“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





05 August 2012


The author visits Adelaide's East End to do heavy Mines Department drilling business in the pre-latte Bat Chain Puller days ... obviously something rather heavy in the back of the ute ... I seem to recall a Terex diff crownwheel ... photo Chris Langman; artwork: Maire Mannik (left)  ...   The following is a 1996 letter to that inveterate writer of letters to the editor, Edgar Woods Castle of Tungkillo, in response to the alarm he wisely showed at the conversion of a classically-cluttered inner-city electrical repair works to a sanitary chrome and glass coffee joint.

Losing our mysto-letric 'hood: 
Letter to Edgar Woods Castle
Coffee corrupts wires and chains 

Dear Edgar,

Whatever did happen to that temple in Pulteney Street? I mean, the guy could've died - which seems unlikely, given the weight of wireless activity he conducted over the years - but even then the sheer mass of the valves and wire and housings - which would have been dangerously left to vibrate without his management - wouldn't have tolerated the sideways motion essential for transport. 


The other one was the Central Saw Works opposite the divers' chandlery just there off Gouger Street. That guy did die physically, leaving something like seventy six thousand giant teeth unfiled. Apparently these surrendered the remnants of their bite and gradually dulled away and resumed enough for the Officials to interrupt and come in and move them, although a couple of the huge sawmillers' band saws - I witnessed him wrestling a twenty four footer across his leather apron once - came over quite snakey when the bailer twine gave way and the damned things unwound and lashed about like giant serpents from Hell. 

They reckon the Officials went into the corners fairly quickly. 

Levitate or shred?

I also recorded a fairly serious draw whilst attempting to pass Adelaide Chain Pullers in Hindley Street. My calculations suggested it had something to do with the amount of  pointillismic energy which builds up around unused tackle blocks and heavy duty chain tensioners, but Mum said it was just dirt. She shoulda known: her Dad made coil springs for trains when he wasn't preachin the gospel.  Nowadays I can't even work out where that place was: no matter how slowly I move, I can't recieve anything and you'd think there'd be some sort of trace of it remaining there amongst all the shish kebab joints and whores. One Grote Street premises brings it to mind, along a bit from the Opera. Mainly Sidchrome stuff there though: big workshop kits, and nowhere near the force. Not enough chain.

But if it's just Pulteney Street you're talking, the old Poultry Association Hall was always fairly powerful, even though the marriage of poultry and Pulteney had a slightly dodgy sort of poofy fluffiness about it. I liked the big wall plaques which listed the Grand Champion chooks of generations of full-time fowl wranglers. Empty, she was as good as a Buffs' Lodge. The only times I ever saw her full was when the Old Man would bring us all down from Kanmantoo and rent her for a Revival, and he'd be out the front screaming Hellfire and Jesus' Blood, calling on the fire of perdition to drive the stray souls a-crawling down that sawdust trail past the lists of the great roosters of Australia. I couldn't get the cupboard open but I reckon they kept quite a few stuffed chooks in there for special rituals.

Nineteen ninety I actually moved from Mount Crawford to Hurtle Square - everything came along without much resistance - and during the ensuing years wandered quite a lot of Pulteney en route to Binnsy's Thirst Emporium, and over and over I remembered those moments of enlightenment in the Chook Hall and compared them to the constant hum all those wires and valves built up in your man's place. The simmering power of that barely contained electricity won hands down, which to me seemed to be a good indicator of how religion falters when you take too much of the mystery out of her. She needs quite a deal of arcane mumbo jumbo, and not all that black and white hot and cold Talk Straight To Jesus bullshit the Old Man shouts. Which is why the Greek Orthodox, just as an example, usually get a pretty good mob. The Roman church suicided, admitting the English mass. Although Rome had been uncertain really since stoicism degraded to dogma and Marcus Aurelius said: "Blessed be the partial, for they shall inherit the earth". My Old Man would probly get along okay with Marcus Aurelius. 

Not a bad bloke, really, Marcus Aurelius, but no great shakes with the religion. Stoicism worked best as a rumour. Another thing he said - and it's fair dinkum this time - was "All things are the same: familiar in experience, transient in time, sordid in their material; all now such as in the days of those whom we have buried". And he said: "Accept without pride, relinquish without struggle." And furthermore: "To acquaint yourself with these things for a hundred years, or for three, is the same". I can see him there on a quiet night on the Germanic front, casting aside his cloak to take up the clay and carve out another pristine meditation by the fire. I'm sure he was a resumptionist, too, but somehow the purple job of Emperor led him to literacy, and his faith degraded to dogma as if to prove itself, resuming to its own gravitas

Top half of Nicholas Binns' Exeter by Milly the Kid 1987

Nossir Edgar, I reckon that if he did die they never could've got the stuff to move laterally to the truck, because it was all connected up and the force would've kept it tangled and glowering, right where she was. Pretty frightening: considering the danger the Officials were in, and the fools never realised. Probly in white coats and everything. So I'm buggered if I know how they converted it to a joint where all these mugs sit, eating cake: bastards must be hard as nails. Or maybe just so stupid they never realise that their motions don't set properly and float. Nor that their girlfriend hates their breath. Probly blame the coffee. And go back for more, day after day. Jesus. Hell.

One of the reasons is I've got this domestic Kingsley shelf wireless - the one about eighteen inches long, with the tuning dial about the same size as the speaker - is that it was Pat Dadonna's down at the Royal Oak. He'd sit there with his hand on it, stroking the race results out, the other one working his smoke. It'd get so bloody cold there the topless barmaid would don a guernsey once everybody'd got their drink and she'd take it off just to serve you and then put it back on again and sit there on a stool down one end while Pat sat up the other in the dark, long brown hand on the Kingsley. Listening. If his equus got up he'd pat that wireless like a good little boy, and we made jokes he never understood about Pat being an abbreviation of Pasquale, which was his real name. That Kingsley's got his beautiful Italian hand grease all over it and it's number five seven one zero four one. Talk about patina. I took a sheilah down there who was a Professer of language from Italy and she couldn't understand a word old Pat said. Dialect, she said. She was pretty weird anyway: rough trader. There's a scrap of a sticker on the back of it that says BUY BETTER AT BAILETTI'S 192-4 Hindley Street CYCLES FIREARMS ELECTRICAL. Anyway, the bloody thing keeps fading in and out and I can't part with it because when Pat eventually sold the pub and took his wife to New York for the first holiday of their lives he dropped dead of a heart attack in Times Square and that was that. Monica reckons I should clean it up if I want to listen to it but she doesn't understand all those years of goosebumped barmaids shivering in the dark and Pat just sitting there smoking, talking a lingo that nobody else in the world could understand. Just before he went away he cleared out the cellar a bit and put a bottle of Sedna on the shelf, as if it was brand new. He eventually found a catalogue old enough to list a price and I bought it. The stuff hadn't been manufactured for twenty years, but when I asked if he had any more he said something about getting more in, as if you could do it just like that. Karl Seppelt named it Sedna because that's Andes backwards and the cola nuts came from the Andes. I could never work out why he put cows on the label, but I enjoyed being able to purchase it in chemists when I was just a kid. They knew I had a serious respect for Pat so they gave me his wireless and some other bits and pieces when they cleared the whole joint out. Anyway, Edgar, in the absence of BAILETTI'S CYCLES FIREARMS ELECTRICAL I could use that bloke in Pulteney Street, because I know he'd fix that little Kingsley in a zip, and he'd never clean any of Pat's grease off it.     

Another great wireless was the one the proprietor of the Ceylon Hut kept on during the cricket season. He set it up on one of the dining tables in the middle of the restaurant, with stacks of dockets and newspapers and stuff all around it. It was a beaut white bakelite job, and he lit her up with one of those old fashioned gooseneck desklamps with a globe no stronger than about fifteen watts. Hairoil bloke, he was, glasses, proper part on the left. He managed to make cricket become part of the flavour of his curries and I'll bet you not a soul knows whatever happened to that wireless when he left and it resumed.

Some of this is really hard to come to grips with but I trust you, because I have faith in your theory of resumption. Just never let it decay too far into doctrine -- we don't require such vivid proof. Very few can really come to grips with it, but I'm right in there with you. 

I lived out of a fine Saratoga trunk from nineteen eighty five through to nineteen ninety, when a mate demanded it back because he reckoned he'd never ever given it to me in the first place. I reckon that if a bloke can't live comfortably out of a Saratoga there's something wrong with him. And if another bloke gives you one because he found it at an auction and he reckons you could use it and appreciate it better than he could and then he turns around and says he never gave it to you in the first place then he probly believes in resumption, too, even if he dies without ever understanding any of it.

Keep that stylus honed, Edgar. I like it.
Philip White,
Wednesday 19th of December 1996.

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