At one time I had a girl friend who was much younger than I was and only liked sex occasionally, yet we loved each other. On winter nights we loved to slide shivering and laughing between the cold sheets, rub each other’s bodies and hold them tight at the point where warmth had not quite won the battle but soon would. Our excitement was that of children. I didn’t care about the infrequent sex. I loved her. I should stress that she was in her twenties, not a teenager or a child. Her friends knew and were very friendly to me. Those I see now still are. We had some awfully close shaves however, when parents or aunts turned up and I dressed frantically and went out over the back fence. One morning she narrowly opened the bathroom door, put her head in and whispered frantically, ‘Turn the shower off and don’t say anything! My aunty is here!’ So I stood there for quite a while with a towel around me, hoping the aunt would not want to use the loo. Finally she could not stand the fear. I was not keen on it myself.
Weirdly enough, she told me that she thought her mother was in love with me, though the mother had met me only two or three times at music venues where my girlfriend played. Sometimes her mother would read out things to her that I had written in the paper and declare that I was so clever and so funny. She was much more interested in my writing than my girlfriend was. I didn’t care. In the end I found myself pretending to be much more excited than I really was on the nights when she became quite ardent, though I had certainly desired her intensely in the beginning.
In a way I still love her, but it doesn’t bother me at all to know that she is married now and has a child. It makes me happy. I wish I could play with her child.
‘For sleep is such a gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole’
I like watching television late at night from bed; not because I can’t sleep. All I have to do in order to slip away is plan a military campaign. The defence of my own dwelling is of particular interest and soon sends me off into the realm of soft sweet slumber. The great general – myself – lives here in this building, where he can plan ambushes and assaults, to dismay, demoralise and ultimately destroy the invader. Where he can sleep in warmth and the precarious safety of unseen guards. So exciting is this that I rub my hands together, hunch my shoulders and make my body vibrate for a fleeting moment with tension like a child. A thrill goes through me. The more complex the disposition of my guards in unexpected positions, the quicker my brain tires and the faster the circuit is broken, throwing my brain involuntarily to sleep. Sometimes a police helicopter, lights switching high/low high/low high/low red/green/red/green punching pockets of air with its blades thwockthwockthwockthwock engine stuttering like a machine gun, rises in my back window and passes overhead towards the university whence it sends back graphs of the terrorist enfilades and infiltrations among the neo gothic buildings. This lends a touch of verisimilitude to what is, quite frankly, sleep-inducing fantasy. The helicopter is more likely trying to find a thief who has run from Glebe across Parramatta Road to hide on the campus, or tracking a car that is being chased below. Sirens shriek in a rising thrill of sound as the police cars, fire engines or ambulances correspondingly rise up the university drive.
And sometimes the full moon will stand in that window, exposing me with its radiance as I lie in bed. Aha, the glass is bullet proof and my guards will pick off the assassins from rooftops, tree platforms, popping out of hollow hillocks and mounds connected to a system of tunnels below, covering each other in a maze of cross angles plotted by the great general, who values his sleep. Sometimes the moon battles through smudged clouds, or flies through them without moving, harvesting cloud stuff with its radiance. Sometimes it stands in tremendous unmoving grandeur above cloud canyons with sharp stars in the gaps of black night. And yet that moon seems fragile as china, a globe that would ring if you struck it with your knuckles. It bathes me with its ethereal light. I reach for my binoculars on the bedside table. There is a very large star. I know it is not a planet because it pulses or twinkles, shifting spines of light like fast motion film of a sea urchin migrating. It darts about in my binoculars like the reflection of a star in a disturbed pool at night. That is because I can’t hold my hands steady while holding the binoculars up above me.
Sometimes I speak to the television; rarely out loud. Nor always do I rebuke. Late the other night, or most likely the very early morning, a block of lettering appeared on the screen. It said, more or less:
CHANNEL 10 ADVISES
The following is a paid presentation.
‘Thank God,’ I said. ‘I’m sick of all this amateur stuff.’
Yo ho, you don’t have to laugh at my jokes. I have that area covered.
Nevertheless I quickly changed channels. Even ancient episodes of The Baron or The Avengers were preferable. It is strange seeing The Avengers in colour. In the 1960s I watched it in black and white – in England, where it was very much a part of Swinging London, along with Batman before Flower Power took over and the Beatles sported moustaches. Decades later it was revived late at night in Australia and I realised that it had been filmed in colour for the American market. UK television could only transmit black and white when I lived there.
I readily concur with Russel Howcroft of the Gruen Transfer, who believes that advertising is the bastion of western civilization. My first full time job was in advertising (I started almost two years in advance of the first TV broadcasts in Australia), but I hate the ads viciously. I hate the faces working away at the camera. I hate the mouthfuls of vivacious teeth. I hate the scenarios and the acting that are at least as pretentious as Ingmar Bergman, Ken Russell or even some rock clips (How come Fellini gets away with it?). I hate the exaggerated Australian accents: BUJJETT LUV!, BUJJETT D’RECT CAAAR‘NSURANCE. I hate the mother knows best but father thinks he does insurance ads. Enough of what I hate. Wait, wait. I don’t hate all rock clips. John Newnham has the genuine pop magic. I want to know now. Would you love me again? Oh, one more thing. I hate the smugness of the agency guests on The Gruen Transfer who sneer at the quaint slogans, primitive technology and unsophisticated psycho babble of my era – so inferior to the quasi scientific formulations of today. Somehow they sold millions of bottles of Coke back in the Jurassic period. Also Pepsi after the war. Your Pepsi Cola dealer is a handy dandy guy. Also Holden cars. Likewise Brylcream hairdressing, a little dab’ll do ya, Mortein, breakfast cereals, Vegemite etc etc. I like Aeroplane Jelly. In fact Aeroplane jelly for me. Myers brought out the American guru Clyde Bedell to lecture us each year on ‘selling points’ and ‘benefits’. The old hands scoffed. Aeroplane Jelly For Me certainly worked. Where was the benefit? Okay that’s enough. I don’t hate advertising as such. Just the ads, except for the occasional funny one. We learned, both on the job and at night schools organised for us by Myer, everything there was to know about print technology. Most of it now completely useless, yet I am somehow glad to have learned it all. Cock-a-doodle doo! Start the day well with Kinkara Tea! And remember: Mother’s Choice flour in every home.
The man who came to lecture us about newspaper and magazine circulations, their demographics and advertising rates per column inch (also radio ratings and TV from 1956 on) looked remarkably like Richard Nixon. He believed in advertising as deeply as Russell Howcroft believes, but unlike Russell he allowed not the faintest glimmer of humour to dilute his sincerity. I don’t hate advertising as such. I just hate the ads. Enough. No wait, wait. I hate the deadly prose coming out of the agencies. I hate it when this stuff is intoned portentously by voices in relay. Wait! I hate the women positively adoring themselves with their faces inclined as they show you how wonderful their skin looks now that they are using some deadset slick shit. No shit! Enough.
Some, I know, hate Midsomer Murders as much as I hate the ads. They are wrong!
In the Sydney Morning Herald’s TV Guide this show used to be previewed frequently because there was a queue of young writers itching to point out that if all the murders committed in this heavenly patch of England had really occurred there would be no one left. Jesus Christ, and I say this in the most pious way, it’s a running joke, imbeciles! Midsomer Murders is a soft comedy. Like Sherlock Holmes it is always on the edge of parody. To send it up is to step into the hamlet of Crass.. Sure, I know that not every episode is good. Different writers are used. But the good ones of the old series with John Nettles and Jane Wymark and the acceptable ones from the new are up there near the pinnacle of the escapist arts, with Conan Doyle, P.G Wodehouse, Captain W.E. Johns, Richmal Crompton, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and the rest. It is not really aimed at young people, and they are its most persistent critics. Like Poirot it is repeated endlessly, and that is because it delivers something very specific.
A moment will arrive in the best episodes when the curiously sublime and irksome atmosphere of the English village, the satanic cultists and deeply eccentric God botherers, the discovery of another body – shot, poisoned, hung, brutally hacked – the arrival of the often sarcastic forensic boffin George in his blue overalls, his wry exchanges with Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby (whose wife’s name is Joyce), the half-timbered Tudor attics and dormer windows floating up amongst the pale soft leaves of English trees, the regattas, the striped blazers, the cricket grudge matches, will all coalesce in that perfect and singular Midsomer Murders satisfaction and I will fall asleep. Sometimes I might find out who done it when I see a repeat in the daytime. Some mysteries will never be solved for me.
There is an obvious parallel here. Perhaps you might remember being read to by your mother or a favourite aunt, or you might remember a book in which a child is reading, amongst sunlight, midges, dragon flies hovering in the reedy verges of a pond, the muzzy mumbling humming of bees and you, who are also a child, will fall asleep. And so, in the night, contentment modulates into bliss; bone, cartilage and gristle turns to felt and velvet and your very flesh becomes the soft stuff of the black sky.