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Retired carpenter..history buff, local and ancient..love stories of Italianate style, especially those village superstition stories..Very far left-wing.

The Advanced Society / Barbarian Intellectualism

The Advanced Society

In his book The Road to Serfdom, Freidrich Hayek asserts that the economic freedom of capitalism is a requisite of political freedom … with continual growth being the mechanism that feeds such “economic freedom”.

So we have to propose the question: What makes an “Advanced Society”?

Could it be that as proposed by Hayek above? Or is it something more basic … more durable … more sustainable than the capitalist notion of continuous growth/continuous consumption? Can it be presumed that a technological advanced society holds greater ethical dominance and therefore deserved racial dominance over the more stable tribal structures that once were spread throughout the Australian environment for tens of thousands of years?

Consider these examples:

Eucalyptus Largiflorens (Black Box): Distribution and occurrence: Local community dominant, in grassy woodland on heavy black clay soils in seasonally flooded areas;

In this area of Sth Aust, primarily restricted to ex swamp-lands. This tree, like many that have evolved to an environment-specific location can be found near my residence in the Mallee. Like the Mallee trees everywhere, it has evolved in a stable, static environment over many thousands of years .. indeed, you can see that a multitude of trees and understory in the Mallee bio-forest were reliant on such a stable environment for them to spread so wide, so far in such profusion. Any extreme disruption of climate or landscape would have changed the appearance and bio-diversity of the entire forest and it’s denizens … that is a “given”. We have to accept: The very existence of such a bio-forest system proves beyond argument that the geography where they settled, took root and evolved was stable, static and sustainable for a very long period of time.

This is an important point to my thesis … we have to understand and accept that the Mallee bio-forest, from the dry-lands to the swamp-lands, from the canopy to the forest floor is a unique interconnected species specific/environment specific entity that relies upon a stable, static geophysical situation to maintain it’s integrity. Certainly, that integrity has been corrupted over the last two hundred years since settlement to the point where we cannot truthfully claim that pristine Mallee exists anymore at all. It has become a victim of “continual economic growth” … and one has to logically conclude that in the last resort of sustainable life; if the environment fails, then so too will the society that killed it.

Likewise, if we look at the Indigenous peoples who lived and thrived for many thousands of years along the Lower Murray and The Coorong in South Australia. I will not even attempt to disassemble the complex tribal structures that existed along the lower Murray River … it would be presumption on my part and liable to insulting error. Enough to point out that settlement is proven for many thousands of years. Indeed, carbon dating of one site of middens (discarded mollusc shell-heaps along The Coorong) alone put it back to 2.500cal BP (2,500 years old) … so we have evidence that of the many sites scattered along the seaward-side of The Coorong there was regular gathering and consumption of a reliable food source by the indigenous peoples for thousands of years. I have seen these middens many years ago … scattered amongst the site were numerous camp-fire circles, denoting the practice of stopping, gathering, cooking and consumption of the food and presumably the social intercourse that accompanies such moments.

For such feasting to have taken place (these middens are huge!), would prove the reliable, regular supply of the molluscs and the reliable, regular harvesting by a group of peoples familiar with and capable of attending to such a chore on a continual basis for thousands of years. I know the geography of The Coorong well … on the seaward-side we have bountiful harvest of shell-fish, on the landward-side we have bird and mammal life … the evidence of indigenous people’s fish-traps on The Coorong, indicate regular harvesting of food there, the abundance of fresh water from the natural South East drainage system then in place, guaranteed the presence of kangaroos, emus and sundry wildlife for food and clothing … in all, one must admit, that along with the temperate climate, not a bad place to reside … indeed, it could be considered almost an idyll … and reside here people did … undisturbed for many thousands of years … mark that! … food, clothing, shelter of a quantity and quality that remained in-situ for many thousands of years … used but not over-exploited … harvested but not depleted … lived with but not dominated … and perhaps it could have gone on for time immemorial … like it already had … if not finally destroyed by the kind of “advanced society” lauded by Mr Hayek at the start of this article.

So tell me: What constitutes an advanced society Is it the one who uses its developed technology to invade, subjugate, desecrate and finally, perhaps, annihilate that very environment it relies upon for it’s life … or is it the other who, with astute observation recognises a “line” between sustainability and destruction, and by managing it’s population, refuses to be tempted by the possibility of a gluttony of temporary riches and maintains a judicious, salubrious lifestyle and culture for many thousands of years, visiting the same locations for food, clothing, shelter without desecration nor selfish accumulation?

So you tell me: Who has the most “advanced society”?

Barbarian Intellectualism

“For so many in the techno-elite … the notion of perpetual progress and economic growth is somehow taken for granted. As a former classicist turned technologist, I’ve always lived with the shadow of the fall of Rome, the failure of its intellectual culture, and the stasis that gripped the Western world for the better part of a thousand years. What I fear most is that we will lack the will and the foresight to face the world’s problems squarely, but will instead retreat from them into superstition and ignorance.” (Random quote from the internet).

Above, I questioned the presumption of what constituted an “Advanced Society”, ie; the notion of perpetual progress and economic growth is somehow taken for granted vs. the concept of creating a deliberate stable, sustainable social environment.

While the notion of “perpetual progress” demands a laissez faire economy, the latter would encourage a more “softly, softly” approach. To say that the latter would constitute a kind of “anti-intellectualism” is wrong. I would say that it is more of a steering of intellectual prowess toward community relevant advances, rather than toward that which enriches and can be utilised only by a wealthy elite. The barbarian idea of plunder and rapine to enrich the few rather than the most is anti-intellectualism … a degree of thought would prove that, like a garden, a sustainable harvest brings greater wealth in the long run rather than a one-off slash and burn approach … ”softly, softly catchee monkey”. But that is not to say that the Barbarian class hasn’t learned by their mistakes.

In ancient times, the Scythians – a most barbaric nomadic tribe from the Steppes of Eurasia – would contract the Grecian artists and artisans to manufacture works of beauty in plundered gold for their own vanity. The barbarian hand, while being adept at wielding a weapon, seems always to lack the finesse and temperament for cultured art. One cannot sing through gritted teeth nor distribute equal share of wealth with a clenched fist!

The IPA (Institute of Public Affairs), considered in these days as being the voice of the right-wing think tanks in Australia, is one such example of “Barbarian Intellectualism”. Reading articles from personalities of this institution, one can visualise through the chosen jargon and clichéd phrases, them trawling through their university days learned texts with “join-the-dots” simplistic logic that is more borrowed-intellectualism by rote-learning than by inquisitive enquiry. They will even cunningly reach to progressive writers and themes to give ‘legitimising cred’ to their words by quoting from very dissenting sources, as if the reader cannot discern their cunning … just like the schoolchild trick of the older boy offering the younger child: “One big ‘gob-stopper’ for all those little ‘jaffas’” … we’ve all witnessed that scenario and it’s nothing but insulting to have such juvenile methodology foisted upon us in our old age … But then perhaps that is the limit of their imagination.

Truly, many of the arguments put up by the “Barbarian Intellectuals”, no matter who they quote, are little more than excuses for barbaric behaviour, rather than a seeking to discover better ways.

If there is one famous quote that could embrace the entire Barbarian Intellectualism ethos and moral direction, it would have to be that ghastly logic from the Vietnam War, where one “ … must destroy the village to save the village.” And we have seen just how far such insane logic has taken the governance of this once well-administered country .

The social-suicidal implementation of the IPA “wish list” has driven both the object and the integrity of conversation in this country to a depth never before plumbed. To have to listen to the childish babbling of its creators is to give too much valued-time to too little thought. The influence of such puerile philosophy on the ministers of the current LNP government demonstrates the even lower level of capable discourse amongst the front bench of that government.

To call this government “capable” is to outright lie. To call the government of the day “culpable” is to be somewhere closer to reality. As to what they are “culpable” of is for a future commission to ascertain … but the least charge that can be levelled is the one of “cultural barbarism”.

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The new “weapon of choice”

The internet, or to be more exact, social media on the internet is now the weapon of choice for political control … saturation propaganda or the more subtle persuasions of individual messaging via subliminal texts are becoming the norm of political leafleting throughout Western countries …

Where once “speaker’s corners” told the interested public from soap-box or dais what the politician personally would try to deliver to his constituents, to an age of pamphleteering to jingles and television advertisements and now through Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts … and other well-used methods of connection – like Skype – social media has the capacity to deliver right up to a person’s eyes and ears that message sublime of political persuasion.

And if such and such a policy is yet not well enough explained to oneself, or there is doubt, there is the internet search that will deliver so much more information on any subject under the sun.

The adage of “I’ll just ask Mr. Google” has replaced that old boomer sarcasm of “Go look it up in the Funk ‘n’ Wagnalls” (from the US comedy Laugh In in the sixties).

I hear this very day that there have been several social media sites set up as fake union addresses so as to presumably undermine authentic union noticing and policy. Of course, false pamphleting is nothing new to politics … forged letterheads and fake policy is an old trick of electioneering … but now it has gone to a new level, helped along by a modern phenomenon of isolationism between citizen and citizen, with the most common communication tool used for interpersonal relations seemingly being the smart-phone … one’s “friends” need no longer be in the same suburb or state … they can be in another country yet as close as your digital allowance can afford …

Along with the technology to transplant a false or misconstrued statement right onto the lips of a manipulated high-tech video image of any political opponent, gives advantage to any who have access to such high-tech systems to manipulate political chicanery.

We, ourselves, whether we are aware of it or not, have grown with this new “weapon” to become more astute in our posting on blogs or Twitter … the restricted length of words that will be read or even absorbed by a passing reader persuades us to use brevity alongside alacrity to lure the reader to “stay awhile and browse” our message. Longer articles on serious political blogs demand an even more subtle allure to hold such whimsical readers on-page, on-subject … for just the slightest slip of language … of a loose word in the text will provide for that “aha!” moment and the reader will stop right there and proceed in haste to the comments section and rail incessantly against your “outrageous misrepresentation of …“ and you know you have lost the debate and the rest of the read to the modern self-righteous indignation of the culpable and guilty.

Heaven knows where such manipulations will end.

But with the slipping away of face-to-face communication, and the slippery wording of many posters manipulating conversations on blog or Twitter feed, the ability of many … particularly the younger, who are much, much too trustworthy of fake news and false intent of a twisted language, to turn the conversation to one’s advantage …
Again, we have this age of only two dimensional communication giving hope and promises to the … in many cases … gullible and naive … and going by examples seen on blogs and Twitter-stream … being too easily taken in a truth and wisdom.

This is where the use of social media will be perfected … in the art of persuasion … the ancient skills of the rhetorician may yet be resurrected by tech-savvy politicians to swing that small percentage of “no ideals/no ideas” swinging voters to their favour. After all, if millions of “views” can be gleaned by the most trite and childish presenters of the most silly and fatuous fashions or product gimmickry … then for the very astute political lobbyists … the likes of Crosby-Textor, they ought to be a pushover!

The time has arrived when any “self-respecting” terrorist group, in wanting to persuade, promote or claim ownership of their actions will make social media their first port of call. The hard-copy newspapers are well and truly finished; you can see the daily “remainder stack” there, unwanted even as a give-away at the check-out counter of the local store. Their influence and their reach is now minuscule. Their once revered journalists ridiculed and mocked in Tweet and blog … Instant news, instant views are now at the point of a click away, and with transport to and from so many casual work-sites taking so much time, the main object held for entertainment is the smart-phone …

So … C’mon internet! … tell me: What’s happening today?

Truly has Cicero lost his relevance.

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Into a future darkly

It won’t be long before Australia has one of the most important federal elections of its times. This next election will determine if the nation thrives or totally collapses into a miasma of hate, cruelty and economic and social degradation. Seriously, it is that important.

The problem we must face is that if Labor does win the election, will it be able to restore all those now-destroyed safety-net systems and authorities that held our society together, or will it even want to restore some of the more political intrusive authorities of governmental oversight that were conveniently removed by a criminal-mentality LNP government?

It has to be admitted even by some of the most obtuse and biased commentators we are all familiar with that both parties now cosy-up for warmth to middle-class ideology in border security, law-breaking punishments and economic manipulations … plus quite a few other of those petty personal insecurities that plague the middle-classes in the early hours of the morning, like; “Oh! … Did I get those tax receipts for my investment properties off to the accountant yesterday?” Little things like that … ”Have I run out of under-arm deodorant?” … worry, worry, worry …

What we of the peon-classes, who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in just producing things rather than profiteering from them will need, is to see created by our demand, with any new governance … some in-situ authorities that consult us and our representative unions on the need to assess and implement those large industries that encourage mass employment, mass apprenticeship training for the future, secure and permanent job prospects for the peon-class to support a family in dignity over the long-term and to re-instate those essential public utilities that keep the cost of overheads down so that every working household can save for those unexpected costs like annual holidays with the family by the sea … that … is unlike the middle-class politicians … they cannot bill against the State as “travel expenses”.

Alongside those reclaimed public properties, will be many Royal Commissions that will be necessary to get to the bottom of all those LNP/Media/fellow business travellers swindles and criminal activity, plus, perhaps, the odd case of treason against the State and the people and those crimes against humanity … little oversights that can slip under the radar of human decency in any LNP government. Then there is the ICAC investigations that will keep a legion of jurists flat out getting RSI injuries just from the ticking of guilty boxes and also the need to open a completely isolated branch of Social Security staffed with psychiatric tag-teams to deal with those now poor, poor middle-class political folk who are finding the “falling from grace” criminality convictions depriving them from a once toothy-jocular café-latte sipping coterie to a now unemployable “dole-bludger” class just too, too difficult to face.

Frankly, I just don’t know how they are going to manage it!

I have spent years and reams of ‘E’ paper writing of the need to transfer the “perceived right” of that one deluded class to govern and administer the nation to hand over to the correct and capable producing class … but I have grave doubts if this will happen in just one term of governance … I suspect I will be kept at the keyboard for a few more summers yet correcting the translations of ruling-class buffoonery that has claimed idiocy as its sage, stupidity as its guide and the God “Boor-Ing” as its muse and wit.

Strange, now when I reflect on it … that as a young man I was mistakenly enthralled at the rich, idle chatter and the casual dropping of lines of poetry for succinct if abstract explanation of a moment’s required response by a class of tertiary educated punctilious poltroons whose company I kept in the days of mud-brick houses and “hand-woven cloth” scarves and ill-fitting jumpers … The sort of voluptuous conversation I could not join in with due to that lack of further education and a limited vocabulary … (having left high-school to start in full-time employment at age fourteen) … a seemingly easy-spoken, loquacious fruit of delight from those middle-class hippies that I envied not having …

I even remember one sultry Summer’s evening, a group of them gathered around a small, crackling fire made from the off-cuts of a post-‘n’-beam frame I was building for one of the group’s “muddys” … and these high-educated dilletantes were taking turns in memory quoting stretches of poetry … one by one they sang the lines of some well-known verse … Banjo, Lawson, Slessor, Adam Lindsay-Gordon etc … till it came to my turn … I didn’t know shit! … except one little thing and I apologised and said:

“I only remember one short poem from my youth, and that is from a Donald Duck comic:

“Twinkle twinkle, little starfish … How I wonder what you are fish.”

My effort was not met with any serious consideration nor mirth … and unfortunately, the one lady there that I would have liked to gotten to know in a more “familiar way”, now did not want to know me at all! … But they are like that, the middle-classes … if they cant use it, abuse it or make a pet of it, they discard it.

Their way of life, actually!

Funny though, when you think on it … there they were … these troubled oracles of taught wisdom, full to the gills of quotations rote-learned at the feet of their tutors and all marked and passed with heavens knows what degrees on the strength of it … and there I was doing all the hard yards building their houses … and not knowing a worthy line of elocution nor poetry … and now … here am I, writing reams of stories and poems myself! And heaven knows how much wasted knowledge I place on these blogs, learned at the feet of working-life experience and god only knows where they have all gone to … I have never seen one of their names on Twitter or on blog sites … perhaps they are now all doing courses in “building practice and theory” and finally doing something useful … But in reality, most probably ensconced in some “leafy suburb” filing their tax receipts on investment properties to send to their accountant.

But hey! That’s how it goes.

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The Protocols of the Drones

Working class politics of today is held captive by what could be called “middle-class protocol”. There seems to be little far reaching political radicalism that would benefit the producing classes that has not first been vetted and screened through “approved” channels of middle-class perception and acceptability … that is; “keep it respectable, keep it tidy and clean” … so that any venture into radical left-wing politics now looks and smells like a sterilised and white-washed version of capitalist aspiration.

My mother worked on a sheep station along the Murray River many years ago, where if a flock of sheep were needed to be brought across a shallow ford, a tame, domestic pet sheep well-practised in entering the water, would be brought to act as lead sheep to encourage the flock to follow it into the river and so to cross to the other side. Its job done, it would be once again cut from the herd and taken back to the homestead and suitably rewarded. There are those of the middle-class embedded within the left-wing of politics who act as such a drone to “guide and direct” both political aspiration and social aggression to a place safe and secure for those wanting to control any outcome from political dissent.

We can read in Thorsten Veblen’s incisive dissertation on the rituals and habits of conservative attitude in his book “Theory of the Leisure Class”:

“In further qualification, it is to be noted that the leisure class of today is recruited from those who have been successful in a pecuniary (relating to or consisting of money) way, and who, therefore, are presumably endowed with more than an even complement of the predatory traits. Entrance into the leisure class lies through the pecuniary employments, and these employments, by selection and adaptation, act to admit to the upper levels only those lines of descent that are pecuniarily fit to survive under the predatory test. And so soon as a case of reversion to non-predatory human nature shows itself on these upper levels, it is commonly weeded out and thrown back to the lower pecuniary levels.”

This “selection” of type today is marked and stamped with some sort of recognised academic qualification … This “stamp of approval” allows the carrier access to a level of commentary and opinion sometimes far above their understanding or capability … particularly in regards to working-class needs and requirements for a decent and honourable lifestyle. The many years of rote study does NOT necessarily grant EVERY student with the capacity nor the perspicuity of insight into the pressures of the workaday world of those who make and maintain the basic requirements of any community. The presumed knowledge of such can create much difficulty and hardship with those families living week to week, wage-packet to wage-packet under a mortgaged house and contents.

Again to Veblen:

“In order to hold its place in the class, a stock must have the pecuniary temperament; otherwise its fortune would be dissipated and it would presently lose caste. Instances of this kind are sufficiently frequent. The constituency of the leisure class is kept up by a continual selective process, whereby the individuals and lines of descent that are eminently fitted for an aggressive pecuniary competition are withdrawn from the lower classes. In order to reach the upper levels the aspirant must have, not only a fair average complement of the pecuniary aptitudes, but he must have these gifts in such an eminent degree as to overcome very material difficulties that stand in the way of his ascent. Barring accidents, the nouveaux arrivés are a picked body.”

One feels the time has come, with a more solid body of working-class educated to re-take control of both political direction and policy best suited to a more inclusive community. The make-up of the producing classes has always been diverse and multicultural … the farmer from many ethnic communities to the trades-people to the service sectors etc. are of such multicultural variation of language, creed, culture and diversity that the success of any enterprise in our society is dependent on the cohesion and mutual respect of all to each other.

We are seeing a deliberate dividing of our society into this or that ethnicity, creed or culture that is a deliberate attempt to break down such cohesive respect. Those of the governing classes who see themselves as “above” the manual labour class are, with the unstinting assistance of the mainstream media, doing their level best to ferment hatred and loathing within our society … the resulting breakdown, they hope to manage with a heightened presence of surveillance and recruitment of “on the ground” policing. We are being intimidated and threatened by those very people put in place in our parliament to protect and enhance the cohesion and inclusiveness of ALL in our country … instead of trying to drive a wedge of disorder and dissent between white and coloured, immigrant and Indigenous, employed and unemployed.

Veblen again:

“Modern industry requires an impersonal, non-offensive or discriminating interest in the work in hand. Without this the elaborate processes of industry would be impossible, and would, indeed, never have been conceived. This interest in work differentiates the workman from the criminal on the one hand, and from the captain of industry on the other. Since work must be done in order to the continued life of the community, there results a qualified selection favoring the spiritual aptitude for work, within a certain range of occupations. This much, however, is to be conceded, that even within the industrial occupations the selective elimination of the pecuniary traits is an uncertain process, and that there is consequently an appreciable survival of the barbarian temperament even within these occupations. On this account there is at present no broad distinction in this respect between the leisure-class character and the character of the common run of the population.”

This attempt to divide the community by rewarding those who show the obvious signs of “aspiration” with special grants or consideration, against those unlucky or untrained to be able to gain a foothold in full-time employment, is becoming so marked that there must come a time when the mass of devalued working-age people will say; “enough!” and take to the streets in general outrage and protest at the obvious discrimination fostered and promoted by the government of the day.

This is when the “drones” appear … coached to appease and to persuade with soporific rhetoric meant to lull the outrage and dull the “blade” of dissent with non-confronting arguments and conciliatory logic that does little more than drive the anger and action back down to be bottled up for another act of bastardry by the governing class.

It is time to pressure our representatives to formulate policy DIRECTLY ADVANTAGEOUS to those who do the producing in the community AND to make it concise and clear in its intent and purpose. For too long have we witnessed a kind of “cross-pollination” between left-wing representatives and capital-opportunity. A bit too much of “running with the fox and hunting with the hounds” … Too much “sipping from the same chalice” and rubbing against familiar shoulders. We demand our representatives be like Caesar’s spouse: “Not only above suspicion, but SEEN to be above suspicion” .

There is only a short time until the next election, time now to secure the loyalty-base of the left, time to formulate sound policy to secure an employment program that includes solid government investment in industry and training, mamoth investment in solid and continuous infrastructure services and manufacturing without the option of “offshoring” for profit and on-selling to the private sector for a “mates” profit. Time to declare sides in the battle for a united community and cohesive society or to confront the notion of chaos and anarchy under the current ideology of right-wing politics.

WE, of the producing classes, for our part must hold true to our class and skilled base and show confidence enough in our own judgements and not fall victim again to the “deep-sleep” tactics of the drones of middle-class academia to lull us back again into a false sense of political security … We are on our own in this class struggle, as we have always been. We will have to hold our ground on OUR terms if we are to win … we need to radicalise, not anesthetize ourselves.

I leave the last observation on the habits and traits of “aspirational consumption” once again to the very perceptive Thorsten Veblen:

“The whole question as to a class distinction in respect to spiritual make-up is also obscured by the presence, in all classes of society, of acquired habits of life that closely simulate inherited traits and at the same time act to develop in the entire body of the population the traits which they simulate. These acquired habits, or assumed traits of character, are most commonly of an aristocratic cast. The prescriptive position of the leisure class as the exemplar of reputability has imposed many features of the leisure-class theory of life upon the lower classes; with the result that there goes on, always and throughout society, a more or less persistent cultivation of these aristocratic traits. On this ground also these traits have a better chance of survival among the body of the people than would be the case if it were not for the precept and example of the leisure class. As one channel, and an important one, through which this transfusion of aristocratic views of life, and consequently more or less archaic traits of character goes on, may be mentioned the class of domestic servants. These have their notions of what is good and beautiful shaped by contact with the master class and carry the preconceptions so acquired back among their low-born equals, and so disseminate the higher ideals abroad through the community without the loss of time which this dissemination might otherwise suffer. The saying “Like master, like man,” has a greater significance than is commonly appreciated for the rapid popular acceptance of many elements of upper-class culture.”

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The Puppets of Margie Maegher

Sunday story time!

We all, at some point in our lives become witness to another’s “situation” … In my first marriage, we sent the children to an “alternative school” and I have to say that while it was alright for the children, my growing involvement through my trade brought me into contact with many parents at that school … I have to say that there were a number that would “raise the eyebrow” of a rational person … Maybe no more than other ‘private’ schools, but this was my first and only contact with such “personalities” … Later, I came to know the type and would assiduously avoid them if I could.

I cannot say that the situation described in the story belongs to any one person, but rather as a ‘blend’ of several … There was a puppet group and even I was called upon to speak a small part in one show. But of the others I have only this anecdote.

It went like this:

The Puppets of Margie Meagher

“If you could imagine us all walking side by side toward a sunset, with our lives trailing away behind; a shadow drawn in a line-perspective from the point of our birth. We are all facing the front so none of us really knows the substance of our neighbor’s ‘shadow’, and we can only make calculated guesses from facial expressions and mumbled half truths.” (From “The last writings of Carl Jung”).

It seems to be always some physical event that motivates humans to “get up and do something constructive.” Such events have a propensity to the catastrophic, like a sharp jab in the collective ribs of humanity, otherwise we’d probably just lie prostrate in the dirt like a contented sow with half a dozen piglets suckling on its teats! So it was not long after her husband left her that Margie joined the “puppet group” at the school. She joined to “Break that cycle of thought that possesses and locks one into a cycle of hate – contrition.” She had read that in a therapy pamphlet, and nodding in agreement, decided to join the puppet group.

They met once a week at Mauve’s house; this group of parents from the school. They met at eleven o’clock every Thursday to encourage and assist each other with their dolls. They made soft-bodied hand-puppets for the little plays they would perform for the younger children every month or so and at festivals through the year. When she joined, Margie did not know how to make a puppet in a pink fit! but, with the sympathetic encouragement from the other mothers (sympathetic to her marital situation, that is), she soon got the hang of it, and by and by the materials became “putty” in her hands. In fact, it wasn’t long before she was producing puppets with such beautiful and tender features that one of the women: Pamela, was moved to say that “It’s a gift …. pure and simple … a gift.'” and Margie blushed and said “Oh surely not,” and went on to explain that she had always been good at crafts; “From me mother … I ‘spect.”

“Oh no,” said Pamela, shocked, “It’s a gift … a real gift'” and Margie blushed again and said:

“Oh well … ”

The first play that they put on for the year was “Hansel and Gretel” …. Margie was given the job of making Hansel. The finished product was so good, so fine, that the other women gazed upon him open mouthed. He had a soul almost, behind those eyes, and what eyes! “as crisp as a Summer dawn, the left hand of God,” and his costume and the cut of the cloth made his shape, his proportions seem so unnatural, uncanny, so that next to him poor Gretel looked like a cheap “tart” …. so much so that Margie was asked – nay, implored – to take Gretel home and to “fix her up,” and gosh, did Gretel ever look so beautiful, so innocent that together, Hansel and Gretel as puppets matched the immortality, almost, of the classical tale.

After that performance, Margie was given the job of making the star puppets. And didn’t she fulfill that task admirably.

“It’s a gift … a real gift,” Pam would repeat in her parroting voice.

“I’d say it was a release from the stress,” Mauve would comment with a nod of the head then pinch her lips together.

Mauve was the expert on stress … “Yes … you’re stressed,” was her usual prognosis whenever someone expressed a weariness. Yet another: Jocelyn, who held a degree in humanities and had studied a year in psychology, would pronounce in dry, measured tones (not for psychologists the heady passions of mankind!) that the beauty of the dolls was:

” … quite naturally an acceptance … a bringing to the front, the beauty of self … the awakening .. so to speak .. of respect for self and realization of self after the defeat … so to speak … of the broken relationship … you understand?”

Others added their opinions to the pot also, but all were equal in their admiration of the puppets. And Margie basked in their praise, though her big, round face would colour in a blush, she would smile and finger the dolls tenderly and say:

“Well, yes, it does bring me out of myself … helps me to distance myself from me troubles.” And she’d bend to her work, her clumsy-looking fingers deftly sewing a smock or line stitching a vest for the prince.

So it went on, story after story: Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, all perfect joys and didn’t the children “Ahh!” and the parents “Ohh!” and the applause after each show witnessed their appreciation, and Margie’s puppets were eagerly touched and stroked by the children as if they were exotic talismans.

“It’s a gift,” Pamela could be heard at one side telling a parent, “It’s a real gift.”

One woman: Bea, started to notice a certain similarity about the puppets, an air of something familiar about them, but, not having them all side by side (” … like a police line-up,” she would later say), could not be certain of her memory. But she had a feeling that behind those fabric faces, those carefully stitched costumes, deeper than the wool fibre stuffing in those familiar shaped heads, was the “raison d’etre” for their very being!

For, having once cast off all the shrouds of resistance, each of us enters the creative obligations of the psyche, whether we succeed or fail in these pursuits of desire depends on the depths of the individual’s well springs of courage, of the risk of surrendering to the will of the muse.

Bea, of all the women, was wary of Margie’s seeming fatalistic acceptance of the breakdown of her relationship, and though she had never met Margie’s husband, she, like any group of school parents still felt on “common ground” with the family. But now the family was broken, and Bea worried less the disappointment was too much for someone as exacting as Margie to bear, so she “studied” Margie, looking for cracks in the facade much as we all “study” people under trauma with that guilty morbidity of wondering if and when they will “crack”! Pondering on this, Bea decided to pay Margie a home visit.

As she knocked on the front door, she heard a raised voice emanating from within the house. It was the middle of the day, so the children were at school and although the voice was muffled, it nonetheless was quite tense. Bea knocked louder and the voice stopped, there was a hiatus and then the door was gingerly opened … Margie’s face appeared, flushed and wary in the opening.

“Bea?” she raised an eyebrow.

“Just popped ‘round to say hello.”

“Well … come in then.” Margie eased the door open, Bea hesitated with one hand raised in gesticulation: But do you have visitors … I thought I heard … ?” Margie glanced furtively to one side.

“Oh … no … no, it was just the cat … ” and she stood clumsily to one side so Bea could enter. A pot of tea was suggested and accepted so Margie adjourned to the kitchen while Bea sat on the edge of the lounge sofa and let her eyes wander around the trimmings of the room.

A photograph setting on a side table caught her eye … something familiar? … the slope of the eyebrows? … the cheeks? Or maybe the soft contour of the face? …

“Your … your husband?” she enquired. Margie popped her head through the door.

“Oh … yes … ex-husband” and she came into the room and took up the framed photograph listlessly.

“Richard … “the rat” … sometimes I call him “Dick,” short for … well, you know what.” She dusted the glass with her T-shirt and replaced it on the table.

There, Bea realized, was the similarity between the male puppets … Richard Meagher with one “sleepy eye” and the brows sloping away “just so”, and those boyish cheeks that Margie had captured somehow in an abstract way in all the male puppets … “It’s a gift … a real gift.” Pam’s voice resonated in Bea’s mind … curious, the flow of mood from mind to hand in a clever person, again, that artistic interpretation of psyche. Bea gazed hypnotically at the photograph and wondered about the other woman, but discretion forbade mention of so delicate and wounding a subject. Having solved one of her curiosities, she was satisfied she would soon find the other elsewhere so she settled down for small-talk and tea.

“Who did Margie’s husband clear off with?” Bea asked Mauve one day.

“No-one I know, but I’ll tell you who does.”

So with a little discreet enquiry and conversation Bea was able to see a photograph (thank heaven for that invention that fixes time and place to deed!) of the woman in that duet of complicity. Bea came away from that visit with the second mystery solved: that of the similarity between the female puppets. And … also the knowledge that Margie’s husband had left with Margie’s own sister! a double blow! betrayal and treachery! Oh woe is the bearer of a broken heart, but even more vexed is the spirit betrayed … especially by one’s own kin.

Bea went quiet after finding out the background of Margie’s domestic life, sometimes enough is enough when it comes to insights into others tragedies, after all … one’s own life has to be journeyed, eh?

Then the time came for a production of that immortal theme of love and betrayal – “Rapunzel.” Once again the little group fell to making miniature props and scenarios and puppets for this, the end of year show and it was to be a real bang-up affair. Margie seemed to put all her efforts into the two main puppets. Rapunzel was beautiful, her eyes glowed with an innocence enchanting and childlike, her body lithe and well proportioned as one could imagine in such a waif with yet maidenly allure! like the eyes of a portrait that seem to follow you around the room, so in reverse were one’s eyes attracted to that doll … and then the hair … such golden bounty was unnatural, uncanny, it flowed (can that be the word?), flowed … like some mythical fall of golden fibres … so long … so silky … not a hand could resist trailing it through the fingers … ah! … And the prince, too, such were Margie’s skills that he complemented Rapunzel impeccably, equally without over-shadowing each other, like a matched pair of flamenco dancers, each a part of the other. You can imagine the Ohhs! and the Ahhs! of complimenting Margie received for these puppets, even Bea, wary of over-reaction now she knew the hurt behind these marionettes, could not but help admire sighingly the aura of that duet of complicity.

“It’s a gift … a real gift,” Pamela sighed and they all laughed at the familiar compliment.

Around the middle of rehearsals for this play, Bea on returning home from the city one evening remembered a bolt of cloth she had to pick up from Margie, and as it was not too late, decided to turn down the street to Margie’s house on her way home. It was late spring and the wind rippled freshly through the new-leafed trees, almost like the tittering giggles of youngsters at play, such is Spring when the waking of nature seems to bring a friskiness even to the breezes! And the flowers … like the halting twirls of a carnival calliope their petals would duck and sway while overhead a mellow darkness swept upward through the trees into the night.

An old place, was Margie’s, with a laced wire gate sprung on squeaky hinges. The path led straight off the street to a flight of three steps to a verandah. Bea knocked gently on the front door, being aware as she did so not to knock too loudly as to wake the children. On receiving no acknowledgement from her gentle knocking, she gazed around perplexed as to her next move. A glow of light brushed silver over the flickering leaves of a rain-washed tree, a light from down the side of the house. Bea stepped off the verandah and made her way quietly down the side-path, the light from a nearby window was enough to show the precise, ordered garden beds between the fence and the path and like the front yard, they reflected the meticulous discipline of Margie’s personality.

Bea came abreast of the lighted window and through a small gap in the damask curtains could see a figure bent over a table. It was Margie, her large body adorned in those heavy woven clothes that she used to make her dresses, her hair pulled back in a wispy roll on the back of her head. A soft overhead lamp threw its light onto the work bench. Margie’s face was intent on the two puppets she was arranging on front of her on the table … her lips moved in a tight then relaxing pout as she sat the two dolls facing her, a slight musical hum in three notes of a descending order issued from her lips at small intervals of a few second each. She sat back, crossed her arms and stared at the two puppets, they were “Rapunzel” and the “Prince.”

“Well now, there yer be,” Margie sat back and put her hands on her knees.

“And now, my dear Shelia, what would you be havin’ to say for yourself?” This wasn’t Margie’s usual voice … She spoke a curious softened Irish brogue in a different pitch than her usual voice.

“Will ye not answer your own mother?” the voice more tense “just to be a sittin’ there dumb as pots!”

“I told her, Shelia,” this was the old Margie’s voice, “I told mother what you did.”

Bea frowned, for indeed this was something new to her, this behaviour, for with just a slight change of inflection in her voice, Margie had conjured up an entirely new personality; her apparent mother, a person long deceased … a sudden split in personality, then just as swiftly a return to herself, like an actor playing two roles at the same time on the one stage!

“Hush now, Marg!” the ‘mother’ interrupted, “You’ll not be interrupting me.” The puppet fell to one side and Margie leant to gently prop it up again, her tongue pinched between her lips in concentration. She sat back again.

“So you’ll cower in silence before me, daughter … Not answer to my accusation … you would be stealin’ your own kin’s spouse while all the time shelterin’ under her roof … while eatin’ at the same table … exchangin’ glances of wicked delight all the while I’ll surmise, and there, in golden innocence your own sister ignorant of the treachery you and your lover conspire,” Her voice rose in intensity as she went on.

Margie jumped up excited:

“They did, they did, Mother … Oh, the sin of it, all the while I worked, all the while I looked after the house they were scheming and smilin’ and I was the fool … the silly, silly fool for all their wicked coupling … and under my very nose …” She shook her fist at the puppet’s face.

“Well, I’ve got the thing to pay you for your treachery, my sweet,” and Margie swiftly took up a large darning needle and raked it again and again across “Rapunzel’s” face so the cloth fretted and shredded in its wake.

Bea put her hand to her mouth to stifle a cry, but still she watched. “What sort of madness was this?” she was thinking. Margie paused, put her needle down and astutely took up another with red thread in it and without a word set to swiftly and deftly line stitch red marks across the puppet’s face so it looked as if it had been raked by a claw! She completed this morbid make-up with little dots of red ink to simulate blood. All this was done so swiftly that Bea still had her hand to her mouth.

Margie then turned her narrowed eyes upon the “Prince.”

“And you, Richard,” (the mother’ again), “could you be so vulgar so underhand to your own wife?”

Margie stood and turned side on to talk out of the corner of her mouth.

“Yes … why Richard … why would you betray me so … was it for a bit of skirt? … an easy ‘conquest’?” Margie sneered the last sentence, “or would you just be a sheddin’ and avoidin’ your responsibilities … hmm? … ”

“Richard!!” the ‘mother’ yelled. “Answer your wife! a coward’s life for a coward’s courage … and the devil take your soul,” she hissed while Margie turned slowly and leant to pick up a ‘Stanley’ knife lying on the bench, slowly she moved her left arm and grasped the puppet and raised him toward her, then with an angry gesture swiftly lifted her arm with the knife …

“This for your betrayal'” she cried hoarsely and swung her arm wildly to slash the puppet’s face from forehead to cheek so the tight-packed wool stuffing burst proud from the cut, and there, in jangling craziness of the light awry which she knocked in her violence, each in its own pigeon-hole shelved on the wall, leered and stared the other puppets made by Margie during the year. But! There were twins of each puppet! Twins of Cinderella, Prince Charming, Hansel and also Gretel and the rest, identically clothed and painted, doppelgangers in shape and face … except weirdly, while one would be whole and untouched, its twin was gashed, torn or mutilated this way or that … Hansel’s eye torn from a gaping socket and left hanging down by a thread, Prince Charming’s face too was slashed, Cinderella’s hair was almost ‘scalped’ from her head and so on, all of them sitting squat in their respective pigeon-holes and appearing to gaze interestedly down on this grotesque theatre of tortured souls. Bea looked back to Margie and saw that she was intently touching the lips of the slashed face with red dye on her fingertip so they bloodied with the ink, all the while humming that same three descending notes of sound in short intervals.

Bea’s eyes opened wider and a silent scream choked in her throat as there, in the flickering light, rack upon rack, stood the only witness to Margie’s despair, all those compliments she received must have driven her grief ever deeper into her soul, every “It’s a gift,” a nail into her heart so this charnel house of thread and cloth and dye grew out of the tempest of her hatred, this was the theatre of shadows that lurked behind her fatalistic psyche! And yes, there too in the recesses of that table, beyond the mutilated bodies of “Rapunzel” and the “Prince” stood their twins, gazing on in mute innocence with Margie busy putting the finishing touches to her macabre cosmetics while soft tears edged down her rouged cheeks and saying over and over with childlike hurt:

“You broke my heart, you broke my heart!”

Bea turned away shamefaced from the window, her curiosity satiated, her emotions wretched, for here in the silence of anothers despair she had gazed into the forbidden abyss and in doing so was she not edged just that little bit closer to her own?

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Letter to a friend

Dear …

I place this piece to you and your readers as a separate post as I am sure my too regular presence on your newer posts must by now be somewhat tiring to see … I apologise for my intrusion on your blog … It’s just that I am a chatty person … perhaps some would call me “mouthy” … I have to wear it, and will try to reduce my verbosity in future … But I did want to say this and see if you … or any others who may read it … have any thoughts on the subject, seeing as how you too have written so many words on such a familiar subject as the human condition.

Out here in the Murray Mallee where I live, between the eastern face of the Adelaide Hills and the Murray River, on what is called “The Murray Flats” … or “Break-heart country” … at the end of the second world war, there was a distinctive “cut” in a cultural tie with the methodology of farming … particularly in regards to the older families of the pioneer Germanic farmers in the area.

Before the 2nd World War, and indeed right to the end of the war, horse-drawn implements were the most common form of ploughing, seeding and harvesting … perhaps in some locations tractors had been introduced, but they were such cumbersome technology, that it was a risky and expensive proposition to do a major “tooling-up” in cost and farm layout to change over. But it did happen, and with that event, there was not only a “cut” in ties from old technology, there was also a severing with the connection between the farmer and his soil … between “Man and his touch to Earth” …

Where once, with the horse era, the connection between philosophy of mind, religion of heart, to callous of hand was a real and tactile thing. The farmer rose in the early morning, praised his God, saw to and fed the animals, groomed and attended to the health of both himself and his beasts of burden … the harness of leather and steel, the equipment of cast metal and timber … the feel of earth under foot and hoof … was it soft, hard, moist or too parched … the entire process was “of the senses, of the touch”.

Then, in almost the blink of an eye … it was gone … all that old expertise … redundant, along with an entire generation of horsemen farmers … the sound and scent of preparation and harnessing … of horse-feed, stabling and manure was gone … no longer were these hardy pioneers “dirt farmers”, they had now needed to graduate to become “chemical farmers”.

And so that was the end of something.

Another thing I believe has ended – right now – with an older generation is the understanding and/or sympathy in the writings of a younger generation for the reality of the human condition … not to be confused with the living standard … or material comforts … or the trysts of social relationship … but rather; that uncertain something that gets us out of bed in the morning to give touch to the start of the day … the hunger of physical contact however slight or intense with our fellows … our (female in my case) opposites … the moment of embrace to start the day … a gentle; “Good morning, did you sleep well?”

The haste of the post-modern lifestyle, that celebrates the “individual” rather than the couple to fulfil those material needs, driving many to fore-go that moment of space necessary for human contact and relationships to co-exist. After all, we can only fill one pair of shoes at a particular time, or stand on one patch of soil underfoot … it is our mood that makes us, and I feel there is a mistaken association with the sweeping mood of “instant” communication technology via the internet or mobile phone hook-up that is making, shaping and dominating and in the end; replacing the mood of so many people so that the above understanding of the making of the Human condition from another age … another generation of post war people, is being lost or thrown aside for a new-fashioned personality that has little time to look into either the eyes or the soul of humanity … and like those post war farmers who adopted the new technology to up-the-ante in both speed of the deeds of farming and the output for profit that resulted in the further decimation of an already fragile environment, so too will a past generation’s experience of the pain and what is gained from that pain, will be shunted aside for a more “profitably expedient” if tactile poorer outcome in human relations.

And that too, I fear, will be the end of something.

I make this claim because after years of writing story and tale, essays and poems on example after example of situation, devastation and humiliation of so many good folk and their moments of life, I have to conclude that it has to the greater extent been to no avail and the grinding of those most vulnerable underfoot has continued almost unabated … and this saddens me … not to the point of actual depression, but rather in that way where one has to sit by and watch a drama unfold and yet not be able to do a thing to stop it … like the proverbial train wreck in slow motion.

And there were our grandparents and parents who saw it, lived it and told oral story after story about those times which we, of a better educated generation … perhaps the best educated generation of an eon of years, has put down in word on page those lives … and yet the carnage goes on. Perhaps, like that generational change from horse-power to tractor, it cannot be stopped and the maxim of “Live for the moment” … better suits the times than the old “Work like you are going to live forever and pray like you are going to die tomorrow” … which is … like this author … just too wordy to be called out of a swiftly passing window.

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The flaw in the glass

There is a weakness in the Armour, a flaw in the glass of the politically educated upper middle-class in these times … I have witnessed it when I prod and tease some posters who come to the site “trying it on” with their presumption of “authority of opinion” which they mistakenly presume is backed by an accepted “nod of approval” toward their academic qualifications as being enough to “get them over the line”, to give them a pedestal position equal to their own self-esteem rating … and are quite surprised and even offended when they get mocked or confronted and challenged on their posts … where approbation was expected, they get confrontation .

Even in the new recognised blogs of social media, where so many who hold the presumption of THEY having the “correct” opinion, of THEY holding the shining light to guide the new direction for the working producers of society, they become crushed when they learn it is not all about THEM and their bourgeois values at all! … and their high opinions of themselves as a front and a font of social correctness turns out to be nought but a reflection of the shallow pool of self adoration!

I would call this “confrontational anxiety”: The shock of the new … the surprise of the sudden mocking or outrage against what we held to be a long thought-out, carefully constructed argument for or against a subject dear to our hearts, by sometimes gross innuendo and vulgar comparison and/or language that has sent shockwaves through more than just a few bloggers on social media sites, we can see it creeping into and from the audiences of Q&A shows, where the orderly manner of the format degenerates into a slanging-match almost replete with the cry of; ”Fight! Fight! Fight!” coming from the audience … This is the new media arising …

It is a new age of, possibly, true democracy … peoples’ democracy, proletarian democracy, where the unlearned and politically naïve along with the rat-cunning compete with decibel space for the ears of the politicians … drowning out the Machiavellian whispers from the main-stream media and lobby groups, exposing to the glaring spot-light of the mobile camera the secret meetings and assignations of those incumbents to a twitter-feed ravenous for victims and outrage! … No more brown-paper bags of dosh passed under tables at the local café, no more oversees trips without cost or confession … no more helicopter flights for the pancake face-pack privileged … and no more secret “kissy-kissy” assignations!

We, The people, have arrived!

Our clothes are crumpled, our complextions varied, our hair awry, our pockets empty, our manners uncultured and our disposition very, very angry … and we are coming for YOU, Mr/Ms Political Dismissive. And we are coming to get what is rightfully ours and if that means walking over a few egos and trampling on many eggshell vanities, so be it … this is a class-war and we are fighting fit for it!

There is a cry in the streets for majority representation and it is with social media that it will be delivered … the voice of the internet has grown exponentially in these last several years despite this gormless LNP govt’ doing its best to blunt the edge or slow it down … There is now a gathering speed of technology outside the controlling arm of censorship that, like the age of steam against the age of petroleum, the ingenuity of humanity, unrestricted now and certainly into the future of non-gender delineation, will see an explosion of delivery systems of internet width, distance and speed beyond the limited imagination of capitalist financiers and corporate controllers.

The future government will have to step into a new set of boots to both finance and deliver those up-dated delivery systems to have any sort of say as to how they are regulated and censored. If at all. The major religions will have to step aside for a new, growing belief in a more Earthly power of instant awareness and concern for cruelty or misdemeanour anywhere in the world and any given time … after all with the growing capacity of “smart-phones”, every public act of delinquency will be recorded on at least a dozen phones and instantly transmitted to the eyes of the world.

Get ready, my little chickadees, there is a tsunami of social-media technology coming where information both good and bad, accurate or shit, will be at our fingertips and any debatable point that you have developed, harboured and stewed over on long sleepless nights, to be delivered with accurate, concise language to blog and Facebook page could be instantly pulled apart, confronted and debased in the most vulgar fashion for sometimes just the fun of it from some arrogant bastard who has no effing idea from deep in the jungle of inner Congo or outer suburbia … and their opening line just might be: WTF!

This poem by Henry Lawson could reflect the confrontational aggressiveness rising from the working poor and the under-educated in regions and suburbia … A poem that speaks for one and many, that now, with the rise of social media platforms, have a voice and heart and policy ideals to be heard and be heard they shall! And neither media mogul nor lack of manners will hold that tsunami back … Prepare yourselves!

The Uncultured Rhymer To His Cultured Critics

Fight through ignorance, want, and care —
Through the griefs that crush the spirit;
Push your way to a fortune fair,
And the smiles of the world you’ll merit.
Long, as a boy, for the chance to learn —
For the chance that Fate denies you;
Win degrees where the Life-lights burn,
And scores will teach and advise you.

My cultured friends! you have come too late
With your bypath nicely graded;
I’ve fought thus far on my track of Fate,
And I’ll follow the rest unaided.
Must I be stopped by a college gate
On the track of Life encroaching?
Be dumb to Love, and be dumb to Hate,
For the lack of a college coaching?

You grope for Truth in a language dead —
In the dust ’neath tower and steeple!
What know you of the tracks we tread?
And what know you of our people?
‘I must read this, and that, and the rest,’
And write as the cult expects me? —
I’ll read the book that may please me best,
And write as my heart directs me!

You were quick to pick on a faulty line
That I strove to put my soul in:
Your eyes were keen for a ‘dash’ of mine
In the place of a semi-colon —
And blind to the rest. And is it for such
As you I must brook restriction?
‘I was taught too little?’ I learnt too much
To care for a pedant’s diction!

Must I turn aside from my destined way
For a task your Joss would find me?
I come with strength of the living day,
And with half the world behind me;
I leave you alone in your cultured halls
To drivel and croak and cavil:
Till your voice goes further than college walls,
Keep out of the tracks we travel!

(Henry Lawson).

Yes! … We come with the strength of the living day …
And on your doorsteps will you soon find me!

The last lingering kiss

I was told this little episode of life in the hushed tones of scandal by a nun I once knew many years ago … I thought it was one of the most tragic things in the everyday work-world that I had ever heard …

It went like this:

The Last Lingering Kiss

“I can’t stop now!” She gasped a passionate moan as her arms reached for him … “I’ve desired you for too many nights.”

He responded huskily, his taut, muscular arms embracing her and driving out all resistance. It was as if some strange, torrid tempest had suddenly descended down on to their bodies as they struggled to out-do one another in the removal of their clothing. He grasped her in his arms and lifted her clear of the carpet, his lips parted and he moaned as he buried his face in her soft, ample, velvet-like breasts.

“Ohh, Brendon !”, she cried, surrendering her body to his firm, impatient, maleness.”Hold me,” she quivered.

“You’re trembling,” he whispered.

Sergeant Tom Flannigan closed the book with a wince and a sad hiss of breath. Distracted by a sudden rising of the wind in the Mallee trees outside, he gazed in silent contemplation at raindrops streaking against the window.

“Right on time,” he mumbled to himself. He was referring to those first good rains of the season.” Tim’ll be glad he finished seedin’ this mornin’ “.

His gaze moved from the window back to the book on the desk in front of him. He picked it up wearily and slipped it into an opaque, plastic bag that contained five similar paperbacks. He then folded the top over and sealed it with three staples and labelled it:

Evidence … stolen property, Crown vs accused: Sr. Mary Margaret: Principal / Teacher; St Joseph’s School, West Waylong … Victoria … Age: 43 yrs.

Tom Flannigan read back over the label, he snorted when he came to Sr. Mary Margaret’s status in this small country town and spoke out loud:

“Principal, teacher. Also; lay missionary, August leader of the Sunday prayers, choir organizer / lead singer, dishwasher, cook, cleaner ,bottle washer, big mother to all the god fearing god hating lonely poor beaten, broken down and out bastards between Bourke and bloody Booleroo Centre … the “ear” to the community … God have pity on her.”

He rose and with an angry tug on a hanging string, extinguished the light. The police station at West Waylong was a residential, so the distance between work and home was the thickness of a door jamb.

Tom Flannigan was one of those few who would like to leave their work worries behind them at closing time, besides, Tom had his own worries, for several days now, he had put off writing a reply to his fiancé, not for nothing to write about, but rather, (as she had complained of a “cold, distant feel” in his correspondence),because of a forlorn search for a more passionate wording of his feelings toward her in his letters.

Although this was the second time around in the marriage game for Tom, it was no easier for him to overcome that word-block of emotional and verbal commitment demanded by women from their suitors! Tom scratched behind his ear as he jiggled the eggs and bacon in the pan; what to say, what to say:

“I do love you, Beth’ with all my heart!” He mumbled such clumsy sentences to himself as he completed cooking his evening meal and crossed to the table. He placed the plate on the table, and after a moments hesitation, decided that the eggs and bacon needed a bit of a “lift” … he took a small tin of baked beans from a cupboard and added it’s contents to the bacon and eggs, speaking theatrically as he did so …

“Your eyes are like the moon (a gesture with the hand), your lips are as cherries nah! … your lips are as … as that girl on the toothpaste ad’ nah!”

So you can see, Tom. Flannigan had his mind full of that awful doubt that trips and tangles the lovelorn. Added to this was the fact that his future bride had no intention of ever … ever living in such a distant, lonely town like West Waylong!

So he had no thought to ponder on why a respectable, well-educated person like Sr. Mary Margaret would steal tacky romances of pulp-fiction. There were laws in place to govern the prosecution of criminal actions and his was the task to follow those laws through.

Rule# 1: Never confuse the laws of state with the laws of sentiment. In the morning, Tom Flannigan would transpose the interview he had with Sr. Margaret from tape to document and pass it on to headquarters for its consideration. As far as he was concerned … the end of the story …

”Interview with Sr. Mary Margaret … 12th August 19 …

Accused of stealing six paperback novels from the “Criterion Book Shop” Main Street, West Waylong.

Present: Sgt Thomas Flannigan … Fr. Dennis McCarthy … Sr. Mary Margaret

Questioning: Sgt Tom Flannigan.”

I ask: “Were you in the Criterion Book Shop last Friday afternoon?”

Fr. McCarthy. “You answer the questions as best you feel, Sister.”

Sr. Margaret. “Thank you for that valuable advice Dennis … to your question, Sgt: Yes, I was there.”

I ask: “While you were there, did you pick up this book? (shown paperback) title: “The Last Lingering Kiss.”

Sr. M. “Yes, I did.”

I ask: “You were then seen to place this book in your bag and walk out of the shop … Did you deliberately intend to steal it?”

Fr. McC. “Now, Sister, keep in mind you have not yet been charged with any misdemeanor. so you don’t … Sgt, (he confided) I’ve had a call from Monsignor, He has suggested, not without a considerable amount of thought on the subject … keeping in mind the age of Sister and that troubling time of life for women of that age, maybe (he glances to Sr. M.) a touch of kleptomania brought on by the stress of menopause?”

I ask: “Do you wish to comment on that, Sr.?”

Sr. M. “I’d rather retain what little dignity I have left than to respond to … to Monsignor’s … er, suggestion” (she crosses hands on top of desk).

I ask: “Then I’ll ask again … did you intend to steal the book?”

Sr. M. (silence … turns eyes askance, blushes … then looks directly at me). ”Yes.”

Fr. McC. (groans).

I ask: “These other books were voluntarily given in by you … did you intend to steal these also?”

Sr. M. (breathes deeply) ”Yes, sergeant, I did.”

Fr. McC. “Why, Sister. Why?”

Sr. M. “Because, Dennis, of a reason I very much doubt you would understand! Neither you nor the Monsignor!”

Fr. McC. “It goes beyond all rational thought, Sister, that you, in particular, could have the slightest interest in these … these trashy productions!”

I ask: “Fr. McCarthy, I am at this time trying to establish the plea of the accused, I am not looking for whys and wherefores … Do you Sr. Margaret, admit to the theft of the aforementioned books?”

Sr. M. (takes a deep breath)”Yes, Sergeant, I do.”

Fr. McC. “You do realise, Sister, where this places us, the church, in the eyes of the community?”

Sr. M. (heatedly)  “Oh damn the community! … (Fr. McCarthy leaps to his feet) and damn you, Dennis and damn the Monsignor and double damn the damn Church!”

Fr. McC. “Are you gone mad ,Sister, are you mad?” (I grasp Fr. Mccarthy by the arm and sit him back down).

I ask: “I must ask you, Fr. to restrain yourself, you are here only as a supporting representative of the diocese so please restrict your comments to that role … and I remind you, Sister, that all you say can and will be considered as evidence … ”

Sr. M. ”Oh shut up, Tom! … (She stands with fists pressed on table )and you Dennis! … both of you … shut up! … Are you blind? Can’t you see we are all of us here in the same situation? (Fr. McC and I remain silent) … All obliged to serve an institution … an unforgiving, blind institution! … and … and a so called infernal “COMMUNITY!” that denies us any right to a life of our own … no!, don’t you interrupt me Tom Flannigan, I know all about your last marriage, you lost that because of the hours you spent on the job rather than with your family. The police force demanded it. The community demanded it and you ,Dennis, how many more years before the bottle claims your soul? … Ah! Don’t deny it, I know you only too well … it’s written all through your eyes … and those “Holidays” to dry out down by the coast … We’re all three of us damned to play a set-piece for the Community, the Law and the Church. (she sits wearily down) … Oh how I longed desperately to be able to go home at night sometimes to children of my own … a man! … of my own, be him hopeless, be him ugly , but be him human … just human … rather than the dried out wafflings of the writings of a “holy book”! … (she pauses, stares blankly ahead, speaks quietly, slowly) do you have any idea how empty a sound, is the parched, crisp, turning of the pages of a prayer book in the quiet of an evening always alone?

The three of us have committed social crimes here, only my crime is more visible … I haven’t neglected a family, nor tippled with the altar-wine … I am guilty of a crime of passion … I have tried to steal a modicum of illusion of fantasy … of lust with a man.”

(There is a moments silence as we gathered our thoughts).

Fr. McCarthy. “But why steal the books? Why didn’t you just buy them?”

I ask: ” Yes Sister, why did you steal them?”.

Sr. M. (sighs, leans back in the chair ) ”Looking back on it, I could say I don’t know … the first one was an accident … I slipped it into my bag absent mindedly as I picked up another thing I wanted to buy … but when I discovered the error later, I stayed silent .. why? … a kleptomaniac impulse … a thrill? No, not a thrill I think rather, it was a part of the desire, to steal a moment of lust, an integral component of the hunger … a hunger for the love I did not have … I believe as we grow from the child to the adult, each of us seeks that love … that particular love, most denied … perhaps we are all assigned a set amount of little crimes in this life … alongside our everyday duties, little grubby crimes, along with the humdrum of responsibility and rules … and when we step outside of that regular pattern into the more shady area of our deeds, we must accept a completely different set of rules … “Oh what wicked webs we weave … ” (a bitter laugh) … I fought with myself for years against the desires … like you, Dennis with the bottle … and you, Tom with the duties of the police officer in a little country town, but when can one stop Can one stave off forever the natural impulse to drop the facade of religion. of law and order? … some can … I couldn’t … anymore … I desired a passionate embrace from a man (she leans forward over the table and speaks slowly)Gentlemen … I too, wanted a moment of being desired! How I envied Magdalene her Christ! And these trashy books were as close as I was going to come to it in this God-forsaken place! … in this God-forsaken church in my own human forsaken life!”

(The three of us sit silently staring).

Interview terminated.

Nine days later …

Tom Flannigan glanced up from his desk in the office to meet the eyes of Sister Mary Margaret. He stood to receive her proffered hand. She was leaving the district.

“Just to say cheerio, Tom … and wish you luck.”

“Thanks, Sister … thank you and yourself.” He fumbled with the biro in his hand, then dropped it casually on the table. “What … what will happen to you?” he asked

The nun laughed softly,

“Oh … it’s a big institution; the church … I’ll be swallowed up in it somewhere after a little penance … I’ll become anonymous once again … slowly, I trust, the desire for the human touch will be “cleansed” from my soul … like Dennis’s liver … ( another chuckle) … and you ,Tom.?”

“Me? Oh, I’ll just … just carry on as usual I ‘spose … hmm … look, Sister, I know they are going to prosecute this case in the city, so I won’t be seeing you again … I want you to know that I erased that last part of the interview the three of us had, I didn’t see it as relevant to the case and I don’t suppose it would have interested the people at headquarters.”

“Yes, I expect you are right, Tom, there are some aspects of the lives of our community leaders that are best left in illusion (she chuckled again) … a bit like a trashy romance.”

“Well, Tom, goodbye.”

“Cheerio, Sister, cheerio.”

The party is over!

As a baby-boomer heading at breakneck speed toward my seventieth birthday (though still 3yrs away) I have just recently come to the heartbreaking conclusion that it is all over for me. No … not life, but “the party”! The metaphorical party that sustained me for these last forty years on a roller-coaster of self-sustaining optimism so familiar to our generation.

After the breakaway from the confining social and domestic clutches of our parent’s generation with the revolution of the sixties and seventies, freedom … true freedom from suffocating social mores and mind-numbing employment was at last within our reach … we were the pioneers of a punk-generation! Now, all those who are setting the pace with this new style social direction and political aspiration I cannot seem to “connect” with or admire that greatly … and all those I did have great respect for are either now dead, dying or out of the game … I feel like the passenger left on the station and the train has departed. And I just don’t know if I give a f#ck!

The sad realisation of my plight first came home to roost a while back, when I gifted to my son – who was trying his hand at amateur DJ-ing – my complete vinyl collection of LPs. This collection was a honed-down ambrosia of the gods of music of my generation … yes … from The Who “Live at Leeds” to “Zappa/Zoot Allures” … the whole box and dice of every memory of drunken orgy and piss-up to dope-smoked amnesia of the seventies and beyond … encased in that collection was the ghost of many wild parties, boozey card nights and general Sunday laid-back idylls … of beer from the keg sprayed walls to nefarious smoke-infused curtains and collars … and after receiving this holy grail of my wasted (in every sense of the word) youth, he later informed me in disappointed tone that his girlfriend’s dad had almost exactly the same records … except HIS were in mint condition, having taped the record after purchase and used the tape for listening and put the LPs Into cold-storage … WTF!!?

I reflected on this piece of proffered good sense information while the opening bars of Mott The Hoople’s “The Moon Upstairs” from their “Brain Capers” album suddenly sprung to mind and that night with “the mob” of us lined up in front of the decibel warping speakers and “air guitaring” the complete riot in a Southern Comfort drunken bliss; ” … we ain’t bleeding you, we’re feeding you … but you’re too fuckin’ slow … ” And then we’d get serious and put on Floyd’s ”Ummagumma” for a bit of intellectual discourse on Marx and communism! But the thing that really hurt, was not so much that the girl’s father was of that middle-class anal-retentive professional type who knew the price of everything etc etc, but that it was obvious that my son seemed to agree with his action. I could see the gilded threat of “common sense” creeping into his psyche … always a very dangerous thing in the developing mind of the young.

Yes … the party was over. Gen Y is not inclined to follow their baby-boomer parents stumbling gait, neither down the hard-left political road, nor in personal revolution against the corporate work ethic. Theirs is more career orientated, more “market driven”, more style and consumerism, so there was little room for prolonged partying to oblivion. Not that we couldn’t do our job then at the same time … but there was more room for “forgiveness” after a particularly hard weekend … workmates more willing to “cover” for the necessary human foible of having a good time … and there was always the “sickie” when a particularly extreme case of “industrial diarrhoea” overcame one.

And let’s face it … at least to me … work always did give me the shits. I hated it … and all that social responsibility crap that surrounded it … every effing day off to work, come home fall asleep then back to the job next morning … bloody mind-numbing slavery … moored, like so many similar craft, in a marina of lost souls. I would see the tradesmen come to work on the train dressed in clothes suitable for public display, only to don work overalls from their locker in the factory change-room to attend their work-benches and to do the reverse each night to make their way home on the public transport, day in day out. I couldn’t stand such pointless discipline … especially after it became obvious to our generation that the whole capital-based economy was nothing but a big fat con-job … bullshit from start to finish, and we were expected to go along with the con … but be on the receiving end … pisss orrff!

So I left it behind, hopefully for it to rot in its own stench and decay … but I see now it has been resurrected and is enjoying another moment in the sun … AND, apparently being feasted as the “saviour” of a new economy … a technology driven gig’ economy of automation and sterile efficiency; ”meet the new boss … ” So I have been railing against what I saw then and what I still see as the dehumanising of personal ambition and type-casting of personality … bunging square pegs into round holes. God … I hate the f#ckin’lot of it! And then to see those gormless dupes in this gormless govt’ talking their set pieces like a theatrical dummy on one of those kiddies shows from the sixties, do you remember that act; “Chris and Terry (Terry was the dummy)” on the Channel Niners? Ah! .. that Chris chappy was the one ought to have hooked up with Glenys O’Brien … NOT f#ckin’Ernie Sigley … Shit! … I feel like starting a one person revolution.

And now we have this sickly Christmassy shit with f#ckin’ goodwill to all and sundry … the season of saccharine and syrup …

There’s something sickly about all this bon hominy and good-will to all men … or persons … nah! … it doesn’t sound right; “persons” … there’s something un-fraternal about the word … when we really know that “men” means humanity collectively. But even there it’s a bit twee, isn’t it? … I mean it’s ok with the family an’ all that … but to ALL men … nah! … f#ck ‘em … they don’t deserve it!

Half the bastards have been sinking the boot in, in the last twelve months … and now it’s all “season’s greetings and a happy new year” … pissss orf! … even with the family, it’s a barely concealed pay-back situation that comes to haunt you over Christmas pressies: You give THEM the cheese-knife and They give you the bread-knife … and later you both reach for the steak-knife!

But that’s it … we’ve almost become irrelevant, save for our voting block … the party’s over, Vishnu’s juggernaut has moved on, crushing a new generation of suckers only too willing to throw themselves under the wheels of corporate capitalism.  We started work at fourteen and finished at sixty five and damn if the bastards want us to carry on till seventy, while THEY now party! Well, they can get stuffed! And even if us boomers have cried ourselves hoarse from screaming against the machine, one can hopefully see the rising generations picking up the baton and just now starting to take their situation seriously.

Now … at least I can get back to Zappa’s “Willy the Pimp” … Go, Captain Beefheart! … GO!

O’ that we crossed that bridge of dreams

“Man is forbidden to concern himself with anything but the struggle for bread. If his capacity for dreaming, imagining, inventing and experimenting is killed in the process, man will become a well-fed robot and die of spiritual malnutrition. The dream has its function and man cannot live without it.” (The Diary of Anais Nin; Journals, Vol 3).

Once upon a time humanity in the West moved about from mountain forest to open plain, from village to city armed with a plethora of myths and superstitions that were the backbone of the individual cultures and even individual tribes within those cultures and even right down to local villages with their “haunted” locations or sacred places with local copse or deep pools of water. We carried our favoured talismans to ward off evil or to invite kind spirits whilst on our travels.

The world of the Pagan (Paganus; Latin: of the village/countryside) was a world of complex mix of spiritual beliefs and mythology … the heroes of such myths moving among the Gods as representatives of the human desires … and the blending of both God and humanity became a favourable norm’ of excuse for some difficult to explain situations. Many an Emperor of the west proclaimed his father was one of the greater Gods who blessed his mother with divine pregnancy and birth to explain away a more base truth that it was perhaps a wild night in the cot with a favourite slave that did the “hard, dirty work”.

The mythological worlds of those Pagans, from the Northern Lights to the Mediterranean Sea was “peopled” with all the colour and actions of a dreamtime equal to any ever described in the history of any tribal nation on the planet … Crazy heroes of both sexes, wild and strange animals, and beasts, wicked and malicious Gods, vengeful and jealous, that created stories and tales of wild abandon and filled the night air like the sparks rising from roaring camp-fire with any amount of delight and fear as story after story unfolded around rustic camp or ampitheatre stage … and the world as we know it was created and filled by the actions of those wonderous ephemeral beings.

And a “teller of tales” was a qualification as equal to if not surpassing the high priest of the temple. It was a time for dreaming … It was a time of wonder …

And then came the nightmare; Orthodox religion.

“By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19).

The pragmatic brutality of the demands of adherence to the orthodox religious dogma of the three Abrahamic religions, set about with measured and structured determination to destroy the Pagan world of humanity and replace it with the more manageable rules of a singular God … a monotheist religiosity that fell in line, length and step to what was required by the nation state for unity under rule of law for all its citizens.

The Emperor Constantine designated that one God, one faith, one religion will only be tolerated under the Roman state. So that from that date forward, with the exceptions of a couple of apostate Emperors, that monotheism became the norm and mankind stopped the en-masse worshipping of their favourite Pagan deities and household Gods and fell in line to the golden doors of the church …

Humanity stopped dreaming.

“Things now became rather hectic for me. I forgot all about my Tales and became much more conscientious. How could I have let all those years slip by, instead of practicing my devotions and going on pilgrimages? I began to doubt whether any of my romantic fancies, even those that had seemed most plausible, had the slightest basis in fact. How could anyone as wonderful as Shining Genji or as beautiful as the girl whom Captain Kaoru kept hidden in Uji really exist in this world of ours? Oh, what a fool I had been to believe such nonsense!”

“The wistful tone is present from the beginning, but as the writer nears the end of her life, it becomes unmistakable. By the time we approach the final pages, there’s a palpable sense of ‘if only’ … ” (Sarashina Nikki; As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams).

With the ending of the mind’s dreaming of mythology and the age of heroes, became the beginning of the enslavement of the body to time and motion of the capital-based society. I lay at the feet of those orthodox religions the blame for so much of the brutal waste of humanity’s potential for cross-cultural respect. I lay at the feet of those “governors” of the West the reason for so much warfare and destruction as they utilised their creation of the “one faith … one God … one belief” to further enrich a so small minority of inner-circle acolytes and pseudo-devotees of their own false God.

Blasphemers of the true spirit of humanity.

Heretics of the desired destiny of humankind.

Sacrilegious destroyers of the dream-time of the human race. Indeed, if there is a place in the hell of our recorded histories, those “high priest” traitors will deserve to occupy the most disgusting and effluvious depths of that hell. What has been created to replace those eons of “slow-life” can be described as a rapine of the most wanton destruction upon both nature and humanity … a curse of the worse description more wicked and wasteful than the most cruel witch or warlock, the most vengeful God or Goddess and more lasting than ever the Fates would condemn.

“As I have said before, my mind was absorbed in romances, and I had no well-placed relatives from whom I could learn distinguished manners or court customs. Apart from the romances I could not know them. I had always been in the shadow of my antiquated parents, and had been accustomed not to go out except to see the moon and flowers. So when I left home I felt as if I were not I nor was it the real world to which I was going.I started in the early morning. I had often fancied in my countrified mind that I should hear more interesting things for my heart’s consolation than were to be found living fixed in my parents house” (Sarashina Nikki; As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams).

And in the end, all she “found” was routine and authoritarian expectation of loyalty.

I have a relative who is keenly looking forward this year to a hip replacement … he needs it because he has carried so much weight over so many years that his natural one has worn down with the effort … of course, he will say otherwise … but that is the awful truth .. and likewise are many of us “blessed” with such medical interventions that prolong an aged existence. We really have little choice … there is the suffering … here is the solution … what madness to refuse?

But I don’t think I need to extrapolate on the “long, winding road” that led us to this place. If we can’t identify it distinctly, we have good intuition of the what’s, why’s and wherefore’s that brought us here. The over indulgence of that relative of mine to the gluttony of a whole epoch of humanity has brought us here, where there is no longer a time for dreaming … of imagining … of procrastination while we relax on the laurels of our hard work. For it has already been costed and if there is not an algorithm already that calculates down to the last cent every individual citizen’s capacity of a lifetime’s contribution to the treasury coffers of the state and gives a rating on that citizen’s worth to the state … then there soon will be!

We have traded a dream-time that promised no more than a frugal if colourful existence for a civilisation that promises us no less than a frugal if “colourful” existence. In the horse-racing game of betting, that is nothing better than a low-priced “odds-on” to win … but it will take an expensive gamble to profit from those odds.

As a person who deplores medical intervention at the worst of times, I have to wonder what we have gained with all this “civilising” … certainly no improvement on those seven deadly sins … perhaps a bit on convenience and technology, but nothing on happiness levels and contentment … let alone on wealth and well-being … a longer life perhaps … if you can dodge the traffic as you cross the road to do that bit of shopping.

Can’t blame the Indigenous peoples of this or any nation for not really wanting a bar of it!

Carmello comes home

The plight of the “escaping from warfare refugee” has figured large over the last few years with much sympathy, while the “economic refugee” has been somewhat scorned as an “opportunist” … I can assure many that it is far from true … the desperation and need can be felt equally by the “starving stayers” as by the fleeing desperates … and it didn’t always go that well with such “legitimate” immigrants.

This might ring a bell with some of our older citizens here … Do any of you Adelaidiens remember that strip of garden between Nth Terrace and the wall of the Governor’s residence? It ran from the Light Horse statue to the Arch of Remembrance, between the Governor’s residence and Nth Terrace … and it was a real garden, not like now where it is just a lawn. It was once full of exotic flowers and shrubs and they would give blazing colour to that walkway that used to carry so much foot-traffic from the railway station to the university or Rundle St (as it was then). I’m talking back in the 60s/70s. Well, the entire kit and caboodle was planted and maintained by this little Italian gardener … I remember seeing him there a couple of times, in those green bib-n-brace overalls. He used to work out of a corrugated-iron shed hidden snugly behind a hedge of some low shrub-like trees near the war memorial end … he could be seen there with his wheelbarrow and some tools in it … he would plant out and till-up where replacement was required or needed, according to the season.

He migrated to this country around 1960 and intended to settle here with his new family. This is a little piece of his story.

It went like this:

Carmello Comes Home

( I )

“All journeys start in hope,

So many end in despair.

The migrant sets his mind to the first,

Tho’ his heart overflow with fear.”

Carmello Notori stepped off the boat at Outer Harbour on a very hot February day. The year was 1960. The sharp sunlight cut daggers sparkling off every bright object into his eyes so that he squinted continually and some obscure god had scattered wanton stars onto the sea that glittered and danced.

“This is a pale country,” was Carmello’s first thought. “I hope it treats us well”. By “us” he was referring to himself and his wife and two year old child who were to join him later, about six months later, after he had got a job and set up a house for the family.

Carmello obtained employment with the city council and rented a small flat in a near suburb and wrote short informative letters to his wife back in the village in Italy about his progress in the new country. After six months, he wrote for her to come and join him, but she put it off as “the child was ill with influenza and she needed to rest him.”

Three months after that it was something else that would delay her. His letters became a little more terse and then cajoling in the hope of persuading her to come out, but she stay put in the village. After a season of excuses which Carmello “saw through”, she finally confessed she was too scared to go away from her family, her friends in the village. Where would she get help with the child? Who could she talk to in the lonely hours that plague the mothers at home. No, she was too scared to be alone in a strange house in a strange land. He clutched that letter in his hand and rested his cheek on his arm on the kitchen table. He could see her point in his heart and he did not try to argue her out of it, for he too had felt the loneliness of a faster lifestyle, a more grasping lifestyle that left little time for friends to gather impromptu to savour the joy of a sweet moment. He changed the tone of his letters gradually to one of fatalistic acceptance and sent money back home on a regular basis.

He would have liked to have gone back to his family but he remembered the acute poverty that drove him, and many others alike, away. He remembered too the bragging he had done in the local cafe of the good life he would have in the “new country”, so he stayed, though it was mostly the memory of the poverty that kept him at his work and he sent money back home to his family.

Carmello worked for the council looking after a long stretch of garden next to a busy city street. It was a narrow piece of land that ran from the main city intersection by the Parliament House, a half a kilometer to end at the War Memorial. He would till the soil and plant shrubs in the autumn. He would rake the speckled yellow and red leaves from the deciduous trees that lined the street and shed their foliage in the cool autumn days. In the winter he would sweep the path that ran through the garden or sit quietly in his hut amongst the creeper vines when it rained. After some years he was left to be his own boss so that his schedule was a very obliging one that saw him through the years. When the spring buds came out he weeded and tilled between the flowers as they grew. A small fire always burnt in one corner near his hut, where he would incinerate twigs and leaves and bits of scrap paper people discarded on their daily commute through his garden.

The softness of the small fire cheered him in some lonely times and sent a slim, scented plume of blue smoke twirling up, up over the trees into the city skyline. No-one noticed him so no-one bothered him. He was an anonymous immigrant in a big country, and so the years passed by and he sent money back home to his family.

One day a woman stopped and admired a flowering plant just near where he was standing.

“They’re nice aren’t they?” he spoke.

The woman gave a little start. She hadn’t noticed him standing there. She gazed at him and blinked. He blended in so well with the leafy backgound that he almost seemed a part of it. His brown cardigan hung loose on his short nobbly frame … a pair of bib and brace green overalls untidily covered his body, the knees of these overalls had been crudely patched as if he had done the job himself (which he had). His face was “chunky” with a big nose and his curly hair, though not dirty, was neglected so his general appearance looked as one who needn’t impress anyone.

“You have a garden?” he asked.

“Why, yes I do,” the woman answered cautiously.

“Here, I give you one of these,” he spoke softly, confidentially.

There was a small heap of cuttings of a green shrub with spiky blue flowers which he had been pruning. Kneeling down with a small trowel, he grubbed up a bulb of one of the plants, then rising and looking over his shoulder in a secretive way, put the bulb into a plastic bag supplied by the woman. They exchanged pleasantries about the flowers and gardens then bid each other cheerio. Once a month the woman would come down the path on her way to the library and they would chat and exchange details about their gardens and the weather and this and that …

“Fifteen years I have worked this garden now,” he told her one day. She seemed surprised she had never noticed him up to when they first met, such was his anonymity.

“Soon I have my long service,” he smiled.

One rainy winter’s day there was a ceremony going on at the War Memorial so that he wasn’t working just then. There were a lot of people standing around listening to the Governor giving a speech. The Governor and other dignitaries peeked out from under the broad black brims of umbrellas. Here and there you could see some old soldiers, medals and service ribbons on their coats and them just standing out in the pouring rain, the water streaming in little waterfalls over the brim of their hats and their gaunt faces streaked with the drenching rain so you’d think they were crying rivers of tears.

Carmello stood under the lee of his hut. The woman stopped next to the gardener.

“Oh hello, missu,” he greeted her quietly and they stood there listening to the address. After a little while Carmello leant over to the woman and softly whispered: “I’m going back to Italy soon.”

“For good?” the woman asked.

“No, no,” he shook his head emphatically, “only for a short while; a holiday … I have my long-service leave.” He smiled at the thought.

When he returned from his holiday he seemed unsettled, a bit more determined as though he were fighting an uneasy desire.

“If I could go tomorrow, missus …,” he would say, shaking his hand in a gesturing way and he’d sigh. “But I must save, missus, I must save now,” he turned as he spoke, the rake in his hand with the head resting on the ground. “I must save now,” he spoke earnestly.

He was sad at leaving his family back home, and to make matters worse, he had learnt that his wife was now expecting another child and he could not be there to assist as a husband ought.

Another wet day she came along the path and saw the gardener sitting huddled just inside the door of his hut with a little fire of sticks burning by the door. He looked miserable sitting there.

“Are you well?” she asked.

“Ah! No, missus, I have this cold … una raffreddore! I should be home … but what is the use of staying alone in an empty house?” He stared at the fire as he spoke, and it was around that time he decided he would have to go back home … the final decision was made as he read the latest letter from his wife in the village. She told of the everyday events of the season in the village … and he was not there …

“It was a good year for the grapes,” she wrote “ but the olives were not so good, with many rotting on the trees … Alfonso ( the grandfather) got a good deal from the miller for his wheat and we now have plenty of flour for the pasta this year … ” Carmello read on,  ” … the saint’s day parade went well as it was a lovely day with the sun shining bright and all the children dressed up and the flowers so pretty placed at the feet of San Giovanni … ” the memories flooded in … all this was happening as he had himself seen so many years ago … and he was not there.

Carmello looked up at that moment from his reading as he heard a strange noise across the road: There, dressed in their light, flowing bright orange robes, were a troupe of half a dozen Hari Krishna shaved-head devotees chanting and ringing their small cymbals and tambourines as they skipped and swirled down the footpath opposite in single file … It was the strange sight of this totally, to Carmello, alien image that steered his course of action, a craving for the familiarity of homeland swept over him so he almost swooned from a sense of isolation and loneliness … but he would stay and save and save … then after three more years, he calculated, he would return to his home.

The woman’s husband had a stroke at around that time, that knocked him flat and kept her home for several years so she never saw the gardener again. A long time after she was walking through Carmello’s stretch of garden and she noticed the gardener’s hut was being pulled down by some workmen.

A little way along the path another man was digging up the green shrubs with the spiky blue flowers. The woman stopped .

“Where’s the little Italian gardener?” She asked one of the workmen there.

“Oh him? He’s gone home, lady, back to Italy.”

“Oh?” she queried.

“Yep” the man continued. “Twenty years here was enough for him.” He laughed. The woman turned to go away, then stopped.

“Tell me; what was his name?” She asked for he had never told her.

“To tell you the truth madam,” the man scratched the back of his head “I wouldn’t know. We called him ‘Gino’ but we call all the eyeties ‘Gino’.” And he laughed again.

( II )

Pellegrino Rossi sat outside on the footpath under the blue and yellow lighted sign that said “Tony – BAR”. The word “Tony” was smaller than the word “BAR” and was in the top left hand corner. Pellegrino Rossi sat out in the morning sunshine at a small round table drinking a cup of espresso coffee and observing the movements of the people of the village. The daily bus from the big provincial city pulled up over the other side of the road with a squeal of brakes and a hiss of air. Pellegrino could not see who had alighted as the bus was between himself and the far footpath. But he knew someone had got off as the driver too had alighted and there was a clatter of baggage doors opening on the far side of the bus. After a short time and a degree of muffled conversation, the driver sprung back into his seat and with a hiss of shutting doors, the bus accelerated away in a cloud of fumes, smoke and dust.

A short nobbly man of about fifty remained on the far footpath where the bus had left him. He was escorted on both sides by two enormous tatty brown suitcases with large belts and buckles around their girth. His suit of clothes matched the colour of the cases. They were crushed and misshapen from being worn on a long journey. His belt, like the ones on the suitcases, was pulled tight around his girth so that his trousers were “lifted” high on his waist and left too much ankle showing down around his shoes. Pellegrino squinted at the man who remained standing there as though trying to comprehend his situation. A smile of recognition gradually crept over Pellegrino’s face. It had been a long, long time. He called out:

“Well, well now, “Panerello” (for that was Carmello’s nickname), we were wondering when you would come home.” His hand was shaking at the new arrival in that flat openhanded on edge way that Italians do. Carmello smiled and nodded as he recognised his old friend.

“Hey! “Dry as sticks”,” Pellegrino called into the doorway of the Bar. “Pour a glass-full of the fatted calf to welcome the prodigal home!” He laughed as he stood.

At the mention of “the prodigal”, Carmello’s hand went automatically to the inside pocket of his suit coat. There it felt a fatted packet. Fatted with banknotes of a foreign currency. Payment for all those years of tending the gardens. Payment for all those years of loneliness in a strange country. Payment for all those years of patience and endurance. He gave the packet a squeeze and it seemed a weight fell from his shoulders.

“Payment for the children,” he sighed.

Carmello smiled happily as he surveyed the scene, the Bar, his friend, the round tables on the footpath, the yellowing paint on the house walls, the orangey-pink of the old church in the square, the cobblestone road, the sound of his friends’ greeting, the feel of the mountain air on his cheeks.

“Carmello, Carmello!” a woman’s voice cried from down the narrow street, the sound rebounding off the walls of the canyon of houses. He recognised her sweetly … the photos … the memory of her longingly treasured in his heart … his wife called again in a gentle dropping inflection of voice.

“Carmello … Caro, Carmello” she came quickly down the street in little skips and runs as older woman do when they want to go fast on foot. He could see the tears in her eyes, a couple of people stopped and some popped their heads out of nearby houses. His friend, Pellegrino called again from across the road.

“Ah Panerello, Panerello, it’s been too long.” He was smiling as he came onto the street. Carmello looked to him, at his approaching wife, a tall young man at her side … his son … the young girl at her skirts … his daughter … had it been five years already? A sob of joy welled up inside him, he lifted his hands as though wishing to explain something with them but no words would come to his lips … his wife coming closer, his friend reaching out for his hands with both of his, his village shone bright in the morning sunlight, a shaft of sunshine snipped a star off the glass ashtray on one of the tables at the “Tony-BAR”. Carmello felt the tears run freely.  He was home … at last … he was home!

Une Generation Perdue …

The lost generation.

In many years hence, when the cold, unconcerned hand of historical research vivisects this period of Australian politics, not only will it detail, with wincing eye, to those researchers, the incomprehensible ineptness of this LNP government, but it will surely blink in disbelieving wonder at the complacency of a goodly proportion of the populace to tolerate such obvious interference and corruption from capital-based corporations and lobby groups.

Not since the time of Julius Caesar have such cashed-up cabals, with their “affiliates” equal in disaster, violence and intent to the rampaging days of the political gangs of Clodius and Milo had such bribery and coercive influence been used. There will surely be more than a little mirth when the portraits both pictorial and matched to the verbal utterances of persons like George Brandis or Christopher Pyne are held to the historical lens and their activities dissected and displayed. Comparisons could easily be drawn between the most comical characters of a legion of dramatists of the theatre.

But there will be another analysis, I believe, that will have heads shaking in disbelief … And that is how a society moved from a deeply caring, multicultural success story to a divisive, racist, scornful mob. Irony and satire aside, there will be confusion at the cognitive dissonance of that section of society who, refugees themselves to a colonized land, could then set upon — both those refugees that followed them to freedom and those who occupied the land before them — with all the tools of crazy outrage that such folk could have intention as to ”steal” THEIR NATION from under their very feet. There will have to be question raised about the collective sanity of the era.

But I am thinking I could save some time if I can explain here, the strange motivations of the “abandoned generation” that is currently in power in Australia. This generation of conservatives sprung, doomed, like late season fruit from the baby-boomers “Tree of Liberation” …

There are three phases to the “baby-boomer” generation: The first, from the immediate latter war years to the fifties, then the second wave from the early fifties to the middle years of the decade, and then the doomed “left-behinds” of the late fifties/early sixties. The first were subject to the hard militaristic discipline of their parents … the second were spared such severe social punishment through the “boom years” of the mid-fifties, the third were the lost-cause of child-rearing once the great social revolution of the sixties got into full swing.

The first wave of baby-boomers set a hesitant stumbling pace of radical change … a change more marked by a shift in style of fashion and music, than in social behaviour … in THAT they grudgingly stuck to the old principles … mostly … there were social radicals sure, but they quickly fled to the greener pastures of Europe.

It was left to the second wave of “boomers” to shrug off the local yoke of “work-ethic” demands and obedience to create a many-headed hydra of wild abandon to seek alternative knowledge no matter how discursive or obscure, from Kahil Gibran to Kant, from Nostradamus to Nietzsche, from The Beatles to Joni Mitchell to Leonard Cohen … we spread our “search” to the widest of wide open spaces, into the depths of confining crypts … Abandoning job security, our homes and family ties, casting aside the very cloth of our society, we threw ourselves into the teeth of a world-wide social storm and stood as children naked! To quote Milton in Aldous Huxley: “Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves” and it was this searching, the gathering together of the many threads of life’s loose tapestry that ended up giving us the nous to see back to the past behaviour of our parents and grandparents and to project forward to envision a near future that allowed us to cultivate what was beneficial to our body and soul and to cast aside that which was detrimental to the well-being of a society … but in a lot of cases, it must be admitted; it was chance washed us up Robinson Crusoe like on this Island of good fortune.

THIS, though, was our mistake; to selfishly leave the following “children of the night”, the last born of the generation in the wake of our parting ship … to wallow in little spiritual reward and gross waste of a ruined society of post-mortem Menzies, post boom years sixties, post Vietnam War and an emerging brutality of Hollywood fantasy and worse … disco music!

Can one imagine a life destitute of Frank Zappa? They were left in the rubble and we were gone.

Armed with all the historical example that our self-awakening study revealed, coupled with a self-confidence in our gained professions, did we not carve out of the remains of decrepit conservatism our own private Australias and set about securing our financial borders for the very thing we never really believed would come … old age.

And now … here we are, somewhat bent with age but still rebellious, at the mercy of a medical intervention system that we instigated for our old age protection, but sadly now beholden to a political class that both despises our past capabilities and resents our past abandonment of their persons in the post revolution hangover.

It has to be noted, that while we of the second wave boomers may not have bred these frustrated conservatives, we were remiss in not seeing that where our parents failed by clinging too tight to their last children, we did not take these waifs, these orphans of a lost conservatism regime along with us for the ride of their lives! We should have … We should have!

For now they are lost to wander in a wilderness of false materialism … They are truly; “Une Generation Perdue” … A Lost Generation.

Slow cooking in a “Black Kitchen”

You got to get up … pri-tty erley in da mornin’ … to stoke up the German vault oven in the old “black kitchen” if you want to get a good day’s preparation and cooking in before the roast lamb (w/rosemary) is just at an itch and a scratch to be taken out from the back of the oven and generously sliced and served with the pratties and peas for dinner …

This old settler’s cottage we bought from a German Aunty (through marriage) out here in the Mallee, was a fine example of the “settler’s layout” for farmhouse and black kitchen …

“A distinguishing feature of the German house is its high roof, below which the ‘protective’ attic was often used as a sleeping, working and storage place. Cultural ties associated with the roof were still evident in these early Australian German communities. Thus it was considered a bad omen for women in the later stages of their pregnancies to leave the protection of their roofs (once someone was unter Daeh und Faeh, that is sheltered by a roof, he or she could not be harmed by demons!). One of the ancient roof ceremonies, the Rieht/est, or the topping of the building with the roof, is still celebrated in South Australia (usually by fixing a small pine tree to the ridge).”

Although our house did not have a sleeping attic, all the other necessities were still extant … even if in a state of long disuse and in need of a amount of repair. For instance, when I went to restore the vault oven, I opened a makeshift flat of thin iron door to find several bricks had fallen from the roof and among the ashes left was a copy of “TV Week” announcing Johnny Farnham and Alison Durbin as King and Queen of pop for the year of 1971. So the oven had not been used since … and I suspect long before … that date … and I see Bob and Dolly Dyer also won a Logie for that year … they were still alive then … amazing!

Now these vault ovens are bloody great for doing a big cook-up in … of course, as stated, you got to get an early start to get the oven up to temperature. The first item that goes in the oven when it is raging hot is the capsicums and eggplants or any veggies that need to be grilled so the skin can be removed when thoroughly cooked … this is done by placing the hot, seared capsicums in a plastic bag straight from the oven … it is then sealed and left to cool before attending … then, when the oven is at a holding temperature of around 200 deg c’, in go the assorted breads and pizza bases and buns and such things …

“Closed-passage plans or black kitchens (Schwarze-Kiiche) are more generally found in the Barossa Valley, for example the Keil house at Bethany, and the Schmidt house at Lights Pass.” (Gordon Young; Early German Settlements in South Australia).

The design of this type of cooking hall stems from the late Middle Ages, when regulations began to be introduced in Germany to control the incidence of conflagrations caused by the use of open-hearth fires. Thatched timber canopies pargetted with clay were built over the hearths to conduct smoke and sparks away into similarly constructed chimneys.

Of course, my wife, Irene, is the brains behind the preparation and cooking … I am the muscle and the swisher around of the long-handled pizza shovel … and a dexterous user of such a device – if I say so myself – and it was not my fault that I came close to taking out one of Irene’s eyes as I pulled the naan bread flans out of the heat … I claim rights of “tradesman’s territory” of 180 deg’s from the front of the oven to safely wield that weapon!

Around lunchtime, in goes the pizza topped with all those delicious mouth-watering ingredients that can be loaded onto a base just big enough to fit through the oven door. This is a most delicate time, as the smells of those toppings cooking and sizzling can make a sane man desire strange things … food, indeed is the way to a man’s heart … and when served to him with the alluring smile and generous eyes of a loving woman, there is no mountain too high, no land to far or too difficult to conquer … and no love too deep to extend for the honour of giving. Good food is a wealth of knowledge combined with an artist’s hand. There cannot be a greater pleasure than the eating of such .. blessed be the house that enjoys that pleasure.

“During the first decades of settlement the German settlers clung to their mixed farming techniques and continued to supply Adelaide with fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and pork products. Thus on the night before market day it was a common sight to see the German women from Hahndorf and Lobethal wending their way through the Adelaide Hills, carrying wicker baskets filled with farm products to catch the early market.” (Gordon Young; Early German Settlements in South Australia).

And I’ll tell you one thing I found in my study of that period of South Australian history … regardless of some Anglo “born to rule” citizen’s claims of being “nation builders”, if it wasn’t for those early German settlers, with their dogged persistence and solid-down-to-earth ethics and hard work, the state would have folded and collapsed in around 1842, when the English speculators and con men sent the settlement into receivership … It was those hardy German farmers kept the state alive!

It is getting close to Christmas, and this year we are having my (adult) children up for dinner, along with a grandchild. Now, Irene has to shine with the home-cooked meal in that the son was head chef of an award winning bistro kitchen and so he knows the meaning of good food and good preparation … and he will always assert; “Home cooking is a world away from commercial kitchen prepared food” … and one has to discern and respect the difference. But in the end, good food is universal.

So this year, we have stoked up the vault oven and prepared in advance some of those delightful dishes … and as ‘official taster’, I have already sampled the crème brûlée , and made myself a glutton with the frittata and the custards etc … and that is the joy of slow cooking in a black kitchen … one is asked to sample for quality the delicacy as it is cooled and of course, a degree of doubt creeps into the equation and … “Perhaps another taste would give chance for a more accurate critique .. if you don’t mind.” Now there is nothing left except to cool the prosecco, prompt t.he stomach and welcome the guests.

“The Keil home with its central, brick-vaulted black kitchen is a classic example of this type of house. Its gable end faces onto the main street of the village (Bethany Road, Barossa Valley) and access to the house is roughly centred on the longer elevation which lies parallel to the Hule. This arrangement allowed for easier access to a small farmyard (Haj) at the back of the house, which was surrounded by slab barns, pig-sties, a slaughterhouse, and a smokehouse.” (Gordon Young; Early German Settlements in South Australia).

By Gott im Himmel! … Those old Krauts knew a thing or two about cooking with fire.

No longer “suitable to terrain”

Poor Geoffery Rush … Poor Andrew Broad … and all those other damned and condemned poor bastard hetero’ males who were mesmerised beyond capacity for self-control by that demon of delight, that goddess of goodness; the female of the species … poor me … We are just no longer “suitable to terrain” vehicles driven wildly and recklessly until we breakdown on the vast desert of deluded day-dreams and await the shifted sands of bias social interpretation to bury us completely. And it’s no use us turning to our lifetime backers of our own generation; our partners and wives … or female friends … they have heard all of our best lines and now snort and sneer and mock our suave/comedic impotence … and like the disgraced Professor Rath in The Blue Angel, our adored “Lola Lola’s” drive us to becoming clowns and madmen … We are doomed.

Of course, the “new men” that will inevitably arise to suit this feminine dominated terrain will have none of the clownish speak and rolling eyes and drooling tongues of us older blokes when confronted with the chaste beauty of the “New Woman” … and I do not mock with that title … for surely it is so: a new woman drawn from all the mistakes and servitude of those older generation of ladies … we have seen it implied and written … ”time to correct the mistakes of those days, of past generations” … we read … and it will be done … so help me God!

But back to these “new men” who are expected to service the needs of these new women … Will their temperament be softened and tamed by this new understanding of “the female within”? Will they stand gracefully to one side whilst the women in their lives organise their habits and desires? Will they be idle whilst the women in their lives choose time and location for any sexual activity the couple may enjoy?

Knowing males like I do, I doubt any of the above will work … And if we were to extrapolate on the subject of male/female relationships, that situation is the “elephant in the room” of this modern-day dilemma of why men are behaving so badly … ie; because they can … Because there is no longer a cultural or physical requirement for single males or even males in relationships to adhere to a loyalty that has no longer a need to exist. Sure, there are laws … but what obstacle is that when passions or anger run high? Just look to the violence statistics to assure yourself. The success of a capital-based society in giving freedom of action/career/self-support to both genders, has on one hand released the male from expectations of paternal roles, but on the other hand has more encumbered women with the extra duties of career construction AND the natural inclination to have children … neither of which, if a woman in this materialist world, can in reality be avoided.

While the male can relinquish and is in some cases forced to relinquish by law his duties as a live-in father, it also has allowed him the freedom of movement to seek, court and seduce other women … many of them already single mothers … with a career … without the encumbrances of paternal responsibility. Males of many species gather together in packs to hunt, the females in herds to protect …

It is a piece of cake that they can have and eat as well, made all the more digestible when angry women curse and abuse men with acerbic vitriol demanding that they behave with more dignity and respect … But when the fox is let loose in the hen house? … fat chance! For it is written; “When the dick rises, the brains go to the arse of the pants.”

You hear of men casually setting up two or more appointments to meet at a certain club on Tinder, and when they arrive, they covertly sus out the best looker of the appointments and drop the others … It’s cruel, it’s vicious, it’s opportune … but since when has the hunter/capture world of sexual promiscuity ever been otherwise?

I have written about it in a scenario I was witness to a long time ago, before mobile phones, when actual face to face meet was they way it went … When divorced/single mothers would drive to another nearby satellite city, to certain cafes, where it was “understood” that men and women in similar situations could meet for casual relationships on their days off from the shared responsibilities of the children …

But what of the women in this scenario? … I have been warned off interpreting the feelings and actions of that gender by some who see themselves as both spokespersons and gatekeepers of some apparently sacred institution that needs to be shepherded away from gross male observation. I will dismiss their pultroonish possessiveness with the scorn such stupidity deserves! But yes … what of the women?

In my long years of attachment to ladies, I notice a different expectation of companionship with their men … and I say; “their men”, because that is what a man becomes in a close, long-term and loving relationship with a woman … he becomes an extension (if you like) of the woman’s personality … he becomes the “arm of masculine power” to her feminine “gathering of family lives and needs” … held in place by a strange kind of metaphorical umbilical cord that has come from the mesmerising hum of his own mother’s consoling voice from when a mere babe-in-arms … there is the strength of womanly power and virtue; “The hand that rocks the cradle” … almost tribal like … and yes … perhaps exactly tribal like … the perfect “rounding off” of required man-power needed for a sustainable lifestyle within even the modern suburban home.

I give you the perpetual requirements for security of existence: Parents/mother – father … shelter/home … genetic offspring / children … food/clothing all collected, food prepared and consumed by the tribal family … all gathered within the protective compound of village/suburb under the umbrella of a larger social organisation/government.

And that is it … You break apart that cohesive “basic tribal” structure, you suffer the consequences … and I believe we are now seeing the evidence of such a breakdown, all in the interests of promoting a materialist, capital-based society that can only benefit a small percentage of people of either gender. But don’t take my word for it … look around you when next you get out and about … look at your acquaintances and friends … What was gained and what was lost … listen to the tales and gossip you hear as you go about your own life … for these little clues are the whispers telling of the health and well-being of the world around you. Don’t listen to the bombastic bravado … that is mostly bluff and bluster …

Humanity may not live on bread alone. But I’ve yet to read of a full-blown revolution started on a full stomach or from the lounge-room of a contented home!

And I do believe it is loneliness for a loving relationship that drives most of the animosity in today’s world … as simple as that … the void that no amount of bling or money can fill: Loneliness.

The Conversion of Father Carravalo

Continuing my Italian Story theme … I heard this tale from my sister when I once visited her in Italy back in the seventies. She told me she had not long been in the village when one day whilst sweeping by her back door, an older woman hurried past. My sister said “hello” in politeness, but the lady did not stop, she just quickly said that she was in a hurry to get to her mother’s as she was looking after her children … ”I have their clothes,” she motioned to a bundle under her arm and on she went. A few moments later an older man came and asked if my sister had seen his wife come past with a bundle of clothes under her arm. My sister related the quick meeting with the lady and told him that she had gone to her mothers’ to pick up the children.

“Ah,” he said sadly.“Her mother has been dead these many years and so have all the children … I will go and find her.” And on he went.

I tell the story of the events as my sister told them to me all those years ago. The priest in the story is, of course, a metaphor.

It went like this:

The Conversion of Father Carravalo

My name is Pietro Carravalo, of the diocese of San Angelo di Povero. It is the ninth day of February nineteen hundred and fifty one.

Yet, just three days ago I was known throughout the district as Father Carravalo. I was the parish priest of the aforementioned diocese. Three days ago I was proud to be known as such! Three days, three days I have groveled in this dirty cave out of sight for that period, out of sight for fear of meeting another human whilst I pondered on the sad misfortune of Signora Marzetti.

You notice I use the past tense when referring to my status as parish priest. This is no accident, nor the result of official dismissal from my post. It is self absolution I henceforth rescind that title, as do I likewise any association with the institution known as ”The Church”. I pace the dirt floor of this cave as I reflect on my decision, as I have done so for the last three days! But there is no other way, I cannot in all honesty claim the privilege of spiritual healer or guider or whatever when I no longer have faith in the basic tenets of The Church.

Three days ago Stefania Marzetti lost her last child. He fell down the stairs at his home and broke his neck. It was the fifth child she had lost in three years … I’ll repeat that; five children … all her children … dead within three years! Madonna Mio I tremble to think of it … one after the other; polio … typhus … scarlet fever … then little Paulo from something as clumsy as a fall … well … she is mad now, I saw it in her eyes before I fled to this refuge, maybe I too am mad! But no! … I can talk as such to you because I am sane, shocked but sane. Maybe it was this shock that jolted me out of my fantasy of high priest of absurdity!

Complacent … self satisfied I was in my privileged position as priest to those simple people. Their lives were ordered, quaint, predictable, as were my duties concerning their spiritual guidance. How many years have I poured Latin and lassitude into their souls? Too many to contemplate. How I reveled in my obligations, how I enjoyed those sanctified moments, those pauses of silence when intoning the mass;  “Nome il Padre e Figlio e Spirito Santo.” Ahh …flows like a piece of poetry, eh?

Then came the polio. How many children did we lose? How many of those little ones that I myself baptised, did I place in the ground? How many shoulders did I embrace as they heaved and wept, while whispering “couragio, couragio” into their ears? How much sadness can you record onto a death certificate? How many broken families onto a tombstone.

When Stephania Marzetti lost her first child from the polio, she was not alone. At least a dozen children in the diocese went down with him, so it seemed her suffering was not a lonely vigil. I took her aside after mass one day and helped her light a little candle for the child and to place it at the feet of the Virgin in memorium, then joined her at the altar rail for prayers of help and forgiveness. I did the same for all the distressed parents. Then in that same year came the typhus and she lost the youngest … a girl. Again, there were others too that lost a loved one, though not all the same families, so that we thought it rather unfortunate Stephania should again be afflicted with such sadness for the second time. Again I consoled her with the blessing of God and a candle at the feet of the blessed virgin. Another name was chiselled onto the tomb! Masses were dedicated to the protection of the innocents and the plea that the typhus would pass without more sadness. Then she lost another child to the disease, the eldest. In the name of God, what more could I say to comfort her? What platitudes this time?

“God is merciful” ( what mercy?)

“We will rely upon Him to guide us through this valley of darkness?”

“They have gone to eternal life?” (while she suffers a living death?)

Words, words, diversions from emotions, yet still I found glib passages to placate her despair. Quotations from this or that book in the bible, words of “wisdom” to salve her wounds and all the time feeling like a salesman endorsing his product!: “Here, take a little of this, it’ll do you wonders!” or; “Much more than Islam or Buddhism our product is guaranteed to ease the pain in your heart!” Mind you I wasn’t so cynical in my heart, I wept for Stephania, but all those..those weak sounding platitudes! I mean …  the woman had lost a whole substance of her life and I was trying to fill it back up with Quasi intellectual gobbledygook, such are the incantations of religious doctrine … I no longer am spellbound by its “mystery”.

But there came a relief of two years in which she was spared further trauma. Sometimes we look back on such peaceful times wishing we could imprison these moments for eternity in a frame to hang on the wall, and gazing on that tranquillity say; “Ahh! Such peace, I remember it well!”

Ah! Such a day it was when I was returning from Fragneto. The priest there had fallen ill with a flu so I stood in for him those two weeks. I would shift their Sunday service back a half hour and ours forward the same so as to accommodate both congregations with minimal disruption. It was a clear, cold spring day, early in the season with still quite large patches of snow capping the hill tops. The village was not far away so I walked the distance.

Yes! A clear spring day, the wind crisp and fresh over the thawing earth. My breath frosted in the air as I exhaled and my eyes stung a little as I gazed from the crest of the hill down the crevassed valley to the rising blue hills of Campangolo in the south. I could see for miles and miles! And wasn’t it a lovely sight … bello!

Just as I reached the high point at the top of the village, the bells of my church started ringing. ”Ah! good”, I thought,”Young Tomaso can be relied upon at least.” And I was in very good spirits as I descended the slope to the presbytery. I had not been back but five minutes when Stefania’s husband; Bertolo, rushes in all flustered and dropped his bombshell!

“Oh Padre, you must come quickly, our daughter, Elvira, she is dying with the scarlet fever, you must come quickly.” He stood there like most of these poor peasants, with his floppy cap crushed in his club-like hands.

“But wait there, Bertolo, two days ago you said all she had was a cold, a small cough.” I was indeed doubtful.

“Ahh, we thought too padre we thought too! Oh sacred heart of Jesus! If only that was so but then the vomiting, the fever so we call in the dottore this morning and he confirms it … Oh blessed saints what wrath have we awoke in our poor family! Please, padre, come quickly.”

I don’t think I need go into the details of the child’s death. I do not like to dwell on it myself, another round of futile incantations, incense, holy water and prayers to a deity as distant as Zeus! Oh we laugh at the pagan worshippers of old and their ridiculous offerings to those impotent gods of theirs! We laugh! But, here in the twentieth century, I have to ask: Are our gods greater? or are we moderns merely slaves to the same illusive desires and frustrations? I, at least, have leaned the answer!

Back then, however, I was still in awe of the “power” of the church. As though the theatre of my “sacred performances” would make all diseases and tragedy vaporise with the swirling incense! I supplicated their tears, but could not stay my own. I re-birthed their belief in the faith, but my own doubts grew! Indeed, Stephania’s wide-eyed helplessness made my speech falter till at the sight of her my set pieces of religious diatribe came jumbled or completely stuck in my throat and I had to go away from her lest I fall completely there and then! You see, though I was seriously beginning to doubt, I still retained the security of those years of indoctrination that bolstered my flagging faith! Her courage stood where mine (in the face of tragic reality) failed.

Still she would come to the church and place a candle at the foot of the Virgin Mother. Still she would ask me for forgiveness from some sin of the past. A sin … a sin! My heart wept at her wretched pleas to god for forgiveness from what? For what? How, how, how? I began to realise there was nothing I could say nor do that would have the slightest effect on her or anyone else’s fates in that village … still she would come pattering down the aisle of an evening and catch me unawares as I was about my duties and make me jump! Then I would guiltily light a candle for her and bustle about her, helping with a cushion to kneel on, holding her elbow to assist etc. in short just fumbling about when all the while I wished to throw my arms up in surrender to futility.

So it came to be that I could pick her footsteps out subconsciously and not be caught unawares, this way at least I had a moment to prepare myself to face her again. You see now? … She was the nemesis of my faith! Then came the accident with little Paulo. It finished her! It finished me! It has finished two thousand years of demagoguery!

I was standing at the church doors when I heard the news of Paulo’s death. I nearly fainted on the spot! I started trembling all over as if in a fever. I put my hands over my entire face and turned and ran inside the church as a desperate man would to his executioner to throw himself on his knees to beg mercy! I ran, yes, ran down that isle toward the altar, toward the holy tabernacle and at the altar rail fell to my knees in despair! …

“Dio … Dio”, I cried. Then a soft whisper; “Dio .. ” The only words I could get out. What could I say? What could I ask? … “I’m only a parish priest, I’m only human. I can’t give anymore strength to that woman, I have none to give! Oh, God, why oh why, what is the need of such torture? Madonna … blessed Madonna Mother of Christ!” I beseeched, yet speechless for more words … what could I ask …. only a parish priest .. only human! I wept … I wept … that poor woman … that poor woman! My head bowed touching the altar rail as I pleaded to … to … to whom?

Then in the hollow emptiness of the church I became aware of her soft footsteps approaching down the aisle. I knew it was her, I dreaded that sound, so now it magnified in my mind a thousand fold! Echoing about the walls up to the vaulted ceiling. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up so. The footfalls stopped but I could not turn … in horror of the pity I felt, I could not face that woman, that mother, so I just knelt there trembling.

“Father?” … she croaked breathlessly. “A candle for the Madonna … please, Father one small candle for my Paulo? A candle, Father?” her voice faltering, yet firm.

I turned slowly … holy Mother of Christ … holy mother of all children! … have mercy, have pity on me as much as her have pity … what comfort for such a wretched soul could I give? Only a priest, only a man … five children, Mother of Christ five children! I grasped the altar rail lest I fell and she held out her hand with a few pitiful coppers in it … appealing;

“A candle, Father, I must put a candle at the feet of the blessed virgin for my Paulo”, and she moved mesmerised over to the statue of the Madonna.

I stood speechless. She placed a bundle of rags she was carrying on the floor and took a small candle from the box, this she lit and placed in the rack provided. She then knelt and kissed the feet of the Madonna, genuflected as she rose then turned to go. I picked up the bundle of rags she had left at the feet of the statue and touched her arm gently.

“Signora Marzetti,” I crooned “These are yours”. She turned, looked at the bundle, then gently took it from my arms and once more turned to go.

“Where are you going, Stephania?” I asked gently.

She looked deep into my eyes, yet hers were vague, unseeing, blank!

“I am going to my mother’s,” she softly spoke.

“But … but, Signora … your mother is dead … these ten years.” She looked a little fazed, hesitated, then smiled beautifully at me.

“Oh no, Father, I am going to my mother’s. She is looking after the children, I will go and bring them home.” She turned, paused, then stroked the bundle of rags, “I have their clothes.“ She spoke softly, I held out my arms to her as if to help. How?… How? … She had lost her mind now.

Her husband, Bertolo, was suddenly there supporting her, with his hands all dirty and hard from the fields and his cap crushed into his top pocket his craggy cheeks furrowed with tears.

“It’s alright, Father … I’ll take her home, it’s alright.” And he half bowed half nodded as he steered her down the aisle to the group of friends clustered at the nave door. They parted as he approached then swallowed them into their midst. I was left alone in the church still with arms outstretched, gaping in mute despair, the echo of the closing door boomed drum like in accompaniment to my heart. I came around and turned to the statue of the Madonna, the one little candle burning at her feet. I felt hopeless, useless!

I giggled, “A candle, Madonna.” I smiled weakly, “A candle for a child, a trade off from a poor mother to the mother of a poorer Christ but, there were five children, my Lady … here, take five candles! Forgive us humans our feeble gestures of worship …” I laughed at the silliness … “No … wait! Here, take a dozen more, a dozen candles for a dozen children … ha! Wait a minute, why skimp … take a hundred … all our life blood for you; Mother of Christ a sacrifice to God from us pitiful people! A hundred children … a hundred candles!” And as I tippled the candles over the sand tray, I laughed at the absurdity of it all. Then I grew angry, I looked down at my garments, the surplice with that smell of incense permeated through it, once so comforting to me with its spice-like aroma, I now found disgusting, so I flung it off to the floor, likewise my cassock, then darting to the presbytery, I changed into street clothes and ran desperately away, away from the hopeless shame, the tawdry sham of my life I ran, I ran, I ran …

Till here I am in this cave, and now all the hate and disgust has abated, I shall abandon all the pretexts of my holy office and accept my place as a man amongst my people …

Listen! The bells of San Georgio ringing out across the valley, crisp and clear in the rising air. I wish for a modicum of their confidence. Indeed their peals shout of glory, of happiness in the new day! Just as a bird sings after the storm ,even from the remnants of it’s destroyed nest … I have little of such religious feelings left, I was a hypocrite, a liar to have ever stood before my people and purported to “guide” them. Yet … though I would disown my religion, I would never abandon my humanity … on the contrary, I embrace it! Ah! and it is as such that I will serve, no more casting out demons and other hocus pocus, I will redress my wrongs before my fellow men, I will go back now, I will go home.

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