This blog was only ever intended to be a photographic record of my dad’s drawers before the big clear out, but the photos have extended beyond the drawers and the writing way beyond that which I ever intended.
One of the things I have found fascinating about blogging is the ‘stats’ page where you can track how many people have ‘viewed’ or ’visited’ on any given day/week/month and from where in the world they have looked. I am quite astonished that having intended this as a slightly humorous piece, for friends and family to enjoy, I have had 1500 ‘views’ to date.
The ‘stats’ page also tells you how people have found the site; whether they have been referred by links, (Facebook, Twitter etc.), or whether they have come via a search engine.
I recently discovered that you can actually see what those ‘accidental’ visitors typed into their search engine box when they stumbled across my blog.
…….…… and it was at this point I wished I hadn’t looked quite so closely. On first glance I found it quite amusing that the searches for ‘manky rulers’ (that one’s for you David (1)), and ‘fat grawers’ had found me, and I suppose I should have guessed that having the word ‘naked’ in the title of one of my blogs may have enticed a few extra viewers. What I didn’t expect was that the words ‘fat’ and ‘bubble-wrap’ would have added to this. A small selection of the searches (that must have resulted in much disappointment) follow: ‘naked daddy fat’; ‘bubble-wrap nudes;’ ‘Japanese fat naked dad’; ‘old fatty porn naked daddies in rooms’; ‘bubble nude’; ‘fatty naked at sea-side’ and my all-time favourite: ‘naked fat person in plastic bubble suit’.
It reminds of a search (mentioned in a previous blog) that I did some years ago, when we returned home from holiday to find a dead and festering muntjac deer in the garden. I innocently tapped into Google “What do you do with a dead deer?” I can’t repeat some of the things I came across, but you may be interested to know that it is not illegal to have sex with one! Fortunately, I did eventually find a nice man who disinfected the site, put the carcass in a body-bag and took it away (for a price of course).
My dad would have loved to blog. But in the last few years as it became easier to do, his failing memory meant that he sometimes struggled with the computer.
He was a great lover of words and was never without a pencil and notebook. I have yet to go through all the scribblings on serviettes, backs of shopping lists, bus tickets etc (which I have of course kept). Below is a small selection of the mass accumulated over the years. They will make a great scrap-book one day……….
Over the years dad had been a member of several writer’s groups. I have already mentioned the one that was run by concrete poetry artist, Bob Cobbing (2) in a previous blog. He also attended one that took place in the home of Stella Gibbons, author of ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ (3), (and whose daughter later became my aunt, after marrying my mum’s brother). He was a member of a Cambridge writing group when he started on his book. He had already had a couple of his short stories published and had been persuaded by friends and family to pen his life story. It was a ‘work in progress’ for several years and he would often send a completed chapter for my opinion. (To be honest, by the time the book did get published I had read through some chapters so many times, that I didn’t get around to reading it in its entirety for some years).
Having no success in getting a publisher, he spotted a competition being run by Heinemann and Eastern Arts. What attracted him to it was not the cash prize, but the promise that the winner would have their book published. There was one slight hitch, the competition was for fiction. No problem thought dad, I will just change the names, add a couple of stories and no one will know any better. Nobody was really fooled into thinking that this was anything other than a thinly disguised biography; nonetheless one day when he rang me for a chat he casually dropped into the conversation that he had won the prize and his book was going to be published. He was 75.
His book, ‘Gravity is Getting me Down’ (4), was published in 1994 to good reviews and much media coverage. You will not be surprised if I tell you that, as well as all of the press cuttings, I have found a box of cassette tapes with recordings of some of the interviews that were aired on both local and national radio. The strange thing about listening to them now, is that I can finally hear what people have been telling me for years; that my dad had an accent. “Of course he did”, you may say, “He was Austrian”. I suppose that having grown up with the accent I never noticed it, thinking that he spoke just like the rest of us. The book was also translated into German. ‘Die Lust der Schwerkraft. Roman eines Lebens’(5) translated, courtesy of ‘Google Translate’, as ‘The Pleasure of Gravity, Story of a Life’; doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the English title, but it did well and actually made the bestsellers list in Austria. The book also went on to win the Society of Authors ‘Sagittarius’ prize (the award presented to him by Laurie Lee). Sadly, the book is out of print now, and another thing on my ever-lengthening list of ‘To Do’ items is to see how easy it is to get it re-published, or make a digital version available for download.
One of my favourite chapters in the book is about my great-uncle Walter, an Austrian Jew, who was the brother of my dad’s mum. Walter was the king of “If I can do something for nothing, why pay?” and if he did have to pay “I’ll give you half of what you’re asking”.
Sound familiar? I have been with dad when has negotiated down a price for just the ‘bed’ part of bed and breakfast. (Without any consultation with me I might add!).
Usually though, dad’s was more of a ‘What can I do for you in return?’ type of approach and no money would actually ever change hands. It worked well both ways for him and I always thought that he must have done a pretty big favour for the ‘Klose’ family who lived in the next village and who mum and dad were friends with. Whatever he had done, in return their sons (between them) taught me the basics of the guitar. For a whole summer I was dropped off at their house every Sunday morning (with the guitar that dad had built for me in his workshop) and one of the four brothers, whoever was around, would give me a lesson. It wasn’t the best way to learn an instrument and I do seem to remember sitting around waiting a lot of the time (watching the bush-baby that was caged in the kitchen being fed live locusts as I recall); but at the tender age of 15, spending a morning around four good-looking young men between the ages of 18 and 24 wasn’t such a hardship.
Anyway, back to Walter. He found his niche in the Viennese furrier district, selling and buying. I say ‘selling and buying’ rather than ‘buying and selling’ because he would never pay money for anything until he had already sold it. Each morning he would do his rounds, crumpled brown paper package under his arm; making sales and collecting payment for items that he would, later in the day, buy. Never having to put any money up front or take any risks. At the same time, he would pick up the off-cuts of fur thrown out because they were too small to do anything with. When he had enough of these off-cuts he would sell them as a bundle, often back to one of the furriers he had collected them from in the first place.
He used to seek out oil spills on the road and rush to rub the soles of his shoes in them as he said that it extended the life of the leather. Once, when walking along a Paris street with dad he stood by a spill in the road and gestured magnanimously “Here, Freddie. This one’s for you”.
He had the foresight to get out of Austria before the ethnic cleansing began and he set up in Paris, hardly losing a day’s work and continuing trading from his small brown paper parcel. When, in the wake of Anschluss, half of Vienna’s furriers turned up in Paris, Walter was ready and waiting and business picked up where it had left off.
Foresight again took got him out of Paris before the German’s arrived and into the UK where he sat out the rest of the war in the British army as a store-keepers assistant. This incidentally qualified him for free NHS care even when he was no longer a UK resident. While I was growing up he was a frequent visitor despite living, first in Canada, then Switzerland. Not surprisingly each visit just happened to coincide with some hospital check-up or other.
I visited him and his wife Trudy in Switzerland while I was on holiday there in the ‘80’s. The habits of a lifetime had not changed. He was most welcoming, offering us all cups of tea and yoghurt. He then proceeded to make one tea bag stretch for all six cups and he opened one small yoghurt carton which meant we just about managed a tea-spoon full each!
His penny-pinching finally caught up with him in the end. After years of shopping around for cheap food, which often meant bread, cheeses and fruit with their own micro-cultures, he died at the age of 72 from a tropical disease (diagnosed courtesy of the NHS) that had only been previously found in the slums of third world countries.
Finally, just in case you wondered where I am with the sorting. The pictures above are just a small section of the workshop. I have already spent some considerable hours clearing the floor just to be able to get to the shelves, and as you can see have many more to go.
To make any further progress I have realised I can put it off no longer; the time has come to venture into the shady world of scrap metal dealing.
Also, for those of you who have been asking. The Fat Nude will be up for auction at Christie’s on June 11th as part of their ‘South Asian, Modern Contemporary Art’ sale. I will be there!
1. I have said before that this process of going through my dad’s stuff has led me into some strange situations, and odd conversations. I would never have contemplated writing a blog, a clandestine meeting in a car park, selling a painting at Christie’s or handing a gun over to the police. Nor would I have ever thought that I would have an email discussion with my daughter’s guitar teacher (and coincidentally an old friend of my dad’s) on the use of the word ‘Manky’; which incidentally doesn’t figure on the Microsoft Word spell check. But this is the strange road I have travelled over the last year and long may it continue…..…)
2. Bob Cobbing – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Cobbing 3. Stella Gibbons – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_Gibbons 4. Gravity is Getting Me Down – Fred Plisner ISBN: 0 434 59078 9 5. Die Lust Der Schwer Kraft. Roman Eins Lebens – Fred Plisner ISBN:3 351 02333 2