When the rope snaps.

When the rope snaps, when the long story’s done.

Not for you only but for everyone

These praises will continue fresh and true

As ever, cruelly though the Goddess tricked you,

And lovers (it may be) will bless you for

Your blindness, grieved that you could praise no more.

(From Across The Gulf, Late Poems, Robert Graves published by the New Seizin Press in

Bob,Cala Deya,70s (Medium)[1]

Bob Jones left the planet on January 1st 2016

It is very difficult for me to write of my friend Bob Jones. Not because I can’t remember much about our times together, but because I can remember too much.

As I said in the post on his death, we were partners in mischief. An honest account of that mischief would be interminable. And one other thing.

The death of a close friend, only a few years younger than I am, brings mortality and the finite into sharp focus. As another old Mate Mark Lang said after a little health scare, it reminds you that life is a finite boogie and not an infinite doddle.

Bobby and I met when it seemed that life was an infinite doddle, back in the last year of the sixties, when I joined J Walter Thompson for my first job ever as a copywriter.I had, up to that point, been driving cabs and smoking way too much dope.

Bobby was my designated art director, an incredibly cool surfie from the northern beaches who could draw like an angel, sing and play the guitar. We were under the eagle eye of group head Tony Moon and his art director Jules Sher. Moon was brilliant, mercurial and a bloody hard to work for.

And Jones and I were not as much into work as we were into dope and booze. And sex. Moon endeared himself to us with one hard and fast rule. “If you get pissed at lunch don’t come back to work. You’ll only make a dick of yourself.” But we did work hard and we both learnt how to make ads that worked.

Bobby had a girl friend, Sandra Maddocks (Sam) who he later married. I was married to Sue. But in the tenor of the times this did little to stop our extramarital activities. And while Sue and I divorced after 12 years, Sam was with Bob until the day he died. A remarkably resilient relationship with both partners wandering off along other paths from time to time. What kept them together was a strong and  deep seam of love that wouldn’t die.

But back at JWT, living in the seventies, Bob and I bonded at work and outside work. Dope was smoked, a little acid was dropped, young women were loved and lost or at least mislaid,  but amidst all the frivolity much work was done. There were many times we worked the whole weekend through, day and night, to finish a campaign for the dreaded Moon.

Three years later we left together, and Bob and Sue I went to Singapore where we worked in the world’s craziest agency,  then Indonesia. Sam had already gone to Europe and was, if I remember correctly, doing secretarial work for Robert Graves in Deià

Bob loved Indonesia and especially Bali. He spoke often of wanting to return to trade in antiques, rugs, batiks. He loved the bartering process, loved the antique markets.

In those days the markets in Jakarta were stuffed with treasures from colonial times. We talked of organising shiploads of furniture and sending it back to Sydney. Of course he and I never did, but later, he and Sam did become traders in Indonesia.

The three of us then went to London, Bob went to Spain, and then sent me a postcard. That postcard changed the course of my life.

It was a hand drawn postcard. I wish I still had it. I’ve searched all over. It’s lying in some forgotten pile of letters, notebooks, other postcards. Or else it’s been tossed. What is remarkable about it is not just the deep — and often devastating — effect that it had on my life, but that I can still see it so clearly in my mind’s eye. That postcard cost me peace of mind, maybe a marriage. But it gave me Spain.

Bob had drawn himself lounging in an arched window, strumming his guitar, a wine glass on the sill. Behind and below him were gentle hills, a palm tree, beyond that olive trees, and finally, the sea, the Mediterranean. It was drawn with one of those fine black pens beloved of art directors of the time (when they drew rather than raided web sites for scrap), a Rapidograph, which delivered a fine, spidery, black line.

And although it was only a black and white drawing, the sun shone out of it, the sea was a seductive blue and the palm tree waved in the gentle breeze from Africa. We — Susie and I — were about to enter our second winter in London when that card arrived, a city that I have never liked and then actively loathed (I was almost shot there). A second winter of pushing coins into the slot of the rattling gas water heater, walking to work over rain slick pavements, wrapped in a tatty black fur coat, living with a damp cold that penetrated to the bone marrow, and trudging to Soho daily to earn just enough to keep the whole sordid process ticking over. Bob’s card promised sun, fun — and adventure.

He’d spent the first winter with us in London, before heading south to the island where Sam had lived and worked for several years before going back to Oz. The island was Mallorca, and the drawing on the postcard depicted the view from Son Rullan, a 14th century possessió, just outside Deiá on the north western coast of the island. A possessió was a county estate, a self contained farmhouse which had once housed the workers who picked the olives, pressed the olives and was a in reality a small village. By the time Bob got there, it was in disrepair and, in exchange for free rent, Bob and the others living there were supposed to be repairing it. But I knew none of this. Just that this postcard offered a way of escaping another London winter.

Suddenly, as is possible when you’re young and childless and resplendently irresponsible, we weren’t there, in our crummy flat in the Fulham Road, but on a train rattling through the south of France to the Spanish border.

And then we were living in this huge old wreck of a house and having more adventures than a boatful of Barbary coast pirates. A lot of those adventure, for Bob, were with a beautiful Spanish woman, Remedios. Check out the bottom left hand corner: someone – could have been me – toking on a pipe.Bob and Reme,70s (Medium)[2]

Here’s a shot Bob send me taken during that time,  of Sam, in the background, and in the foreground one of the genial villains of the village, the actor Del Negro, also departed.

F1000007 (Medium)[1]

And finally, another of Sam, as an ethereal hippy in a field of wild flowers, by local photographer Heiner Schmitz.

IMG_1561

I’m not going to go on about those times. I’ve written about them (only the names have been changed et cetera) in my book Grazing, but let me sum up my dear old friend.

He was a romantic, from his long blonde hair to his toenails. Facts were not his forte. He lived for beautiful women, beautiful music, beautiful images and beautiful places, especially islands. And although, sadly, he never kept up with his music – he had the talent to have made a career of it – the life he lived had much beauty in it. He and Sam lived in Deià, opened a shop called Islas and once a year, in winter, they travelled to Bali to stock the shop and then toured around the Islands of South East Asia. At least in the early days, Deià was very congenial village set amongst spectacular countryside.

I once called Bob the man who was always somewhere else. He was restless in one place, always ready to move on. Well, to a great extent, that’s what his life was: two places, two lives. And many dreams.

In our last conversation Sam told me she’d be planting a palm tree over his ashes. Which goes full circle back to that postcard that sent us to Spain. It’s the right tree to contain a romantic soul. She was with him, as I said, when he left, as were their two sons, Asher and Aden

Adios Bobby. I am just realising I’ll never sit opposite you at Sa Fonda, talking bullshit and drinking wine – well I’d be drinking wine, you’d be drinking beer. You’d remember your old Mate John T Fisher who’d bellow across the bar “I would kill my father rob my mother rape my sister break a blister for a San Miguel!”

Nothing left to say but vaya con dios or, as is more likely for both of us, the other bloke.

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To eat flowers

Unknown

 

 

 

 

 

 

voices to voices, lip to lip
i swear (to noone everyone) constitutes
undying; or whatever this and that petal confutes . . .
to exist being a peculiar form of sleep

what’s beyond logic happens beneath will;
nor can these moments be translated: i say
that even after April
by God there is no excuse for May

bring forth your flowers and machinery: sculpture and prose
flowers guess and miss
machinery is the more accurate, yes
it delivers the goods, Heaven knows

(yet are we mindful, though not as yet awake,
of ourselves which shout and cling, being
for a little while and which easily break
in spite of the best overseeing)

i mean that the blond absence of any program
except last and always and first to live
makes unimportant what i and you believe;
not for philosophy does this rose give a damn . . .

bring on your fireworks, which are a mixed
splendor of piston and pistil; very well
provided an instant may be fixed
so that it will not rub, like any other pastel.

(While you and i have lips and voices which
are for kissing and to sing with
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?

each dream nascitur, is not made . . .)
why then to Hell with that: the other; this,
since the thing perhaps is
to eat flowers and not to be afraid.
e.e. cummings or Edward Estlin Cummings

Prescript: Since posting the first part of this work, In a Minute There is Time, I have had many discussions on memory. The theories of Heidegger, Popper, Wittgenstein have been invoked. But I will not be drawn into the pomp and ceremony of philosophy. All these memories, whether borrowed or invented, stolen or remembered, are mine.

What is your first memory? How far back can you remember? Is it a memory or construction created from family stories, photographs or even wishful thinking? When asked my first memory, here is the story that I tell.

I am perhaps five, very young. I am in my pyjamas, and supposed to be in bed. But the noise in our little apartment (we used to call them flats) in Elizabeth Bay has woken me and I have tiptoed to the door of the little living room. My parents are holding a party. The small space is jammed with people. There is loud music playing and the air is, no doubt – it is not part of my memory, I’m filling in the gaps ¬– heavy with cigarette smoke. I am wide-eyed at my glimpse into the adult world. And then I see him. An American sailor, capless, white uniform, blue neck scarf, on the floor, eating flowers, I think lilies, from a vase. Some back story is needed.

This is 1950/51. My mother, Gloria, is a city slicker, a journalist and as I gathered was then something of a bohemian. She became a journalist during the war when so many of the men were fighting. She worked on the Daily Telegraph at that time, but had also, at some stage in her early life, been a model. She was a very attractive woman. Her friends include the poet Kenneth Slessor, the actor Chips Rafferty and others I can only vaguely recall. My father, on the other hand, was from the bush. Born in the tiny town of Natimuk in Western Victoria, graduated from Dookie Agricultural College in Victoria, then worked as a station manager around the country and then, was only just back from the war. He was in the RAAF, a Spitfire pilot, Flight Lieutenant in 457 Squadron, saw action over France and then Darwin. The dashing pilot and the glamorous journo. My mother had lived in and around Kings Cross and Elizabeth Bay since coming to Sydney from Springwood in the Blue Mountains where she had grown up with her mother and stepfather.

So the party was probably real. The smoky room. The bottles of beer. The cheap gin. The scratchy radio. The loud voices. But the sailor eating flowers? As clearly as my adult self can see this, I am sure it was a story told often, to friends, to illustrate the wild youth of my parents. More interestingly why did I retain this story and take it for my own. What does ‘eating flowers’ mean’? Now, at the risk of being accused of gilding the lily – or the lotus ¬– I’m going to examine this image closely.

The most famous of flower eaters were the sailors on Odysseus’/ Ulysses’ ship. This is how Homer tells the tale:

I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.

Of the flowers themselves, there are several candidates with Ziziphus lotus, a relative of the jujube being the most accepted. But when I looked at those candidates, I wondered why Nymphaea caerulea, also known as the blue lotus (already known under this name to the Greeks), is not the preferred candidate. It can be processed to be used as a soporific and, in some formulations, has psychotropic properties. One site, Nuerosoup says that:

Recent studies have shown Nymphaea caerulea to have psychoactive properties, and may have been used as a sacrament in ancient Egypt and certain ancient South American cultures. Dosages of 5 to 10 grams of the flowers induces slight stimulation, a shift in thought processes, enhanced visual perception, and mild closed-eye visuals.

So why Ziziphus lotus, which is a medicinal plants which modulates antioxidant activity and human T-cell proliferation rather than gives a high is the most favoured candidate, I have no idea.

If I am right, then, lotus-eating signifies the lure of indulgence, a preference for pleasure and drugged escapism. The same motif is to be seen in Joyce’s Lotus-Eaters, Episode 5 in Ulysses.

My first memory, then, is a warning or an admonition or a prediction that I will be tempted by pleasure, narcotics and self-indulgence. Guilty as charged. I have taken drugs, have indulged in lotus-eating both at home and for some years in the village of Deià on the island of Mallorca, one of the planet’s flower munching capitals. But something always saved me from succumbing entirely. Very briefly I will re-tell the story of an important drug episode on the island.

With a friend I set off one morning to do some work on another friend’s small house on the coast. We were going to plaster his walls, a boring job. So before we left, to alleviate the dreariness of the task, we each took a half tablet of lysergic acid, believing it to meek and mild. It was not, and we soon found ourselves reeling with the effect of a very heavy dose of the drug. In such a state we traversed the narrow paths along the cliffs of the coast with some difficulty, owing to the fact that rock faces which we had to lean against in order to stop from crashing to the sea below had, on that day, a tendency to pulsate, to writhe, to kaleidoscope alarmingly, pink and green and living rocks, filled at times with arms and legs, serpents and songbirds; the sea a crazy sparkling amorphous presence, swelling, racing towards a point between itself and the sky, the very path under our feet wobbling, more like rubber than the solid stuff it really was. For me it was necessary to poke at the ground with a walking stick, itself somewhat rubbery, to reassure me of the firmness of the land beneath my feet.

And it was in that way that I re-assured myself that this was just a drug, and its effects would go away, and that I was not mad. I have always been able to find a such a walking stick to get me back to reality and to keep me on the straight and narrow, no matter how appealing the bent and wide.

So Cummings tells us that:

since the thing perhaps is
to eat flowers and not to be afraid

Along the way he assures us that ‘what’s beyond logic happens beneath will’ and that:

(While you and i have lips and voices which
are for kissing and to sing with
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?

 

So Mr Cummings is pleading the case for romance, for eating the lotus in the open. For not fearing indulgence, pleasure, the soma for using our lips and voices for the right purpose and for feeling rather than measuring. Which is fine and well and good. But we must always take a sturdy walking stick to make contact with the earth. Otherwise we may well lose our bearings and our moorings.

bring forth your flowers and machinery: sculpture and prose
flowers guess and miss
machinery is the more accurate, yes
it delivers the goods, Heaven knows

s

All this from a memory, perhaps my first, or perhaps one implanted by an oft-told family story. Even so I like what memory researcher Martin Conway says: ‘ memories are psychological representations and not like photographs, videos or other types of recordings.’ I have not been afraid to eat flowers. Although these days, I stick to forget-me-nots.

Nymphaea caerulea, my preferred candidate for the lotus eaters lotus

Nymphaea caerulea, my preferred candidate for the lotus eaters lotus

 

Tripping along the track to Lluc Alcari

69“Little islands are like large prisons: one cannot look at the sea without wishing for the wings of a swallow.”

Sir Richard Burton

One morning we set off, Bob and I, to work on a little house in the pine forest on the way to the coast. Before we left, we dropped a quarter tablet of lysergic acid each with our morning orange juice. Bob had been carrying  the half tablet  around in his back pocket for years, Sandra had given it to him years before that. “It’ll probably give us a pleasant little buzz” he said as we popped the tiny white fragments in our mouths, and washed them down with the juice from the orange trees on the terrace outside.

The house we were going to work on belonged to Fernando Maza, a regular visitor to the village who lived mostly in Paris. He is an Argentinean with a heavily moustachioed face which is always alert and watchful. He never wears socks. I would often seeing him sitting back from the general palaver, observing. In conversation, his eyes narrow and smile and his mouth opens wide. He streeetches the end of a sentence, whether for effect or because of his accent, I never knew. But it is an infectious and charming quality.

His thick black hair is brushed loosely back, and falls curving down either side of his forehead. His badly shaved sideboards are greying. He walks with a springy step except when drunk, which is often, when he shambles. When drunk, he would sometimes argue loudly with Alfred Durhssen,  but most often he would sit in a corner and play his flute, joining in with the Pamboli Band if they were around. He gets drunk, he says, to extinguish the lucidity which otherwise makes his life unbearable. Brandy douses it. It sputters only briefly again when he plays the flute.

Fernando is a painter, a successful painter. He paints – or did then – barren chequered landscapes, reminiscent of Dali, sparsely littered with architectural wreckage and stone letters and numerals. He had been painting these for some years, and they sold well.

His point, couched in the cunning language of a painter justifying – and selling  – his obsession,  is that numerals and letters have a visual and mystical significance beyond their representative quality. They are silent but eloquent symbols that go further than language, than mathematics and hold within themselves the secrets of civilisation. And when you’re on a good thing, stick to it. Fernando once told me that there is no point in happiness, only fools are happy. Susie countered by asking him whether he was happy in love. “I’m too old for love” he replied. I told him that I happened to hold the social function of the fool in the highest esteem. He laughed his sniggering, chest heaving laugh.

One night at Gita’s he said to Bob and me  “tomorrow I am going to Pariiiiis. I want you to go out to the house and  put some yeso on my pareeeedes. You can do eeeeet?” Sure we can do eeeeet.

I had learnt to plaster working with Georges Sheridan. It’s a pleasant but boring and repetitive job, and one which we could just as easily have enlivened with a couple of joints. But no, the acid was there. I had not taken acid for years. Used to drop a little when I was working as a bouncer at a wine bar in Double Bay. The barman and I would share half a tablet before the shift started. It worked well, making me a quieter and nicer person. I broke up fights before they started – there was a lot of hugging. Whatever it was that we took then was very mild. I was not prepared for what happened on the way to his house accompanied, at the outset, with our house cat, Ruth, who liked nothing more than a ramble in the pine forest along the shore.

There’s a fig tree named El Gato

On the road to Lluc Alcari.

The King of Lluc Alcari

On a ladder in the fig tree

Wields his shining hatchet sceptre

And in a voice both round and mellow,

A purple olive basso, as deep

As that last bottle, asks the shabby fellows

Bumbling through his forest:

DONDEVAN?”

Where are you going? The question seemed, to those two, heads befuddled with a rogue dose of an unknown chemical (it may have been acid, it may have been anything), as deeply significant, not merely, as it must have been, as it was, from a local landowner, trimming his ancient fig tree, a landmark on the coastal track, a simple question of geographic intent, one of the two time honoured questions asked of all travellers everywhere: where have you come from; and where are you going?

He, the axe-wielding king, was not to know that in our state, a state in which we had traversed the narrow paths along the cliffs of the coast with some difficulty, owing to the fact that rock faces which we had to lean against in order to stop from crashing to the sea below had, on that day, a tendency to pulsate, to writhe, to kaleidoscope alarmingly, pink and green and living rocks, filled at times with arms and legs, serpents and songbirds; the sea a crazy sparkling amorphous presence, swelling, racing towards a point between itself and the sky, the very path under our feet wobbling, more like rubber than the solid stuff it really was. It was necessary to poke at the ground with a walking stick, itself somewhat rubbery, to reassure oneself of the firmness of the land beneath one’s feet.

Each breath appeared to be in tune with time. Above me I could hear a regular throbbing and whirring, the soaring wings of ten thousand eagles soaring overhead. It was – I knew –  the universal pulse, the sound of the movement of the stars across the heavens, the budding of leaves, the opening and closing of daisies, a bear shrugging and blinking its way out of its hibernating cave, the welcoming whisper of the breeze through the weaving, wind shaped trees. Every single action, mine included, every whisper, sigh, chuckle, groan and scream was in time with the regular roar of the skies.

Later I read the phrase ‘the oceanic feeling of limitless extension and oneness with the universe’, a phrase used by Romain Rolland to describe the nature of religious experience to Sigmund Freud who, in the footnote written by Arthur Koestler ‘regretfully professed never to have felt anything of the sort.’ But then his drug was cocaine, a drug for the go-getter, not LSD, the drug of  universal consciousness and enlightenment.

Meanwhile, back at the cliff face, a Viking ship raced across that bejewelled horizon under full sail down the coast towards the port of Sóller, hard on its heels a Chinese dragon throwing up a foam bow wave at a similar and unlikely speed.

We had been unable to enter Fernando’s house because the large and ancient key to the gnarled door of olive wood had taken on a life of its own and would not fit in the key hole. No matter how carefully and slowly we both tried, the key would twist and turn its way away from the keyhole, which itself was pulsing and throbbing. That was when we realised that what we had taken had not been the mild little trip that we had hoped for as we slipped the quarter pills in our mouth with our morning orange juice.

And that is how we found ourselves, alternately calm and filled with terror, crashing blindly through trees, avoiding harmless bathers and not so harmless men in green with firesticks and funny hats  – the Guardia Civil – who had a habit borne of years of stealthily tracking smugglers of contraband cigarettes (contraband cigarettes, what an innocent time) along these cliff faces through the pine forest, of firing before asking questions, if their suspicions were raised. The villagers had no end of  smuggler stories, all ending in death – for the smugglers.

“Dondevan?” A not so simple question to answer for two who had been seeking spider’s doors in the moss. Dondevan indeed. We whispered together at the base of the fig tree, discussing the implications of this question as the man in the tree looked down upon us, as one would look upon aliens, as indeed we were.

This Mallorquin farmer, whose every waking moment was devoted to the practical management of his estate, the pruning of trees, the collection of olives, the milking of goats, the slaughter of pigs, the manufacture of sobrasada – how could he understand these two refugees from a city in great south land whose days were filled, mostly with doing nothing, scribbling, playing the guitar, reading, wandering from house to house in varying levels of intoxication from various licit and illicit chemicals, nights filled with carousing and fornication,  not even knowing the answer to a simple question: dondevan?

The most curious thing I remember about that first – and last – experience of a serious quantity of lysergic acid dietheylamide was that somewhere in my brain was an insistent voice which kept whispering “remember, all this is only the work of the drug, there are no Viking ships, there is no throbbing of the wings of ten thousand eagles overhead.” It was this voice that eventually persuaded me that the question was practical and innocent.

“Lluc Alcari” I answered.

“Lluc Alcari?” questioned the man in the tree, “Lluc Alcari no está  por aqui” he gestured the way we had been stumbling, “pero por allí”, he waved his tomahawk behind him, up the hill.

Reason departed as quickly as it had arrived, and we began to stumble towards him, in the wrong direction, the while he insistently waved and pointed with his tomahawk ” por allí, por allí!”,  we walked up to and past him, the only thought now in our heads to get  away from him, our interlocutor in the fig tree and his little tomahawk. And then, I remembered. Something was missing. I stopped and turned, weaving, searching beyond the trees.

“Pero – el gato, donde está el gato?”

He looked around, now thoroughly confused. A cat? On the Lluc Alcari track?

“Gato? Gato?” A benign smile wreathed his round face. “No hay un gato.” That smile said, aah, they are drunk, borrachos, now I understand. A cat. Indeed. Que cosa!

And there was no cat. Ruffian Ruth the faithful cat had, I now remembered, slunk away as our behaviour became more and more erratic, back to the comfort of the hearth.

That day, which seemed to stretch for a year, ended with Bob and I seated outside the house of a kind German  hippy (long dead) who had dragged a comfortable sofa for us, set up a stereo system – John McLaughlin – and provided us with a bowl of oranges on which we sucked while gazing down at the Med and gradually returning to earth. I remember marvelling at the time  – how many places on earth were there where you could stumble to a front door, tell the person inside you were having a rather bad trip, and receive such kindness and understanding?

That day, it’s conclusion, it’s visions, its insights, is with me to this day. And is an ineradicable part of my experience of the island. I can’t walk along that shore, my most favoured on the planet, the place that I go to when things go black, without remembering events of that long ago day. It cemented a still strong if curious friendship with my trip mate Bob. It taught me that in spite of any doubts I might have about my sanity at times, there’s a mental stability there. And it ensured that I never took acid again. There was no point, after that.

All this was brought back to me recently, listening to Radio National’s Mind at Large, a programme devoted to ‘people who are taking hallucinogenic substances to aid their spiritual growth.’ Now, that is certainly not why Bob and I dropped that little half tab each on the way to the pine forest on the edge of the Med. But that is, as it turned out, how it turned out. And, as discussed on that program, it is an experience that subtly changed my life and one that has stayed with me ever since.  You can read some of the commentaries mentioned on that programme here.