John Clare Writings

The Mathew & Rebecca Sketches

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Two stories were favourites when Mathew and Rebecca were little; Rebecca being the littlest but not by much. At first I made these stories up and then the main elements were repeated with variations.

In one, the three of us were climbing a tree, but the tree began growing faster than we could climb. This was undoubtedly stolen in part from ‘Jack And The Beanstalk’, but they didn’t seem to notice. The trouble for the three of us began when the tree reached the edge of the earth’s atmosphere. At this point we would all let go together and fall through the night. After we had fallen a certain way we would catch branches and relax for a while, enjoying the starry view. Indeed we were always sitting on a bed in the night when the story unfolded. Sometimes we would try to climb downward faster than the tree grew, soon we would have to fall again, then relax and slowly rise. When the time came to move to the next story we would fall all the way down to within about two metres of the ground and take hold of the springy branches and then we would let go.

I can’t remember in which place that story began, but the other one definitely began when we were living on a long hill running down to Tamarama Beach. A huge pack of dogs would begin running down this hill from the direction of ┬áBondi Junction I would guess. At one point a boy whose name I could not quite remember would come out from a side street.

Ah, now what was his name…? By now Rebecca had begun to tremble with excitement. “Mathew,” she would whisper. “What did you say? I can’t remember his name…”

“Mathew,” she would whisper in my ear.

“I think his name was… what? I think it was…”


“Oh yes, I remember. It was…”

“Mathew!” we would say in unison.

Mathew would have a crooked grin by then. He knew what was going on.

Now the Mathew in the story would leap onto the back of a big dog and ride on down toward the beach. Then from another side street would come a little girl who… and by now Rebeccca would be getting really excited. “Now this girl’s name was… ah… it was… Rrrrr…”

“Rebecca,” she would whisper.

“Ah yes, it was Rebecca!”

She too would jump onto a dog and  race after her brother on down to Tamarama.

Actually there was a third story, and this was accompanied by music.

This time we would be lying on the lounge room floor in front of the record player. Bruckner was not my favourite composer but I had a recording of one of his symphonies and it suited our purpose.

“Now,” I would say, “we are going into a dark forest”.

Indeed dark branches of music reached out and we walked under them. The forest grew darker, but there were clearings where the sun shone through lighter leaves and the air was was full of bird song. This was often requested and I could feel them go into a thrall of woodland, mystery and peace.

Often requested too was ‘Good Vibrations’, to which we would dance madly and sing along. So much was packed into that brief masterpiece, including the nana nana naa nyananaaa refrain that kept transposing upward. This was later the TV theme for The Good Guys furniture retailers.


At the end we lived in Bellevue Hill , above the green well of Cooper Park in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, where hippies took their trips. I came to think of it as Itchykoo Park, after the song by The Small Faces, and it was all too beautiful by far, for our marriage was ending.

On weekends I took our children, whose names were… don’t prompt me… down to Cooper Park. The first stage of this lovely cleft is a series of semi-circular grassy embankments dropping down to a flat oval far below, with a sandstone stairway down the centre like the sacrificial way before an Aztec temple. Beyond the oval the park drops again into the wooded gully, and on it runs, with paths and bridges, a creek and several ponds and even a grotto; by tennis courts, and then on into another grassy flat park which ends at the electricity sub station of Double Bay.

When we got to the first level a tremendous excitement would overtake us. We would run on the flat, and, curving down the path, run faster still. I always stayed just behind them and a little to the side, watching their soft cheeks pushing through the air and the sun scintillating in their red and blue woolies in winter.; seeing the turning blurring technicolour world through their eyes. Curiously, I kept imagining we were in Canada.

When we reached the swings near the tennis courts, we would all have a go on the wooden roundabout, and then it would be time to push Rebecca on the giant swing. Mathew would stand beside me to watch this amazing business. Rebecca was tiny and perfect as a doll, with blond hair and cornflower blue eyes; so perfect that people had to lift her from the ground and display her in the air. She liked to be pushed higher and higher on the swing, so high I had to jump in the end to reach the seat. People going by would watch this performance with alarm, but I had complete confidence in her composure – it is only now that I have retrospective misgivings. I would leap to give her that extra push , and back she would fly, calm and ecstatic, quite perfect, up into the sky.

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