Slippers that quiver in lonely terror at the expanse before them

Darlings, I simply must tell you about the book I’ve just read – it really was too marvellous for words. It’s a book of short stories by Dorothy Parker, titled, simply, “Collected Stories.” I’ve only just finished it; couldn’t have been more fascinating. Everybody and everything in it was simply divine, except for the restaurant at Thirty-Eight East, which was the world’s worst. The food there was absolutely poisonous, and there was not one living soul that you’d be seen dead with.

My goodness, have I really not read any Dorothy Parker before this? I cannot say yes or no with certainty, since this particular little book, bought second-hand, has been sitting in my book shelves for about 20 years, and my memory is such these days, that it seems possible  I may have read it 20 years ago and forgotten every last word.

Either way, what a treat it was to read, or re-read, this book, as the case may be.

Dorothy Parker was born in the late 1800s, and in the second decade of the 20th Century she worked as an editorial assistant at Vogue magazine, and then as a staff writer at Vanity Fair, a magazine which had already published her poems. She is best known for poetry, theatre criticism and short stories, and developed a reputation for her sharp wit. She wrote for the New Yorker and was one of the founders of the Algonquin Round Table. Later in her career she moved to Hollywood and had a successful career as a screenwriter.

Vogue, May 1917

Vogue, May 1917

My interest in Parker was kindled, or re-kindled, recently, after watching a film made in 1994, called Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh (whatever happened to her? – Ed), who is perfectly cast as the acerbic Mrs Parker. As you can probably guess from this casting choice (who has ever seen Jennifer Jason Leigh play a happy person?), Dorothy Parker was not exactly an easy-going or chilled out personality. Her sharp tongue created enemies – she was eventually fired from her role at Vanity Fair after her criticisms upset some powerful people. Much later on, her increasing civil rights activism through the 1930s and 40s resulted in her being listed as a Communist by the FBI, and subsequently blacklisted by Hollywood, putting an end to her screenwriting career.

An excerpt at the start of the book, which was first published in 1930, says that it contains all of her short stories “except a few which she did not wish to retain among her collected prose.” The stories within are largely observations of society, with a rather black humour to them. Parker gives us deft portrayals of interactions between people that reveal much about the author’s opinion of the authenticity of relationships between the genders, as well as class differences in 1920s New York.

For example, the story from which I stole part of a line for the title of this post, is called Horsie. The story focusses on a hapless Nurse, Miss Wilmarth, hired by a wealthy couple, to look after the new mother and her baby.

Her presence was an onus. There was that thing of dining with her every evening. It was a chore for him, certainly, and one that did not ease with repetition, but there was no choice. Everyone had always heard of trained nurses’ bristling insistence that they not be treated as servants; Miss Wilmarth could not be asked to dine with the maids. He would not have dinner out; be away from Camilla?

In this particular story the third person perspective shifts, sometimes allowing us to view private moments in Miss Wilmarth’s own thoughts, but mostly we see Miss Wilmarth from the perspective of the young father, Gerald Cruger, who, to his private anguish, has to face Miss Wilmarth, or Horsie, as he privately refers to her, due to her looks, each night at the dinner table, while his lovely wife Camilla languishes all white and languid on her apricot satin chaise-lounge upstairs, still too frail to come down to eat.

He tried, too, so far as it was possible to his beautiful manners, to keep his eyes from her face. Not that it was unpleasant – a kind face, certainly. But, as he told Camilla, once he looked he stayed fascinated, awaiting the toss and the whinny. 

Private conversations between Gerald and his wife show the cruelty in their attitude towards their hired Nurse:

…”Doesn’t our Horsie ever rate a night off?”

“Where would she want to go?” Camilla said. Her low, lazy words had always the trick of seeming a little weary of their subject. 

“Well,” Gerald said, “she might take herself a moonlight canter around the park.” 

Over and over, Parker reveals the cruel and selfish side of human nature, especially of those in the powerful position in a relationship, whether that is a masters of servants, or an older man having an affair with a younger woman. She hones in particularly on social conventions like small talk, which, she seems to say, is designed simply to make social interactions smoother for the person who is higher in the heirachy.

On his way home from his office, he found grim entertainment in rehearsing his table talk, and plotting desperate innovations to it.

….Lesson 1, a Dinner with a Miss Wilmarth, a Trained Nurse. Good evening Miss Wilmarth. Well! And how were the patients all day? That’s good, that’s fine. Well! The baby gained two ounces, did she? That’s fine. Yes, that’s right, she will be before we know it….

Caught in this social heirachy, Miss Wilmarth is not exempt from the same self-conscious attempts to make light conversation. Gerald reflects gloomily on how she awkwardly goes through the same routine every night, arriving late to the table for dinner:

“Well, Mary,” she would cry to the waitress, “you know what they say – better late than never!’

But no smile would mellow Mary’s lips, no light her eyes. Mary, in converse with the cook, habitually referred to Miss Wilmarth as “that one.”….

Remembering the look on Miss Wilmarth’s face each time this attempt at jocularity fails, Gerald can’t name the expression on her face, but we learn that it increases her equine resemblance to such a point that he thought of proffering her an apple. 

There is very little by way of action to this story, or most of the stories. The liveliness in them is largely in the complexities of people’s interactions – or monologues – and what is revealed about them. On reading up a little bit about Parker for the purpose of this post I notice that her writing is often referred to as sparse. Indeed, in the Foreword to the book, Franklin P Adams writes

Short stories they are, but only technically. Each is a novel, and in the unbridled hands of some of the wordier novelists – and I could name you plenty – would have become a novel of at least 500,000 words.

Take, for example, this succinct opening, which immediately sets the scene for The Waltz, which, like many of the most amusing stories in the collection, is written as one long monologue:

‘Why thank you so much. I’d adore to.’

I don’t want to dance with him. I don’t want to dance with anybody. And even if I did, it wouldn’t be him. He’d be well down among the last ten. I’ve seen the way he dances; it looks like something you do on Saint Walpurgis Night. 

This witty monologue has the narrator exaggerating her despair at being drawn into a waltz with a man who is apparently a clumsy dancer with a lack of skill and a large amount of enthusiasm.

I’m so glad I brought it to his attention that this is a waltz they’re playing. Heaven knows what might have happened, if he had thought it was something fast; we’d have blown the sides right out of the building.

The narrator’s internal dialogue, delivered as she’s being twirled around the room, consists in amusing hyperbole about just how bad the whole experience is, but is contrasted wittily against her conversation with her dance partner, in which she consistently says the socially acceptable thing:

‘You see that little step of yours – well, it’s perfectly lovely, but it’s just a tiny bit tricky to follow at first. Oh, did you work it up yourself? You really did? Well, aren’t you amazing. Oh, now I think I’ve got it. Oh, I think it’s lovely. I was watching you do it when you were dancing before. It’s awfully effective when you look at it.’

It’s awfully effective when you look at it. I bet I’m awfully effective when you look at me.

Parker’s expertise in writing is apparent also in her talent for description. We all know that description is an area where a writer must exert a high level of skill, and sparsity, otherwise it can teeter dangerously on the edge of becoming heavy and dull. Parker’s descriptions are mostly of people, but are lively even when she is detailing the attire that a character is wearing.

By the time we reach the paragraph in Horsie describing, in detail, Miss Wilmarth’s attire, we are aware of the subtext. The unfortunate Nurse has dressed for dinner, because Gerald, her employer, has invited some male friends to eat dinner, and she will dine with them. Even to a reader in 2016, it is clear that, as an employee dining with her boss and his friends, the very fact that she has dressed up for dinner is a social faux pas; on top of that, I don’t need to know what the fashions of the day were, to understand from the physical description Parker provides, that Miss Wilmarth looks unfashionable, ungainly and awkward. I will not quote the whole description here, but I think this sentence may be the most enjoyable description I’ve ever come across:

It revealed that Miss Wilmarth had clothed her ankles in roughened gray silk and her feet in black, casket-shaped slippers, upon which little bows quivered as if in lonely terror at the expanse before them. 

Of course, part of the beauty of that description is that the terror no doubt reflects that of Miss Wilmarth, on the rare occasion of sitting down to dinner with three men. Poor Miss Wilmarth. My heart goes out to those lonely slippers.

*

Reading Dorothy Parker reminded me that American literature has a tradition of very fine humorists and satirists  – after all, David Sedaris did not just appear out of a vacuum. In fact I was reminded very clearly of a book of short stories I have somewhere by Steve Martin (the Hollywood actor). I recall one of the funniest stories in it was a monologue that relied for its humour on conveying an obviously skewed perspective from an obviously neurotic narrator – I believe Mr Martin must have learned a trick or two from Mrs Parker.

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Onomatopoeia! Thud-Whallop-Crash!

Experts around the world agree almost universally on this point: cows go moo.

There is also fairly general consensus that cats go meow, birds go tweet, and dogs go woof.

If, for any reason, I’d previously harboured doubts about the sounds made by those animals, my queries would have been put to rest when my daughter was little. One of the really enjoyable aspects of being a parent of a baby, toddler, and then pre-schooler, was the books I got to read. It was hard to stay grumpy with sleep deprivation, while reading, out loud, nonsense rhymes, poems and stories, and pulling the appropriately silly faces, and making the appropriately silly noises, to go along with the words.

The best were, of course, the books written by authors who are masters in the use of words, and of manoeuvring rhyme and rhythm* to suit the story, while exhibiting an irreverent sense of humour at the same time. Of those, Dr Suess, Rohald Dahl, and Spike Milligan, were some of my favourites.

If you must read to a small child, see if you can locate these two books first!

If you need to read to a small child, see if you can locate these two books first!

Spike Milligan was one of the most fun to read, and, I think we can cautiously venture, reveals himself to be somewhat of an expert in animals and the sounds they make, as illustrated by the article below.

On the Ning Nang Nong

Well ok, Milligan was obviously brought up in the city, since cows don’t go bong, they go moo, as we’ve previously covered. And trees don’t go ping, he must have been thinking of all those pesky microwave ovens that are always pinging away noisily everywhere you go in the city.

Nevertheless, when I received another request (?!) this week, to write a post on a specific topic, this time on onomatopoeia, my first thought was, who better to introduce the concept than Spike Milligan?

Who indeed. I got hours of enjoyment from his book of silly verse, delightfully titled Unspun Socks From A Chicken’s Laundry, a well-worn paperback that we found second hand in an Op (Thrift) shop. It’s yellowed with age and pages are falling out, but I had a lot of fun reading out loud to my daughter and possibly even sometimes to myself, just for laughs. The book design conveys what a hive of creativity the author was – some pages have traditionally printed text on them, while others reproduce handwritten poems and scribbled drawings done by the author.

Milligan’s poems have no morals or logic, and are simply downright silly. It’s precisely for that reason that it’s so refreshing to read them. I should probably mention that in keeping with the period (the poems were written through the 1970s – the book was first published 1981), there are some warnings: political incorrectness (eg Chinkey Chinkey Chinaman), inclusion of topics nowadays deemed unsuitable for children (I locked all the drink in the cellar/so nothing could get at the gin) a combination of the two (A Scotsman drowning in a whiskey vat) and no messing around with euphemisms. And always with such silliness that all offensiveness is surely dissipated.

Witness The ‘Veggy’ Lion:

I’m a vegetarian Lion

I’ve given up all meat,

I’ve given up all roaring

All I do is go tweet-tweet

….

I used to be ferocious,

I even tried to kill!

But the sight of all that blood

made me feel quite ill.

 

A tip for any parents feeling a mixture of curiosity and trepidation: the good thing is, when reading to small children, you can just leave whole poems out and they won’t know! For example, looking back at the book tonight, I dare say that in the interests of not creating a phobia about going to the dentist, we probably didn’t read our daughter the poem called By Gum:

Death to the Dentist!/Death to his drill!/Death to his ‘open wides’/Kill! Kill! Kill!

However, it softens the otherwise rather sinister tone to know that poem was inspired by his five-year-old son saying that he wanted to kill the dentist! Notes throughout the book indicate where and when poems were written, (eg Sydney, 1980) and some poems have extra notes to indicate when they were devised with his kids, or when something they said inspired Milligan’s imagination. For example, under the limerick about a girl called Nelly who has a nylon belly, which turns out (not entirely surprisingly) to be full of custard and jelly, is a note written by Jane and dad on the way back from the Natural History Museum, 15 October 1977.

Anyway, since you are probably wondering by now, the reason I thought of Milligan is because he has a poem called (this is how it is spelled in the book) Onamatapia. It goes as follows:

 

Onamatapia!

Thud – Wallop – CRASH!

Onamatapia!

Snip – Snap – GNASH!

Onamatapia!

Whack – thud – BASH!

Onamatapia!

Bong – Ting – SPLASH!

 

Onomatopoeia (pronounced, at least if you’re Australian, On-om-atta-pee-ya) is the formation of a word to make (as closely as possible) the sound it describes – eg cuckoo, meow, bam, whack, slap, bong, snip, splat.

The Miriam Webster dictionary says that onomatopoeia is:

the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as in buzz, hiss)

Onomatopoeia helps the reader to hear the sounds in the world created by the writer. The interesting thing is that so many onomatopoeiac (?not sure what the adjective is) words are really fun to say and hear.

It’s clear that Milligan has an ear for such words and loves to use them. Unspun Socks…. fairly clangs, pops and thuds with the noisy fun of silly words bursting out of it. In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, he says that the poems were inspired by listening to the way his children used words, and noting down mispronounced, misunderstood, and self-invented words. “Knowing children’s love of vocal exclamation, i.e. Boom! Bang! etc. – I’ve included a few bits of onomatopoeia,….”

He certainly has. Consider these lines from various poems in Unspun Socks:

Chip chop/chip chop/down comes a tree, Chip/chop/wallop/plop/Help, it’s fallen on me!

…They practise every night at nine/Plankety plank bumm-bumm!!

….He tied them back/with bits of string/But they shot out again/with a noisy – PING!

….Wallop! Wallop Thud! I go/until the bell goes ding!

….Gurgle gurgle gurgle!/that’s urgle with a G!!/The sound that people make I hear/when drowning in the sea!

They are also full of the self-invented and mistaken words that he loves, particularly imaginary creatures, like The Squirdle:

I thought I saw a Squirdle

I think I thought I saw

I think I thunk I thought

I saw a Squirdle by my door…..

There are creatures such as the Hipporhinostricow, the Leetle, the Multikertwigo (who says Sniddle, Iddle Ickle Thwack/Nicki-Nacki-Noo) and something inside his Granny’s boot that goes Binkle-Bonk Ickle-tickle-toot!*

I’m getting off the topic of onomatopaeia here but trying to illustrate that Milligan’s silly verses are just bursting with playfulness, and his use of onomatopaeia is one part of that. If these poems have an agenda, it is to impart a sense that words are a lot of fun!

I feel I should also apologise, or explain, because the request to write a post about onomatopoeia was prompted by my last post, where I said that the word bioluminescence almost seemed to have an element of onomoatopaeia to it, with the soft hiss of the “scence” encapsulating the sound that, in my imagination, is made by the light that softly emits from bioluminescent creatures under the sea. It’s not really onomatopoeia – as I think it’s safe to assume that it’s only in my imagination that bioluminescent light makes a soft hiss.

After all, it’s usually under water.

Spike Milligan poem - Onamatapia

Spike Milligan poem – Onamatapia

 

 

*rhythm – that was my second attempt at spelling it correctly

*the boot is now in the zoo

 

Into the Woods

A significant portion of my childhood, it seems, was spent being driven by my long-suffering father, along winding country roads. We’d all pile into whichever Holden my Dad owned at that time – this was before the birth of the sixth child necessitated the purchase of a Nissan 8-seater van when I was in about grade 6 – and be ferried to and from church on Sundays, and to and from multiple relatives every weekend.

 

c1973 Cath Maria on bikes Wendouree

Exhibit a: one of my mother’s typically lopsidedly-framed photographs, myself and my sister in bottom right, & behind us, the Holden we owned at the time…I think this was a station wagon.

All I recall of those seemingly endless car rides now is that I used the enforced down time to stare out the window and daydream. According to my school reports in the very early years of school, I was a daydreamer – and my fantasies back then were generally inspired by the books I had encountered so far,  and featured me, starring as a character from a fairytale or childrens’ story, and the surrounding landscape as the setting for the story evolving in my head as we drove.  So naturally, when Dad drove past the plantations of pine trees around my local area, I used to wonder – was that an Enchanted Wood?

When I read the Enchanted Woods series, written by British author Enid Blyton, I distinctly remember longing to be one of the “gang” of Jo, Bessie and Fannie, the British kids who regularly had thrilling adventures in the woods that was a short walk from their back gate. I was jealous. Those lucky kids had an Enchanted Wood next to their home, full of endearing magical characters and with an ever-changing variety of magical lands that were accessible from the top of the Magic Faraway Tree – while next to our house was an unattractive, tracksuit-wearing family with an old, cranky corgi. Jo, Beth and Fannie would set out from their back gate with a parcel of sandwiches and a sense of excited anticipation, while I would set out my front gate with a squashed banana at the bottom of my school bag and mounting anxiety about the corgi that would inevitably run out to snap and bark at my heels as I hurried past. It didn’t seem fair.

So I used to keep a vigilant eye out on our road trips, for any forest that could potentially be an Enchanted Wood.

As it happened, we went into the bush quite a bit when I was young, because my father’s family owned some uncleared bush property (sadly now sold off) that we would go to with our cousins, for family barbecues. (No significant bush fires resulted from our bushland barbecues, I promise!) Despite, or perhaps because of, my familiarity with the bush, I never considered the Australian bush as I knew it, with its sprawling gum trees and native wildflowers, to be a contender for a possible Enchanted Wood.

Enchanted Wood

The terms woods, and forest, seem European and convey dark, dense foliage, with overgrowth and very little light coming through – very different to what we here in Australia call the bush. Due to the amount of sunlight in Australia – at all times of year – and the relative lack of density in the leaves of native Australian trees, even the direction in which the leaves of Eucalyptus trees hang, a lot of Australian bush tends to be airy, and allow a decent amount of light to filter through. Airiness and light do not create the right setting for the deep, dark hidden pockets, eerie sounds, watchful trees, and mysterious creatures that authors like Blyton, Tolkien and other European writers imagined residing in the depths of a dark European forest.*

Forests are ripe settings for magical stories, but I grew out of reading magical stories after my Enid Blyton years, and was never drawn to the fantasy genre as a teenager or Young Adult. It was not until I was in my thirties and had a child of my own, that I found myself lost in fictional forests again, when I finally read the Harry Potter series, The Hobbit, and The Lord of The Rings series. Reading those, I experienced the phenomenon that I’d felt as a child, of being so utterly absorbed in an imaginary world that it’s almost impossible, on ending the book, to come entirely back to banal reality. Despite their impossibility, the characters, events and settings linger and fill my thoughts for days afterwards, causing me to be not quite there. That’s because I have been transported to somewhere else – and more often than not, that place was a dark, mysterious forest.

*

When I was a kid, pine trees fitted the requirements for a magical forest in my imagination, (maybe that is because the plantations of pines around the area where I grew up were referred to as pine forests), so it was usually when we drove past a plantation of pines that I would strain to try and pick out the tallest, most mysterious-looking tree somewhere in the midst. (Logic told me it wouldn’t be right on the edges near the passing traffic). It was common for us to be driving home at night, and passing by a still, dark pine forest, I could easily convince myself that I had caught a glimpse of one of the beloved characters from the books. Sometimes I even thought I could hear the trees whispering to one another.

I guess all kids believe in magic for a while.

 

*

“Wisha-wisha-wisha”, said the trees loudly…

“Help the Faraway Tree dwellers!” the leaves whispered. “Help them!”

“But how can we?” whispered back the children eagerly. “Tell us!”

– The Enchanted Wood (Ch 22, The Army of Red Goblins) – Enid Blyton

*

They walked in single file. The entrance to the path was like a sort of arch leading to a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves. The path itself was narrow and wound in and out among the trunks. Soon the light at the gate was like a little bright hole far behind, and the quiet was so deep that their feet seemed to thump along while all the trees leaned over them and listened.

– The Hobbit (Ch 8, Flies and Spiders) – J.R. Tolkien

*

*Note: some authors have set children’s fairytales in Australian bush settings, but perhaps as a result of the very different physical environment, they are tales for very young children and the psychological environment of those tales is very light. In the early part of the 20th Centure, English/Australian author May Gibbs famously created Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, two endearing little bush-creatures. Around the very same time, Norman Lindsay’s story for children, The Magic Pudding, was published. Although not set primarily in the bush, many characters in the story are natives of the Australian bush.

Acid Tracks

I’m currently reading an American classic.

Well, that’s according to the quote from Newsweek prominently displayed on the cover. (“An American classic – Newsweek.” )

If I asked you to name an American Classic, however, my guess is that this book is probably not the first one you’d think of, dear Reader, and probably not the second or third, either. Its not The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick or  To Kill A Mockingbird.

For those who only like fiction, this book may not be of interest, but if you love reading first person accounts of the era in America when the Beat generation of the 1950s morphed into the hippy generation of the 60s, and/or if you are interested in the particular style of non-fiction writing that developed in the 60s and 70s, known then as New Journalism, then this book would be as good a place as any to start your studies. It’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe.

KoolAid_1stUSEd_front

In any discussion of the “new”, subjective, or first-person-perspective style of journalism pioneered by writers in the 60s and 70s, three American writers are usually mentioned. These are Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote. I’ve read a few of Didion’s books but, to my shame, thus far I have not read any  Truman Capote or Tom Wolfe, and keep on meaning to do so. A few weeks ago I heard someone on the radio talking about In Cold Blood, by Capote, a book that I know quite well is sitting somewhere on my bookshelves, and I thought, as I’ve done before, I really should read that.

Coincidentally, I was between books at the time, so I attempted to look for it, but while clambering around amongst the 2000 – 4000 books in our house (exact numbers are a hotly contested topic), I accidentally stumbled across The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Given the difficulty of locating a specific book amongst the many books in our abode, there is usually a partially-planned, yet partially-random element to any book selection I make, so when I found The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, I hesitated for only about 0.6 of a second to wonder if I should just read it instead. Since my main purpose was to read one of the renowned New Journalism authors that I had not yet read, that’s how long it took to decide that it would serve the purpose beautifully. I could always look for In Cold Blood again next time, and probably end up reading Breakfast At Tiffany’s instead.

Now, this post is not a review of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I’m only up to page 92 of 366, so to attempt a review at this point would be ridiculously premature.For those who are totally unfamiliar with the book, as I was until a week ago – suffice to say it is a non-fiction account of the real-life shenanigans of author Ken Kesey and a group of friends/followers from San Fransisco, who live communally, experiment with psychedelic drugs, and drive across the U.S. together in an old school bus.

I began this post with the intention of taking off on a tangent from an idea casually suggested by one of the “characters” in the book. Now, however, through writing those introductory paragraphs above, I have become a victim of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test myself. That is, it has distracted me completely. My other ideas have slipped away, and all I can focus on is the name of the book.

So let’s just all pause here, dear Readers, to unanimously agree on the spot that this book title goes straight into the Top Ten Book Titles ever.* Or maybe it should be in the Top Ten Book Titles That Capture The Place And Time In Which The Book Is Set. (Although whoever thought up that particular competition title clearly has no ability to judge a good title – that is terrible!)

That title is appalling! Off with her head.

That title is appalling! Off with her head.

The title of the book, on the other hand, is unquestionably groovy. It captures the time – the beginning of the 1960s, and the place – America, or even more specifically, San Fransicso in the 1960s. All through those few key words, Electric, Kool-Aid and Acid, words that were either new, or had obtained new meanings, or conveyed a new significance, in the early 60s.

Electricity was certainly not new in the 1960s, but it was still a relatively new thing that most homes in America (as in Australia, where I am writing from) had access to electricity. Even newer were the electric appliances flooding the  market, designed to make household chores quicker and easier, and give people access to communication and entertainment right in their own living rooms. Telephones, televisions and radios became more affordable – now every home could aspire to own one! Women’s magazines were full of breathlessly excited advertisements for these electrical products and gadgets, and the humble appliances themselves seemed to signify a new, modern lifestyle. It’s no coincidence that”electric” came to also be used as an adjective meaning “thrilling.”

Apparently Kool-Aid was not new in the 1960s either (I had to google to find out what exactly Kool-Aid is, since it has not broken into the market in Australia) but I somehow suspect that once again, the massive increase in exposure to advertising on TV, radio and magazines in the 1960s meant that Kool-Aid probably also seemed to symbolise newness and modernity. And speaking as someone who doesn’t live in America, it certainly seems to signify America. I’ve only just discovered via the interwebs that Kool-Aid is a powder that is added to water to make a flavoured drink.  It sounds like a dehydrated version of a drink in Australia that we call cordial – a concentrated flavoured liquid that is added to water to get, I’m guessing, a very similar result: flavoured water.

The fact that we don’t have Kool-Aid here in the land of Oz highlights how the title of the book captures the time and location it is set in – if it had been written in Australia, or Britain, The Electric Cordial Acid Test just would not have quite the same ring to it, would it?

As for acid, any year 8 student could tell you that acid, a generic term for a chemical compound, was not a new word or concept in the early 60s. That same year 8 student could probably also fill you in on the development of the psychedelic drug LSD, which was very new in the 1960s, and was referred to by users as acid. It was so new, in fact, that Wolfe records how Kesey, the main subject in the book, was given LSD under observation in hospital, for purposes of scientific research – to find out what the side effects might be.

So I’m 92 pages in and so far I’ve learned that acid and Kool-aid mix together very nicely, particularly when kept in the refrigerator of a large converted school bus as it drives across the USA. And that the Acid Test in the title refers to the practice of using acid together as a group to try and achieve a communal trip. And I don’t mean the kind of trip that the bus alone could provide.

Stay tuned for further updates as they come to hand.

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*Another great book title is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – or is this just a sign that my inner hippy gets really excited at titles with the word electric in them? I was never a big fan of the Electric Light Orchestra so I like to think it’s not that.

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