As a school kid I always anticipated that the classroom writing exercise when we started a new term or semester would be “What I Did During the School Holidays.” And it usually was. ThoughI found the topic boring because practically every Primary or English teacher set it, I usually found something fresh to say because I liked to write—even if my holiday had been a dreary stretch of imprisonment at home that interrupted the far more pleasant time I spent at school. Most of the other students, however, greeted the task with groans of horror and despair. Subsequently, when I became a teacher myself, I made sure that I did not ask my students to recount their holiday activities, unless they volunteered to do so. However, something a member of my family has said about my writing personal essays, has prompted this description of my Good Friday.
Because it was Easter I started the day listening to some liturgical music—Bach’s Mass in B Minor and his St Matthew Passion are always winners—while I made some curtains for a storage room under my house that I want to reclaim as a living space, maybe even an office. Then I picked some Bird’s Eye chillies growing in my garden, did some weeding, and planted pumpkin seeds—even though I am not sure if this is the season to do that. There is obviously some symbolism here, burying pumpkin seeds on Good Friday in the hope of a resurrection of the lush yellow fruit encased in its obdurately tough skin, and I am a sucker for symbolism, hence the liturgical music. After this I showered, dressed in some going-out clothes, and drove for lunch to Bardon, where my elder daughter has been living for about the last four years.
Now forgive me if I seem to brag, but Rachel is a very talented wordsmith. She has won the Queensland Young Writer Award not once, but twice, and was one of four finalists in the Queensland Premier’s Prize for an Emerging Writer a couple of years ago. Lately she has been creating art books—not just writing and illustrating them, but printing, formatting and physically producing them herself. She presented me with a copy of her latest, Long Yellow, which, no doubt you will see in the fullness of time yourselves, a symbolist tale which is both charming and haunting. Then she produced lunch, a Scandinavian feast of Gravlax. This dish, Gravlax, was a complete surprise to me, even though I can claim Danish ancestry from my maternal grandmother. It is raw salmon, marinated for three days, coated with a thick green sauce made of dill, mustard, white wine vinegar and honey, laid on dark rye bread. The bright orange of the salmon with the rich green sauce against the grainy brown background, looked as good as it tasted.
My daughter explained that the Danes would catch their salmon and bury it in the sand above the high tide mark for three days before they ate it. What an impeccable Easter dish, I thought. Here is the symbolism of the exquisite corpse, buried for three days, and then religiously eaten. “On the third day He rose from the dead. . .” Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the taking of the eucharist the Christians’ symbolic act of eating their god?
After lunch our hostess introduced her housemate Richard and I to a wordplay she had discovered in The Surrealists’ Book of Games. Three or five people can play this game—ideally five—but we managed by doubling up two of the roles. The first player has to write on the top of a page the Definite or an Indefinite article (“The,” “A,” or “An”) plus an adjective (a word which describes a noun.) This word is then hidden in a fold of the page so that the other players cannot see it. The next player writes a noun (or naming word) and then also folds it under a paper pleat to conceal it. The third player produces a verb ( a “doing”, “being,” or “having” word) and hides it, the fourth, another article and an adjective, and the fifth, another noun. The next player unfolds the paper and reads all the words.
Some strange—even surreal—sentences emerge, sometimes funny, sometimes so lyrical as to be considered as the starting—or ending—point of a poem. It is an exercise we could try at our next Writers’ meeting on April 9. I’m sure it will inspire us to produce something engaging.
Sitting on the front verandah overlooking Richard’s manicured lawn which was framed by his unpruned tangle of a garden, put me in mind of enchanted woodlands as dusk began its tenuous embrace of everything, and houses up the gully somnolently blinked on their lights. It was time for me to go home to Brighton, and, feeling more than the little melancholy one often experiences at the end of a magical Autumn day in Brisbane, I took my leave from my lovely daughter and her gentle friend, Richard.
On Ashgrove Avenue there was a road block. Police were stopping the traffic and breathalising drivers. Slowing to a stop, I was reluctant to turn down my radio because a particularly fine tenor was singing songs set to A.E. Housman’s poems, but I did reduce the volume enough to hear the policeman’s instructions as he handed me the plastic tube I was to breathe into. He seemed a very young man who looked tired and rather wary, prompting me to wonder at his treatment at the hands of my fellow drivers. Do motorists give such boys and girls in blue a hard time for carrying out this important service to the community?
I asked the young copper how his Easter was panning out and he rewarded me with a very nice smile. It was another Easter gift I can count as treasure this Good Friday, with the delightfully allusive game played with a couple of my favourite people—at least one of whom loves the English language as much as I do—and the sumptuous, symbolist feast.