Monday, February 19, 2007

Her giddy granny's at the bottom of it all

This morning's exertions were even less than yesterday's beachside perambulations. After surfing the Sunday papers and reading aloud from J.R.Ackerley's autobiographical "My Father and Me", I had a brief session at the piano. Supplementing my own stash of sheet music with pickings from their family trove, I concluded with "Her mother's at the bottom of it all" a ditty from music hall legend Dan Leno.

I took Bondi on some short walks, once being around Pembroke Castle, which I was seeing properly in daylight for the first time. After a massive Sunday Roast, care of Alison, and interspersed with enough tea to send me into rehab behind Robbie Williams, I read Kurt Vonnegut's intended final opus A Man Without a Country, a set of very short essays mixing crankiness with humour. I returned to the Ackerley bio which was so irresistibly concocted with pithy descriptions of his strange relatives; it's almost like Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors, but 50 years earlier.

I first came across Ackerley through a reprint of his memoir about life with an alsatian bitch: My Dog Tulip, where he wrote:
I realized clearly, perhaps for the first time, what strained and anxious lives dogs must lead, so emotionally involved in the world of men, whose affections they strive endlessly to secure, whose authority they are expected unquestioningly to obey, and whose mind they can never do more than imperfectly reach and comprehend. Stupidly loved, stupidly hated, acquired without thought, reared and ruled without understanding, passed on or "put to sleep" without care, did they, I wondered, these descendants of the creatures who, thousands of years ago in the primeval forests, laid siege to the heart of man, took him under their protection, tried to tame him, and failed – did they suffer from headaches?
The later memoir in my hands - published posthumously in 1968 - tells mostly of his relationship with his father (the "Banana King" of London), who didn't get around to marrying his mother (an actress) till about 25years after their first child was born. With much of the book dealing with his father's early life and later bigamous relationships (technically so only when he got around to a belated marriage), the younger Ackerley tosses off scarifying descriptions of:
  • his grandmother's sisters: as soon as [they] were old enough to comprehend the shame of their existence they resolved to hide it forever from the world and took the veil in the convent at Clifton
  • his Aunt Bunny, with her Saloon Bar laugh and inebriate husband, who was forced to witness the delayed marriage via a troublesome railway journey while touring in "Lord Richard in the Pantry"
  • his father's amusing himself with a certain Mrs Carlisle, who lived vaguely, but appropriately, 'in the North'.
  • his father's sisters: unfortunate creatures, kind though they were their appearance was so grotesque that it is difficult to supose they could ever have known romance or believed themselves destined for anything but the lifelong spinsterhood which was their lot
  • his mother - one of her last friends when she was losing her faculties, was a fly, which i never saw but which she talked about a good deal and also talked to. With large melancholy eyes and long lashes it inhabited the bathroom...

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