When I first got my V12 Dino Ferrari, back in 1976, it was just an upwardly mobile
Renault 16. It had belonged to a dentist, who had given it ideas above its station, and I
encouraged those ideas, because a mate of mine has a V12 Dino Ferrari and I get awfully
frustrated when he goes on about it, which is a fair bit. His Ferrari has a videocassette
player, a Nakamichi sound system with 160 watts per RMS AM/PM Dolby and things,
and a baby Steinway, and there's hardly room for him in there when he's got them all
going. My Ferrari didn't even have a radio when I bought it.
The dealer suggested I get a radio. I kept taking the car back to him and complaining about noises under the bonnet and behind the dashboard, and the last time I did that he looked at me oddly and said a radio would fix those problems. It did, too. The day the diff fell off I didn't even notice. I got the car home and my wife said "Do you know the diff's fallen off?" "No," I said, "but if you hum a few bars I'll fake it." I'm alive to tell that tale but I still have the scars. Never mind. As we seasoned book editors invariably say, "Vive la diff!" -- or words to that effect.
Anyway, I was sitting there in my Ferrari in the sullen coagulation of traffic that is Hoddle Street in pique hour, listening to the radio, and this character came on talking about how to look after your swimming pool. The Northcote City Council looks after my swimming pool, so this is not a matter that worries me a lot. I haven't been to see my pool since Joe Fogg refused to give me a Herald Learn-to-Swim Certificate in 1947, but I'm confident that it's still there. I was idly wondering whatever became of Joe Fogg -- he was the Council's baths-manager and dog-catcher for centuries -- when I heard this bloke on the radio saying it was a marvellous idea to keep trout in your pool. How extraordinary! I thought, You could have five of them and invite the neighbors in for a spot of chamber music! I giggled, and before I'd gone another two blocks I had accidentally made up a silly little story about Schubert and his family. It went something like this.
Once upon a time there was an ancient family of cobblers who lived in a little village not too many leagues from Old Vienna, and their name was Schuh. Schuh is pronounced like "shoe", but with the accent on the comfort rather than the style. Originally their name had been Schmidt, but some time during the Dark Ages they had changed it to Schuh because they thought it would be good PR.
At the time of which we are once-uponning, the family consisted of Schuh Ludwig, his wife Schuh Fiona, their children Bert, Fleur and Fred, and a bloke named Blücher, possibly an uncle, who was old and untidy and a snob to boot. They were a happy little family, living in a typical little cobblers' sort of house, cobbling away from morn 'til night, singing traditional cobblers' songs and laughing merrily whenever one of them cobbled a sole on back-to-front or pricked his thumb or sat in the glue.
But as the children got older they started questioning the order of things, as children do, and Bert for one started feeling strongly that there must be more to life than following in his father's footsteps, as they say. He had become fond of poetry, and every now and then would defiantly chant snatches of Heine's dirtier ditties when the rest of them were happily singing "Chu Chin Chow" or whatever the latest thing from Vienna was. On his days off, the second Saturdays in March and August, he spent all his time in an espresso joint, morbidly scribbling tunes to go with Heine's poems on menus, table-cloths and the legs of his shorts. High on caffeine, late at night he would go staggering back to the cobblery, singing his dirty liederhosen at the top of his strasse.
Fleur, who was younger, started getting silly ideas about life from magazines flown in from Paris by the local newsagent. Fred, the youngest Schuh, was a rather straitlaced youth. The only thing that had his parents worried about him was that he went to church a lot, even on his days off. He confided once to Fleur that he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up, and she told on him, which was an awful thing to do, because for weeks after that they would all stop singing their happy laughing cobblers' songs when he came into the workshop and start singing hymns and crossing themselves and falling about in irreligious mirth. Blücher made up a joke about the cure of soles, and dribbled on his smock whenever he told it, which was fairly often.
Anyhow, the years rolled on, as years do, and things turned out pretty much as you would expect. Schuh Bert left home and became a famous composer. The family disowned him when his "Unfinished Symphony" hit the charts: if there was one thing they couldn't stand it was a job unfinished. He died soon after, when the contrabassoon in which he was travelling ran into a stationary ophicleide. Schuh Fleur went to Paris and became famous too, in a way, as one of the notorious topless cauliflowers at the Lido, and they disowned her as well. But Fred stayed at home and settled down, his religious enthusiasm obviously just a parson phase that boys go through, and remained faithful to the last.
Ed. That's all very well, but I don't see what it has to do with trout.
JB Me neither, but what's a diff?
Ed. Yeah, who cares?
The Society of Editors Newsletter, March 1992