Down Memoir Lane

A Simple Time – Peter FitzSimons Flesh Wounds – Richard Glover

My dear mother took a shine to one of Peter FitzSimon’s books, his take on the wreck of the Batavia. She offered to lend it, but I demurred due to the pile of ‘must reads’ I already had waiting for me on my shelves. One of those was, in fact, his memoir ‘A Simple Time’. I’d pick it up cheap a few years ago, somewhere or other. Since that day it had slipped further and further down the order as other I considered more worthy tomes superseded it. ‘Flesh Wounds’ is a more recent purchase, but it too had suffered a similar fate, although I knew it’s arrival back in 2015 was to great acclaim. It was about time I found out what all the fuss was about. So I decided to read both in succession.

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My Mum was even more impressed with my news that FitzSimons’ wife was television stalwart Lisa Wilkinson. I also figured his latest, a retelling of the mutiny on the not so good ship Bounty might be an ideal Chrissy pressie for this amazing lady. Who knows, I might even get around to reading it myself. He’d never really been on my radar, Peter FS. Being from Rugbyland didn’t help. I knew he wrote columns for the Sydney Morning Herald and often commentated on the tele. To his credit, he is also a leader keeping the flame burning for us becoming a republic. And that, till ‘A Simpler Time’, was about all.

In truth this memoir doesn’t set the world on fire. It’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time, but his childhood is largely unremarkable – and probably all the better for that. It speaks of a time when kids and freedom was a synonym, not the opposite, for better or worse. He and his siblings roamed around, largely unfettered, from daylight to dusk, over his parent’s struggling acres.

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PFS was one of six young ones in a time before television and certainly well before this era of tiny screen fascination. His mother had married down to a man she obviously loved to bits – her yearly stipend from her rich folks helping to keep the struggling orange orchard on Peats Ridge solvent. It also assisted in giving their children a jolly good education. In the book there are tales of bullying, first love, yearning for sporting success (which eventuates), country values as well as the city versus the bush. Later comes a journey to check out the family’s origins and a realisation that his dad, like so many at the time, had an unspoken of battle with depression. And Peter comes to appreciate, as in my case, how wonderful it was/is to have a remarkable mother to aide him through all his own troubles and tribulations. One tale that really hit the spot was how, in her later years, he came to have his photograph taken with her by a Walkley Award winning camerasnapper amongst the orange trees. The image is on view in this biography along with many others from the family album.

What a joy it is to read that, on her deathbed, when Helen was asked by one of Peter’s sisters what the best thing about her life had been, she replies, ‘Having sex with your father. Any more questions?’ Delightful.

Now, whereas the above was delightful in patches, ‘Flesh Wounds’ is a treat from cover to cover. Fitzy’s upbringing was quite normal for the time, but poor Glover’s was all over the shop.

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Wil Anderson has likened this contribution to the list of classic memoirs to the work of America’s great raconteur Seinfeld. I loved it so much I rushed out and purchased Glover’s latest publication ‘The Land Before Avocado’ and if time permits, I will delve into his back catalogue too. As with FitzSimons, this author hadn’t meant much to me as he is also Sydney-centric, but his name does now. The columnist/broadcaster can boast, without possible contradiction that, in any parlour game of ‘Who Has the Weirdest Parents’, he would win hands down. He’d clean up if any bets were laid. Nobody else at any table could claim they were the result of a virgin birth. Then there is the story of how his mother had such a close connection to English aristocracy – until, that is, it all came tumbling down. There’s his father’s alcoholism and his step-father’s nudism – a step-father who was once his English teacher! What horror there was when his mum did a flit with him. If these stories do not have you in fits of laughter they’ll, without doubt, have you cringing. Eventually Richard sets out to discover the reason for his parents dysfunctionalism. They were a bizarre lot.

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I am so thankful my upbringing far more resembled that portrayed in the first offering, but as a read Glover’s exceptional effort is sublime. I’ve always figured nothing could surpass Clive James’ ‘Unreliable Memoirs’ as a tale of an Australian childhood. Glover comes close. Just brilliant. And don’t get me started on the teddy-bears.

Peter FitzSimons’ website = http://www.peterfitzsimons.com.au/

Richard Glover’s website = http://www.richardglover.com.au/

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