

Let my name stink

worse than that of a wife

about whom lies are told to her husband

 

Let my name stink

worse than that of a sturdy boy

who belongs to someone who disowns him

 

Let my name stink

worse than a king’s town

which plots treachery behind his back.

 

2

Who shall I talk to today?

Brothers are mean

friends I once had don’t love me anymore

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Hearts are greedy

everyone robs his neighbour

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Kindness has perished

insolence assaults everyone

 

Who shall I talk to today?

People are content to do evil

while goodness is cast on the ground

 

Who shall I talk to today?

He who should enrage men with his crimes

—everyone laughs at his daring

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Men plunder;

they seize their neighbour’s goods

 

Who shall I talk to today?

The reprobate is honoured

while the brother with whom I worked is now an enemy.

 

Who shall I talk to today?

No one remembers the past;

no one helps the one who helped them before

 

Who shall I talk to today?

My fellows are evil;

one has to ask strangers for affection

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Faces are blank

everyone turns away

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Hearts are greedy;

no-one can be trusted

 

Who shall I talk to today?

There are no righteous men;

the land belongs to those who do wrong

 

Who shall I talk to today?

I have no friends;

I complain uselessly to strangers

 

Who shall I talk to today?

No one is happy;

the one I used to walk and talk with is gone

 

Who shall I talk to today?

I am burdened with grief

for lack of a friend

 

Who shall I talk to today?

Error is everywhere

and there is no end to it.

 

3.

Death is before me today

like a sick man’s recovery

like freedom after being locked up

 

Death is before me today

like the fragrance of myrrh

like sitting beneath a canopy on a windy day

 

Death is before me today

like the fragrance of lotus

like reclining on the shore of drunkenness

 

Death is before me today

like a well-trodden road

or a man coming home from war

 

Death is before me today

like a rainy sky clearing

like a man remembering something he had forgotten

 

Death is before me today

like a longing for home

after years spent in slavery.

 

4.

Truly, he who is yonder is the living god

punishing the criminal’s transgressions

 

Truly, he who is yonder will stand on the ship of the sun

and cause richness to flow into the temples

 

Truly, he who is yonder is a wise man

and will be heard by Ra when he speaks.

 

Part Four

What my soul said to me:

Now throw your complaining

on the woodpile

my comrade, my brother

 

Whether you offer yourself up on the brazier

whether you bear down on life

as you say you will

love me here when you have set aside the West!

 

But when you attain the West

when your body joins the earth

after you have become weary

I shall alight

and then we shall dwell together again!

 

Colophon

It is finished

from beginning to end

as it was found in the writing.

adapted from a ms from the 12th Dynasty, in Ancient Egyptian Literature; vol. 1: The Old & Middle Kingdoms; ed. Miriam Lictheim; UCP, 1975
image: Min receiving the Eye of Horus, Temple of Hathor, Deir-el-Medina, near Thebes
the soul addressed is the Ba

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Another damnable book

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There are people who say that the way to decide if you want to read a particular book is to scan the first paragraph and then the last. So here they are – not a book yet, just a manuscript:

First:

It was drizzling as I came out of Baker Street Station onto Marylebone Road. Black and white movie footage, c. 1912, played in my head. Same historic city. Same hectic surge of Hansom cabs down towards the West End—though now they are 4WDs—same omnibuses and ambulances, same headlines of impending doom. The same beggars at the gate, with their ancient eyes turned pleadingly away from, or towards, an eternity of need. The fellow I asked the way to Gloucester Place attuned his reply to a register halfway between the importunate and the insubordinate: in case I should turn out to be someone. I said I was nobody; and with the equivocal grace so given went the way he pointed, west towards Westminster.

Last:

There was a blind singer who sat in the street outside the courtyard where she worked and we listened to him too. It was different and the same; instead of a loom he had beneath his fingers the strings of a lyre. An old tortoise shell sounding board, skin-covered, with seven gut strings stretched up to the cross-piece between the arms. A splintery wooden bridge that reverberated in the thrum he made as he strummed; when he picked out a melody, it made a weave with his words. It was the same thing—weft and warp, words and music. He played hard and fast and his words were chanted in a high-pitched strenuous stream that made it difficult to distinguish one from the other or parts from the whole. In time I learned the way to hear him was to listen to the lines, for the shape of the lines. What happened then is the lines entering my ears came to my mind like things entire unto themselves. The whisper of the shuttle, the hand upon the strings, the dyed threads unthreading from their spools above the loom, my mother’s singing, the voice in the street outside that court of dusty feet—all these disparate things came together in the lines. And with the lines, or really by means of the lines, the hexameters, the stories began to tell themselves. These were the old stories too: but what stories were they? Kings and queens, battles and feasts, loves and deaths. The gods and their betrayals, men and women in their fidelity and their infidelity, their grandeur and their shame, their splendour and their spite. The accidents of fate, which are not accidents at all. And the ordinary: the caring for animals, the making of cheese, the growing of crops; olive and vine and wheat; food and drink, music and dance. The natural world, all about us, like a shroud.

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From the Mars Hotel

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One day in 1976 I went down to clear mailbox #214 at the Central PO in Wellington. There was a brown manila envelope in amongst the day’s takings and in it were six photographic prints – reproduced above. I wonder now what happened to those prints. Probably we had bromides done and sent them back to the artist by return post. The series was called ‘From the Mars Hotel’, which is the title of a Grateful Dead record. But perhaps the photographer, Peter Peryer, did not derive that title from listening to the album but from a graffito written upon the derelict building he photographed for #5 in the series. Anyway, we did not know who Peter Peryer was or where he came from or what he was up to – but we did publish the portfolio in the next issue of Spleen, #7, early in 1977. Each image had its own page and there was no commentary, no words. The reproductions were a bit grainy because we had had to switch printers, from the Levin Chronicle to the Wanganui Chronicle – Levin had taken offense at certain explicities in a poem/play written by Christina Beer – and Wanganui used paper that was browner, less bleached, than the whiter sheets of the Levin printers. None of this matters now, it is of historical interest only. But still. I remember how, when the decision came to be made, we all went yes, absolutely, no question, we will publish. I also remember Alan (Brunton) saying to Arthur (Baysting) that there was one really good photo in the set and which was it? Arthur said #4, the caravan; at the time I agreed but now am not so sure. I think they’re all good and #4 just sounded the paranoid 1977 chord better. Anyway, a few years later, I ran into Peter in Kings Cross in Sydney. Early 1980s. How did I know who he was? How did he know me? I was a bit forward in engaging. Perhaps I thought that, because ‘we’ had published ‘Mars Hotel’, he should therefore be ‘Grateful’? I don’t know. He was gracious and kind and before he died let me know he liked my sentences. For a prose writer there is no higher praise. There’s people you love because you love their work; but that doesn’t mean they’re loveable; or, even if they are, that they may love you back. But Peter was loving and loved and loveable in equal measure; all three; which sounds a bit Shakesperean. I keep looking at his work because of the way the images he gives you give you a way of resetting the way you already see into another way of seeing. He does that. He did that. He does that still.

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Unheimlich

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When I was in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago I recorded five scripts for radio. Each was (about) 1900 words long and I adapted them, sequentially, from a small book called Barefoot Years (2014). The same text, with sequels, appears in The Dreaming Land (2015). We recorded all five between 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on a wet Tuesday in the Wellington studios up on The Terrace. (Actually we recorded the first one twice, at the beginning and again at the end.) It was a relaxed and enjoyable session and I’m grateful to the producer, Duncan, and the engineer, Adam, for making it such a pleasure to do.

Afterwards I was talking to Duncan and he told me how he’d once been back to the house where he grew up, in Hamilton, and was struck by how much smaller it seemed than he remembered it to be. I’d written at length in Barefoot Years about our old house in Burns Street, Ohakune but, in answer to Duncan’s question, I had to say, no, I’d never been inside again, not since we left town in January 1962. So I didn’t know how that might feel. Whether it was bigger or smaller or just the same.

A couple of days later, on Thursday, I was in Ohakune and driving past the very house—as I always do on my returns to that town. There was a furniture truck backed up outside, a couple of blokes unloading, and a 4WD parked on the road. I stopped. An older man came over to see what I wanted. His name was Ken, he was from Masterton and, he told me, his son and daughter-in-law had recently bought the house and were intending to restore it ‘to original condition’. When I said I grew up here he became quite excited. He’d been back to the Deeds but still hadn’t been able to ascertain the way the house had been before alterations had been made upon it. Would I do him a favour? Would I come in and tell him how it was when I’d been here?

Well. Yes. I would. Of course. But what a strange experience. First of all, it did not seem smaller, it seemed the same size as it had been half a century before. The sitting room on the left, my old bedroom, which I shared with two of my younger sisters, on the right. Same size. Down the hallway, with the old kitchen on the left (no longer a kitchen) and the second sitting room, which we called the veranda room, on the right. You went along an outside veranda to the room, surely an add-on, where my other three sisters (two older, one younger) slept beneath windows of green, rippled, riverine glass. Still there. That veranda had been clumsily altered, closed in, so you no longer had to brave the howling winds or rain and snow when you went to bed.

The back of the house was more or less unrecognisable. The pantry off the kitchen, gone, the passage that led to the back door, gone, the wash house, gone. Ken, who was noting everything I said, was scathing—about the quality of ‘renovations’. They were, even I could see, shoddy. Someone had the bright idea of turning it into a Ski Lodge so the additions were ‘leisure spaces’ in which people could ‘hang out’. But walls did not meet ceilings and floors did not align with other floors. I can’t now remember where the replacement kitchen was—if there was one. Well, there must have been. The bathroom was still where it had always been, along a crooked passage that led to what was once our parent’s bedroom—now with a ricketty ensuite.

I’m being very matter of fact. It wasn’t until I stood in the door of the old parental bedroom that the strangeness of the situation really hit me. As a kid I rarely went into that room; and, as an adult, I felt the same interdiction descend. It was as if the intimacy they shared in there persisted. As if their ghosts, too, persisted. And with them, all of the other ghosts: my sisters, our pets, friends and relations, even the childish ghost of myself. They seemed all still to be there, massed, whispering, not malign, largely unconcerned. Going about their business in an everyday kind of way. As if the ghosts and the gone have other lives than ours. Or lives other than ours.

I knew the section had been subdivided. Out the back, where there’d been an overgrown asphalt tennis court, a car garage, the tray of a flatbed truck, many bearing fruit trees, the vegetable garden, the chook run, the berry patch, the woodshed, the coal shed, the palm shed, the tank stand and what else I’m not going to list—just a stark oblong square of green lawn with a wooden fence behind. There’s another, or perhaps two, cottages on what used to be a wild domain of long grass going down, past a macrocarpa hedge, to the Mangawhero River.

I’m not here to write an essay in nostalgia. I have the whole place, house (built 1910), garden, street and so forth intact in memory (with all its falsifications) anyway and I know it’s gone forever from the real world. This was different. This was about the persistence of presence, to coin a phrase. This was an experience of continuity that made me doubt the autocracy of time. Two things I took away may elucidate what is, in truth, ineluctable.

One is the floor: wide tongue-in-groove planks of maire or matai, of a colour that was somewhere between pink and yellow, and which, hard as it is, rose up towards me with a suggestion of home. I could still feel it beneath my bare soles when I woke up in the night and padded down the echoing hallway to my parent’s bedroom to tell them I could not sleep because I had hot feet. The other is the ceilings, especially in the sitting room and in my old bedroom: white, pressed metal perhaps or painted moulded timber. They too spoke to me: we are the sky under which you grew, they said; we are your clouds and your dreams.

 

image : surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, taken by a camera on Philae, the lander module of the Rosetta probe, c. 2014

 

 

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Family Notes – for K

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Mum’s side

William Price, Fanny’s father, was born at Stockton-on-Tees in Yorkshire on 12 August, 1864. Third child of William and Alice Price (née Richlieu). When he was four his father was killed in an accident; his mother remarried one John Brenkley and they had three more children before emigrating from London to New Zealand in December, 1876. As a child William worked carrying lunches to a brickyard for wages.

The Brenkley family arrived in Napier on the Fernglen in 1877; William was 14 years old and travelled under his step-father’s name. Boys over the age of 12 lived separately on the ships in those days. The family stayed briefly at the military barracks before travelling down to Waipukurau to take up work on the farm (‘station’) of a man called Harding. William was a farmer for most of his life but, at the time of his marriage, aged 20, he was a butcher with his own shop in Ormondville.

His wife Clara Price (née Lister) was born in London on 27 October, 1867, the only child of Albert and Clara Lister (née Burtt). Her mother died when she was two and her father remarried and had three more children with his second wife, Harriet, before the family came out on the Halcione in 1874, also to Hawkes Bay. Clara was then seven years old; she lived at home until Harriet died in 1880, after which she ran the household (there were more NZ born kids) until, aged 17, she married William Price, in 1884, at Waipukurau. She was then living in Waipawa.

Her father subsequently remarried and had even more children with his third wife. On his first marriage certificate Albert Lister is described as a piano-forte maker; in New Zealand he worked as steel plate engraver in the printing trade; but for the voyage out he called himself a wood-turner because in those days there were preferred trades for migrants; and this was one of them.

Both William and Clara were thus Assisted Migrants. They had 12 children and she died, worn out, aged 54, near Hastings in 1921; he lived on until 1944. In the photos (they are just photocopies) Clara bears a startling resemblance to sister Virginia—although I suppose that should really be the other way round. Fanny remembered, at the farm in Ormondville, having to go out to help her father climb over the stile and support him into the house when he came home drunk (on horseback) after a visit to town; he’d lie out there roaring until someone came to the rescue. Her horror of alcohol seems to have stemmed from that. He may have molested her, and her sisters, too.

Fanny was the sixth child, born 23 October, 1896; and died 12 January, 1967. (We were camping up north and had to cut our holiday short.) She was a primary school teacher—there’s that photo of her with a class of mostly Maori kids in a ‘native’ school up Gisborne way—and married Lewis Herbert Scott (11 May 1894 – 17 October, 1953). Probably in 1920 or 21—Clive, their eldest, was born in 1922. Lauris, b. 1924, was, like Dad, the second child.

Lewis was a house painter and for many years had a contract with NZ Railways to paint railway stations. He died of bowel cancer and I’ve heard it said that the lead in the paint might have been a factor. Both he and Fanny were diet-obsessed and more than a little eccentric. Social Credit, Colour Therapy, Compost etc. I’ve also heard that Lewis owned a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and thought that they were genuine, not the anti-Semitic forgery they actually are.

Alas, I know nothing more about Lewis Scott—an enigma. Lauris was fond of him and always said what a sweet and decent man he was. He must have been, to put up with Fanny! Though in fact they seem to have loved each other. Maybe her crankiness was a result of his early death? And then her younger son John’s, just a few years later.

Dad’s side

The Edmonds allegedly come from a place called Cupar in Scotland. It’s north and west of Edinburgh, in Fife, on the way out to St Andrews. Lowland Scots. Uncle Don relates that there is / was a window in the town with the name ‘James Edmond : Glazier’ inscribed on the glass.

James Edmond (another one) was born in 1849 in Stirlingshire; his father William was ‘a gardener and labourer’ and ‘could read and write’; his mother Margaret (née Hutchinson) was a dressmaker. They came out from Liverpool on the Prompt, arriving in Hobart in 1857; James spent eleven years in Tasmania and the rest of his life in Melbourne, where he worked as a builder. He died in 1929.

His wife Catherine McLeod was from Strahan near Ullapool on Loch Broom in the Highlands of Scotland. Born 1849 so the same age as James. She came out, with her family, on the Sir Allan McNab, also from Liverpool to Hobart, in 1853. The first ship of free settlers after convict transportation to Van Diemens Land ceased. It’s a fascinating story, documented in cousin Rod’s book Migrations—too much detail to go into now but they were part of one of the mass migrations forced by the Clearances, and travelled with another extended family, the McKenzies, with whom they lived in a kind of symbiotic relationship, both in Scotland and in Tasmania. They ended up farming at a place called Winkleigh in West Tamar. I’ve been there—a graveyard full of ancestors.

James and Catherine married in Launceston in 1872 and then moved to Melbourne, where they had thirteen children—the first nine lived, the next three died, and Charlie, Dad’s father, was the thirteenth child, born 29 January, 1890. Catherine died in 1905, just before Christmas, of pulmonary tuberculosis—she must have been, like Clara, worn out with child-bearing. And James Edmond, like William Price, was a boozer and was bankrupted at least once, probably because of his drinking. Consequently there’s an inventory of their household goods (in Rod’s book) which is pretty interesting. It includes a piano. And a cow with a single horn.

After his mother died, Charlie, aged 15, was sent over to live with his eldest sister Margaret (Auntie Maggie) in Herne Bay in Auckland, apparently to get him away from his Dad. He became a lifelong teetotaller, as you probably know. He also lost on eye, because of a childhood illness I believe, and had a glass one which he kept in a tumbler of water by the bed when he was sleeping. Dad said he got the shock of his life the first time he saw his father flick it out of the eye socket with his little finger and drop it into the water.

Elizabeth Ada Ileen Trevarthen, called Ada, Dad’s mother, was of Cornish descent but born in Auckland on 24 February, 1884. The sixth of nine children. She was like Dad—dark-skinned, black-haired, brown-eyed and, I always thought, a bit spooky. The family was from near Truro and there is a Coat of Arms! ‘Argent (silver), a Boar passant gules (red), armed or (gold), between three mullets of the second.’ Whatever that means—there is a gloss.

Her father was William Trevarthen and her mother Emma, née Harney; the Harneys were from London. Emma was born there in 1847 and came out to Auckland on the Gertrude in 1863, aged 16. When they landed she heard the guns booming from the war down in the Waikato. She’s also said to have seen the Pink and White Terraces before they were destroyed in 1886.

The Trevarthens came out on the Bolton in 1839, to Wellington, arriving there in 1840; it was a New Zealand Company ship. Their name appears in the manifest as ‘Trevarton’ and the father, William, aged 32, is described as an agricultural labourer. He and his wife Elizabeth already had three children. Most NZ Company labourers were assisted migrants also. Just two months after arriving at Port Nicholson, the family moved to Auckland, where William junior was born in 1850; he died in 1920, the same year Dad was born. He was a carpenter and joiner and most of his sons were builders. He married Emma Harney in Parnell in 1873. She also died in January 1920, within a few weeks of her husband, so Dad would not have known his grandparents on either side of the family.

The Trevarthens lived in Herne Bay; Red Mole used to rehearse in a church hall Ada’s brothers built, St. Stephens Presbyterian, in Jervois Road! Ada’s younger brother Albert died in the Great War. There’s a letter he wrote to his brother Bertram just days before he was killed.

Ada was a music teacher but gave it up after she married Charlie in Auckland in 1915. Gave up playing piano too. Uncle Don, their first born, once showed me some pieces of sheet music that were hers. She died in 1962, with dementia. Charlie predeceased her, a heart attack in a hotel room while on the road in Whangarei in 1959.

They mostly lived in Wellington. Lyall Bay, Seatoun and in that building on Oriental Parade, whose name I always forget. I saw it just last week. He worked for the YMCA, for Todd Motors, was a JP and during the war contemplated standing for Parliament for the National Party; but did not, perhaps because his stammer made public speaking difficult. He was quite stern; but liked practical jokes. He’d kick you in the bum when you weren’t looking. Dad had vestiges of that sense of humour too.

There’s lots more (including letters) but perhaps that’s enough for now!

 

image : head of Charlie’s walking stick; with inlaid native timbers; a bit chewed by dog Mungo; provenance otherwise unknown

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Limbo

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The crooked palm unsheathes knives that glitter intermittently in the afternoon light of a day that will not appear on any calendar. When the sky lours like this, the wasps stay away. I imagine them folding down their wings in tubes of bamboo or in waxy cells under eaves, recalling an ancestry of ants. The basil turns woody in the stems but, despite rumours of affinity, there’s nothing teak-like there. Somewhere else are men who want their money back; they don’t know who has it and may never do so. An accountant, dressed in leathers, climbs on a black motorcycle and goes looking for stray increments. He will perhaps find them. Limbo is no more, by Papal edict, virtuous pagans and sinless babes cast loose to wander bodiless and forever upon the firmament of waters. Their cries become cloudy miracles that fall as sweet rain. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme flower in or out of season, murmuring remedies. Remember me, they say, to one who lives there. She once was . . . irredeemable, the lost souls, the lost time. Was and will be, two tropic tendrils of a circle that is unbroken yet can never close. A dream without beginning or end: the parade of shopfronts, staggered higgledy-piggledy up one side of a narrow defile. Their antique urns and witches’ spires. Their painted plaster lions. The truck’s engine labours as it crests the rise and goes on towards a delusive rendezvous. In back, the inflatable universe, twelve open steel cubes, a medieval cart, an acrobat’s wheel, seven masks of Anubis and what else is not recorded. The actors are coming from the north, bringing the penny-farthing, a tailor’s dummy, aluminium torches, cotton waste and bottles of kerosene. Their wigs and greasepaint, their tricks and small props. The two convoys are to meet outside the stage door of a municipal theatre in some provincial city where posters for the show are already peeling from the lampposts. The driver puts on whiteface using a crayon, he applies mascara to his lashes, wipes kohl with his index finger across the bruises beneath his tired eyes. Though he cannot remember what part he is to play, or if he has a part to play. His face in the mirror nobody would ever want to see. Unless under lights. Here come the actors in their beat-up cars, a soft-top Buick sedan, a Pontiac V8 station wagon with a leaking petrol tank, a dusty white van full of musicians and gear. There’s a man in a green jacket, wearing a sardonic bowler, harbouring magnificence until it should be required. A slender woman with striped tights and leg warmers, small round glasses, a delicious voice. The fire-eater with flame inside her sleeve. The Strongman and the Marvellous Boy. Bass players, lutanists, drummers, singers; the whole panoply. The Chinese dancer, naked but for spangles and jewels, a fringe at her hips, climbs into the back of the truck. It’s close in there, with the costumes, the moulting velvets and raggedy satins, the disintegrating feather boas, the undertaker’s top hat with dented crown, his high-collared long black coat. Scent of cardamom. Or spikenard. Her pink tongue, strangely forked, slides between her small teeth. She wants cocaine. After the show, the driver says. I’ll give it to you after. The fork in her tongue is lumpy and divides into unequal misshapen parts as, arching her body, without touching him, she brings her mouth close to his ear. Sly insinuation of breath, wisps of pubic hair escaping the fringes of her ceinture, smell of musk, of damson. Now, she urges, I want some now . . . Magnesium flares behind a tin god, a plane takes off for the empyrean. Or is it a dark boat, muffling its oars, crossing the stage? Ashes on the meniscus of the cove? What are those shapes moving before the cyclorama, there in the limelight? A sigh, a hiss like pressure escaping from a valve and then she’s gone, they’re all gone, limbo. Grey light of dawn, a fern frond uncurled in the window and faint music lingering on the air: a true love of mine.

photo by Mayu Kanamori

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