Writing in books is not a big thing. I’ve got copies of texts from my schooldays where I’ve underlined portentous encounters, highlighted exam-worthy tidbits and scrawled “what the shit?” more than once.
It’s not something I do any more, largely because I’m not 15 any more. Tom Phillips didn’t get the memo about stopping, though, and the result is a singular piece of art which takes the reader on a journey through art and opera, though still features the odd cock-and-balls graffito.
This slim work is a collection of reminiscences of Robin Dalton’s childhood in a now-vanished Kings Cross. It’s brief, but reads entertainingly well, a collision of multiculturalism and religion with crime, the theatre and a distinct feeling of familial uniqueness. There’s spinster aunts, simple neighbours and a passing parade in a house which feels more like a cabaret than a homestead – but it’s never stuck in a self-congratulatory gear.
It seems fairly standard with reviews of this work to mention that it’s singular in its opening. The vehicular death of a great aunt is the subject, and while this in itself is a reasonably dramatic thing to start with, it’s also worth quoting in its entirety as it highlights Dalton’s precise prose.
My great-Aunt Juliet was knocked over and killed by a bus when she was eighty-five. The bus was travelling very slowly in the right direction and could hardly have been missed by anyone except Aunt Juliet, who must have been travelling fairly fast in the wrong direction.