Melbourne, November 15, 1999

It’s any time between 1988 and 1995. I am sitting in the enormous tin-ceilinged studio above the TAB in Sydney Road: or in the lounge room in the flat above Carlton Fire Station in Swanston St, French windows open, dust and tram sounds and sirens rattling in; or in our kitchen in Kensington looking out onto Wolseley Parade at a couple of junkies who are peering in to see if anyone is home, before wandering down to the phone box by the station to score. I am writing, or cooking, or making something, or just staring into space. On the turntable is Michael Nyman’s soundtrack to the Peter Greenaway film Drowning By Numbers, side 2.

Every 20 minutes or so I get up and walk over to put the needle back to the start, and every time I consider turning the record over, but I never do. The 15-minute drive and repetition, over and over, makes the room be what it needs to be, and every time I shift from my reverie with a goose over grave shimmer when Knowing The Ropes, the film’s finale,  comes on.

But then Radio Rentals repossess the stereo and I have no record player, just a CD player. In Gaslight Records I find a deluxe CD box set of four Nyman/ Greenaway soundtracks which I decide to buy for my wife Katrina’s birthday. She quite likes Michael Nyman, I reason: why, we went to see him at Dallas Brooks Hall and there was scarcely a peep of discontent from her for the whole two hours.

She sees right through this gambit instantly upon receipt of the “present”. Even the woman in Gaslight Records had taken one look at me and seen right through it when I extended my lay-by for the fourth time. But I ploughed on. Occasionally I would airily pop on The Draughtsman’s Contract as if it was just another CD, and every time there would be a cough, and an old fashioned look from the other side of the room, and I would muster the grace to smile and shrug.

In November 1999, in Ascot Vale, I am sitting in the parlour: outside the window, I can see in the mirror above the mantelpiece, the people from down the street are taking their trotting horse for a walk up and down. There are cards filling the mantelpiece, all swimming in sympathy: that quote from Auden is there at least twice, and flowers everywhere, and two or three friends are there to distract me as best they can, and share memories of her. As usual, it’s OK and good for a while, and then too much.

“Oh well,” I say, “at least now I’ll able to play Michael Nyman whenever the f–k I want to!” One of them looks at me, faux appalled, and then the soundtrack to Drowning By Numbers flies off the bookcase and onto the floor.

We all sit and look at it.

“F–k,” we all say in unison, “nice one, Treene.”




Stereo Story #514