The Godfather: Peter Corris on toddling
It is 5.40 pm on a spring afternoon in Earlwood. I’ve been in the flat all day – listening to the radio, watching golf on TV and enjoying the reading of EL Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate (1989) as an audio book. I’ve listened to The World Today on Radio National but the subject of the next program, The Health Report, doesn’t interest me and I decide to go for a walk – or a toddle as Pierce Egan, the master essayist of Bell’s Sporting Life, chronicling bareknuckle prize fights in the 19th century, has it.
This is not entirely voluntary. As a diabetic I need a certain amount of exercise to keep the blood glucose level under control. Also it has been raining for most of the day but has cleared as the Weather Bureau predicted (why this institution should have been hacked, as is alleged, by the Chinese government has never been clear to me). So I get my stick from a cupboard, ignore the three retractable umbrellas, and toddle.
It’s not quite the right word, or perhaps it is; I walk very slowly, watching where I plant my feet and standing still or aside when I hear people coming behind or in front of me. As my eyesight and hearing have declined I have the impression that my sense of smell has become more acute. I am aware of the scents from the rained-on gardens, although I don’t know which of the flowers or shrubs are responsible.
I pass the vacant block where some weeks ago I witnessed a house being demolished. The land is now fenced off and there is no activity, but a portaloo stands in one corner. Is this a remnant of the demolition or a promise of work to come? I’ll keep my eye on the place.
There are few people about but the traffic on the main street is busy. There are four peak periods here – quite early when people are going to work, rather later with children being taken to school, mid-afternoon when the children are collected, and later, as now, with workers heading home.
As I wrote in an earlier column, there is a looping walk around the adjacent streets that takes me about 40 minutes and passes a playground and the huge concrete water tank. I’ve since learned that this was built during the Second World War when it was feared Sydney’s water system could be attacked. Apparently it was never used. I’ve heard that some locals had advocated its destruction and developers have had eyes on it. Whether it has acquired heritage status I’ve yet to discover.
My walk takes me past the well-maintained houses and gardens, many with concrete driveways and some without, so that there are quite a few cars parked in the streets. There are also three boats, quite big ones, parked outside houses with cars in their driveways. The bigger cars, I’ve taken the trouble to notice, have tow bars. I know nothing about boats but these look expensive. I remember actor Ray Barrett, whose autobiography I co-wrote, himself a boatie, telling me that owning a boat was like standing under a shower wearing a 1000-dollar suit and lighting cigars with 50-dollar notes. Obviously there is money here. I notice a significant difference from the Newtown streetscape – no bars on the windows. Is there no crime against property in Earlwood? Or just no paranoia?
There are cooking smells coming from a few of the houses. Some people must eat early here. As I make the last turn for home I hear birds chirping in the trees in the gardens – the evening chorus.
It will surprise no writer to hear that after the first few steps, I began composing this piece in my head. A writer is always working, even when, or especially when, toddling.