Total Pageviews

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Death of a Gentleman and a Scholar

Jazz pianist, linguist, sports historian, cricket and football lover, Supreme Court barrister, professor of law, expert on family law and advocate for the legal rights of children.

Sometimes – though, sadly, all too infrequently - one meets someone who, regardless of the brevity of that meeting, leaves an everlasting and very special impression. One such person in my life was John Neville Turner, unquestionably one of the finest characters I am ever likely to encounter. J. Neville passed away on Thursday morning, close to his 82nd birthday, having suffered from vascular dementia for the past 3½ years. He was often referred to by friends as a “Modern Renaissance Man”, a salute to his wide range of interests and expertise, from jazz pianist to sports historian, prolific author, professor of law at Monash University for almost 30 years, expert on family law and an advocate for the legal rights of children. Neville was a solicitor in the Supreme Court of Judicature in England before coming to Australia in the late 1960s. Here he became a barrister in the Supreme Court of Victoria, a lecturer in law at the University of Adelaide for five years, and taught law at universities in Michigan and Nebraska. He spoke five languages, as well as being versed in classical Latin and Greek.
Unsurprisingly, given he was born in Bury in Lancashire, and gained his law degree with honours at Manchester University, his greatest sporting passions were cricket and football. The former is a game of which he was a connoisseur in the absolute literal sense of the word. Anyone who not just tolerates but continues to embrace cricket for as long - and with such intense and unabiding affection - as Neville did, surely needs to be a true connoisseur. Neville was moreover a purist and a traditionalist who found “noise pollution” at cricket matches to be “heinous”. Cricket, Neville felt, should be “a refuge from the vulgarity of the traffic and commerce of early 21st Century freneticism.” Many modern, revamped cricket stadiums were “anti-historical, superfluous, grandiose, grandiloquent, [a] folly which only a modern-day Nero would build” (how he would have hated the loss of the WACA Ground in Perth). In 1993, Neville described one-day cricket, the version shaped to appeal largely to the hoi polloi, the great unwashed, as “a facile perversion of a great art-form” which attracted hooligans, drunks and misfits. “On the other hand, the first-class, extended match offers an authority and beauty that no other game in the world can match.” These were comments which would quickly separate the men from the boys when it comes to genuine cricket love. Neville, indeed, could view cricket as an extension of both art and war. He once presented a paper describing players from the great rivalry between Lancashire and Yorkshire in terms of characters from Shakespeare's War of the Roses plays. Neville attended cricket Tests at 44 grounds around the world and all football World Cups from 1986 to 2010.
In July 1989, Neville presented a paper to an Australian Society of Sports Historians conference asking “Is Sport an Art Form?”, a proposition which was dismissed by one pretentious columnist as tantamount to suggesting “opera for the proletariat”. But the thought was more warmly received by Tony Stephens in The Sydney Morning Herald, who quoted Neville as saying, “Sport is one of the graces of life, a source of infinite joy and productive of the finest cultural values”. Neville had accepted “Tolstoy’s concept of art as the sincere sharing of an emotion that moves the person who expresses it”, and he believed the Australia Council’s mandate should be extended to cover sport as well as music, literature and ballet.
         Thereafter Neville’s name was not seen so much on the news pages; in hindsight it seems as if he’d felt stung by the chilly reception and patently pseudo intellectualism of the conceited columnist (“Paspalum Place”). On the other hand, Neville’s ongoing dislike of modern technology – no computers, no email and no Word Doc for him – quite possibly curtailed his wider influence as the study of sport and sports history tightened into an exclusive academic enclave, a zealously protected school for like minds, their work reading increasingly like what "Paspalum Place" described as onanism. Neville preferred books and primary sources to the insidious, unreliable Internet. He wrote his notes and letters in longhand. As for revolutionary ideas, like sport as art, they came to be frowned upon – after all, it attracted negative publicity.
Ironically, Neville’s passing was announced to a broader audience on the very stage Neville shunned, social media. It came on Facebook, from his great friend and fellow sports historian Bernard Whimpress. This elicited an outpouring of sorrow from the select group of Bernard’s online friends, one of whom referred as Neville as “Nevillepaedia”. Others recalled a gentleman and a true character, a special and an exceptional man, a great “encourager” and contributor, and an entertaining and extremely knowledgeable companion. For all that, Neville was a man people felt they knew, yet knew little about.
Neville’s true fame did not extend much beyond that small circle of those close friends who, through getting to know Neville well, had gained some inkling of his life of achievements. The Neville I knew was quiet, unassuming, humble and modest, though also exceedingly erudite. He was a voice of reason and he was generous and kind, including with his praise (you knew you’d earned it), a impish soul with an irresistible sense of fun. I’m reliably told he was also a marvellous teacher.
It was only through a chance chat in a bar in 2007 that I learned Neville was such an adept at a keyboard. It was talking with a lifewire Ukrainian, Dr Jorge Dorfman Knijnik, a lecturer in physical education and sport at University of São Paulo in Brazil, when Jorge offered to sing one of my favourite tunes, The Girl from Ipanema, at a dinner I was MC-ing in the Great Hall at the Australian National University, and Neville was suggested as an accompanist. I was only too happy to agree to this arrangement, and stopped the pre-recorded soundtrack between Frank Sinatra’s There Used To Be a Ballpark Right Around Here and Roy Harper’s When An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease for the Jorge-Neville recital. To say Neville astonished the large gathering with his piano playing would be a gross understatement. We were simply flabbergasted that, in the enforced absence of Sinatra and Harper, such a rich talent was in our midst.
Neville went on to play Vangelis’s memorable instrumental Chariots of Fire, the theme music for the movie of the same name, ending his performance with a lavish back-fingered sweep of the wires and proceeding to explain to a room full of sports historians and their partners that the title had nothing whatsoever to do with sport, nor indeed the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. We philistines, we innocently profane many, learned that the words “Chariots of Fire” came from the poem “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time" by William Blake, probably written in 1804, a preface to his epic Milton: A Poem in Two Books, one of a collection of writings known as the Prophetic Books. And that Blake’s words became the hymn Jerusalem, with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. The poem was inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, travelled to what is now England and visited Glastonbury. The theme is linked to the Book of Revelation, describing a Second Coming, wherein Jesus establishes a New Jerusalem. Blake implies that a visit by Jesus would briefly create heaven in England, in contrast to the "Dark Satanic Mills" of the Industrial Revolution.
In  a way it sounds a bit like postmodernist theory, and I doubt that did much for Neville. Either way, I gather that, because of our night on the town with Bernard Whimpress, which included a bossa nova around a large pile of coats (the first dance in 30 years of sports history conferences), the pair missed the following morning’s presentation on postmodernist theory in the study of sport history. Bernard, by the way, gained some notoriety by adding a typewriter museum to a nunnery as being among places in which he’d slept.
Happily, the one session I’m forever grateful I attended during that 2007 sports history conference was the last one, the one in which J. Neville Turner presented his talk titled “The Half Eaten Pear”. My recollection is that this wasn’t even a scheduled presentation, and that some unfortunate historians, eager to catch flights out of Canberra, missed it. But “The Half Eaten Pear” has, in the past 11 years, developed such a reputation it has almost attained legendary status, at least among sports historians. There are those of us who were there and heard it and those who so earnestly wished they had been there that they have come to believe they were. The talk was a satirical look at the maze of rules of golf as laid down by the Royal and Ancient of St Andrews, so comprehensive and involved that they leave one wondering, “What possible eventuality could they have overlooked?” Well, Neville provided the answers to that question with a paper that readily recalled Evelyn Waugh in his Scoop mood, such was its plausible ridiculousness. In my humble opinion, “The Half Eaten Pear” ranks, among sports talks, right up there with Humphrey Tilling’s famous “Six Ages of Cricket”, given to the Forty Club in London in 1963 (indeed, Neville was probably suitably inspired by the Tilling talk). Neville’s costume manager on the day was Bernard Whimpress, who, since Neville was not golfer himself (though an able tennis player), supplied a broken half-wedge and plus fours.
Back then, Jorge Dorfman Knijnik reminded me of a quote from the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamuurti,  “So when you are listening to somebody completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.” Bernard Whimpress has come to describe Neville’s talk as a “riot”. Yet, as much as everyone there was reduced to tears of laughter, nobody dared miss a single word. And during Neville’s talk, one grasped fully the feeling, and came to gain a precious insight into the character that was John Neville Turner.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Bob Dylan Gives his Imperial 65 Typewriter a Big Hug as the Day of the Wedge Dawns

Staying on the subject of Nobel Prize in Literature winners and nominees for the time being, I offhandedly asked Harriet the other day, "Who was the last Nobel Prize Laureate to use a typewriter?" I expected and got the answer "Bob Dylan"*. Yes Dylan, the 2016 prize winner, is known to have used a range of typewriters, from a Royal Caravan to an Olympia SG1, an Olivetti Lexikon 80 and Olivetti Lettera 22 and 32 portables. To my surprise, I found Dylan was also seen in Britain in the mid-60s showing inordinate affection for an Imperial 65. (As great a typewriter as the Imperial 65 is, I must confess I've never felt a compulsion to hug one!)
Kazuo Ishiguro at the Nobel Prize presentation dinner in Stockholm.
Strictly speaking, however, we were both wrong, as I subsequently discovered last year's Nobel Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro used a Brother AX-10 electronic typewriter to write his 1989 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day, as well as the telescript The Gourmet and "the bulk of" The Unconsoled.
Ishiguro bought the "wedge" typewriter at the Ryman Stationery store near Covent Garden in London in 1987 (centre, above). The machine was made at Wrexham in North Wales.

Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki on November 8, 1954; his family moved to England in 1960. His 2005 novel Never Let Me Go was named by Time as the best novel of 2005 and included in its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. In naming him last year's Nobel Prize Laureate, the Swedish Academy described Ishiguro as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".
Ishiguro has a further "typewriter connection", though tenuous. His father, Shizuo Ishiguro, a physical oceanographer, moved the family to Guildford in Surrey after being invited to research at the National Institute of Oceanography. In 1984 he patented what has been called a kind of "Braille typewriter" - in fact it is "an electronic apparatus for aiding the blind to read ordinary printed letters" (see below).
Kazuo Ishiguro's use of an electronic typewriter may well be seen to signal that time Ted Munk has been warning us about for some years - that what I call "wedges" will "have their day". They might not yet have the same appeal as manual typewriters, but perhaps as the remaining stock of old manuals continues to be exhausted and prices for them keep on skyrocketing, it is not all that far away.
Then again, if some part of the on-going appeal of manual typewriters lies in their use by Nobel Prize-winning authors, our critical question - "Who was the last Nobel Prize Laureate to use a typewriter?" - could well get a new answer.
Late last month The New York Times boldly asked, in a banner headline, "Is the Next Nobel Laureate in Literature Tending Bar in a Dusty Australian Town? With the publication of two new books, Gerald Murnane might finally find an American audience." The article, by Mark Binelli, was about Goroke-based writer Murnane, who still uses a Remington Monarch portable typewriter, as well as other manual models (yes, he is on Richard Polt's list of Writers and Their Typewriters). Goroke is a tiny town in the Wimmera region of western Victoria (population of 623), close to the South Australian border. It takes its name from the Aboriginal term for the Australian magpie.
Binelli quoted Murnane as saying, "In 1979 I taught myself to type using the index finger of my right hand alone. Since then, I have composed all my fiction and other writing using the finger just mentioned and one or another of my three manual typewriters." Binelli went on, "A strong case could be made for Murnane, who recently turned 79 [on February 25], as the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of. Even in his home country, he remains a cult figure; in 1999, when he won the Patrick White Award for under-recognised Australian writers, all his books were out of print. Yet his work has been praised by J.M. Coetzee and Shirley Hazzard, as well as young American writers like Ben Lerner and Joshua Cohen. Teju Cole has described Murnane as 'a genius' and a 'worthy heir to Beckett'. Last year, Ladbrokes placed his odds at winning the Nobel Prize for Literature at 50 to 1 — better than Cormac McCarthy, Salman Rushdie and Elena Ferrante."
If Ladbrokes are on the money, as they most often are, the last Nobel Prize Laureate using a manual typewriter might well be Murnane. He's hardly likely, it seems, to switch to anything electronic or computerised at this late stage of his life. 
*Before Dylan, perhaps, Doris Lessing. But who was the first Nobel Prize-winning writer to use a typewriter, I wonder? Maurice Maeterlinck (1911)? Gerhart Hauptmann (1912)? Romain Rolland (1915)? Or George Bernard Shaw (1925)?
Rolland with Mahatma Gandhi - whose typewriter is it?
George Bernard Shaw

Monday, 16 April 2018

Authors With Typewriters and Writers' Environments

I was mindful of increasing the workload for Richard Polt when I posted on Nobel Prize in Literature winners and nominees with their typewriters the other day. And sure enough, Richard, tongue firmly in cheek, duly responded.
Meanwhile, Tony Mindling commented on his love of seeing the writers in their environments. Between them, Richard and Tony have inspired me to return briefly to the subject. For a writer's environment, my own favourite is this image of Robert Penn Warren at work:
Some years ago Richard and I wondered whether Tennessee Williams was the writer most often photographed at his (various) typewriters. Now I think the honour should go to Georges Simenon:
And what is this odd looking typewriter Renée Faure is using in the 1960 film le President, based on a Simenon novel?
Finally, these images of Katherine Anne Porter remind me of how different and more pleasant it is to sit down at a gleaming manual portable, as opposed to a Selectric or indeed a computer:

Friday, 13 April 2018

Secret Love Lives on in Canberra Suburbs, Even Long After Death

Australian poet Judith Wright at her Hermes 3000 typewriter
It's more than 10 years now since the Australian Capital Territory's Place Names Committee announced that among the new suburbs to be built in the Molonglo Valley outside Canberra would be planned adjoining developments called Wright, after the Nobel Prize-nominated Australian poet Judith Wright, and Coombs, after "Nugget" Combs, an economist who had been Director-General of Post-War Reconstruction, Chancellor of the Australian National University and the first Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia. All well and good, given this pair had been two of Australia's most well-known and well-loved public figures. But there was far more to the Place Names Committee's decision than met the eye. Indeed, it provided an extremely rare glimpse of bureaucratic romanticism. Someone on the committee was "in the know".
Wright had passed away in Canberra, aged 85, on June 25, 2000, 7½ years before the suburb naming honour was bestowed upon her, on January 2, 2008. Coombs had died and been given a state funeral almost 2½ years earlier, on October 29, 1997. But it wasn't just because they were both long out of the local limelight that the significance and poignancy of this naming decision was lost on almost all Canberrans. Even today, many people - even among those now living in the growing suburbs of Wright and Combs - would be unaware that for a quarter of a century, Wright and Coombs were secret lovers. Yet, as Wright once wrote to a friend in England, confessing to the affair without naming names, "Love is love, no matter what the problems, and always joyful even in the pain."
Coombs and Wright picnic in the bush.
In revealing the affair in her article "In the Garden" in the The Monthly in June 2009, Fiona Capp pointed out that although Wright had helped care for Coombs in the two years before his death, following a series of strokes, she was unable to attend Coombs's funeral because their relationship had never been made public. "Coombs and his wife, Mary, were separated, but his loyalty to Mary and to his children meant that he never contemplated a divorce. Wright was even more determined to keep the affair a secret. She'd been in a similar position with her late husband, the philosopher Jack McKinney, when they first met and she still carried guilt about the pain she felt she'd caused his family. One of the most remarkable things about this relationship [between Wright and Coombs] is the silence that has continued to surround it ... It is a measure of the respect in which they are held that their desire for privacy, even after death, has been observed."
Judith Arundell Wright was born in Armidale, New South Wales, on May 31,1915, and spent most of her formative years in Brisbane and Sydney. She attended New England Girls' School and studied Philosophy, English, Psychology and History at the University of Sydney. For the last three decades of her life, she lived near the New South Wales town of Braidwood, so she could be closer to Coombs, who was based in Canberra. She spent her last few years living in a small bedsit in Canberra. Herbert Cole Coombs was born in Kalamunda, Western Australia, on February 24, 1906.
A page from one of Judith Wright's typescripts, seen in the National Library
of Australia's 50th anniversary exhibition.
Wright was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1967, coming up against a daunting field of 69 other contenders, including W.H. Auden, Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Lawrence Durrell, E.M. Forster, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Katherine Anne Porter, Ezra Pound, Georges Simenon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Penn Warren, Thornton Wilder and Edmund Wilson. Only eight on the formidable nomination list ever won the prize, and with Wright, those who failed to win included Auden, Durrell, Forster, Graves, Greene, Porter, Pound, Simenon, Tolkien, Warren, Wilder and Wilson. (See the full list below, as well as a list of all winners from 1967-2017). 
Wright also has a street named in her honour, in the suburb of Franklin, which is named for the great Australian writer Miles Franklin (typewriter left). Indeed, Canberra has a habit of saluting writers and
journalists with the names of its suburbs and streets. The streets of McKellar are named for journalists, including Charles Bean (typewriter above right), Kenneth Slessor (typing left), Hugh Buggy, the cricket writer who used a Remington portable to coin the phrase "Bodyline", and Sir Frederick Lloyd DumasThe streets in Garran are named after Australian writers, and the suburb of Richardson is named for Henry Handel Richardson (real name Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, typewriter below right). 
The suburb of Fraser is named after the political correspondent and later politician James Reay Fraser, who used an early Remington portable. The suburb called Taylor is named after magazine publisher and journalist Florence Taylor. I live in Hughes, which is named for former Prime Minister Billy Hughes, who used a Corona 3 folding portable (and banned the import version of the Erika folding, the Bijou). Lawson is named for the great writer Henry Lawson and Gordon for the poet Adam Gordon Lindsay
The suburb of Gilmore is named for author and journalist Mary Gilmore (typewriter left). As well, the 
Australian Electoral Commission has just announced that a proposed new Federal electorate for the ACT will be named in honour of war correspondent and official war historian Charles Bean, seen below (the electorate will cover the Molonglo Valley district, including Wright and Coombs).
 Alejo Carpentier
 Alberto Moravia 
 Anna Seghers 
 Carlos Drummond de Andrade 
 Eugenio Montale 
 Friedrich Georg Jünger 
 Georges Simenon 
Katherine Anne Porter
Ezra Pound
Lawrence Durrell
Eugène Ionesco 
 Miguel Ángel Asturias
 Konstantin Paustovskij 
 Ernst Jünger 
Robert Penn Warren
 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 
 Bob Dylan
 Doris Lessing
 Derek Walcott
 Günter Grass 
Gabriel García Márquez 
 Heinrich Böll 
 Isaac Bashevis Singer 
 Jorge Amado 
 Väinö Linna 
 Pietro Ubaldi 
 Saul Bellow
Simon Vestdijk 
Mario Vargas Llosa
 Max Frisch
Nadine Gordimer 
Joseph Brodsky