To silence the Corellas

I heard the first of the corellas this morning and lament the assault they will soon make on the oak trees in our neighbourhood, on the Lilly pillies, plane tress and any other trees that bear seeds or fruit. They plunder these trees, split open their seeds, scoop out what is edible and leave the rest on the ground in great swathes of untidiness.

The corellas approach like locusts and although they’re not half so voracious as locusts who leave every branch bare, every stem stripped, these birds with their elegant wedding white feathers and yellow head gear clatter the neighbourhood with their loud cries. They drown out the currajongs and magpies. They drown out the traffic, the usual thrum of life, but only for a week or two in March just as autumn approaches and then they are gone. Like a tooth ache or head cold or even an assault of Covid they’re here for a moment and we must endure. Then they’re gone.

I put on the noise reducing headphones this morning to block out the first of these nuisance noises along with the rest of the world. The silence that comes my way where the only sounds available to me are the soft pad of the computer keys, and far in the distance, the vibrations of a tram as it rattles past. The silence gives me access to my mind unfettered, even as thoughts of the day behind and the day ahead plague me like corellas. I want to go further back into the land of memory.

On BBC radio last night, the radio announcer asked a question, one directed at younger listeners, one posed by a young audience member about how we know the voice in our head is our own or words to that effect. They weren’t going on about schizophrenia type approach to hearing voices but the everyday experience of people as we understand from one another that we are all chattering to ourselves in our heads all the time. 

It set me wondering when the first coherent sentences formed in my mind as a child. At three or four? At school in those early years of childhood learning. After I had learned to read and could see other people’s words join up on the page to form sentences that took shape and held meanings that were new to me. 

This in the days when my father came home with a camera and began to take photos of everyone around him. Unlike my husband today who loves to photograph places and objects, my father focussed on people. Or so it seemed to me then and now. Most of his images that remain are of people, of his children, our mother and even the one I developed from its negative, a grainy black and white image of my father seated fully naked on a hard backed chair, side on, and facing a wall. He held his head high, chin pointed, the grimace of a forced smile on his face, and crossed his bony knees. 

Looking back, I imagine he was practising his art in capturing the human form in photo, the way the photo books he brought home from the local newsagency explored. Magazine after magazine wherein professional photographers explained to amateur photographers the art of observation, of composition, of light and tension. How to create what Roland Barthes calls the punctum, the sting of the moment. 

Barthes differentiates between what he calls the punctum and studium. The latter is visible in ordinary photos that reveal only conventions, where every event is balanced such that it might represent a stable and predictable moment in time as opposed to punctum that carries the punch, the sudden shock in one or other of its elements.  Punctum can emerge not simply from the photo itself but from our knowledge about the photo, which may also emerge well after we first view it.  

When I look at my father and his naked form, my eye scans up and down. It lands on one white thigh, sinew thin, as it slopes across his man parts tucked under his crossed knees. And then back up to his profile, his mouth closed to hide his false teeth, yellowish from his constant smoking. 

You cannot see the yellow here in this photo, only his thin lips above the pointedness of his chin, his angular face, his strained look, more a grimace which we can only see side on. The tilt of his hair that was still light brown though by then it must have held streaks of grey. He must have been approaching fifty when he took these photos. A man getting on in years in search of something, a point by which he could express his creativity. Or was there something masturbatory in this photograph?

I have long associated my father first and foremost with sex, the sexual act, the sexual ooze of his face and eyes. Not that his was an oily charm like the gigolos of old. His was more understated, sinister, like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the creepy tall thin man who wore all black with a top hat and drove around in a cart in search of children. 

My grandson said to me the other day as he went in search of his red racing car which had disappeared, ‘The cat ate the car.’ The cat must have eaten it and in that weird way that the voices in my head command my attention I remember this snippet of conversation and the way in which my father ate children. Like Christina Stead’s Sam Pollit in The Man who Loved Children

In the many years past in which my husband and daughters sat together to interview potential babysitters who might help with after school care, I struck off the list any applicant who said things like, ‘I just love children’. Unfair of me perhaps, but the idea that someone loves children sends shivers up my spine. 

To enjoy the company of children might be different but this notion that I love children with eyes wide and smile plastered firmly on lips as if to reduce a parent into believing I will be good for your child because I will love her creeps me out. Besides, the love of children is attenuated by the trouble with children. The way they require special attention. Drain us with their needs, demand that we attend to them with more care than we might otherwise use, especially when they are young. They can be ruthless, the children. 

They can be devastating and all of this under the weight of our own childhood memories of what it was like when we too were children, helpless and at the mercy of the vagaries of the adults in charge. 

I remember my childhood as a time of endless wonder but also fear as monstrous as the sight of the child catcher in the movie about a cheerful flying car. The punctum of a scene, that bright yellow car shooting up high with children aboard and the loving dad who is an eccentric Dick Van Dyke and his new not yet declared girlfriend as lovely as a summers day against the evils they encounter in the new land they visit with its monstrous child catcher. 

Already I have lost track of where I began here but the voice in my head tells me it’s time to stop. To move away from the silence of my headphones and re-enter other worlds of life as it is lived in each moment. The stuff of future memories.