I found a pocket-sized book in a second-hand shop called Cult American Writers. It fitted into the palm of my hand and I paid £1.40 for it. In it, I read a Richard Brautigan short story. It was about a man who takes out all the plumbing in his San Francisco house and replaces it with poetry. Then, he changes his mind, puts the plumbing back, and the poets protest.
Two months later, at a party, I’m loading red tomatoes onto a plate and a French man with a paunch, too greedy to put the food on his plate first, flicked buffet food straight into his mouth, and said, “Of course, everyone knows Richard Brautigan. I’m surprised you’ve never heard of him, he’s very famous.”
Later, I met a well-known actor who saw the book nestled in my palm, “What are you reading?” he asked. I showed it to him, and remembering he grew up in America, promised to send it to him when I’d finished it. After writing down the title of Richard Brautigan’s collection of short stories, I sent it to my actor friend and ordered Revenge of the Lawn from the library, [50p].
Then I stole from Brautigan. I began to write stories a bit like his. Brautigan, a beat writer from the Sixties, wrote about the way women put on their clothes after having sex, or about deer hunting in Oregon. One of my favourites is Talk Show. When his family were very poor they went to a shop and listened to all of the radios in turn before buying one, walking along muddy roads, without sidewalks, back home; listening while a storm raged outside.
It didn’t happen quite like that in our household, but nearly. The little-boy longing was there, as my flatmate took me to Tottenham Court Road, and the 5th floor of John Lewis and we listened to digital radios. He even had an SD card in his pocket which he’d slip into their tiny slots, like feeding animals illicitly at the zoo.
They were too expensive, the two radios he liked the most. But they were like the radio described by Richard Brautigan over 40 years ago, upholstered in wood, smelling of lumber. These brand-new digital radios have been designed, I thought, to look good on the set of a 1970s movie.
Brautigan, of course, suffered extreme deprivation, growing up in the Pacific North-West, in an era before E-Bay.
There was a man in Kent, reselling his brand-new digital radio, still in its box, because, he said, a little angrily, “We already had enough radios in the house.” It wasn’t much of a saving, not after the train-fare. But my flatmate never counts the train fares in his E-Bay calculations: not to Slough, [a giant TV] or to West Sussex [a ‘free’ bicycle] or the pint to accompany the excitement of the trip, or the taxis, balancing the TV screen in the back of the minicab.
So, he travelled to Kent after dark in the rain to collect our new radio, and came back, unpacking it with love and immense care. Its retro-wood shell works well in our real 1970s wood-finish, never-been-replaced, kitchen.
When Brautigan wrote his story around 1970 he was middle-aged and his story was set in his childhood, say, 25 years before in 1945. In 1984 he was found dead next to a .44 calibre gun and a bottle of alcohol.
We stand, admiring. The new digital radio sits atop the fridge like a noble transmitter. I notice our new addition is called Evoke-3, designed as an evocation to an analogue past: when radios were two-way receivers; or wirelesses broadcasting bedtime stories and the coronation; transistors built from a kit.
There was the abdication and the assassination, reggae and ska, funk, the Hancock hour, Our Finest Hour. My flatmate presses a button marked standby. Big Ben chimes, and a sonorous voice of velvet fills the kitchen, a voice that my great-grandmother would have been familiar with in 1930s, listening in her flat in Smith’s Square SW1.
After the chimes, a pause, a luxurious beat, and then: “This the BBC news at ten O’clock: The Zimbabwean opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has called upon world leaders…”
This is Sarah Weatherall’s First Byline for Wild River Review. WRR’s First Bylines program provides beginning writers with an internationally recognized platform as well as editorial guidance and online publishing education for their professional growth.
Sarah Weatherall is the writer & director short films: How I Became Indian  [16mm, 12 mins, which won a silver-plaque at the Chicago Film Festival and was broadcast on BBC2 & Canal+], and Last Days of the Post Office, [35mm, 12 mins] .
For her own theatre company, Lightning Ensemble, she has produced: Private View, , The Mayday [2004, 2007]. In addition she devised theatre performances for: The Sonnets Project, The Chess Players, and The Mobsters’ Orchestra. Her radio plays include: Out Catching Criminals [2007, Resonance FM], Brentlife, and a radio-soap recorded on the streets of Harlesden, North London [2007, Life 103.6 FM]. Her radio play, Storm, is currently in development with BBC Radio.