I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock/As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock….I could have been one of these things first.'
"Growing up in the Eighties, in the Housing Commission, life was this steep, steep hill. Every single day, you awoke and you tried to climb it, taking one step forward and falling two paces behind."
This is Pamela speaking. Her story, in her own words, is in the excerpts that follow:
"My hair was grey at birth, I think."
"My father worked his donkey off — you know what I mean, eh? We had to say donkey. We children couldn't use the other word for donkey, get it?"
"It's easy to laugh about it now, but then….."
"He had a habit, you know…my father. Get what I mean? A habit."
"Mum? Let me tell you this. She never let him down. Not even when the cops called."
"Mum made the best gruel….ever…breakfast, lunch. Sometimes dinner when the bread ran out."
"Yea, of course. Bleak as….that was the colour of life. Black mostly, a bit grey."
"Did I what? Give up on life? Came very close, I reckon. A few times. One time especially."
"For sure, it's easy to lose your grip. After all, you're not making much progress every day, eh? Slipping back more than stepping up."
"Despair, I guess. If you're searching for the edges of sanity, employ despair. It will take you there. Straight road, no turning. Got a good compass for such things, despair!"
"It's easy to sit here today, in the bright light, sipping orange juice, talking about things back then. There's too much light today. It doesn't clearly show the blackness of those times. Back then….boy, you heard the front door open late at night bringing him back. And you knew, gosh you knew, it was gonna be a long night before the next day."
"How did I manage to keep it all together? You find a way, somehow. You find a way. You find a little wooden post to lean on. Then you stare into the distance and get lost in a dream."
"I don't mean a real wooden post of course. But you know that. It could be a person."
"Yea, for sure. I had one. Elford Cummings, his name."
"Ha, ha. No. No, no. We were not romantically involved. Not one bit. I don't reckon he even saw me leaning against the rail most days looking up at him."
"That's right. He lived in the opposite apartment, one floor above."
"Kinda, I'd say. Kinda good looking. About my age at that time, seventeen. Bit of a cowboy hat on his head for effect and all."
"Well, it wasn't he so much as the music. He'd have his guitar and boy, if he worked in an orchard he'd be the best plucker, he gave those strings a damn good plucking and they loved it, I reckon. They put out the best sounds for him. And for me, too, listening below."
"Yea. Not sad songs. I wouldn't call them sad. Folksy, I'd say. He had a voice for that. Kinda sleepy, like he'd just woken up."
"I could have been one of these things first, he'd be singing. I liked all the words to that song. All the things this man wished he could be before being himself."
"I think it was the poetry of it all drove me to take up a pencil and paper and try putting down my own thoughts. These are some of the things that kept me going, took my mind off the darkness."
"It's funny how you can never tell when the light starts coming back in. But it does. Next think you know you're talking about blackness in the past tense."
"I have no idea where he's now, Elford Cummings. I hope he's still alive, singing Nick Drake songs. Dark songs, but somehow you see the light because of them."
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.