July 21, 2019

Looking for the past

He could be found on Elizabeth Mall in the centre of Hobart any weekday afternoon, lost and lonely looking for the past.

David Mooney had retired from his position as horse racing writer on the Chronicle a year previously and didn’t know what to do with himself during the afternoons and evenings when the horses were not running at Hobart’s track.

Horse racing, in fact, held little interest for him, something he had discovered the day he walked down the stairs of the Chronicle building, never to return. He had not wanted to retire and the move had been forced on him. David Mooney had never been the same since his mother had died a few years previously, the mother he had shared a house with for his entire 63 years up until the time he found her dead in bed.

And for most of this time, certainly from the time he started work as a young clerk in the newspaper’s racing department, Mooney had had two homes and two families: the cluttered racing desk, in a cramped corner of the Chronicle newsroom were friends and colleagues came and went day by day, and his mother’s modest, three-bedroomed home in Hobart’s northern suburbs a short bus ride from the Chronicle headquarters.

Mooney said he had never wanted a wife and a family of his own. Girls from a romantic point of view held no interest for him, they got in the way of his racing, and his study each evening of the form guide. He had his mother and his family, the newsroom, and that was enough for him.

Mooney in the entire 45 years he had worked for the Chronicle had cut a portly, bumbling figure in the style of the American comedian who pre-dated him, W C Fields.

He spoke like Fields, too; slow and ponderous like his gait, dishing out wit and puns as he threaded his sentences together. Generations of reporters and sub-editors said he would have made a great husband and father, and grandfather. His avuncular air would have lent itself to being a perfect uncle but he did not have brothers and sisters with children to be an uncle to.

David Mooney paced the ElizabethMall most afternoons, strolling its entire pedestrian length until it because the Hobart bus station at its southern end, on the corner near where the grand art deco façade of the Chronicle building stood.

In days gone by, David Mooney and those like him wanting to connect with former colleagues from times past would have merely strolled into the office for a chat. But security checks, the issuing of identity cards strung round the neck, made it easy for receptionists to decline entry.

Initially David Mooney did not need a card at all, he was known to the receptionist who just waved him through the doors that led to the lift, that in turn led to the first-floor newsroom. Mooney, however, had become a nuisance, had interrupted colleagues who were trying to get on with their work, to edit or write stories. They had no time for chit-chat about the past, because David Mooney did not have a future. His life had been bound inseparably with not so much racing but the life of the Chronicle and the lives of its combined staff.

Not only did Mooney have increasing difficulty engaging with staff within the Chronicle building, he now found it increasingly difficult to meet them on the street.

He’d say to himself “They must be working hard these days, with no time for coffee breaks and trips to the pub” as he pounded the streets, from end to end of the mall looking for his friends from the past.

In truth, the Chronicle staff avoided him. Slowly the good will and bonhomie had evaporated. What’s more Mooney had not just become a bore, recalling time and again events that had happened in the past, of picking winners for the staff, and losers. Also concern about his deteriorating appearance, the soup stains on his once dry-cleaned silk ties, his once impeccably ironed shirts caused disquiet among staff. It was not enough, though, for them to cross to the other side of the street, to feel embarrassed in his company, until David Mooney didn’t bother to dress at all to come into town from the northern suburbs. Increasingly he was seen in pyjamas and slippers looking for his former friends in the ElizabethMall.

Finally the staff of the Chronicle stopped going into the mall and took elaborate detours to reach where they were going, the coffee shops and restaurants on adjoining streets. It would not have occurred to David Mooney to look there for his former colleagues.

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