Listening to: Pangea – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

This is a weird thing to have to write about. My brother, my Luke, died on the 26th of February. He was 23. He lived on the 25th floor of a Surabaya apartment building and he fell from a window. Just like that. I was sick the night before; I was working up the courage to call work and take the day off when Mum rang at five to seven and said “Did Tabi call you? Luke’s been killed.” And I called my dad to let him know, because they still don’t speak.

I feel like I’ve gone over and over the facts of Luke in the last two and a half weeks, I’ve looked at a million photos, everyone’s talked about what a terrific person he was; how kind, how funny, how easy-going, how helpful. I hate it. I don’t want to have to put him into words. I don’t want to have to turn him into a story.

So far I am coping with this by just not letting it be true in my head. I mean, I know it is. I went back to Adelaide last week and I saw his body twice – the first time was horrifying and I wasn’t at all prepared for how dead he would look, and the second time was much easier and I could really see him, my little brother, that face, that long body, Indonesian slippers perched on the ends of his big feet. But he smelt strongly of formaldehyde. His face was impossibly white. He had gauze on his hands. He was lovely but he did not, as my mother claimed, look like he might wake up at any moment. Still…that was a week ago and since then I’ve been watching videos of him and listening to recordings of his voice, and it’s all too immediate, too Luke. How can that be gone? Those hand gestures, that laugh, his quiet way of making fun, all that stuff he knew and understood. What it felt like to hug him. I keep waiting for a text message; I keep seeing things to tell him about. It’s easier just to imagine that he’s still in Indonesia.

I don’t even know how to begin to approach what it feels like to not have a sibling anymore, in an abstract sense.

I can’t seem to stop intellectualising my grief. I have the odd moment – it’s 4.30 in the morning and I haven’t slept yet and I might still be jetlagged because I flew back in from Australia on Tuesday, and I just had my first spontaneous cry in days – but mostly I can’t give in to it; I’m superconscious that nothing I do or feel will make this any better. Even if I do let go, even if I run out into the middle of Barnes Common and start screaming “No, no, no” like I want to, I will eventually have to stop and Luke will still be dead. And how would I pick myself back up again after that?

Sometimes he was annoying, a lot of the time he was tired, and sometimes he just wasn’t interested in the same things I was interested in and he wouldn’t bother to engage. He could be really frustrating. We had such an awkward age difference; he was born exactly a month before my sixth birthday. I was an incredibly lonely only child, but he arrived too late for me to make much use of him then and he was so much like Mum that we rubbed each other the wrong way for years. We had our moments, though; sometimes, out of nowhere, he could be really affectionate and we had a mutual understanding that our parents were crazy and at some point we started to make each other laugh. When we moved back to Canberra, when Luke was six and I was twelve, we had a massive backyard for the first time in ages and we started playing soccer out there – for hours. It’s still the most fun thing I can think of to do, ever. We’d up-end the trampoline at one end of the pitch and mark the other end with jumpers, and we’d play first-to-ten-goals…or -fifteen…or -twenty, or we’d start another game straight after the first.

When I first moved out of home when I was seventeen, I missed him and we suddenly had all this stuff to talk about on the phone. And when I was nineteen and I went overseas for the first time by myself, he suddenly grew up and started being someone I could relate to as an equal. I told him at some point, after months of only listening to the BBC World Service (because there was no one to explain British radio to me and after rejecting Radio 1, I didn’t know where to go next), how much I missed music and then in the post arrived my first two Luke mix tapes: one with all Australian music and one with random tracks from my own CD collection. It was momentous. Up until that point, he had resolutely refused to listen to anything I liked and didn’t have any particular musical interests at all. But suddenly we had this thing! We had Custard and the Fauves and the Titanics and Spiderbait and You Am I. And, cheesily, we had each other and we started to be friends. He was still a moody teenager for a while, but then came Tabi. L&T were my absolute favourite people.

When Luke was on my team, we would always win at Taboo because we’d get each other’s clues with only a couple of words or a facial expression. When I lived at home, he was the person I cooked for (and the reason I became vegan, after a weird conversation about animal cruelty in which he accused me of hypocrisy for being against slaughter but ignoring other forms of exploitation – he was never vegan, though) and the most enthusiastic consumer of my culinary experiments. (God, I’ve missed that, living alone. You don’t cook for yourself, no matter how much you enjoy it, you know?) He was my favourite person to share a belly laugh with. Our musical taste overlap got bigger (we used his iPod at the memorial service last week – half his mp3s were stolen from me! And vice versa) and even where we differed (he was never a folk fan and he didn’t listen to much angry music, and there are limits to my appreciation of Australian indie pop bands) he was nice about it – when he had his radio show, he used to play requests for me all the time and he’d search their record library for obscure albums for me (Glenn Cardier! Velveteen!). We went to gigs together – Stephen Malkmus, Belle & Sebastian, Youth Group, the Lucksmiths. He wasn’t the most demonstrative person but he was thoughtful, and sometimes out of nowhere he’d reveal how well he knew me and he’d have gone out of his way to do something specific and nice. And when Mum and Dad split up…man, I have never appreciated him (and Tabi) more; the very fact of a sibling as your partner in crime, as the person who best understands these strange people you come from because he comes from the same place.

And that’s not everything, but I don’t want to write everything. Twenty-three years is too much to write down, even though it’s not enough of a life.

In a lot of ways, there are no regrets. He had an amazing life. He was happy, I think. He had Tabi (and we have Tabi – and thanks for her, Lukje). He did so many of the things he set out to do! He lived in Indonesia (do you have any idea how long he’d planned that?!). A lot of people loved him. I loved him.

Mum got to see him in Surabaya a couple of weeks before he died, and our cousin Raph was there a bit before that, and Dad saw him in the middle of last year. I have a million text messages and emails and postcards from him and T, but by the end of this year it was supposed to be my turn and they were finally coming to see me. I’ve saved so many things to show them and tell them about. Fuck, Luke hasn’t been to Europe since he was two-years-old and I’ve wanted to share it with him so badly I thought I was going to burst. I wanted him to see what things were like when and where he was born (Amsterdam, 1986) and where Mum and Dad spent their formative years, and to show him the cool things and the weird things and the crap things about where I live now. We’ve been living in (on?) separate continents for two and a half years, and I wanted my turn to get to know this adult Luke (Tabi says he’d started drinking coffee and wearing collared shirts to go out! What a weirdy. Oh, and see, who else uses words like “weirdy” and “weaky”?). I missed him already. This is too fucking unfair.

Mum was really keen for me to write an obituary or a eulogy or contribute something somewhere along the line last week – when things got quiet at the memorial gathering in her backyard, she started imploring me to sing something (because she’s insane). Dear god, Luke would have found that at least as embarrassing as I would’ve (our major conflicts when we were growing up involved me singing aloud with the headphones on, which drove Luke up the wall). Anyway, I couldn’t. The only reason I’m writing this is that I can’t ever write anything else in here without at least saying this much first.

So I don’t have any public goodbyes to say. Just – there you go. Huh.

P.S. Once, we were browsing in Big Star and I found a CD by this guy (and Luke bought it but claimed he threw it out before ever actually listening to it – such a waste! I don’t see how this can ever get old). It’s absolutely fucking dreadful music but his existence is my favourite thing ever:




Listening to: Burn Black – Hole

Ooh, the Guardian‘s a bit more interesting than usual today (it’s my homepage and there’s been fuck all worth reading lately):

Ten rules for writing fiction. I particularly like Jonathan Franzen’s advice, even though I despise his fiction (Strong Motion? Oh, how I rue the day I picked that up), and Geoff Dyer’s:

If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche”, “phoy” becomes ­”photography” and so on. ­Genius!

Maybe I should start writing fiction again. I saw my friend R. yesterday (we went to see this) and she asked me if I still did – god, I like the idea of it, anyway. (I can only seem to write when there’s something else I should be doing instead – assignments to write, books to shelve. I’ve never been more prolific than when I worked at the uni library – all those afternoons crouched down in the stacks, scribbling furiously in my notebook when I should have been paying closer attention to the 8-digit call numbers…)

Can you make society more ethical? I can barely bring myself to skim the answers – Comment is Free so rarely brings out the best in people – but what a great conversation to try to have! Oh, and okay, I don’t think anyone reading this actually lives in London, but who wants to come to the panel discussion at the British Museum?

I’m thinking about chartership (everyone seemed to be going for it when I was volunteering at the LL and my boss mentioned it as an option the other day). As someone who didn’t even bother to join ALIA, it’s a strange thing to be thinking about, but maybe it’s time to be more of a careerist – I definitely need to find a way to be more a part of the London or UK library community. Or maybe I should just get another hobby.

P.S. Knit the City – !!! How wonderful!

Listening to: New Teller – Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers

I have a knitting question, to which I should really just look up the answer myself, but anyway: if I want to block a hat to make it a little bit bigger, do I just do it flat? Will that create weird side creases? I don’t know what else I’m expecting – some sort of papier maché hat-blocking solution? Should I just find someone with a bigger head who wouldn’t mind wearing it for a bit? The first Saartje’s Noro Hat I knit is completely lovely and fits nicely, but I don’t like it quite as much as the second one, which had five extra stitches and is that little bit roomier.

Today: Shepherd’s Bush (I’ve missed it! I got a bit nostalgic for that first London house), a haircut (I look so weird with my hair blow-dried straight – there will be no pictures) and sunshine (I had to take my coat off on the walk home!).

Listening to: Night of the Wolverine – Dave Graney & the Coral Snakes (ah, definitely one of the twenty sexiest songs of the ’90s)

This book intrigues/excites me – Flow : the cultural story of menstruation. Not only the subject matter, but I’ve heard/read universally good things about it so far (unlike, say, Cunt, which could also have been cool but which no one in the world – including me – actually liked).

Today it was too rainy to go walking…but I went, anyway. My poor sneakers are never going to dry. The lure of the closed bridge was too great:

<img src="Closed to traffic but not feet.” alt=”” />

I think I’ve given up on being London’s foremost super-explorer, though, and am settling into using my week for crafty/reacreational-academic endeavours. I’ve been studying today – I decided the best way to teach myself Dutch (that again – I know) was to throw myself in at the deep end, so I’ve started translating (from Dutch to English) a Henning Mankell book I got when we were in Bali a million years ago. It’s quite fun and I expect the funness to increase as my vocabulary improves (I had to look up 27 out of 77 words in the first paragraph, although some of that was just to get confirmation). I have no real use for the ability to speak Dutch, but there is something satisfying about softening all your consonants (or whatever the linguistic term is) and I don’t think it gets enough credit for how pretty a language it is.

I have been trading off Battlestar Galactica episodes with Freaks & Geeks (rewatching), which is a nice balance.

Remind me, remind me that I need to go to the Women’s Library at some point – their Women’s Liberation exhibition has been on since October and I still haven’t seen it.

Listening to: The Rest – The Pines

Oh, the downside for all of you is that I have nothing better to do than blog about my days during half-term.

I’m quite into this whole walking thing, and after faffing around for most of the day I took myself off to Sheen this afternoon (I did not see Daniel Craig or Rob Brydon – I did see someone who looked a lot like Richard Ashcroft from the Verve in my street the other day, though), which is another one of my neighbouring suburbs by the river. It has the best op shops! They’re cheap but stocked with the spoils of the quite wealthy, which is a rare thing in London charity shops. (The Octavia Foundation one in Barnes is full of boring designer rubbish and will charge you twenty pounds* for a pilly jacket.) I scored a long blue A-line corduroy skirt (with pockets!) for four pounds, which was pleasing (one of those pristine, perfectly pressed vintage finds), and will be back to think about a bunch of Japanese stoneware plates.

I also discovered Mortlake Cemetery, which almost made me get lost because it spans both sides of the street and I was halfway to Kew before I realised that was not where I meant to be. I was going to say it was a bit dull (or a bit too new, anyway), but maybe I was in the wrong spot – apparently, Charles Dickens’s son is buried there, along with a bunch of other “notable” people.

It snowed for a minute, which is still thrilling. (Oh, but I wish it would settle! I haven’t yet built a snowperson.)

This evening I will be watching episode 4 of Battlestar Galactica (“Act of Contrition”). It’s kind of growing on me.

*I changed my keyboard settings back to Australian (otherwise the ” would be above the 2 and the hash key would be where the \ is…madness, I tell you) and it’s a bugger doing the whole £ thing.

Listening to: Fucken Awesome – Spiderbait

Ha! I just tried googling where to find dried persimmons in London (never going to happen in a town that doesn’t really even do proper bubble tea, but you have to try, don’t you?) and came up with a bunch of scientific journal articles on their viscoelastic behaviour instead.

I went for my walk, through the western bit of Barnes to what I think is Mortlake and up to Chiswick Bridge (the site of those photos from my walk home a few months ago) – god, the Thames is picturesque. It’s filthy, but not like the Torrens or the Derwent are filthy – it’s tree-lined and boaty and pretty. I leaned against the railing/wall and wrote in my diary as I looked across to the next bridge but then I started to worry that I looked like a potential jumper, so I gave up and walked the long way home instead. There’s a particular curtainless house along the river where you can see into the study as you walk past – it’s my dream home. Wall to wall bookcases, an enormous desk (in the middle of the room!), a bankers’ lamp (?), general cosiness… Barnes is an excellent place for casual voyeurism (not in a creepy way! But it’s a good place for evening strolls and one can’t help what one sees if people will not shade their windows. Lots of bohemian red living rooms and stainless steel kitchenware).