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Fatty Gay

April 26, 2010

Language has always been like a toy for me, something you play with.  It was almost 60 years ago when I was first introduced to a language other than english.  Of course before that there was always the Latin of the Catholic Church that we heard and repeated parrot fashion from the first days of school.  But there was another linguistic treasure awaiting this small boy from my Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs.

My father worked in Flinders Lane in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  The firm, a word we hardly here these days, was called Andrews Brothers.  They sold fabric for menswear.  Naturally there was a huge Jewish influence in what was called the ‘rag’ trade.  British television even made a series by the same name.  My father was a ‘goy’ or a gentile in english.  But the bulk of shops dealing in garments and fabrics in Flinders Lane were of Jewish origins.  The Yiddish word for rag trade was translated as ‘Schmuttahs’, my spelling may be a little incorrect, but the word is still used today although Flinders Lane has changed considerably since my first visit to see Dad at Andrews Brothers with his tape measure around his neck like a priestly vestment that I would later see in my days in the Monastery.  He was a handsome man, ex Australian Army Officer, a Lieutentant, and a gentleman.  Tall with a pencil moustache, and always impecabbly dressed though not expensively, we were middle class but far from wealthy.  My mother was a home maker, another wonderful example of how language evolves, a stay at home Mum.  She spent a lot of her time making clothes for both herself and me, her only child at this point.

My father had a Saturday morning job.  He worked from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday with the firm, Andrews Brothers, and on a Saturday morning he worked for a Jewish Tailor who had a store, another oldy worldy nomenclature, in Bourke Street.  Dad would catch the train from our home into the city and spend the Saturday morning earning a few extra pounds to help ends meet at home.  It was not a lot of money but for a young married couple in the early 1950’s it made life a little easier.  The Tailor Shop became a great influence on me as it was where I heard other languages spoken.  I guess they were European, probably Polish as there were many Jewish immigrants in Melbourne from many parts of Europe.  I was enthralled, entranced by the accents.  They were so distant from the australian of my grandparents and my own parents.  Thus the love of language began.

As the only grandchild on my fathers side, I was very spoilt.  They doted on me.  It was expressed both materially and emotionally unlike my parents who were rather cold.  I was a performer.  They could see this side of me and encouraged it.  More my grandparents, Harold and Daisy, than mother and father, Marie and Bob.   Word had got around that I was doing imitations of the Jewish Tailor.  It took the form of me sprouting meaningless sounds but using lots of hand actions.  They loved it.  I loved it.  I was on stage in our own loungeroom.  Nana and Pa, as they were affectionately known, made visits on Sundays, they had a car.  One of their favourite requests was to get me to ‘do the Jewish Tailor’ routine.  I could have been a  Seinfeld, but it was not part of the Melbourne scene, there was no Comedy Festival in the 1950’s, one’s family was the only audience.  So I did the routine for family and friends to their applause and laughter.

To this day I have always had great pleasure in playing with words.  My love of language grew from those early days of mimicking others.  I studied the mandatory Latin and French throughout secondary school.  I was also expsoed to Ancient Greek and Hebrew during my seminary studies.  Some people play a musical instrument, in my case, language was my instrument, the voice.  It of course was an essential element in the years of teaching that were to follow.

My efforts at learning the piano in my early 30’s began wonderfully.  I hired a piano for a few dollars a month and had it delivered to a house I was sharing with a young couple a few years younger than myself.  I now had to find a piano teacher.  A friend said. ‘Lloyd, do I have a teacher for you”.  I should have suspected something but no, I was nave, another language play with words, naive, I was doing Kath and Kim in the 70’s.  His name was Stefan, well it wasnt, it was Stephen, but it was much more exotic in the world of concert pianists in Melbourne at this period.  He had some sucess in his early teens and was set up by his boyfriend, an older man, in a studio in East Melbourne.  My friend took me there to introduce me.  His hair was almost Beethovenesque, huge eyes, high chee bones, and cigarette in one hand, and a flowing scarf draped around his slender, youthful neck.  Confidence, he oozed it.  ‘Would you like a scotch?”  I was shaking so much and in awe and blurted out ‘Yes!”…..I had a few lessons, even got to using two hands when all of a sudden he had moved into the house I was sharing and so I had the piano taken away and he was teaching me other things to do with my hands.  Of course it was over in months.  So apart from the gift of language my efforts at playing another instrument were disastrous.

When I started teaching I was sent to a rural school, usually one room in some isolated part of Victoria.  We all were summoned to the Assembly Hall of the Teachers College after our two year certificate and someone read out our respective postings.  My name was read out followed by the town, Jung.  I thought, fuck that is somewhere in Vietnam.  Everyone rushed across to the local service station to grab a map of Victoria.  I found it.  It was in a place called The Wimmera, which basically was a wheat growing area in the far North West of the state.  It was a sentence in both respects.  I survived the year teaching 22 kids from preparatory year to year 6 in a one room school.  The isolation was horrendous and the opportunities for linguistic laughter were few and far between.  I joined a nearby Drama Society, played tennis and basket ball and lived at the local pub.  Latin, French, Ancient Greek and Hebrew were anathema.  I did not even drink beer, maybe a brandy and lime.  I got through it and finally ended up at Tooronga Primary School in Malvern.  It was a relief from the dust and one dimensional existence in rural Victoria in 1969.  It was here that I had my first exposure to Greek.  Yes, Malvern had immigrants, Greeks, Italians, but no asians in 1970.  Thus began a long love affair, even to this day, with all things Hellenic.  I made friends with a wonderful Greek couple whose son I was teaching, Harry and Irene Gregory, obviously they had changed their surname, he was later to become Mayor of some Municipality.  I was welcomed into their home and took part in so many Greek cultural activities.  They gave me the chance to continue my love of language/s.

And in the decades to follow I was able to travel to Europe and rejoice in the languages that had only been text book or second hand.  Language is continually evolving and with the internet I find some of it totally confusing and unkown.  Although at times I experience fatty gay, fatigue, another of my fav lingo lovelies, I press on and try and participate and continue this life long love.  My other love is drawing, which of late I have neglected, and there are no exuses for this.

Language is a fundamental cultural element.  We have constructed, deconstructed, tortured, twisted, language but for me it remains a ‘conditione qua non’, something without which I would find life so much duller……dont become too fatty gay, become enlivened, juiced up, aroused, excited, inebrieated, whirled around, by the sheer beauty of Language.

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