"What do you do on Australia Day?" asked a young Thai friend.
"Oh, I suppose we have barbecues and picnics or go to a sporting event or some such."
"No, I mean what do you do on Australia Day?"
I had to think. It didn't take long. Almost invariably Maggie and I were out in the country, perhaps visiting good friends, or perhaps chilling in a resort or country town.
Margaret loved being out in the country, with no-one knowing where we were (always close to civilisation of course).
Christmas and New Year would be over, and family scattered to all parts of the country and globe, so that we were free to read, relax, walk and spend lots of time together.
So that's what I did on Australia Day, and I never took it for granted.
A WRITING CLASS WITH HYPNOTHERAPY
I don't know if this was good or bad but I suppose it was interesting.
I went to a writing class, but really, more of an experiment. It was a session in which the participants put digit to keyboard, or pen to paper, and then after a session of hypnotherapy, tried again. The idea was to unblock any constraints which could interrupt the flow of the writing.
I think it worked. Although I hadn't meant to, I was guided into Margaret's story where I had previously intended to map out a plan for a sequel to Antonia's Journey. 2016 into 2017 was the general idea; to throw away the bad and welcome the new.
My pre story was really about losing Margaret of course. How could 2016 mean anything else to me?
But the apres story came to me just as quickly. It was the experience told from Margaret's point of view. I can't reproduce it just yet, but who knows? I just might, soon - maybe. Tears flowed.
We have always enjoyed a drink. But we would generally have a bottle of red between us over a meal. It hardly affected me but Margaret would feel fuzzy and buzzy. Sometimes though, we are caught off guard. I certainly have been. The worst was when James Galway came to town and we dined him over lunch at Jimmy Watson'sHotel in Carlton. He told great stories and appeared to be tossing them down, but he was tossing them into the flowerpots - I saw him. Not me though. I persevered with the house white deep into the lazy, hazy afternoon.
It got so late I was concerned at having to drive back to Ormond and get ready for the evening concert. I decided to go for a run in the rain to regain my sobriety. I did, had a warm bath and returned most of the wine to the plumbing system.
This was not enough, however, and when the concert began, at 8 o'clock, I was seriously concerned, especially as the opening item was the Hungarian Peasant Songs of Bela Bartok. It began with a bassoon solo, a drinking song, and I was delighted to hear it emerge in robust shape from my bassoon. In fact, all my solos sounded stylish and forthright. Some of the connecting passages however did not fare so well, as my concentration, raised to a peak for the solos, flagged in the intervals.
As we left the stage for interval, one of my colleagues said, "Nice solos mate, but sounds like your offsider's having a bad night."
Well, Margaret's never done that, but we did have an interesting experience at friend Julia's place. Their hospitality is always of the most generous kind.
You know what it's like at a wedding, when you finally get your hands on a thirst-quenching beverage - three or four champagnes disappear before you come up for air. It was one of those days, and on the delightful, wind-swept deck at Anglesea, the air, the water, the wine and the conversation all sparkled.
There were a couple of "interesting " wines to try as well, and we were in great form - till Margaret disappeared. It was one of those rickety outdoor benches of course, all wobbly and tremulous, that had deposited her abruptly. We all laughed, including Margaret, who recovered her poise well.
Some more interesting drinks and we decamped to the dining room where Mister Kerry presides in masterly fashion over the remains of various members of the animal kingdom. As Margaret engaged in spirited conversation with Julia, I helped Kerry serve the food, and we made good progress. I served Margaret first as I realised she had probably had nothing before arriving. By the time I sat down for mine, I was famished too.
At this point, Margaret sat bolt upright, and asked with great hauteur, "And don't I get any?" A second serving was provided immediately to an embarrassed Margaret, but we didn't argue about it on the way home as she slept all the way.
Most of us have a favourite joke. My father would often tell about his lordship trying to bring an awareness of the finer things in life to his Irish tenant farmers.
He brings Paddy to the Great House, and shows him the paintings. Paddy is polite but not particularly impressed. And so it is with the drapes, the stairs, the cutlery and all. Unable to elicit the response he desires, his lordship decides to appeal to Paddy's Irish heart.
"And we have here, Patrick, not Guinness, but something else, made by the holy monks themselves."
Curiosity piqued, Paddy deigns to sample the proffered Benedictine. He samples a second glass, and to his Lordship's relief, smiles with pleasure, and does not refuse a third.
"Well, Patrick, what do you think?"
"Oi'm thinkin sor, was it truly made by the holy monks?"
"Oh, indeed Patrick, indeed."
"Well, who put it in dem little Protestant glasses?"
Mine is about dignity. No-one has as much dignity as a six-year old girl.
Just imagine; Molly has been asked to pop down to the grocer's to get some toilet paper, and to put it on the account. Mortified, she trudges, cheeks ablaze, to the shop, waiting till it is almost empty.
"Yes, young Molly?"
"Mummy theth to get thome toilet paper pleeth."
The grocer, not sure which family she is from, says, "And who is it for?"
Scarlet becomes crimson. "It'th for all of uth."
I mention it because dignity was one of Margaret's many attributes.To the end, it was important to maintain the posture which all had admired for so long.
To see the humorous side of slipping skirts and wigs in the wind was quite an achievement, and one I was grateful for.
Well into middle age someone asked me, "Was it Margaret I saw taking a little kid to the violin shop in Balwyn?" That being so, he continued, "Yes, it couldn't be anyone else. She had that marvellous bearing."
Once, on holidays in Sydney, I decided we would walk across the Harbour Bridge, as I had done years earlier with my Dad - a pleasant walk and investigate one of the pylons. Margaret did the children's shoes up tight, her own also, and asked if it would be alright, safe. She took some reassuring till I realised she thought we would be going over the great arch. She took our laughter with good grace (and probably relief).
This was late 80s, long before this became a "bucket-list" money-grabber. But before too long Mag was able to point to the ant-like columns wending their way over the bridge - "See, I wasn't so stupid after all, just ahead of my time."
In Tassie, I noted a local attraction where the rocky foreshore had been channelled by natural forces into an amazing pattern known as "the tessellated pavement."
"What are we doing today?" she asked.
"Well, I thought we'd visit the tessellated pavement."
Margaret had a disdainful look as she said, "No thank you, I would rather see the natural wonders of the area."
Margaret could also look wonderfully dignified as she exited a department store, apparently oblivious of the glares of the staff who had been kept ten minutes past closing time. Or for that matter, the trepidation of the husband who was supposed to be mollified by the news of just how much she had saved us in expeditious and opportunist purchases.
I shall now make my dignified (if that means slow) way to bed.
THE VISION SPLENDID
Ira kept up a steady, though irregular correspondence with his parents. He often felt there was nothing of interest to write about, as life was fairly routine. He managed to get himself on to a Northward tour which took them deep into Arizona and to the Grand Canyon. This was worth writing about, and he enjoyed sharing the experience with them. They could glean information about his other enthusiasms from comments in letters such as this one.
Fort Bliss July
Dear Mother and Father,
I trust this letter finds you well as always. I think of you often and always remember you in my prayers at night. We had some folks from Syracuse pass through last week and they tell me the Summer was a good one for grains and fruit and there is still plenty of good work on the Canal. I suppose there are more mills springing up in town. I hear the new Church is doing fine. Are you still getting there often? Are we still sharing the church at home? Say hello to Asahel and his family, and remember me to my brothers and sisters. I think of them all. I am keeping well. I suppose I am lucky as so many men get sick but I don't.
I have two stripes now so I am a full Corporal. That means a bit more money and also a bit more responsibility. I have to be tougher sometimes. We had two desertions last week. I understand why, but if they desert they better do it good, as I wouldn't want to be caught if I was them.
Have you heard from cousin Titus? I think I told you I had a letter from my old friend Sam and he is a pilot on the Mississippi just as he always wanted. His letters are very funny and I showed some of the boys. They all laughed. As I told you, he is very smart. He could be a writer.
Someone else came to the fort. She is Miss Dickson, the daughter of old Captain Dickson, who is a true gentleman. Miss Dickson is very beautiful and she plays the violin. All the fellows at the fort want to marry her but I do not think any of them will be the fortunate man.
I will finish now and wish you good health from
Your loving son, Ira.
There was, indeed, a different atmosphere at the Fort. Ira had noticed the buzz upon returning from a routine patrol. It didn't take long to establish the cause of the excitement, but knowing the social constraints of the post, Ira discounted reports of the new arrival as the over-heated imaginations of deprived men. Consequently, he was not prepared for the vision which sallied forth from the Officers' family quarters, proceeding like a Queen across the parade ground, making for the Band rehearsal room. Camels, Grand Canyon and Indian braves all receded before the lovely vision of Miss Margaret Dickson.
Ira tried not to stare, but it was impossible, nor was he the only one. Not only was her oval face blessed with a peaches and cream complexion, she was possessed of a superb figure. This paragon seemed to have stepped straight out of an Eighteenth Century Court, and for the moment blessed the Western part of Texas with her presence. Soon afterward they heard a familiar, yet unfamiliar, sound. It sounded like a fiddle being tuned. This was a sound they were all familiar with, for there were good fiddlers passing through, playing at Balls and the like. This sounded more serious and the tuning was careful and exact. Gradually the tuning turned into a couple of simple melodic exercises, then some music of considerable muscle. It sounded like the playing of some visiting Italian or Frenchman back in New York, and the music, he couldn't quite tell, sounded like Mozart and Bach and something modern, again he couldn't say what.
Soon there was a little knot of men listening as respectfully as any crowd at the Symphony Hall. The violin playing ceased, a lock or two snapped, the door swung open, and out marched Miss Dickson, in a regal procession of one. The men stared mutely, with one alone having the presence of mind to say, “Good morning Miss Dickson.”
Margaret was the finest Champagne among an army of beer bottles, and did a great deal for morale. Men marched more briskly, stood taller and spoke louder when she was around. Many wondered what on earth she was doing in this far-flung frontier post, being a major distraction. Others claimed she was the civilization they were there to defend. Of most of this attention she appeared oblivious. All unmarried officers wished to meet her and talk, and while dear old Captain Dickson was trusting and courteous, his wife, Mary, wasn't. It was said to be a brave man indeed who crossed Mary, and she guarded her twenty-year old bombshell with ill-concealed suspicion.
Ira was therefore puzzled but pleased when his Commanding Officer, Captain Pitcher, asked him in. “Coan! They tell me you're a fine cooper, is that right?”
“I believe so, Captain," without false modesty.
“And they tell me you do a bit more than that.”
“I'm not sure what you're getting at Sir.”
“Fancy work. Carving, woodwork. That sort of thing.”
“From time to time sir, yes.”
“Ah! In that case, being the gentleman you appear to be, how would you like to rescue a damsel in distress?”
“Always happy to help, sir, but what do you mean?”
“Well, do you know Miss Dickson?” A nod from Ira. “Yes, thought you might. Her father tells me she has a problem with her violin. It's to do with the bow, I think we all know what that looks like. Nearest chap who could fix it is in New Orleans at the moment. No Corporal, I'm not asking you to do that errand. Look, it's not your job, but would you just have a look. Dickson's a fine man and I know he'd really appreciate it. Officers' family quarters, cabin four.”
Ira didn't mind at all. In fact, he was curious. In dress uniform, he knocked on the door and waited. After a short, but decent, interval, the door swung open, held by an imposing woman of middle age. He felt he was being assessed, ever so politely, but assessed nevertheless, and he suddenly realized that he wished to pass muster.
“Good morning maam,” he greeted her, saluting smartly. “I'm Corporal Coan, to lend a hand if I can.”
“And what do you know about violins, Corporal Coan?”
“Nothing Maam. I said, to lend a hand if I can.”
Her manner as she ushered him in belied her brusque greeting. The interior of the cabin was unlike anything he had seen. He could not believe that so many books and flowers could have made their way to this far-off place. The walls were lined with gleaming, straight bookcases loaded with plush leather-covered volumes of varying ages and disciplines. Shakespeare and the Bible stood out, as well as various dictionaries and atlases, and dozens of volumes of variegated colors and styles. Brightening up the academic effect were vases of flowers, delicate and light in effect. Ira wondered where they could possibly have come from, until he realized that they were the very blooms he took for granted all round the nearby fields and trails.
At the table sat Captain Dickson, whom he knew by sight, a handsome and distinguished-looking officer, more in the style of a University Don than an Officer of the Eighth Regiment. He roused himself from a tome he had been studying with great absorption, and waved aside the salute.
“Oh don't worry about that old chap. We're all friends here.”
Ira was not sure his wife would have agreed with the sentiment, but he appreciated the old-world courtesy and kindness.
“Ah yes, my dear,” Dickson said to his wife “what was the trouble now?”
Mary Dickson raised her eyes to heaven. “I told you, Dicko. Margaret's bow!”
“Ah yes. Of course. The bow.” He had a deep and resonant voice which Ira found quite hypnotic, the cultured cadences sounding exotic out in far Western Texas. Mary motioned her husband to go and fetch Margaret. Captain Dickson, laying aside his book, moseyed equably further into the house.
A moment later, Margaret entered, looking radiant, as always. Introductions having been made, Margaret said, “Oh yes, I know you. You're the one who whittles.”
Lots of soldiers whittled, but Ira knew that he had a particular reputation. “Yes Miss. I'm not sure if I can help.”
She turned to the table, on which lay a violin resting in an open case. The wood was a fine color, with a deep chestnut varnish. He could see spruce pegs in the interior, and the blackwood strip of the fingerboard. The bow appeared to be an exotic hardwood of some kind. As he looked, he became dimly aware of the antiquity and complexity of the craft of the violin maker. He also began to quietly despair of any possibility of helping, and deeply regretted having to disappoint Margaret, and to risk the scorn of her mother. Then he noticed that the hair of the bow was detached from the bow itself at one end.
Margaret was pointing it out, saying “Out here the violin has become very dry and I have to nurse it carefully, but the hair has come completely out. I don't know what to do.”
The hair at one end was well-anchored, but at the other, where it was gathered into a kind of plug, it had popped out of the groove in the bow, probably through crazing of the glue. This seemed to be eminently repairable, but Ira was not in a hurry to get the job completed. He inspected the bow carefully, and saw that the bow hairs were somewhat ragged and uneven. They actually looked like horse hair, and when he asked, Margaret explained that they were indeed, hairs from a horse's tail, that they should be of an even size, and arranged to form a firm flat ribbon. Without making promises, Ira felt that he could rectify that problem too. She had a second bow, which he used to test the correct tension, and the method of wedging the end of the horsehair ribbon into the groove.
“But you do have another bow Miss Dickson.”
“Oh, that thing! It might as well be a fairy's wand – I need more weight in the bow.”
Ira decided she must know what she was talking about and set about gathering the hair ends into a neat point glued into a little leather wedge which was then pressed into the slot. This was delicate work, if straightforward, and required some dexterity and much patience. In the meantime Margaret chatted amicably about music, politics, travel, fashions and philosophy and apparently assumed that Ira would be equally well-informed and interested. In desperation he dredged up his New York concert experiences and half of every conversation he had ever had with cousin Titus.
Some of this seemed to puzzle Margaret (it certainly puzzled Ira) but her conversation was at least animated. The task done, Ira prepared to leave. During the course of the operation, two young officers had called by to lend books or somesuch, but were politely and firmly steered away by Mrs. Dickson. Ira had promised to gather up some horsehair with the intention of upgrading the bow at some stage. Mrs. Dickson's manner was markedly cordial and she thanked him with real warmth.
As he left, the door closed softly but firmly behind him, and he heard scraps of a conversation in a fairly loud voice – “...nice young man....pity he's...”, and just couldn't catch any more. Ira returned to re-hair the bow, much to Margaret's delight, and spent some pleasant hours chatting with her and her parents, her mother being never far away. He was loth to tamper with the violin, as it was an intricate piece of work which would require a great deal of specialized knowledge. It was Margaret's second instrument, her main instrument being stored in the relative safety of the Boston climate. On the pretext of adjusting the bow he returned for afternoon tea a number of times.
This was also reassuring to Margaret as she had been invited to perform as soloist with the Band in a Gala concert in El Paso. The Band performed weekly in the town Plaza, and occasionally presented special occasion concerts. Margaret confided in Ira that the Bandmaster was a skillful arranger. He had transcribed a movement of the Mozart G Major concerto for a Band accompaniment, a brace of Stephen Foster songs and a medley of Mexican favorites, complete with realistic cross-rhythms which had proved a challenge to the Band. And after the concert he learned from Margaret, Captain Dickson and his family would re-locate to their home in Boston, where Margaret was about to study. This was not quite crushing news, but a blow nevertheless, as he had acquired a companion and friend of rare quality.
The Dickson house was an oasis of civilization in the desert, and Ira liked it very much. As he was not a suitor, his presence was not disturbing in any way. Nevertheless, he mused as he threaded another horsehair, it is a difficult thing to try to remain only a little bit in love. This seemed to be a problem for most of the Band members, he noticed, when attending a rehearsal of the concert. She and the Bandmaster spoke the same language, and her approach seemed thoroughly professional.
A week later, the Band hosted its concert, on the 15th of August, the feast of the Assumption, an important day in the Catholic Church, celebrating the arrival of the Mother of Jesus into Heaven. The Garrison Commander, with considerable tact, and against all his own cultural and religious instincts, had organized this initiative as a public relations exercise. On the 15th, Captain Pitcher having delegated Ira to “special duty”, saw a good-sized crowd assemble in the Plaza. Most of the Mexicans had been to Mass, and were colorful in their shawls and mantillas. Gaunt-cheeked ranchers in Stetsons sat side-by-side with sleek Senoritas, glossy black hair piled, combed and flowered. Upright Churchwomen in sober bonnet and shawl, neat and trim, sat with plump saloon girls in ribbons and frills. An army wagon dispensed coffee freely, distributed by black waiters. Their movements were graceful and elegant, they mingled comfortably in the crowd and their small-talk was considered highly entertaining.
Margaret wanted to know if they were slaves. Technically, yes, Ira told her. But who was supposed to own them? No-one was sure. They had probably been sub-let some time ago and lost track of. They picked up white skills fast and were filling many jobs in the community, to the concern of many. Margaret wanted to investigate the issue further, but Ira thought this not such a good idea just before a demanding concert. So he reassured her that all was proceeding peacefully towards freedom and equality in a bright new world.
The concert began with some spirited marches played, nevertheless, with a good deal of taste and control. Soloists from within the Band played a variety of pieces, generally airs and variations on well-known themes. These were all well-received and the sizeable audience was in a good mood as Margaret ascended the small rostrum, as to the manner born. The opening bars of the Mozart Concerto were novel indeed, with the orchestral accompaniment and introduction rendered by cornets and tenor horns. This was demanding work for them, requiring the greatest taste and precision. They had been trained well and despite a couple of small fluffed notes at the outset, settled into the task with fine concentration.
Before playing a note, Margaret had the audience's undivided attention, her golden hair glowing against the backdrop of the bank building. Her gown was magnificent, and where such a garment could come from, or could even have been stored, Ira was at a loss to know. Emerald green, with bows and bodice trim of silver, Margaret looked like a Queen and seemed perfectly comfortable in the role. Perhaps, thought Ira, he really was in love, and was not the best judge of the situation. He half turned to study the crowd, and was reassured – undivided attention!
Bow to the string, and the first notes were a surprise. The sound was unexpectedly strong, even masculine, and reverberated from the Bank wall with depth and vigor. The hushed accompaniment was allowed to rise a notch, much to the relief of the brass players, who had been straining to subdue any tonal stridency. An excellent balance between soloist and Band having been struck, the popular concerto unfolded its story with power and charm. Every modulation, every development, was followed by the eager crowd as if as if they were being told a thrilling tale.
During the applause, Ira looked round and saw that the crowd had swollen, for there were a number of black girls who had appeared from shops and businesses within the town, drawn by the music. There was also a group of Indian squaws with small children, well behaved, and a dog. They often turned up in town from no-one knew where, and disappeared as mysteriously as they had arrived.
A well-dressed woman in a mantilla sat nearby, and caught his attention, her handsome face glowing with pleasure at the music. Although she seemed somewhat older than himself, he found her fascinating and stole several glances. At a break in the music, several people changed seats, improving their positions, and Ira took the opportunity to move close to her, in what he hoped was a natural and unobtrusive approach. She nodded to him in a pleasant and friendly manner. As she fanned herself in her elegant way, he caught the scent of magnolia and soap and was instantly captivated. Glancing at her olive cheek, he wondered at the smoothness of her skin, the marvelous plumpness and the rosy hue suffusing her face. He longed to reach over, to turn the back of his hand to her cheek, and to allow it to caress and linger. And were he to do so, he could imagine leaning forward, to nestle his nose to that cheek, and to breathe in deeply the magnolia and caramel that lived therein.
Suddenly, she turned to him with the broadest of smiles, sharing a moment from the concert platform of which Ira was unaware. He was dazzled by her pearly teeth and, at the same time, taken aback by the earthy smell of garlic as she laughed. He also knew that he was highly excited by this woman, who appeared very respectable, and was probably extremely virtuous. During a break in the concert, they talked.
She was an animated speaker, and it transpired that she already knew Ira. “Ah, the brave Captain Coan,” she said teasingly. He had provided an escort for a trip to McKavett on which she had been a passenger. How had he not noticed her? Probably, she answered, it was during the period of mourning for her husband. Ira's pulse raced again, and he reflected just what a fine-looking creature she was.
He tried to concentrate on the next item. The Stephen Foster songs were a popular choice, with much humming issuing from the crowd in sympathetic support for the sweet-toned violin. Ira watched the faces of the black waiters during the well known verses of Old Folks, Swanee River and Susannah, which he knew, particularly from cousin Titus, could be considered offensive and patronizing. But on their faces he could read not a word. He had absolutely no idea just what they were thinking.
He wondered if his attractive neighbor knew what he was thinking. He had no problem reading Mary Dickson's mind later at a cozy celebration back at the Fort, for the 15th was also Margaret's birthday. Mary glowed with pride while her much-admired daughter demolished a meal worthy of a trooper. As her beloved father murmured to Ira “T'would be a brave man who came between Margaret and her supper.”
Soon, he was to write another letter home.
Fort Bliss August
Dear Mother and Father,
I hope you are well, and father that you have recovered from your ailment. I am pleased to hear young Nat is doing good work and the news of my sister's baby. I think Nita is a strange name for a baby but we shall all get used to it I expect. In any case, I am sure she will be a fine and loving person. Life here goes on as usual, which means people dying being born and running away. Slaves run away, but someone usually turns them in. Deserters run away - it's a hard life but you don't expect a tea party out here.
To answer your question, my friend Margaret has gone back to Boston. We had many good talks and I helped fix her fiddle though she will never call it that - only a violin. She played in a big concert in El Paso on her birthday. I would like to study one day, maybe become an officer, Captain Pitcher says it's possible for some, and is most encouraging.
Give my love to my brothers and sisters
your loving son, Ira.
These are just a few shots from 2016. Centre is New Year's at the Arts Centre, after a show. Mag knew the prognosis, but la bella figura has always been her style; in a couple of other photos, she is a background figure, looking pensive. She was somewhat disturbed to see those images on FB, and wished that she might have been edited out.
The family shot is a favourite barbecue spot, not much frequented, by the Yarra. We have been going there for many years and the magpies are fond of us. The chef wishes it to be known that the wet patch on which he is standing was there before we arrived.
Finally (right to left) you see the Fitzroy gardens in mid-winter. It was wet, with that soft, misty rain that cloaks everything in such a feathery, dewy cloud. It shuts out the city's noise, and you are there in that little pocket of green, so close to the hospital where Margaret, Adelaide and Dominic were born. Close to St. Pat's where her mother was married (side altar, as her father had been briefly married previously) and close to the Windsor, where Mary policed the Dining Room, and close to mary's family home.
We lunched there a number of times. It was always cosy and on this day we were so snug, and enjoying a wonderful mushroom risotto which we had sworn to duplicate, then perfect. My job, now.
OCTOBER 20 at 12.30 a.m.
It is a pretty terrible photo, but has always meant a lot to me. It is Margaret outside the Louvre, outside a place that has meant so much to her. I suppose it has to many, but where it was once somewhat of a struggle to get there, Paris is now inundated with streams of Australian school children – the Louvre by day and the Moulin Rouge by night. Is nothing sacred?
Margaret was in Paris on her own, but it seemed Paris was unhappy with this arrangement because on this day she says there were many people wanting to know where she was from. No-one guessed.
We don’t have a great reputation overseas, but Margaret would have left some folks with a nicer impression.
Well, it's worth a thousand words, so I won't have to say too much. No doubt this was one of the orchestras where Margaret was instructed by her mother never to play in second violins.
Margaret had some lessons with Dr. Percy Jones and enjoyed them greatly.
"See that trap-door there," he would say, pointing out the rectangular shape on the floor. "That's where the nuns hide their cigarettes."
Margaret found the Gothic atmosphere of Gennazzano intimidating but managed to be a popular student. She was embarrassed however to be described as an "earnest little pupil."
In her recent treatment, or consultation with a naturopath, the lady named the ages of 5, 8 and 14 as significant, being associated with dogma, something and change, but the one at age 8 being easily the most significant. Margaret couldn't work out the dogma, but I reminded her that that was when she started school at Gen, and how it frightened her. There was certainly plenty of religious dogma about. At age 14 she changed schools, so that was fine. But age 8?
Mag told me she was somewhat of a clown and popular, but at that age she made a decision to pull her head in, as she was upset by the antagonism she seems to have provoked.The naturopath insisted that this was an unfortunate state of affairs, and one which distorted her future development.
I would say that in this photo she is wearing her McDonald tartan, the Dicksons being a subsept of that clan.
Someone who accompanied Margaret at that early age told me that they never had to corrected.her intonation or tuning, it always seemed to be just right.
And Margaret's mother, Mary, said that if it hadn't been like that she just would never have bothered letting her learn.
Margaret had been particularly pleased to become reacquainted with some of her old Gen schoolmates in recent times. In fact, only a couple of evenings before her passing we received a message from the north of France. It was a lovely moment, and Margaret was able to savour the image of three old friends burning candles for her in the cathedrals of the country she so much admired. It was a lovely image, and along with many others helped to bring her some peace at that time.
MADAM, SIR AND YOU GUYS.
From the time Margaret and I started courting in late 1978, to the final stages of her illness in July 2016, we were in the habit of going out for coffee, not unlike millions of other folk, of course, except that we tended to do it at about 11 o’clock at night.
When we first went out, we were addressed as “Sir” and “Madam” (often, but not invariably). Of more recent times we have become “You guys”.
This is only one of a myriad changes in that time, of course.
Let’s just start with coffee. It used to be just a flat white, and was reliably strong and hot at our favourite haunts.
Now we have to ask for it hot, quite specifically, and will send it back if it’s not.
“Oh, you mean hot, hot?”
##@***++!!!...!!???___!!!!!, or words and thoughts to that effect.
The Chief High Barista of the Religion of Coffology is often heard to say,
“The correct temperature to serve coffee is...”
Whereas the correct temperature to serve coffee is the temperature at which the customer likes it.
Young professional orchestral musicians have been known to sneer at the plebeian tastes of audiences wanting Strauss waltzes. Commercial considerations however, rate these highly, and high art ambitions duly honoured, these musicians usually relax into a fine appreciation of Strauss and Co.
I have read, and understand, the science and complexities of the Coffology, and appreciate the distress I cause to young folk who have obeyed the moral laws of Gastronomy, and who have honed, not their conscience, but their taste buds. I know it grieves them to find an infidel who rejects their true religion. I understand there is a schism between the rival branches of Arabica and Robusta, and in this matter I am partisan, considering robusta about as interesting as dandelion coffee.
I think I’ll just take it black in future.
Language, of course, is another cause for concern. Well, not really – it’s the failure of language which is of concern.
When we met, in 1969, a few of our colleagues were angry young men determined to sweep away the outmoded manners and mores (pronounced morays if you don’t mind) left over (excuse me while I yawn) from an earlier age. These people would tell it like it f...ing is. These individuals tended to be extremely earnest types, and not much fun.
Of course, the words which had the power to shock then have become commonplace now and are freely used by the young women who make rude gestures while driving and add their own flavour to stand-up comedy. But I don’t think all this adds much to the happiness quotient of the nation.
And since those early days we have been severely afflicted by the scourge of the rising inflection which passes for a national style or bogan lilt, whereas it is really just a mindless, pointless affectation.
Nor would we ever have prefaced a simple statement, apropos nothing in particular, with “so”. Just the latest filler fad adopted for no good reason.
These, and many other foibles, made Mag and me mad. Of course, anyone with a greater regard for grammatical niceties than oneself used to be called a pedant, but would now be a “grammar nazi”, and I presume that is a very bad thing.
Margaret loved films, and Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) was probably her all-time favourite. She watched very few American films later than 1970 and never, ever watched animated film.
Music of course, was central to her life, but in the world of the first violinists it can be not only a demanding and exhausting job, but emotionally draining. It has been fashionable at times to see Tchaikovsky as a populist composer, at times even “chocolate box” (probably due to the popularity of the Nutcracker and other ballets) but few musicians would share this opinion, especially after playing Symphony No. 6, the Pathetique. This, some Mahler and certain operas come to mind as works which are physically, mentally and emotionally draining to the performers. It is a wise conductor who is gentle with the orchestra in the first rehearsal subsequent to these occasions.
Margaret and I would regale each other with instances, every day, of new and hitherto unsuspected variations of grammar, usage and pronunciation (this word itself often now rendered “pronounciation”).
We have been bemused by the loss of tenses, and the dereliction of simple past tense in favour of present tense. This is an understandable simplification for those who prop our education system up in vast numbers, but becomes an accepted patois within their community, which they now believe to acceptable, even correct.
But to hear this affectation promoted in historical docos is not only annoying but confusing. Annoying, as it seems to be another fad which has become received practice. Confusing because I’m still not sure whether Hitler’s dead.
I try to make a practice of congratulating those doco makers who tell the story unashamed of its antiquity, who don’t feel the need to demonstrate ‘latest practice’, and are not straining to “...make it pop”. Apropos that last phrase –##@***++!!!...!!???___!!!!!
I might come back to this, as I could go on for a long time. Without Margaret here to consult, I am likely to make errors of judgement. Already I am cast on my own resources and when say, my darling daughter Adelaide does or says something to annoy me, I can’t go and sound off to her. It seems I have to put up or shut up.
I usually put up, which means that Adelaide is probably seeing the grumpy old man side of me – but it’s always been there. I think she knows.
In fact, I’m sure of it. I don't think she minds.
As I was saying, Margaret and I teamed from early in the marriage. Firstly, we were doing pretty much the same work, so neither could pretend to be experiencing anything the other could not imagine.
We wanted children, and Margaret was pregnant pretty early on. We were excited, then one day about 5 months in, Margaret became ill but was reluctant to summon a doctor or go to hospital. “It’s those green apples I ate,” she maintained. But not for long.
She mis-carried twin boys and told me how painful it was. “Do you think the real thing would be as bad as that?” she asked.
I said no, that no doubt it was due to the fact that it was not what the body was planning for.
We were very upset, and depressed but Margaret was soon pregnant again. She looked great and had some beautiful outfits (especially some Sally Brownes). Of course she has deplored the “cop this” attitude of subsequent generations baring their bump quite aggressively.
When the big day came for Adelaide to be born, We settled in at 9 and chatted to the midwife, who was reassuring and pleasant. A perfect Summer day shone outside as the labour went on.
Late in the afternoon, Margaret said, “Have you had anything to eat?”
“No,” I replied. “I’ll pop over to the kiosk in the park for a sandwich.”
“What,” she cried. “and leave me here on my own?”
After a moment she relented.
As the evening drew nigh, a group of students with a doctor arrived.
“Do you mind if we watch?” he said.
“Yes, I do actually,” I replied. So they moved on.
I might quote from something I wrote years ago –
The day has arrived! And it is a beautiful Summer day. The waiting and
wondering will soon be over. Nine months of expecting and expectation.
Has this ever happened before?
The baby will be induced, as the doctor thinks this will be better all round.
The hours tick by, with much back rubbing and distraction for
Margaret. It is obviously not comfortable and I hope it will not be
too painful, but I am somewhat fearful. The midwife is soothing and
calm, and we are grateful for her expertise.
Mid-afternoon, and not much is happening.
"Have you eaten?" asks Margaret.
"No, but I might pop down to the kiosk for a sandwich".
"What, and leave me here on my own!"
Then, on second thought, "Could you please be quick?"
A sandwich later, I return to find a different midwife, smarting
from having to finish her holiday. Her bedside manner leaves a tad to be
desired and her touch with the needle iss clumsy to say the least, and
Margaret will wear the bruises to prove it.
The action hots up, and labor goes on into the evening. A group of
trainees come in, and their teacher asks if I would mind if they
stay to watch. Whereupon I say "Actually, yes I do mind."
He replies "Right-oh" and off they go.
I pray that all will be well, and that the pain will soon stop for Margaret.
At a quarter to nine, the moment arrives. The baby makes its way out.
It appears perfect, and as it emerges, I am astonished that it is
blue, and it is like looking at a creature in a chrysalis.
I feel that this little creature is alien, and my mind is searching
for something. I realize sudden that she is an amphibian.
Now she is upside down and she sneezes or coughs her nose and mouth
clear and roars into life. It is the most exhilarating sound I have
ever heard. "Welcome to the human race" we think. Her vocal cords also
appear perfect. She rapidly turns pink as the blood courses through
Margaret is exhausted but relieved. She holds the baby but after a
while I am allowed to take her to be bathed. She is handed to me, and
I am full of curiosity as I receive the tiny bundle. I expect to look
down into the helpless little face, but I am in for a shock. Looking
back at me are two of the brightest eyes I have ever beheld, holding
my gaze with an intensity I have never seen before. I feel that I am
being scrutinized by an intelligence older than mine. I feel that I am being committed to memory as a person to whom she has entrusted her life. No-one has told me about this before. I decide to talk to more mid-wives about birth experiences.
As instructed, I take her to be bathed. I hold her again, and look
once more into that face. It is the face of a new baby, completely
helpless, with milky sightless eyes.
AND HELLO TO YOU TOO
Adelaide was a large baby, 9 pounds 2 ounces.
But Margaret's second pregnancy was even more spectacular, and
somewhat worrying. The labor was protracted and complicated. The baby
was entangled in the umbilical cord – a dangerous situation.
This time, the birth was worrying. After the long struggle, the baby
looked absolutely flat. At 10 pounds twelve ounces he was large, and
although only 1 pound 8 ounces heavier than his sister, he looked much
bigger proportionately. He had hairy arms and his head was squashed. I
was fearful of brain damage, but tried to keep my concerns to myself.
He seemed in no mood for an eyeball to eyeball greeting, which was
reserved for Margaret.
His name, we had already decided, would be Dominic. We wondered if he
would be born on a Sunday, according to his name. He was!
We also lived in the Parish of St. Dominic.
However, we were completely unaware that his Birth Day was also on the
feast of St. Dominic.
THE GREEN-EYED MONSTER
The next day, I took Adelaide, aged eighteen months, in to visit
Margaret, and to meet her new brother, who had recovered well and was
perfectly healthy and normal, to my great relief.
Adelaide had walked and talked early, and was well co-ordinated. She
fitted in to our lives very easily, and mixed with our friends,
attending rehearsals and shows in a mature and adult way. This is
often the way with only children, who are seen as precocious or
prodigy depending on your point of view.
Again, to my relief, Adelaide greeted the new baby with a calm
appraisal which confirmed my belief in her early maturity.
Having said goodbye to mother and son, I led Adelaide back to the car.
I was in for a shock!
I had never seen Adelaide throw a tantrum before, and this was the full treat!
Abandoned kicking, thrashing, rolling around on the ground and
screaming seemed to be indicators of extreme displeasure, against
which the efforts of a kind, rational father were feeble.
Passers-by either frowned at the lack of discipline, or smiled a
little smile (which I now recognise as schadenfreude).
From that day on, Adelaide began to be socialized in the normal way,
as a child in a child's world, not an adult's.
Margaret and I were colleagues, first in the National Training Orchestra, then in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. By that time she had been away for a year in Germany doing further study and exploring the possibilities of life and work there.
I think many friends and relatives have wondered just how good Margaret really was. I believe that the person who best knew the answer to that question was Margaret herself. Like many good violinists she would say, “I just want to work in a good orchestra with good conductors.”
She had no illusions about her standing in the world of the violin. With her looks and natural ability, many expected her to climb to dizzy heights. This was never Margaret’s ambition and at the very time (school’s end) when she might have been expected to devote herself to an advanced course of violin study, playing for several hours a day those studies, recital pieces and concertos which had evolved over some centuries as the core subjects for a serious soloist.
Instead, Margaret began an Arts course with no particular aim mind other than the development of her mind.
Because she was good at it, she simply kept playing violin with friends, playing to the standard she set herself. Thus it was that, at University, she met up with Phillip, doing Law and who played piano. During lunch-time, at the Union Building they would enjoy playing Mozart and Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano. Soon they were joined by Andrew on cello, an old friend and colleague from the Australian Youth Orchestra.
After two years however, she let the course lapse and took up instrumental teaching in High Schools. By the time she took up the Training Orchestra Scholarship she had virtually wasted several important years of advanced technical development, but had, on the other hand, enjoyed playing with great freedom and expression in intimate settings.
This was always one of the hallmarks of her playing. Like many of her colleagues, she would marvel at the technique and polish of visiting virtuosos. But there were many colleagues who impressed, and she would say of one, “He is so well trained, and has a mind like a chess player, he plots several steps ahead. He knows how to get across the strings in high positions but I have to work it out and practise it.”
Of another, “I love sitting behind him. When my arm gets so tired, I see just how he holds his. I’ve tried it and got right through the second act no problem.”
So what is it that we look for in such a player? Are they all ciphers, “bums on seats,” as one orchestral manager would have it? There is a need, in orchestras, for the individual to sublimate his musical personality for the common good. This does require training and discipline, but can result in a grey and colourless performance. Margaret was an emotional and committed player, and this was not always appreciated by her older colleagues. In fact, when she went away to Germany (she’d have preferred France but Germany had the scholarships) she expected to be told to pipe down, but was only welcomed and encouraged.
In the 90s, playing children’s concerts, I had to replace Margaret for a couple of shows with professional colleagues of good reputation. I was immediately surprised to find that beefy, electric sound was gone. They were good, but the sheer presence of her sound, which was such a luxury base for my instruments to bounce off, was missing.
I heard one of these players a couple of years later, at a chamber music festival where Margaret was playing. He had heard Margaret playing a solo in one of the halls, and was running to call to another violin colleague, “Quick, come here. It’s Margaret playing. You’ve got to hear it.”
It was simply a good quality sound, with taste and polish, but it seemed to come out of its own little amplifier. It was always like that.
I have to admit, I took it for granted, i.e. that the piano/violin combination of Annabelle Clucas and Margaret Dickson was a pretty classy combo. I believe Margaret knew this, and once or twice had to gently chide me for overlooking it.
These children’s shows were somewhat stressful for Margaret, particularly at first, but she was grateful for the opportunity and the experience. She generously admired my versatility and showmanship, all of which was a mystery to her. Similarly, although her French was so good, she was hesitant to use it for fear of error. On the other hand, although my German was so primitive, I always gave it a go and received generous help from the natives.
Margaret’s attitudes were summed up for me in more recent years when we accepted an orchestral engagement for an oratorio in a West Melbourne Church.
As usual, Margaret liked to sit near the front of firsts but not on the lead desk.
The performance was done, as so many are nowadays, in an “historically informed” style. This can sometimes result in a whooshing string sound, the bows gliding without too much bite or attack. I was concentrating on my bassoon part, when I felt the performance was sagging somewhat.
Then I noticed, Margaret had that look. It didn’t take long – in one of the exhilarating obbligato passages, strings crossings they rang out the chord changes, the timid style was wearing out its welcome.
Suddenly there was bite, real bite, and power, real power. Even better, there was a momentum, she wasn’t letting up, and then there was a gathering storm as others took up the cause. The audience, many of whom had looked sleepy before, were suddenly sitting up, eyes open and ears pricked. The passage was now riveting and eyes were on Margaret, who was oblivious to all this. She had just got fed up with the pusillanimous treatment this oratorio “Israel in Egypt” was getting.
This was classic Mag. After the show I packed up and the cello section was all agog. “Who is she? Where’s she from?”
She’s my darling wife, and she’s from our place, I thought. And I was very proud of her.
MAG AND THE MACHINE
Margaret was a card-carrying Luddite. If Margaret were Prime Minister, we would all be driving the better class of French car, computers would be banned, and the bakelite telephone would be back in business.
Every new suburb would be required to have churches with steeples, and no building would be higher than ten storeys.
Margaret studied the history of scientific thought with great interest, and returned again and again to the subject of the Enlightenment and the “sweet smile of reason”. She followed fresh scientific developments as they arose and followed my interest in anthropology with interest. For a deeper analysis she consulted Dominic over many lunch breaks.
All this did not result in any technical expertise, and Margaret and the machine were not friends. I asked her to be gentle, to be kind and understanding in order to get the best out of them, but to little effect.
Stepping into the car after Mag, and turning on the ignition was often a tremendous shock, as windscreen wipers, air-conditioning and radio all burst into action. Sometimes the starter motor groaned at the thought of it all.
She could see no reason that turning the steering wheel clockwise should necessarily send the car right. Not being a child of the Enlightenment, I considered that heresy.
She was concerned that our children were becoming stereotyped at an early age. She had noticed that upon going to bed, Adelaide, aged three, would leave Dominic to switch off tape recorder, video and television, requiring a pretty good perception of the operation of a bank of buttons and switches.
Margaret decided Adelaide should be made to take responsibility for this.
“Time for bed kids,” I said, and withdrew (a little ).
“Dominic,” said Adelaide, “Switch it all off.”
Shortly after this we got Adelaide her own tape recorder, and she became an expert.
Margaret also felt that Adelaide should not be a helpless female, but understand how to drive a nail, or use a screwdriver (this from the lady who used my chisels as a screwdriver). When she explained this to her mother, Mary exclaimed, “But that’s what we have our menfolk for.”
This phase did not last long for Margaret or for Adelaide.
Margaret refused for years to have anything t do with computers or the internet – until!
“Talking to Georgie today Mag, and she says she got some of that perfume at Strawberry net.”
I knew I had her hooked already. Margaret had discovered online shopping, and her computer skills blossomed – except!
She hated using a mouse, and did an incredible amount of research and shopping on her phone. While Adelaide was in Paris with the Moulin Rouge, Margaret quickly became an expert in Skype and Google maps as well as socio-historical research for Adelaide’s benefit.
Margaret was conscious of her lack of confidence in some matters of co-ordination. She would drive some distance to find a congenial car park for instance. She tended to attribute this to a lack of training with hands-on models in school and she may have been right. Certainly my modest schools were equipped with fine scientific equipment which was highly treasured – so much so that when I left school, I felt one should work, for Australia’s future, with the CSIRO. I believe that many good girls’ schools of that time were long on theory, but short on practice (or equipment).
And yet, if you are looking for fine motor control and superior spatial organisation, try playing the violin. Some things are a mystery. I think that in a previous life Margaret was CEO of a large courtly organisation, in other words, a Queen, with all the technology of the time at her disposal, operated by lackeys.
And speaking of schools, Margaret was aware that she was “privileged” in attending Gennazzano and Loreto, Mandeville Hall. She was to retain lovely friends from both schools and enjoyed their company immensely. I have already mentioned that people were surprised to find this private- school girl so active in union business while in the orchestras.
For now, the only point I want to make about that is that these girls, from both schools, were never pampered, but were cared for, did their best and developed that troublesome affliction – a social conscience.
What is even better, most of them have exercised it vigorously, and made the world a better place for it.
THE VISION SPLENDID
Margaret had passed out of our lives in August ’69. My girl-friend passed out of mine a couple of months later, and I moved from gritty Surry Hills (close to Ruth Park’s old place with Darcy Niland) to a flat in leafy Lindfield.
My hair and beard grew long, my bassoon playing blossomed and I worked the Sydney club scene on saxophone at the weekends. In ’72 I married in Brisbane then took up employment in the Elizabethan Orchestra, shortly to become the Opera House Orchestra.
One day, I had occasion to board the city train at Chatswood. A cool, grey day, everything a little dull. I entered the carriage and saw there were few passengers, but one was watching me. Yes, it was Margaret, sitting straight-backed but relaxed in a modelling pose.
Happily married as I was to a charming girl, I nevertheless felt that invisible hand pressing every button I had. She was simply luminous. If I had never met her again after that day, I would still have that picture in my mind.
She seemed delighted to see me, and we sat opposite each other by the window. Her outfit was a blend of not-quite-pastel colours in soft fabrics cut to perfection. There were pale greens and blues and a small black ruffled scarf (with little white dots) at the throat.
I felt a great surge of pride in my elegant friend, and marvelled at a culture which could produce such a sparkling ripple on the high tide of civilisation.
I didn’t see her again for some years.
Forty-three years later, we visited St. Vincent’s Hospital for yet another chemo session. As I drove down to the car park foyer where Margaret was waiting, in her multi-layered skirt and her light and airy blouse, I saw a woman approach her and say something.
She said, “Oh, you do look nice.”
MARGARET AT McDONALD’S
There are times when one abandons the lofty precepts of youth and accepts the realities of daily life.
Thus it was when Margaret, with two small children, entered McDonald’s for the first time.
“What was it like?” I asked.
“It was very good actually,” she answered. “The food was quite good, the kids enjoyed it and it’s the sort of place you could just hose down.”
It was probably a couple of years later when Margaret repeated the visit, with the room a little more crowded. Margaret became aware of a tipsy youth who kept staring at her, till finally he leaned in close and said, “Jeez, you musta been really bewdiful when you were young.”
A decade later, we were playing many kindergarten concerts in trio form. Margaret was 50ish, but at concert’s end there would be a small queue of children wanting a cuddle – especially when she wore the angora sweater.
Her last kindergarten concert was done at around the age of 60. When one admiring child addressed her as “Grandma”, I knew the writing was on the wall. Although, as a Chinese child, it didn’t have the same connotations as it does for us, it gave Margaret pause.
THE VOICE OF AUTHORITY – AND MARGARET
I think I would have to say that Margaret had a problem with authority. She has always liked conductors who sing, tell stories, gesture large and give the players chocolates. Mr. Miller, of the ABC National Training Orchestra was not one of these. His methodical and painstaking approach did not suit everyone, and it seemed that he was still missing his former playing position in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
For my part, I would fume silently, imagining the sensation I could create by standing up and hurling my bassoon, javelin-like, at him as he stood on the podium. When my grievance was severe, I would demand an audience in his office, to have it out with him. On these occasions he was curt but also courteous, then understanding and reasonable. I usually left quite deflated.
Margaret took another course, with a tactic close to “civil disobedience”. In the Army, she would have been charged under the catch-all, “Conduct prejudicial to the maintenance of discipline and good order”. For a conductor about to bring in a soloist or a section, it is imperative that he sees the instrument uplifted, bow to the string, mouthpiece to the lip, mallet poised. Anything less brings on a severe nervous condition, and Margaret became an expert at this low-grade terrorism, with her disciple aiding and abetting. After gazing abstractedly through the window, she would throw the bow on to the string with a millisecond to go – never late.
This conduct did not go unremarked, and we were treated to several painful lectures on professionalism, and the minuscule chances of employment for musicians who did not abide by this rule of orchestral law.
Margaret and I still had nice chats, and she was always open-minded and curious. She did not entirely approve of me however. Her high-fashion style was a powerful contrast to my striped terry-towel trousers and paisley T-shirts. I rode a motorbike from Surry Hills where I lived with a girl-friend with whom I conducted many Ouija sessions. Margaret did not approve; but she was interested.
Suddenly, she was gone. She was snapped up by the newly-formed Melbourne Elizabethan Theatre Trust Orchestra, now known as the State Orchestra of Victoria. She loved the Opera and the Ballet and the touring and always did as she was told – except! Except that this lovely girl from two exclusive private girls’ schools turned out to be a bolshie unionist. But that’s another story.
I believe Margaret was conflicted by the exaggerated respect for hierarchy inculcated during her religious education. As long as there was a direct line to God, this was no problem, but as he disappeared from her sight, she became furious with pretenders who appeared to have no moral authority. This turned into suspicion of doctors, lawyers, conductors, financial advisors and many more.
But you can’t argue with the police – or can you?
Margaret just loved hitting the highway. Her first car was a cherry-red Rover. Her brother Andrew chose it for her before Volvos became voguish. She drove into the city on its first day, and negotiated parking in a parking station in town – successfully. She was very pleased with herself, and drove in again the next day.
This time she entered the parking station and there was a loud bang. She had driven into the barrier, but when the startled attendants arrived they found Margaret, not apologetic, but indignant. “That wasn’t there yesterday,” she complained.
On country roads Margaret was apt to speed. However, since a cursory glance at the speedo might be interpreted as “shouting at me”, I would try to look out of the window – ostentatiously elsewhere. This reverse code worked quite well, and nothing would be said, for a while.
“Was I going too fast?”
Oh, yes, I think you might have.”
In Western Victoria, she moved out to overtake on a lovely, long curving section of road – beautifully decorated with double lines. The car and Margaret seemed quite happy there and reluctant to return, but I judged the moment had come to break the silence. Before I managed it, the police car did.
“Oh what? What am I supposed to have done now?”
“You were over the double lines.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
In the ensuing conversation with police, I was asked the same question. They were charmed with Margaret and sorry for her that she didn’t have a more alert husband as passenger.
It was only recently that she was booked for not wearing a seatbelt. Pulling out of a Camberwell carpark, she moseyed along the asphalt doing up her belt as she went. She then saw the police car, of which she had been aware, take off in a hurry and knew they had been sweating on her.
By the time the interview started, she had forgotten my advice. She had been impressed by my story of some years earlier, when I was stopped outside the Town Hall with my passenger unbelted.
“I’m sorry sir, but I notice your passenger is not wearing a seatbelt.”
“Yes officer, my fault entirely. He’s an international visitor unfamiliar with our rules, and I did neglect to advise him.”
“Certainly Sir. Look, I notice your registration is out of date. Can you help us?”
“Yes. I have paid it, and the label is somewhere at home. I just haven’t applied it.”
“Yes Sir. Look, this is a bit unusual, but you will understand that I have to ask to see your licence.”
“Of course Officer. I’d love to show you, but I haven’t seen it for about two weeks, and I believe I lost it in the Camberwell Car Park.”
“Yes Sir. Could excuse me just a moment? You realise I will have to make a phone call.”
While he made the call, my visitor, a celebrated international bassoon soloist, and I discussed concerts, but not for long. The policeman returned.
“Thank you Sir. Yes, that all checks out. Now, when you get home, find the label and fix it, than show it at the local station within the next week. And you will have to report the licence missing. Shouldn’t take long to replace.”
“Thank you officer. Goodbye,”
To this day, my esteemed and celebrated visitor remembers Melbourne for just one thing.
“Wow. That guy was so nice. First, I didn’t have my seat belt on. Then you didn’t have your registration sticker. And then, you didn’t have your licence. And he was just so nice about it.”
And with that edifying story to bolster her, did Margaret follow suit? Oh no.
“Revenue raising again. And two of you? Does it take two to book me coming home with some shopping?”
The lady policeman looked embarrassed, Margaret said, but their path was set.
On another occasion we were pulled up. Why was my passenger not wearing a seat belt?
But officer, she is. The fact is, it was concealed in that magnificent cleavage. After all, I suppose no-one notices the track that runs between Everest and Kanchenjunga.
RANDOM OCTOBER REFLECTIONS
Not long before we were married, I went to 67 Alfred Street to collect Margaret.
Every time I saw her was a knockout experience. She never looked less than a million dollars, but it seemed she wasn’t satisfied with her appearance, and presented herself to her mother for inspection.
Mary duly adjusted a lock or two, spun her round to check for perfect hemline symmetry then nodded a grim approval. She glanced at her husband, David, and whispered to me, “Look at him – purring.”
Not long after we were married, we were going out, and Margaret duly presented herself for inspection and I suddenly realised this was to be my second conjugal duty.
I might have known there would be a catch, however, and I soon found myself in a Jeeves and Wooster situation. Margaret’s opening sally might have been paraphrased by Jeeves, “And may I ask, Sir, whether you propose to wear those trousers in public?”
And like Bertie, I was disposed to answer, “Well, dammit, yes. I certainly do. I know what you’re up to, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with these trousers.”
But of course, there was. In due course, I learned to trust Margaret’s judgement. After all, if you have spinach on your teeth you’d like to know - wouldn’t you?
You will have noted the influence which Margaret’s mother had on her. No-one disputes that she was a formidable woman. She was the daughter of a formidable woman too – Alice Upjohn was Margaret’s Grandmother’s name. Raising a family during the Depression was quite a challenge, and marrying off all those daughters an added task. To cut a long story short, among her many enterprises was running Stewart’s Hotel in Carlton – there, cheek by jowl with Melbourne University, she saw her daughters married to professional men graduating from that institution.
Her eldest daughter, Mary, gained a prize job with the Hotel Windsor, managing the Dining Room as a live-in Maitresse d’Hotel. It was a tough but glamorous life which left her with a lifelong distaste for the louche, the demi-monde, Western District gentry and hotel food. Her very first job, during the Depression, had been to attend other hotels and memorise the menu.
Margaret carried some of this style round with her too, particularly when shopping in department stores of the better type. She was under the illusion that the staff were there to serve her, and they invariably did. Margaret was a patient shopper, and would try many samples and sizes, time no object, until the closing bells had sounded, and beyond.
She would emerge laden down with bargains, long after other shoppers, and half the staff, had departed. She would then explain to me just what a great deal of money we had saved through her buying so many bargains and items of exceptional value. She often looked truly happy at these times, innocently unaware of the scowling faces surrounding her.
There were other shopping expeditions which were not quite so happy, however. It would start innocently enough.
“And are these very good widgets?” she would ask, apparently in all innocence.
“Oh yes, Madam”, the salesman would reply, eyes lighting up. Already, I would be cringing.
“I see. That’s good then. And does this sort of widget have a long life?”
“Oh yes, Madam, they are really excellent.”
“Then what happened to that batch in Germany last week? They seemed to blow up on a truck and no-one knows why.”
“Oh that must have been a faulty shipment. These things happen from time to time.”
“Were they the short model or the new one?”
“Er, I think I might just ask someone who has done a bit more on...er...excuse me a moment...”
These conversations rarely ended well. Margaret always researched the product and expected any salesman or rep to be an authority.
She was the same with conductors in the Orchestra. Hence, one day a young(ish) conductor stepped on to the podium to conduct a Beethoven Symphony. He put his hand to his mouth and said, “This music terrifies me.”
Naturally, this is not what you want to hear from the person who is to lead you through this great work. I’m sure that’s what we all thought, but it was Margaret who said it, “MY GOD! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO INSPIRE US.”
Mag found it hard to hide her emotions, and sometimes she scarcely bothered. Such was the case when Hiroyuki Iwaki conducted Tristan and Isolde, by Wagner, some of the most powerful and lyrical swoon music ever written.
Margaret did not appreciate Iwaki’s interpretation and style. As a percussionist, he tended to emphasise rhythm over phrase, and Margaret was bitterly disappointed at this treatment of music which she knew so intimately and loved so well. She was not only disappointed, but angry, and it showed.
Iwaki did not fail to notice and demanded that this violinist be moved out of his line of sight.
By way of contrast, Margaret loved working with Italian and Russian conductors who always let the strings sing, and gave them the time to do so. Kurt Sanderling was another who elicited wonderful string tone, to Margaret’s satisfaction.
When she was small, one of her favourite operetta items was Mabel’s Aria from The Pirates of Penzance. She was taken to a Xavier production and when the boy playing Mabel made his entry, it was clear that puberty had struck – particularly around the vocal cords. Her parents were surprised to see, from the tears rolling down her cheeks, that she was moved nonetheless.
In surprise they said, “You like it?”
She replied hotly, “It’s awful.” The tears were tears of disappointment, pure and simple.
From “Cats, Cradles and Chamomile Tea” by Anna Maria Delloso
(with a mention of Margaret)
I am logging my last sentences of the day into the computer when I hear a car pull up in the street below. The boys are back. By the time I run down the stairs, they are hauling their suitcases into the house. I help carry in music- stands, a violin case and two sets of penguin suits with bedraggled white bow ties fastened to the wire hangers. The car has the on-the-road smell of yesterday’s hamburgers and 800 kilometres worth of chocolate bars and de-fizzed mineral water. In the boot, among the dog-eared editions of Beethoven sonatas are a few press clippings and programs saying Recital 8 p.m. in town halls and churches of country towns.
As a violin student who became a long-time musical groupie and now a musician’s wife, I still enjoy after-gig unpacking. I like hearing the gossip about guest conductors, whether the audience was bored or lively or how the sweet-and-sour sausages in the Green Room werae inedible yet again. For a musician’s spouse the constant tours bring a life of eating dinner alone, listening for STD pips, travelling by cheap coaches to distant towns on Friday nights and saying goodbye at airports on Monday mornings. Meeting up again can feel like Christmas as you exchange large bits of gossip and news.
After a can of beer and a compulsive flick of the television to identity what city they are in, the boys tell of refills in drought-struck communities where the pianos are as eccentric as the locals. The counting of gig-money is done over the kitchen table using calculators, cheques and scraps of paper. The New Zealand pianist asks for a cash advance so he can go drinking in Australian currency. For whether the musicians play with the Mutant Magpies or the Melbourne Symphony, the after-gig restlessness is the same.It seems impossible to trundle off to bed when your biorythms are geared for maximum action from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. 1 have lived in households where the band members paid extra rental on the TV as they watched it through the night. After unloading sound gear in the front room they sat with steaming cartons from La Vera Pizza on their laps, chewing mozzarella off their fingers and flicking the remote control from one TV channel to the other. Breakfast was an eerie change of shifts, as the day workers emerged from the shower to see the musicians slink down the corridor.
All day there was silence from their rooms: the thick quiet of creatures slumbering on floor mattresses. I fell into a musical life accidentally at twelve, when Kew High School sent us home with a wad of Friday afternoon notices. Among the mothers’ club meetings and new tuckshop prices was a sheet announcing instrumental tuition. A list of musical instruments followed, priced like a menu at a cafe. It began at $12 for a Japanese violin to $50 for flutes and clarinets. It was the in era of sandalwood oil and I fancied myself tweeting on a flute. I could see myself carrying a case lined with blue velvet into the solitude of the park. I would breathe melancholy folk songs into the wind. On the High Street trams 1 had seen private schoolgirls with their permanently brushed blonde hair carrying their flute cases and A Tune A Day by C. Paul Herfurth.
Mamma, however, had other ideas. The violin had soul and it was only $12, a possibility on our strict budget. As she ticked the box marked VLN, I wailed and slammed the dishes on to the Laminex table. No way! 1 vowed, No bloody way am I going to do that'. I put on my jacket to stalk out the door. “Parle Italiano”Marie ' said my mother, unperturbed. She stared out the kitchen window with the expression she had for the arrival of airmail letters and the Old Country memories we had come to dread. “Il violino…is nice, il violino... is very nice . . .”
I spent the days before my lesson in fear and loathing. lf l could have made a voodoo model of a fiddle 1 would have stabbed it with pins and burned it. The violin had precisely the daggy image I had spent years avoiding. Violinists did not have a high glamour and sex appeal or rebellion status at our school, they weren't exactly local heroes. Worse, the shape of violins, with their scrolls and tiger-shaped backs, remanded me of Franco Cozzo furniture. 1 Imagined kids with thick glasses and mummy-ironed uniforms squawking tunes that reeked of good behaviour at assembly. l saw myself, a Marxist and Little Red Book reader, forced to play God Save The Queen among these adolescent untouchables, my face reddening as the guitar-playing louts at the back of 5D smirked into their open tie-less collars.
The music students' timetable outside the cafeteria said ‘Violin- Miss Dickson.' My fears deepened. Miss Dickson. I saw a wrinkled hand clutching a ruler, ready to snap at me over a fumbled tune. When 1 walked into my first lesson, Miss Dickson sat softly tuning her violin. She was about twenty-two with long blonde hair, black leather boots, a mini-skirt, pale lipstick and Mary Quant eye-makeup. She handed me her violin, which smelled of walnut oil and perfume. I drew the bow over the lowest string. It was like diving into a pool or entering a cave. The sound washed over me like water.
When I stopped and breathed, l surfaced to find my world had changed. Music transformed the savage schoolgirl. Ironically, the violin 1 made me a rebel with a cause, as I defended my Suzuki violin-case from the practical jokes of creeps on the trams and lobbied for our class to attend ABC school concerts. From my initial aversion, I became almost religiously converted to music, taking AMEB exams, playing in youth orchestras and ripping through quartets on evenings and weekends. I was nineteen and at the beginning of my second year at the conservatorium when I realised that my relationship with the violin was like an impetuous youthful marriage: I saw that under the passion and mania, we did not have enough stability for a lifetime together.
I am pleased I married a violinist instead. There is a calm relief in hearing someone else running up scales and arpeggios in the mornings. Returning from work with shopping bags under my arms and mail in my teeth, it is heartening to be greeted with a piano and violin sonata in full fury from the lounge room. At sunset, when I begin to tire of writing, I watch students arrive for lessons. From the terrace balcony, I see them hasten down our narrow street. They press the door-bell and soon there is the rusty merry-go-round of Kreuzer’s second study. I happily chop carrots for tea as the cats wince and flee out the back. Somehow there is something immensely secure in listening to generations of attempts at the G major scale.
A FORTUNATE COINCIDENCE
Margaret had been in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for two years, and wished to study further in Europe. Sir Charles Moses, Head of the ABC, was known to be in favour of advanced study for musicians, so Margaret thought there would be little problem in gaining approval, and organised a year’s leave without pay. Her preference was to study in France, for French was her major at University, and French culture had always exercised a strong appeal. But it was Germany which provided the opportunity, with its enlightened policy of scholarships to attract people from all over the world to study there. Margaret laid aside her French literature aside in favour of German grammar and applied herself diligently to the new language, with the words of Gwendolyn from Oscar Wilde’s “Importance of Being Earnest” ringing in her ears – “I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after my German lesson”. Margaret studied with Igor Ozim in Cologne and soon discovered a great love of sunshine, eucalypts and golden beaches, as opposed to autobahns, high density living and black forests. Of course the history of the place was powerful and there were many friends of various nationalities studying there at the same time. She heard many great orchestras and musicians and advanced her playing under Ozim’s tutelage. Time passed , and Margaret’s resources dwindled as the year progressed. The German cuisine was excellent, if not quite in the style of the French, but there were days when Margaret searched the pockets of her Winter coat to see if there was enough left over for the sort of little treat we all like to have occasionally. Sometimes she thought how nice it was to dine out back home and she began to look forward to this time again. Finally, the day arrived when she was to fly home. There was so much to do – the clothes, the books and the music to send off in various cases and packs, some to arrive long after she herself did. It was all very expensive, and played havoc with the final month’s budget. It was a hungry Margaret who boarded that plane, with very few marks, schillings or pfennig in her coat. She planned her return flight meals very carefully. She busied herself on the flight with a music book, but after some time became distracted by hunger. The gentleman on her right seemed to be taking considerable notice of her and her book, but now began to order his meal. She began to realise that she knew this man. Was he a politician? Was he a judge? Was he someone’s uncle? “Aren’t you a violinist” he suddenly said. He may have deduced something from her book. He wanted to know where she had been and what she had been doing. Margaret told him. At this, he introduced himself, and asked if he could order her dinner. Margaret happily acceded, and enjoyed the hospitality of Sir Charles Moses for the rest of the trip. What a happy coincidence!
YOU CAN DO TOO MUCH PRACTICE
It has been mentioned that it is important to practise. Margaret has often told her pupils so. The young Margaret herself did not need to be told to practise – in fact, it was quite the opposite. Exams were coming up, and Margaret was keen to do well. She had achieved much already in her exams and wanted to keep up the good work. The bar, however, was continually being raised. New bow strokes, new keys, new playing positions, seemed to roll out endlessly in front of her. Now it was time for double-stopping, or playing two notes at a time. First, you must make sure the bow is at exactly the right angle to the strings in order to sound them together, putting exactly the same pressure on each string. Then the fingers which are stopping the string have to be adjusted, first by determined adjustment guided by a fine ear, then progressively trained into the motor memory until it is instinctive. At first, it is a roller coaster of sliding notes, gradually getting into tune, but hard to listen to in the process. It’s the way every advanced string player has to do it. Margaret practised assiduously, while the other family members made themselves scarce. Gradually they withdrew to other parts of the house, remembering little tasks they had put off. Driven by exam pressure, Margaret hardly noticed their absence. On and on went the double-stopping, chord after chord painstakingly adjusted as the minutes, and the hours, ticked by. Was this much practice really necessary? But, behold. The door opens a mite, but no-one enters. We are looking too high. Look down! It is Lucan, the family basset, that sagacious and patient beast who watches over the entire family. He enters the room with a sense of purpose. Under the table he walks, over to Margaret, and ever so gently, he bites her. Margaret gets the hint, and decides she has done enough practice for tonight. Lucan was well fed that night (and Margaret got top marks of course).
THE FORCE OF DESTINY
A beloved cousin of Margaret's recently confided her admiration for Margaret's musical drive..."She knew what she wanted and went for it."
Well, that's not quite how it happened. In fact, by the end of Year 12 (then called Matriculation) Margaret had no real interest in pursuing music. Although she had shown great talent from the start and was the recipient of several prizes and scholarships, she found the competitive atmosphere to be one which induced tension and anxiety.
She therefore began the course in Law at The University of Melbourne (the only university in Melbourne at that time) but found it not to her liking at all and eventually transferred to an Arts course. In the meantime she played chamber music with good friends, just for fun.
It came as a surprise when Ruth Alexander, whom she had met as a member of the Australian Youth Orchestra, invited her to be an inaugural teacher of the Music in Schools program, and Margaret taught at Camberwell, Kew, Greythorn and Balwyn High Schools ("Cats, cradles...."etc. quoted in an earlier blog, is a direct experience of this).
It would come as little surprise to those who know her that this was not fulfilment enough, and when out of the blue she heard about a scholarship opportunity in the ABC's National Training Orchestra in Sydney, she took it. Her old teacher, Sybil Copeland, was hastily consulted and was appalled that Margaret should now embark on such a perilous undertaking after forsaking serious study for so long.
Nevertheless, it was not long before Margaret's impressive audition tape won her the position and against parental advice and despite their fears, she journeyed to Sydney, where she not only played in 1st violins, but was made concertmaster for Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite. Her Sydney flatmate, hoping for some fine company from her new friend, was disappointed to find her locked for hours in her bedroom, practising feverishly.
Margaret did brilliantly, but not without much stress and anxiety. As it happened, she impressed many people and left that orchestra after only 3 months, to take up a position in 1st violins in the Melbourne Elizabethan Orchestra, now the State Orchestra of Victoria. Margaret was now finally on a true musical career path, but it seems that her talent chose the path for her.
The life of the 1st violins at that time was blighted by a member who had little regard for personal hygiene. Margaret gained much respect as she entered the pit each evening with a can of air freshener. "Blasted flies," she would say...bzzt, bzt, over the shoulder of the offender. "Oh, missed him." Bzzt, bzzt, again, over the other shoulder.
While she was in that orchestra, she enjoyed touring with the Opera and the Ballet, and also found time to complete her degree, majoring in French.
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, study in Germany, chamber music and recording, the Australian Philharmonic, the Elastic Band and Trio Grande all lay in the future, but we will deal with all that in good time.
NEVER TRUST A MAN WHO WEARS A BOW TIE DURING THE DAY
So said one of my esteemed colleagues in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, but she didn't know the full story.
It happened when Margaret joined the National Training Orchestra in Sydney. She was the cynosure of all eyes, and particularly the beady brown eyes of your bassoonish correspondent.
One would have to understand that Margaret could be an intimidating presence for many. Not only was she truly glamorous, she was a strong musical personality with a polished technique and a powerful sound employed with exhilarating freedom. I, on the other hand, was playing a very poor bassoon on loan from the Conservatorium. I'd been learning the bassoon for 18 months and was raw, green, and cabbage-looking. My bassoon was held together with bits of gardening wire, elastic bands and tram tickets. I struggled manfully with the 1st bassoon parts to Pulcinella, by Stravinsky, in which Margaret was to lead the orchestra. I little knew what a challenge the 1st violin part was, and was concerned not to disgrace myself in the company of this paragon. Margaret's mother confided to me years later that Mag had reported that ''some people there could hardly play their instruments''.
"Er, hmm, really?"
Imagine my horror when, after a tidy start, one of my notes was not quite true. This was shortly followed by a blatant wrong note, then a strange harmonic. I checked the slivers of silver paper which bound some keys, the train ticket which padded a loose connection, and all the rickety adjustments which held my infant career in their keeping. Still they came, one disaster after another, punctuating some otherwise fine, but increasingly nervous playing.
It wasn't till the 4th (of 8) movement that I found the culprit. At this high-profile concert at Macquarie University we were required to dress up - no problem for Mag, but it was the first time I had played the bassoon wearing a tie - which was caught under the C# key.
And that, children, is why Mr. Williams always wears a bow tie when he plays the bassoon.
A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY
I think I have mentioned the furore that broke out when Margaret joined the National Training Orchestra. I was surprised to meet a female colleague weeping in the corridor.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Margaret Dickson's coming."
"She's beautiful. I'll lose ....NAME DELETED..."
The following day, I heard a fine recording being played from the Manager's Office into the hall. It was Maggie's audition tape and was impressive. This was not normal practice however, and seemed designed to unsettle the violinists. In this respect it was very successful. It was also successful at engendering considerable hostility toward this blow-in who hadn't even arrived yet.
The following day saw me minding my own business, practising bassoon in a basement practice room, when there was a tap on the door which then opened to reveal a small party with Mag at the centre. She was being given the tour. A brief introduction having been made to me, she whipped out her bow and proceeded to test the acoustics and to deliver her verdict. Then she nodded goodbye and proceeded to the next room leaving me to digest this apparition.
It was clear that she was not only a beauty, but had charisma and something else...great sex appeal. The few strokes of the bow she had essayed were powerful and authoritative and exuded confidence.
In every respect, this was a formidable woman.
Soon, however, the orchestra was in uproar. The new girl was to lead the orchestra in an important concert, playing the testing Pulcinella Suite by Stravinsky. Resentment ran high, and many were poised to pounce should she falter, and the remainder were ready to console in the same eventuality. We are always ready to allow a pretty head to cry on our shoulder, aren't we (chaps).
I have already mentioned this concert ("Never trust a man who wears a bow tie during the day") and Margaret's successful negotiation of it. If that sounds like faint praise - it isn't. But I'm not going to pretend that it was a towering artistic triumph and a glorious personal vindication. It was simply more or less what people were expecting. How were they to know that she'd never done a Music Degree, or even been taken methodically through the canon of violin studies, like all the other students?
With this charming little initiation rite behind her, Margaret settled into the routine of student orchestral life, but with Margaret, TBC
On Friday afternoons we were obliged to perform for each other in a formal manner and in all my long performing life I have seldom experienced anything so nerve-wracking. To step out into the centre of a hall, just you and your accompanist, in front of thirty of your peers, makes Daniel’s task in the lion’s den seem a mere whimsy.
The hall itself was fine, a generous shoe-box shape in a suburban Masonic Hall in Sydney’s leafy Lindfield. There was a waxed wooden floor, beautiful light and flowers. But on Friday afternoons it became a torture chamber.
The first time I played there was for the Director of Music of the ABC and the Training Orchestra’s resident conductor plus their assistants. It was on my second day there, and having grasped the nettle, I was determined to go through with it (I subsequently discovered a whole culture of begging off and last minute cancellations).
In what I imagine was a shocked silence, they listened to me stumble through “The playful pachyderm”. My instrument was poor and I hadn’t played with a piano before. Something was hideously wrong but I couldn’t identify it. In fact, I was dreadfully sharp and consequently, distressingly out of tune with the piano.
As this one-elephant circus ground to a halt, the urbane John Hopkins, Director of Music, smiled tightly and murmured, “I’m sure you realise you have a lot of work to do.”
As I left the hall, the bottom of my bassoon, a large and heavy joint called the boot, fell off the instrument. It hit the sprung wooden floor with a loud clunk, and I caught it neatly on the bounce.
A tableau of startled looks from the panel was indelibly impressed on my brain as I slunk out to plan anew.
These occasions improved markedly for me, but one could never relax. On one occasion, with only a couple of minutes to go, I could find my reeds nowhere. What to do?
My colleague (and rival) was unexpectedly generous and lent me a reed – the devil’s own reed. Short and sharp, it was guaranteed to produce a stuffy, choked tone on which no expression was possible. In the musical game of snakes and ladders which was my budding career, this day was rather a large snake.
Many of the performances were, however, polished and brilliant, played by performers who would go on to grace many Australian orchestras, as well as those in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and the U.K.
All were curious when it was Margaret’s turn to play. Knowing her as I do, I can safely say that she would have been wound up like a top, the music held back by a dam wall of determination.
What I saw however, was the front cover of Vogue with a violin. Her proportions were perfect as she faced her audience square on. She wore a French navy overcoat designed by her father, and it showed off her magnificent figure to perfection. It was a heaven-sent opportunity to gaze upon this lovely girl.
Margaret “took no prisoners” Her performance was utterly convincing, with tremendous drive and presence. It formed the image I was to use over 40 years later when I inserted her as a character in my novel, “Coan the cooper”. As I watched and listened, I idly turned over on my mind, the possibilities. “Just what would it take”, I thought, “to make this girl my life partner"… or a short-term contract, for that matter.
I will tell you the truth – I thought it would be wonderful, but knew that I had nothing to offer, with my career at a fledgling stage, and being unable to provide a fitting match for her in looks, charisma and style.
Of course there was mandatory discussion and analysis by the group afterwards. This was a moment dreaded by performer and audience alike. No-one had much to say that wasn’t complimentary, but there was much informal discussion later. Among the boys it was readily acknowledged that she was beautiful and talented, but for most she “just wasn’t their type of girl”.
I tended to agree with them, but doubted their honesty. In every way, she was a lot of woman. I noticed that even though she “wasn’t their type” they just couldn’t take their eyes off her. I was reminded of the story of the beautiful girl who thought it was always raining. The sound she thought was rain on the roof was the sound of fly buttons hitting the ceiling.
Margaret soon had imitators, one girl in particular. She was not unattractive, but when she copied Margaret’s dress, hair and accessories, she could look only a pallid imitation.
One day, we were gathered at a recording studio in Central Sydney. We passed through the portals of this studio in small groups, past a young electrician working on something near the door.
As Margaret swept through, a procession of one, wreathed in a floral scent, the young man was hypnotised. As soon as Margaret was out of sight, he fled down the corridor to alert his colleague.
Yes, you’ve guessed it! They got back just in time to witness the arrival of the disciple, not an unattractive girl as I have said, but…
The embarrassment of one and the disappointment of the other were wonderful to behold.
Just a case of mistaken identity.
THE WILD WOMAN OF SYDNEY
In Sydney, Margaret was working hard and leading an irreproachable life. It wasn't enough, however, to save her reputation. Speculation ran rife (..."a girl who looks like that must..." and "...well, someone must be...").
The manager of the orchestra (a man with severe psycho-sexual problems, and proud of them) said to me, "That girl has done the lot - drink, drugs, sex."
I knew people who had done the lot, and it didn't jell with the girl I had occasionally managed to chat to. I was almost hypnotised and kept getting lost in her face, getting dizzy and thinking of the moon and the sea (maybe I had psychosexual problems). I hoped the rumours were not true.
One day, there was great excitement. Her secret was out. Did we know that Margaret had a sugar-daddy? Again there were those who could not believe it, and those who were only too glad to. It appeared to be an indisputable fact that Margaret had entered a fine Sydney hotel with a handsome older man, a cultured, suave type who even bought her new outfits. It turned out to be true. She had stayed with her father, David Dickson, neither of them aware in the slightest of any possible scandal. He had brought his clothing collection from Croyde to Sydney buyers, and Margaret received the demo models.
One of the outfits didn't require too much material however, and in years to come I did have occasion to remind Mag, when she was tempted to pass harsh judgement on Adelaide's outfits, that one of the shortest minis of that era was a little grey number we all got to like very much.
And that's the real story of the Wild Woman of Sydney.