When you’re a small child and all you ever see in the house is knees and a tablecloth, and the big key which locks a door, what do you remember? What do the chokos growing wild around the lanes; the new fangled Studebaker depot down past the old horse drawn McCaffery’s? Motorcars spoiling our pitch on Glenmore Rd.
You know I dreamt up that these “Studies” had even killed our dog Sandy. But this was not so. It is just that so many cars are about now, I project a hatred.
Once, I remember my father coming down the steps, right down to the bottom of the house. I suppose he had finished work and was coming home to the area where the dining room and kitchen hung out. Perhaps to where under the steps leading to the salon de resistance was a grimy little poke hole in which one put brooms and mops and a hand clipper for cutting the meagre grass of our back lawn – or to tidy up the always overgrown wilderness of 6’ x 3” which covered father in lot 702A at Bronte and looked so wildy and beautifully, as the winds from the sea and the extra salty south.
Of course I have no memory of Frederick Castledine’s internment. A box in a house with a father in it.
Twenty seven years later at or on, the same site I learnt to hate funerals and all the bullshit and beatification which comes with the mothballs and glossy white gloves.
Wep’s father, Frederick Castledine Pidgeon, passed away June 12th, 1913 when Wep was only four years old. Wep retained the memory of seeing his father in his coffin, laid out in the front room of the family home at 290 Glenmore Road and suffered from claustrophobia for the rest of his life as a consequence. Bill hated funerals, subconsciously perhaps from the trauma of his father’s death at a young age but reinforced as he says, approximately twenty seven years later at the time of his mother’s funeral in August 1941.
My brother was always doing things for me. He always let me have a first go at the washing-up or do the messages, and he even let me carry his hymnbook back from church. Whenever there was a Smoko in the saddlery next door he (being acuter of hearing than I) used to relate the least blue of the speeches.
This affectionate solicitude became irksome on the evening of Mother’s Party. In 1916 people didn’t have radios and had to make their own noise. You’d never think to look at our old house now, with its ten or twelve rooms and gas-ring jobs, that one Surgeon-Commander, one Lieutenant (army) , and one Captain (army) and one widow and one spinster could have all fitted into one of its rooms.
A Commander, a ‘cello, a Captain, a flute, a Lieutenant, a tenor, a spinster, soprano, and one widow with piano and such accessories as chairs, epergnes, and aspidistras will fill any 10 x 11 room.
Well about 9.30 p.m. when they were all blowing and scraping, big brother helps his bleary-eyed junior out on to the top staircase redoubt.
From which impregnable post big brother helpfully launched me down the stairs into the midst of the ‘cello and the “Picardy Waltz”.
This slight-of-foot earnt brother no acclaim. Me, being small enough to be priggish, basked in the subdued uproar and was fed with cakes. I was not offered ale. Big brother, God Bless him! was rebuked and awaited in the cold and seedy hours my hand outs of leftovers.
Three or four years later I narrowly missed cutting his throat – he had begun working for a bank in Newcastle.
Cousins were just as natural as fleas to me. I seemed to have millions of them and they were all up and down from my level. Somewhere or other, it seemed impossible to find one who added up to my number in the elementary scheme of things in those days. Nowadays, everybody is supposed to be your cousin and the world is full of do-gooders obsessed with piddling and no-one has the entrée to that bunch of cousins, those fabulous characters who seemed to have been born of chimera and who would bust the world apart for a zac which would have bought them a gospel in the times, I speak of. Not that those days were any better than that. Amongst the many cousins, I had – it seemed as if I had collected them, doesn’t it? – I can assure you that they were all foisted upon me before and after that auspicious Thursday in January, 1909, when I joined the galaxy – the Milky Way of cousinhood. The Pluto of my planetary world was of course gargantuan cousin, Bill who was expelled from his mother’s orbit in a 14 1b craft, in the very month in which I, also, was sputnicked into this horrendous space.
Now there was an older cousindom led by relative John, who was always cleaning himself, and could not leave dirt well enough alone. There were girl cousins to kiss and others to tease. And on Sundays at Church, you could find out from the Common Prayer book, if you could marry, the best looking one or not, even if you weren’t allowed to wed your grandmother; not that I had secret thoughts and passions and Freudian longings for that austere Scot who dominated, with a carbon steel rod, the cohorts and regiments under her command. A strong type, my grandmother in recollection; always in black or maroon.
Buttoned up in front, practically from the boots and with a surging pacific swell of a bosom breaking into a stiff-necked white collar of foaming frills which the white bones of the past paraded around the throat and were confronted by the indomitability of a North Head chin. One could hardly call it nestling. There was perhaps, branded, would be better, upon the black and unyielding bosom, my sole idol. A massive gold snake curled and entwined upon itself in convolutions such as only Laocoon himself has witnessed, all bestudded with diamonds and rubies and lights of flashing green and folded scales, like Baal, turning and re-entering upon itself, swallowing, digesting, illuminating and fascinating; a viscera of an emblem; a Europhobus tortured in gold; Heavy too! To top it all, beside the pin attached, it had a chain with a second mooring – I do not know who got it when the old lady died, I would like to see it now – but it doesn’t matter; I can still see it heaving on the waves of that Gaelic breast.
It is funny how you seem to lose your place in this memory story. Here I am choc-a bloc with cousins and I am off on Grandma. Anyway, I did not really need to consult that old Common Prayer, because the girl cousins got away, and I was left with the paragon of all cousins, Georgie. Now, Georgie is to be likened in this day and age to a hydrogen bomb in the ten-megaton range. Not that he was ever dropped whilst in my care by me; I had too great a sense of responsibility towards humankind, ever to have made that unchristian like gesture. Georgie was a dear sweet boy, as harmless and benign as an unfused bomb as long as you kept him in your own bomb bay, all was well with the world – which means in those far off halcyon times, 290 Glenmore Road, Paddington. But if the area door was not thrice bolted and key withdrawn, the back door nailed in and the chimney flue bricked in – well, one had had it!
Now Georgie, as a son of Uncle Percy, who often got kicked in the “deaf and dumb” when playing league with Bluey Watkins and who won his corps heavyweight boxing contest on the way to France was a two-man man and an inaccurate ikon to puling little weaklings like myself. He married a robust dark and to my eyes, passionate almost gypsy. Perhaps too much alive, like a femme fatale, for the rest of our somewhat reticent family group. Georgie equaled the equation.
Several times Georgie stayed with us and no-one could have foreseen such nuclear reactions as he could make out such an elemental meal as warm sop with pepper and salt. Don’t ask me the recipe for that sop. It is to go into the appendix to these writings. His sop with water added to the milk seemed to grant my cousin a superhuman sense of well-being and omnipotence. In no time at all, (that is if we had left unguarded a door), a bevy of tearful neighbours would be wailing and bemoaning, the scourge that had befallen over the district. Infantile paralysis was a non-sequitur compared to Georgie’s descents upon our precincts. Unbattered, unbloodied and unbruised, Georgie alone was serene. Neighbourly eyes and noses hammering on his inborn bricklayer’s fists had left him unmoved, or to be more precise, only mildly delighted with life as it came.
Georgie lived for the day, and each I suppose was good. One of the best, I guess was the afternoon I took him to West’s Picture Show in Oxford Street. It was probably one of my worst. I could have put up with paying for him in the ice-creams. I could have put up with his throw-downs and crackers during the show, but when he hung his feet up on the ears of the boy in the front of the pictures, I lost their interest. I cannot even dredge out of the past, the name of that picture. Maybe there was no picture at all. All I could see was twenty Darlo kids ready to tear Georgie apart, and not to make much of it, me too. Now that I think hard, nothing seemed to come of it except that I was the first to exit and lay awake that night in fear and trembling and in youthful hope that Georgie’s chemistry would become less fissionable.
I had a cousin called Bill. He was three weeks younger than me and had two brothers even younger if that was possible in those immature years. He was the son of a long great uncle named Harry which I suppose is natural enough, him being my cousin, because Uncle Harry was my mother’s brother. Uncle Harry was very long perpendicularly and not very wide horizontally. His wife was a big girl – although at that time to me she seemed a woman of immense proportions.
Off hand I would say in recollection, she was 5’ 11 7/8“ tall and built like two Marilyn Monroes round. Bill, my junior, could give me, at any time, during our alleged childhood, a good 6 inches and a wheelbarrow or so of bicep. I cannot speak too freely about Bill because he is still alive like me, but bigger (which is a very modest under statement) and a policeman to boot.
Because he is policeman doesn’t make me immune to all the necessary laws of the land. I, being of a timid disposition, have not had much truck with the gendarmerie. A few peccadillos have earnt me a slight dossier [see Notes] and an honoured place in the finger-wiggle file – but nothing you could really boast about – or wear an old Paddingtonian tie for.
I’ve forgotten what I was really getting at about Bill. All I remember was that he was awful big and at the back of his place in Goodhope St. was the best mulberry tree in the whole of Paddo.
This tree supported without the help of any agricultural service or Forestry Departments more silk worms than any of old Joe Gardiner’s show boxes would hold. Cocoons by the million were boiled and chewed till even the most tenacious worms gave up. Not a square inch of kitchen was not found in silken thread. But the main thing was – that cousin Bill was big – now that I am older I might call him Gargantuan.
[W.E. Pidgeon c.1955]
Cousin Bill initially qualified as a carpenter, joiner and labourer. He joined the NSW Police in March 1930 as a Probationary Constable. In July 1930 he was assigned to Metropolitan District No. 2. He was promoted to Police Ordinary Constable in March 1931 and was transferred to Mudgee from December 1931 till May 1936 when he was reassigned back to Sydney serving in various roles including general and traffic duties. By September 1939 he was a Police Constable 1st Class qualifying as a Motorcyclist in January 1943 where upon in August he completed his examination for Police Sergeant 3rd Class. He received a number of commendations and awards throughout his career, retiring in January 1969 as a Police Inspector 1st Class.
Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), Sunday 10 January 1937, page 20
“Spots” At Florentino and Auto. Club
ARTISTS’ NIGHT OUT
‘WEP,’ otherwise William Edwin Pidgeon, 27, the well-known black-and-white artist, suffered his second conviction since October for driving a car while he was under the influence of liquor, when he appeared before Mr. Gibson, C.S.M., at the Central Police Court last week.
HE was fined £5 and his license was suspended for three months. The evidence showed that, with his wife, two other artists and others, there had been a spot of dinner at an Italian cafe, a sojourn at the Royal Automobile Club, and then Trouble, with a large capital ‘T.’ Constable Alloway stated that at 12.5 a.m. on December 15 he saw a car driven by Pidgeon stall at the intersection of Albert and Phillip Streets. Told to get out of the car, Pidgeon was ‘unsteady on his feet and his eyes were glassy and staring in appearance. His speech was thick, he smelt strongly of liquor, and he was definitely under the influence of liquor.’ ‘The noise made by the occupants of the car first attracted my attention,’ proceeded Alloway. ‘They were shouting out and there was language used. There were six people in the car — two of them were ladies. With one exception, they were all under the influence of liquor. To Mr. Sweeney, for Pidgeon: There was a dark man among them who was sober. ‘Of the other passengers, Mrs. Pidgeon was under the influence,’ swore Constable Stevenson, the previous witness’s confrere. ‘I first noticed the car when it was alongside the entrance to the R.A.C.A. I saw two ladies and Pidgeon behind the wheel. Two men followed Pidgeon to the police station and one was put out for cheek — after Pidgeon had been taken to be finger printed. It was the little dark chap who was sober. The second lady was not as drunk as the others. They told me they had been in the R.A.C.A., drinking. The big chap who was put out of the station could, perhaps, have been charged with being drunk, but I did not think it right to put the agony on and charge the others!’ ‘Pidgeon was unsteady on his feet, his eyes were shiny, and he appeared not to be able to focus properly,’ recalled Station Constable Hamer. ‘By that I mean,’ he explained, ‘that he would look at you, look past, and then look at you again.’ Defending himself, Pidgeon said he was an artist, living at Bundarra-road, Bellevue Hill. That night, he continued, he and his wife had dinner at the Florentine They met ‘Mr. Finey’ and ‘Mr. Cook’ there and afterwards repaired to the Automobile Club. Pidgeon said he had two ‘schooners’ of beer. ‘It was suggested that Cook and Finey come home to our place for supper,’ went on Pidgeon. ‘My wife got out of the car, and Mr. Finey questioned the advisability of my driving the car, seeing that I had had a few drinks, and it was suggested that it would be better if my wife drove it. The three men got in the back seat, my wife got in the driving seat, and I got in alongside her. The next thing, as we were driving down Albert street, I heard someone shouting, ‘Stop that car!’ ‘Anticipating some trouble, I pushed my wife over the top of me and took the driving seat, as I did not want to set my wife into trouble. The policeman put his face to the back of the hood and said. ‘Who is driving the car?’ and I said, ‘I am.’ He asked for the licence, and as I was looking for it, he asked me if I had been drinking. I said, ‘Yes, I have had a couple.’
BOTTLES IN CAR
To Police Prosecutor Walden: I am not denying that I was slightly under the influence of liquor. You wish his Worship to believe that your wife was driving the car and not you? — She was. Further questioned, Pidgeon denied that that night he had been working He was sure that she did not have five glasses of wine at dinner, nor did she have any liquor at the R.A.C.A. He did not know that there were three empty bottles in the car. Another artist, George Edmond Finey of White-street, Balgowlah said that that night he had been working at ‘The Telegraph.’ ‘I went and tried to get bail.’ he recalled. ‘I was not under the influence. I left with the other lady when Pidgeon was arrested. I did not tell the constable I was getting my wife out of it. She was not my wife. I did not go home till about 6 o’clock the next morning.’ The third artist, Noel Wilfred Cook, of White-street, Manly, also gave evidence for the defence. The testimony of Mrs. Jessie Ann Pidgeon was to the effect that she drove the car, and that when the policeman hailed them her husband took the driving seat. ‘I was not intoxicated,’ she told Prosecutor Walden. ‘I had one wine with my dinner.’ Convicted, Pidgeon was revealed to bear a previous conviction for a similar offence. He was fined £5, or 10 days’ gaol, and his license was suspended for three months. Twenty-one days to pay were allowed.
1937 ‘”WEP” PIDGEON IS WINGED AGAIN’, Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), 10 January, p. 20. , viewed 15 Dec 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169595051
Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), Sunday 4 October 1936, page 24
Caricaturist Finds Himself Plucked After Ball
WELL KNOWN by the signature ‘Wep’, William Edwin Pidgeon, 27, a black-and-white artist employed by Consolidated Press Ltd., footed the bill at the Central Police Court last week for a little traffic lapse committed as an aftermath to the holding of the Ski Council ball at the Blaxland Galleries on the night of September 25.
MR. STEVENSON, S.M., fined ‘Wep’ £2, or four days’ hard labor, for driving a car while he was under the influence of intoxicating liquor. ‘I am satisfied that he was not drunk,’ remarked the bench, ‘but I am satisfied that he was sufficiently under the influence of intoxicating liquor as to render him incapable of driving a car.’ ‘Wep’ pleaded not guilty and was defended by Mr. Taylor. The evidence of Constable Blair was that he saw the car parked at 3.5 a.m. with two wheels on the footpath, and two on the road, while Constable Bullen swore that after that, he saw Pidgeon, two other men and two women, “stagger out of Westminister Hall flats. They were all under the influence. When he asked Pidgeon who had driven the vehicle on to the foot path, added Bullen, Pidgeon replied, “To hell with you!” and started the engine, driving off. When he, Bullen, told ‘Wep’ to stop the car, ‘Wep’ repeated his remark and announced that the constable was coming with him. Of course, as was obvious, Constable Bullen is not the sort of man to stand for that type of cavalier treatment. He stopped the car himself and Mr. Pidgeon was duly conveyed to the police station. There, it further appeared, while the prisoner was in the dock, he rolled a cigarette, possibly nonchalantly, but spoilt the effect, if any, by lighting it half-way along, according to the policeman. “His condition was verging on drunkenness,” recalled Bullen. “I said to him, ‘You have been drinking,’ ” recalled Station Sergeant MacPherson, “and he replied. ‘Yes, I was at the Ski Club Ball at the Blaxland Galleries.’ ” Of Bundarra-road, Bellevue Hill, Pidgeon, in pleading not guilty, maintained that he had not left the greater part of the car on the pavement. They had gone to the flats to have coffee, he swore. He did not remember if he had suggested to one of the constables that one of the latter might explore the nether regions. He had not believed that it was a constable who had spoken to him, the latter being in dis-reputable civilian dress, and he, Pidgeon, had said that he would take the other to the police station to find out about it. “I heard the evidence about asking for a cigarette,” admitted ‘Wep.’ “It is possible I made a bad cigarette — with the treatment I got! I had about three or four lagers at the ball.” To the Prosecutor: I did not light the cigarette in the middle. Another journalist, Richard Bernard Odgers, of the aforesaid flats, was also at the function, it appeared. “I was in Pidgeon’s company, but not for the whole of the evening,” he admitted. “I was all over the place.”
1936 ‘”WEP” PIDGEON FINED FOR DRIVING “UNDER”‘, Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), 4 October, p. 24. , viewed 15 Dec 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169583849
There was one night and it was wet and cold and nobody seemed to be wanting to have anything to with anyone else in our household.
So far as I can recollect everyone was getting on each other’s G strings. That is, the G strings of two boys and one adult woman. Mind you in those days there were no shocking/psychological overtones when the G string were played. You could hammer them all you wanted, and if the discord fifths and sevenths and the halfs and ninths beat forth, it didn’t much matter. It was all out the window screaming to insignificance in the narrow ways of dear old Hoddle St.
But this night our pulses were crook, the temperature was down and the radiator was round the bend. I don’t know what occasioned this melancholia unless it was the chops.
Mother, after dutifully fitting us out with grilled mutton chops and mashed swedes heaved her customary sigh. God knows why she sighed because we always had grilled chops. That is, at least to my recollection, although to be strictly honest I do remember haricot mutton a couple of times during my life in Paddington.
Of course, up at Grandpa’s place on Fridays they always had fish. What’s more it always seemed to be bloody garfish. Mum and Jack and I used to invariably eat at the old man’s on Fridays and it was always me who had to go up to the flaming fish shop to get the flaming stuff. I couldn’t stand it! It was not fair to small boys to have to hang around all the old trouts who were hopping in for their chop of Lenten (and Pentecostal and every other Holy Day) fish. I was always last in the queue, even if I had started in the front, and it vexed me no end. But; In my knickerbockers (or poop-catchers as they were called) I was, even if stood back distinguished as the snottynosed grandson of the ex-mayor of Paddington, and there was always plenty of garfish for John White, who was my grandfather.
GARFISH! My mother made it look as she enjoyed it. Grandpa obviously did, despite the way I imagine it had been cooked. Jack and I used to have the horrors. Nothing but wretched hair-like bones without the semblance of flesh to bless the name. Little needles which stuck in our gums and between our wonderful new teeth. And the chips – well, somehow we could stand the chips – a bit cold and greasy by the time we picked the odds and ends of the classified advertisements off them – perhaps I should never have complained about the chips.
However, things weren’t as bad as all that on Fridays, especially when I could see my love on the way home with her hot greasy parcel smuggled neatly in the crook of her lovely skinny arm.
But this day I began about. It wasn’t a Friday, and I don’t know why I keep on talking about Friday. Why Fridays have suddenly become so important I don’t know – it could have been a Friday, or then it couldn’t because obviously we were at Grandpa’s, and it couldn’t have been a Saturday because we weren’t allowed out, and it couldn’t have been a Sunday, because the pictures weren’t on. What’s all this about pictures – who mentioned pictures? Oh yes, such a poor blizzardly night and much meagre chops. It must have so dispirited our mother that in response to our half-hearted request to go to the pictures she agreed. Of course I was too young to realise how happy she must have been to allow us to go after we were not supposed to have asked.
God knows who did the washing-up in those days – I don’t remember, must have been someone. It must have been your grandmother because we had willow-pattern plates and we had them for a long time, much longer than if you or I had been attending to the chores.
In those days such labours as I am speaking of were performed in a kitchen, not on the patio or sundeck. In our kitchen there was mostly stove. It jutted from its murky corner like an altar. Gas pipes convolved round its massive sweaty chest. It sported an asthmatic griller on which our mutton chops were eternally sizzling and spitting at the leaded walls.
All across the mantlepiece over the defunct fuel stove which was full of books and ancient newspapers and dog soap and boot polish, was the most Pidgeon-like embroidery in American cloth you could ever wish to see.
Most kids these days have the misfortune to live in functional houses. Harry Seidler and his butterflied mob of glassy-eyed ascetics ever worry about us kids? How in the hell can you ride a scooter behind the stove, or find somewhere to drape a newspaper cut in jaunty symmetry? There are those pallid marble mantlepieces which crumbled in boy made pieces into the inevitable and unmerited rubble?
We had a sink too. It was in a far corner. Our kitchen was huge and this corner was always dark and one could never really tell whether the tap was on or off unless by listening. The tap was close to two feet above the sink, and if one had the mind to, would have served most adequately as a shower. I can’t recall what the sink was made off but it always had washing-up about to be done, or halfway done, or about time it was done. It was just that somebody always seemed to be dirtying something. Either the fish and chip ware or the Shelley or the Royal Doulton – because, mark you, we sometimes had our little graces.
All this is a far cry from getting up to the brand new Five Ways picture show, a temple of beauty and joy for well-nigh ever. Brother Jack who could cope with anything had no preferences as to what he would like to see. Just to be around and eye the girls was his modest happiness. I, being less earthy, prayed shut-eyed grimly for a shipwreck and the Robinson Crusoe act. My call was heard and the Admirable Crighton was duly wrecked to my great thanksgiving but what that fellow got up to later on in the picture was not in the good man Friday tradition. Still, I got my wreckage and didn’t grumble. What with the hail doing a Cozy Cole on the tin roof and the frantic screechings of the shutters being hauled to, my cup was full of joy.
Pearl White lay her limpid neck on the railway track and Miss Withers dithered. Miss Withers, at the piano, gave with a Chopin Polonaise and breaked into “Hearts and Flowers”. Miss Withers, very alone, down in the front, at the mercy of the filmy hooves, lonely played all the heartbeats of silver love.
Ben Turpin rolled his crossed-eyed orb. Marches, mazurkahs, scherzos, cadenzas, scales, glissandos, a whole Hammond organ full of tricks jounced from the isolated knuckles.
I suppose there must have been only about a hundred people in the picture palace for times were hard and if you didn’t have a few pounds weight of old newspapers or a half dozen empty bottles to sell to the greengrocer you were a gone goose for dough. Today it is different because everybody is well off and sits at home watching the TV for thirty bob a week.
Anyway, there are these hundred people, a hundred and one counting Miss Withers banging away at the goanna, and all of a sudden, in the middle of the Ben Turpin picture this character starts to laugh. He (the character) is as poor as a St George’s Church mouse, but he laughs. Why?
Don’t ask me, except it is Ben Turpin. But anyhow, he laughs and you think he hadn’t a care in the world. He was in the last row of the cheapest seats which had set him back ninepence.
He trumpeted on the tonic chord of Eb major, got into all the arpeggios and fluted into A sharp enharmonic and then did a swift roll on the drums. Miss Withers had stopped. Mr Cheapseat kookaburraed to thirty-six points of the compass. He had the audience wet. They streamed stitchfully past the paralysed Miss Withers into the roaring exitful night.
I would like to draw that laugh for you. None of your swivel-nosed giggles for him. From the soles up, laughed he.
Not a soul was saved.
Wep’s sketch of that laugh has not been found, if indeed it was drafted. However, the following cartoon gives suggestion as to what he would have intended.