This is the old SA4QE website. See the most recent posts at

Monday, 4 February 2002

Chris Bell 2002


Yes, said Hospital and became one infinite black mouth. Didn't even bother with teeth. Just an infinite black mouth, fetid breath. Kleinzeit backed into a mousehole. If the hole is this big the mice must be like oxen in here, he thought.

Tell you something, said the mouth.

Yes, tell me something, said Kleinzeit.

You may have flats and houses and streets and offices and secretaries and telephones and news every hour, said the mouth.

Yes, said Kleinzeit.

You may have industry and careers and television and Greenwich time signals, said the mouth.

Yes, said Kleinzeit. That’s nice copy. That really sings.

You may even have several pushbuttons on your telephone and nothing but sheaves of ten-pound notes in your pocket and glide you may through traffic in a Silver Shadow Rolls-Royce, said the mouth.

It’s building nicely, said Kleinzeit. But don’t overbuild. Hit me with the payoff now, you know.

The mouth yawned. I forgot what I was going to say, it said.

This quote has that sense of great portent that dreams occasionally have; you feel they’re about to reveal something incredibly important - in fact, it’s on the tip of your tongue, as it were, but it is never quite revealed. To me, this quote epitomises Russell Hoban’s struggle to widen what he has called “the limited reality consensus”.

The quote was left at the Strawberry Alarm Clock, my regular morning cafe on Parnell Road – Parnell is Auckland's small-scale equivalent of Chelsea, I suppose. It’s a place where the yellow paper can easily and innocently be nestled between the pages of the complimentary copies of the daily newspaper, the New Zealand Herald. If people are intrigued with it, they can take the yellow paper with them. If not, they can simply leave them where they are for someone else to discover.


I was on South Bank one day by the Royal Festival Hall. It was a sunny day with a bright blue sky. I was looking up at a train crossing the Hungerford Bridge. Through the train I could see the sky successively framed by each window as the carriage passed. Each window moving quickly forward and away held briefly a rectangle of blue. The windows passing, the blue remained.

This sums up one of those special moments that jogs us out of mediocrity, perhaps providing a springboard to an inaccessible state of mind.

I left it at The Mink Bar, Parnell Road – it’s my local, and also the location of one of those ostensibly mundane but very special moments for me – a ‘Eureka!’ instant, when it feels good to be alive. I’ve written about it, and it's the culmination of my novel Liquidambar, which hopefully will appear soon.


Lorna said to me, ‘You know Riddley theres some thing in us it dont have no name.’

I said, ‘What thing is that?’

She said, ‘Its some kind of thing it aint us but yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals. May be you dont take no noatis of it only some times. Say you get woak up suddn in the middl of the nite. 1 minim youre a sleap and the nex youre on your feet with a spear in your han. Wel it wernt you put that spear in your han it wer that other thing whats looking out thru your eye hoals. It aint you nor it don’t even know your name. Its in us lorn and loan and sheltering how it can.

I said, ‘If its in every 1 of us theres moren 1 of it theres got to be a manying theres got to be a millying and mor.’

Lorna said, ‘Wel there is a millying and mor.’

I said, ‘Wel if theres such a manying of it whys it lorn then whys it loan?’

She said, ‘Becaws the manying and the millying its all 1 thing it dont have nothing to gether with. You look at lykens on a stoan its all them tiny manyings of it and may be each part of it myt think its sepert only we can see its all 1 thing. Thats how it is with what we are its all 1 girt big thing and divvyt up amongst the many. Its all 1 girt thing bigger nor the worl and lorn and loan and oansome. Tremmering it is and feart. It puts us on like we put on our cloes. Some times we dont fit. Some times it cant fynd the arm hoals and it tears us a part.’

This is the way I feel about life, too; I always feel as though I am looking out through something else's eyeholes. Collective consciousness, it's important and real. There are only so many souls to go around.

This was also left at the Strawberry Alarm Clock café. I go here for peppermint tea and breakfast every morning, which helps to break up the working day. It’s like a little oasis, with the friendliest service and a mean fresh fruit salad.


Being is not a steady state but an occulting one: we are all of us a succession of stillnesses blurring into motion on the wheel of action, and it is in those spaces of black between the pictures that we find the heart of mystery in which we are never allowed to rest. The flickering of a film interrupts the intolerable continuity of apparent world; subliminally it gives us those in-between spaces of black that we crave.
(“Gösta Kraken, Perception Perceived: an Unfinished Memoir”)

Some of the quotes I have chosen for SA4QE were intended to be deliberately intriguing, rather than trying to distil the essence of Russell Hoban into a single page. However, I believe this one is saying something special about the way Russ writes. It also contains some of his favourite words (‘occulting’, ‘flickering’) and phrases (‘heart of mystery’, ‘wheel of action’). In-between is the way I feel, most of the time, and certainly it seems to me that my being is not a steady state.

This was another quote left at the Mink Bar. Why? It’s the bar with the most beautiful and patient waitresses in the city. That ought to be reason enough.


Twilight it was, the dying day shivering a little and huddling itself up in its cloak. Suddenly there came flying towards me with a mouse dangling from its beak, an owl, what is called a veiled owl, with a limp mouse dangling from its cryptic heart-shaped face.

Perhaps my favourite Hoban quote of all, and that second one is certainly my favourite sentence. I love the inversions and the poetic rhythms of it. I’ve never seen an owl this close in real life, but I've seen one in my mind’s eye now, thanks to this quote. I have also dreamt – and so very vividly – that I am Pilgermann, flying, like an owl over the ruins of Antioch. ‘Pilgermann’ is my favourite novel.

I left this at the Strawberry Alarm Clock café because there is a sad lack of owls on Parnell Road.

In childhood we wait for things that seem too long in coming, we wait for treats, for presents, for festivals and holidays, we wait for growing up. There is so much waiting that suddenly childhood itself is gone with all that was being waited for. As grown-ups we find ourselves pitched headlong down a steep and slippery slide with everything hurtling towards us at a great speed; some things smash us full in the face, others streak past half-glimpsed or unseen; everything has happened before we were ready for it. Only after the hurly-burly of mortal life is over can one have a really good look at what has happened; unburdened by choice and unthreatened by consequences one is able to sort through the half-glimpses of a lifetime and find perhaps one or two workable fragments of recognition.

This describes my childhood, for sure, and Pilgermann is my favourite Hoban novel. Also, I feel as though I have wasted much of my life waiting. This paragraph makes me laugh about that, which has to be a good thing.

Again, left at the Mink Bar. If any Russell Hoban quotation is going to prove beautiful, intriguing and complete enough to entice a total stranger to visit the Head of Orpheus website and go out and buy one of the novels, it will be one like this. Workable fragments of recognition – that’s what it’s all about.

... there is a mystery that even God cannot fathom, nor can he give the law of it on two stone tablets. He cannot speak what there are no words for; he needs divers to dive into it, he needs wrestlers to wrestle with it, singers to sing it, lovers to love it. He cannot deal with it alone, he must find helpers, and for this does he blind some and maim others.

He needs writers to write about it, too. I'm not a religious person, in the traditional sense, but I do believe in God and this quote provides me with a reminder why God sometimes seems to us to do strange, senseless and hateful things. She's simply not operating on a person-to-person level any more. I was dubious about including this quote at first, as I thought it might be dismissed by some as religious fanaticism, or something left behind by a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon. But, having wrestled with it, I remembered God does need helpers, after all.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock was the recipient of this one. It’s a second home to me. It’s nice to be known by name in a cafe and be made to feel welcome.


‘In the leafy shade she lay all huddled and forlorn, the red-gold hair, the ivory of her in the cool and leafy shade by the river, her garments all disordered offering to the eye her shapeliness, her long and rounded limbs; splendid and sculptural she was, like a broken winged victory. The honeyed air droned and sang; the ivory of her, the pathetic and savage splendour of her beauty sang in my eyes as I knelt beside her. Gone she was and lost to me for ever, Eurydice! Eurydice!’

This reminds me of my very first love, 26 years ago. Sadly I took her for granted. I left it at the Mink Bar – it’s where I go to forget.


Right, said Kleinzeit. Enough. He opened the door of the yellow paper’s cage, and it sprang upon him. Over and over they rolled together, bloody and roaring. Doesn’t matter what the title is to start with, he said, anything will do. HERO, I’ll call it. Chapter I. He wrote the first line while the yellow paper clawed his guts, the pain was blinding. It’ll kill me, said Kleinzeit, there’s no surviving this. He wrote the second line, the third, completed the first paragraph. The roaring and the blood stopped, the yellow paper rubbed purring against his leg, the first paragraph danced and sang, leaped and played on the green grass in the dawn.

Up the Athenians, said Kleinzeit, and went to sleep.

This one was chosen for the creative struggle. It epitomises the joy a writer feels at avoiding what Russell Hoban calls ‘Blighter’s Rock’ (presumably not wishing to name it, as it brings bad luck). Some New Zealanders think I’m a coward because I don't go bungee jumping, parachuting and whitewater rafting. I refer them to quotes like this to prove that writing is a dangerous enough profession.

This was left at the Mink Bar. Why? It’s where the Athenians drink. Didn’t you know?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.