empty of future, renew the sign: lucent paradox, ineluctable trace ...


forking paths

When someone says to me, as sometimes happens, that cab driving is a good job for a writer, I don't usually disagree, even though my feeling is that writing is the best job for a writer and almost anything else, whatever residual benefits there may be, is a distraction. Teaching never worked for me, nor did journalism, nor proof-reading nor any other of the various things I've done to earn money. Taxi driving does, sort of, or I wouldn't still be doing it; but that doesn't mean I don't regret the time it takes away from other pursuits.

What they mean is that, driving a taxi, you meet many different kinds of people, which is true; what they perhaps forget, or don't realise, is that most of these meetings are brief and superficial and never lead to anything much apart from an exchange of money, a goodbye and a disappearance into the night. It's better like that: the more interesting the ride, the more likely it is to have unintended consequences. While knowledge of where the brothels are, the nightclubs, the gambling dens and the rest, is to my mind a poor substitute for knowledge, say, of the human heart. Which isn't to say that you won't find out something about that taking a working girl to work, you might.

One thing you do gain is an ability to make swift, hopefully accurate, assessments of character - you have to. Another is that you become almost preternaturally aware of the contingent nature of events. Time as a garden of forking paths is in plain view around every corner, down every straight: if this, then this; if not this, then that; if the other, then the other, will be your fate. You are always, as the tag on my taxi driving blog has it, at a nodal point where destinies fork. I do value this knowledge.

I was thinking about it today while walking over to Dulwich Hill … among other things. There's a new second hand shop in Junction Road I wanted to check out on the way. Just as I left it, I came into one of those moments of stillness you are sometimes lucky enough to find. I was looking at the strangely crenellated roof of the block of old shops on the corner of Junction and Moonbie. There was a dove mourning nearby, children chanting in the school across the road, a magpie in a jacaranda tree gargling the rain in its throat and, in the next street, one old man haranguing another, without malice, in Greek or Italian. All these distant, evocative sounds under the cerulean of the autumn sky, that ineffable blue you never see anywhere else.

Always at such moments I feel, below the recent past (the 200 year old one) something far more ancient that still survives, even in the humdrum of the suburbs, even here, inhering in the stones perhaps, in the gums, that blue air ... I'm walking on by now in the pleasant state in which sentences begin to form in the mind when another voice impinges on my consciousness, a familiar one, although I cannot at first place it ... angels and ministers of grace defend us! It's Little Johnny at his most unctuous, someone's broadcasting Question Time, very loud, out across the very suburb where the malheureux was spawned and grew up, although I think the family home might have been a little to the south of Dulwich Hill, in Earlwood.

This too, though not exactly welcome, enters my meditation on forking paths, because it is at least possible, some say likely, that the 2007 election will see his dead hand raised at last from across our necks: who knows, we've had him for eleven years now, that's longer than the nine years Muldoon, whom in some respects he resembles, stole from us.

At the Sally Army store in Old Canterbury Road there are blown emu eggs for sale for five dollars each but I manage to resist buying one, I’d only break it. Instead, I pick up a Penguin Classic from the 1950s, E V Rieu, the translator of Homer, this time turning his attention to The Four Gospels (1952). I've just re-read my father's copy of his The Odyssey (1946), passed on The Iliad (1950) and hadn't realised the Greek of the gospels was what he'd done next. Also, for a dollar, a small leather bound notebook of handmade paper that I'll probably never have the courage to write anything in. Round the corner is an immaculately restored 1938 McLaughlan Buick limo, a straight eight, which I examine carefully and with great admiration ... well, there's more, but I haven't got to the point yet, have I?

The point is, I'll hear next week about a grant application I've made. If it's successful, I'll stop driving for the next few months and write a book. It's a book about Sydney and may even include some of the anecdotes I've gathered from taxi driving, although the subject is not driving per se, rather it is a quest to find an artist, a New Zealander originally, who's lost, presumed dead but may still be alive and, even if he isn't, has certainly gone on a lot longer than anybody thought and produced a body of work nobody knows much about ...

And if they don't grant me the grant, well, I probably won't be able to write the book. This may sound peculiar, and it hurts me to say it, but I think it's right. If I can't do it this year I'd have somehow to fit it in around the two books I've got planned for next year, one of which I'll definitely write (I've been offered an advance, the email came just now, literally now, while I was drafting this) and the other ... yes, that too, hopefully. The funding body decision has already been made and is on its way towards me, which gives me a breathless feeling, either I'll have to keep on driving for the rest of the year or I'll start a new book, which is like embarking on a voyage of no return into a country without a name.

Meanwhile I'm ambling past a grubby looking corner building that I half remember dropping someone off outside of one Sunday night, he had a pushbike, I recall, I picked him up at a railway station, maybe Ashfield ... the windows down the side are open, I glance in, yes, I'm right, there are two bikes in there, in bits, the frames leaning against stacks of books in a low and messy room and I'm looking out for the bloke now, I liked him, to say hello, maybe we could chat about the contingencies of fate, he must be around if the windows are open but no, I don't see him and I'm not going to impose, I wouldn't do that, I just carry on walking until I get home and start ... doing this.

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