Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Out of Copley Street is a collection of short stories featuring the working-class boyhood of Geoff Goodfellow. He is better known for his poetry giving voice to the anger of the disenfranchised. He usually presented his poetry on building sites, in factories and in prisons. The book is dedicated to one of the first ten people to buy a copy of his debut poetry collection. This man became his friend and challenged him to branch out into prose.
The book contains thirteen glimpses into the early life of a man’s man who grew up in the 1950s-60s in South Australia. This is a book which would transport the older reader back to their own time growing up. To a time when people left out their empty milk bottles at night with the appropriate amount of money for the milkman to replace with full bottles in the morning. It was a time when, if you wanted to make a phone call, you walked to the public phone booth where you dropped in your four pennies.
It was a time when women wore stockings with the seam down the back and when people ate ‘Depression food’ (66) like tripe and lamb’s brains. It was also the time when men returning from the war were treated with electric shock therapy and people made most of the things that they required. It was also the time of the Laminex kitchen table. These things and more are highlighted in the short stories presented.
Most of these stories cover incidents which occurred before Goodfellow turned twenty, starting at age five when he got his first job working for the milkman. Many different jobs followed including butcher, steel fixer in building swimming pools and worker on an oil rig. Like many kids at that time, boxing played a part in their lives. The final story in this book, It’s Primeval: the gloves are off, was obviously of a time later in his life. After a couple of houses and a couple of marriages, he reflects on how donning a pair of boxing gloves can change one’s personality. ‘Funny thing about boxing gloves – once people see them, they invariably want to pick them up and put them on’…You pull a glove on and it switches the savage on’ (154). Maybe this, for him, is a reflection of parts of his earlier life.
With only 158 pages dedicated to his life, this book is well presented and easy to read. The font size would suit all readers and the sentences are double spaced. The title for each new segment has a page for itself facing a photo of the author at the appropriate age. This means that the information to follow begins in the top left-hand corner of the following page, detaching it a bit from its purpose.
This is a book full of humanity and family. Geoff enjoys many hours in his father’s company from whom he learns many skills. He has the brashness and confidence of many small-town kids who grew up feeling free to roam. At the age of eleven, in the 1960s, he bought an old motor bike for £1.10s, so he could strip it down ‘to learn the ins and outs of how things worked mechanically’ (55). He and his mate spent many hours riding around the backyard until he later sold it for £5.
Although I could easily relate to this time in history, I wonder if young people of today would be so interested. Many of the terms used back then may now have passed into oblivion. His dad was often ‘half shickered (32). He was told to get something ‘pronto’ (45).
Earlier in this review I called Geoff Goodfellow a man’s man, and this is how he appeared to me. He loved his motor bikes and speed. Some of his friends had been caught for grand larceny (123). Geoff had also been warned by the police, ‘you’d be best to mind your own business. We’ve got our eye on you, and your mate’ (125). Although he had appeared in court at least twice himself, he did not want ‘anyone poking cigarettes through a wire grille’ at him like he was doing for one of his friends.
This was a nostalgic read for me but one which also had its humour. I found it to be a surprisingly good read for a few brief hours.
By Geoff Goodfellow