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Authors: Craig Sherborne

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Hoi Polloi

BOOK: Hoi Polloi
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Praise for
Hoi Polloi

“I read the first sentence and then pushed the day’s work aside and sat down to read it all. I haven’t come across such a lively and gripping memoir in a long time. It’s fast-paced and very funny – sometimes I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream. Craig Sherborne has the knack of reproducing the soundtrack of childhood – that chorus of half-truths and received opinion that’s always at our backs as we grow up.”—H

“A scalding memoir, funny, fast-moving, shot through with a fierce pathos.”—H

“Craig Sherborne has written one of the great Australian memoirs. Not since Hal Porter have we had an account of Australian childhood so scurrilous and unashamed.
is a pure comic outrage of a book that will keep you wide-eyed with wonder way past dawn.”—P

“A lyrical, candid memoir … Sherborne’s parents are re-animated as tragi-comic grotesques, irresistibly awful, touchingly ludicrous, mordantly sensitive and painfully funny.”—
The Times

“Sherborne has recreated the child’s-eye view masterfully, but just when you think he is making his parents – particularly his mother – a laughing-stock, he turns it back on himself, or conjures a passage of quiet, redemptive beauty.” —
Sydney Morning Herald

“A brilliant, searing memoir and a major new work of life writing.”—D
Australian Book Review

“Sherborne is a master storyteller, and
Hoi Polloi
could well become a literary classic.”—
Good Reading Magazine

Hoi Polloi

Hoi Polloi


Published by Black Inc.,
an imprint of Schwartz Media Pty Ltd
37–39 Langridge Street
Collingwood VIC 3066 Australia
email: [email protected]

Copyright © Craig Sherborne 2011
First edition published by Black Inc. in 2005

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise without the prior consent of the publishers.

Note: Many human names and place names
have been changed in this work.

e-ISBN: 9781921870279

beat up my father I’m six and standing at the bend in the stairs. I press my face against my mother’s waist but with one eye I watch as they headlock him from behind at reception because he’s ordered them out of his pub. He flails punches, thuds and crunches on their skin, and sinks to one knee. They kick his head. They wear black lace-up bikie boots that have no laces. The police always take so long to come. When they arrive the damage is already done. Sometimes just a nick over his eyebrow. Sometimes a lot more blood and an ambulance is called. He always refuses to go to hospital. He has a lie-down then goes back to work.

We live in Heritage, New Zealand. It’s
. There are other hotels in Heritage but ours is in the middle of the town, on the main street, Tui Street, and wears the town’s name as if more important than the others. My mother likes that. “We’re the one that really counts. And don’t dare call it a pub, it’s such a common word. It’s a hotel.” I call her Heels just for using to myself. I call my father Winks. You can work out why.

In walking terms Heritage is ten minutes long by eight or so wide. It has a rail line running north–south through greeny-brown farm hills. People generally keep it neat with swept driveways and white paint on the ironwork atop their fences. But on the other side of town there are khaki brick and weatherboard places Heels calls “commission boxes” and indeed they are like boxes, I see for myself when Winks drives us through there but never to visit. Heels says you can tell when people own their houses because of the gardens. They keep their ironwork all spruced up and grow hydrangeas up high as the roof. They care more. People who rent don’t care.

We live in an apartment over the public bar where men say fuck at the top of their voices and if I put my ear to the floor I can hear them. An apartment like fancy folk do in Paris and New York, Heels says. It’s becoming fashionable as well across the ditch in Sydney. Not a flat, an
. I can reach out of my bedroom window and not quite touch the town clock’s hands. The clock chimes the hours off through the night but I’m used to it and only half-wake at the hammer-on-metal tolling. Sometimes it becomes part of any dream I’m dreaming.

I hate Heritage. Heels tells me to. She says it will set me up for later in life. It will help me aim for better things and never settle for Heritage. Here there are no fine shops, the clothes shops are dreadful and the air tastes of chemical taint from the spray from outlying orchards. She says the population is meant to be
but they’re pulling our leg and it’s more like half that number. Besides, you wouldn’t bother with more than ten of them.

Rugby teams come to stay and throw their mattresses from the windows for a drunken dare.
mattresses because they’re owned by us and not by some footballer. Let them treat their own mattresses that way.

There are many horis in Heritage with their hori ways and foul mouths always complaining about the beer being flat and the pool table on a slant. Hori is the pakeha put-down name for Maori. It sounds about the same as Maori, no better no worse, but it’s a word you don’t say out loud to Maoris. It’s for using among ourselves. Pakeha sounds like a Maori putdown for whites. It’s pronounced with a swear-like
at the start which rhymes with fuck and couldn’t help but come out of your mouth with a few bits of spit. But it seems to be a proper, respectful word. Even Heels and Winks use it and aren’t offended. “Give them a chance and the horis will take us over,” say the pakehas. They complain that it’s already begun, this taking over because horis are worming their way into the English language with an ugly word like pakeha and pakehas are using it every day as if it were their own and not even thinking twice about doing it.

There’s the big Goodes cannery in town. Sir Thomas Goodes started the factory many years ago in his garage just up the road in Hay Street and look at him now. Some nights he parks his black Bentley outside our front door, the hotel front door, and pops in for a drink. Heels loves it when he does this. Such a gentleman in his dark suit and shiny brogue shoes. Such a tonic to the horis with their singlets and “box of match, Mrs.” Horis use filthy language in front of her and one time spat directly at her and another time tried to grope her privates and made her weep and feel like a common barmaid. Whenever I wear my cap-gun outfit I shoot horis in my room, make them suffer for treating Heels and Winks this way with their beatings and groping and spitting. I use piles of guest laundry outside in the hall to punch them and spit at them back.

Heels sighs that it’s impossible to feel special in Heritage. It’s impossible to be any good where there are commission houses and horis. Even Sir Thomas Goodes who has a Bentley and can afford anything is reduced to doing his socialising here among
. “Among us too,” I comfort her. But she says, “We’re outnumbered.” Not even racehorses make you special here. In Heritage every pakeha and not a few horis have one, any old farmer or tradesman or you name it. They train them themselves at the Heritage racecourse or in farm paddocks for goodness’ sake and don’t even pay a pretty sum for them but breed them from some relative’s back-paddock mare and are a dime a dozen.

In Australia it’s different. You must be wealthy and
somebody to own a racehorse in Australia, it’s a sign of success. When Heels and Winks talk about Australia they always include “We love it over there” in a sentence and “It’s going ahead in leaps and bounds” and “There are no horis to speak of, they dealt with theirs.” They have lots of holidays in Australia. I was born in Sydney on one such holiday, a boasting point for Heels who’s fond of saying “of course, my son was born in Sydney” in a way that means I’m a cut above Heritage and she is too because she can afford to go there and because of that she knows what’s
and what’s
for a lady is to have your hair swept up, the whole works, into a bun and tinted peach or apricot and sprayed stiff till it’s
per cent wind-proof. Slacks and sandals are
thing over there and bright flowery blouses and sunglasses with gold, curly frames, and false nails, long and red-pink. Matching colour on your toes, and a ruby necklace. All other jewellery should be gold at all times.
gold. Rings, real diamonds. Gold in your teeth is out, that’s for peasants. It’s all porcelain now. Everyone’s getting their top teeth pulled out because a person’s smile is their passport, white, perfect.

I, however, am not perfect: it is disappointing that I have a stutter. But we’re working on it. Each Thursday after school I cycle to Mrs Daley for elocution lessons, sputtering out a recital of poems …

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely seas and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and star to steer her by.
…with the same exaggerated mouth movements Mrs Daley makes as she pushes her pinkie through wires of a budgie cage and lets the yellow bird bite her nail.

I’m left-handed which must also be cured because it makes me look deformed when I write, my wrist twisted in a horrible fashion over the page. Left-handedness is for half-wits, therefore Heels ties a piece of string on my left index finger. Whenever I lower my head to write I will see the string and pass the pen to my right hand. If she sees me writing with my left hand again I’ll be smacked.

Heels likes me to dress in my Sydney clothes, my walk-socks and bow-tie with the Grace Brothers label. Or in winter a collarless coat made of long animal hair, a goat maybe, shimmery-silver with plaited leather buttons. The coat’s from Surfers Paradise, she tells the bar staff and the cleaners and guest-room maids. Surfers where? they ask.

“Surfers Paradise.”

“There’s a place called Paradise?”

“There certainly is.”



“Where’s that exactly?”

“Pllllease,” Heels rolls her eyes at their ignorance.

A Mercedes Benz is special. A Mercedes Benz
. No one else in Heritage has a Mercedes. One cannot even buy a Mercedes in Heritage. One has to ring a car dealer in Auckland. The dealer will order a brochure from the Mercedes people in Sydney and Heels and Winks can select a model. A Mercedes is so special it will take six months to arrive from Germany, which lost the war. Maroon with white upholstery. In preparation for the big day Heels buys Winks a leather driving glove for Christmas, ordered by phone from Sydney. Winks orders Heels a snazzy headscarf for travelling. Heels rings her brother in the South Island. He inherited the family butcher business because he was the only son and therefore had the birthright when Granddad died. Till now he’s done better than her in life but now
buying a Mercedes. She rings her sister who owns a motel her husband built with his own hands. They buy a new Jaguar every two years because they don’t have children. But a Jaguar is no Mercedes.

Heels is looking forward to driving me to school. I don’t look forward to it though. I dread it. I don’t want to stand out like someone would who’s driven to school in a Mercedes. I have trouble fitting in as it is. “It’s not mine it’s my parents’,” I’ll have to plead.

Winks agrees with me, I shouldn’t have to wear the goat-hair coat to school. “It’s very stylish for Heritage,” he tells Heels and winks to me that he’s on my side. I’m already sniggered at for my bow-tie and walk-socks and brown leather Sydney shoes. “Lost puppy,” the boys shout while I sit by myself eating my cheese and jam sandwiches. When I take off my shoes and socks for lunchtime bullrush my feet are narrow and so spotlessly white they’re transparent to the veins. The other boys have wide brown feet, hard and dirty with toenails missing and sores on their ankles. They only choose people with feet like their own for their sides.

BOOK: Hoi Polloi
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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