in the forest of signs

Sometime ago now - perhaps two months? - Ashfield Council began an attempt to re-calibrate the vehicular flow through this part of Summer Hill. The main shopping area of the suburb lies in Lackey Street, between the Railway Station at one end and the junction with Smith Street at the other. A lot of through traffic goes along past the station on Carlton Crescent and a lot more used to use Smith Street for the same reason; it looks as if it is to regulate this second flow that the Council has constructed four new examples of what it calls Traffic Calming Devices aka Speed Bumps or, in New Zealand, Judder Bars. There are now at least six pedestrian crossing, most of them raised, in the tiny area around the skewed crossroads at the end of this street, where Morris joins Smith and then, slightly further along, Smith joins Lackey. Each crossing comes with its complement of signage in black on fluorescent yellow/green, black on grey, black on fluorescent orange, so that to enter the hub of Summer Hill these days is to enter a veritable forest of signs. There's so much to read I don't know how drivers can concentrate on their driving, let alone avoid the pedestrians who, despite all the crossings and all that signage, continue to wander at will from corner to sleepy corner. The one thing the Council seems to have missed is that many of those leaving Summer Hill via this street, Morris, tend to do so at high speed, despite the narrowness of the way, the primary school just up the road or the alarming dip beyond the intersection with Lorne Street. In other words this is a well known hoon's parade and the Council's response - painting a section of the tarmac red to signal a 40 km/h zone - seems likely to have zero or even a counteractive effect. Today, a fortnight-long mystery was solved when a truckload of workers stopped outside my building and attached signs to the two silver poles they had previously driven into the footpath. These signs announce the 40 km/h zone, advise that this is an area frequented by pedestrians and carry silhouette images of said pedestrians in case, I guess, drivers need to be reminded what they look like ... the thing I don't understand is why, once these splendid signs were attached, the workers covered them over with sheets of a grey, sticky adhesive, making them functionally unreadable - is there to be an Unveiling? An Opening? Perhaps even a Mayoral Visit?


Yalla Yalla

Well, so long liberty
Let's forget you didn't show
Not in my time
But in our sons' and daughters' time ...

Doncha just love Joe Strummer? Well, I do ... love him to bits, which is all he is now. Since that heart attack in 2002. Just 50. Which once seemed like an age but now, so short. By half. One of my cohort, came the same year as me, but younger by, oh, about 8 months. Born on the equinox, died on the solstice. That's class. Has a train named after him! # 47828 on the Cotswold Railway. Such a true person. Something I read recently, they were sitting round a fire at a Festival somewhere in muddy England, a guy stopped by, sniffed, said the wood smelled like it came from his own village ... and it did, Joe had scored it there ten years earlier and saved it for this occasion. So English. So local. For a guy born in Turkey and raised all around the world. Who wanted to be Woody Guthrie, but reminds me more of Roy Orbison ... not his voice but his approach to song writing, which is operatic as Roy's was. A recitative, an aria, a song ... meaning, I think, that when and if you repeat, a line, a chorus, a verse, it isn't a repetition, it's an advance. Because we don't have that much time. Certain things have to be said. Attention must be paid. And the faith that it will be:

Somebody got a vision of a homeland
From a township, from a township window
Through a township window
Some crazy widow dares to have a vision
Starts seething, like
Seeming like a homeland on the plain
Not in focus yet
Seeming like a homeland on the plain
Not a focus yet ...

And then the other part:

Groovin', lets cut out of the scene, go groovin'
Drive, drive, drive
Distance no object, rasta for I

Yalla, yalla, yalla, ya-lah ...


It's always nice to meet a new word, especially one which describes an activity you may have unwittingly engaged in here and there over time. My first published writings, in a student newspaper, were reviews of art shows. They led, by a number of tangled paths, many years later, to a book about the artist Philip Clairmont, whom I met as a direct consequence of one of those far off exhibition pieces. And it was through Phil's work that I came to look at Max Beckmann. Now, whenever and for whatever reason I go to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, I always make a point of going down the escalators to stand in front of the picture reproduced above. It's now called Mother and Daughter but when it was acquired by the gallery in 1987, its title was Old Woman in Ermine. Not sure what Max called it when he painted it in Amsterdam in 1946, where he lived from 1940-47 and from which he left to spend his last few years in the United States. The picture seems to me to be about how finally incommunicable the knowledge, experience, perhaps even wisdom that accrues to the old is to the young. How the ending of one world - Europe after the rain - nevertheless passes on the seed of destruction to the next. And how there is as much grandeur in defeat as there is splendour in the anticipation of victory. If that doesn't sound too portentous. It's a cool, even cold picture, all that white, and the blacks and greys and blues and purples with a chill, icy quality, as if encrusted with snow, even though there are gorgeous reds in the girl's hair and here and there elsewhere in the painting; but it also has something you find in many other of Beckmann's pictures, an hieratic sense, as if this were an image that could have been seen as readily in ancient times as in our own. Or indeed in any time, so long as it was a time when there were cities. And wars, because this is also a painting about war or at least about the aftermath and prelude of war. Here is something Beckmann wrote to his friend and biographer, Stephan Lackner, on 27 August, 1945: ... the world is pretty much destroyed, but the specters climb out of their caves and pretend to become again normal and customary humans who ask each other's pardon instead of eating each other up or sucking one another's blood. The entertaining madness of war evaporates and distinguished boredom sits down again on the dignified old overstuffed chairs ... It's always the hands I end up looking at - the old woman's, which seem to acknowledge the uselessness of all effort and yet hold upright the fan; the young woman's with that strange clutching of the wrist of one in the reversed palm of the other, as if the weariness the old woman feels is embryonic there in the unadmitted angst of the young. And then my eyes stray to the black and empty mirror behind, the cross to the left planted in what may be a skull, the dark and bloody curtain ...


furthering ... ?

Let me just say how much I detest dial-up. It’s not just the slowness of everything, it's that ticking clock up in the right hand corner of the screen, logging the seconds passing into minutes passing … whereas with broadband, or ADSL as my soon-to-be-restored (tomorrow!) service is called, you never have to think about time, on or off-line, because you’re always on. Plugged into the grid, as it were. Any stray thought or query or reference, hit a key and it will either be answered or else you lead you on to some place you’d never otherwise go. Ditto, if you want to find out what other bloggers are doing – just go there. Plus, I’ve got entirely out of the habit of composing offline then posting later and I don’t like it. It reminds me of when I used to write on spec and then seek, usually in vain, for publication. Of earlier incarnations as if I’d segued inadvertently in the recent past and got trapped there; when I want to go to the future … now!

Which leads on to another thought, that I don’t know what to write next. Not so much the next word but the next obsession. The next overtaking of self by world I guess. Unpacking my books, doing a rapid cleansing of the filing cabinet (half a wheelie-bin’s worth of recycling …) made me painfully aware of how little of what used to fascinate me, holds much or any interest for me now. Marquesan tattoo … archaeoastronomy … the avant poetry of the 1970s … gone in the dark backward and abysm. All my books have been retrospectives of one kind or another. I’ve never written a future. Not even a present. It seems somehow typical that I should be thinking about this, right about the time the future is becoming more unlikely by the minute. That damn clock again. There’s got to be some way of furthering …


the collector

Portugal is burning. Mitteleuropa is under water. Antarctica is melting. Here rain seems like a thing of the past ... when some drops fell yesterday they felt like a memory. In my youth (!) (actually, I never grew up) I used to long for some apocalypse to relieve the tedium (if was probably not true ennui, rather, glandular pressure) but now - I wish - sometimes - for the bland certainties of those earlier decades. Except I know that, then as now, we were mortgaging the future. Who will collect?


This is very strange. As if I have moved to a parallel universe. Or maybe I should invoke the butterfly effect … ? The view is the same but cantilevered upwards so I see less street and more distance. Fascinating. Hitherto unnoticed tile mosaics on the church when I look west; when I look east, Sydney Tower.

I am among birds as I never was downstairs. Intimate with the black-faced cuckoo shrike’s intent pursuit of insects. And with all this, more privacy, because most people never raise their gaze above eye level.

Inside is more disorientating. The same layout but with odd differences, like the knob on the bathroom door is on the other side. Two entrances, or rather exits, like before, except now the other one just leads to the balcony. I love this balcony, it is so much closer to the sky … (here I am, outside again) … but inside, well, it’s not that big and I’ve only got so much furniture and there’s only so many ways to dispose it. So: much is a simulacrum of below; but not all.

Swapped table and couch-and-bookcase in the sitting room. Kept desk in same orientation (looking south - it’s more calming this way). Re-aligned bed to East-West rather than (favoured?) North-South axis. Redistributed the Objects of Power in an arrangement that is entirely intuitive and still subject to change.

I remember being in a state of acute distress one night last year, alleviated only by a vision of another place to be: tangible, I can remember all the details. Tried for many months to transform the flat downstairs into that (waking) dream; now feel, without intention or effort, that this may be it.

Today is my father’s birthday, he would have been eighty-five if he hadn’t modestly settled for his three score and ten. I put a pearl shell I found on my sister’s birthday two years ago on the portrait of him in his air force uniform hanging in the hallway. The Elvis Portrait (circa 1954) I call it because that’s who he looks like: blithe, handsome, full of promise and evidently without a doubt in the world.

All the windows are crusted with dust; the light of the setting sun refracts prismatic on the rose pink walls; as it seems to fall towards the horizon I know it is really the earth shouldering into the dark, but only so as the light returns. Tomorrow.


remembering ariadne

Moved most of my books upstairs this afternoon. I hesitate to say library but I guess that's the word. I was surprised how many there are, shelving them behind closed doors in wardrobes somehow cancelled their presence. Plus unshelved books always look like more. Also impressed by how long I have kept some of these ... they go back a long way, even to childhood. When I consider how much other stuff I've fecklessly let go or lost over the years. Then there are the omissions, those usually precious and much loved books that have disappeared at an unknown time under circumstances which remain mysterious, e.g. Greil Marcus' Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes: where the hell did that go? B-b-but ... doesn't matter. My other insight, not very original, was that any library, even a small one like mine, made up mostly of dog-eared paperbacks, is a labyrinth. In the Borgesian sense. Once you line up Homer, Herodotus, Plutarch, Augustine, Dante, Villon, Shakespeare, Milton, Defoe ... and all the moderns, you have a labyrinth, a maze you have threaded haphazardly over the years but in which you remain, happily or unhappily, lost: and will be so for the rest of your days.


chewing on bones

I've been on a few feature film sets but only once, the first time, as crew. It was a tax dodge teen slash movie made by some Americans in Auckland in the summer of 1980-81. They shot the city as if it were a small town in Illinois. Working title, Shadowlands, released as Dead Kids. I never saw it. I started out as 3rd Assistant to the Director, driving the make-up van to the set each day; but when I baulked at one of the more menial of the tasks I was expected to perform, instead of being fired, as I hoped and expected, I was moved to the Art Department. A mate of mine, Russell Collins, was the Art Director and the Production Designer was Susanna Moore, a writer, who later published a good thriller, In The Cut, from which Jane Campion made a not very good movie of the same name. I liked Susanna, even though her habit of plundering Auckland's antique shops for (to her) absurdly under-priced relics of Aotearoa's colonial and Maori past, bothered me somewhat.

Crewing on a film is hard, monotonous, repetitive work, the more so the further down the hierarchy you fall. Consolations for your privations come in, basically, three forms: food, money and camaraderie. A film crew marches on its stomach, as someone said to me the other night and it's true. If the food is bad, or inadequate, the Producer will soon (i.e. in an afternoon) have an unhappy, even rebellious crew to deal with. Ditto if the wages and/or per diems do not arrive on time. Camaraderie is most often a given of the job, and a genuine pleasure, but it can easily turn against the hierarchs if the food and money are not right. I know this, because it happened on Shadowlands. One day the per diems stopped arriving for the Art Department. We asked for them, and were told they were on the way. They didn't come. We asked again the next day and got the same kiss-off. By the third day we were ropable. We decided to act.

The villain of the piece was a double amputee in a wheelchair who was pretending to be someone else. The real person he was, allegedly, was dead and buried. Out of forgotten convolutions in a very silly plot, it was decided to disinter this dead man. The reveal would show that the coffin contained only the bones of the lower leg and the feet, proving that the man in the wheelchair was actually the dead man. Or something. We worked ahead of the main crew, preparing the tombstone for its opening. The scene was going to be shot in a beautiful parklike cemetery out the back of Remuera. We got there in the early afternoon, meticulously prepared everything for the opening of the grave ... then hid the bones in a gully at the bottom of the hill. When the rest of the crew arrived mid-afternoon and began setting up, we told the Director: no per diems, no bones. Then folded our arms and sat down on the gravestones to watch the fun begin.

It was extraordinary how quickly the bundle of white envelopes arrived. One of the Producers (I won't name him but he was the Kiwi end of the deal and he's still producing films there) turned up within, oh, half an hour ... I remember him, furious-faced, in his white shoes, picking his way down the green slope towards us. With good grace we took our envelopes and retrieved the bones. They got the scene before nightfall. Like I say, I never saw the film so I don't know what it looked like.

Why am I telling you this? Because this week, to my surprise, I found myself in the same sullen, rebellious state for the exact same reason. I write all the time, obviously, and most of it I do for nothing but the doing of it. If money eventuates at some later date, that's well and good, but it's not a consideration in the writing process: unless it's a film script. Then, if I'm not being paid on time and when I need it, I feel like hiding the bones down in the swamp, folding my arms and sitting on a gravestone waiting. For as long as it takes ...

Fortunately, twenty-four hours after this sullen state descended, and following a series of increasingly over wrought messages into the empyrean, enough money has arrived for me to cover my commitments for the next week or so. Just. And now I really do feel like returning to the screenplay 'with renewed energy' as they say. Funny that.


rush of blood

... signed a book contract today for Luca Antara ...

Maybe that's why I changed the format of this blog? Don't know, it happened before I realised what I was doing. Something about the way the white type on the black background seemed to be decaying before my eyes. Plus the prose had gone single-spaced (I think my elder son Jesse did it, inadvertently, trying to save so he could go back to playing games) and I couldn't restore it to how I wanted it to be. Actually almost deleted the whole blog, it was so tempting to hit that button: tabula rasa!

Anyway, also inadvertently deleted all my links so will now have to restore them one by one ... sometime. Everything is unstable right now, I feel like brushing off the past like dandruff from the shoulders of a black coat ... moving house, finishing (god how I wish) the (untitled) screenplay, finishing ... whatever.

I do not know what will happen in the further, as a soon to be murdered young woman said to me in almost the last conversation I had with her ... years ago now ... I haven't forgotten to remember but feel a need to remember to forget ... what?



… the Eredia Map (1602) … a simple, general map in which the island of Ouro is shown as a place to and from where a sea journey was made, arriving from Ende and departing to Timor, or vice-versa … it also shows a very detailed portolan map of the possible arrival area (Luca Antara) to be found at the southeast end of a direction line from Genteng, South West Java … the island marked Luca Antara is almost as large as Java Major ... the two islands of Ouro and Antara are shown south of Java, Bima (Sumbawa), Ende (Flores) and Timor. These last four islands are roughly in proportion to one another ...

this map may be viewed at Noel Peter's Eredia


add end um

Je ne veux pas travailler je veux fumer

mais plus alors?

Overcome earlier tonight with an intense nostalgia - not exactly desire - for my companion of more than thirty years, maryjane. It was the clacking of a perhaps unseasonable warm wind in the palms outside my soon to be vacated door. Two of these three palms are what Aotearoans call cabbage trees, the Maori word for which is titi ... from the sound of the wind in their leaves, the music the spear-like leaves make as they beat together. Why does this cause regret for my marijuana years (as if they were really over?)? Something about the way the numinous would impinge upon my dis-or-re-ordered consciousness when I'd smoke the local weed on one of my returns home. A sense of imminent revelation, as if the savage spirit of the country walked abroad and sneered at what it saw, to quote Katherine Mansfield; except it was always a thrill to me, not a slight or a deficit. A worry, yes, but only during the twenty minutes of paranoia following the initial inhalation of smoke. I don't want to take drugs to have a spiritual experience said John Archer (op. cit.) to me once, years ago now. Well, yes. Or, no. Or: I don't know. If someone (fat chance ... ) were to walk through the door right now with a big number I would fall upon it with an appetite that has nothing to do with the spiritual (except, perhaps, later ... I might see ... god in the jade tree). Oh, to be alone with the insatiable and unappeasable memory of an addiction ... A tout prix et avec tour les airs, même dans des voyages métaphysiques.—Mais plus alors.



A room, an upstairs room, bare and undefined, except for the bolted door at which we three waited nervously for our liberator. A young woman. Her father. Myself. She young and fair; he hooded, worn, weary. I - who was I? This was another age. The Elizabethan. There would come a knock on the door, certain words were to be spoken, we would slide back the bolt and He would take Her away to safety. The scraping came at last outside, the bolt was drawn back, a man in grey also young and fair entered that almost abstract place ... with a large antique pistol in his left hand. He raised it at my chest. I lifted my arm, pushing his arm up. In his other hand was a small dirk, with which he lunged at me ...

This visitation almost certainly came because yesterday, in a bookshop, I picked up a new biography of Christopher Marlowe and read the first paragraph, in which it is suggested that Kit's execution was ordered by Elizabeth herself. A great reckoning in a little room, then? But who were we? Who was I?


José Rizal

The other statue in Ashfield Park is of the writer and freedom fighter José Rizal. It was erected in 1988 by the Australia Philippine Society as a Bicentennial Project. It is a curious monument because, although about seven feet tall over all, at least half of that height consists of a plain oblong sandstone plinth, on which is another square bronze plinth, with the statue itself on top of that. The consequence is that although José Rizal is shown as an adult, with a lapelled jacket, a hat and a book under his arm, the figure is about the size of a five year old child. This, perhaps paradoxically, gives the monument a dignity which the much larger and heavier Mary Poppins did not have. She seemed earthbound, whereas José Rizal looks, if not exactly like a spirit of the air, light and untrammelled. Quite why he is in Ashfield Park is not clear but he looks very much at home there. If you walk from the taxi depot in Haberfield where I work(ed) back to Summer Hill, you pass him by, a companionable presence, about halfway along an avenue of magnificent Phoenix palms. I always say a word and sometimes receive a word or two in reply.


kicked upstairs

The night I got back from Wellington there was knock on the front door, which I never use. With a beleaguered sense of being once more at the mercy of the real estate market, I went reluctantly to answer it. The young woman, Natalie, who lived in the upstairs flat, was there. She said she was leaving the building and that perhaps I would like to take over her flat? Inside a week, my flat was sold, I received notice to quit, Natalie had gone to Moore Park and I'd placed a deposit on her former apartment. I'll move up in two weeks time.

The upstairs flat has the identical layout to this one, without the massive built-ins in the two bedrooms - which, not having many clothes, I use as bookshelves. Upstairs the walls are pale pink, not off white; the carpet is soft beige not coarse purple-grey; and there are none of the kitsch mock-Tudor appurtenances of this flat. Venetian blinds instead of semi-transparent nylon curtains. No hooks on the walls from which to hang paintings. I won't miss the orange hexagonal tiles in the kitchen here, nor the faux-marble bench-top; I do regret (but only slightly) the acres of dark wood. I'll pay ten dollars a week more and exchange my garage for a mere parking space; but the flat is warmer, sunnier and has a better view.

What I will miss is my other door, the one I do use, that opens into the front garden of the building. The hibiscus, the azalea, the jade trees, the ladder ferns, the bird of paradise and the poinsettia I'll still see, but from above. On the other hand, I'll be looking straight out into the head of the palm and also living closer to the birds (there was a black-faced cuckoo shrike here this morning); I might even set up a feeding table for them on the small balcony that shades my front stoop. Best of all, the upstairs flat has a bath! Long soaks for my ricketty knees ...

The way this has panned out has a symmetry and an ease that all the best moves have, whether in the rental market or on the dance floor. I feel very lucky and extremely grateful to the unseen powers that be, whosoever or whatsoever they may be. I feel like I should make some offering ... instead, I'm just posting this ...

Thursday evening I went to a book launch at Gleebooks: John Archer's Twenty Thirst Century: the future of water in Australia. John is an old friend from Pearl Beach days, an amazing character with an incomparable store of anecdote and story derived from the peripatetic and rapscallion life he has lived over the last sixty or so years. It would make a grand autobiography but, as a writer, he is not inclined in that direction. Not so long ago, when he was about to attend a family reunion up at the country seat in Queensland, I conceived the plan of driving up with him plus tape recorder and getting some of that vast range of experience into an oral history form ... but something happened, he flew instead of driving and the chance was lost. Another time perhaps. I was late for the launch, because my sister had just arrived from Aotearoa and I was taking her over to her daughter's place. When I walked in John was in full flight, orating like an old time carpet-bagger on the stump (except he doesn't want to be elected to anything) or perhaps an Old Testament prophet come out of the wilderness to berate the luxurious habits of the city dwellers. Not long after, another late comer turned up next to me, a blond woman in glasses who smiled at me not so much as if she knew me as if I knew - or should have known - her. Later I found out she is my local Member of Parliament, Virginia Judge. A most impressive person, and pleasingly irreverent as well. She was one of the loudest laughers when John described her colleague, Frank Sartor, until recently in charge of water policy in NSW, as the Minister for Kebabs. But, although it was a fun night, the subject is not fun, or funny. John has been campaigning for a sensible water policy for as long as I have known him - about ten years - during which time many of what seemed to be his wilder claims have become the subject matter of alarming newspaper headlines. His passionate engagement with the politics of water management has in fact meant he has left in abeyance his other passion, for what he calls the spirituality of water. He is always promising he will write his mystic treatise next, but then finds the practical problems we face demand urgent attention. It is perhaps the same with the autobiography I'd like him to write, or to write for him. Anyway, for those who are interested and can go, John will be presenting two events at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, 280 Pitt Street in the City in the next fortnight. The first, on the 11th August, is a forum on Sydney's water future. The second, a week later on the 18th, is a talk about The Enchanted World of Water and the Spirit. Both events begin at 7 pm.


super etcetera

In Ashfield Park there is a fine avenue of phoenix palms, a lovely sandstock summer house, a bowling green, a soccer field, several playgrounds, a statue of a Pilipino liberator and another of Mary Poppins. But when I went there Sunday, all that was left was ankle boots on the plinth and the plaque below. Quel horreur ... ! Someone had cut her off below the knees. It was impossible not to think of her bronze umbrella lifting past the palms, except she would never have left her boots behind. Today's Inner-West Weekly has the full story. P. L. Travers lived in Pembroke Street in the 1920s, before moving to England where she wrote her book in 1934. The statue exists because a schoolgirl, Gracie Drew, campaigned two years for it. On the front page is a photo of Gracie, sitting sadly on the plinth from which the jagged-ankled boots have been removed. Mary Poppins was found lying next to the foundation last Friday. The man in the Summer Hill newsagency said she was so heavy they needed a forklift to take her away. The Ashfield Council hopes to have the statue restored and reinforced within the next week or two. The Mayor has asked anyone who knows who the guilty parties are to contact the Council or the Police. We simply won't tolerate this mindless and destructive behaviour, he said. Vandalism such as this costs the community a great deal.


(today is the horse's birthday)

ern's sister's place

After dropping my sons off at Strathfield railway station yesterday afternoon I drove to 40 Dalmer Street, Croydon, coming at it from the east and dazzled by the setting sun reflecting off the dirty car windscreen. The house is pleasingly neglected, a small brick-veneer cottage built probably between the wars. Aluminium windows, falling out of their frames, replaced the sashes at the front. There were green tiles set in the steps leading to the front door but the stairs themselves seemed to have been partly demolished. Behind a high wire grill down the side of the house a white ute was parked. There was an unkempt plant in the front garden that could have been a bird of paradise, but if so, it wasn't flowering like the one here is. Many of the houses in Croydon have exposed beams on the outside of the flat triangular frontal area of the peak in the roof, usually stained black against the white; at #40 these vertical boards are painted green, giving a suggestion of individuality to an otherwise nondescript property.

Here's how Michael Heyward described it: ... an unremarkable, liver-coloured brick-veneer. It had a low fence, a rose bush in the front yard surrounded by a lawn of buffalo grass and at the side two thin concrete strips to accommodate an absent motorcar on its journey from gate to garage. With its pubs and shops and factories, Croydon was sleepy and predictable ...

This was the house from which the Ern Malley hoax was perpetrated upon Max Harris and the other Angry Penguins in 1943-4, chosen because it was the family home of Harold Stewart, one of the hoaxers. It was Harold's sister Marion who passed the correspondence from Adelaide on to Melbourne and from Melbourne to Adelaide, thus sustaining the illusion that Ern's sister, Ethel, lived in Sydney's western suburbs. It was, of course, also in this house that Ern's short life ended when he was taken off by (the non-fatal) Grave's Disease not long before his literary fame commenced.

I didn't hang around for long but will probably return for another look sometime soon. It is after all a sacred site of a kind: not one for plaques and restoration, but a place that should be allowed to remain utterly ordinary and undistinguished in every way for as long as it stands, so that those who take the trouble to go there will be reassured, as I was, that marvels do arise out of the quotidian.