Thursday, July 31, 2008

Matching shoes

I overheard her saying that, while being fitted with a colonoscopy bag at the hospital clinic, she told the nurses the joke someone had passed on to her – the one that said the worst thing about having a colonoscopy bag was the difficulty in finding matching shoes – only to learn that the very nurses she was talking to had made up the joke in the first place, and then, pleased with their efforts, had spread it through the community – very likely via those annoying emails that always come in clumps, as she said, and particularly on a Friday morning.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Red Tree

The red-painted tree had been there for weeks, my son told me. We had been walking past it every day. It even had ‘Red Tree’ painted in red on the asphalt in front of it, but that I’m yet to notice.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The great Théophile

My friend Elaine, whose doctoral thesis Sojourns of the Literati in Nineteenth Century Istanbul was published to modest critical acclaim seven years ago, said that she was so taken aback to hear her hairdresser refer to Gautier while he was sculpting the fabric of her hair, as he liked to call it, that she hadn’t been able to stop herself mentioning the great Théophile out loud. It was only some hours later that she realised, of course, her hairdresser – a young Canadian who wore his own straight black hair slicked behind his ears – had meant Jean Paul, and Gaultier with an ‘l’, which probably explained, she told me, the slow shake of his head that she caught in the mirror as he was putting the electric razor to the back of her neck.

Monday, July 21, 2008


For some days, after hearing about the body of the as-yet unidentified woman found in a barrel on the outskirts of Sydney, I couldn’t help thinking of the figure I had seen walking along the one road that leads into the town where one of Australia’s most feisty early twentieth century writers was born. This figure, whose tentative steps between the road and the ditch and whose thick, pale blue synthetic jacket with matching beanie and scarf, worn as if in anticipation of the novelty of snow in the nearby mountains, had made me think, not so much of a child, but of those vulnerable people in institutions who are dressed by others and so will always resemble children. I remembered, too, that the murdered woman in the news had been naked except for a garish Swatch watch still attached to her decomposing wrist – a garish Swatch watch whose soft plastic band had been red, orange and yellow: the three colours, by co-incidence, of the backpacks on the supposedly young and eager pilgrims who, even then, were beginning to pour into Sydney, one group after another, to see the pope.

Taking the cue rest sticks

As my cousin was describing how surprised he was to see a World Youth Day pilgrim at the intersection of Broadway and City Road – outside The Lansdowne Hotel in fact – with a pair of cue rest sticks over his shoulder, his wife interrupted to point out that the supposed cue rest sticks had actually been very simple crucifixes, made from plywood and dowelling, and that this was the third time Bruce had attempted to tell this pointless and idiotic anecdote.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Where to see the pope today

She told me that when she saw her neighbours Ted and Clive on the street yesterday, their shaved grey heads held together as they waited for the lights to change, she realised that their choice of wearing identical black jackets printed all over with cavorting gold skeletons would have been less in solidarity with the women selling POPE GO HOMO t-shirts than a deep nostalgia for something in the groups of uniformed teenagers with lanyards and caps that we were seeing everywhere in our city for so-called World Youth Day – for that time, perhaps, when just the sight of Ted and Clive together and holding hands, as they had once put it to her during a chat over the front fence, could still upset the stiff-arsed passers-by of Sydney.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A pair of grass trees

It was the fact, she told me, that the pediment over the door of the School of Public Health and the School of Tropical Medicine in the university had been carved, perhaps a century ago, with those very words – words that connoted the paternal figure of the striding male doctor in pith helmet and breeches – that she couldn’t help thinking about the magnificent plants at the end of the path leading up to it, which have been known variously over the years as ‘black boys’, ‘grass trees’, as well as the faintly off-putting, botanical name of Xanthorrhoea.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Our neighbours wanted to know whether we had noticed that, for nearly three weeks now, by seven o’clock every morning – which is the time that one of them leaves for work – all the windscreen wipers of the vehicles parked in our street had been flipped into the vertical position – standing like sentries, in the way of Stalin’s supporters, as they put it, who were too afraid to sit down before the man himself did. By the afternoon, only a few of the windscreen wipers would still be vertical, which was a sure sign to thieves that those particular cars weren’t being looked after in the way that other cars were.

The thing to do, they advised – and this they had been telling everybody they knew in the street, and we should do likewise – was to resist the temptation to lay the windscreen wipers flat. In this way, they thought, the thieves would be confused and would go and find another street of cars to harass.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


They told us that, when they awoke one morning to find their seven metres of James Stirling pittosporum hedge had been stolen, they were relieved to find that the police took their predicament seriously. Their gardener, who had been working in the area for nearly fifty years said it was ‘unreal’, using the expression – or so they had to assume – in the way of a septuagenarian rather than a teenager.