We have some fun times in the Meanjin office: it's not all
pantopragmatics and heavy punctuation. One day Jenny was
slaving away at the computer (where I couldn't see her, because what I loosely
call "my" desk faces the computer's back), and I was proofreading something,
when she said "It's a nice word, 'oblong'." "Oblong?" I said. "Yes --
much nicer than 'rectangular', don't you think?" "Yeah," I said,
"Rectangular Cassidy sounds ridiculous."
Today is 5 November in Melbourne and probably a whole lot of other
places, the sun is shining, and I am not working on an Indonesian cookbook.
Tomorrow I will resume work on that book, but I've had enough for today. My
work has become somewhat more efficient since the publisher lent me his
Kamus Lengkap Inggeris-Indonesia Indonesia-Inggeris (Dictionary
Complete . . . you can work the rest out), though it's not as lengkap as I would
like. My author apparently uses Javanese dialect words that are not recognized
by the good Professor Doctor Wojowasito, so what chance do I have? Never
mind. I have learnt some useful words, not the least of them "jezben", which
means jazz band. Speaking of which, last
month the editor of the Society of Editors Newsletter invited me to write
a powerful piece about "the year in publishing" or somesuch -- as if I would
know! -- so I wrote four or five pages for her about much more interesting
things, concluding with the following story, which I started writing in 1985.
The Short Career of the Foggy
My friend Lindsay Cox, whose work has so often decorated these pages, is
left-handed, I realized only recently, a natural-born southpaw. For all his good
nature, bad puns and hail-fellow-well-met kind of presence, I had always
thought there was something sinister about him. He started life as a
Salvationist, and has maintained his links with the Army, but these days he is
mainly involved with its welfare activities and teaching young Salvos how to
play their instruments. When he's not doing that he supervises telephone
installations in the Brunswick-Carlton area, or writes military history. His big
project at the moment is "The Galloping Guns", a history of the Victorian Horse
of my few pleasures as a freelance editor is having Lindsay call in for coffee and
free-ranging talk. He often volunteers to provide artwork for the first page of
the Newsletter, every month on average. He insists there's a Barbara Ramsden
Award for Newsletter Illustration, and wants one. "Who's this 'Anon'?" he said
when he saw the September issue. "I was in a bit of a hurry," I said, "and had
to make do." A likely story, Lindsay almost said, but he's too polite for that. We
got talking about UFOs.
we didn't: we got talking about euphos -- a quite different sort of unexplained
phenomenon. I used to play a eupho in the Northcote City Band. Indeed, I have
a photograph to prove it. I showed this photo to Lindsay. He looked at it and
said "You were quite young then, weren't you?" I certainly was. About 15. "It's
an odd thing," Lindsay said, tactfully, looking at that photo of me in my
Northcote City Band uniform, with my euphonium. "People often look at me
playing trombone, and they sense that there's something wrong." "An ill wind,"
I suggested. "I'll ignore that," he said. "What they don't seem to notice is that I
put it over my right shoulder. I'm a left-handed trombonist." "Did you look
closely at my eupho in that photo?" I asked. "No," he lied, graciously. "I'm
holding it back to front," I said. "So you are!" he said, barely concealing his
mirth. That was thirty-odd years ago, I reminded him, but he seemed to be
having some sort of nervous attack, so I didn't press the point.
his next visit Lindsay brought me a euphonium from the spare-instrument
stock he always seems to have. "Sally won't like this one bit," I said. "We'll play
at lunchtime," he said. "My neighbors won't like it," I said. "I'll cut their
phones off," he said. When Lindsay gets going there's no holding him, I tell you.
there we were, Lindsay on his favorite cornpet, a sort of cross between a
cornet and a trumpet, and me on this ancient euphonium he'd dug up
somewhere. It was not a great sound. Our "Come All Ye Faithful" was
recognizable, but what we did to the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th doesn't
bear thinking about.
friend Jenny Bryce", I said, gasping somewhat, trying not to think about the
half a million cigarettes I've smoked since I last played euphonium, "has formed
a group called the Barockettes -- oboe, violin and cello, I think. There isn't a
great repertory for that combination. Do you reckon we should join them?"
"We'd be the Briquettes, right?" said Lindsay. "Right shape," I said. We put our
instruments aside and got down to the serious business of what to call
ourselves. The names we bandied about you wouldn't believe. We finally agreed
on "The Foggy Duo". "We'll play risqué love lilts," I said. "It's pretty risky
playing anything with you," Lindsay said.
Lindsay plays very well, quite professionally. For a time he had a jazz band,
called The Original 1915 Kaiser Wilhelm Victory Band. The band dressed in old
German uniforms, pickelhaubes, the lot, and Lindsay told bad jokes between
numbers. His cornpet is a lovely solo instrument: you might think of it as the
violin of the band, or maybe the oboe, a soaring-aloft kind of voice. The
euphonium is, I'm not sure what, maybe the cello -- certainly an important solo
instrument in a brass band, carrying the melody down there in the basement
while the higher instruments are recovering. It's entirely wasted on me. The
way I play euphonium you might just as well have someone standing there
saying "Oompah". Fairly loudly, mind.
"There's something I must tell you, John," Lindsay said. "Yes?" "The way you
play euphonium, you might just as well be standing there saying 'Oompah'."
"Yes?" "You are a natural-born left-handed euphonium player," he said. "Gee,
thanks, Lindsay!" I said. He started packing his cornpet. "Don't know about
you," he said, "but I've got to get back to work." "Well, I have got this book I
should be working on, yes." "Right," he said, biting his lip, because it was his
book we'd been keeping me from, "Same time next year?" "Aw, fair go, Lindsay!"
I said, "I need time to practise!"
went back to his telephones, and I went back to his book. His spelling is bloody
Philosophical Gas 76, December 1988