“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)





10 January 2014


... blessed be the water-carters ... photo by John White

Memories and death at Christmas ... two bits of an old unfinished work ... every boofhead buggers up their early stuff trying to write about their birth ... by PHILIP WHITE


I had always thought they were footballs. Just a babe, a pink milkwashed bubbie in that big wood house among the pines, and the huge stitched leather footballs squeezed down on my baby sleep and squashed my littleness in the dark. Fat, gloomy oppressors they were, enormous hard polished skins stitched tight with liquor and swampgas and the Evil One and their reek of tallow and tannin and their gravity and doom pressed me down into the feathers until I woke shrieking in my sweaty flannel wraps.

I dreamt that fucking football dream for ten years of nights. It came I thought from the football where from the soft safe leather and walnut of the car I would be held up to watch the men bash Uncle Bob out there across the white fence on the grass. The men in their football clothes and their stripes and their red and white mountain flesh and their shouts and the whistle and the running and whacking loud luny men in packs and their sweat and their piss and one day at the football Uncle Bob got the copper from the next town back and bashed him in the head and broke his jawbone of an ass and they joked about Uncle Bob  giving the copper his go at the football where you were allowed to break jaws in sport and the copper looked just like all the rest of them there in the pack in his football clothes and his salty mountain flesh and the shouts of them and his astonished look and the free gush of blood from his mouth.

That's where I thought the football dreams began. They would come down from the darkness of the pressed tin ceiling in the night, looming like great leather skinsful of water and they would harden as they closed on me and finally they would shove me down into the cot and and suffocation.

Sometimes I would swell right back, and as the infant body ballooned at them there below the sighing pines the mind would shrink in converse proportion until the tiny head would sit on the edge of the gross form like a tic, struggling in vain to correct the stampeding enlargement, slowly but surely losing touch with the inflating extremities. Ridiculous. The signals from the rounding fingers and toes and the bursting arms and legs, the messages from the outposts would weaken and phase like shortwave as the swelling boomed on and we would lose reception - we even lost Borneo once, the morse just blipping right out into Sputnik nothing while the cells bred in tropical demonic frenzy until their gorging size alone would suffocate the tiny mind and the footballs would suddenly seem a breeze compared to the vile gargantuan jelly my huge balloon of body became.


I pushed through the chocolate dirt up near Childers and I reckon I came through, back hunched, like a little furry bracken frond. Bellbirds tinked and away in the forest the lyrebirds mimicked the sound of distant axes. Our weather dumped in over the ridge behind us and everything smelled of cowshit and the bracken just kept shooting all round the edges of the farm, waiting for us to leave.

 Days began darkly with the flub of rubber boots on the porch, men grumbling low for the milking, the dogs mewling at the wire door, anxious for cattle. I'd feel my way down the long wood-and-wax passage to the little worker's kitchen on the side, where somebody'd be firing her up in the dark because we hadn't wired her up for the power and anyway the sun wouldn't be long and the cold and the wet and dogs and the soft-breathed pines were impatient to drag us all outside.

Once I could walk and climb and stride around like a firstborn I'd select a tree before sunrise and I'd work my way up through its sticks and sap to the top to look out over the flat fog sea that stretched from the foot of our hill across to the Snowies in the distance and the the light would lick the edges of those mountains like chill quicksilver at first, then melt them with all the flames of hell when the white hot disc of the sun would hump up through the powderblue mist like I did from that dirt and it would brush heat onto my cheeks and light up that valleyful of fog so it looked like a special new ice with no edges.

Sometimes we'd drive across that flat cleared valley in winter to see the snow and there was bracken there too but it was alien bracken, coming up through the pure white. Snow couldn't really father something as swampish and ancient and powerful as the bracken frond. You could understand the stuff coming from our black manure dirt, because that was the dirt that drove the mountain ash, the lyrebird, the ragwort, bramble and cow. That dirt of ours was designed to grow bracken. At first you'd get a little bump in the ground, then a star-shaped crack, as if a very slow bullet was coming through from beneath and there'd be this furry pussy willow lump of frond under there, curled up tight like a ring-tail. You could stick your little finger into the bristly fur of that prehensile coil and it would hold you like a possum tail, squeezing firm and animal, as if it weren't really trying to uncurl at all; as if it were actually attempting to contract.

You could never fold a mature bracken back into something as small and soft, and nothing would stop those baby fronds from unrolling and unfolding and stretching out into that tough, stalky, prehistoric thing that watched you over the boundaries of the farm. Legions of it, waiting. Sending out scouts, sure. There were scouts coming through all the while, but mainly it was those legions over the fences, waiting. When the time came for the babies to unroll, like when it rained, thousands of them would burst up and you could put a brick there on top of one and find it next day tossed aside and the bracken halfway up to your knees. Or halfway up to my little knees. It'd be halfway up to your knees tomorrow.

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