This picture says many things to me, but it is almost a closed universe. I could explain.
The cat is Frankie, nominally owned by my son Daniel — but what does it mean to own a cat?
The photo in the cat frame is a picture of me and Harriet celebrating a night out. When our first son Tom was born, Harriet spent a few days in care at Paddington Women’s Hospital. Our obstetrician prescribed a night out before we took him home. He suggested that it would be the last night out for quite a while. We had a special dinner at a restaurant in Oxford Street. I no longer remember the name of the restaurant, but it served an elaborate dessert of chequerboard icecream.
At the time, Harriet and I were just diving into a delirium called ‘new parenthood’. I think of it now as a kind of joyous psychosis. We were so happy, but also so tired, so overwhelmed with responsibility, stretched thin as piano wire. It is not that way for everybody. Perhaps our experience is unique and inexplicable (ironic smile).
These words — ‘chequerboard’, ‘cat’, ‘psychosis, ‘special’, to nominate a few — what do they mean? ‘Oxford Street’ may make some think of London, but in Sydney it conjures up different thoughts. Certainly not thoughts about baby-Tom. I could explain further. I could say I meant the Centennial Park end of Oxford Street, not the Darlo end. I could write a blog post about Oxford Street, its rise and fall — its rise and fall geographically, economically, or socioculturally. I could write a post about Tom. Or about babies. There are so many directions I could take this in, and —
To the left of Frankie is a photo of Harriet when she was much younger than she is now. She has not changed much. There will always be something youthful and wishful about Harriet. I love her.
The books in the picture are arranged in author-alphabetical order, because that’s the way I like to do things. They are all fiction, except for a few memoirs and books about the authors. All fiction, then.
Behind Frankie is a wooden box of drawers that I once spent many hours French polishing. It is so black in the photograph that you can’t see the lovely timber. I say ‘French polishing’, but I really refer to the finished appearance rather than the technique. I would not pretend to deep expertise with shellac. The drawers contain blank cards, which I keep in case they turn out to be useful. I have occasionally used blank cards, and while there’s life there’s hope as they say. You can read about ‘French polishing’ or watch videos on the interweb. To do so may not be too misleading in this case. On the other hand, web-searching ‘Daniel’ is not going to get you close to what I am writing about.
Frankie, like most cats, does not respond to her name. I can tell you truly that she is named after Frank Zappa, although this makes little sense.
I thought at first that there is nothing in this photograph about my third son, Paul. It depends how hard you look. Several of the books are by Solzhenitsyn, and previously belonged to my father-in-law, also called Paul. Paul my son was named after his grandfather Paul.
Paul’s second name is Alexander, which is the English version of Solzhenitsyn’s first name. This connection has never occurred to me before, and only occurs because of the peculiar context created by this text.
I think it might also be true that Paul (my son) gave me the novel Kruso by Lutz Seiler, which is sitting behind Frankie in a white paper cover on which I have written a review of the book. I enjoyed that novel greatly, in a sad sort of way. It is also possible that Paul did not give me Kruso — it might have been my brother-in-law Tony — but Paul does give me books, so in principle —
I have three sons, Tom, Daniel, and Paul. I love them.
The stick beside the bookcase is a wizard’s staff, if you like, identified and curated by Daniel, later abandoned to my care. He has now retrieved the cat. If we have the stick, it is in storage, but that is another story.
The picture of flowers within the picture is from India. Paul appears again! Harriet, Paul and I went to India together. India is more than another story, it is a universe of humanity so unlike mine as almost to convince me that I cannot possibly exist, photographic evidence notwithstanding.
The wooden object to the right of Frankie is a … ? I do not know what it is. I retrieved it, along with many other cryptic objects from Frank Bristow’s toolshed. I never met Frank, but we bought his house after he died, and his heirs never cleaned out the shed. There was most of a linotype machine in there, some mummified rats, and among other things this thing, which might have been the base or the top of a lamp or a stand. I keep thinking that I will find a use for it or simply French polish it or restore it to dignity somehow. It is in bad condition. I should throw it away. I should throw it away.
The bookcase itself I bought second-hand because I wanted glass-fronted bookcases to keep the dust off my books. I have too many books. I have begun to throw books away. That’s telling you something.
Apart from what I have told you, the picture shows the wall of my study as it was then, with fractions of the door frame and window sill.
The picture appeals to me aesthetically. It seems to me close to a perfect picture.
What else is there? Nothing. I have explained everything. Surely there is nothing more to tell.