The Godfather: Peter Corris on the winter of his discontent
I hate winter – my nose runs, and due to poor circulation from long-term diabetes, my feet get cold in bed. I use a walking stick these days and juggling stick, umbrella and a bag of groceries is no fun. Gloves off to handle the credit hard, scarf coming loose, eyes watering in the wind – the whole thing is a pain.
I hated it even more back in Melbourne – icy linoleum on the floors and winds that blew into your face whatever direction you walked in. I used to get chilblains, a painful complaint never heard of today because houses are heated better.
I found winter tough going in Canberra, with winds off the snowfields and ice forming on the puddles and on the windshield of my old VW which, great machine that it was, was reluctant to start on the coldest days.
The only winters I can recall at least partly enjoying were a few spent at Coledale in the Illawarra. We had an open fire in the living and eating area and a pot-belly stove in the big space for bedrooms and recreation. (The place was a converted rugby league club hall.) I had loads of wood delivered, which I split with a blockbuster. This was an activity our visitors were happy to share in, all Australians being would-be bushies. It was the very essence of the adage ‘a man who chops his own wood warms himself twice’.
Back when I was studying Pacific history I encountered the work of American anthropologist Douglas Oliver. The blurb of one of his books said that he held senior appointments at Harvard and the University of Hawaii. Having been briefly in both places, it wasn’t hard for me to guess which parts of the year he spent where. Nice work if you can get it.
Similarly, you hear of successful British writers with houses in salubrious parts of France or Italy. They ‘divide their time’, as the expression is, as though it were something precious, which, for the best of them, it is. Ian Fleming, as everyone knows, spent his winters in Jamaica, writing James Bond and making money.
Summer in Sydney and winter in, say, Cairns would suit me well, but there’s no prospect of that. As things stand, as well as the physical discomforts of winter there are psychological and financial pressures – tax time and the tedium of assembling the documents and the apprehension of waiting for the blow to fall, as well as the massive power bills which can confidently be expected to get bigger still.
Admittedly, there can be mild sunny days in Sydney in mid-winter and there is the compensation that the AFL season is in full swing, although that, for me, partly depends on how Essendon is faring. At present, not well.
There is one strategy I adopt – to read something set somewhere warm. At present I’m rereading George MacDonald Fraser’s wonderful Flashman in the Great Game (1975), set in the searing heat of India. To be transported there helps a bit. Another comfort at my age is that time passes quickly, and the winter of my discontent is mercifully brief.