Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hee-haw: It's the Law

Recently a man here was sentenced to a gaol term, for driving a car after his licence had been cancelled.
Usually, the penalty for this is to have the cancellation extended. Gaol is regarded as a very severe penalty, a last resort. The magistrate resorted to it because of his many previous convictions.
How many? I don't know, but I do know that they were sufficient to mean that his licence had been cancelled until 2065.
How unfortunate he was to come across so many tender-hearted magistrates, determined to give him another chance, and to keep him out of gaol.
I wonder if he had been sent to gaol early on, so giving him both a short sharp lesson and the possibility of regaining his licence, whether he might have changed his ways.
I wonder how long it will be, once he's released, before he takes a chance and drives again.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vita Brevis

He was tall, blond, stunningly good-looking. An ex student of a famous and expensive school, he was studying the combined degree of arts- law. My self-estimation rose when I knew him well enough to have a fleeting chat: I would never have dared aspire to more.
Then he deliberately shot and killed himself.
For the first time I recognised that there could be a vast difference between outward appearance and internal life, although I was a master of this myself...who isn't, at 19?
For the next x years, a suicide brought on - I saw this in others, as well as myself - the thoughts of what could I have done: why was I so blind: if I had only, etc etc. even of people known only peripherally.
But David died around 1960. In the early 1990s here, suicides became so frequent - several mothers, but mainly teenagers - that one didn't question them, or wonder, and their peers normalised and minimised it as "he topped himself". "Topping"? Why that word? The old Vietnam -era word of "wasting" seems more appropriate to me, about these sad children.

David's suicide made headlines on page 3 of national newspapers. Was youth suicide then so rare? Later, it became encoded in the death notices. "18 years old. Died of natural causes." Ah. Despair. A natural cause of death. RIP babes.

Friday, May 28, 2010

We take glory where we can

"I can burp the alphabet," boasts Caleb, aged 7.
I declined the demonstration.
He took it manfully in his stride.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Egg and I

was one of the books I bought at yesterday's Book Fair, an annual Rotary event, where 30000 books are on sale for mainly $1 or $2 each.
I suppose that many are books from estates: they have noticeably changed over the last few years. There are few now by Taylor Caldwell, Robert Penn Warren, Lloyd C. Douglas, Daphne du Maurier, Irwin Shaw and such. How grand their titles were: "Dear and Glorious Physician", "A Many Splendored Thing", "The Robe", "The Citadel".
I had read "The Egg and I" years ago, and thought it hilarious. Her neighbours, Ma and Pa Kettle, became characters of comedy in their own right.
Re-reading it, I see it as a funny, brave and bright spin over hardship and disappointment.

Rising at 4 a.m. each day was a necessity. Having to walk 4 miles to the neighbours to borrow matches or such, she blames on her own forgetfulness. But I resented very much, on her behalf, (tho' she did too) ,that she had to scrub her white pine floor every day, because of her husband's insistence that "it was a badge of fine housekeeping, a labour of love, and a woman's duty to her husband."
When she says elsewhere, that she will never again feel more ecstatic than on hearing the distant sound of her husband's truck returning from town, we see the clash of love and frustration that shattered the marriage.
There is far more description - of sunrises and mountains and panoramas - than would be allowed now. But few readers then, I suppose, would have had any knowledge of the Olympic Mountains or Washington State, so I speculate that it may have been of general interest.

She writes with an easy, warm and witty voice, and with deftness. Of the winter monotony, she says: "The days slipped down like junket, leaving no taste on the tongue."
I salute you, Betty MacDonald. I feel fortunate to have found you again at the Book Fair.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ambushed by a Little Old Lady

"Oh, dog food has gone up again," she said. She was elderly - 80+? -erect, smiling, meticulously groomed.
I had rushed into the supermarket to grab some printer paper, which, because of some rationale that I can't fathom, is next to the dog food. But, instead of answering and hurrying away, I responded to her age, grace and the whiff of loneliness I scented, and smiled. My doom was sealed.
I still can't work out how she seamlessly segued into the following, in no particular order: her father had his hearing damaged from WW1, when he was leading his half-wild horse from Tumbarumba that balked at getting on the ship in Sydney. The youngest brother lied about his age, went to ww1 too young, and was killed. Her father went into hairdressing, and made enough money to buy their "beautiful farm" at Oberne,where she was "from." Her father's name was Hartnett - they were called "hardnuts" at school, which led to many a scuffle: but she and her sister had dark red hair, (from their Irish mother, who was an O'Hanratty) and tempers to match. They had 90 cows, and her father used to buy new bulls from Dapto, because of, you know... but, they milked 50. The four of them would hand milk them morning and night, into kerosene tins that her father had boiled and inserted handles into, they would pour the milk into a 90 gallon drum, and father would leave them to milking while he went off to separate. Nearby was the old Cobb and Co staging post, a 3 story building with cellars and iron lace around the balconies. Now she lived nearby in a house with a giant river red gum in the backyard, and neighbours who had erected a 12 ft high brick fence. She pays her rates by installments, because she's not going to have the council getting interest from her money. Her dog, a border collie, is a wonderful watchdog: but, no one could get close without being detected by her 40 year old pet galah, anyway.
Yes, I made several futile efforts to extract myself: but, it took most of 30 minutes before I got away.
She was expert enough to not make it a monologue. Do you know Oberne? Do you know what a separator is? etc etc
I found her fascinating and very likeable. I have doubts that Cobb and Co ever went to Oberne - a place that there are no roads to, according to google maps, but perhaps they did when there was a gold rush at Adelong. I wanted to know whether the half wild horses were the boys own, or supplied by the army, but she couldn't understand my question.
Iwill walk the street where she lives, tomorrow - it is only 5 or 6 blocks long. I have the feeling that I will see no giant river red gum, and no 12 ft brick fence. I hope that I am wrong.

The View from Nine Years Old

"Did you do anything special at school today, Izzy?" I asked.
Her face lit up. "Yes, we learned about the world thousands and thousands of years ago."
"That sounds interesting," I said, thinking of primordial ooze.
"Oh yes it was," she said. "We learned all about World War 1."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Boys With Guns

It seems very odd now that, in the days when schools had cadet corps (only for boys, of course), it was quite commonplace to see school boys - how old? 14 to 17? - carrying .303 rifles to school. It was as unremarkable as them carrying school bags.

It also seems piquant that blue hair was the prerogative of many mature and very respectable ladies.
When I was a child I sometimes heard the comment mutton dressed as lamb. I was unsure what it meant, but it obviously suggested poor judgement and possibly questionable morals. Dyeing greying hair a more youthful shade definitely fell into this category.

Hooray for nowadays!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"The World Beneath"

I was late for work on Friday, because I just HAD to finish this book. (Fortunately, I am self-employed, so the boss took it in her stride).
Cate Kennedy has won many awards for her short stories, which she evidently (grits teeth) finds easy to write. This is her first novel.
If it wasn't for her distinction, I doubt that I would have continued reading past the first third or so of the book. Having three tedious and unlikeable main characters is high risk indeed.
However, as the fourth character, the Tasmanian wilderness, enters, the tension slowly rises and the story becomes absolutely compelling.
I would highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Under the doona with Rome

It was in the late 60s, that Aoife was engulfed in giggles when she told me.
Carmen's husband, Frank, had in desperation appealed to her christian sense of charity, that Aoife might have sex with him...(sleep with him, was the euphemism).
Poor Frank. Carmen had two children, a boy and a girl, and had medical advice that another child might kill her.
I've always wondered about, and never discovered, what kind of medical or physiological condition leads to this diagnosis.
However, that's what they said, and, as vatican2? proscribed contraception, there poor little, skinny, (rich), Frank was, an honourable and idealistic young man facing 30, 40 or 50 years of celibacy, and quite out of his mind with desire. Testosterone doesn't flag on vatican command. There were "bad girls" around, but Frank would have been too naive to know of them, and brothels were illegal. It may have been fortunate for him that he died young, and significant that it was of cancer: so often a disease reflecting an insuperable resentment, anger or difficulty, that gnaws away: gnaws away: gnaws away: in the mind, then in the heart, then in the body.