the sentence

Here is how the enterprise unfolded: on day minus 2, to wit Wednesday, we went looking for Adonis’s schoolbooks, of which he needed only three having found that Nick already had the required dictionary, but found on arriving at the bookshop (you will remember Academic & General in Mt Alexander Rd) that Adonis had not brought his booklist, so, wondering whether behind this marvellously calm and amiable exterior there dwelt somewhere a certain forgetfulness, we drove back via Macaulay Rd to MECU where he applied for a card and deposited a cheque from Psarandonis and had a demo from us on how to use the ATM, he being already aware of how crooks from Eastern Europe copied PINs with hidden cameras, thence back home where he passed another day with Rory, who has been very happy to have such a companion, preparatory to trying Academic and General on day minus 1 for the books, which they did not have in stock, apparently because the floods have crippled transport from the north, so feeling that the perfect school opening might be unravelling but grateful that we did not have to join a long long queue peopled by disgruntled fathers loudly denouncing their families for leaving such tasks to the last day but secretly hating the idea of going out of their way to do demeaning things such as waiting to buy books, we returned to see whether the books were in stock at places like Readings, found that at least one was and decided to pick it up that evening after we had been to see an exhibition by Lily and others featuring me reading a story and as an art work totally incomprehensible and pointless, but were once again disappointed and had to leave with the books ordered but not in the scholar’s hand, all of which brings us to day one itself which began with a 7.15 breakfast for the four of us – the fourth being Rory – consisting of Nick’s favourite cereal, oranges, grapefruit juice, baked beans and toast, along with Lorna’s carefully tended cut lunches in paper bags, which had to be put into a backpack because it had started to rain quite heavily, this in turn dictating that Rory be driven to the tram and the scholar and Lorna to Debney, news from which visit will form the subject of the next email, entitled…

schooldays 2 
which will begin with mentioning what was not mentioned in the first note, namely that on S-Day minus 1, the Thursday, his new bed arrived from Myer so that he was able to install himself in his own bedroom, the middle one upstairs believed by us to be the best room in the house, an activity he said was among his favourites, so it was in this room that he awoke at 7 on The S- Day, using my (Bill’s) mobile as an alarm since he has yet to get a mobile of his own (under Mairead’s direction) and descended as we have already related, to the 7.15 breakfast of cereal, oranges and baked beans, from which, he being much satisfied but clearly a little apprehensive, we drove him to school, found that the Music Industry bizzo was still up in the enrolment air, met the new principal and consigned Adonis first to a Phys Ed class, which he may take if he can’t have Music, though he would still much prefer music, having as we are discovering a firm mind of his own about study and its long-term uses – a very positive mind we must add – and subsequently to classes in Maths and Media, on both of which he reported very favourably, the Maths report including the news, of which he was very proud, that in a couple of preliminary tests he got 100 per cent in both cases, so we must say that with a trip to the bush on Saturday and Sunday, which has been reported on separately and in which he continued to show a most relaxed, enthusiastic attitude to getting stuff of a practical nature done, and a breakfast of sweet corn and cereal to start what will be known as …

schooldays 3 …
wherein he set out on the tram at 8.25, with his cut lunch in a paper bag, as lunches should be, but still with no textbooks because the book supply is marooned in Brisbane warehouses as a result of Queensland disasters which have also wiped out the banana crops, bananas being his favourite fruit and for Betty, according to her, her sole supply of potassium and hence to be consumed at the rate of one a day, even though as I have just established from Google, many other foods, such as potato, tomato, orange juice, lima beans, prunes, raisins, spinach and yoghurt (even a glass of milk) pump at least as much and often a great deal more potassium into the system, all of which detail might suggest rightly some impatience on my part with certain of Betty’s categorically held opinions that impinge on our weekly rituals of shopping and transport here and there – but let that be enough of bananas and catastrophes, we are concerned with student Adonis who had another good day at school it seems, having been the only one of his class to do the homework for Media, having been invited to audition at UHS for the music subject and having not only enrolled with Maria Foscolos, cleverly sweet-talked by Lorna, but having also received the first of her massive missives to be completed very very soon and furthermore having written an essay for her and had a phone conversation with a view to going straight into Year 12 and on top of all that completing forms, two for a transport card and one for a gym membership, not to mention finding what looks like a grand plan for a mobile so that soon he will not need to use my mobile as an alarm to get him up for the 7.15 breakfast, once again of sweet corn but this time in a pancake, that will launch him into the next school day to be entitled …

schooldays 4
which will be a triumph of non-scholastic works, to wit, immediately after breakfast, of corn in a pancake, Lorna went to the gym to get a new and, she says, quite demanding program from a young New Zealand (another) girl with a blonde ponytail and a degree in psychology whilst I enrolled the scholar with Alicia who is unsurprisingly also a New Zealander – from the south island near where the miners were buried alive, though possibly already dead from fumes,  a while ago –  from whom today I got a happy birthday card, and thence to a packed letter box back home, with Lorna incidentally retrieving a broken table from the nature strip to take bush, somewhat against my judgement because it requires work, in which package of somewhat damp letters we found the Centrelink communication that I wrote to you about and to take action on which we waited for Adonis to arrive home early, he being already into the way of free periods, so that he could come with Betty who was going to the hospital and Lorna and me to Centrelink, where after a regulation half hour wait during which Adonis reflected that we all fell silent and half asleep whereas in circumstances other than waiting we would be conversing animatedly we advanced the claim for an allowance a few more steps by dint of showing an African gentlemen A’s birth cert and other proofs of who he is, a seemingly satisfactory visit as far as it went, thence to Puckle Street to buy him a beautiful mobile with an Android system so like the iPhone but free and with limitless calls and texts anywhere in Oz, his pleasure in this being immeasurable, thence via Browns where he had  an apricot pastry and I a jam tart for myself and another for Betty as a reward for waiting at the hospital, then over to Errol to get photos for a travel card and Maria F’s records, and finally home to a smoked cod dinner hugely pleased with ourselves and very smug and set to get all of Adonis’s homework done and the dog walked and so to bed until the next schoolday, also my birthday, whose accomplishments and disappointments, if any, will be recounted under the title of…

schooldays 5

on which day I woke at 6.00, rose just before 7.00. made a mushroom and bacon omelette for the lads’ breakfast, figured out the nine-letter target word instantly, thereby banishing thoughts that turning 79 might destroy my memory and literary faculties, a fear that of course applies more to an unfolding future than to a single dramatic moment on one’s birthday, and took off with Adonis & L to the dentist in Macaulay Rd to see what is to be done about Adonis’s broken tooth brace, spent bloody near half an hour getting back a few metres what with the traffic only to be almost immediately recalled to hear the good news that an orthodontist not far away could fix the problem quite quickly and that there would be no damage in the meantime, and to take Adonis to school of which he had missed only one period and thence back home to do some this and that whilst waiting to go to Dee’s for lunch via Ferguson Plarre in order to get a couple of cakes, one to eat with Dee and Francis, one for the rest of the family, all matters that were accomplished without hitch before returning for a nap, some tutoring of Adonis in the mechanics of distance ed in Greek with la F whom we now diligently call Maria in order to be sure we are as respectful as we would wish others etc, and so by 6.00 p.m. to a birthday dinner, a real blow-out, with presents of some balsamic and a giant parmeggiano from Adonis and Rory, a bottle of Jameson’s from Betty and a bag of kitchen gadgets of the most sophisticait kind from Tony and Mairead, another look at some Greek study issues and so to bed there being a fadeout of the modem which prevented our watching some catch-up and  would give way to thoughts of yet another day which we will call …

schooldays 6

that turned out to be a day of excitement beginning with baked beans for breakfast, which is no cause for excitement, except that they were said to be organic and all -as opposed to half – devoured by the lads, and after period one and the posting of the Greek assignments for the week, much to the approval of Ms Wignell and, one would hope, Maria F., then involving picking up Adonis at the school and ferrying him to Uni High for an audition to get into the Music Industry course, which audition was conducted by a sandy haired Dr Andy Sugg whose initial demeanour suggested that he saw no place for an obscure instrument such as a lute in a course apparently dominated by local sagapo (otherwise know as popular music) but who promptly changed his tune so to speak when he heard Adonis play tunes for which he had to avoid a missing fret on Dee’s lute and realised, we could see,  that he had a performing treasure on his hands whom he had to accommodate, which he did, with the result that Adonis will spend four hours on Wednesday afternoons at UHS for his final Year 11 units, to which, we may now add, he will travel with the new yearly travel card that we obtained for him at new North Melbourne Station (in West Melbourne we must remark tartly) before sending Lorna off to buy flash new gym gear to match her flash new program and conveying the student back to school for the remainder of schoolday 6 which will be followed next week by further news entitled…

schooldays 7  

which takes in some high points of the weekend, Monday and Tuesday, to wit that the Student  continues to do his homework it seems and has been praised especially by his Maths teacher – a person from one of the -stans, e.g. Kazakhstan  – who thinks he might set Adonis some more advanced work and has prompted in Adonis the speculation that he will perhaps  do some maths also in Year 12 along with continuations of his present subjects all of which he seems to like, a circumstance that suggests a degree of contentment with his schooling, which may be further added to by his afternoon of music today at University High, a reminder that a fret is missing from Dee’s lute and we don’t know how to fix it and that on Dee’s advice Adonis should play mandolin more often in auditions etc because local listeners will feel more at home with a familiar instrument, appreciating the while the different style of Adonis’s playing, advice that I mentioned to Adonis seeking to confirm that he was pretty good at mandolin, which he did confirm in his downbeat and modest way, on the day after he forgot to pack his lunch but not so that the voracious three-legged and still highly agile Jiffy could leap on to the table top and so attack the lunch that nothing remains, or did remain last week,  beyond a torn paper bag and an orange, a meat roll and a snack bar having been torn loose of their plastic wrappings, or at least one hopes torn loose because otherwise the animal would have plastic inside its bowels, reviving memories of Bonza forcing out a long plastic sausage from his rear after an omnivorous raid of the sort favoured also by Jiffy but entirely eschewed by Ollie Carli-Hannan who is fussy about food and extraordinarily efficient at demolishing raw chook, bones and all, in rapid time without any ill-effects, a diet manifestly preferred to the wretched dry food that he used to simply look at and turn away from, presumably repelled by the smell since his coiffure seems a total barrier to his sight, dear Ollie Carli-Hannan, now beloved by the formerly scorning Lorna and shortly to return home, round about the date of the report that will be numbered 10 probably rather than the next, which will be entitled …

schooldays 8

and a very cheery report it will be, for it reports on the scholastic front that the first afternoon of the music course went well, the Student finding himself playing an electric guitar in some sort of rock group (having arrived with a mandolin) and generally pleased with his induction to the class and to Uni High, where some denizen students showed the incomers the location and nature of the school’s facilities and exits and from whence he found his way home by foot meeting Rory along his path and so to a dinner of fish balls made by Betty, with green beans and asparagus paddling in anchovy butter as side dishes and a further course of spanokopitta baked by me using horta from the backyard since we had no spinach, the horta having been gathered by Lorna who has an eye for warragul greens, edible grasses, dandelions, herbs, nasturtium leaves and parsley, apropos of which you might not know that both carrots and parsnips belong to the parsley family, nor in the case of parsnips you  may not be surprised since they really do look like pallid and overgrown parsley roots, if you’ve looked at parsley roots as I imagine few people do unless as with us parsley spreads like bracken fern to every corner of the garden and into the interstices of the paving, nodding in sorrow that people are stepping on or over it on their way to buy bunches of parsley at the supermarket, and I reject any accusation of anthropomorphism in this matter, mindful that Lorna’s mother Mavis always contended that lettuces screamed as they were uprooted from their beds, but to get out of this digression I will only add that Adonis had Maria’s Greek homework nearly all finished a couple of days in advance and perhaps also add that out of respect we will henceforth call Ms Foscolos Maria rather than by the surname that had acquired certain overtones not fitting to a teacher who has the good of her students ever present in her very full heart, but add nothing else until the next account to be entitled …

schooldays 9

and in this we hope to record a final visit  to Centrelink bearing the documents posted post haste by Shelagh and being the last of the documents required by that Cyclopean bureaucracy that sees all through the single lens of correct paperwork that can be cross-checked by all other departments when Centrelink wants the cross-check but not when the client (as unfortunates in reversed baseball caps and one leg of the trackie pulled up to the knee are designated, as also are persons of respect and indeed local poohbahs, levelling us all to the class of Client) may want the convenience of not providing the same information on multiple occasions after multiple 45 minute waits in chairs facing a noticeboard for outdated and inconsequential announcements, and therefore hoping as I said that this would be the last such depressing session  we presented the required documents, all three of us, to a lady named Paola whom Lorna buttered up with cheery stuff about the oddities of the weather (oddities indeed these days!) and a flow of compliments for the extraordinary courtesy that she, Paola, was according both us and our plea for money to support the student through his leisure life, the essentials being not in question, plamas that Lorna delivers without the least blush or even irony, and who appeared (a word I use designedly) to be saying that Cyclops would scan all, pick his teeth, put the paper aside and fall asleep, a procedure that could probably be taken to mean that the student’s demand had been granted, but of course whether this is so cannot be asserted now and will have to await a later day, later certainly than the next report, to be entitled …

schooldays 10
which can serve as a backward look at a highly virtuous act by the Student in response to a request by Maria, formerly referred to disrespectfully as Foscolos or in even more disgraceful moments as La Foscolos, but who can now be respectfully seen as a kind of Hellenolink, Cyclopean in its own way, that noses out opportunities for Greeks by way of scholarships and awards, of which our Nick has been a beneficiary, and also looks out for works of charity that can be performed for young Greeks, such as that for a 16 year old lad recently arrived from Thessaloniki and now at school in Melbourne who longed, as Maria saw it, for some Greek chat and friendship of the sort that could be provided by Adonis and was in fact late Saturday afternoon accorded him by both Rory and Adonis, who I note with some regret is being regularly called Don (and in passing we might hope that Dimitri from Thessaloniki will be dubbed Jim rather than Dim, even though the latter might be uttered with a tinge of Ozzie affection) just as Rory is routinely called Roar or Roars, without any suggestion of irony, and the rest of us have diminutives we may or may not like, Nornie for example, so as I said Roars and Don met Jim in the city and showed him around a few of the haunts they favour before returning home very satisfied with their act of welcome to a stranger, their filoxena so to speak, which we can now put into the larger and cheery context that the Don is ahead of his work for Maria and that we may be able to record a favourable reaction from her in the next report which will be entitled …

Schooldays 11
or if not in this then in a future report on the Scholar’s Greek that meanwhile can give way to rejoicings at the arrival of Nick, ever smiling, ever buoyant, ever charming, always ebullient Nick, well prepared for the opening session tomorrow, in the sense that we know where he has to go at 10 a.m. after a bacon and egg muffin and have agreed that a serious student at university always carries a notebook and pen either to take real notes or appear to take notes, not too many in the manner of an anxious eccentric but just enough to display one’s awareness of the need for good records, including especially details of looming course work, one part of which requires a plan for a business (as opposed to a business plan) and I must say of Nick’s that it is a beauty, an exercise in entrepreneurship in the real world requiring him to develop a plan to find work for Adonis as a DJ, an exercise that will inevitably require him, Nick, to have a mobile phone, to which end we visited the shop in Puckle Street now run by sub-continental gentlemen as an outlet for the infamous Laestrygonian Vodafone that has eaten up the company known as 3 and that offers free communication with everyone everywhere for a monthly $45 including a whizz of an Android handset, all of which will be paid for out of Nick’s account rather than from my formerly bottomless account but which has not been taken charge of yet because we lacked a form confirming that Nick is indeed a student with the capacity to pay for a phone rather than one of the lotus eaters in the land of mobiles who smile all day at one another through the ether without a care for the costs that mount behind them obscured by plantations of memory lulling fruits, which is a theme that we will perhaps return to should one or both of our students drift with their new companions into lotus eating during their free hours and potentially copious spare time, though fortunately there are no more than minor signs to be expected now at the beginning of their respective voyages on the oceans of knowledge that foam between the Trojan ruins of Greek schooling and the Ithacas we all long for, voyages that will be sung in further chapters entitled …

… schooldays 12
which will actually be about a University day, the first university day that must be celebrated all round as a grand achievement by the traveler in question, but we’ll stick with the title that has served so far and that of course will continue to tell of the fortunes of the other Student but today it will be all about Nick’s exciting experience of the very first day of a new life in the City, at the top end next to the legendary brewery that is becoming inner-city-lifestyle apartments, a precinct (as they now say in the manner of American cop shows) vivid with sloe- and slant-eyed sirens, crowded with cheap eateries offering all the stir- and deep-fried delights of the Orient and home to the Bachelor of Arts (Music Industry) school where he will be required to perform, analyse, research, write papers, see through projects and business plans  and we hope combine his money-making gigs with his academic duties, the task for all now being to instill in the Student a proper sense of his obligations to himself, his family, his country, his tradition, his patrons, his benefactors, the Commonwealth government, Maria, his mates even when they offer blandishments that impede work, and in general all his admirers whose expectations will sit on his tattooed shoulder not as a Sisyphian stone but as an eagle tensing to soar into the clouds of knowing, clouds he learnt at today’s inductions float also above foreign shores offering exchange for a semester or a whole year, in North America, Europe, wherever, a prospect that caused both his and our eyes to light up, especially as there was some money attached to help out, not a great deal but a couple of thousand which would go a long way in universities that provide for accommodation and the like, as does the one Cal is at in the land of the drug lords and lovely people who deserve better, and on top of that enticing possibility he learnt that HECS had been fixed up for him by heaven knows whom but in all likelihood as a routine thing executed by RMIT admin, the upshot of that being that he will have a debt that will follow him beyond the grave to generations until the end of climate change, which TBG need not concern us in the next few reports led by the one to be entitled …

Schooldays 13
and since this is famously the unlucky number, fear of which even has a name (triskaidekaphobia), I will confine myself to reporting the Student’s good fortune to-day, namely that he has been granted his student allowance by Cyclops and that he is immensely pleased with fortnightly amounts accumulating (we hope) in his MECU account almost of the same size – a few dollars less – as those of his older brother, with whom he has just gone to the gym as a full member (from yesterday) and with a birthday card (in advance) from the same gym, and with whom tonight he will  attend Gabriel’s birthday party, as the DJ, an event which we hope to be able to write only good things about in the next report entitled …

schooldays 14
whose title really should unidays 1, a day that began rather cold, especially considering it is only the end of February, a month that has in other years seen our world engulfed in flames, a month that will not this year have that extra day celebrated in ‘leap year coming once in four …’, a day at all events that began with a panicked Lorna and me waking up late with a start, even though the alarm had gone off and set the radio going which did not stop us from dozing off and waking in the said panicked state anxious that Adonis not be already at the table pouring milk on his cereal, for which, he said, the common word in Greek is corn flakes, and that I would have time to cook his and Rory’s ham and egg sandwiches, an extremely popular dish comparable to a bacon and egg mcmuffin, which I also make and which is similarly popular even before they put the routine squirt of tomato sauce on it, which said squirt today was replaced by a dash of Tricia’s tomato sauce that mirabile dictu proved even more popular than the 257th variety, after which breakfasting it was a day that continued in the gym, once the lads had picked up their cut lunches (in paper bags!), shouldered their backpacks and left for school, the gym that now imposes new programs and quite demanding ones at that for both of us, part of mine today being done at the window side of the gym overlooking Arden Street -unusually for I’m normally on the other side of the gym among the weights, big bouncing balls and mats – so that I could watch the trucks, commuter cars and joggers passing along this once industrial, now lifestyle-desirable street, home of the northeners, shinboners and kangas, whilst I stretched muscles in the arms, back, hammies and achilles and wobbled for a minute on one foot, the other raised, which is said to be an exercise for the ‘core’, a part of me I have never discovered, and of course, the day being the day it is, thought of Nick still in bed but no doubt awake thinking of what it will be like to be a UNIVERSITY STUDENT, an Ithaka before him and who knows how many Calypsos on his way, all of us hoping that Hermes will be at his side protecting him from distraction and danger and prompting him to carry pen and book in which to take notes, or at least appear to be doing so, and to attend to references by the lecturer to texts that might be useful for research tasks, which tasks I am stressing to him in our chats about being a university student are the ones he will be least at home with, indeed hardly at home with at all, so it is fortunate that three out of four of his subjects  – all done in three hour sessions – are hands on rather than reading, researching and writing, but it happened that the first of his classes today, this afternoon, was the academic one, which caused me to think about his experience this afternoon with a little trepidation, all the more because it is a class taken by Kips Horn who is the boss of the faculty and to whom we no doubt owe Nick’s selection into what is quite an exclusive course and for whom I have stressed Nick must put his best foot forward and keep it there not only for his own sake but also for the honour of the family and his homeland and for the future acceptance of Adonis who says he too wants to take the same course, though this might change as we keep our options open and our powder dry; but the upshot at all events was that Nick found his first day awesome and everything about it awesome with the result that we were able to have a slap-up celebratory awesome dinner of oysters, pizza, rack of lamb (Nick’s favourite and his particular request for this most auspicious dinner) with potatoes and salad adorned by Josephine with nasturtium flowers, all in all a great feed for a great day and amidst a company that caused me to reflect that far from adding to the task of tending to two grandsons (and others), a task for which our friends express an admiration that might be more a reflection on our age than on our abilities, the presence of Adonis, so calm, so courteous, so good-humoured actually lessens the task by containing the ebullience of Nick, ever likely to get out of hand, as well as the vigorous temperament of Rory, as indeed it did on this wonderful uniday 1 which will be soon followed by another day entitled …

… schooldays 15
a title that could suggest we have nothing to occupy our days and advancing years apart from caring for the young, and although that could be seen as a good deal better than strolling along the beach hand in hand contemplating our superannuation and lazing in the world of financial advisers and insurance gurus who beach the elderly in distant coastal retirement villages  where the hubbie will go fishing and the wifie bake scones in the hope of visits from the children or grandchildren that never eventuate, it is not in fact the case for two who daily climb Mt Forgetfulness on their exercise bikes and who (in this case Lorna not I) discuss with our trainer Tyson the prospect of entering the most senior age-grade of the triathalon, which for those who don’t know, is an appalling combination of swim, bike and run – the swim in a sea that is bound to be cold and choppy, if not infested with man-eaters or drifting jellyfish with  perilous stinging tentacles casually trailing behind them – and having finished their daily gym, before which they had cooked breakfasts (bacon&egg mchannans today as Rory christened them, declaring them superior to, if a trifle similar to, McMuffins, the difference being mine have no cheese but much better tomato sauce (Tricia’s), free -range eggs, which McDonald’s could not contemplate, and proper bacon, not to mention decent muffins) * and had themselves eaten wholesome muesli and drunk stimulating coffee, nourished as it happened to such an extent that we were alone in the gym with Tyson observing that we had intimidated the rest, until the arrival of the totally unintimidatable Helene Chung, first Asian newsreader on the ABC, daughter of a nude model who drove a red  MG (itself topless of course) in Hobart many years ago, and who (i.e. Helene) appears at the gym like a creature from the stars in a grey tracksuit with what looks like a Harley-Davidson emblem across the bum, moon-sized tinted glasses and bulging earphones incorporating radio and antenna, the whole looking like a large coloured plate in a book about insect wonders of the world (as Barry Oakley, about to turn 80 in Balmain, once said of Mrs O’Grady apropos of her highly flamboyant coloured and sparkling spectacles) and who had, if I have not lost track of my clause connectors, several tasks ahead of them this day in no way related to the care of grandchildren, to wit: finishing off comments on several films for Simon Killen (among them the Greek horror piece Dogtooth, which I admire but Lorna shrinks from); making triangular egg sandwiches to take to the funeral of a local elder who may be a distant relation of Lorna’s; meeting with Rae Nicholls to continue a long and nostalgic tale of local history on Hotham Hill; cutting a few more sandwiches to entertain Michael O’Brien, deposed principal of Debney Park, deposed we have to confess by his own hand since he took advantage of an early retirement scheme intending to be re-appointed which he wasn’t to his great chagrin; and of course returning to the role we began by minimising, namely greeting Nick and Adonis on their return from a schoolday and uniday3, the school student to set off for one of their innumerable haircuts, and the uni student to declare yet another subject – now three altogether – AWESOME, which wonderful news makes me think I might return to that theme in the next chapter of .schooldays, i.e ***

schooldays  16
which chapter will tell a tale of eggs that begins with Lorna putting three eggs on the stove to boil, with the intention of preparing to make egg sandwiches for Monday’s lunches, on this occasion for four – Adonis, Rory, Nick and, wait for it Raphael who had a sleepover and didn’t he love it – but with the result that on settling to watch a film from Simon she forgot all about the googies until a distant smell of burning shell jolted her into the kitchen to find the pot boiled dry and the eggs well on the way to a kind of baked state and giving rise to the thought that they were buggered, a dead loss, a thought that we expressed reluctantly, I at least having it in mind to try them out, and lo! after all that they were fine – one can after all bake eggs –  so Lorna mixed them with butter and salt and stood them till morning when she made lunch rolls while I served peas and corn and bacon and cheese muffins to three of the four lads -the eldest not being up yet – and Lorna sent an email on the matter of baked but not burnt eggs, to which Spiller replied that there must be a patron saint of boiled eggs, as indeed there is and Greeks will know well that it is the maligned Mary Magdalen to whom the reddening of eggs at Easter is attributed on account of her having inexplicably held an egg up to the Roman emperor Tiberius who quite rightly scoffed that her story of Christ resurrecting was as likely as the egg suddenly turning red which, mirabile dictu and of course, it promptly did thereby condemning us all to eat the wretched things at Easter, and I could if I may add in a bracket that if you don’t take to that story or to red eggs you can direct your prayers and supplications through (the correct preposition theologically) Brigid of Ireland who is patron saint of poultry farmers (seemingly to no effect since they persist in their beastly treatment of their broods) and who will preside over future breakfasts to be mentioned in future chapters of which the next will be …

schooldays 17

beginning with some impressions of a long weekend spent with Francis, Josephine and Jiffy (whose owners went to Womad in Adelaide) and also with Suzy, David, Ruby and Eve, impressions that can be picked up first at about 4 a.m. Sunday when Jiffy began to howl, at nothing discernible apart from the hour, causing us to bring her to bed with us, where she settled contentedly under the doona occasionally licking my hand, apparently to get a dose of salt rather than to demonstrate subservience, and where about three hours later she was joined by Francis and Josephine, creating a fivesome that survived in the bed for maybe half an hour but that broke up when Ruby and Eve appeared, making breakfast seem the best option, so I rose and began tossing pancakes while Lorna entertained the kiddies with tales political, moral, natural historical, familial and fantastical, and while the parents lay abed exhausted from reading their separate novels the night before and dreaming perhaps of a pot of coffee that would evoke the perfumes and warmth of a latte taken on the boulevards at a kerbside cafe where one can share the warmth and perfumes of exhausts propelling commuters to their offices, the earlier wave of commuters travelling to manual labour having long passed emitting not the perfumes of  those who will accede to carbon taxing but the foul odours of those who fear paying more for the excessive amounts of fuel required by their older bolder ill-muffled exhausts that rumble at the lights and roar at the take-off, dreamings that  only one awoke from, and still in pyjamas mind you, at 9.12 a.m. preparing to brew that first dose of caffeine and remarking cheerily on the brightness of the day, which would in fact cloud over later and produce a thunderous downpour unless I am losing track of which day was which because the most notable event was not rain-interrupted, but rather of a pleasant dryness and temperature well suited to yet another of Lorna’s entertainments for the littlies namely a walk through the forest to the gold diggings with a picnic at its climax and much educational talk along the way, but which ended in disaster brought about by Eve wanting to piss but refusing to do it on the road and insisting on going into the bush, accompanied by Josephine, where both squatted over a nest of fierce ants whose extremely painful bites caused Josephine, much bitten, to put up a brave front and Eve, not bitten, to howl at the sight of big bad bull ants, and Lorna to dispatch Francis, who had been appointed health and safety officer to the expedition, to fetch me and the insect bite cream only to find that I had already set out with Jiffy but not found them and that it was Lorna not Josephine who needed the cream since she too had been bitten and she, only she, is hyper allergic to ant bites (which I might say in this bracket cause more deaths in Australia than snake bites, which cause few and those mainly from shock) all of which provided plenty of stories for the rest of the weekend and will therefore give way to other tales of other days to be related in …

schooldays 18

…wherein we should return  to the adventures of Nick in the academic trade where he has found much to enthuse about but also encountered some fears requiring to be conquered, two so far and we will tell of them after recording the enthusiams subject by subject (or course by course as RMIT prefers to say, a course being what we would have called a single subject and a collection of courses a program, so please don’t ask what has happened to ‘subject’) of which there are four this semester, namely (1) Workplace Communication taught by Prof Kips Horn, whom you have met, in a manner that draws unstinted praise from the Student, and which seems to hang a great deal on group work, Nick being in a group of five with four girls, and which focuses so far on the personal qualities required to communicate and to be effective in group relations, two things I think Nick could well profit greatly from if he is to polish his naturally outgoing and friendly manner to a brighter, smoother sheen, (2) Computer Sound Production which involves working with awesome software in awesome labs to create one’s own awesome sound pieces and one’s first compositions, showing a strong preference for the heavy beat and repeated motif, (3) Master Class which seems to consist mainly of performing in class and commenting on performances, and (4) Business Management which consists  of developing business plans for real or imagined businesses, Nick’s being a real one for a performing and DJ services business involving himself and Adonis, a scheme that made him very proud of himself and rightly so in my view since it was not just a good idea but also showed a keenness to get stuck into the study life, with the result that it was therefore to be expected that any doubts about his ability to handle any of the above four would be much more likely to come in the reading, writing, speaking two (Communication and Business) than in the hands-on two, and so it was that one morning I found him not ready to go to the Business class, claiming that he could just as readily go over the session on screen since lectures are routinely posted, as are all assignments (a most advanced system), a stance that I refuted in the strongest possible terms, realising that what really lay behind it was that he had not followed the previous class at all well and was in a funk, but for all that not so great a funk that he refused to go to class, standing before me quite crestfallen like a kid back at school, thinking I believe that he had done the wrong thing and perhaps  let down the side whilst I was already regretting going in so hard that he had momentarily lost the adult self-regard that is his due but as well being satisfied that although late he set off for class and on his return at lunch time declared it to have been very good, and so it was again that faced with a writing task for Communication he froze, even after we had outlined the content, structure and all, declared himself too tired and needing to postpone the task to the morrow, which I let go without believing it, decided soon after to write it out myself, did so according to our plan, took it to him to make his own and gave him shortly after yet another reminder that all assessment, repeat all, in this program is done on class work and class assignments i.e. there are NO EXAMS, none whatever, so attendance and doing what you can, even when you’re again in a funk about what people will think of it, is all important, the upshot of all this being that he is taking classes and assignments seriously and declaring this degree to be the best thing he has ever done, an opinion I now expect to grow and persist as he gets to know his fellow students better, and on which I will report in later episodes though not necessarily the next, entitled…

schooldays 19

but which will in fact pursue the theme, since both Wednesday and Thursday contained matters of the highest excitement for both school and university student, to wit a journey by Adonis to the last stop of the 64 tram, dubbed by us the Woop Woop stop, Woop Woop being now one of Adonis’s favourite place names representing as it does extremities of geography we don’t normally want to contemplate, though it must be admitted that the terminus of a tramline, apart from its role in movies about the supernatural or the after-life, scarcely qualifies as Woop Woop, at which stop he was to alight and go to a recording studio to record something with a group wherein he plays lead guitar after which he had to rush home – if we can characterise a trip on the 64 with a change to the 57 as a rush – down a dinner of roast chook, mashed spud and salad and set off to Essendon – another Woop Woop – in a bus with Lorna  to a posh  College for Catholic, if you please, Boys if you don’t mind same-sex congregation with its inevitable consequences, arguably better than assaulting girls but inexplicably difficult to confess to in the reconciliation situation, i.e. with the very clergy who devised both the situation and the sin and likely  lived its realisation, where the police of all people were running a session for aspirants to an expedition to walk the Kokoda Trail, Adonis being one such aspirant and very keen indeed to be chosen to follow in his distinguished relation’s plodsteps, those,that is, of the great war photographer Damien Parer winner of the Oscar for Kokoda Front Line, although of course his overwhelming reason for wanting to take the Trail is not the family link nor the place of Kokoda in the Australian mythology of how our rough and humble diggers defied the might of the Japanese empire and saved Australia and the universe but rather the thrill, if we can call it that, of toiling up steep  jungle tracks, hurtling down muddy slides propelled by a 20 kg pack containing his sopping bedding, mildewed underwear and hard tack tucker, perhaps even bully beef, who knows, and rock-hard biscuits and dried fruit chews all to be strictly rationed such that youths who started out slim and fit will be lining up for photographs thin and gaunt and mud-stained but sustained none the less by the iron such an adventure puts into the soul and sinews, and so on and so on, you know what we mean, but undoubtedly hugely exciting not to say AWESOME as the subject of this second tale of adventure and achievement would say, namely Niko, uni student who arrived home Thursday from his Master Class in a state of high excitement with news that he insisted must be told to me and Lorna together, so we waited until dinner time, of grilled flathead, sweet potato mash and salad and in the absence of Adonis at soccer training in Inner Woop Woop West (who knew Nick’s news already anyway) we learnt to Nick’s and our absolute delight the Beyond Awesome news that he had (1) been voted by his performance class second best performance without even playing lyra but only lute and mandolin, (2) teamed up for group performance twice when only once was required because in addition to performing something or other with a trio severally of Mauritian, Persian and Thai provenance he had contrived to arrange a duo of himself on lyra and a Chinese girl on one of those funny two-stringed, on-knee, high-pitched in celestial-persons-only know what key and scale, fiddles that can produce awesome sounds when played by masters who have meditated long and calmly, and with all of this plus good progress in the other courses, especially the make-up-heavy-beats on flash computers in awesome labs he expressed the utmost gratification and of course declared the university business the best thing he had ever come across, so it seems things will coast along awesomely until well after the next report to be entitled…

schooldays 20

in which we have to catch up with an event that belonged in time to the previous report but was overlooked in the excitement of awesomeness, namely that Adonis and I had an unexpected visit to Cyclops, known to local unfortunates as Centrelink, in order to get the latest acceptance or rejection of his Youth Allowance, cancellation being out of the ball court because that had already happened, as he was able to determine on his eView of Mecu which showed that after acceptance in January followed by almost immediate rejection and then re-acceptance the allowance was paid through February on the grounds that he had presented all the necessary information and had applied, as required, for a Tax File Number, which would take at least another month to be awarded, then cancelled for the month of March on the grounds that he had not supplied the Tax File Number that one arm of the Cyclopean monster knew had not yet been allocated, leading us to think that the One-eyed One was not able to see both arms at once and hence not be aware that the arm in Canberra, where all evil and confusion reside, did not know what the arm in Newmarket was doing or had been doing, except that it was something that had to be countermanded and the safe way to do that was to cancel everything, and that neither had the least interest in what might be done in the future, all of which cast me and Adonis into such a state of resigned skepticism and gloom that we lined up behind several others in various conditions of hopelessness at the General Enquiries post (a thing resembling a music stand with a computer screen) and made rude sotto voce observations of the fellow standing at the screen to the effect that he did not seem the type of person to know what he was doing because he was slow, indeed ponderous, looked at the screen as though it was written in Kazakh, and hadn’t shaved for some days, in short not up to the job, yet as we eventually fronted him, noticing from his name tag that he was Bob, and expecting to be referred to the side seats facing a desultory notice board and harbouring a set of supplicants in advanced stages of listless desperation, we found to our surprise and pleasure that Bob understood straight off our plight, did not even ask to see the Tax File Number we had received a few days earlier, before the weekend, and faxed to Cyclops from our Hotham Hill post office, found Adonis’s case in a matter of moments and informed us that all was well and that the arrears would be in the bank the next day, oh wonder, oh glorious day, unlikely to be excelled by events in the next report to be entitled…

schooldays 21… 
containing addenda and continuations of affairs alluded to in earlier days, the first being that the lady at the gym wearing moon goggles and sprouting antennae adds to her Star Trek persona  whilst on the exercise bike by waving her arms in tentacular fashion above her  head from time to time, still with earnest good humour, and the second being another encounter with Khan, the man with the big smile in charge of the Puckle Street mobile phone shop, the one who loves the patterns of phone numbers and singsongs their praises in subcontinental tones, the one who greeted me like a long lost comrade of the bazaar and immediately asked me whether I had asked for a new phone – to which I was entitled and which I needed because my old one was playing up- of the kind bought lately by Nick and Adonis ***because I did not perhaps like iPhones, to which question I replied that I loved iPhones, that my wife had one, but that they would be dearer than the plan I was asking for (a plan that gives you infinite numbers of calls to landlines and mobiles anywhere in Oz do you mind), to which he said, cunning infusing his smile, that he would try to get a better deal, whereupon he rang the parent company and said he wanted a better deal for a customer of long standing, querying me with a look to which I replied about three years and which he translated as six or seven years describing me in the best of subcontinental plamas as ‘a very senior customer’ who had brought and continued to bring a large amount of family business to the company, out of which initial conversation he extracted an offer of $8 instead of the prescribed $12 and which he promptly rejected, asking to speak to the person’s supervisor who put him on hold during which time his companion salesman offered me better deals on broadband, which I rejected, and my phone (the one I was trading in) rang with an offer from a male voice of $6 off, an offer so trivial in Khan’s view that he shut my phone down in mid-call and gave me his at the end of which was a subcontinental female voice offering 50% reduction, which Khan would not hear a word of, writing me notes as I bargained stressing that I should settle for nothing less than free since I was a customer of incalculably long standing, the effect of which resistance on my part was that the female voice left the phone briefly, ostensibly to consult a superior, but who knows, and came back with an offer of $4 which put such a gleam into Khan’s eyes and teeth that the deal was sealed and I came away with an iPhone, only to find back home and to my dismay that the dirty big Land Cruiser in which Lorna’s cousin Monica, armed with family albums, and her life mate John, armed with crushing quantities of stories about the Big Country in the North West where the big rivers ran and the big barramundi could be fished from helicopters hovering full of anglers above unimaginably big dams, was still parked out front causing me to skulk in the front room till they left, from which Lorna and I, good grandparents that we are, had to leave almost immediately, with barely time to celebrate the new gadget, to meet all but one of Adonis’s teachers – the absentee being the pregnant Turkish teacher of media – who enquired after Nick with much affection and sang the praises of Adonis unstintingly, except perhaps in the reading department, showing magnificent reports of his Year 12 Greek, top marks in his maths and glowing remarks on his facility with technology and sound design, eulogies that we passed on to Adonis when we picked him up from soccer, found out about the boots he had been measured for to make his Kokoda walk a little less arduous (free boots let me say) and learnt that he would be striker in the team for a practice match on Sunday, to be played in Outer Woop Woop North beyond Epping, but to which thankfully he will be conveyed by parents other than ourselves and whose result may be reported in a future report entitled, perhaps, …

schooldays 22
but we do not yet have a result since the match will not happen till this afternoon, so we have an opportunity to mention other matters at the gym, where Adonis now has to follow an  extremely rigorous program to compensate for his missing a Kokoda training session that takes place on the afternoon he does music at Uni High, training that also included yesterday (Saturday)  a climb up Mt Macedon, for which he had to meet a bus at Moonee Ponds Police Station at 7.20 a.m., ***just five minutes after his normal weekday breakfast time, at which he appears most punctually, and after which, once I have served breakfast also to Rory and Lorna has made both their lunches, properly packed in paper bags let me stress once more, we, that is to say the ancients, walk over the dewey or positively wet Arden Street oval to the gym where several by now familiar organisers, trainers and workouters greet us and where we lift weights, bend knees, stretch achilles and hammies, bob legs, raise arms, perform, in Lorna’s case, unlikely feats of souplesse – a French elegancie that reminds me that my mother always pronounced supple as souple, for traditional rather than etymological reasons I should think but who knows – and finally, and on every day, end up climbing Mt Forgetfuleness on our exercise bikes and trying desperately to find distraction among the limited resources of the other workouters who are sometimes exotic, as in the case already described, but generally rather dull visually and in any case not to be stared at but rather observed from surreptitious glancing, or if not dull, strutting and male in grunt and posture, with the result that we wind up watching the TV screens all of which are of the lowest possible brow being a choice between American footballcasts foolishly showing the wretchedly stop-start armoured game and occasional deluded coach on the boundary rather than the only exciting part of the game namely the antics of the crowd that extend way beyond the hip and streamer waving of the chorus girls, or alternatively several commercial breakfast shows possibly from Melbourne or Sydney but more likely from Hollywood or Buckingham Palace if one is to judge from the news content, and I do have to say on that subject that an astonishing amount of nonsense is being heaped on the proximate wedding of the balding blond prince and his determinedly dieting girl, soon to be a princess one supposes, and who is a reminder that heaps of similarly breathless and fawning attention is heaped from time to time on the breeder of heirs to the throne of Denmark, of all places, simply because she comes from the equally obscure principality of Tasmania and looks not unlike in sharpness of feature and readiness of smile the soon to be princess of the collapsing economy of England which is about to be put under the apparent strain of a hugely expensive wedding show but which will probably in fact be bolstered by zillions in TV rights and permissions to copy every stitch, sequin, button and lace of the gown whose very lack of detail so far excites more news than the real thing possibly will, in short a parade of nonsense that I cannot begin to understand or even find amusing, but which I am condemned to watch, sub-titled by admittedly amusing slips of the word recognition program, or should I write wreck ignition program, for want of better things that might be the subject of the next report, entitled…

Schooldays 23
whereinwemightstartbyseeinghowasentencewithoutafullstopmightlookifallpunctuationincludingthemostfundamentalthewordspacewasomitted but wherein we would be better off preparing for Lorna’s journey to a special Ithaca, long sought by her, namely Cudgewa North where her mother Mavis née Burns rode on horseback to spin silken cloths of knowledge for rustic children and ward off  oafish suitors whose fathers had established this temple of Apollo in the bush near the mighty Murray beneath the monoliths*** of Pine Mountain and distant peaks of the Australian Alps and which we had once thought to have visited only to be asked by Mavis when we told her we had been to Cudgewa to see her school whether we had by chance also visited Cudgewa North, which we had not, so that Cudgewas North’s lure as ***one of Lorna’s Ithakas has grown even stronger and indeed more compelling as we both age, with the result that on Sunday, after we have *** taken offerings to Flemington to honour Francis’s birthday and drunk non-intoxicating libations, which Deirdre always has in the pot, we will embark for Ithaca in the Berlingo diesel van, heated t.g. for we are heading for the wilds and the cold to which end I have insisted we book a motel room against the many hints from Lorna that we curl up on a mattress under the stars (read black clouds) to toughen our bodies and nourish our souls (a dualism I reject) and indeed we have now booked the motel in Corryong, site of the temple of the Man from Snowy River, and it will be from there I hope that I can compose my next report, entitled…

Schooldays 24
and so Sunday morning at a decent hour having sought libations at Dee’s in honour of Francis’s sixth birthday, but having found the birthday boy and a brother already gone to the nearby arena to chase and contest, we set out on the Hume highway to Lorna’s and by now my Ithaca, past many an exit to familiar towns no longer visible from the road as they used to be, until we reached Wodonga where we left the freeway and passed through a surprising number of roundabouts to get to the Murray Valley Highway, the Hume Dam on our left, now almost full, lapping dead trees and buzzing with hideous motor boats,  ski riders bouncing over their wakes and once past drowned Tallangatta able to sense the closeness of Cudgewa, last landfall before Ithaca, where we felt impelled to stop for a preliminary reconnoitre before heading for our motel in Corryong, home of the fabled Jack Riley, the Man from Snowy River who galloped out with the station riders to recapture the colt from Old Regret , who had joined the wild bush horses, and who in his pursuit plunged his horse down an almost vertical ridge to catch the colt at the bottom and ride back to the station and into a legend represented by the silhouette in iron  of a rearing horse and rider mounted above just about every shop and institution along Corryong’s main street, musing that a brief view of Cudgewa and a cautious drive out to Cudgewa North, site of our actual Ithaca, had not given us much hope that we would find the school that Lorna’s mother Mavis née Burns had taught in at the end of the 1920s, but that we would have a grand rest in the Mountain View motel and follow its owner’s recommendation to get an honest meal which turned out to be the Sunday special of roast pork and vegies, the latter garnishes being probably the worst we had ever eaten, and so tired but happy we returned to the Mountain View and slept until …

(Schooldays 25) ***
 
… Monday morning when, having breakfasted in the manner of motels on symetrically poached eggs and absorbed the chapter on Cudgewa North school -which readers will remember from the story of Lorna’s mother asking did she happen by chance to go to Cudgewa North  is the school that will be Lorna’s Ithaca – the chapter in the book about upper Murray schools by Betty Lebner who had lent us her copy overnight because as she explained it was out of print and that the library had ‘lost’ their copy (the inverted commas indicative of an underlying suspicion, not to say contempt, regarding the interloping lackeys from the Shire of Tawong, of whom one was the librarian) and who had generously agreed to Lorna’s proposition that she would copy the relevant pages, a process that would confirm Betty’s opinion of the librarian who pofacedly made our copies for 20c a page counted with clear plastic gloves, and would bring back the book the next day, i.e. the Monday, and so, fortified now with two essential pieces of information about Cudgewa North school namely that it had existed in several buildings on two distinct sites as the sparse population of children changed its location and that the two sites had been lately marked by plaques, we set out for Ithaca thinking to take coffee at the Cudgewa general store, whose young owner had very pleasantly told us the day before that she knew nothing of the schools except that the plaque for the Cudgewa school was opposite in what is now known as the school park, the building presumably having been taken into Corryong to make up the buildings of Corryong Consolidated School (est. 1974) and further apologised that among the very meagre shelves of foodstuffs, reminiscent of the displays of cans in Irish country pubs whose licences date from a law that allowed liquor to be sold in groceries, newsagents and the like, there was no salt but volunteered to put a bit in a bag (which I declined) but finding the store not yet open for coffee we took the road to Tintaldra which branches  after about six miles to Cudgewa North, passing through an epic countryside sprinkled here and there with poor weatherboard (or worse) houses embedded in farm junkyards, crossing first Cudgewa Creek now flowing freely, then Stoney Creek where Lorna descended to gather some commemorative white water-smoothed stones for  Raf, thence to the corner where Leake Road*** led to the right and along which after a few hundred yards we stopped to chat with some fence workers about the whereabouts of the Cudgewa North school site and marking plaque only to learn that the site was indeed as we had thought (but not seen) back at the point where Leake Road joined Cudgewa North Road, and so armed with this reassurance we returned to the intersection and poked about a house and sheds, clearly inhabited but unoccupied  for the moment, but finding nothing resembling a stone with a plaque we were preparing to drive away when a bloke on a tractor appeared out of Leake Road and made for a gate before which he stopped and with a measure of deliberation clearly designed to give me time to walk up the road to chat with him he set about opening the gate and in the process cutting his hand on some barbed wire (distracted perhaps by his curiosity as to our stopping at such an unlikely intersection) and strolled back to meet us, a tall, bulky fellow nearing seventy I would say wearing a peaked cap who turned out to know exactly what we were talking about and after due exchanges of reflections on life directed us a few yards down the road to a gate that would have led in less overgrown days to a school shelter shed-like building and just inside this gate was the stone and its plaque which informed us that the Cudgewa North School had been there from  21 April 1898  till 21 April 1920 when it had moved 5km south east to private property where it remained until it was consumed by the great fires of 1939 leaving the district without a school until a new one was built back on the original site opposite Leake Road on 3 March 1941 where it lasted until it closed on 21 July 1959, all of which obscure detail says in a nutshell that Lorna’s mother Mavis who had started teaching late in the 1920s had worked in the original building that had been transported by bullock drays (as testified in a photo of the event in Betty Lebner’s book) to a second site about 5 km south east of the one we were at, but buoyed by the information from the gentleman with the bleeding hand that the whereabouts of this second site should be known to Harold Star who lived (he figured after much mental orienteering ) in the first house on the right on the road back to Cudgewa and so indeed it was for Harold himself was standing in front of his big shed with a youth, a relative probably, tinkering with a small motorbike that was refusing to start somewhat to Harold’s disdain for he addressed himself promptly to us, taking little notice of the youth’s eventual departure, and managed to communicate in rather random fashion that his hearing was bad, his eyes were to have yet another operation (touching his dark glasses) and his memory was shot apparently by a recent stroke which the whole district seemed to know about and aver as soon as Harold was mentioned, but notwithstanding these impediments and helped by his wife Yvonne we managed to piece together some facts about site 2, namely that it was sort of beside the Cudgewa Creek, though on which side was unclear and that Joy Scammel who lived back up the Cudgews Road just past the creek and a bit off the road and whose husband Jim had lately died (as everyone of course knew) would know the exact whereabouts of the plaque commemorating Mavis’s school, which Harold himself had attended about eighty years ago, which intelligence led us to pick a discreet way back through the junk of fourscore years of farming lying in and about the shed and to seek out Joy Scammel who turned out to be snoozing in a chair and once woken by Lorna described how to get to the plaque which of course couldn’t be missed once you’d driven through the front gate, through a couple more gates to the hillside where the school had been, saying it would be too far to walk which was no use because the van couldn’t have got through the mud just beyond the gate, meaning we walked, accompanied by Joy’s young Jack Russell, to the hillside beyond the gates only to see that the hillside was covered with likely looking stones, several score of them, that revealed their plaquelessness only on close inspection with the result that we climbed up and down and peered at countless stones for so long that Lorna declared we had to give up – Lorna mind you for whom this was the most concrete manifestation of her Ithaca – whereas I began to feel sure that a couple of dead pines at the foot of the slope by a fence were almost certainly marking the longed-for site, since I recalled from many, many occasions that pines or peppercorns usually marked state schools (and even Catholic schools), and with this growing sureness I went first to an unplaqued stone and finally to the very last stone of all and Eureka there it was, at the foot of  that sun-washed slope that climbed up and up to peaks with sheets of white mist still in their valleys, the plaque for Mavis’s school dragged there by bullocks in 1920 and reduced to ashes in the infernos of 1939, a site more beautiful and more remote than we had ever imagined, one which made Ithaca worth journeying to, a  fulfillment that will provoke reflection in …

schooldays 26
for we must think on the significance of the journey to Cudgewa North and the Easter season that came immediately on its heels, for both events are already closely connected by a previous experience, namely our  pilgrimage to Santiago,  during which Lorna moved from agnosticism to being what  Gary Younge in The Nation called a ‘lapsed agnostic ‘(one who used to not know, but then just stopped caring) making it a journey we could have described as Ithacan, in the sense that by the time we completed the journey we had learnt all we could learn from that journey, but should more accurately describe as proto-Ithacan, that is as a preparation for the Cudgewa North journey which would see a true resurrection in a real world as opposed to an incredible one in the legendary world that is the official setting still for  today’s Easter but no longer its substance, for apart from the fact that Siobhan and family go off to Holy Mass in the morning Easter now is most notable for its celebration of certain cultural rituals requiring cooking and eating (obvious symbols of sacrifice wouldn’t you say) not to mention fun for the kiddies who gorge on treasure-hunted chocolate, and I have to say that this Easter both cultural rituals reached peaks of excellence no less impressive than the mist-laden mountains surrounding Cudgewa North, Carlo’s baccala alla vicentina being perhaps his finest and the ofto bought by me from the Turks, butchered and souvlad by Nick and Adonis beside a perfectly judged fiercely hot fire built by Lorna, and that it is indeed these tribal rituals that both give us security and at the same time  confirm our lapsed agnosticism for we can celebrate Easter without any regard to the myths and metaphors that we turned away from when we lapsed from agnosticism (and for that matter atheism) and we can define Cudgewa North as Ithaca because it is more real than the sort of Ithaca promised by the cleansing experience of Santiago, even though that was indeed renewing in that it finished in me once and for all the deception of dualism that would have a life for us after the body has abandoned it rather than seeing the body, i.e. the world as it is, as the true reality and finding in this remnant of Mavis’s early year or two in a bush school a most potent metaphor for our world, all the more potent for having been real and heroic in ways that nobody noticed or cared about, for here was this young woman, ‘petite and attractive’ as one of her pupils remembered her, sent by a seemingly indifferent Department to implement belatedly  their Act requiring compulsory schooling, alone with a ‘revolting’ group of pupils that had proved too much for her predecessor and whom she had to tame with the strap before she could get them to create order through a system of monitors (for the wood, the horses, the chalk, the cleaning and so forth) and see that a degree of civilisation might be made to grace however palely the magnificence of their lonely setting, especially magnificent on our days there but also at other times deadly cold or unbearably hot, and from whence towards nightfall she rode back to her lodging at a farm that was probably even poorer than the ramshackle and ugly weatherboards dotted now about the hills and that might have harboured an importunate youth hoping like so many farm lads to catch a teacher for a spouse and housekeeper (and unintentionally thereby improve the genetic stock of the district) and thus in almost improbably tough circumstances, unthinkable today, help to fulfill the democratic dream of universal education, which for the average person is way more useful than any promises of life in another world beyond the fires and the grave and over the cloud-capped mountains from which we have now returned to resume, in*** …

 Schooldays 27

… our daily lives  which of course include many separate journeys, some becalmed on tempting or perilous (or both)  islands, some with Ithacas beyond the haze and gleams on the horizon but all beginning*** with breakfast, at least nearly all, for the eldest of the students has taken to sleeping in when possible, which is quite often, and presumably grabbing fast food snacks, as we all wished we could have in our reckless university days, none of this meaning to imply slacking, quite the contrary, for while Adonis assiduously trains for Kokoda and Brunswick City Nick seems to be gaining laurels at the altars of Apollo and the god’s Chinese equivalent for his solo performances, his compositions, soon to be posted on You Tube, and above all for his perhaps-first-in-the-world performance on lute and lyra with Vicki a Chinese master(ess) on a Chinese-sounding sort of lyra, if you can hear that in your mind’s ear, a master moreover of great pedigree back home and hence not unlike Nick in that regard also, which performance will have its first public airing today and is expected to be awesome and will we hope be the subject of the next report entitled …

schooldays 28

as indeed it is, fortuitously preceded by three encounters of a multicultural kind, beginning with scans and X-rays of yours truly’s hip and leg occasioned by a discussion of sundry symptoms of intermittent pain and cramping with Ralphine who dismissed my fears of circulatory problems but hinted perhaps at sciatica, which is a symptom not a cause (and in some instances it is better not to dwell on possible causes), and executed on Thursday at the bulk-billed radiology lab by a gentleman of Asian mien,  followed on Friday by a trip to the Coles supermarket at the Showgrounds to buy meat etc for a barbechew to be hosted by Nick that night, and to have our purchases checked out by Saritha, an Indian lady whom we seek out for friendly exchanges ***and who invited us to visit her at home, and on Saturday by the bethrothal ceremony of my godson Michele to Tanya a solidly built Vietnamese girl whose family turned on a big do, but not so big it seems as the huge wedding to come, which  started with a procession in the street outside the family house in North Sunshine consisting of the first corps of guests, all family of one sort or another, including me and Lorna, some of whom bore gifts shrouded in bright red embroidered cloths, and finished in the driveway where a large line-up of Vietnamese family then Italian and Greek family shook hands and eventually directed us into the front room of the house where one family group lined up on one side and the other on the other side of the room facing an improvised altar draped in brilliant red and surmounted by candles decorated again in red but also with green and other patterns, and bowls of fruit featuring persimmons, jackfruit, mangoes and grapes, and vases of tall extravagant flowers flanking a brass urn that might have contained the ashes of respected ancestors all beneath a celebratory motto in Vietnamese stuck to the wall behind, and there  after several incensings the  gifts carried in from the street procession by the retinue of the groom were offered to the bride’s family, each having its red drape lifted to reveal*** a gift of rice (so they said though they looked to me like Italian biscotti), tea, fruit (more persimmons etc) and strong liquor and accompanied by speeches and introductions on our side of siblings, uncles, aunts etc and on the Vietnamese side of  brothers and sisters numbered from two to ten or more, amid declarations of timeless bonding, and with these friendship ceremonies completed we went to the back of the house and a vast feast of Vietnamese, Greek and Italian tucker from which we eventually extracted ourselves after many promises of reunion to find that Nick was at home (on Saturday, mark you) with a downloaded video of part of his performance with the Chinese musician, a slight young girl  with a compelling stage presence who played melodies from the celestial spheres, so truly astonishing that we can’t wait to see the whole performance, which we might be able to mention in the next report entitled …

schooldays 29

but while we are awaiting more pleasures from video of RMIT’s Sino-Cretan ensemble, we can look back on the Vietnamese-Mediterranean betrothal in North Sunshine and see something of what keeps emigrants together and remarkably full of hope, for the lineup on opposite sides of the room of large groups identified in various ways as two families becoming one reminds us that the immigrants we know here in Melbourne, including ourselves, the Irish, left states that were either not theirs to begin with or were so under the control of self-interested or even criminal ‘families’ that they had to confine their notion of an effective state to their immediate allies, in effect to those parts of their families they still trusted, with the result that by settling in another land as families they had brought their real states with them and retained only distant loyalty to the states that had  conquered them, rejected them or failed them, which is another way of saying that multiculturalism is a means for distinct, benevolent states to live together within a larger state that accepts their way of overcoming the loneliness and alienation we tend to imagine to be the lot of exiles…

(schooldays 30)

… but of course, however their new settling may be, language for many emigrants remains a problem, exemplified by the fact that the Vietnamese and the English at the betrothal needed a translator (considerably more concise than the translated), and that some years earlier our Sicilian neighbours had me eulogise their deceased husband and father because I spoke proper Italian, in public what’s more, and that many years (about 25) earlier at the wedding of the Greek and Italian parents of the recently betrothed, as Shelagh has reminded me, an exclamation by the father of the Greek bride – ‘xepoulisa’ (a low consciousness verb meaning he had done the deal for the bride) – was thought by the waggish Italian uncle to be a sort of toast and taken up with raised glasses as ‘poulsa’, which the Greeks in turn took to be an Italian toast so that volleys of ‘poulsa, poulsa’ were shouted alternately for the next few hours by both sides, creating thereby a new word not unlike Lorna’s attempt to introduce Italian into Greek when, smelling fish in their apartment, she exclaimed ‘puzza’, to the consternation of the Greeks who looked about them for evidence of loose living, not aware that for Lorna there is a Mediterranean language rather like Indo-European, but I confess that this is a digression covering the problem that the video of the Sino-Cretan performance has suffered a mishap and might not be available for some episodes, the next of which will be … 

schooldays 31

… an episode that threatens to convolute as we return to the main subjects of these reports, our students, to enquire into their experience of being away from their homeland, and this term ‘homeland’ immediately raises problems because of course they are not in a foreign place with no friends or family and an unfamiliar language (but then how many emigrants actually are in totally novel surroundings when you consider not simply that they may be a link in some family or village chain but also that they have often come to a culture that has long been part of their dreaming, even if the dream is only shadows on a flickering screen, Plato’s cave so to speak) and in our minds there is a distinction between homeland, which is the culture we have left, and home which is the family we always expect to see again no matter where we and they are, and it was this distinction that prompted me to ask Adonis what he missed, if anything, about his homeland (‘back in Archanes I said), to which he replied after some moments of reflection typical of his behavior, for he sees a joke quickly but gives time to serious matters, that he missed his friends but added that they too would soon disperse, an answer I thought fair enough and in accord with my own experience that homeland is mostly in the mind and even sometimes better in the mind – Ithacan images so to speak – and that what’s called homesickness is disillusion, so that Nick’s enthusiasm for his life in Melbourne and Adonis’s manifest satisfaction indicate feelings of being home and therefore not homesick whereas their feeling for their homeland is expressed sub- or un-consciously in details of personality and manners, Nick being something of the bold brash three-chair man and Adonis of the courteous but self-confident Greek male type, opposites in a way but apparently both needed to keep that particular homeland going round, but enough of this confusion until…

schooldays 32

wherein I will pursue the home and homeland matter a little further by linking it to another project I have been pursuing desultorily, namely compiling a family history for our (Lorna’s and my) descendants, in the course of which I have had to muse on how to relate the life of my mother Rita née Chandler who several times during my childhood and youth lost her reason, as we say when we mean that her spirit left home to dwell in its homeland while her body remained at home in a state alternating between complete distraction and very real distress, but in each case in response to events in a homeland way way beyond the world we think of as  real, a homeland in which she sometimes walked in  gardens of Eden, singing siren songs that carried her there and at other times fell down dark holes into the underworld, thereby having me wonder which  world her story should depart from, the happy world which she created in daily life and imagined in memory and song or the troubled world to which suppressed anxieties I knew nothing of and privations I knew something of drove her from daily life altogether, a dilemma, I suppose, which had to be resolved in favour of the happy life that blended real and imagined, home and homeland, for this is the Rita  we want to recall and whom henceforth I will called Reet, the name  she herself preferred, Reet the Nan of Siobhan, Shelagh, Mairead and Deirdre, and of course the great Nan of our present subjects, mother of Bill and Betty, wife of Bill, daughter, according to official certificates, of Edward Chandler who died in Greta and Elizabeth Ann Hudson Johnston who died in our house in Prahran in 1937, sibling to Bill who felled mountain ash on the Black Spur, Syd who survived the Great War, Ted who cooked on Mt Buffalo, Mert whom she was fond of and worked with, and Alice whom she detested, all born in the garden of Healesville but mysteriously broken up when Reet was about seven, at which point she left school for good and travelled, always with her mother, here and there in Melbourne and to the fabled Riverina, and it is from Healesville and the Riverina that she fashioned and sang of her gardens of Eden, of which there may be more on future episodes, but…

(schooldays 33)

… prompted by a recent reading of Pablo Neruda’s Ode to an artichoke I*** will relate the breakfasting tastes of the household (and perhaps in turn prompt some speculation on the relationship between food and disposition), beginning, in order of juniority, with Adonis who arrives right on time and consumes anything put in front of him but relishes in particular crumpets, with butter only, with butter and vegemite (remember that black stuff?), with melted cheese, with cheese melted on bacon on crumpet, none of which fattens him at all it seems but only  adds if that is possible to his unflagging politesse and good humour, next to Rory who tends to come latish, treats eggs with some suspicion unless they are in a bacon and egg B’muffin, invariably, and I mean invariably as though ordained by some ingrained rubric, leaves something on the plate even if it is only a solitary pea from the very popular peas and corn mixture, but all in the most engaging and courteous manner, after whom, once those two have left with Lorna’s lunches in their paper, please note ye environmentalists, bags, we come theoretically to Nick (once a three-chair breakfaster on cereal – an enhanced Bran Flakes that they all like – and any amount of bacon and eggs and bread and litres, I joke not, of orange juice, but is now a sleeper-in) but in practice to Lorna who is way down the muesli and yoghourt end of breakfasts but who will on leisurely mornings over the Age word puzzles have a single poached egg on a reluctant but traditional toast, thence to me who has the lot plus anything left over, not to mention having devised and prepared the entire ritual anyway, mulling the while over what to make for the two little cousins, Louis and Raph, on Wednesday arvo before Lorna takes them to footy, an important decision because they wish and wish to be like the older god-cousins and eat the snacks favoured by them, the ones that involve potato chips, meats and tomato sauce, as well as hot dogs, crumpets, mie gorengs and all those things that embellish the world of the chief subjects of future reports, such as ….

(schooldays 34)

recounting Nick’s present triumphs in tertiary education, one of which, his performance with Chinese virtuoso Vicki whose playing of the two-stringed, balanced-on-the-knee erhu causes angels to doubt the value of their many-stringed harps, or at least apply for re-training, has drawn, as it should, lavish praise both among their teachers and fellow students, one of whom, Fabrice, a violinist from Mauritius, told us over dinner that her playing of Western classical music was better than his violin versions, for it is indeed a captivating performance (now available in part on YouTube), and the second of which ( i.e. triumphs) is Nick’s composing on electronic gadgets and computer programs of thumping rhythmns that rattle the taps in the bathroom next door to his room and of melodies that dodge in and out and over and under, in a manner that, according to his colleagues, escapes from all existing genres in the field and is, with or without his proud inclusion of a Turkish lyra, entirely new and innovative, so you may imagine our collective enthusiasm, on our part for having urged him to intellectual adventure, and on his for having achieved something hailed in his milieu, which is as he declares every so often the best thing in the world, (university study mark you), that he would be happy to do forever, and so on that high note we await in …

schooldays 35

… recent news of Adonis the Calm, but before that we must announce a further Nick the Wild triumph, to wit that he and Vicki, the erhu marvel, are to be invited to perform on radio and have been told by their RMIT teacher that SBS in Sydney has made an approach to televise them, all very exciting even if it fails to eventuate, and all giving great satisfaction to Adonis who pursues his busy, he would say very very busy, life of school at Debney, music at Uni High, gym at North Melbourne, soccer training in Brunswick and contesting in Woop Woop, tests of endurance in preparation for his week on the steamy, sodden and muddy Kokoda Trail, frequent practice at filling in forms, diligent appearances, spot on time, at breakfast and dinner, yet finding time in all of that to be amused, polite, chatty, thoughtful and gratified to be getting his work done on time and up to scratch, the last, completed today after discussions with me, being a letter in Greek to the United Nations putting the case for the return of the Elgin marbles, admittedly just an exercise in genre writing, but a grand cause nonetheless to which he is committed, and succeeded just now by a hurried departure to help Nick rehearse and thence to be in the team photos in his recently laundered strip and cleaned-up boots, on which we might report in …

…Schooldays 36…

imagining it on the walls of the clubrooms among the photos of solemn youth that year by year slip further into memory, each one a mix of blood and illusion that will one day set out for an Ithaca without knowing what that Ithaca might be or what will lie along the journey to test, seduce, beguile, entrap or destroy them, a state of being in which Adonis still lives and Nick is about to move out of, for Adonis still sees his world inside the family, and takes pleasure in days such as yesterday, which began at 7.15 for breakfast, continued at school first in Debney then at Uni High for music, and finished with Kokoda training running up and down stairs in the high rises, first 20 floors, then 19, then 18 and so on to ten, wearing his new boots and carrying a new pack with 10 kg of rice in it (uncooked), thence home to dinner exhausted but immensely satisfied with the ‘fullest day’ he can remember, whereas Nick was as usual out and about, loyally and constructively I must stress, looking around into a future that is beginning to form, happy with family but no longer attached to it as the centre of his world, very much as I remember my own youth shaped no more by where the blood was but where the illusions would lead… 

(schooldays 37)

…yet very sure that my slipping away from blood in those days would never ever lead to something like the illusions of my parents, of my father who was immeasurably old, a hero of that legendary bush we met mainly in our school readers, my first actual sight of the mythical plains not being till I was about 17, nor of my mother who sang constantly (and I now acknowledge very well) sentimental songs such as 

darling I am growing old
though she was hovering around forty during my childhood
silver threads among the gold
and her own hair dark and curly
shine upon my brow today
must be there to rhyme with
life is fading fast away ***

a song from the 19th century American boom in sheet music that we sang from round the piano in the good old days, showing off with our tenor voice-breaks, sugary emphatics and melodramatic climaxes, a levity that would not have done justice to the admiration of the millions who bought the sheets or Grandfather’s Old Favourites (all, one imagines,to be held in*** piano stools at home) and swooned to the renditions of John McCormack and Bing Crosby on their gramophones, a levity which perhaps also mocked unjustly the Christian earnestness of  its author Eben Rexford (remembered in a monument erected in Wisconsin in 1930)) and its composer, H.P Danks (who  faded away into poverty noting that ‘it’s hard to die alone’), for  they did in their syrup succeed in distilling the plaintive fatalism of the generations who lived with diseases that suddenly and without a sound took classmates away forever, caused mothers to stand over their children’s beds hoping for the fever to subside and the body to relax, and fathers to not quite understand that kind of anguish, and everyone to accept that fading away with age was their journey’s goal, a fatalism that causes me even now to wonder whether the so-called sulfa drugs, first of the antibiotics, which rapidly cured me of pneumonia in my teens, did, along with lesser post-war material wonders, finally exile the silver threads to the tombs of failed illusions …

(schooldays 38) ***

but sad to say the remedies and elixirs of our medicine were not around for the first fifty years of my mother’s life (whom I will from here on call Reet) nor the first seventy years of my father Bill’s life, during which doctors prescribed, without actual prescriptions or subsidised pharmaceuticals, patent cough medicines, tinned salves and sulphurous disinfectants, poor old so and sos died in unusual numbers on the lavatory, children whoopingcoughed and measeled their way perilously through home care, prayer actually seemed to work now and then, and a gloomy  fate was assuaged by longing for the shade of the old apple tree, home sweet home and home on the range, the last of which my father had mastered on a German Hohner mouth organ, always kept in its box, and in an almost soundless whistle, more a hiss  really, that he might sibilate as he prepared spoonfuls of  malt extract and powdered sulphur for me and Betty, and the other two of which were staples of Reet’s sinkside performances the shade of the old apple tree being the site of truewaiting love and home sweet home the cradle of humble contentment, and as we all know the signature song of Dame Nellie Melba, whom Reet remembered somehow from the Healesville days and associated, for a reason that has always escaped me, with the painter Septimus Power, a WW1 artist among other things, and rather too eminent to be a poorold, but in general there was no shortage of poorolds …

(schooldays 39)***

but dignum et justum it is to ask what the songs my mother taught me have to do with the schooldays of our present youth, and the answer, perhaps better called a rationalisation, is that it’s about homecomings and the impossibility that anyone’s journey, if only in time yet with the consequences time has for changes in blood and illusion, can return them to an unaltered home, that as Ithaca is in truth not the goal of the journey, that, as T.S. Eliot (a much better poet than I once thought) wrote, home is where one starts from, and that, as Seferis says, the exile returns to a non-existent country created by nostalgia, so home for our students is inevitably growing into an illusion, an illusion much less nostalgic yet than mine, which has almost taken up residence in the shade of the old apple tree outside home sweet home on the range, but little by little acquiring the remembered landscapes, still lives and distant voices that will add up to a kind of love …

(schooldays 40)***

… and now let me relate (and query incidentally why ‘let me now relate’ sounds more like a preacher)  how we paid a visit, Adonis, Rory, Lorna and I, to Saritha’s family, Saritha being an Indian lady with degrees in science who does checkout at Coles supersupermarket in the Showgrounds, has a five-year old daughter, lives in Maribyrnong near the supermarket and has been, needless to say, befriended by Lorna on our weekly Monday arvo trips to the supermarket for Betty’s and our shopping, hers that once was almost as much as ours and ours which has now at least doubled what with the wherewithal of breakfast for four ***,usually, counting Rory because Nick’s early morning activity is very limited, an elevated meat consumption and a rising fish component occasioned both by the presence of a proper fishmonger in the supermarket and by Lorna’s lusts for shellfish, smoked cod, rainbow trout, flathead, flounder, bream, the heads and spines of filleted salmon and all available carcases of migratory surface-dwelling predators from the dolphin-torn and mackerel-crowded realms, the hosts of Poseidon we might say if we weren’t in an everyday supermarket on the Maribyrnong greeting Saritha, discussing the health of the younger grandchildren and arranging to visit the family at Sunday dinnertime, held in what was clearly a home for a considerably extended family and still, one felt, a part of the homeland perhaps more than a home in our sense, for Saritha and her partner by arrangement appeared to share a largish house with a visiting mother, thin, distinguished with little English, two sisters both, like Saritha, pretty-faced and broad-hipped, one married (also by arrangement?) to a friendly chatty bloke, and with a baby, the other still unarranged apparently and all three busy conducting conversation over the still-running giant television with these four alien visitors (for Adonis and Rory also kept their ends up brilliantly) and gradually producing a substantial feed of curries, rices, vegies and sweets from which we helped ourselves copiously, the two fathers took a little and the four women ate nothing, nothing at all isn’t it, claiming, we thought disingenuously, that they always ate later, isn’t it, around nine, a story that surely was concocted to paper over a traditional role division not altogether vanished from Crete or maybe, as Rory suggested, a religious or a caste thing, for there were coloured spots on some foreheads, but in any case suggestive of the likelihood that we were probably the very first aliens to have touched down in their migratory homeland, so that the benign, cushioning ballast of Lorna’s conversation, commented on in wonder by Adonis, had seldom been so needed, and the heat of one of the curries had to be borne in fortitude by Adonis, who noted later that rather than ask whether the curry was hot, which was denied, he should have asked whether it was spicy, which it very much was… and so to  ***

schooldays 41

which is mainly about music, especially a gig played for RMIT’s*** award night – and paid by RMIT what’s more – starring Nick (lute, mandolin and lyra), Adonis (lute) and the lovely Vicki (erhu) who coiled herself gracefully around her two-stringed bowed instrument, reminding one of the staff of Asclepius, to play, with Nick accompanying, a couple of Chinese tunes that never sounded more alluring, and then surprise us with Olive Oyl, which you will remember is a Mairead Irishish  composition from the Xylouris Ensemble repertoire,  followed by a few more sweet beguiling pieces after which she gave way to Nick and Adonis with a purely Cretan repertoire, all of this rather unfortunately in a corner of the room that few took notice of since the thick chicken sandwiches were halfway down the foyer and the free drinks were at the opposite end and the general conversation of a congratulatory kind honouring those who had received awards in the various arts sheltered under the faculty, so that the musicians had to battle on, as so often they must, entertaining a devoted or entranced few and being unregarded by the mass, but of course, and I mean of course, the state of the audience in no way diminished the art our musicians put into their performance nor deterred them from performing for those who would listen, because as Nick, and I’m sure Adonis and Vicki, would tell you a performer plays not only for those in front of them, if any, but for the spirits that wake up within them when they play and remake their illusions, a reality well evoked by a young Chinese violinist who had been taught, already to a high standard by her violinist father, but who played better, she said, after his death implying really because of his death … 

(schooldays 42)***

… which brings us to   add a little about the possibilities of this Sino-Cretan combination of two expert and excellent performers being a big success at festivals for example, WOMAD having been proposed by their RMIT teacher, a prospect of success which Nick certainly acknowledges but might not really act on or even be able to act on, for he would of course agree respectfully in the context of talking to me and his teacher but might not carry that agreement into action, context being all in the lives of the young as well as the old – and mention of context brings us incidentally and irrelevantly to note that sext has become the word for a text that is coyly described as ‘inappropriate’ and that other possibilities suggest themselves, to wit hext for a curse, next for putting off a date, and vext for an inevitable complaint from a residents’ association, not to mention pretext for a mendacious explanation of an otherwise secret or offensive action, *** though what the context of age, by which I mean old age, means to me I find it hard to say, as I would have found it puzzling also in the case of my father who seemed to fade away in his own bed and my mother who left the world of reason quite a while before she left her body behind in a hospital bed, but I suppose I will have to consider this matter in future reports, beginning  with …

schooldays 43 ***

in preparation for which I remembered that a couple of years ago I wrote a list  headed problems of Gen A, the A signifying both age and the generation that came before the Baby Boomers who are ruining us by their improvidence, Gen X, who resent that and bemoan their big mortgages, and Gen Y, who are predictably feckless, yet here we are clinging to life across four generations and being a big big problem for all the others until death do us part at the aged care facility, and when I located that list in a document entitled Climbing Mt Forgetfulness I saw that I had listed the problems of age in alphabetical order from bad skin to writing memoirs, the first of which is fortuitous because I do in fact have six monthly inspections of the derma ever since I had a squamous cell and several basal cell carcinomas surgically removed after multiple interviews in which my assertion that I was on no medications was greeted with disbelief, and I have to say that my preliminary inspections do show an ageing skin of which one is not proud and will be even less proud as more spots appear, grow, discolour and harden, *** wrinkles multiply and those beauties of the era of suntans turn to blotches and blemishes that the doctors cheerfully label senile, from which mulling I will go to the remaining problems of the letter b, namely beards, becoming a bore, being invisible, being a grey nomad and bending over to tie shoelaces, the last being a favourite of mine ever since I saw Dudley Moore on TV saying apropos of getting older that when you bend to tie your shoelace you try to think of what else you can do while you’re down there, whilst the other bs tend to go with the territory, especially of course the grey nomad one calling to mind as it does white-bearded old farts in track suits who have long since become invisible on the beaches of superannuated retirement and aspire to becoming bores at camping grounds around barbecues at the Top End and in the Kimberley where they bellow tales of rugged roads and four wheel drives, of narrow escapes, of beautiful untouched valleys awaiting their despoilers, of how Wilma makes do with limited supplies and how one wakes to the setting stars and the carolling of the magpies, in sum all those pleasures of the inland now ready to hand for those who sold up their house, bought a little flat that they let and took to the road perhaps never to give it up unless a heart stops, a prostate plays up or too many limbs stiffen and crack, which thoughts will bring us to letters c and d in the next episode, numbered…

schooldays 44
which will address letters c and d of the problems of Gen A, to wit contemplating superannuation, crossing the road, dribbling and dying, all linked by the whitening thread of old age but expressive of different states of mind, the first and the last being cousins of a sort since they juxtapose hope for living against knowledge of dying, hope especially in a public service oddity called retirement, which is presented as a form of pre-death entertainment and might even take place in villages expressly built and deceitfully named for those who wait and may enjoy bus outings and singalongs, as Reet undoubtedly would have and even contributed to as an esteemed performer In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree, a waiting that is not in my view enhanced by dwelling in shared senility grateful that there are excellent medical facilities  around and within and anxious that that lovely financial management man who turned out to be not quite so lovely will not jump from an upper floor during the next GFC, in short that I am not at all interested in retirement, whatever that is apart from golf or fishing, both of which I consider politely barbarous, nor in superannuation which I never could revere in the way of my several headmasters who thrilled at the prospect of the extra contributory units their promotion would allow them, so that I ended a public career with very little super and had to enter the expanding ranks of self-funded retirees dressed in track suits and sports shoes, in the course of which I discovered to my great satisfaction that one could retire one day, for financial benefit, and unretire the next for reasons of pride and hope that the day of reckonings other than financial would be thus postponed, for as we learnt in our childhood over the nun’s knee, that day of judgement cannot be postponed but belongs in another dimension that we fondly call eternity but which may by the same definition be but a microsecond lived, if that’s the word, between dying and death, which two words explain by their difference why dying, the journey we all take, is on the list of problems of the aged whereas death is not, resurrection certainly is not and eternity appears under letters e and f which I will come to once I have acknowledged the problems of crossing the road when one is not sure that one can sprint when necessary yet one is still too stubborn to walk the extra hundred metres or so to a pedestrian crossing designed by traffic engineers to require sprinting anyway, and dribbling which I remember first from my childhood when my father dropped a dribble in the tin of malt extract he was dipping into to add to*** the sulphur on the spoon in order to repel disease and ward off the devil, symbolised by the sulphur*** being defeated by the sweetness of the malt, and encounter now on my pillow when I awake from certain sleeping positions, or rather used to because I no longer dribble in that way, thanks perhaps to better dentistry, or maybe to the bedsocks Lorna has knitted me, provoking amazement that I’ve never ever given age-old wisdom such as the wearing of bedsocks and nightcaps credit enough against the winter without flowers and sunshine where, as Holderlin wrote, the walls stand speechless and cold and the weathervanes rattle in the wind …

and so for

schooldays 45

eternity can suffice for the letter e, while letter f has but the inconsequential falling over (which I don’t do anyway though I might one day) and g has such a wealth of problems for Gen A that I will select only gardening, God, going blind, going deaf, going to the funerals of others and golf ‘n fishin’ leaving the best, grump,  to a later report, so back we go to eternity which as I have already noted sets a trap for us time-bound beings who formed, or had formed for us, the idea in childhood that eternity is a sibling of infinity, that it goes on forever and forever, in saecula saeculorum, an idea that a childish imagination can perhaps embrace but which is decidedly odd if you think about it later, as not that many do it seems, for if eternity is a state of timelessness we have to ask how it is that in the case of quantitative concepts there can be more of lessness, infinite time in timelessness, infinite space in spacelessness, more and more place in placelessness, and in consequence we have to accept the possibility that eternity could be fleeting rather than interminable and that God could flicker in and out of existence as we know it and that eternal life is no more lasting than the instants between the last breath of dying and the first stillness of death, a possibility I think that conforms better to our perceptions of flesh and mind than the theological carryon about everlasting happiness with reconstituted relatives in the presence of the beatific vision that we were brought up on and still have to sit through at the funerals of others who didn’t believe much about god and the afterlife in their duringlife yet are nonetheless honoured (not celebrated I insist on not saying) by relatives who know that the only way still to assure a decent burial ceremony, rather than Simon and Garfunkel in a funeral parlor chapel whose gospelside altar leads directly to the furnaces of the underworld  roaring and sulphurous as Redemptorist sermons, is to go to church and hope the priest isn’t too far into fantasies about Mary at last reuniting with Morrie in their justly rewarded home in the bosom of the Lord (and in what physical form I fall to wondering especially as the promised perfecting of the body would have to had gone a long way for both of them even in their prime and a cleansed tongue in Mary would greatly lower her social interest), yet there it is for the lapsed agnostics of Gen A, in their suits and best black dresses, a return to when as children we thought like children, which sceptical thoughts out of respect for the dead we do not even include in Grump …

(schooldays 46)***

but the problems of Gen A must give way for some time to the present achievements of the two students, to Nick who appears to have passed his course, though we don’t yet have specific results, and is planning his enrolment for next semester when he will continue with sound technology and performance and take up philosophy and design, in the meantime reading some philosophy with me, composing track after track of electronic music that he plays to us with great enthusiasm and complacency, taking note of our remarks I should add and acting on them, and dining almost nightly at Jess’s, whoever that may be, getting up late as teenage boys do, and generally living quite a contrasting social and emotional life, as no doubt he always has, to the calm, wry and earnest Adonis whose results at the end of this semester (Unit One of the VCE) are great, more than he expected for he does not have a very confident opinion of his prowess in study, and wonderful news for us because we didn’t know what to expect, except that things seemed to be going well, and were accordingly as delighted as he when he came in from school and told us straightaway that he had a 75 per cent for maths, a 42 out of 52 for multimedia ( a strange total, but the teacher is Egyptian), a pass in media with a commendation of his 1500 word (in Year 11!!) essay, and a C+ in English, which we are quite sure he will better from Unit to Unit till the end of all Units, leaving us to wait on the very good results we anticipate for Music and Greek, apropos of which the student is thinking of how he might manage to take Ancient Greek next year, any result from which would of course send his consolidated score through the temple roof ad astra, and no doubt he has himself already told you all these glad tidings attending the winter solstice, themes that will be taken further in …

schooldays 47
which begins before dawn last Saturday (i.e. four days ago) when I saw from my headlit car in Mt Alexander Road an old codger with a moustache sitting on a bench on the footpath just like old gentlemen in the southern Mediteranean or younger ones in Parisian cafes who line up  on pavements silently facing the future, or in any case another world, like the statues of Easter Island, and wondered why this old gentleman was there in the dark and the cold waiting, not I think for a tram but for something more personal such as the return of a partner now gone or of children living elsewhere or of a homeland never to be revisited, something best awaited in the dark, and reflecting too that though the hour was young – not yet 7a.m.-  it was dark simply because we  had just passed the winter solstice and not because Adonis had been summoned to assemble with other walkers of the Kokoda track at an unnecessarily early hour in front of the Moonee Ponds police station in order to carry their 20 kg packs – mostly of rice – about 20 km as a last training session before the Real Thing, a prospect that must daunt him but one that he takes with his usual saintly composure, so much in contrast to the excitability of Nick with whom I had spent the previous two days supervising, according to the law, his driving of the ute to American Gully (and back), our building of bookcases for which he mastered the spirit level and the electric drill, our eating of lamb in the evening and bacon and eggs and baked beans for breakfast (Nick’s favourite) and our sitting before an intensely hot fire reading philosophy (Kant and relativism) and discussing on Nick’s suggestion, the meaning of life (his term), which led us to diverse themes such as love, loyalty, family, clan, home and homeland (a distinction he himself made without suggestions from me), existentialism, the absurd, commitment, themes that led us next morning to posit that our backgrounds had woven into us from the Greek sentiments of honour, respect and clan and from the Irish loyalty, sacrifice and nation, all ideas that we might change or more likely rephrase tomorrow but that’s how philosophy goes, as the next few days before Adonis knocks off for a fortnight and a Grand Trek,  and Nick and I repeat our drive will show in …

schooldays 48

which in addition to another drive tutoring learner Nick in the ways of freeway traffic, sharp right turns, gravel roads and slippery muddy surfaces supplemented by some work on the country house to accommodate more of our books, papers and detritus finishing with Nick’s favourite breakfast of bacon and eggs with any vegetable matter discreetly binned, which led me to muse on the decline and fall of the grand start-your-day-the healthy-way*** breakfasts of the past two years, breakfasts that at their zenith saw the invention of MacBills, the acceptance of vegetable wonders such as devilled tomatoes, peas and corn, mushrooms with vinegar, asparagus in the Veneto manner, and of new media such as sarrasins, crepes, wraps, sliced bread, tiger rolls, cheese rolls, Bill’s bread, not to mention the great and popular standby of eggs fried, poached, over easy, scrambled and omeletted, all now fallen away in favour of cereal and milk, healthy enough but unceremonious, initially taken at the same sociable hour – if that can ever be said of 7.15 a.m. in the middle of winter with each participant in his or her way putting a brave face on the day – but increasingly taken at the convenience of the grazer so that all that needs to be prepared on time are the lunches of filled bread, muesli bar and piece of fruit, some in this season from our laden lemonade tree, packed, let me boast of this again, in paper bags that unlike those of my own childhood do not ***have to be brought home for a few more creased appearances or those of Lorna’s childhood that were also brought home but ironed to present a more bella figura for the headmaster’s daughter, and right now not to be taken at all in the morning, but perhaps in the early afternoon, because the breakfasters are on holiday, Adonis steeling himself for departure in the small hours a few days hence for New Guinea , Nick lining up now and then for a long drive under the L plates and otherwise composing electronic tunes, not to mention going out a good deal with parea and Jess, and Lorna and I poking along staving off accusations of being old, which is a condition much alluded to by Vicki the erhu player but considerably softened by her habit of calling us grandma and grandfather on the grounds that in her Chinese culture it is disrespectful to call old people by their names, so grandparents we are to a steadily growing number, but still indignant (not grumpy) at being referred to constantly as a national problem, so with that grump out I’ll put on my bedsocks and think about … 

(schooldays 49)

… Ithaka, both our own Ithakas and those of Nick and Adonis, entranced as we are by Sean Connery’s reading of Cavafy’s masterpiece, which was found by Charlie and is now on my iPad and listened to every night before we drift into the arms of Morpheus or those of one another, and surrender to the dreams and the nightmares of encroaching age that cause us to toss, moan and cry out in the night, for I am taking it that Cavafy is talking about our lives as many voyages to many Ithakas each making up a destiny towards which, says the Alexandrian, we will sail   peacefully so long as we keep our thoughts raised high, and a rare excitement stirs our spirits and our bodies, and it is of course in that state that we see Adonis as he prepares to walk the Kokoda Track where he will pass by places that were once, we have always believed in horror, the lairs of Lystragonians and are still the realm of Cyclopean bandits against whom Adonis will have police protection until he mounts the track and walks in the bright shadow of a distant relative of his, the great war photographer Damien Parer who filmed among others Forty Thousand Horsemen, probably spent some of the war in Crete, who won an academy award for Kokoda, and who was killed in Palau shortly after he married Elizabeth Cotter, with his brother Adrian as celebrant, and before his child was born, surely a man who kept his thoughts raised high, but in our view no more so than Adonis does and always will for he seems to carry no monsters of any sort in his soul but only good will, good humour and good humility so that whatever his journey into the violent tragic past and steamy green present brings to him it can only increase his  wisdom and knowledge, can only be one of the Ithakas the poet imagined, one that he will set out on in the cold dim hours of Friday morning glittering, it is forecast, with columns of rain under the streetlights, a departure that will surely figure in …

schooldays 50

… a departure that, without the forecast rain, took place in the grey streetlightlit hours of early morning when we parked the van outside the so-called Main Entrance of Debney Park Secondary College which is unhappily a dreary and ungainly confusion of steel and concrete steps, openings and ramps leading down to sunken buildings and thereby violating essential precepts of feng shui, and sat waiting in the van, slowly getting colder, speculating about why one of the houses had a light on upstairs – a waking child perhaps, a late movie, but the light was steady not flickering, a domestic tiff or an angry and agonised talk about separation following infidelity, who knows? – wondering why no one else had turned up as we had punctually on the dot of 3.30 and noting the character of early morning traffic, the old bombs of shift workers, the vans heading towards various deliveries, trucks making for the open roads to the vision splendid***, and our very own delivery van, Aussies Farmers Direct, whose bread, milk and deli delivery I must edit this week as we are being driven to the bush by Nick, so envious of Adonis’s fortune, but then realising at 3.45 as a bus pulled in towing*** a luggage trailer  that the taxi circling uncertainly at the roundabout bore a mother farewelling a daughter almost twice her height and that another adventurer had been waiting in a parked car nearby probably as long as we had so that soon a small crowd, including Adonis and dark Abdi, the girl and another girl in a veil and a number of other persons either students, teachers, police or sponsors began to mill about mostly obscured except for their feet which bit by bit inched towards the bus as the driver shut down the trailer went to the front started the bus and pulled away towards the main road and*** darkness, such as it is under streetlights, crept back over the street*** isolating the school entrance  forlornly lit and we started up back for home, the van now empty of the adventurer who though typically quiet clearly had his thoughts raised high ready to come into ports seen for the first time and so to a cup of tea and an almost still warm bed, at 4.30 a.m. ***mark you, resolved to sleep in a little and do for Adonis whatever one does when one no longer prays to the angels and saints who will nonetheless look after such an admirable creature in spite of our disbelief for we must remind ourselves that he is out of our watching for a while and beyond our care just as the fighting men whose track he is honoring were beyond the reach of home and friends who could only hope that death was not striding the track with them or at least not with all of them, and thus we waited to hear news or whether there even would be news to report in***…

schooldays 51

yet there it was, news from the track radioed daily by a trekkiing policeman and relayed into our email, news of unseasonably wet weather, names of destinations that could never have featured uncoded in wartime reports, tales of a twisted ankle, sopping sleeping bags and the like but overall buoyant reports of dogged, optimistic, patriotic climbing, satisfied that all is well in the best of all possible worlds, which is exactly as youth and policemen ought to be, news that has allowed us to suspend all worries about Laestrygonians and angry Poseidons rearing up along the adventurers’ way and to relax in wintry sunshine as Nick drives me and Lorna to the loudly croaking bush, exclaiming at kangaroos leaping across the road rising before us, taking right turns ever more expertly though still a trifle late, and all of us expecting cold cold nights under a bright full moon, dinners of chicken parmas and huge steaks pricked with garlic, trips into Castlemaine for more driving experience (rural roads, light traffic) a little shopping and a visit to Deirdre of the beautiful garden who made scones served with apricot jam and quince jelly for morning tea  and who is soon to visit County Antrim in search of ancestors Catholic and Presbyterian, both of whom we have found out were persecuted by the Anglicans, then back to the bush houses to putty loose window panes, measure gaps in the cottage Nick likes to call the dream house  in order to fit panes of glass we found among the  building scraps in the old chicken yard, the one a forest giant flattened on a day of high winds miraculously sparing the glass, and after a wonderful steak dinner almost straight into beds and bedsocks beside hot water bottles, thinking of the adventurers munching on dry tack and crawling into soggy sleeping bags, beset by heaven knows what insects and reptiles and woken by the cries of unfamiliar rainbow plumaged birds to toil on up and down up and down through the mud yet thinking wouldn’t it be wonderful if the trail of the heroes was not at all like the impression we had from the photos of our very distant relation who was the first Australian to win an Academy Award, but soon we will hear everything from the mouth of the adventurer himself, who we will reveal in***…

(schooldays 52)

… will not arrive as expected because of flight delays (which are becoming routine for both human and volcanic reasons), did arrive the next day in one slimmed down piece and very chatty with it, as happens to people who have had a big experience and are still living it in their spirit and in the case of walkers or climbers in the memories of their taut calves and restless feet, clearly with his view of the world expanded to even more benign dimensions by his contacts with the local porters who could surge ahead of him in bare feet carrying bigger weights, being the expedition’s food carriers, but who also accompanied him, chatted, made presents for him to take to his little cousins and with whom he was respectably able to keep up with in the leading group of the expedition, in short greatly satisfied by his rare experience of spirit and body, which I will leave  him to recount himself apart from noting that it seemed rather as I had from time to time and over the years imagined it, and throw a glance to Nick who is just starting his new semester with the utmost enthusiasm, meeting his same friends and at least one of the same teachers, Barry Hill, who already has a good opinion of Adonis, and declaring his course and his life as a student to be the best of all possible lives in the best of all possible worlds, a world he is trying to improve a little by concentrating his classes into a few days in order to create space for a job whose earnings will swell the new high interest fixed deposit account he has opened, and by gradually learning to cook his favourite tucker – in a word, meat – and cook it well, we must add, with herbs and spices and marinades, adornments that seem entirely natural now that both he and Adonis and Rory have been at Phoenecian trading-stations to buy as many sensual perfumes as they can such that we can detect their presence and their passing through without looking and sometimes farewell them with volleys of sneezes provoked by the more summery notes of their toilettes, which do make me wonder with what scents, what pleasures, what seductions they will cover themselves tonight as they prepare for Rory’s school ‘formal’ to be followed by a party whose rhythms will be controlled by D J Adonis with the kind of thump thump items favoured by both the dance halls (now known as venues) and the low slung, rumbling cars revving impatiently behind sunglasses (now known as shades) at the stop lights, but I have digressed, for what I wanted to do was recall my own parents’ apparent attitudes to my education,*** attitudes that contrast greatly with the micromanagement we apply to our two Students and which I will turn to in …

schooldays 53

but before I do  I want to note in passing that a fuller account of Adonis’s rare adventure is being written by the adventurer himself and will be published in due course, so for the moment I will note only that he sees it as a life-changing experience in much the way we saw our Santiago trek as life and mind changing  in that, as I have noted elsewhere it gave us the meanings of atheist, agnostic, believer and fundamentalist and attracted us to the status of lapsed agnostics (don’t know don’t care) and turned me entirely off dualism, an attitude I now communicate to Nick in our discussions of Plato, Descartes, Hume and co, and one that puts us very much at odds with Christianity which tends, to say the least, to base its view of human life on dualism if we may skip over Himself who is a triplist and start with the Son who is as dualistic as you get  in heaven and in earth and thence down the ages that have grudgingly inhabited the body in order to satisfy the soul, all of which I reject because of the rare sensation that touched me on the camino, the sensation that the body, especially when put to searching tests, includes and can improve all in us – itself, its mind, its soul, its spirit, its emotions and whatever else we care to attribute to it – with the exception perhaps of the irrational, which appears now to control so many events in the body politic that eyes and ears are dimmed, mouths run foul and noses no longer smell the ordure that is public discourse, such that as Yeats foresaw the best have no conviction and the worst are filled with passionate intensity, but again I have postponed my promise to return to my parents’ views of schooling just as we had to postpone our welcome home dinner for Adonis in which we feasted on steak prepared and cooked by Nick à la Lorna, who selected it, followed by apple pie and cream, yet I have not abandoned it, merely deferred it to …

schooldays 54

… a brief protest that in attempting to enrol Adonis in Ancient Greek for his VCE we have been foiled by yet another Cyclopean bureaucracy  and been forced to conclude that the barbarians have arrived and have walked through open gates over rose petals strewn before them to the Senate where the senators and consuls have welcomed them with elaborate speeches full of classical references and invited them to feast on whoppers, finger-lickin portions and flagons of Coke, after which, the last belch out, the barbarians have told the senate  and the cheering people that the old ways of studying dead languages and abstract speculations must be replaced by world-class standards of literacy in Barbar and useful learning of matters that will generate wealth for all and proper returns for barbarian investors, whereupon the senators ordered another round of burgers and Coke and decreed that the old academies, save one designated for the sons of the barbarians, must be razed and their books burnt to make way for the revolution, and at this point, demoralised as we are, I feel I should segue to a happier theme, to my parents indeed, who believed that schooling was more an adornment of the soul than a training of the hand, for that was the tradition they came from if one can even talk of an educational tradition when my father finished eighth grade in an orphanage, with a certificate mind you, and my mother had no schooling to speak of, having finished with school in grade two and kind of taught herself to read and ultimately to write a bit, so that essentially what I had from my parents was my father’s devotion to reading from his days in the bush with the Bulletin and his days in the city buying the Age and the Sporting Globe – NOT the Herald – reading Curly Wee and Gussie Goose every day except Sunday to me and my sister, subscribing to Hansard in which he read every second speech in order to dodge the conservatives, or Tories as he called them, and which he then cut in half and pierced for a string to hang in the dunny, and my mother’s devotion to not wasting any money attached to the succession of scholarship years I somehow won despite their involving those extraordinary exercises in convergent thinking  called intelligence tests, and which led in turn to such a long succession of examinations that my mother’s usual question for years and years, even after I had ***stopped being educated, was whether I had or had had exams, but of course these were practical  matters to do with schooling, whereas  what my parents deeply gave me from their memories and their way of living was a cultural and personal tradition that I will turn to in …

schooldays 55

but before I continue on that theme let me recount an incident that occurred last night in the dead of moonlit night as we slumbered in our rooms upstairs, the weather being mild for a change, and awoke to a noise, like the noise of a stick knocked to the floor somewhere downstairs, or to be precise it was Lorna who heard the noise and woke me and Adonis who also heard it, put his head in the darkness round the door of our bedroom and joined with Lorna’s alarm at the thought that an intruder had entered the house, both asking, and I also by now, whether someone should venture downstairs to see what dangers might be down there, that someone, both agreed, not to be me, but I ignored their solicitude,as I took it to be, and seized my dressing gown as Adonis went to wake Nick, who had not heard the noise,  to accompany him to the confrontation so that by the time I got to the head of the stairs the hall lights were on and noises were emanating from the hallway leading to the front door where I found the noble two armed with sticks, Adonis with one fashioned in the bush I think, and Nick with a heavy walking stick we had from Crete, but no intruder, neither in the front of the house nor in the backyard which they resolutely searched, and nothing disturbed, leaving us three with a sense of satisfaction that we had defended our land and perhaps a bat’s whisper of disappointment that neither of the two guards had had occasion to show valour, both of which feelings caused us to pause awhile round the stairs in congratulatory mode before returning to uneventful beds and an easy slumber where I thought briefly about …

(schooldays 56)

… myth and legend, in particular the contrast between the world of myth that Nick and Adonis have grown up in and which I until late in life did not really take seriously or even know all that well but which has proven so apt to their adventures with Cyclopean bureaucracies and the blandishments of Sirens and Calypsos yet would in no way apply to my early life because apart from a few stories of Greek and Roman myth in our grade readers and of course our knowledge that these were by and for pagans and hence to be taken no more seriously than Hansel and Gretel or the Pied Piper all of my serious legends whether from the same readers or from my parents’ discourse were of the Bush the Bush as defined by Henry Lawson Banjo Paterson Joseph Furphy and Steele Rudd the Bush of the drovers shearers stockmen and selectors who both depended on the squatters and detested them the men who drove the cattle through the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended as the Banjo wrote and whose wives back home in the bark huts feared the voices and the noises on the plains under the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars again in the Banjo’***s words a world of myth this that was being created not millenia ago when the world was more alive with myth but when my father was already fifteen years old just out of the orphanage he went to with his brother Ted and on his way to live the legend itself but with sheep not cattle and therefore on the sunlit whispering plains of the Riverina rather than along the northern rivers such as the Lachlan the Barcoo the Diamantina and the Condamine although we should note that among these grand  mythic Australian names there are also an Ithaca Creek in Brisbane and a Styx River in the far north not to mention a central Queensland pastoral property named Semper Idem by some desperate emigrant classical scholar all three serving to remind us that a classical background is standing Nick in good stead as he and I pursue his current philosophical theme for his RMIT unit a theme of grandiose scope namely god and death…

(Schooldays 57)

and very soon in our discussions it is clear that the knowledge our students have from their Greek schooldays of Homer and of Ithaca and its symbolism in Cavafy is of great value far more than my equivalent knowledge at their age of Clancy riding the sunlit plains or of the catechism with its little answers to big questions or even surprisingly of Shakespeare or Wordsworth though we cannot pay tribute to either too much but simply note that the worlds they gave us are darker worlds in which heroics are replaced by doubt honor by remorse and passion by regret so that our legendary experience seems somehow less pure less stark less sunlit than that of the Mediterranean where gods are contained in statues and death is challenged rather than dreaded but I feel I’m not quite getting at what I want to with this parallel so I shall return to Nick and philosophy wherein having decided that god was belief death fact and afterlife more belief probably tied to the first item and having gone over Aquinas’s five proofs of the existence of god and then having further discussed the rational and the irrational in the human spirit we figured Nick should define his own position on the god question which he has done by declaring that the image of the benevolent grandpa in the heavens doesn’t wash with him but that he believes there is a power that holds everything together and that’s what we’re up to which has left me wondering whether the Ithacan idea might come in here somewhere if only as a fine way to colour his ten minute talk for assessment purposes so I mean to put this to him shortly and see how he takes it and then report on it in the next episode along with some news about his new venture into the waiting trade that …

(schooldays 58)

…began last night Monday in Errol Street with what success we await to hear from the proprietor but for our own part we have no doubt that the Nick we see so often advancing towards us with a confident walk only slightly less than swaggering and with a smile glowing on his face and infusing his greeting has the ideal persona to welcome diners of all ages and intentions from the romantic pair with hope in their eyes and dress to the ***middleaged group eating out instead of cooking to the couple of an uncertain age wondering what to talk about once they have bemoaned their superannuation losses but whether he will be the face of the restaurant several nights a week is as I said  yet to be confirmed and while we wait we will recall a visit by Lorna to a new enthusiastic young hairdresser who sent Lorna back to us that is to me and Adonis with something that reminded me of American sitcoms in the 1970s and which might be classified today as a modern bouffant*** beehive or pouf that is a confection of crests*** waves and waterfalls sustained in mounds and rolls by l’Oreal hairspray a hairdo that had pleased the hairdresser immensely had struck deep shock into Lorna when she looked in the mirror astounded me so much that I neglected to photograph it and prompted the ever-polite Adonis to laugh Adonis who is normally so complimentary of hairdoes which he notices immediately but which in this case had crossed the frontiers of preposterousness such that Lorna felt impelled to go immediately to the shower whence she returned looking quite normal and thus able to go out to a flash restaurant with Carrillo who generously hosted and ZiYin who was in good form to eat nouvelle cuisine versions of duck and fish that in their own way but of course far more austerely reminded us of the bouffant and the pouf being more like sculptures set on large bases than like food as we know it sitting comfortably on a plate all accompanied by French wines which the waiter knew something about because she was French and had an accent in English one might wish in other circumstances to eat with a good vinaigrette which sauce combining as it does the soothing with the sour and the salt will bring us back next time to …

(schooldays 59)

god and death on which matter we think we’ll ask whether they are connected and if they are connected how they are connected, a piece of rhetoric that might condense into a ten minute talk what is otherwise a topic of immeasurable scope, and also incidentally back to a matter of punctuation for I have decided after a couple of unpunctuated episodes to make things easier by returning to commas, not I hope as licence to use more sloppy syntax but in response to Lorna’s saying she finds the unpunctuated reading a bit harder, so I will only say that unpunctuation does force one to attend more closely to rhythm and phrasing and leave it at that as we return to Nick’s reasonings about god and death and whether, if and how they are connected, for we are both agreed that, taken together, Nick’s sensible idea of there being some power or other organising the show and my sceptical condition as a lapsed agnostic  point to there being no grounds for believing in an afterlife, that it is only ideas of a god interested specifically in human beings and wanting neither to disappoint them with their unremarkable lives of toil nor to encourage them to overly enjoy sensual pleasures that turn people to thinking of an afterlife, or shouldn’t we say to fantasise about an afterlife that offers bodily perfection, ideal companionship, sensual pleasure, visions splendid and deep smugness, in short pathetic fantasies of the most trite kind tossed off by evangelists ancient and modern as though they’re talking about god’s CV rather than the lives, now or after, of people who trust them, uttering follies such as that we are destined to spend eternity among the saints and angels singing hosannas rather than sticking to the unromantic fact that our one common, knowable, undoubtable destiny is death, and I’m saying this not just for my own part but for Nick too who sees into the logic of the situation and the meanings of the words and the possibilities of their being connected, just as both he and Adonis see so admirably into the logic of their own condition, which is to shape their relations with others, cultivate those qualities they sense are theirs and only theirs, their identity as we label it, and marshall their hopes for a future we all wish will not be circumscribed but rather one full of discoveries, as Cavafy says, full of adventures not least of which is the one we are witnessing in these very days as they shape themselves with such virtue and honour, a process that is altogether moving to watch, a process that defines destiny not as an end point offering a reason to live but rather as a way to live and in and engage with the present, a process for which  I will try to find examples in future reports entitled …

schooldays 60

wherein you are invited to hover above a dinner party comprising me and five grandsons whose names in descending order of age are Nick, Adonis, Gabriel, Raphael and Francis, making in hierarchical order two archangels, two saints and a beautiful youth once loved by a jealous Venus, which five will be joined later by another  but not that evening by the other two grandsons, Cal and Louis, and the five granddaughters, two of whom. Annalivia and Api, are in any case in other lands whilst the other two, Aoife and Josephine, are in one another’s company elsewhere, so that the group you hover over like the Holy Ghost at Pentecost reveals me at the head of the table, which Adonis has laid ready for my menu of tomato soup, chicken drumsticks, potatoes, broccoli with feta, salad and peaches with custard, all brought by Nick from microwave and oven to table, except bien entendu the salad and dessert, who then sits at my right hand, Nick who spreads enthusiasm and satisfaction wherever he goes, who lavishes enthusiasm on the large dish of drumsticks, sixteen in all for six diners, and expresses that enthusiasm by scoffing at least five, Nick who has become the model of a university student, perfect in attendance, recipient of high (aka hay) distinctions and all in all the ideal figure of a cousin for the little ones, one of whom, namely Francis on Nick’s right hand, Francis of the children of Mary blue eyes and curls of gold, remarked with apparent innocence that his friend Sean didn’t have cousins and still with apparently innocent curiosity drew from me the coming items of the menu with particular reference to the dessert and who tried on the idea that he could eat his dinner in front of the telly on the grounds that he and his siblings are normally (his word) allowed to do so at home, a claim that I took to be somewhat at the edges of fact but which I did not test on Raphael who was sitting opposite Francis, merely toying with a drumstick, having eaten all his tomato soup, as he listened in silence to the older cousins boistering and Francis bellowing, Raphael who contrasts his eager, engaging and handsome face with a hairdo like an abandoned eagle’s nest, or at least one occupied by a most neurotic bird, maintained in this state it seems with hair gel that he refuses to take out and which must in some far corner of his kiddie culture be deemed cool for it shocks adults, some of whom must think him deprived and neglected, Raphael who the hoverer over this supper observes appropriately has Gabriel at his right hand, a witty presence who engages with all  and prompted by a reference to needing a knife at table quips that two things are needed in life, love and a knife, which I take to be a mot about Macbeth which he is studying with Lorna in predictably imaginative not to say eccentric ways, and who joins astutely with Adonis on his right, and on my left, in our discussion of what I call triumphs of the canning industry that is of foodstuffs, apart perhaps from sardines, that are great to eat but cannot be reproduced in nature, of tomato soup, for example, which cannot be copied using tomatoes, sliced peaches that in no way resemble the greatest works of home preservers, of tomato sauce that cannot possibly be made from what its name suggests, of baked beans that seem to be beans but which always disappoint when imitated with actual beans, in short of those famous staples of breakfast, barbecue and what can we have for dessert, to which list I am sure you will be able to add in some future schoolday …

(schooldays 61)

…but in the meantime I’d like to mention a new organisation Lorna and I have founded, an organisation that will be somewhat familiar to Greeks who benefit extensively from the services of the grandmothers, an organisation we have provisionally named Silver Threads whose logo will be an S twining round a T with the inscription services by the aged, with the by highlighted in order to make the point that we hear in Australia far too much about services for the aged, often promised not so often delivered, to the point of expelling any thought whatever that the aged may also provide services for the rest of the world, and as evidence of which we note that today(Monday) for instance we began with catering services, breakfast and paper bag lunches for grandsons, moved by 10.30 to childcare services, shifted just after lunch to disabled carer transport, divided our afternoon between on the one hand campaigning in two locations for action against improper development and for relief for refugees, and on the other hand tutoring Gabriel in MacBeth and Nick for music, followed in the evening by further catering services for the young, and let me say this is not altogether an unusual schedule in aged services, for Silver Threads regularly provides catering, transport, childcare, tutoring, aged care, laundry, grounds maintenance at home and at school, representation on committees and causes, editing both structural and stylistic, reconciliation, counselling, current affairs updating, etc etc you name it, and in return I’m happy to say we get respect from the young, some amelioration of pity from the middle aged and some capacity to counter grump in the aged, so there you are, life’s like that and would you have it any different as they say…

(schooldays 62)
… and thus it came to pass that, having cut and paperbagged the lunches for the young gods, cold pickled pork and tomato sauce in wholemeal bread, and having  seen Lorna off on a visit to the eye doc who has rooms in Woop Woop I set out with the sun shining all around to Aldi, the so very cheap supermarket, to play dodgems with blackclad mediterranean nonnas, their noses moulded to hammerheads from years of sniffing out bargains and their equally short and stout life partners whose peasant hands can gauge the quality of carrots through a plastic bag, and to seek out a bargain record player, so bargain that you get the lot, radio included, for less than the cost of replacing the stylus that’s gone on the turntable up the bush, a special that  I found in abundance just after opening  time, though a surprising number had already gone, surprising because there can’t be that many people with a stack of vinyls they still want to play, unless of course the little pile of disks in the cupboard of old memories happens to contain her favorite song all those years ago when they were going out and that they often played in the old house on the phonogram before they moved to their new home in Sunshine West, which is a reminder that even an Aldi store can sometimes bring back memories, but they would never be memories so strong as those that rose in my head in the Aldi carpark where the sun shone wamly and a brisk wind blew, for that combination of sunwarmth and windwhisper  takes me back to a day or so after Shelagh, George and Nick with his red tractor had moved out of Cliff Street leaving it, I felt as I drove past, a lonely place, a calm but lost place, a nostalgic place in the same way as the flat flat Riverina plain with a few trees on the horizon and an insistent wind breathing through the grass, a wind you felt would always be there, reassuring on sunny days like that one years ago, cold and discomforting on dull days but always there, part of a plain that would never be entirely still or silent, with a life quite different from a simply sunny day with no wind like the one in which I had a rapture in Raleigh Street, a day I remember vividly as sunny and still though it was seventy years ago and I was ten and Raleigh Street was merely a street we walked along on the way to school, undistinguished except as the home of a notorious criminal of the time, if indeed you could call a flat a home, yet it was there, outside a distinctly undistinguished semi-detached, as I recall, brick cottage that I had this rapturous sensation that life was going as it should, an existential sensation without a past or a future, one perhaps that all ten year olds have and cherish into that later age where one is pleased that life is not going as it shouldn’t, in short a rapture that will lead to thoughts about youth in the next report entitled …

schooldays 63

which we can begin with a tale of the Learners, that golden fleece of all young men, the turning point in driving that allows the novice to take to the road, the point that Adonis is aiming for and that Nick has reached, with the result that he, Nick, can take the wheel of the ute, with me beside him for 120 hours, on long trips such as to the bush house to work on a stone cottage that needs to be finished or as was the case the other day on an excursion to collect a pot bellied stove for the cottage, the stove being one that I had come across on eBay for $400, against an asking price of $450, which was described as brand new but disingenuously ‘not in its original packinging’ and was pretty clearly a homemade job even in its photo and obviously so when we rolled up to the seller’s house to find the man of the house in front of his workshop making another pot belly from gigantic parts of a truck, but may I backtrack a little to say that we, Lorna and I, had been driven by Nick up the freeway to the town of Wallan, once a tiny settlement on the road to the goldfields, now a dormitory town to Melbourne and to Lorna another Ithaca in that her maternal grandfather had owned the pub there and her mother had been there from time to time and although those two had the name of Burns the pub is now in the ownership of a Hogan, i.e. Lorna’s name before she inadvisedly took up Hannan – inadvised only in the matter of naming for in other ways we are agreed she has done terribly well – so we had to drop into the pub for a drink, nonalchoholic for the learner driver, to find of course a bar and dining set- up vastly different from that of the early days of diggers and lads in the bar, ladies in the lounge and dining room for commercial travellers, now all changed to a vast open spacious bar and dining room with quite a large menu on which Nick spotted a reasonably priced parma, prompting him to think of the pub as a venue for one of our landmark celebration dinners, a landmark being end of term, anniversary of arrival, news of great results etc, and to generally think of Wallan as a good spot not only for its pubs but also for its houses behind the main street, which in contrast to the crackpainted timber cottages surrounded by ruined cars, trucks, utes, trailers and tractors interspersed occasionally, twice actually, with superbly restored vintage trucks, are vast villas set on a couple of acres, inhabited possibly by many Italians and certainly by one Italian gentleman making said potbellied stoves as centerpieces for barbecues in garages and back sheds, which are usually preferred to the immaculate wogbaroquely furnished houses as sites for leisure and perhaps life, and conducting not only metal cutting trades but also the haircutting trade that he brought from Calabria to Melbourne and now conducts in his garage under a barber’s candy pole and the business name of Felice, which might also be his own name though he called himself Philip to us, but whatever the case, after mentioning as one might expect that he had hoped for $50 more but that’s life and so on, he and Nick loaded the extremely heavy object on to the ute and Nick drove us back, learning valuable lessons in how to corner and brake with a big load that will continue in the direction it was going in as the driver tries to coax it into a new direction, just as Newton taught Nick about motion and Nick had now to learn to apply…

(schooldays 64)

which he did (apply) soundly, once again causing me to think well, indeed fondly and sentimentally, about youth, a sentiment that arose unusually a few days later when we met again the impressive family, now three generations long, of a ten years dead schoolmate and I remarked in answer to a question about the effects of having two grandsons living with us and a third constantly around that I found it revivifying, as in quite another way the many echoes in that family of the voice of the dead companion and father – the faces and figures of grandchildren, the persistence of interests in the arts and politics of the world, the ‘what happened to’ dead or still living friends – caused, as the great Alexandrian wrote, other echoes to return from the first poetry of our lives, for what touches us in the young is the poetry of their lives, the raptures of their imagining how their lives will take shape, the enthusiasm that casts the latest band, a song, a film as the best ever, the willingness, however ill-executed, to do the right thing, in short their heightened view of so many things we have become sober and discriminating about, their capacity, like the ideal voices of the dead, to take us back to the first poetry of our lives … 

(schooldays 65)***
…and almost at once examples of that first poetry fell into our lives, one in the rare form of a new word, the other in the familiar form of a dinner, with the new word cropping up in an essay by Adonis about Ammaniti’s I’m not scared (bit of an oddity as a set book for English I reckon) in which to speak of kidnapping he coined the beautiful word kidnapture, so much better a word than the drab participle, so stylish a coinage that I almost advised him to stay with it in the essay but, fearful of his teacher’s imagination, settled for telling him that he must always relish his words whether they are already rooted in the language or flowering adventurously, so long as they say what he means (with the stress on he)’ so long as they seem to be possible English words, as in this case where kidnapture stands next to capture and rapture, nature and future, suture and culture, feature and pasture and perhaps napture (an opposite or consequence of rapture?) in a family of words held still by the camera, posed and suffixated in their white suits and summer dresses… but enough of that for we must leave room for dinner, dinner by Nick as promised a few days ago, dinner of burritos cooked and served by Nick in large quantity to me, Lorna, Adonis, himself and, soon, Rory, all of us stuffing ourselves with spicy meat in flat bread with yogurt, the whole generously greened with cos lettuce and cucumber, and stuffing Nick with lavish compliments, and joining in those conversations between young and old in which the golden lads have many questions with few answers and the silver threads have many answers but have forgotten what the questions were, but all agreeing that the dessert of apple strudel, even when bought, is the way to finish such a grand meature …

(schooldays 66)

.. and it is at this juncture that we must bemoan St Kilda’s losing its first finals game, not as in several preceding years when it went to the very last, the grand final, twice down to the wire but each time caught on it, twitching in the winds of defeat, but this year not up to even the first encounter, finished for the year, facing rebuilding etc etc to the vast disappointment of its fans who are of a famous mental cast able to anticipate victory as they envisage defeat, undying lovers of  a club with only one premiership to its name in well over a century, one only whereas upstarts from other states win flag and trophy within a few years of joining the league, fans who understand and accept that life deals out hope and disappointment in equal or more likely loaded measure, rusted on nonetheless as am I for I was born a fan and at the age of five, in the era of great full forwards such as Bob Pratt, Gordon Coventry, Ron Todd and the Saints’ own Billy Mohr (who kicked ten goals on Jack Reagan and had the mounted ball presented to him by an incredulous Collingwood, a gesture that made the Magpies my father’s second preference), saw the Saints in a final at the sacred stadium from atop the shoulders of one of our boarders in the house we rented above a bakery in Punt Road opposite the old St Kilda ground by the lake at the other end of which was the South Melbourne ground, home to the transplanted club now known as the Sydney Swans but still wearing the regalia of old South, a Mr Marx (the boarder that is) whose politics were said to echo his name and who naturally demonstrated solidarity with the standing room classes, numerous then even at the sacred stadium and pretty much the usual patrons at the old inner suburban grounds – St Kilda, Collingwood, Carlton Fitzroy, North and so on – where the women and children would turn up early in the morning with their thermoses and sandwiches in order to secure a bench seat on the boundary and the men would come in from work, maybe via the pub, to line up on the terraces in their felt hats and soberly excited faces to roar, condemn and generally shout ‘ball’ at the umpire who in our code has always seemed to be the principal object of barracking, even more so in the present crowd-seated days in posh stadiums being televised by editors who know where the crowd’s real interests lie and who invariably catch the crowd rising to their feet every few minutes to gesticulate and imprecate about what is usually an indisputable decision, in a show of emotion that was not really open physically to the cramped fedored rows on the terraces and in the outer, nor, it would seem, to the somewhat sedate families in the lone football grandstand, who might in a state of rare excitement drum their feet on the boards, but who generally remained seated wanting perhaps to show that true club loyalty went with a level of ***decorum fit to elevate the tone of what was in most clubs a working class team, for we were still in an era when a player or indeed a whole team could be vilified as wealthy or of public school kidney, and when many heroes, such as St Kilda’s centreman, Harold Bray, arrived for the game carrying his gladstone bag from work (on Saturday morning mark you) as probably did my mother’s favourite player, wingman Jack Kelly, who could kick a goal from the wing and was always referred to by my mother as ‘little Kelly’ for she, like so many women of a certain age, liked to refer to acceptable men as either little, old or poor (as in poor old), and who carried their playing gear back home in the gladstone bags for their mothers, or maybe wives, to wash on Monday for next Saturday, which in the case of poor old South Melbourne with its red and white resulted in a red running and  fading to pink and a white turning to pink, indicative I suppose that they, like fedoras then, were made from good Australian wool rather than the polyester now used in both hats and jumpers so that old South, the Sydney Swans, retain distinct red and white areas throughout the season which has just ended for the Saints horribile dictu at the hands of those same  Swans, two old lakeside rivals fighting for glory on rainproof, fully seated Etihad Stadium…

(schooldays 67)
 

and it must be said that naming a footie ground is an airtful way of making an airline known to Melburnians, even if they don’t go to the footie but rather dream of flying to rare destinations, in Lorna’s case Bulgaria, which constant desire she defends on the grounds of its byzantine monasteries but which actually entered her dreams one day in Thessaloniki when, as we paused at a traffic light near the city centre, we saw a sign directing god knows what traffic to Bulgaria, just like that, as we might be directed to New Guinea on our way to Carlton, with the consequence that ever since that day in Salonika she has added hope in a voyage to Bulgaria to her many daily activities, to the many, many activities she is serious about, and so wont to chide herself if she is not right on the top of this long agenda, as for instance was the case yesterday when as I rose to dress, herself already gone from the empty side of the bed, she appeared at the door all dressed up and ready to leave for a meeting about refugees, to be followed by some teaching to help out a friend, followed by work in protest against a high rise at the end of our street, followed by I forget what and she  listed her deeds so far for the morning, the lads’ lunches cut and paper bagged, the orange juice squeezed and the garden watered, all of this announced as though she were reporting for duty, not quite saluting but standing up straight as a good worker should for such an announcement, and then zip and away and back a moment later for her phone and zip and away and back for a folder of papers she needed and zip and away finally leaving me to relish the glorious freshly squeezed orange juice and to face Adonis across our cereal bowls and wonder whether Rory will be in for breakfast or merely to pick up his lunch in a paper bag, with Lorna already in the city meeting with a most distinguished group of opponents of the way both sides of politics are punishing refugees on the pretext of stopping people smuggling but actually in deference to the many rednecks in NSW and Queensland who have never accepted the dropping of the White Australia policy, a group by the way that she put together and that will complement another group of local Labor Party human beings trying to rid us and the Party of our government’s unconscionable policies on asylum seekers, a group also raised by Lorna, with what energy, with what hope in the good, with what doubts that she is doing everything she could, doubts  I tried to mitigate a little by telling her of an encounter with a local hero, now ageing, who asked with a gloomy face whether I had heard of the awful high rise planned for the end of our street and whose face immediately relaxed and smiled when I told him that Lorna had the matter in hand and was organising opposition, proof again that after having left the Council for more than a decade, she is still regarded as our local representative, which indeed she might as well be when you see how much she does for the place, of which more, perhaps in a future episode of schooldays, but meanwhile in …***

schooldays 68

family affairs must unhappily give way to the catastrophic news that St Kilda has lost its coach, thought by some to be the league’s best and who took St Kilda to three grand finals in two years – none of them won but that’s another story – and lost him in such an underhand manner, with secret dealings and betrayal of both club and his own managers,  that the football world, which in Melbourne is not far from the whole world since so many principles, so many ideals, so many misfortunes are commonly measured against it, has been ignited with indignation and in turn hosed down with worldlywiseness, the indignant appalled by such a show of deviousness and failure of loyalty, the worldlywise smugly asserting that business is business and we’re talking about a megaindustry so stop bleating, which latter view the indignant, of which I am one, think utterly off the point because whatever business might or might not think OK  and par for whatever course they use for their scheming, football has fans who keep the clubs alive and in no way (shape or form as a footie commentator might add) think of the great game as a business, fans who, like Betty, wear their club scarves and badges even when they’re only watching the game on telly, fans who book year-long seats, who queue through the night in sleeping bags for a finals ticket, knowing but not complaining that ‘corporate clients’ with no club loyalties and not even an interest in the romance of the game will be getting privileged entry, flash seats, champagne, speeches and canapes, fans who swaddle the newborn barracker in the club colours and who are laid out in their coffins wearing the club scarf and who process out of the church to the club song, as our distinguished cousin Jimmy Hannan did after mass and eulogies that retold the famous story of how he died, really, at a close match between North and someone, fortunately coming back to life to live into his ‘nineties, fans who live by fanaticism and loyalty, as also in a more world weary way do the followers of political parties, like those in our branch who turn up regularly in hope, despair and wheelchair, cheerfully recognising that motions passed and letters written have no influence on the party, which is essentially run by a mob of crooks, but turning out all the same to letterbox propaganda, hand out how to vote cards and watch the call of the vote, beer in hand, every couple of years, loyal party members in other words who hold to principles that do not survive the journey from the mouths to the eyes of the politicians, loyalists all, not accepting club or party as businesses despite the manifest evidence before them, poor, dear loyalists weeping and waiting for…

Schooldays 69

future days of glory by which they probably mean victory, whereas I after the best part of seventy-five years of mostly defeat would rather subscribe  to grandson Louis’s concept of the nearly-win, a concept he has had to summon often this year because he barracks for Footscray, now stupidly called the Western Bulldogs, the Bulldogs or most often the Doggies, also a club, like St Kilda, that is more likely over time to lose rather than win, so that Louis’s common descriptions are of nearly winning, being close or not being smashed, a view of contest that seems to make a usually competitive boy quite content with the past and always eager for the future, so who said footie was just for the lowbrows roaring in the stands when such a view of destiny can inform the young idealist as well as the old sceptic, which in a roundabout way leads us to Nick who just came in the door, full of excitement, full of good cheer, with a new composition on the iPod that he plugged into my speakers, yet another in a succession of compositions he makes for the RMIT audio technology course and also for his own enjoyment and ours, which I have said to him are evolving from thump thump to melodic rhythms, if that makes sense, which Nick seems to think it does, and are also, as in this case, branching out from strictly electronic music to include concrete music to wit, in this composition reaching out at us from my speakers, recordings of paper crumpling fiddled with tonally, mainly down to basso bassissimo, and then worked up as rhythms and worked with the electronic material into a piece that sets the composer’s hand to beating time and his eyes to light up with satisfaction as he avows, as he has so often before , that he is in the best of best situations that doesn’t seem like study at all (and for which, we should add, he gets High Distinctions), and so we muse again, he and I, about those early schooldays, almost two years ago now, when we went to RMIT’s open day and wandered on a whim to the music department where we met Kips Horn, the prof in charge of the Music Industry program, essentially to ask him how much music theory Nick would need to know, assuming he could overcome his embedded resistance to such knowledge, a resistance for which I have some sympathy, only to find to our delight that music theory was not required knowledge and what’s more that Kips Horn was very familiar with Greek music, had written on rembetika, knew George, Psarandoni and co quite well and is, if I remember aright, married to a Greek, and furthermore, we learnt, selection for the course is based on an application not on the accursed tertiary entrance score, which pretends to sum up twelve years of study in a single number and which I think of as the scholastic equivalent of stock exchange indicators, a mumbo jumbo for the well-heeled so that they may stand tall like haughty alpacas above the milling herd, with the result that by the time we were back out in the street we felt sure that a degree in music would be Nick’s scholarly Ithaca, and perhaps also Adonis’s one of whose Ithacas we must hear about in …

schooldays 70

but not without adding to Nick’s story the golden gloss that his RMIT degree also disdains competition throughout its program, promoting instead what Nick calls getting along with your fellow students by working in groups, presenting your thoughts to the class and (gasp) being assessed on this group activity (gasp again, what a funny idea to apply to music), but now to Adonis who is still in the world of individual activity, marks, scores, aggregated and moderated sum-life-up-in-an-indicator so traditionally favoured by schools that we think the youth, our own progeny, couldn’t possibly function without it, especially in their teenage when without the goad of competition and the threat of lifetime ruin they would inevitably put all work aside for bacchanalia without rest, except in the mornings to beyond noon, yet, thanks to the school, the Victoria Police from the non-harassment division, and sundry sponsors including Ferguson-Plarre of birthday cake and tiddly oggie fame, represented by a real live descendant named Mike Plarre, Adonis and I found ourselves at a function, as they say, for all involved in this year’s Kokoda trek, in the committee room overlooking the Moonee Valley race course, which I had deduced from the invitation  and promotional matter for the committee room to be a dinner with speeches from the youth of Debney Park and St Bernards after a beef or chicken main course but which turned out in fact to be a stand around of drinks with party pies, spring rolls, and tartlets of multicoloured fillings followed later, Abdi said, by more substantial tucker, with the speeches close to the start of proceedings, a dozen or so speeches by the youthful trekkers, including one by an apprehensive Adonis who nonetheless looked very relaxed and opened with a topical joke about burning his mouth on a party pie thus drawing mirth from those who hadn’t seared the gums with what were extremely hot party pies and sympathy from those who had, and all loyalties aside, Adonis did stand out as one of the few youth who said his own thing rather than reading extensively and haltingly from Wikipedia, so to me Adonis getting over that steeple was the highlight, not to say the onlylight of a gathering that otherwise carried on as a reunion of a group who’d been through something the rest of us wouldn’t understand, expressed at one end a heartiness scale by effusive banter among participants  and at the other end invisibility for people like me even as I stood beside Adonis, except I must stress for the lads from Debney, and a Spaniard from St Bernard’s, each of whom introduced himself and held out a hand to be shaken, all youth in short like ours with something of the saint and the god in them, and so with the god already on vacation and the saint but two weeks from end of term and end of year we await … 

schooldays 71

which must begin the account of the last term of the year that for Nick will soon end, university terms being short, and for Adonis will soon begin and will also be quite short, and for both will essentially be times of reckoning with exams, orals, essays and assessments, we hope of the hay distinction kind but who knows, an account that can conveniently start with a summary of tutorials to wit one daily on philosophy until an essay on God and the problem of evil is completed, another daily to build up Adonis’s confidence and speed in writing, and yet another in French as practice for Rory’s oral exam, in short a steady build-up of Silver Threads Educational Programs (boringly acronymed as STEP) each showing highly promising signs, for Rory’s spoken French is sound and exhibits a marked ability to talk over the interlocuteur and thus dictate the agenda, Adonis’s prose is direct, engaging and nicely free of error apart from an occasional, attractive coinage, and Nick’s meditations of the existence of God and the problem of evil, informed by required references to his lecturer who seems so up himself that he vanishes from sight leaving only an egregious persona behind, but to whom one must of course uriaheep, and garnered references to CS Lewis, Thomas Aquinas, biblical tales and stories his grandmother told him as a child all rolled into a tightly argued piece aware of its own circularities and those of its topic but assertive of a solidly held belief (which I do not happen to share) that there is something out there, or in there, or around there that sort of holds the show together but doesn’t care much one way or another about little me or you, at which dead end I will stop and think about what to report in…

schooldays 72

to which the obvious answer is … Lorna’ birthday, marking her seventy-ninth year out of the womb and on to the planet and making her officially seventy-eight at which age, we all noted during our family gathering, she is as souple, cardio-fit and meeting-ready as she ever was, and geared up not only to be the subject of the party but also the clearer, whippersnipper and furnisher of the garden, which looked a picture my dear, but also the childminder, washerupper and panicker about what-will-we-do-if (no, when) it rains, thunders and pours, as in fact was forecast even though the day before, the Thursday, had been glorious summer and itself eventful since Lorna went off to a school reunion with companions of like age relishing reminiscence but dreading the luncheon menu  at a place called Vibe, for God’s sake, whilst I slipped out to a Turkish butcher’s in Brunswick to buy chops, sausages and a shoulder of lamb from a tall young lady whose veil adroitly combined hygiene with conviction and to buy nuts, preserves, pickles and cheeses from the Phoenician trading station next to the butcher’s in preparation for the entertainment next day, the day then ending with a long- planned dinner at Amiconi’s to mark the approximate anniversaries of Nick’s and Adonis’s arrivals and successes in Melbourne, with both ordering pasta entrees (carbonara for Adonis) and parmas for mains, but this time real (as opposed to pub) parmas, all’italiana with veal and appropriate garnishes, causing Nick to declare Amiconi’s the best of the best and Adonis to express deep satisfaction, and both to declare their bold experiment in transposing their lives to Melbourne to have been a success, and so to bed – well, not quite – until, the birth day, with uni work over and libations of fine tap water drunk at the gym, and roses and chocolates presented by the lads to Lorna, the aunts, uncles and cousins arrived, sausages and chops began to grill on the barbie, a vegetable pie, chicken drumsticks, potatoes and a grand shoulder of lamb arose from the oven to be photographed by Adonis, all accompanied by salads, nuts, chips both set out and discovered in their hiding places by Francis and Josephine and crowned by a copious chocolate mud cake made by Rae Nicholls and set alight with sparklers indicating more efficiently than candles the number of years being happybirthdayed, this part of the proceedings being now indoors in Betty’s big room even though the spitting rain  was not wet enough to force revellers out from under the lillipilli, let alone account for a phone call predicting hail and hurricane on the Geelong road that prompted an unfortunately early departure by Tricia, and so there, cake and singing done, we can leave the youngest cousins nosing about for concealed sweets, the younger cousins in general glowing in the attention and  approval of the older cousins and the elders waiting, as they will, for …

schooldays 73

in which a picture is worth more than, on average, 428 words

      

and whose story will be told in …

schooldays 74

wherein I will trace the origins and after effects of these wounds, beginning with a Fall, precipitated by a perfumed trip on a trailing vine of jasmine concealed beneath lavender which launched me across a considerable space and landed me face down on the heavy wooden edging of a bed of spinach and rocket causing me to bleed copiously, to groan somewhat and soon learn to my relief that I could rise again and walk to the kitchen where I bathed my face and tried to imagine Lorna’s reaction, for I could hardly conceal the effects of the fall and needed some first aid attention anyway, and reaction it was, of course, full of concern, full of drama, full of worst scenarios, one of which was indeed the discovery of a split in the lip needing snitches and requiring therefore a plan, which for want of available drivers in the family at that very moment , left the option of the bus, which does after all go from our door to the Royal Melbourne Hospital so it was, let me explain, a questionable option only in the sense that my appearance might alarm the other passengers, as indeed it did, sending ladies of various ethnic origins scattering from the front of the bus to more distant seats, but delivering me and Lorna promptly to the hospital emergency and trauma waiting room, whose calm was disturbed only by murmurings at the triage desk, muted regret about life in general  from some of those waiting and brief appearances of lower level staff in red aprons looking confused, where eventually a lady of indistinct rank and face painted, as Lorna said, like a Minoan fresco, called me to conduct preliminary questions about my condition before the Fall (dizziness, fainting etc to which I answered that I was simply looking over the spinach etc), and whether I was now in pain  (to which I said sore rather than painful) and, satisfied, return me to the waiting room, from whence after quite a wait but not an unconscionable one, which we filled by speculating where the truly traumatic cases were sent, the ones with tubing in them being rushed on stretchers by shouting attendants to doctors pulling on tight gloves, I was called to the inner rooms to be examined by a young doctor named Danny Chou, who bathed the wounds, concluded that the lip needed stitches and inspected the thumb, which I could move despite what looked like quite a bruise, all of which proceeded amiably except that there were quite long absences between decreeing the stitches and executing each stage, which were inconvenient in a bladder sense (which weakens with age) but interesting for the conversation going on next to me behind a curtain between doctors and an elderly lady of middle European accent and dignity who had dislocated her shoulder (another Fall!) and was uneasy about some other damage to the extent that she wondered how she’d get on at home, alone, but did she have children, yes she did but they were very busy, which I imagine the medico took to be they were selfish and unfeeling, for whatever reason, and should wake up to themselves and help their mother, a  conversation to speculate about but unresolved by the time Danny had stitched me up, dismissed me, returned to say he’d forgotten the thumb needed an X-ray which was done in  another  department with such efficiency that Danny and I were able to see on the computer a distinct crack in the joint of the thumb necessitating immobilisation by a lashed on protector, and perhaps the sorest bit of the whole range of wounds, but not a problem because everyone on the block from Tony who picked us up and fed us, Mairead who found the arnica, Adonis who volunteers every few hours to get anything I need and Nick who vows to keep the home fires burning and of course and above all Lorna who insists on a early night to bed and presides anxiously over the deep sleeping that has today left me feeling restored, though still sore here and there and having to drink through a straw and sneakl ittle pieces of food into the unstitched corner of the mouth, and so to another cuppa, another straw, a nap and …

 
schooldays 75

which will make a few notes about drinking straws, but to begin with will complete the account of Nick’s first semester’s marks, the account you’ll remember that stood at two high distinctions and a credit and lacked the fourth assessment, which we can now report is yet another high distinction, so raise your glasses and give three cheers for the Scholar, reminding yourself as you do so that barely two years ago he had little thought for study but rather a resolve to put his head among the tumultuous clouds in the service of those old men who must find enemies among the Turks, Bulgars and Macedonians  (and I well remember a young fanatic with a microphone in Lonsdale Street at some Hellenic festival or other chanting that Macedonia was is and always will be Greek) and must show they’re the tough guys by dropping young men from the sky like white birds, caring nothing – perhaps even hoping, for ceremonial purposes –  that some will be picked off like wild ducks and have the life gone from their eyes before they even reach the ground, young men who might be ours and who will not have the light back in their eyes though coffins come draped in flags, guards of honour march slowly and ministers make speeches about supreme sacrifices, a resolve which I tried to subdue by reciting war poetry with him and which was actually overturned, at least for the present, by learning of the RMIT music degree, being selected to do it, taking to it dutifully, then keenly, then awesomely as the best of all courses and as a result getting these magnificent and dare I say unexpected marks, to which story I add that although Adonis does not show similarly bellicose ambitions I am nonetheless taking the precaution of reading war poetry with him too, for one never knows where the Hellenic rage will erupt, and so with these matters noted I do now turn to drinking straws which my recent Fall has obliged me to use and to which I confess to becoming attached, not necessarily to the straws in kiddie packs of 100 plastic ones (the pink ones having to be reserved for Josephine, who is quite pink-drunk) but to their history, beginning four millennia ago with the Sumerians drinking through straws, literally straws from the grain fields they apparently introduced to our agriculture, from amphoras perhaps filled with beer, a drink they consumed so much they even had a goddess of beer, and perhaps used straws to prevent solid matter from entering the mouth thereby initiating the long held view that straws are more hygienic than poorly washed glasses or cups that can in a milk bar/soda fountain/cafe, for example, still show the evidence of a prior lipstuck patron, and that for that reason they are  more widely used in commercial premises than in the home, so widely used in fact that an American dealer in cigarette holders named, wouldn’t he be, Marvin Stone invented and patented in 1888 paper straws, which another American named Friedman ingeniously developed into the flex straw, using a screw and dental floss, after watching his daughter struggle with a milk shake, which then became cheap plastic and which now can be bought also as designer glass straws, reusable and reminiscent in intention if not glamour of the gold and lapis lazuli drinking straw found in a Sumerian tomb, and there I will leave you until …

A gem from Google: Sumerian seal

Probably a mythic scene, since a number of deity symbols occur on the seal: the eight-pointed star indicates the goddess of the Venus star Inanna/Ishtar; the crescent moon the god Nanna-Sin; the sun disk on it the sun god Utu; and the fish probably the fresh-water god of wisdom En-ki. An enthroned figure, likely female, shares a jar of beer(?) with a male figure. Another figure seems to be holding a pouring jug to refill the jar. The scene could possibly be from the “Epic of Gilgamesh” when Gilgamesh met the tavern keeper Siduri at the end of the earth in a mountainous region, hence the mountain goat above the jar of beer. Siduri would then be the seated figure wearing the flounced gown drinking with Gilgamesh. The image is framed by coiled snakes. Hematite. Second millennium B.C.E.

Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Pritchard 1969b: 48 #158.

schooldays 76

wherein I will revisit four institutional events, one a world record, two metaphorically Cyclopean and one literally so, the first being an appointment for radiology at Royal Melbourne Hospital requested by the medico who examined the facial area affected by my removed carcinoma – a biannual check every year since the surgery – the appointment time being 10 a.m. with an injunction to arrive 15 minutes early, but since I arrived not long after 9.30 I was not only in before the appointed time but actually scanned by a pleasant lady and out by 10 to 10, which must by any measure of hospital and medical centre waiting be a World Record, think of it, waiting, treatment and associated bureaucracy over and done ten minutes before the appointed time, something that has never happened to me in all my memories of waiting for appointments, so needless to say I filled in the patient satisfaction questionnaire with top marks and enthusiastic comments on every aspect of the Royal Melbourne service,a triumph succeeded by other, less worthy, events, of which two were needed to obtain Adonis’s passport and a third to attend to a medical emergency involving Lorna, which I will come to in connection with the first passport office visit at which I learnt I would need more forms filled in but at which I was at least able to establish that other required documents, from Greece, were indeed at the passport office in a folder fished out by the supervisor who told me what else was needed in the sort of slowly enunciated and slightly loud voice that suggested to me she believed me to be of ethnic background and ESL brain – understandable given the applicant’s name – but apart from the unfulfilled forms the visit did not reveal in the Australian Passport Office any centrelink-like Cyclopean  tendencies, of which I must say few were needed because at the same time Lorna was beginning a long long long wait in the Emergency Department of the Eye and Ear Hospital for a genuine Cyclopean reason namely that she could see out of only one eye and the affected eye was causing so much discomfort and was gushing so much fluid that we had decided to take the bus together to our separate destinations because they were so close together at the top end of the city where the bus stops (the same bus you may remember that took us to the Royal Melbourne for me to get stitched and splinted after the Fall), so into the bus we climbed. settled into seats and got about halfway when Lorna asked whether I had the documents for Adonis’s passport which I had carefully put into a briefcase, left in a place from where you couldn’t help but see them as you went out of the house and need I say not picked them up, so off the bus in haste, over to the other side of the road to catch the bus back home, pacing about anxiously for a bus that did not arrive and fortuitously spotting a cab that went home for the document pick-up and into town for the hospital emergency department where Lorna waited for triage while I hobbled down – result of a bung ankle but that’s another story –  to Level 13 of a ghastly skyscraper, clocked on for Adonis’s appointment, as the screen characterised it though I was the appointee, was soon called to a booth to find out what was missing and to leave for a second time before the appointed hour – a smaller record this time but a record– and return to wait with Lorna who was called soon(ish) to go through the ceaselessly opening and closing double doors into the inner treatment rooms, to be expelled shortly  back to the waiting room where we waited and waited, Lorna urging me to go, I asking whether she would be able to see anything on her own, she sure she would, I not minding waiting and waiting but eventually yielding to her counsel and making my way against a high wind, so high it made my ankle seem more unsteady and sent smokers huddling in inadequate doorways, to the bus and home, where Lorna followed me after a record-breaking five and a half hours wait, but medicated tbg, and where Adonis and I worked through the extra forms – he delighted to note that the year was ending as it had begun with many forms to fill – so that I could take them without delay back to the Passport Office, again, can you believe this, forgetting them till I was at the bus stop but in plenty of time for the appointment because the bus ride was very quick, so quick that I thought I might join the queue waiting to get into the immigration department on the pretence that I had just sneaked up the Yarra in a boat from Nauru where I had been overlooked in the last clearnance of the detention centres, but of course didn’t, but instead passed some time inspecting the skyscraper, surprised to find a revolving door giving on to some steps down to a lane, unsurprised to note that the bloke running the coffee bar by shouting at both customers and workers was Greek and eventually disappointed that the passport staff member this time were somewhat abrupt and querulous,  asserting do you mind that Adonis and I had cut his photos too small, to which I retorted that it was perhaps their model shape on the form that was too small – a palpable hit that caused her to retreat from her position – but causing me to muse that the Eye of Cyclops never fully closes, and so until…

schooldays 77

which belongs to Adonis who remarked with real pleasure that his Year 11 ended with exams on  the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year, a day that we all marked in some way but none with such satisfaction as Adonis, for his eleventh year really has seen some turning points, the greatest of which in our opinion is his confidence that he can do this school caper and get the exam trial right and come out with good results, things he said with a kind of rueful pleasure that hadn’t been his experience of schooling so far, a sad thought because I can’t think of anyone else who deserves to learn, to know, to get stuff right, to see through to the judicious  core of things, which he does of course in his own way but which we might have hoped that teachers and school cultures would have taken more seriously, but there we are, things have finally looked up, will look up further and will see him become as honoured a student as Nick has, mention of whom reminds us that we are in period of suspension between Adonis’s imminent departure, for which he has a renewed passport, and Nick’s no doubt bustling arrival as we all prepare for gift giving, Xmas feasting, a new Year for which most resolutions have already been made and the long summer of holiday housing, tenting, reading, iPadding, maybe even scrabbling, sun-seeking, sun-avoiding, swimming, paddling, bushwalking and so on, but meanwhile we await Adonis’s school reports hoping they turn up in time for …

schooldays 78

but no results have come yet, in fact he still has the written Greek exam to do next Tuesday, so we have time to think about the nature of his proximate journey to Archanes, which we can see in emotional terms as a move from home to home, each part of the same family, or in spiritual terms as a return to homeland (allowing that he is also leaving a kind of homeland), or in epic terms as one of those Ithacas that beckon in the ‘indolence of youth’, but whether it concerns home or homeland or Ithaca or a blurring of these or some other concept is a puzzle which even as I try to fit the concepts to myself for whom home is undoubted,and nested in family, whereas homeland is a romantic tapestry of the mind peopled by shearers, heroes of Labour and mates standing tall in arid landscapes, or to my mother Reet who spent her life in search of a home – a constant Ithaca – and let her mind wander among  confabulous homelands, both of which examples I think say more about age than youth, for youth must be in two minds about home, one prizing the home it has but the other looking to a home of its own, and open- minded about homeland, preferring often to think of sailing into unknown harbours for the first time, as the great Alexandrian wrote, thereby showing  us the deep contrast between the sunny mornings of youth and the chill winds of our autumn, and so until … 

Feelings 1

North of the river is my own land,
Now I am a settler South of the River.
But I have come North on a visit;
But I lift my eyes and see no acquaintances.
The Autumn wind blows chill on me
The Autumn moon is white – for whom?
Better that I return from whence I came,
For South of the River there are some who care.

Han Hsi-Tsai  (902-70) trans Robert Kotewall and Norman L. Smith

Days of 2012: an unfinished regret

Prologue

..we reach and end to 2011

wherein I want to make a few notes about drinking straws, but for a start I should complete the account of Nick’s first semester’s marks, the account you’ll remember, if you read Schooldays, that stood at two high distinctions and a credit and lacked the fourth assessment, which I can now report is yet another high distinction, so raise your glasses and give three cheers for the Scholar, reminding yourself as you do so that barely two years ago he had little thought for study but rather a resolve to put his head among the tumultuous clouds in the service of those old men who must find enemies among the Turks, Bulgars and Macedonians, in the manner of Helloonies with microphones at the Antipodes festival, and must show they’re the tough guys by dropping young men from the sky like white birds, caring nothing – perhaps even hoping, for ceremonial purposes -– that some will be picked off like wild ducks and have the life gone from their eyes before they even reach the ground, young men who might be ours and who will not have the light back in their eyes though coffins come draped in flags, guards of honour march slowly and ministers make speeches about supreme sacrifices, a resolve in Nick which I tried to subdue by reciting war poetry with him and which was actually overturned, at least for the present, by learning of the RMIT music degree, being selected to do it, taking to it dutifully, then keenly, then awesomely as the best of all courses and as a result getting these magnificent and dare I say unexpected marks, to which story I add that although Adonis does not show similarly bellicose ambitions I am nonetheless taking the precaution of reading war poetry with him too, for one never knows where the Hellenic rage will erupt, and so with these matters noted I do now turn to drinking straws which my recent Fall, resulting in a stitched lip, has obliged me to use and to which I confess to becoming attached, not necessarily to the straws in kiddie packs of 100 plastic ones (the pink ones having to be reserved for Josephine, who is quite pink-drunk) but to their history, beginning four millennia ago with the Sumerians drinking through straws, literally straws from the grain fields they apparently introduced to our agriculture, from amphoras probably filled with beer, which they consumed so much they even had a goddess of beer, and presumably used straws to prevent solid matter from entering the mouth thereby initiating the long held view that straws are more hygienic than poorly washed glasses or cups that may in a milk bar/soda fountain/cafe, for example, still show the evidence of a prior lipstuck patron, and that for that reason they are  more widely used in commercial premises than in the home, so widely used in fact that an American dealer in cigarette holders named, wouldn’t you know, Marvin Stone invented and patented in 1888 paper straws, which another American named Friedman ingeniously developed into the flex straw, using a screw and dental floss, after watching his daughter struggle with a milk shake, which then became cheap plastic and which now can be bought also as designer glass straws, reusable and reminiscent in intention if not glamour of the gold and lapis lazuli drinking straw found in a Sumerian tomb, but let me now…

as 2011 runs out…

revisit four institutional events, one a world record, two metaphorically Cyclopean and one literally so, the first being an appointment for radiology at Royal Melbourne Hospital requested by the medico who examined the facial area affected by my removed carcinoma – a biannual check since the surgery – the appointment time being 10 a.m. with an injunction to arrive 15 minutes early, but since I arrived not long after 9.30 I was not only in before the appointed time but actually scanned by a pleasant lady and out by 10 to 10, which must by any measure of hospital and medical centre waiting be a World Record, think of it, waiting, treatment and associated bureaucracy over and done ten minutes before the appointed time, something that has never happened to me in all my memories of waiting for appointments, so needless to say I filled in the patient satisfaction questionnaire with top marks and enthusiastic comments on every aspect of the Royal Melbourne service, a triumph succeeded by other, less worthy, events, of which two were needed to obtain Adonis’s passport and a third to attend to a medical emergency involving Lorna, which I will come to in connection with the first passport office visit at which I learnt I would need more forms filled in but at which I was at least able to establish that other required documents, from Greece, were indeed at the passport office in a folder fished out by the supervisor who told me what else was needed in the sort of slowly enunciated and slightly loud voice that suggested to me she believed me to be of ethnic background and ESL brain – understandable given the applicant’s name – but apart from the unfulfilled forms the visit did not reveal in the Australian Passport Office any centrelink-like Cyclopean  tendencies, of which I must say few were needed because at the same time Lorna was beginning a long long long wait in the Emergency Department of the Eye and Ear Hospital for a genuine Cyclopean reason namely that she could see out of only one eye and the affected eye was causing so much discomfort and was gushing so much fluid that we had decided to take the bus together to our separate destinations because they were so close together at the top end of the city where the bus stops (the same bus you may remember that took us to the Royal Melbourne for me to get stitched and splinted after the Fall) so into the bus we climbed, settled into seats and got about halfway when Lorna asked whether I had the documents for Adonis’s passport which I had carefully put into a briefcase, left in a place from where you couldn’t help but see them as you went out of the house and need I say not picked them up, so off the bus in haste, over to the other side of the road to catch the bus back home, pacing about anxiously for a bus that did not arrive and fortuitously spotting a cab that went home for the document pick-up and into town for the hospital emergency department where Lorna waited for triage while I hobbled down – result of a bung ankle but that’s another story –  to Level 13 of a ghastly skyscraper, clocked on for Adonis’s appointment, as the screen characterised it though I was the appointee, was soon called to a booth to find out what was missing and to leave for a second time before the appointed hour – a smaller record this time but a record– and return to wait with Lorna who was called soon(ish) to go through the ceaselessly opening and closing double doors into the inner treatment rooms, to be expelled shortly  back to the waiting room where we waited and waited, Lorna urging me to go, I asking whether she would be able to see anything on her own, she sure she would, I not minding waiting and waiting but eventually yielding to her counsel and making my way against a high wind, so high it made my ankle seem more unsteady and blew smokers to huddle in inadequate doorways, to the bus and home, where Lorna followed me after a record-breaking five and a half hours wait, but medicated tbg, and where Adonis and I worked through the extra forms – he delighted to note that the year was ending as it had begun with many forms to fill – so that I could take them without delay back to the Passport Office, again, can you believe this, forgetting them till I was at the bus stop but in plenty of time for the appointment because the bus ride was very quick, so quick that I thought I might join the queue waiting to get into the immigration department on the pretence that I had just sneaked up the Yarra in a boat from Nauru where I had been overlooked in the last clearance of the detention centres, but of course didn’t, but instead passed some time inspecting the skyscraper, surprised to find a revolving door giving on to some steps down to a lane, unsurprised to note that the bloke running the coffee bar by shouting at both customers and workers was Greek and eventually disappointed that the passport staff member this time was somewhat abrupt and querulous,  asserting do you mind that Adonis and I had cut his photos too small, to which I retorted that it was perhaps their model shape on the form that was too small – a palpable hit that caused her to retreat from her position – but causing me to muse that the Eye of Cyclops never fully closes, and so until…

another day in 2011

which belongs to Adonis who remarked with real pleasure that his Year 11 ended with exams on  the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year, a day that we all marked in some way but none with such satisfaction as Adonis, for his eleventh year really has seen some turning points, the greatest of which in our opinion is his confidence that he can do this school caper and get the exam trial right and come out with good results, things he said with a kind of rueful pleasure that hadn’t been his experience of schooling so far, a sad thought because I can’t think of anyone else who so deserves to learn, to know, to get stuff right, to see through to the judicious core of things, which he does of course in his own way but which we might have hoped that teachers and school cultures would have taken more seriously, but there we are, things have finally looked up, will look up further and will see him become as honoured a student as Nick has, mention of whom reminds us that we are in a period of suspension between Adonis’s imminent departure, for which he has a renewed passport, and Nick’s no doubt bustling arrival as we all prepare for gift giving, Xmas feasting, a new Year for which most resolutions have already been made and the long summer of holiday housing, tenting, reading, iPadding, maybe even scrabbling, sun-seeking, sun-avoiding, swimming, paddling, bushwalking and so on, but meanwhile we await Adonis’s school reports hoping they turn up in time for …

the last thoughts of 2011

but they have not, in fact he still has the written Greek exam to do next Tuesday, so we have time to think about the nature of his proximate journey to Archanes, which we can see in emotional terms as a move from home to home, each an anchorage of the same family, or in spiritual terms as a return to homeland (allowing that he is also leaving a kind of homeland), or in epic terms as one of those Ithacas that beckon in the ‘indolence of youth’, but whether it concerns home or homeland or Ithaca or a blurring of these or some other concept is a puzzle which even as I try to fit the concepts to myself for whom home is undoubted, and nested in family, whereas homeland is a romantic tapestry of the mind peopled by shearers, heroes of Labour and mates standing tall in arid landscapes, or to my mother Reet who spent her life in search of a home – a constant Ithaca – and let her mind wander among  confabulous homelands, both of which examples I think say more about age than youth, for youth must be in two minds about home, one prizing the home it has but the other looking to a home of its own, and open- minded about homeland, preferring often to think of sailing into unknown harbours for the first time, as the great Alexandrian wrote, thereby showing us the deep contrast between the sunny mornings of youth and the chill winds of our autumn…

…and there we pause until … 

… more schooldays come upon us, those of  2012, beginning  with the return of Nick before Xmas and of Adonis in January, but meanwhile reflecting on how much can be said about an ankle  when the physio is prodding at and rubbing it, asking as he goes how it feels because, as you realise, your assessment is the only evidence he has since the injury is not exposed and that therefore your judgement and choice of words need to be precise, descriptive, comparative and consistent, no easy matter given that shades of meaning about pain are not all that numerous and estimates, by number, on a scale of one to ten as the physio proposes, are less meaningful than words, so I develop a basic range from nothing or insignificant to sharp or severe or ouch with gradations in between of not much, a bit, noticeable, not too bad, getting worse, ooh maybe, each modifiable by very, a bit, not so, less, somewhat and so on with a few groans, gasps or wordless winces able to be inserted to refine meaning or satisfy the physio that I’m still thinking about the pain in hand rather than the nature of the universe or the need for a second opinion, and it is on such evidence that we ponder whether to once again strap the ankle with flesh-coloured bandaging that’s fierce to remove but stops the ankle a bit from playing up or leave it exposed to anoint regularly with anti-inflammatory unguent, which latter course was the one we settled on last week and which so far seems to be the way to go whilst continuing with a couple  of electrical treatments and some daunting poking and massaging that reveals the reach of the injured tendon way beyond the ankle and well up the calf and provokes the volleys of nothing much and OK to sharp and ouch and ooh, but all of these little trials pale in contrast to the trials of Lorna in the gloomy halls of the aptly singular Eye and Ear Hospital where souls become shades as they wait for Cyclops to devour them, and seers prescribe dire interventions to transplant retrieved lenses on crumbling backgrounds and suggest appointments for times that will never be kept to, and whose nostrums and prognostications are all snorted at by her own eye person who prescribes a simple salt solution that brings relief almost straight away, though unhappily not a level of relief that makes her see all that she longs to see, and so it is that in more and more ways age invades our limbs and senses, and to avoid thinking of the worst we prefer to spend  time enjoying the hopefulness of the young and  their curiosity and the literalness that reveals a clear view of life as for example when Francis then aged four asked where his teddy was and I answered that I hadn’t seen it and he corrected me with a yes you have, or again Francis showing his mastery of the unanswerable when he asked Dee which way does a circle go, and more recently when nearly six asked the completely imponderable question what is time, or back in literal mode when being upbraided by Dee for grumpiness retorted that I am what I am which existential analysis  later justified his insisting on going to school wearing rose-coloured glasses  prompting me to think that Lorna perhaps might profit from such glasses, provided they reduce glare since she incorrigibly wants the world to be better but sort of knows that it won’t be and really deserves to be rewarded with some hope for her many many good works, which virtue for all their vast age difference puts her with Francis among the angels who see clearly and hope insistently, on which upbeat note I embark on…

2012

day one

wherein the gods, one, three or many, should be thanked for bringing us to another year not exactly intact but no worse than late in 2011 when a fall left me with an ankle that is still troublesome and a blood test exposed certain conditions which will be discussed shortly but can be delayed in favour of introducing a cast of holidayers all related and comprising a large part of the family of four daughters and twelve grandchildren begat by Lorna and me pictured in full on the opposite pages namely the four daughters (of whom three and one partner are at the moment in the same holiday house rented by Dee in Estate No 2 in Venus Bay on behalf of us all) who in turn begat twelve grandchildren namely Annalivia Gabriel and Aoife begotten by Siobhan and Carlo who is the one partner present, Nick Adonis and Api whom Shelagh and George begat, Cal and Rory begotten of Mairead and Tony and Louis Raph Francis and Josephine who are the issue of Dee and Danny, most of whom, fifteen to be precise, are gathered in the large upstairs space combining kitchen dining room and lounge room, a large company by any calculation and one that might easily be fractious but is remarkably harmonious, unless Josephine aged 3 screams, what with me and Dee, Siobhan and Carlo menuing and cooking, Lorna making meticulous salads, Carlo reading or watching DVDs from an armchair, Shelagh knitting and chatting, Gabriel Nick Adonis and Raph playing boisterous cards with many cries of victory, Louis watching with intense interest, Aoife entertaining and restraining Josephine and Francis drawing and engaging in pensive conversations such as the one when he arranged his textas into a fencelike structure that he called a sculpture and remarked to whoever might listen that it could mean anything, all this out of his own head at the age of six which is astonishing in my opinion but from Francis not at all unusual and we will undoubtedly hear more of him as the year progresses, as we will of Nick and Adonis the sons of Shelagh and George who live with me and Lorna, Nick who is going into his second year of music at RMIT and Adonis who will be confronting VCE Year 12 at Mt Alexander College, once Debney Park College, but to put these scenes of youth and age in …

a personal context

I will mention some of the ailments I am presently or permanently afflicted with, the first, which won’t go away until I do, being type 2 diabetes -– not the serious sort, everyone says comfortingly, unless you count fatigue and the possibility of strokes or the loss of podal extremities – a condition rather than a disease, but nonetheless a deficiency in the functioning of inner organs that flows so to speak into difficulties with outer organs whose role in channeling fluid from bladder to bowl gave the condition its name, of Greek derivation meaning something like through a spout, Greek also having a related verb meaning to walk with your legs spread wide, from which you can deduce that the major symptom of the condition is what the books call excessive urination, which the ordinary sufferer can translate as getting up to piss during the night which is what made me suspect the condition then confirmed in blood tests that added the unrelated condition of haemachromatosis an obvious Hellenism meaning excessive iron in the blood, so on account of this double disaster I was promised trips to the blood bank and referred to a physician I will call the Countess, in keeping with Transylvanian legend, but whom I could and sometimes will also call Bec, which is the name she uses, or Paulina after the patron saint of diabetics, Saint Paulina of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus, an Italian-born Brazilian who cared for diabetics and herself died from it, at all events and in short a medico who specialises in drawing blood and reading the omens therein, the upshot of which is I now have the disappointment of being on medication, a kind of ignominy really because up till now I have always been able in hospitals and the like to answer none to the question of what medication I am on and none again when the question is repeated as though I am on something that impairs hearing and then to smirk when the interlocuter comments on the rarity of my circumstance, and there’s that smirk gone forever leaving me to cope with whatever look of concern greets my admitting to mettformin, a drug whose prescription is attended by warnings of bloat, wind and looseness of bowel, all of which so far have come to nothing fingerscross-edtouchwoodehcarrysomedunnypaperwithyoujusttobesure but medication aside the other inevitable treatments of the condition are, you guessed it, diet and exercise which Lorna and I were discussing as we entered from the racecourse road entrance on to the freeway where, on a triangular area formed by the merging of two lanes, a sulphur-crested white cockatoo was pacing distractedly around a dead companion whose feathers were fluttering in the slipstreams of speeding cars, yet what can one do but grieve momentarily and return to discuss …

diet and exercise

and, briefly, age, those final decades when idealism turns to irony, in high contrast to the first two decades of life when all is awesome except when it isn’t but soon will be, and the third decade when you slough off the ideologies of your upbringing, then the fourth fifth and sixth decades of idealism after which age hides disillusion behind irony, a pose especially cultivated by the English, deplored by the Irish and expressed with a moue or dropped eyelid by French and Italian, but for which there is no scope whatever in discussions of dieting against diabetes which range from do this or die, in medical handouts, to have fun with your ailment in coloured magazines, the latter featuring a goodly number of old couples holding hands and looking healthy, or at least grateful, he dressed for an afternoon at the golf club, she for bingo and nibbles in the hall, and both, if they are at all serious about longevity, researching quasi-medical sites for detail of low GI diets as I now do with I must say most satisfying results with, for example, Burgen bread, which I always spurned as a baleful Teutonic comment our normal sensible ultra-high GI white bread habits (deploring often the failure of restaurants to serve bread automatically and smugly eyeing the pile of crusty white bread served at proper Italian tables) but which turns out to not simply be low GI with visible seeds and fibre but also remarkably long-lasting, still-fresh-after-a-week-makes-you-wonder-what’s-in-it, and I could give many more outstanding examples, so many that I feel I could recommend a low GI diet to any gourmet, except in the matters of fine cheeses lamb and desserts, and have indeed had great success with Lorna, it goes without saying, and with Nick and Adonis who need only an occasional barbecued meat supplement to feel awesomely fit and on top of all worlds, the gods be with them, all of which reformation of our diet is to be accompanied by a revolution in my gym program which will henceforth feature a heavy body-building with weights regime devised by the charmingly ebullient Martha to realise the Countess’s vision of me transformed into a Schwarzenegger, as she puts it, for muscle it seems is a much better GI performer than fat, which is hopeless, and thus armed with a pother of useful, curious and confusing views about diet and exercise, and leaving Venus Bay behind us we motored to…

Wilson’s Promontory

to install ourselves, Lorna and me that is, in a hut let week by week by the national parks authority and booked by Dee who continued to mastermind the summer holiday for the whole family, except for George and Api who had remained in Crete, and was herself (i.e. Dee) in the adjacent hut, but whose masterminding had not noticed that tent sites were available on Saturday, when we all left Venus Bay, but that huts were not available until Sunday, perhaps because of a standoff for some reason between the camping committee and the huts, cabins and lodges committee, so that when we located Glennie hut, so named after the islands added to the national park in 1969, which year seems but yesterday to me, we found it occupied until the next day and had to put up for a night with Siobhan in her hut, but once over that hitch and the whole party had settled into their tents and huts and territories had been defined (a key issue in camping where one must live cheek-by-jowl but with privacy) we enjoyed a week of many pleasures and a mild disappointment, the pleasures deriving from the landscape for which superlatives won’t suffice coupled with the fact that I was at last able to walk through its beauties, among low ferns and tall lillypillies in dim gullies, on grassed plains with a watchful audience of kangaroos a disdainful pair of emus and enough wombat burrows to make one step prudently, along gold and whitened beaches embraced by stony hills and scattered with multi-coloured shelters saving pale Aussie skin from melanomas, across ridges to reach ever more exquisite bays, all open to me because the bung ankle, the result of the Fall I suppose, had healed to the point that I could walk a good distance without pulling up too sore, pleasures that were in no way diminished by our collective disappointment that the blood-letting machine given me by the Countess seldom worked but simply gave a reading of Error 1, which the manual defined as something wrong, and on the occasions that it did work gave diabetic readings that were not quite comforting, with the result that throughout the daily large parties that gathered to feast outside our two huts, feasts of abalone, freshly caught salmon and mullet, gigantic porterhouses and spicy sausages, I was very restrained in my alcohol, just a glass of red really, eschewed bread almost entirely and saw that pulses and salads occupied most space on my plates, a regime of restraint that was however compensated to some degree by the pleasures of watching the parade from tent to store to beach pass on the road above the hut, some of it on wheels of all sorts, some on foot, all long-legged and, to me at least, young and growing younger longer and slenderer by the day, a parade of lotus eaters that became life’s norm as I lost track of the days until suddenly we had to clear up, pack the van and go back to Melbourne to send invitations to and make plans for…

the Party

to mark my eightieth year (b. 1932 feb 9 officially or 10 said my parents) according to the custom of putting on a big show for a new decade of life, if that is what octogenarians can look forward to, a Party need I say into which Lorna put mountains of planning and she, Shelagh and Siobhan further mountains of preparation of the grounds and the furnishing, including a giant marquee borrowed from Winsome, and of foods entirely for eating with the hand to be served, mirabile dictu, by the little kids, a plan of genius such that only Lorna could devise and which succeeded both in keeping the littlies busy and dedicated and in charming the adults beyond measure as plates of nibbles were held solemnly up to them above the heads of the waiters who gradually began to devise for themselves what nibbles would be offered, with the quantity of pretzels and chips multiplying, until of a sudden, oh wonder, it was time for

the speeches

…and as I nicked into the dunny for a squirt I heard Lorna starting to warm up the audience with a tale from Dublin airport, where as she wandered about one day looking for me, your man, as they say there, asked her if she’d lost something and, told that it was her husband she was seeking, remarked that that was a serious matter and asked had she had me long, which tale lasted just long enough for me to finish that which cannot be hurried without consequences and to make my way to her side on a raised part of the back garden beneath the grapevine and hop into my own speech which I began by decrying decadism, that wretched habit of describing the past as the sixties, seventies and so forth, a habit that perhaps gives the young some points of reference to the Dark Ages that precede their own Enlightenment, so I was consequently able to reassure the Party assembled, up to 120 people according to Louis who loves to count, that my account of the now numerous decades of my own life would not be in eight weary parts but rather in three epochs under the conventional headings of youth, maturity and antiquity, beginning at my beginning in what was statistically the worst year of the Great Depression, to wit 1932, the year of maximum unemployment that drove men from their families on to the roads looking for work or handouts from the bosses, a year between two terrifying wars the second only seven years in the future and already foreboding, a year that would add to the decline in my parents’ income from shopkeeping and see them soon in the ranks of the poor whose problem, as George Bernard Shaw pointedly pointed out, is money, but which has today become the problem of disadvantage with the result that the money goes to someone else to look after the poor, from which readers can rightly conclude that after many years of pleading the cause of the disadvantaged in education I am now persuaded that the very idea tends if anything to add to the problem by providing those in a position to do something useful with an excuse for failing or not even trying (a point that Doug Wjite over by the gate seemed to approve) so I wanted to assert most strongly to the Party that my childhood though undoubtedly poor was emphatically not disadvantaged, for my mother taught me equality by scorning people who gave themselves airs, as she would say with a shrug of the shoulders and a side turn of the head, nose in air, and generosity by denouncing with an air of disgust people who wouldn’t give you the smell of an oil rag, whilst my father embodied respect for knowledge and democracy in that he actually read Hansard, well, the Labor half, taught me and my sister (now frowning to hear from her chair on her porch) to recite the names of the wartime Curtin Labor cabinet as we walked to West St Kilda beach, which was then for people rather than boats, and made a noted sally at a public meeting in Prahran Town Hall against the Murdoch press, dubbing its flagship Herald a ‘sausage wrapper’ to the mirth of the meeting, and who never queried any of my purchases at the newsagents’ where I bought the Champion and the Phantom to supplement my almost daily borrowings from the wonderful Prahran Children’s library, so that I can truly say that if I did not or do not esteem equality, generosity and knowledge it was no fault of my parents, of whom my father went to Merit Certificate at an orphanage before going bush and my mother had no schooling beyond grade 2 and struggled with writing all her life, but it was her spirit I am grateful for just as I am grateful for those very early days when my father welded me to St Kilda, the Saints of that other Melbourne religion, though my mates barracked for teams more given to winning, and I was able to point out that my sister and I were surely the only two people at the Party who remembered not only the wretched attempt by a League obsessed with aggression to change the name of the Saints to the Panthers but also the putative club song to the tune of I do like to be beside the seaside which has long gone to dust in the graveyard of abandoned anthems, which references brought me at last to the matter of songs my mother used to sing, pretty incessantly, songs that gave those days of depression and war a melancholic temper, so much so that our very youth initiated us into old age and death, what with darlingIamgrowingold silverthreadsamongstthegold intheshadeoftheoldappletree homesweethomeontherange and other gloomy longings for lovelierlovelived days which I had to represent with a song, for I always include at least one song in a speech, and therefore chose whenIgrowtoooldtodream, obviously for its sentiment but also to make the point that the goodoldsongs did not just hang over from Victorian sentimentality but were products of my era, when I grow too old being a Romberg-Hammerstein piece from 1934, well remembered by Caroline Hogg who sang along, and sung or played by such notables as Nelson Eddy, Jeanette McDonald, Gracie Fields, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Vera Lynn, Linda Ronstadt and many more as they say, so not at all one of your standard good old days numbers, which reference brings me to the second epoch of my speech, what I call the good days, the days of idealism, the days peopled with such optimism and love by Lorna, Siobhan, Shelagh, Mairead, Deirdre and many, probably most, of the people at the Party, listening by now with much good humour as I bridge from the Catholicism of my youth which gave me so many long words, so many yards of Latin and so many soupy or terrifying stories, to early maturity when I grew indifferent to most religious things apart from the glories of the music which is still irresistible, and actively hostile to the likes of the Maledetto, cleverly misnomered Santamaria and his myrmidons, to late maturity when we walked the pilgrimage road to Santiago and confirmed our atheism or more accurately our lapsed agnosticism, and became convinced that we are in no way dualistic, that there is no separation of body and soul or more modestly of body and mind, that when we walk out in the morning it’s all of us with none left behind, none somewhere in the ether or in memory and none destined to survive our earthly death, and so with that rejection of Cartesian thought in the background I was able to have an epoch of idealism directed to the real world rather than the next world or another imagined world of the sort that ensnared so many Leftists, not I regret the real world of those who achieved weshallovercome things but the local worlds of art, where as a critic I made a name but few friends, or theatre, where as a dabbler I made no name but many friends, some, such as Jane and Robin, at the Party today and being wonderful smiling audience, or teachers unions, where, along with Graham, Bernard and Vic encouraging me from the back of the courtyard, I had quite some success as an agitator, or schools, where I helped to introduce practices and ideas that forty years on are reappearing as innovations (knowing laughter from several teachers), the latter two activities causing me to be perceived by the Left as a DLP plant and by the Right, in the persons of the Maledetto and his henchman Gerard Henderson, not to mention the sanctimonious David Pennington, as a crypto communist who once, twice actually, quoted can you believe Antonio Gramsci who happened to say useful things about the aims of education and the virtues of studying ancient Greek but who was on the Maledetto’s list of fiends no matter what he said, with the result that Jeff Kennett put me on the blacklist and saved me from having to resign as a prelude to the third epoch, the epoch of old age, peopled now by twelve grandchildren all of whom I remembered to name, thus showing resistance to one of the misfortunes of ageing though I confess that I quite often now stand in a given space wondering why I came to it or whether in the manner of Dudley Moore I
could do something else while I was there, and I characterized this epoch by mentioning that at the gym I match hope with despair by climbing on the exercise bike and setting the iPod nano to play Victoria’s Requiem, a work of inestimable beauty that I used to sing often in St Patrick’s choir but of which I remarked for the first time that for all its being a religious work it includes neither a Gloria, which you’d think might be useful for the newly dead meeting God for the first time in the flesh so to speak, nor a Credo, which you would expect to be a required password for the archangel to wave you through, but that it did contain, especially in the dies irae (from which I chanted the first few lines) a proper amount of terror of the sort brought every few years to my childhood parish by Redemptorist priests conducting what was called a mission but in reality was a calculated exercise in terrorizing all of us believers with visions of plagues and firestorms across the earth in preparation for the earth to sunder, the heavens to open, trumpets to sound and the Great Judge to descend on a flashing cloud to divide us into a handful of the just and a multitude of the damned as Time itself came to its end and eternity by some extraordinary logic took over, in short, visions of terror once seen by us all and still seen by countless Americans who vote Republican, yet for all the terror I remarked too that the requiem did also sing yearningly about eternal rest, a sentiment

that can be suddenly overturned when the gymnasium attendant turns on the wretched gym musak, which, backing as it does Victoria’s glorious vision, sounds like the cries of those who having taken their own lives are blown about by the cold winds off the river Lethe for all eternity, yet in having this quite just thought I must beware not to commit the sin of Grump, that scourge of Age, but rather to remember that in age the idealism of the good times turns to irony, and that the good days must not become the good old days, with which capital mot repeated with oratorical emphasis – the good days must not become the good old days – I thanked everyone for being who they are and where they were and what they had done for me …and thought of

Reet…

my mother, the singer of all those old songs from the old days, the centre of a story I want to tell sometime, a story of obscurity, happiness, madness and regret, the regret being mine, the rest belonging to Reet, a story set in fabled and confabulated places, from wet forests of giant trees and ferned gullies to dry plains where the wind never ceases to whisper, and sundry Melbourne suburbs in between, places she variously thought of as both home and homeland sometimes sought in the songs she sang in the light through the kitchen window, sometimes reached only after a descent into the underworld, for Reet suffered from what she called nerves which might have been nervous breakdowns but was probably madness, of which she had a bout for a year when I was three, causing my older sister Betty (b. Nov 1929) to spend a year in a convent and myself to spend the year with cousins in East Malvern, (no slum that) but for all that I do not blame her in any way for mistakenly indicating the cloak room as the ‘lav’ when she took me, mid-year, to my first day at school, with the result that when I was excused please sister during the morning I found myself attempting to find somewhere to pee amid a forest of overcoats and mackintoshes as tall on their hangers as myself providing me at least with concealment as I did what my mother had said could be done in that place, and I have to say that although I had misgivings at the time about her reliability I remain grateful for a story about an auspicious but otherwise unmemorable day…

…and so I will now move on

to bloat, wind and looseness, the three side effects of my diabetes pills forewarned by both the Countess and Jason, our pharmacist, of which effects I have just experienced all three but especially the last two, namely wind and loose bowel, very likely occasioned by a doubling of the twice-daily dose of mettformin pills, but also perhaps by particular foods, but this is very hard to identify so I’ll not dwell on it other than to say that the overall effect of changed-to-low-GI diet, heavier weight-lifting gym and double dose of pills twice a day has produced results that puts the Countess into ecstasies of wonder and our GP Ralphine, familiarly referred to as Ralph around the clinic, into a state of smugness that she, against the doubts of the Countess, had argued it seems would occur, for whilst the Countess’s experience in the blood trade has convinced her that diabetics are unreliable patients in the sense that they soon lapse into their old gorging and work through exercises from the armchair, Ralph had argued it seems that I am a disciplined person (if that is what it takes to do as you’re told) and that I would soon register excellent, indeed startling, readings on my new blood-letting device, which, unlike the old one we all grew resigned to at Wilson’s Promontory, delivers instant readings rather than warnings of unfathomable errors and which now routinely delivers low readings, making the short sharp pain of the spearing of the fingertip worth the enduring, which readings I want to add mark also the passing of the desire, the urgent desire, to urinate during the night, a desire I once experienced and that led me first to suspect diabetes and to consider assembling a pancreatic brotherhood with greeting and rallying cries such as diabetics of the world urinate, things can’t get bladder, how spleendid, be a wise liver and hush the kidneys can hear us, none of which I now need and can therefore pass to …

the littler ones

the shorthand I use for Dee’s children who I remind you are four named in eldest to youngest order, Louis, Raph, Francis and Josephine and who are of course getting inexorably older and bigger but are still young enough to be, respectively the two little boys, who are beginning to see how life in general can be wonderful, and the two little ones who are continually asking if it’s going to be wonderful right now, for the little boys are around that age, about ten, I think of as the time of rapture, whereas the little ones are at the age, about five, of double discovery in which they combine curiosity about how the world works with fact-finding about where the goodies are, and so we see them in the front row of the photo from the Party by Harry Nicholls, Raph
with his rapturous smile, Louis being goofy, Josephine being Louis and Francis disapproving of something, perhaps photography itself, and everyone else, grandparents and grandchildren alike presenting happy smiling faces to the world, a balance that illustrates the essence of a good photograph where all as it should be except for one oddity, and from that joyful group I want to go directly to …

Adonis

under Rory’s arm far left in the second row, Adonis who turns 18 today, and who graces the world as it seldom is graced, but who now falls under the glare of the generals who imagine another Alexander maturing in the north and the gods know how many navies and armies massing in the east, Persians, pirates, disaffected Ionians, treacherous Phoenecians against whose threats the young men of the nation must be trained to wield spear, shield and capsicum spray and to drop on to triremes from helicopters, white against the blue Aegean, which patriotic imperatives led to Adonis having to assemble his documents and present at the Greek consulate, which is still listed in the Melbourne directories at an address it has long ago left to the barbarians, and which we mistakenly but understandably turned up to one day so that the next day we had to turn up at the right address, somewhat concealed in the directories but known to some who told us its whereabouts, where we were received very cordially and with a regulation amount of confusion and reapplication finally were able to confirm Adonis’s exemption for the time being from the military, thereby giving me more time to pursue my pacificism through poetry campaign, which takes in works such as, and among others, Wilfred Owens’ devastating Parable of the old men and the young , Cavafy’s double-sided Thermopylae , Jacques Prevert’s clear-eyed Familiale and Barbara, Vance Palmer’s sad The farmer remembers the Somme and the centerpiece of them all Alec Hope’s Inscription for a war which works off Simonides’ inscription at Thermopylae, and I do note that the message I with Hope emphasise that it is old men safe at home who send young men to be slaughtered seems to sink in, as does the idea that the enemy can be no more than a fiction of the patriot game, yet still I sense in Nick’s thinking, if not so much in Adonis’s, the theme of the Iliad that war is bad in all circumstances, and patriotism a deception, but that since we are all going to die we should do so with honour, which is no surprise in descendants of that warrior culture of the Myceneans which seems to linger in unheroic form in the moderns, but even so I will continue to stick to the Odyssey in the matter of Homer, and therefore of course, to Ithaka, a matter I might return to in connection with …

Smyrna

a lost civilization though the city still exists under the slightly altered name of Izmir and contains signs and ruins of its ancient lineage, so a site of many lost civilizations really, but the one I am thinking of now is the cosmopolitan city before the Great Fire and brutal destruction of 1922, in my mind a city of poetry and Levantine elegance, of Homer and Seferis, where on a sunny morning a gentleman might stroll in his white linen suit to settle at a harbourside café and take coffee with a small brandy and perhaps a pastry, a gentleman at home in Greek or French, with a charmingly accented English, sociable fluency in Armenian and Turkish, a polite smattering of Kurdish, Farsi and Arabic, at ease with local affairs such as shipping times, the prices of oil and figs and liaisons developing in the Big Houses, jotting a few lines of verse, perhaps only a title or a reference, in a notebook, his straw hat on the table by the sugar lumps watching the porters saluting the strollers dressed like him in slightly crumpled linen suits and discussing the ancient past of the Ionian coast, in short a city where one might cut the sort of elegant figure I am aiming to cultivate through my diet and exercise plans, plans that should not be wasted simply on subduing diabetes and postponing death, but should be put to work in the service of art and elegance, to create not the Schwarzenegger of the Countess’s imagination but a slim, well-tailored fellow flourishing a walking stick for pointing, not propping, on the quays and in the cafés, to which end I sometimes take out a photograph of myself when young and measurable in a handful of stones and think of how to clothe it when one wants whites that don’t soil, linens that don’t crease inelegantly, like Robert Morley’s in a Conrad story, and fine cuts that don’t cost the earth in tailoring, so it’s just as well I suppose that it’s a fancy, in fact that it’s much better as a fancy I thought as I waited…

at the hospital

the wonderful Royal Melbourne Hospital that inspects my derma every six months since the time, now some years back, that I had a few carcinomas removed from my temples, and as I waited to be called, having arrived early knowing that this leads to being called early, I read a piece in the estimable London Review of Books about autism and the problems of defining it let alone treating it, and madness, whose problems are similar, so that as I waited I could not but think once again of Reet, of the ‘nerves’ that reappeared as madness when I was in my teens and twenties, episodes that covered the gamut from outrage to catatonia, whispering so as not to be heard by hidden listeners, harking to the radio and voices through the wall rebutting vigorously some unheard slight, chanting and cursing, weeping and laughing, often at home, sometimes in institutions that would send you mad anyway, electric shocked locked up with other madpeople, and none of us knowing what to do, Betty or I committing her, my father visiting her as though she was simply in hospital for a while and would soon be out, continuing to bring us weeties, tea, a boiled egg and toast for breakfast and himself taking his weeties from a dry pile lightly dampened in one corner with milk, dry enough in fact for a weeties flake to lodge in his ear and be found by Kevin Keating, who later became a Dominican, as he was shaving my father with his fangled electric razor, all of which misfortune, the madness I mean, I will have to return to, for it is on my mind but which I will leave for the moment in favour of a glance at …

birthday children

first among whom must be Cal, son of Mairead and Tony for twenty-one years, older brother to Rory, older cousins to all the cousins two of whom, Gabriel and Apollonia are also having birthdays this month , so what a month February is for the academic year is now in swing, full being too ambitious an epithet in this context, and our interests in academic progress are expanding to take in Louis, who is now in the same high school as Adonis, Louis in Year 7 Adonis in Year 12, Cal in his final degree year, Rory embarking on the same music industry course as Nick whilst Nick himself has begun second year of the course he continues to find awesome even though it makes substantial literary demands this term , in recognition of which he has borrowed from the university library Percy Scholes’s legendary Oxford Companion to Music, a work of fine prose, good humour and sharp observation, not to mention awesome scope and erudition, a course he continues to pursue conscientiously, as does Adonis his Year 12 where he has, lucky fellow, come across Bruce Dawe in English, exciting things in Maths and most interesting matters in Health so what with his other subject, Multimedia, chugging along as always under the gentle hand of Mr Gobrial, some regular revision of terms, definitions and statistics in Health with Lorna and some reading of prose and more poetry from both of us, he too is being conscientious not to mention a great backstop for Louis who can threaten little bullies and mockers with violence from his big cousin in Year 12 , where unlike the rest of the school students do not have to wear the new uniform emblazoned with the new name of Mt Alexander College, dress in which Louis looks spick, studious and ambitious, as indeed he is especially when there are marks, wins and awards attached, which matters he discusses with me and Lorna every so often when we pick him and Raph up at home, feed them a snack and an icy pole and drive them to the park for football training which has just taken over from cricket, soon to erupt in full AFL splendour, so it’s out with the scarves, jumpers, beanies, club songs and victory chants for another season of hope and disappointment that will as football always does bring back other days with …

Bill and Reet at the footie

he under a fedora, she in a scarf or pudding hat, both having arrived early, as my father did for every imaginable event , even you might say for his own death which came as a passing of life during the night after many days in bed gradually lessening in the halflight of drawn blinds, his bald head wrapped in a scarf, his attention able to focus just enough to see his first grandchild, Siobhan, as a baby, a passing that led my mother to open the blinds saying that the poor man no longer needed shelter from the light of day, a noble. poetic way I thought then of expressing grief and love for one who was much older than she and therefore always going to leave her early, as loyal to one another as ever you could want, and therefore both at the footie barracking for the same team, St Kilda of course in the red white and black, the Saints, whose home ground was at the Junction Oval which was barely a block away from where we lived beside and above a pastrycook’s bakery owned and operated in the good days by Mr Clarke, late of Paterson’s do you mind of Chapel Street, and attended in the shopfront by his kindly daughter, Miss Clarke, too personable and glamorous by half to remain Clarke or Miss for long, and which was then your classic suburban footie ground with an old stand, a new football stand for members, a posh cricket stand for cricket club members, who had their own club bar, and a row of wooden benches inside the boundary fence where my mother sat with us and the thermos and behind which my father stood in his hat, watching first the baseball, that’s right I said baseball, or a curtain-raiser of some sort, the under 18s perhaps, she a bit shortsightedly, he longsighted as a drover spotting a mob of sheep on a Riverina horizon, both ready to barrack for their favourite players, in Reet’s case the wingman ‘little Kelly’, for ladies of a certain age always like their favourite men to be little, and in Bill’s case the great forward Billy Mohr who one day kicked ten goals on Collingwood’s legendary full-back Jack Reagan, causing Collingwood to ‘mount the ball and present it to him’, thereby adding one more short short story, and one of my favourites, to the select stock my father frequently retold in identical terms, my other favourite being when white bread appeared on the table and Bill would remind us that ‘they fed white bread to a lot of canaries and they all died’, a calamity that would surely never happen in a low GI household fed on fibrous and seedy breads capable of nourishing birds of all sizes and senstivities, and there as the Saints come down the race on to the ground in their knee bandages and redcolourrunning guernseys we leave the parents for…

Aegis Park

that we once called the Arden Street ground, and still do as it happens even though the North footie club, once the Shinboners, then the Northerners, now the Kangaroos, sold the name of Arden Street in exchange for Aegis Park, so that a company logo now stands above the gym Lorna and I frequent very regularly let me say in order to lower our weight, increase our muscle and fortify our cardio, none of which Lorna really needs, being fit and souple as she is, and all of which I must do in the battle against diabetes and its side effects, death being the most forbidding but, happily, uncertain bowel and bladder function the more proximate, a logo called to mind by Lorna’s knitting of an aegis-like garment, romantically known as an Alexandria cowl but resembling Athene’s aegis without the pendant snakes and image of the Gorgon, in that it hangs on the shoulders in various ways drawing the eye to the elegance of the wearer , and thereby leads naturally to thinking about the Iliad, which we are reading again after being persuaded that it’s not all blood and blood after all but actually an anti-war epic whose hero, Achilles, declares at the outset that he’s got nothing against the supposed enemy, who’ve done him no harm, and only contempt for his general Agamemnon, who’s a venal egomaniac, but that he will wind up fighting because that’s what heroes do and because wars in any case are governed by forces that humans can’t control and undertaken by weak leaders manipulated by the gods for their own shallow purposes, to assuage jealousies, settle scores, wriggle out of promises and so forth, which leaves the gods in the funny position of acting out common human motives while the humans pretend to higher godly motives that they don’t understand and often use to conceal their actual motives, which in the case of generals and politicians is to swell their reputations and keep themselves out of bodily harm’s way, in short to lead from behind on the hill as the bronze hosts flood the plain below Troy howling destruction all under the aegis of Athene who’d change sides tomorrow if it suited her, but I doubt that any such treachery and brutality lies behind the renaming of Arden Street for the Aegis in question is simply, so it says of itself, ‘…a global learning and development organisation that delivers bespoke learning interventions across multiple disciplines…learning that has meaningful impact for business and the individuals we interact with…. across the globe in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and the America’s’ (sic), which implies, if I read this correctly, that they are probably not bellicose, though ‘bespoke’ and ‘global’ do leave open some possibilities – the US army for example, or the Zimbabwean police – without making it at all clear what a bespoke learning intervention might be outside the world of Registered Training Organisations where Gorgons stun and devour learners, but who cares when there are bigger things to think about such as …

death

a thinking I wandered into without symptom or any good reason aforethought other than that I was enjoying the calm and warmth and quiet of an incipient nap on the couch at American Gully and in that peaceful drowse I wondered about how I imagine dying, about how little I have imagined that inevitable, perhaps even imminent event, about whether I would tell anyone how I had imagined it, about the time I did think about it in the days when I used to run and run around Royal Park and frequently pass by a grand eucalypt at whose foot I imagined one sunny morning sitting down and drifting off as in a warm, sunlit nap not to wake up, alone until some time later a passer-by found me looking too peaceful and saw beside me an envelope containing a letter addressed to the coroner which would explain how a runner if he runs long enough begins to feel light and lighter, is no longer breathless but seems to become part of the wind on a mighty morning – a feeling I have read has some basis in bodily chemistry, a sort of grand lightheadedness – and that having run myself into that state many times I had finally chosen this peaceful bright morning to become bodiless which in my monistic view of mortality means to nap eternally without dreaming ever but which means also that those meetings in the next world, routinely promised by the priests at funerals, when Bill will one day again be with his beloved Lorna in a restored state, let us say in their prime whenever that might be said to be, bodily perfected as the tale of Eternal Life had it in my innocence, those meetings that will last no longer than the vague sense of the surrounding world one experiences just before dropping into a nap or just as the mantelpiece clock strokes the time, no longer with ticktocks like my grandfather’s clock because it is battery operated and made in China, yet undoubtedly more appropriate to drifting into a nap or a more permanent state than the record of digital time on the iPhone, promised meetings in short that will not last even if they take place for a moment behind fading eyes, and whose absence bring me to wonder how I will ever meet again with Reet to settle matters I feel are unsettled, such as what happened when she was mad or how she felt within when her most beloved who were her life seemed not to love her, and so I wonder is there any way to meet her, whether there is a Virgil or a Beatrice to guide me to an underworld where we can talk and if there is who is it and what underworld should we enter, for there are some powerful possibilities solely in the graeco-roman-christian world we naturally turn to, possibilities among which I think I lean towards …

Elysium

which to me sounds a much better place than Paradise as the two are described by my guide Uncle Pat, who explains that you are free to select whatever destination you judge the person you are seeking would go to, which is easy enough in the case of Reet because she was a person of virtue and of simple though romantic tastes, meaning she would be well suited to an Elysium that had opened its gardens to the humble as well as the heroic and indeed it is there that Uncle Pat finds her sitting in the peaceful, buzzing shade of an old apple tree outside home sweet home on the range crocheting an egg cosy with those arthritic fingers that could point around corners and humming a Thomas Moore tune, so I thank Uncle Pat, who withdraws to a fence to boil his billy, and join Reet who greets me as though we had never parted, at which moment I understand that there is nothing to explain, nothing to ask, that my regrets are not being touched by this fancy nor perhaps by any remembrances simply because what’s done stays done and can only be compensated for not repaired, so we have a cuppa tea with a marie biscuit and chat softly mindful of her sidelong looks warning me that we’ll be overheard if we’re not watchful, after which I return to Uncle Pat who offers me more tea, sugar no milk, in a tin mug and talks of a few other souls in Elysium, heroes of labour mostly, the great W.G. Spence in particular and then coves he shore with outback and whom he called out on strike in Bourke against the squatters, earning a notoriety for which he paid heavily being unemployable thereafter and having to take to the stockroutes and the backtracks prospecting for minerals which he in fact found but was in no position capitally to dig up, just like his namesake Paddy of Kalgoorlie who found a golden mile and only got a house and a pension, so after an amiable chat, mostly by him, I left my underworld fancy and returned to reality on …

Wednesday

which is a biggish day in the life of the old with the young starting right at the beginning with breakfast for Adonis, off to school (but no cut lunch, in a paper bag of course were it made, because Adonis finishes lessons at lunchtime on Wednesdays) and ourselves off to gym where Martha, our ‘personal trainer’ mind you, is on duty and keeping a critical eye on my exercises for the core one of which involving sitting on the edge of a seat and raising the knees high – higher, she says – I can sort of do whereas the other, requiring me to balance on one leg on a hemispherical rubber contraption, is so impossible that I find ways of concealing that I’m not doing it, which is to say that even if you can’t hide something that’s not there you can hide that fact that you’re hiding it, I think, which little avoidance illustrates the large truth that we keep finding ways to push responsibilities aside on to someone else, manoeuvring in this case to make Martha responsible for something only I can gain from, though I confess to having always been rather vague as to the advantages of balancing on one leg, which needless to say Lorna can do in mid-conversation while she thinks of the next exercise and the meeting schedule for the day but not I suspect about breakfast, which is what is on my mind and will consist of (1) a blood reading that will surely please the Countess, for it is low, (2) a bowl of low GI cereals and ordinary fat milk which is in fact slightly better on the GI scale than skim milk, which we all detest and our forebears fed to the pigs (3) a toast of low GI everygrain bread margarined with anticholesterol low GI matter and marmaladed with lornaslowGI cumquat, and (4) normal unhealthy not to say dangerous coffee, after which I can step carefully, aware of the ankle, into the shower, change from sweaty clothing and prepare for a series of encounters with youth, first with Nick to prepare for a couple of essays that engender a chat about record labels and their role in the music industry generally and within particular genres, such as DGG with the classicals and EMI, HMV etc in the pop industry, whose betes noires for us are sagapo (Gk I lurv yew) songs and tonite’s goin to be a good nite, the latter regrettably a gym staple, leading me to recall of course Tin Pan Alley, which I had taken to be an arm of recording and radio but which I saw on Google was essentially an outgrowth of America’s sheet music industry, whose hits included In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree (from 1905 and Reet’s kitchen evermore) god Bless America (Irving Berlin! Of Alexander’s Ragtime Band fame) and dozens more that you won’t want listed here to wade through although you’d know them if they were and if you were a codger like me, or Lorna for that matter, who also knew many of them because didn’t we hear them from our mothers or aunts or later on the wireless and in community singing conducted by Will Sampson in the Prahran Town Hall for ladies in hats and gloves with shopping bags, dreaming eyes and longing voices, the songs that became or led to the musicals of Jerome Kern (Show Boat), George Gershwin (Porgy and Bess) and the same Irving Berlin (Annie get your gun), a blitzkrieg of sentimental nationalism that Waltzing Matilda and the Road to Gundagai could never match, and so on these notes we wandered along discussing what comes first, the money or the music, without of course arriving at any conclusion, until it was time to have a bite of lunch from the low GI end of the food chain, to wit a piece of fruit, and doze awhile waiting for Adonis, who as ever turns up on time, so that we can check that maths is OK and being revised in the approved manner, though how we get over the hurdle that solutions are written in maths but problems are posed in English I don’t know, nor did Adonis’s very amiable maths teacher whom I questioned on this difficulty, and settle into the popular English tasks of spotting persuasive language and using topic sentences, both of which turned out to be much more problematic than I had thought for by the time Adonis and I had wrorked through and memorized up to a dozen techniques of persuasion, just in writing alone without mention of visual media or the mafia, by the time as I say that we had catalogued the main techniques it became clear that all writing was in some way meant to be persuasive, if only negatively, and that the task was not simply to identify persuasive techniques but to judge whether they are being used legitimately or balefully, whether they are dealing in truth or propaganda or deception or sloppiness of some sort, a question that opens that black abyss of philosophy at whose bottom lurks the what is truth beast, at which point Adonis and I agreed that it’s all in the mind of the persuaded and that we should look at a couple of pieces of writing from the topic sentence viewpoint, a sacred matter you would agree to the English teaching sorority, only to find that the said pieces did not back the topic sentence theory in any way, the first because it was from a newspaper and therefore made every sentence a new paragraph, the second , a textbook on health, because it packed into single paragraphs strings of sentences each sentence of which could only be regarded as a topic sentence in its own right, so that in the time available to us for English revision we had entirely bombed out on two of the principal doctrines of school English and would need to recoup our thoughts for next time, for the hour had now come to collect and cater for the young cousins, Louis and Raph, jointly coming from school to our place for a snack and then severally off to swimming and football training, the snack of pizza and icy pole being worked in between Louis’s card tricks and my contributions to sporting statistics but no less appreciated for all that for it is one of the pleasures of the little ones, all four of them, to guess at what Bill’s snacks will be and to nose out where any other goodies are, goodies generally being on the sweet or chippy side, though I must say of Josephine, who comes each Firday, that her first target are the hi-fibre weet-bix and that she is generally persuadable towards the wholesome rather than the fatandsugarful and has become the most easy and charming companion one could ever want a four-year-old to be, which is where we’ll leave the grandchildren in favour of …

Chinese spicy and Barbie

a newish restaurant, one of many of diverse ethnic kidney in Racecourse Rd Kensington, in this case the name spicy and Barbie expressing not only the origins of the cuisine in Sichuan but also a confident failure to grasp English idiom, which led most famously to a dish called ‘saliva chicken’, which some surmise may mean mouth-watering but which I hope will be preserved along with a soup of ‘laver and cucumber’, porcine staples such as ‘pigs intestines deep fried crispy or stir-fried soft’, ‘smoked pork feet’‘ and ‘shrilled pork’, challenges such as ‘chicken bones’, ‘beef belly’ and ’deep-fried Lam’, with side dishes of ‘fried tea tree mushroom’ and ‘Chinese cabbage with black wood ear’, all topped with ‘sweet potato in hot toffee’ and consumed among a full house of Chinese cognoscenti and exquisite oriental ladies in the company of H. G. Nelson (aka Greig) and Kate, down for the first days of the football, with whom we had failed – luckily as it turned out – to get any bookings at all for a feed in North Melbourne on a Saturday night and with whom we did not order…

spiced beef tongue and tripe with chilly (sic) sauce…

… but wish I had, and with whom needless to say, having compared notes about the progress of offspring and grandoffspring, we settled into deploring the state of the world beyond Chinese spicy and barbie cooking, noting first, as one always does today, the calamitous state of the Labor party, and moving on to my observation that state schooling is down the zoom and headed further down, speculating then that if that is the case in a field one knows it may well be the case in those we don’t, such as health, and what’s left after that, defence perhaps which could easily be the business of mercenaries as it once was, and then what and then what, for Mr Abbott wouldn’t really have to do anything except chuck some bones or pigs intestines to the National socialists whilst we perhaps put our fading democratic faith in …

(solidarity salon PIC)

or in…

a return to the three Immortals born of the Enlightenment and the Revolution, a thought that prompted me to seek out Uncle Pat in Elysium whom I found by his fire declaring that the best burning wood is boree or gidyea – not much between them really – and we could get it most places along the track, some men being so keen on having the best fire they’d carry some with them in case, and of course you need good wood if you’re going to sit round the fire on a crisp starlit night yarning about the country and the state of the world and questions like the one you’re about to put to me, which is did we ever discuss Liberty Equality Fraternity and their place in the union movement in my time, the time as you well know from your father, of the great W.G. Spence, and the conclusion we came to was that liberty and equality are about power and fraternity’s what’s left, and basically it’s fraternity that unions are about because they can of course struggle, and they do, for freedom and a fair go but they only get them in bits and pieces and are as likely to go backwards as forwards, as Lenin noted, whereas fraternity is something they have that is theirs and they can keep improving it if they maintain the will, which can of course be as big a gamble as we get with liberty and equality, so if you’re asking my advice, which I see from your eyes that you are, my opinion is you’ve got liberty enough most of the time in this country and equality’s a wild goose chase, undermined and redefined the moment you get a bit of it, so it’s best to go with fraternity, which basically means sticking with your mob and doing everything you can to keep it open for others, your mob being whoever has common cause with you wherever you land, and that brownie’s toasted now so you’d better have a piece and more tea to wash it down while I take a piece to Reet in the shade of the old apple tree over there and Bill if I can find him, which I must do, once again, because he always kept track of me with letters after I was blackballed from shearing and had to learn how
to read the countryside for stuff worth digging up, not just gold, which was pretty much all gone by my time, the easy prospecting stuff at any rate, but silver, copper, zinc, lead, which as you’ll know from my letters to Bill I found but of course couldn’t dig up without heaps of capital that the banks weren’t likely to give me, so there was a case where liberty got you nowhere without equality, and fraternity wasn’t in the picture for me though it
pretty clearly was for the money mob, and so it goes as I’m sure it does in your world of schools where from what you’ve told me liberty is being recruited to do in equality, but I suppose that’s a discourse for another night around another fire with more brownie, as we finish tonight by calling in on …

the family at Easter

and beastly and birdly cold it was at American Gully in the bush where the menus followed sanctified patterns, especially dear to Carlo, Nick and Adonis, to wit baccala on Good Friday and lamb at Easter, though in this case Easter Saturday because N&A had to go back to town for Sunday, and in their view the lamb had to cooked in the Cretan ofto manner by them and needless to say consumed by a merry company including them, so on a warm Good Friday Carlo produced two classic forms of baccala which he had had to prepare the day or days before because the particular cod favoured by Italian cooks is extremely dry indeed so desiccated that it can hang in the wind like the white banners of dead souls as it has for many centuries in Northern Spanish shops devoted exclusively to this historically valuable but gastronomically difficult form of cod fished and dried secretively for so long by the Basques and diffused by the Venetians for whom it had a legendary status until the English and other aliens ‘discovered’ the cod-crowded seas off the wintry east coast of the Americas where once it is said the cod swarmed so thickly that the risen Christ could have walked across them and it came to pass therefore that we commemorated the day of crucifixion with two forms of baccala, one, baccala mantecato, a Venetian favourite, the other, baccala alla vicentina, a classic from Carlo’s home province of Vicenza, city of Palladio’s glory, both accompanied by polenta – white of course – and the usual other side dishes, and thus sanctifed we retired early to beds that unexpectedly became so chilly under the paschal full moon that
bedsocks were needed to stave off the shakes though fortunately the rain, whose forecast threat had led to lengthy debate about
where to locate the ofto fire, held off, and around a fire, Lornalit and fiercely hot, Nick and Adonis arranged the twin sides of a lamb forequarter that I had bought the day before from an excellent Turkish butcher in Brunswick, and with great satisfaction tended its cooking to perfection and served it at the big table with Dee’s raw beetroot salad (and of course other things but I will confine myself to naming the peaks and leave the verdant valleys to your imagination) warming as we dined to stories of other lambs at other easters and promises of chocolate egg hunts on easter morning, wondering whether to set the eggs in their hiding places that night, where wild beasts might find them, or before breakfast, which the kiddies would probably prefer having already lost some sleep in anticipation, or after the Carlis had been to Mass, this year in Daylesford because a shortage of priests keeps Blampied closed, without really coming to any conclusion before we retreated to the fire inside, the boisterous card games and early beds, this time with bedsocks aforethought, to awake to a Carlo busy in the kitchen, the wood stove redhot, pot after pot simmering, meat in the oven and kiddies already past cereal, the remains of which sogged in the bottom of bowls still half full of milk, and into cards and drawing and shouting while Nick and Adonis arose to be driven to Castlemaine to catch the train which turned out to be a bus, and the church party prepared to depart, it having been decided somehow that the chocolate egg hunt would happen post-resurrection, which it duly did and thence seamlessly to lunch that Carlo had insisted should be more lamb but that turned out to be baby goat and young pork bought from the game butchery in Daylesford and consumed again at the big table with the rain holding off, sating at last our desire for sacrificial meats and freeing us for longer conversations, noisier games and more wearing of bedsocks – for the nights were indeed beastly cold with the pardalotes puffing up in their feathers under the verandah and bolder birds crying to the moon and myself having much trouble getting into a comfortable sleeping position on account of a bad lower back connected to hip trouble transferred in turn from the ankle, all of which is fixing up gradually under the attentions of Mr Backway of North Melbourne Physiotherapy – conversations we were able to resume on a relaxed Monday that included talk with Francis about getting a promised present of paints that could not be his birthday present, since that could not be known till the day, and which would therefore be a nearly present, matters he thought that required to be set out in a list lest they be forgotten, which was duly done, as illustrated, and further enforced by his insistence that he travel home with me and Lorna, which would put us promptly on the way to the paints shop, to which end he packed his bags then and there ready to leave with us on the morrow…

which he did

but as well as observing rituals at Easter 2012 in the cold bush Lorna and I sawed and screwed together a tabletop from timber brought by Danny and I tidied books and vinyls, computer and sound equipment, some to sit on the newly built tabletop, all much to my satisfaction, on the principle, agreed by Dee, Siobhan and Lorna, that chaos begets chaos whereas order persuades at least some to hold back for a time the inevitable entropy of things, and in the early nights abed I continued reading to Lorna, whose eyesight steadily worsens despite powerful salt drops, sections of the Iliad with illuminating commentary by Caroline Alexander, which forced us to rethink our perceptions of gods, heroes, death and immortality, to put together for example Christ and Achilles, for both are astonishing figures put on earth by gods to live extraordinary lives and die as a result of how they lived, and more broadly to wonder what if anything other than fancies about gods controls our actions and decisions once we enter the world of the irrational, once we embrace madness and illusion and become fixed on doing what we otherwise know is foolish (war, of course, being the supreme example, but tooting at the car in front of you might do – so at the next traffic lights that tempt you think of the Iliad or the Incarnation), and are we not seeing today that irrationality has become a most fashionable topic as atheists become more sour and militant and Christians belt on their bronze greaves and body plates and raise their swords in salute before whirling into battle, one irrational view confronting another in the name of reason even though each knows that it is an illusion that is being believed in or denied, and that there is no rational discussion to be had on the matter, for the meaning of life question is on the one hand a begging of itself and on the other an invitation to mythologise but on neither hand answerable to any joint satisfaction, so that we live both daily and earthly lives between order and chaos, which leads us to small gestures such as tidying the bush house, changing the sheets, ordering the garden or – as we now plan – bigger gestures such as moving house altogether, in our case from No 20 Shiel Street, where we moved to from No 22 a couple of decades ago, back to 22 which we moved into in 1964, the year Mairead was born and where subsequently the whole family grew up and aged, a move that becomes a kind of pilgrimage, a voyage to an Ithaka we think of as home, an Ithaka of the sort that Reet would dearly had loved to have had well before she finally bought her own house, a home where she could have brought up her family without worrying about rent, decay or intolerable owners, but for which she had always had to substitute in her fancy a forgotten childish cottage in Healesville or the servants’ quarters of a squatter’s homestead on the Riverina plains, an Ithaka that Lorna and I are beginning to plan for in detail, an Ithaka with level surfaces to accommodate tottering old age and with advanced fittings to provide for computing, conversing, reading (by me to her), eating and generally Smyrnaing, all matters that will be noticed later after some reflections on …

regret…

a subject that came up recently in emails with Sandra Milligan about Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night in which he implores his father to rage against the dying of the light, as he says good men wise men wild men and grave men along with old men must do even though they know death is coming for sure, provided of course they have some way of knowing this for sure rather then suddenly dropping down as Lorna’s mother did or perhaps fading semi-conscious as my father did, both of whom might well have raged against the dying had they known that death was going to hit them from behind or make the world dim around them, because my reading of Thomas is that everyone has some regrets and no one should want to die with them, at least not peacefully which unfortunately seems to be the admired way to die, thoughts that made me wonder what Uncle Pat and Reet might have to say on the subject both having died and now by chance able to chat with me in Elysium (unless of course I’m chatting to myself as Reet often did out loud in her episodes) where I found them in their expected places, first Uncle Pat by his boree fire and boiling billy and second Reet in the shade of the old apple tree, but I could get little from either, from Reet because she looked at me darkly when I asked her if she died with any regrets and if so what were they and did she rage against the dying of the light, implying I assumed from her look that of course she did and I should have known that, meaning I asked, meaning she said that she’d always had to battle to make a proper home and your father was the only one who thanked me and handed over all his money so we could pay the rent and buy the food, and I gave him some for his tobacco and paid his bills at the newsagents for the Age and so forth, which reminded me rather irrelevantly that this morning’s target word in the Age, which we no longer subscribe to because of its wretched journalism, once so admired, now so confused as to the line between reportage and opinion, was ‘whereupon’ which I was able to guess I think because writing this sentence has enlivened my stock of connectives, prononomial, adverbial and conjunctival and added some heretical elements to my views on punctuation, although that said I realized that Uncle Pat would have admired the Age’s democratic stance in its heyday, had Symes’s paper been, as it probably was, available in the reading rooms of the mechanics institutes in the Riverina and the outback, but none of that arose when I put questions to him about raging against the dying of the light, for what he remembers most vividly was waking in his blanket by the dying boree fire one morning far out from Ivanhoe on the way from Wilcannia to Booligal barely able to move his left leg for some reason or other and when he could finally stagger about finding his horses had wandered too far to catch them and so propping himself by a weeping myall with a piece of brownie he figured how long his water would last – barely a day in the heat without the bags he hadn’t taken down from the packhorse – and listened to the soft footfall of regrets walking past somewhere in the distance, regrets for strikes that had ended in defeat, scabs that had gotten through, the disillusions he had shared with Spence, the housekeeper he’d longed for on Moonbria, the son he hadn’t had, if he could have had the housekeeper, the home he’d never had, in short a jumble of foreseeable regrets whose footfalls turned little by little into those of his two horses finding their way back from same watering place and standing in front of him waiting to take him somewhere alive, so I suppose he said what you’ll get out of that is that your regrets, if you have a chance to have them, will be pretty much what you could write down now, on which note you might as well go back to …

Ithaka

which is our present name for no 22 where we mean to move to by the end of the year, a name that replaced Bulgaria when we thought of giving the house a name, the original name having been lost from memory and from the fanlight that no doubt broke and was replaced by plain glass, and Bulgaria having been adopted because once as we crossed a main street in Thessalonika we saw a road sign pointing to a nearby spot in the city and to Bulgaria, much as one might see a sign in Royal Parade pointing to Coburg and New Guinea, the sign having the effect on Lorna of a longing to go to Bulgaria, which persists to this day, fortified by talk about the undoubted glories of Bulgarian monasteries, but is now as I said replaced by the much more romantic Ithaka signifying a great homecoming, a nostos, as day by day we design and re-design and design again in our heads details of kitchen, living room, bathroom, entrance, stairwell and front room which will be our bedroom (thinking little of upstairs which will be the haunt of youth) correcting all those things that are wrong with our present home, which can be summed up as more stuff than places to put it all plus some plumbing, plastering and painting that would take much work if it could be got at over or around the stuff, in short your classic catch 22 (ironic number) situation, a situation we are determined not to let develop in 22, and against which we spasmodically get rid of some of the stuff so that we will have left only what will fit into cupboards and other storage so designed that it will be hidden away and we will create of 22 one of those houses where all the mess is behind closed doors so that out in the open there will spaces where one can lead a leisured Smyrnan life measured by readings to Lorna from great literature, historical and philosophical podcasts from around the world, choice music from vinyl and digit, savouring of DVDs and TV catch-ups, not to mention the obvious the obvious eating and drinking entertainments of ourselves and others for which kitchen and dining arrangements must be planned and replanned and relished and celebrated as breakthrough after breakthrough in the war against disorder, which concept brings me by mischance to the subject that in these very days I try to avoid, namely …

war

yet it is a topic that seems impossible to avoid on 25 April when as
one dreams against the sound of rain on the roof and in the trees so one wakes to hushed words, the tramp of slow marches and the last post as crowds gather in the dawn cold here there and everywhere to hear about the glorious dead and memories of Gallipoli just opposite the site of Troy across the Dardanelles, both scenes of celebrated disasters remembered in fine words, those of three millennia ago being not only the more eloquent but also the more convincing in their view of the stupidity of war and the nature of heroism, but what we hear of is Gallipoli, a misguided campaign leading to a bloody loss, a pointed example of the old men safe in bed giving orders to young men who end up in beautiful war cemeteries, the savagery in between passed over with words like supreme sacrifice, but nonetheless not an example that can properly be used to argue against all war, for although we always had Irish anti-imperialist objections to Gallipoli, where Lorna’s uncle was killed having enlisted against her father’s best judgment and more widely to the first world war, in which a cousin of mine from Brunswick was killed a few days after he arrived at the front in France, objections that plumbed the resentment of the Irish against the English, resentment particularly strong in Lorna’s father, descended as he was from agitators in the home country, but shared often by Catholics whose archbishop, Daniel Mannix, late of Maynooth and West Melbourne, turned his mitre green side out and campaigned successfully against conscription and hence against P.M. Billy Hughes whose side, Uncle Pat noted sorrowfully, Spence mistakenly took, putting him at last at odds with his beloved Labor Party, objections moreover that extended long after that war and that mistaken campaign on the Dardanelles and that vented not only specific indignations but also great distaste for the sentiments uttered in remembrance especially on Anzac Day, sentiments that were seen as imperialist and jingoistic , sentiments however that have eventually had to contend with our support for combat in the Second World War, commemorated especially by memories of the Kokoda trail walked last year by Adonis and recorded for lasting memory by cousin photographer Damien Parer, himself an Adonis in appearance and a good Catholic, and our sympathy for Uncle Neville who mistakenly caught a tram to the front during the Korean war even though he was working in supplies away from the heat of battle, and today for the young men whom the old men safe in bed have sent to Asian and Middle Eastern follies, all of which contradictions leave me thinking that we are still pretty much like Homer’s kings and heroes, ready to fight and have others die for plunder, territory and hubris, willing to sacrifice ourselves., like Achilles, for a mate though we think warfare stupid and would settle for a bout of diplomacy and a return to the homeland, happy to celebrate Anzac Day watching footie and sacrificing umpires on the altars of rage and abuse, or if in the search for the origins of our lust for combat we come closer to our hearts than the television set, full though it is of images of scorn and hatred, political, sporting, social, criminal and melodramatic, we must confront the fact of the eternal love-hate that fills our closest relationships, leading certainly to bitter conflict over nothing much and sometimes to the outright violence we like to condemn in others, not that I’m yet up to saying to turn the other cheek or to lie down and take it, but I have to think about it, and meanwhile turn to a lighter subject namely…

food

for as you already know I have to diet and check my dieting progress both on the scales and with a blood-letting machine prescribed by the countess and maintained in working order, with the necessary invocations, by Santa Paulina of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus, patron of diabetics, on which counts I can quickly report that a promising loss of weight has slowed down disappointingly, but that readings on the countess’s finger-pricking machine are continually (though not continuously) satisfying, being well within the prescribed ranges, and that although these encouraging readings owe much to the prescribed daily doses of pills they are the result also of the low GI diet that I practise diligently and impose on others without their protesting, indeed to their liking, but which I fear will have to be made more stringent if I am to lower the kilos, to which end I recall what I‘ve always thought the most succinct remark ever made on dieting, from the French of course, to wit l’oeuf dur, malgré tout, est intéressant, and therefore do now occasionally add a boiled egg to breakfast after the high-fibre low GI cereal, resolving as I do each day to have fruit as a staple through the day and a low GI dinner with no straying into desserts, tropical fruits, white bread and so forth, but rather, to illustrate from last night’s dinner, to focus on fish, salad and fruit, the salad in this case including a most unusual purple carrot from Tasmania that oddly found its way into a discourse of Lorna’s about the launch of Kevin People’s book Santamaria’s Salesman during which I took the opportunity to outline Santa’s method of maintaining his reputation for persuasive talk (persuasive language being a big item in VCE English) namely to give a set of barely related and sometimes fanciful propositions an air of logic by numbering them, first, second, third etc, and what was my glee on reading in the opening of Kevin’s book his account of introducing Santa to an adoring host of clergy and laity in Albury in which he recalls that the Santa himself, having smarmed to the bishops and accompanying pillars opened his speech by declaring that he had ten points to make, and so by coincidence, but not chance I think, we proceeded from purple to perfidy in the space of an anecdote, tempting me at once to read further into Kevin’s excellently written memoir of how he toured the countryside ostensibly recruiting Catholics to rural romance in the name of the National Catholic Rural Movement, of which our man was Boss, probably under several titles, though it is doubtful he would have known how many teats to number on the cow that grazed on the acre advocated by the flight from the city crowd whom Santa saw as front line soldiers of Christ in the imminent repulsion of the red tide flowing in giant arrows from various parts of Asia towards our northern shores or sometimes shapechanging into an octopus with innumerable (even for Santa) tentacles, a creature that Chestertonian Denys Jackson on the Catholic Hour referred to as the red menace, a puppet dangled on the fairground stage by the Peking Gang, all rather bizarre at this distance and perhaps too great a digression from …

god

and as a lapsed agnostic I do not apologise for the lower case in the above word, believing as I do that the upper case belongs properly to real persons, places and certain objects, such as Shelagh, Adonis, North Melbourne, the Titanic or Santa Paulina of the agonizing heart of Jesus, both of whom it seems did once walk the earth, whereas gods have no such claim outside mythical imaginings or theological conjecture, and so it is that my prejudices on punctuation (taking capitalization as an aspect of punctuation) lead me to muse that as we personify the dark clouds ahead as threatening, the theatrics of storms as wild, the dawn as rose and the sunset as fire rather than use abstractions of science that are no more real, so we prefer our own metaphors of existence to the abstruse distinctions of theologians, and therefore to muse further on the realities that these metaphors are intended signal, musings that happily go far beyond the banal clash of Dawkinsonian atheism with Pellagrous* delusion to ask what the gods, in the Iliad for example, which Lorna of the trouble-giving eyes hears nightly interspersed with questions as to whether she is awake to which she always answers yes some minute or so later, or the god of the bible, to take another example are supposed to be metaphors for, since far from being detached creators letting the world run its course, they all intrude incessantly into human affairs in the most puzzling and ambiguous, indeed malign ways, the Greek lot, for instance , holding regular committee meetings and chats over nectar at cocktail time on Olympus to plot the next detail of the duels and battles unfolding before Troy or to bargain about which city or state they will next devastate to entertain or vindicate themselves, rather as Romans relished gladiatorial slaughter, except that the gods had the whole world as their arena and the clouds as their corporate box, and mortals for all their bluster about heroism, sacrifice, courage and so forth succumbed to an ordained end they called fate or destiny or the will of the gods just as so many Christians in our time talk of god’s will when calamity strikes them or those near them, implying thereby that their god isn’t the all-loving character they romance about but, just like the Greek gods, is content to inflict pain on them, sacrifice them or even wipe them out en masse if that’s where the will leads, content also to prescribe a morality for mortals that seems to have no relevance to the immortals, so we ask again and again what are these gods of the Greeks, the Jews and the Christians meant to be metaphors for, and the answer that drifts to the surface is that they are metaphors for our own behaviour much of which we can’t explain either, and on that glum note I will pass to …

*pellagrous adj from pellagra a deficiency disease characterized by dermatitis, diarrhea, and mental disturbance, often linked to overdependence on corn

differences

 
and the first on my mind are those between Lorna and me, since it was because of marked, not to say basic, physical differences that we married in the anticipation of flights of passion, devotion and procreation and in satisfying these we have learnt to live not only with these differences both natural and mysterious but also with the awareness of  other arguably more banal differences, for although we were not of the same families even distantly we were of similar origins in being generally of  temper Catholic and bias aggressively Irish, a background that might qualify us as kind of soul-mates were I to accept dualism, which I do not and have not since our pilgrimages to Santiago, may St James be my witness, and apart from the possibilities of that shared circumstance I, and I think Lorna too, are continually more conscious of difference than convergence, difference noticeable for instance immediately upon rising when she sets out briskly for the gym urging on me, vainly tbg, the virtues of a brisk pace on the fanciful grounds, concocted to suit today’s biting morning, that the faster you walk the warmer the air immediately around you becomes, or, once arrived at the gym, today thinly patronized  – an adverb that does not altogether fit some of the patrons I fear, myself included – we can note the difference between us with her vastly greater souplesse,  particularly evident against my raideur, and so back from gym at breakfast we can contrast my keenness for fodder versus her indifference to food which comes in second to her enthusiasm for the target word of the day in the Age, a once respected newspaper that we now spurn except to grab Betty’s rolled up copy in the yard, peel off the clinging wrapping, copy the target word for the day and return the peeled paper to Betty’s window sill, and so the day progresses, she picking her way to her Mac through the many fruits fallen to the floor from the trees of research, I clearing enough space on a thickly cluttered desk to pursue my thoughts, both conflicting elsewhere on the  virtues and demerits of cluttering floor or raised surface, both avowing the virtue of unclutter but differing in the hope of ever achieving true unclutter until we move to Ithaka where all will be pure, clear, ordered, elegant and patently Smyrnan, and so we could go on listing differences from the grand in the planning of Ithaka to the trivial in the manner in which we eat pears, I leaving the core, she eating all, but to end on an agreeable note I will record our concordance on the matter of Santa as he is portrayed so splendidly by Kevin Peoples in Santamaria’s Salesman, and in terms certainly damning but also more measured than the evidence perhaps suggests, for it is clear from Kevin’s account that Santa was unhinged by visions that came to him as he knelt on his carpet in the eastern suburbs dropping  the beads through stubby fingers and having visions, at first of a Catholic agrarian civilisation transplanted from the middle ages to rural Australia, for whose benefit he organised the National Catholic Rural Movement, a vision that would come to us he foresaw in the form of Christ the King in white samite riding a cloud amid shafts of golden light accompanied by an angel holding a scroll inscribed with Santa’s ten points designed to turn back the black tides of urbanism, secularism, capitalism, communism, relativism, modernism, paganism, industrialism, atheism, unwillingtoobeyordersism, individualism,  commercialism, and makeupsomemoredreadfulismsism, and his supplementary three points in favour of (1) reproduction, with a wife to the extent that a woman was necessary,(2) subsistence farming and (3) piety, if of the right kind, which in turn were a condensed version of his original five point TRAPP plan, viz. (1) think about the crisis engulfing the nation, (2) recognise that your thoughts are duds, (3) accept the Thoughts of the Leader, (4) preach the Leader’s ten point program and (5) pray for the Leader and his bishops, but I must note that these are my extrapolations from Kevin’s book regarding Santa’s sanity, for he himself is much more circumspect in his account, inhibited I suspect by the puzzle of what to describe the utterances of several bishops if he calls Santa unhinged, a lunatic or a nutter, and with that puzzle in my mind also, I’ll move on to…

the dead,

a thought that came to me as I recalled the final majestic paragraphs of James Joyce’s story in The Dubliners, a story as mythic in its time and place as The Union Buries its Dead or The Drover’s Wife, as moving, in its final paragraphs as the parting of Hector and Andromache, and so memorable it makes you grateful you have a memory that still functions, more or less, a story that in spite of its melancholy references to shades and dissolving forms proposes that we not go gently but that we join the dead in ‘the full glory of some passion’, which is surely ennobling but for all that puzzling when you try to think of an example of ‘some
passion’, or give it a meaning that fits your own consciousness without descending to the frivolities of what many people today claim to be passionate about, puzzling also when we remember the anonymity of the dead wanderer that the union buried and the sadness of Hector in his divided but still living passion and Anrdomache’s obstinacy to hold on to life with her husband and child as it is rather than as it was once coloured by passion, puzzling too as I try to reconstruct in my memory the manner in which Reet and Uncle Pat left the world of the living, in physical weakness and doubtless some pain, each essentially alone as they walked feebly into the blackness coming down over their eyes, each now in my imagined world enjoying the warmth of nostalgia, a concept that summons up nostos, pain and Homeric homecoming, Reet in the shade of the old apple tree outside her home sweet home symbol of security, Uncle Pat and his other bush socialist companions around the campfire fashioning their ideal worlds in the rising smoke, each in their way a version of my own imagined end under a great white trunked gum tree in the warm morning sun watching in some kind of suspension the green land and the blue sky paling into whiteness and oblivion, but in none of those scenes is there anything like Joyce’s despairing lover standing in the rain of the cemetery but rather in my case ( and I think in Reet’s with Bill) one requited love, Lorna, who I have no doubt would die for me somehow somewhere, for love, if that was what fate demanded or, less melodramatically, there is perhaps some glorious passion for an ideal that has over a lifetime filled me with hope and regret and that I will brood on as I die, supposing I know the day and the hour, but I somehow rather doubt that if I did know the hour I would so brood, for these ideals wonderful as they were and perhaps still are, could not crowd out the regrets I have and will have about the way I have treated those I love and the great regret I must surely have at leaving them, regrets and all, behind in the light…

and so to Smyrna by night…

which has been orchestrated as a topic of high interest by a mixture of supermarket, Shelagh and Wikipedia, the supermarket being the admirably cheap source of what today are unaccountably called sleep pants but were once pyjama
pants, the two terms being used interchangeably by sales sites, so that it’s anyone’s guess what the difference might be, whether for example, pyjama pants are striped flannel garments to be worn in
the privacy of one’s own bed and toilet, whereas sleep pants are in
fact wake pants, worn certainly in bed but presentable also at the breakfast table or even the nearby café on the quay, for they have pockets in which one could carry coins for coffee and tips, this latter surmise being reinforced by the selling of identical garments to ladies as informal domestic wear, which in fact pyjamas already are, much more so than for gentlemen, and although this discourse inevitably raises the issue of dressing gowns, whether of the checked carpet like kind favoured by old men in homes or the silk sort with mongrams and piping worn in Hollywood films of a certain era, it is a discourse I must leave aside at this stage except to say that the silk sort would be the Smyrnan sort, for I want to pass on to the major recent contribution by one of the world’s great knitters, Shelagh, which consisted of blue and white, in homage to North Melbourne, bedsocks with a turned heel so that one or both will not come off during the night as my existing pair tend to do, plus mirabile dictu a nightcap, white, delicately patterned and with a pompom on a string, a feature that puzzles me greatly for I can neither imagine what the significance of the pompom might be nor find in the ominiscient Wikipedia any reference other than a merely descriptive one that would satisfy no one’s curiosity at all, it being the case that if you didn’t know a nightcap had a pompom you wouldn’t be looking it up, and if you did know what it was you’d hardly look up Wikipedia to have it described (though the entry does offer an interesting detail that in the days of public hangings at Tyburn and Newgate, up till 1850, the better off prisoners supplied a nightcap that the hangman pulled down over their face) the upshot of all this being that I will continue to puzzle about and search the meaning of the pompom, and pass to the wonderful information Wikipedia does offer on a the related matter of the Phrygian cap, a sort of peaked beanie with the top tipping forward, headgear not so much for night wear as for daylight revolutionary wear, headgear seen in images of ancient Phrygia and Rome where it was likened to the felt cap of a freed slave and hence came to be known as a liberty cap, a practical symbol that the French revolutionaries found irrestible as a ground for a tricolour cockade and a declaration of proletarian solidarity, to the point where to wear the cap later became an offence as wicked as singing La Marseillaise, which notoriety in turn made the Phrygian cap irresistible to freedom movements here there and everywhere and especially in the USA and South America where its image features on a number of national flags and coats of arms, so I am going to commend the Phrygian cap to Shelagh and other knitters (who will have to figure out how to make it look like cloth and what exact colour it should be) and on these nights when the breezes of Melbourne blow straight off the Antarctic and the penguins have no nightcaps I will don the checked sleep pants, select a T-shirt to complement them, pull on the bedsocks, trying not to teeter on one foot, and settle into bed with the book I am reading to Lorna, currently the Iliad , and the bedlamp shining on my ornamental white nightcap, which will likely come off during the night but that’s life, as it was I suppose also for Scrooge who is always seen in a nightcap with pompom though he would never ever have been seen on the quays, cafes and promenades of Smyrna where …

urbane and spiritual worlds

met and refreshed themselves in the sunshaded cafes, those early, leisured forms of socialising whose busy descendants are beginning to appear in the foot of these emails like a little door opening into the wonderland of today’s social media, still restricted in my case to interchanges by email with me but potentially able to expand to facebooks and blogs where everyone can talk to everyone else all the time, a process that would clearly be more active than leisurely exchanges in the sun and which might therefore lead more rapidly to reflections on such questions as the purpose of pompoms, for in the space of a couple of emails the question has been complicated considerably, first by Shelagh master of knitting who noted that what I had called a pompom was more accurately a tassel, which a glance at the real thing (below) would show to be true, and which I accept entirely except to note that there are merchants of headwear online, especially for infants’ garments, who like to have it both ways by advertising pompomtassels , a description that could be supported by the way the threads are tied in a wee pompom (a pimpim perhaps)at the top but which does away, in the modern manner , with a useful distinction, all the more useful because tassels are much more ancient, it seems, than pompoms and much weightier with symbolism, pompoms being more an adornment than the mark of rank preserved for example in the tassel on a mortar board which tradition says should be flipped from the right side denoting graduand to the left for the graduate, or more generally to denote rank in officers and the like, and more generally still in men, for women it seems wore scarves and headbands in the days when men wore nightcaps so that male dominance endured even in that state resembling death, a depressing thought that I would like to have put to Maurice Maginnis for comment one evening as the sun dipped on the quay and I was discoursing at large with Maurice, whom I once knew in real life as a lad when he lived in what seemed to me a consumptive bohemian state in upstairs Little Lonsdale Street, which was then notorious for its low life by day and lower life by night and was in no way Smyrnan except for Maurice’s mixture of saintliness and worldweariness that attracted our catholic actionism and intimidated our innocence, a strange fellow to find in Little Lon, stranger even than Jim Rayner, a sick man, almost blind, whom we visited in his garage at the back of a Hawthorn house where no one seemed to live and who played Bach to us on his 78s using fibre needles which he sharpened frequently as he stared though bottle-thick lenses at the ceiling and told us things we didn’t know and wouldn’t remember about the greatness of Bach, a topic that I doubt would figure in a Smyrnan taverna where some mixture of Greek and Anatolian music would be played by men in suits without ties seated in a semicircle, a music that Maurice would have become expert in and perhaps even followed into a hashish den from which he might see , were there a window, rosy-fingered Dawn colouring the Lydian shore, and…

mindful that

our delight in the sunshine on the deep-bladed grass to-day, as the always surprising George Eliot wrote, might be no more than the faint perception of wearied souls, if it were not for the sunshine and the grass in the far-off years which still live in us, and transform our perception into love, for memory, like a tree, passes from the budding of youth through the hardness of maturity to an old age hollowed by regret, and in brooding on this, even to the point of lying awake at night in my sleep pants and bedsocks, I noted not only the commonplace passage from rapturous childhood through idealistic youth to indifferent old age but also the greening in memory, presumably in Eliot’s mind, of love for parents and places once scorned as dull and old-fashioned, or more banally the almost universal reverence in the elderly for the good old days when stability conquered change at every turn, and from there I could not but consider how these changing shapes of memory from youth to age might apply to Reet whom my childhood sees singing in the sunlight of the kitchen window, my maturity sees either energised by madness or stilled by darkness and my old age sees as cheated of the love due to her in return for her own ready love, and this brings again to the surface another Eliot phrase about those who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs, a phrase that often comes to me because Reet, like Bill, is in a grave not only unvisited but also unmarked, which I have to do something about very soon, for the regret will not go away, but I will put that on hold since I don’t want to leave this theme without considering further what it is about age that makes so many among us skeptical, pessimistic, self-righteous, nostalgic and conservative, inclinations sometimes glossed as wisdom, sometimes voiced as putting aside the unrealisms of youth, sometimes imagined as a festal procession from the gardens of everlasting childhood to the tomb of fallen ideals, any of which perceptions of age raise an underlying question about the nature of ideals, whether, that is, they belong to times and places in which we took part, to the ‘sixties or a campus or the Church or the Party, all of which are to a considerable degree constructions of the mind conceived as independent of the body, or whether they belong also to bodies that go through an ordained journey from the garden of passionate youth across the peaks, valleys and abandoned trails of ambitious maturity to the retirement village of feeble old age, inevitably following a bodily pattern that gradually seeks stability over change, rest over movement, company over isolation, in short all those balancings that we design into our houses, pursuits and occupations and that someone else might one day select for our final aged-care facility, but in these ramblings I should concede that I am perhaps overcomplicating what is a simple rise and decline of the flesh were it not for those voices from the bookshelves and the web demanding that we rage against the night, see love in the sunshine of our memories, or hear Plato asking Yeats what then, voices that require answers even if wrongheaded…

but since

I don’t have answers wrong or rightheaded I’ll have to try resolving some lesser questions closer to the that’ll-be- done-soon category than the what-then category, recognizing of course that Plato’s ghost will weigh in with a what-then as soon as the well that’s done thank God has finished, but be that as it may I want to talk first about house and home, partly because it always sits in the back of my mind that owning a house that would also be home was integral to Reet’s obsession, and mainly because we are gearing up more and more for our nostos, our move back to 22 Shiel Street, and although houses are houses and home is where you make it and many don’t have either, 22 is both, a great house that we have always thought of as home even when we’re not in it, and so it was that today our friend John Wood, helped by Nick on hole digging and me on suggestions and decisions, finished putting up a gate in the fence that will take us into the lane and parking ground of the high-domed Unkrainian cathedral at the back of which on Sunday morning one can buy bread and dumplings in a hearty Eastern European atmosphere, and posts for a roofed area where bikes, machines, tools and papers will be stored, all as part of a Grand Plan to have elegant, uncluttered rooms furnished in a mix of old (both elegant and rough) and hypersmooth modern behind which all is concealed, the latter look having been inspired by Joan Spiller, a regular reader of Days, now travelling in the land of Mads Mikkelson, Dogme and blue cheese who has been researching Phrygian caps in Western art, perhaps with a view to a major work, and in the process has come up with a rare, if not non-existent, word taspom, and since neither of us can ascribe a meaning to this fancy I thought we should give it one and began a list, beginning with an apple and moving to an English settler in Van Dieman’s Land, a pompom at the end of a cord on a nightcap with a tassel hanging from it, a mispronunciation of teaspoon, a cutler’s code for an unusual kind of spoon, a large tap or tapsoon, and patent leather shoes with pompoms for a tap dancer, each guess I fear progressively stretching the fancy further, with the first two clearly the winners, but we must not let this little puzzle divert us from praise for the Phrygian cap, symbol of liberty and fraternity, headgear that raised its wearer to a higher hope that the world could be a better place, freed of slavery, liberated by revolution, a headgear that suggests there are more heroes in everyday life than we think and to wonder whether the fact that we fantasise about an afterlife in which we meet again, now in perfected form, those we loved and admired and lost, and are ourselves perfected, may be due in some part to the contrary fact that we do not see our mortal lives as heroic and do not perceive the heroism of those others who added to the growing good of the world without looking for reward and who never imagined themselves as perfected by the lives they led, the causes they fought for and the love they gave, a speculation that I may put to …

Reet perhaps or Uncle Pat

or both, but I’m disinclined to seek them out in this weather, wet and icy as it is by day, as bitter chill by night as St Agnes’ eve, such that the full sleepwear with blue and white socks and knitted nightcap must be worn in order to read some Iliad to Lorna as she falls asleep and so to sleep fitfully myself (a rare circumstance) hoping there will be no diabetical urges to rise during the night, thence to toss and disarrange sheets as random and foolish thoughts crowd behind the eyes, retrieve the fallen nightcap from time to time lest the brain freeze beneath the skull, and wait for the dawn when Greasy Joan will keel the pot of today’s breakfast session brought on by the alarm setting up radio national, now referred to not quite convincingly as rn, and after an hour and a half of mixed Armageddon and Apocalypse known as the news, rise to cut lunch for Adonis, which Lorna packs in a non-returnable paper bag, copy the target word from Betty’s Age which lies in invulnerable plastic wrapping in the yard, and head for the gym whose approaches are barred by cars, each with five seats and only one occupant, stretching in an unbroken line from Woop Wop Springs to Central Parking, causing me to muse that Santamaria might have been on to something when he called for Western civilization to fly from the cities leaving him alone in the wasteland behind his Lord Haw Haw microphone reading from the ten chapters of Ralph Borsodi’s Flight from the city, the nine chapters of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and the three point plan of Rural Life, all numbers which in and of themselves and by their very nature demonstrated incontrovertibly the truths of Santamarianism, foolish musings brought to an end by a break in the traffic through which we scurry agedly arm in arm to the green of the old North oval, now Aegis Park, where once upon a time and in the good old days after the game we kids kicked around paper footies or a leather ball so old it had grown round with the bladder herniaing through the laces, thence to the gym where we are greeted warmly by most of the attendants and especially Martha of the bounce and charm, my personal trainer do you mind, and where I see with much smugness that my weight is going down, slowly slowly with my waist measurement causing me to wonder whether I have achieved my goals to the point where I may, as the Countess’s blood record book promises, reward myself by meet(in)g with some friends for a skinny cappuccino and that well-earned low-fat muffin, and if that sort of how-are-we- today-dear jollity doesn’t transport your mind immediately to a retirement home I can’t imagine what would, I mean who are these friends if they’re not those pacing about outside the retirement home canteen contemplating a feed of low-fat muffins, but putting aside such horrors I will say that thanks to breakfasts of low GI cereal with low GI jam on low GI toast preceded by readings on the Countess’s blood sugar level counter from neat circles of blood pricked from my ring finger (and why that finger I wonder) or thanks perhaps to Santa Paulina de la Agonizante Corazon de Jesus I seem to have the diabetes under control, which news Reet will welcome when I visit her among the shades in the shade of …

the old apple tree

and yes I know because Wikileaks told me that the fruit of that tree came in a can from Tin Pan Alley but I like to fancy that Reet’s old apple tree was surreptitiously struck from the tree that bore the golden apples (also attended by a serpent) in the garden of the Hesperides, for she did, I now see, earn a quiet life in and as a golden shade for as long as shades last, which to us may seem no longer than the time it takes for the dark to come into their eyes but to them, now out of time, might seem an eternity, and I say earn deliberately because like so many women, nearly all of them, she lived her life for others, for what was left to her as a child from her own family and for the family she created with Bill during the Depression and maintained then and in the years after, that weren’t much better in her case, the years she looked and looked for houses to make home, lived on the smell of an oil rag as she liked to say, not that it seemed like that to me as a child to whom the gutter was as exciting a playplace as the garden, and pared her economy down to the most selfless of arts, typified in my memory by the time I took her to a cafeteria, knowing that restaurant prices would have robbed her of appetite, and watched as she ran her finger down the right hand column of the menu and finally said two and six that looks nice, but I do wonder often, as one must, whether living on the smell of an oil rag and never really finding a home so thwarted her drive to look after her loved ones that she sometimes became unhinged, sometimes catatonic and often confabulant, and although I know there are other sensible explanations for what she called her nerves, such as post-natal stress, false chemistry and the like, I can’t help noting that her confabulations usually took her to better worlds where a cottage sat in the sun on the banks of a creek that ran without explanation uphill and her big brothers felled the mountain ash and good olds came courting, but at the same time I have no way of interpreting her anxious suspicions of listeners in the ceiling and her disappearances into dark and violent worlds that seemed to energise her unnaturally, yet it is all this, partly explicable, partly unfathomable, that makes me reach for the word heroic, a word that I think justly describes many lives but particularly characterizes the lives of women whose heroism metaphorically and often literally parallels that of the young men we honor for having given their lives in the wars the old men sent them to, an endlessly repeated heroism I saw most dramatically exemplified in the Greek village I lived in for a while, a boulder roll down the hill from Delphi, seat of ambiguous prophecy, forerunner of today’s media deception, in which it was the custom that wives stayed always in the home, in a kind of mud-brick purdah and husbands went to the shops, tavernas and the agora, thus enacting in concrete form women’s subservience in that culture from ancient times when women were swapped as prizes to keep house and breed, they hoped, male heirs, in the course of which latter service many lost their young lives, and with this image in my head I ask what are our shrines to fallen heroes who served race and family, lived unremarked lives and lie in unvisited tombs, and having nothing to draw from this that I could frame as conversation with Reet at the moment, I will move from talk of apple to refer you to our friend and colleague the poet Barry Breen’s new blog about poetry (www.poemanswers.info) in which he names three great last lines from Yeats the silver apples of the moon the golden apples of the sun and a terrible beauty is born and that dolphin-torn that gong-tormented sea, the last for me being the ultimate in metaphor, and by way of great last lines I add from my current reading and so the Trojans buried Hector breaker of horses and to end this Day I note that the punctuation of my unfinished sentence has settled into three marks, commas to indicate rhythm, parentheses to contain necessary elucidations or excessive digressions, and italics to signal quotation…

speaking of which,

I found as I sifted through Yeats looking for a reference to Hector, this dire thought that never to have lived is best, ancient writers say; …the second best’s a gay goodnight and quickly turn away, and I considered asking Reet whether in any of her fits, as she called them, she had thought it better not to have lived, for I think I remember her saying as people often did when life became difficult that she wished she’d never been born, but I dismissed the thought at once, for she had never given the least sign of wanting to leave life no matter how bad it looked, indeed had always seen hope somewhere, in the good times she had also had and in the future her children and grandchildren would have, the lucky ones as she would say with a fleeting whiff of bitterness, the upshot of that dead end being that I chatted to her about some of my grandchildren, who are her greatgrandchildren, wondering the while what sort of an interest we can take in family members, descendants or ancestors whom we will never know, other than an ancestry.com or photo album kind of interest, but led on by Reet’s apparent mild interest, I gave an update on the affairs of Nick and Adonis, still being saints and gods, Nick now in Crete with his parents and Api, Adonis keeping up the good scholastic work and putting his shoulder to the spade and wheelbarrow on yard works for 22, and as we warmed our hands around mugs of sweet black tea from Uncle Pat’s old black billy, I outlined our regular routines with Dee’s little and littler ones , starting with the little boys, Louis and Raph, whom we pick up at end of school time on Wednesdays and bring home to feed and transport to sporting engagements, Louis retailing comprehensively the week’s football statistics that record smashings of other teams and nearly wins by his own, and Raph figuring out with adroit questioning what the snacks will be this week, thence to pink-loving Josephine who comes every Friday morning to eat weetbix, draw, chat and blow bubbles, she too having a keen understanding of where the edibles are in the house, and finally Francis of the golden ringlets who pursues a well planned campaign to sleepover as often as he can , a plan that extends from choice of bed (in Adonis’s room), menu preferences, and legitimate TV-watching hours to using art resources and accumulating presents to take back home, not to mention passages of entertainment in which, for example, he explains why Adonis is still sleeping late into the morning by miming with dancing fingers the party and at the end dropping his hand limply, and so it is that with Lorna down at the school sausage sizzling, Francis and I switch on the TV to see what’s the go, only to find that the Queen’s diamond jubilee is the go and so it is that we discuss how the women in the barges and carriages are all aflutter in bold or pastel colours whereas the men, as Francis points out, are in soldiers’ uniforms with lots of medals, a situation I must say that puts me immediately in mind of the Iliad, where the men are warriors in gleaming bronze and the women are prizes in soft garments, a circumstance I note that seems to strike Francis as normal enough, imbued as he is with fairy tales, but I doubt that will last long in such an intelligent and off-beat head, though I would not say as much for the media or their watchers, not to mention the population of England, who seem to accept the ancient conventions of breeding royals, but are perhaps cheered by the sight of the head breeder also being the boss, and not of course a Catholic, but let’s leave them to their fun and turn to…

Bill

younger brother, by six years, of Uncle Pat, spouse of Reet, father of Betty and eponymous me, born in Dunolly of gold-bearing fame in 1874, orphaned at age ten when he left Dunolly with his brother Ted, two years younger than him, for South Melbourne orphanage, where he obtained his merit certificate, making him perhaps the best educated of the ten Hannan children and casting him, with his firm copperplate and belief in the postal system, as the one who kept track of the others, who by my childhood numbered six, John and Thomas not being on the radar and perhaps dead, James buried feet down on a steep hillside in Walhalla and Laurence said to have vanished in India, thus leaving Pat whom we’ve met, Ted who went to New Zealand, Margaret who became Donegan and Mary who married Bateman, both producing cousins of substance or glamour, and Catherine who became a nursing nun in Lewisham Sydney and was known as Sister Vincent, a name that became of particular value to Bill in his forgetful old age, for it was borne also by his niece Vincent of the Donegans, whose visits to Melbourne on the Spirit of Progress were major events, and was a name of a good childhood friend of mine from a gambling family, with the result that anyone at all who met Bill, male or female, could conveniently be called Vin in a tone that suggested both warmth and unconsciousness of error, perhaps even praise for being of a Vin type, and prepared them to answer questions about how the land was looking (a matter he usually commented on in his letters, where he referred to himself in proper style as the writer in statements such as the writer has recently been through the Riverina and the land is looking dry) for he was above all a man of the land, even when down on his luck when he took to gardening for the Donegans and others, but for most of his life a figure bestride limitless acreages of sheep stations in the days when the world was wide and drovers were free men out on the sunlit plains where the horizons promised new worlds, as the poets said, acreages that figured in the famous Harvester case of 1908 enquiring into the conditions of pastoral workers at which Bill gave evidence for management, replying to counsel assisting’s question as to what the men ate for breakfast that they ate mutton, and to what they had for lunch mutton, and to what they had for dinner also mutton, at which point Mr Justice Henry Bourne Higgins intervened by asking the size of Wanganella Estate, outside Deniliquin in New South Wales, to which Bill answered 100, 000 acres, and then asked rhetorically whether it was Bill’s evidence that on a property of 100 000 acres, it was not possible to keep some pigs so that the men could have bacon for breakfast, an intervention that Bill thought almost as fine as the eventual judgement instituting a basic wage for a workman and his family, evidence if any were needed that for all that he was appearing for management, and was in fact a manager for a big and famous squatting family, Bill, like Pat, was a Labor man, already a station hand, maybe even an overseer, when the Labor Party was born, an admirer, with Uncle Pat, of the towering W.G. Spence, a subscriber mirabile dictu to Hansard, a man of the grazing industry who followed the sheep to new Zealand for a time, where he umpired some cricket, standing, says unreliable family legend, an international between a team from Australia (perhaps New South Wales) and New Zealand, but I have no way of knowing how in his early working days around the bush he learnt to umpire cricket except to remember that it’s not hard for a devotee, as he was, of our two grand sports, cricket and aussie rules, to know all the rules, acres of stats and the cut of the jib of every great, highlights of which Bill would announce epigrammatically more or less out of the blue, to our delight as kids to whom novelty is not the attraction it will become, as we must suppose it did for Bill when …

he met Reet

who worked for the Falkiners, I think at Moonbria station, via Deniliquin NSW, between 1917 and 1923, she as a housemaid, her mother as a cook, she aged 20 when she arrived, Bill aged 43 and manager of Moonbria since 1910, having risen by marked ability from station hand to overseer to manager, as documented below, than which rank there is no higher short of ownership, which it is said Bill sought, unsuccessfully, via ballots to select land from the big runs, a failure or failures that might have decided him to
leave the land altogether, hence the attached reference, unfortunately without date, whereas had he succeeded
in the selection game he might have lured the housemaid back to future penury on the plains, rather than riding to town in pursuit of Reet who had set up in a lolly shop with her mother in Prahran (Windsor actually but no one knows where that is) but this is
conjecture, for all the public records tell us is that Bill and Reet married in the Jesuits’ St Ignatius Church Richmond, presumably in the back room, known as the sacristy, because she was not then a Catholic, on 17 June 1929, but if you are finding this ancestry.com stuff tiresome I suggest you go to the next digression, which is just around the corner, prompted by the birth certificate of their firstborn which shows that Reet, in her finest dress and hat with flowers, in the sacristy was almost three months with child when she vowed Bill would be her life partner, indeed her life’s love, for though she obeyed no one she honoured him always, and he her, and not it seems from that day but from whenever they began to live together in Melbourne running some businesses doomed either by the Great Depression or perhaps sooner by my father’s generosity as a Williamstown publican ever ready to chalk up a debt, an unfortunate but forgiveable fecklessness according to Reet ,who didn’t see the drink as a deserving cause for charity but understood that the jollity of the moment could distract the giver from thought of future woe, or indeed well before they lived together in Melbourne, for Bill must have contracted his passion for Reet while at Moonbria and

followed her to Melbourne, each armed with good references from the notable family of squatters, which scenario leads us to imagine what happened in those six years, 1917-1923, when love between the maid and the manager must have made the land look its best, with the grasses waving breast high on the plains, gold under the sun and silver under the everlasting stars, and the weeping boree raised their branches to wave to the lovers, and the dreamings of childhood called once more to Reet, but after those years we do not know what futures were planned or imposed that led them to leave their paradise to start a family that both surely wanted and that, it was always said, would need to be in the city to get an education, a family that has now led through three more generations to Francis, aged six and in Year one, having his third sleepover at our place in the space of a couple of weeks and amusing himself and us without pause playing with an alter ego doll with whom he converses and channels certain requests, reading and writing with what seems unusual certainty, and cooking cakes according to recipes which he has dictated and which he points out are mere examples of procedural texts in which one lists ingredients slash foods, materials slash equipment and steps logically set out with a minimum of jargon, and let no one suggest that a rule, of a game for example, can be called a procedure, for he insists they are two quite separate things (or concepts, he might say and probably
soon will) all of which tenacious intellectual and lexical precision makes us fear that he might be too good for schooling, even schooling that teaches him about procedural texts and heaven knows what else, though I guess we will soon know if he keeps sleeping here which he seems determined to do, for he is clearly ready for a place in an academy of philosophy where his love of fine distinctions and ideas in search of good names would flourish…

and so to table
where much of the discussion among generations occurs and of course changes as the ages and stages of the participants change, the youngest now being Josephine who likes Vitabrits for breakfast on Fridays, who consumes silently and leaves milk behind in the bowl and to some extent on the table, with whom we may compare and contrast Francis who also spills milk as he pours it from a large plastic bottle into a small cup of tea, of which he is already, like his mother and aunts, a devotee at age six in Year One where procedural texts do not cover spilt milk scenarios, though they might be meant to obviate them, but who unlike his sister spurns cereal in favour of pancakes once upon a time and mie goreng these days, and a most economical choice it is, for the lady in the Asian grocery in Melrose Street sells a box of thirty packets for $12, economical in labour too because Francis and all his older brothers and cousins know how to cut and squeeze the little plastic tubes of flavours into the bowl ready to mix with the softened noodles, so in most ways, though perhaps not nutritionally, an ideal snack for every occasion from a Francis breakfast, lunch, dinner or in-between to a supplement to the after-school feed so anticipated and relished each Wednesday by Louis and Raph, Louis on his way to swimming lessons and awash with football statistics, Raph ready for footie training, he being a cunning little rover, the main feed bringing to mind the merry breakfasts of other years when Nick and Rory were still at school and Adonis a pleasant thought , those breakfasts that served eggs in all their forms, with bacon if available, and especially in muffins, known as MacBills, baked beans, corn, devilled tomatoes and other glories of the start your day with a good breakfast tradition, the tradition that I continue to honour in my new diabetic days with low GI cereal laced with oatbran followed by coffee and a piece of low GI toasted bread lowGImargarined and spread with Lorna’s low GI marmalade, a preparation for a day that has begun with a sound reading on the Countess’s blood machine and will be followed by a moderately abstemious day that begins usually with weights and bikes at the gym to steady legs, bulk muscles, diminish weight and change shape, some of which appears to the practiced and complimentary eye to be happening, but there’s so far to go still, so far, so far, and in my persistent pursuit of this distant goal, driven as it is by the diabetic condition, I lately took from the supermarket shelf at a marked down price a cereal featuring barley, which is a much praised grain on the health and low GI lists but an unwelcome guest on the palate reminding one of awful soups in which the addition of barley, for bulk one supposed charitably, or for moral discipline deprived the stock of all taste and added an odour of warm unwashed linen, yet here was this pariah among grains in a box containing Barleymax, a trade name belonging to our national scientific and research organization, the CSIRO, than which there could be no greater endorsement, but unfortunately despite the addition of honeys, living up to the reputation of barley as the dullest of all grains so dull one is unsure what animals if any are nourished on it, for it is beyond questioning nourishing but in all other ways a Filboid Studge of the first order , so I have resolved not to recommend to either of today’s two breakfasters, Josephine and Adonis who are both in their separate ways so charming and well-disposed to the world that they do not deserve barley in any of its existing or to be developed forms, yet the grain has done me the favour of having brought to mind these two, the youngest and one of the oldest of the grandchildren, so similar in their engagement with the world, so obviously contrasting in many ways, that they lead to …

thoughts on youth

and the rest of our lives, in which I had thought to nose out some features of various stages of life and what we want from them, but from which I was diverted by thoughts about grass and by Pindar’s Threnos VII, the last poem in an anthology of Archaic Greek Poetry (translated by Barbara Hughes Fowler), the issue of grass having been prompted by a TV documentary narrated by a Scot who explained how grass had begun to flourish ages ago on a plentiful supply of CO2 , only to be grazed by animals whom the grass thwarted by developing sharp silicon edges, which ploy was thwarted in turn by a new mob of animals with teeth that chomped silicon and bowels that discharged it eventually into the oceans where it nourished innumerable beautifully patterned microorganisms that are mad for silicon in their diet and that, being plants, emit into the air loads of oxygen, about a quarter of the overall total that keeps us mortals going, all of which constitutes not only an astonishing cycle of life and evolution but also raises the question of who’s the real winner and what’s the mind behind it, by which I do not mean God or gods but rather the consciousness and intelligence of life forms, of lettuces, for example, which Lorna’s mother Mavis maintained screamed faintly as they were plucked from the earth (surely a justification if one were needed for a proper dressing), giving rise to speculating whether lettuce, grass or us mortals have a species consciousness that precedes the birth to which we come trailing clouds of glory and follows the shades to Elysium, to the shade of the old apple tree with the golden fruit or to Pindar’s land of the dead, where the sun shines while here it is night/ …meadows are red with roses/…and the forecourt of their city/ is shadowed by boughs of frankincense/ and burdened with gold-fruited trees, a markedly different land from that which Homer imagined as blackness covered the eyes of Trojans, Argives, Thracians, Lycians, and countless warriors from Ionia, Sparta, Argos, Athens and the islands, Lemnos, almost opposite Troy, Kos, Crete and many more stripped of their armour and borne into the darkness of Erebos, many of them heroes when they were living, all heroes now they are dead, all facing Plato’s unending question what then and Antigone’s warning question when she points out that the dead in the land of the dead are the ones you will be with longest and asks how are you going to face them, a question, if we can call it a question rather than a threat, that must bring us to consider…

heroism

a quality that is inclined to be overstated and thereby underestimated, for while we rightly honour those who triumph remarkably and those who fight for a cause even when it takes them to the house of death we must ask where are all those whose unremarkable lives have added to the greater good of the world, to which George Eliot has elegantly answered that they lie (or will lie) in unvisited tombs, a destiny that regrettably awaited Reet, Bill and Uncle Pat, all three contributors to the greater good, each with heroic moments, unsung but by a few, a destiny too that has or will meet the many heroes of schooling I worked with for so long, Alec Allinson, for example, the great English teacher or the warriors of the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association who, like Uncle Pat, called grand strikes in noble causes and who in their more humdrum moments toiled to make teaching a proper profession, warriors like Stewie, who turned 80 the other day and rejoiced with his old comrades in their achievements, describing his own contribution to the rationalising of the Classified Roll (a numbered list of teachers awaiting death or promotion) only half jocosely as a manifestation of his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which was so severe that he actually memorised the Classified Roll, but which in its way is no less admirable than the military work of Lorna’s Uncle Neville who was a staff sergeant in the army, a rank that suited him well for he was both efficient and officious and hence an ideal controller of supplies, but whose sole contact with battle was to inadvertently arrive at the Korean front line on a tram, and I could add that he too had a sort of OCD, in his case about money, thus revealing to us that a miser is not necessarily one who will not spend, for he spent on big things, but rather one who insists that the pennies and farthings be scrupulously expended and accounted for, so that bread must not be bought before the hour when the supermarket sells it off, trains and trams must be travelled on at optimal concession times, entitlements must be honoured in full or with substitutes of equal value, and interlocuteurs must agree that it’s not the money but the principle that is at stake, and from Uncle Neville the veteran with entitlements to the other end of the age scale we see the likes of Francis who against the perils of premature birth and its aftermaths set himself heroically to survive, no more then yielding to lying Death than now countenancing imprecise questions, an heroic urge for life which overshadows our illnesses and disorders, whether it be the OCD that Stewie and I have had from the days when it was a simple syndrome that did not come close to be funded but which may attract some funding now that it is an official disorder from which Stewie by his account suffers in a major form, whereas I am only mildly obsessive and compulsive in connection with front doors being locked and car lights being left on, but this is now of negligible interest because I have stumbled, courtesy of diabetes Type 2, the so-called fat form of the disorder, on a far more extensive form of funding outlined to me last week by the blood sugar counsellor who has replaced the Countess, now pregnant, and whom I will call the Princess since she has a gentler disposition than the engagingly enthusiastic Countess, and because she is in the process of placing me under a team of specialists in feet, eyes and teeth, which sounds more like directors of a dance troupe than a group of medicos, each of whom will attract special government funding intended I assume to keep the likes of me out of the retiring rooms of the house of death and which as a bonus will reveal to me whether I have cause to worry about my feet which apparently are much threatened by diabetes, some diabetics losing all feeling, so much so that the Princess knew of an unfortunate who walked about unknowingly with drawing pins embedded in the foot and the http://www.coms tell of toes and whole feet falling off, as in our childhoods we imagined lepers on the Molokai misison stumping about with Father Damien, one of the grand heroes of our youth a fit companion in the apsidal mosaic for the doctors and martyrs of the church and for secular saints such as Simpson and John Curtin, who are reminders that I must raise this topic with…

the good shades

wherever they may be, in Elysium with Reet and Uncle Pat, with the great ancients in the calm and pleasant antechamber of Dante’s Inferno, or in a crystal Paradise wearing Phrygian caps and singing the Ode to Joy, the topic being that beloved of philosophers, the Good Life and how we can conceive it across the stages of life, to which there can be no answer, not from the infant for whom life alone is a triumph, nor from the youth who wants to be both singular and of the crowd, nor the father who wants his own present imperfect to become his child’s future perfect, nor the mother who is weeping at her child’s ingratitude, nor those whose hopes are fading into the brightening air of the good old days, nor the aged who pass off false certainty as wisdom, nor especially the dying as they glimpse the flickering world of their regrets, yet in that lest regard I do like to think we hold in those last moments images that represent our own particular idea of the Good Life, as the shade of the old apple tree does for Reet and the boree fire does for Uncle Pat, and so I will list my own images, first the gutter we played in as little kids on warm days when the stones channelled our marbles and on wet days when the rainwater swept along our paper boats, next the ten-year-old’s rapture I had in Raleigh Street, then the teacher holding a class to attention, the mover of strike motions at stopworks, the runner with the wind flowing through his body, the writer at the keyboard, the diner with friends, the pilgrim carrying a pack to Santiago, a few steps ahead of Lorna downhill, a few behind uphill, all in all a pretty dull list of happy endings that take no account of pain, dementia, parting with those you loved and of all those regrets that living with those you loved have left you with, one of which I can perhaps soften by fitting a little task, which I will tell you about later, into the busy pleasures and anxieties of moving next door to the house where we spent what we think of as our best family years, 22 Shiel Street, a grander house than the one we live in that abuts it, bigger, more elegant and offering a flat floor downstairs for our coming fraility, hence in need of a bathroom on the ground floor and an allover facelift after years of tenancy, to which ends we are lining up workmen for wiring, flooring, painting, benching, cupboarding, roofing, bricking, kitchening, wardrobing, heating and all the rest of it, and therefore planning what will go where, which as all prosperous lands as we well know takes us to that circle of Hades known as IKEA around which souls circulate endlessly borne along by dreams and blandishments and with no escape except to the meatballs restaurant where the panic of confinement amid boundless choice subsides, pulses normalise and dreams of efficient readily assembled storage take over as we return to our present ramshackle storage solutions thence to draw ground plans, list all those things that will be stored out of sight, wonder whether we’ll all be rooned and imagine ourselves relaxing and conversing in Smyrnan settings filled with the beauties of past and future technology, familiar dreams I’m sure, dreams that I can turn from to make a few observations about full stops, that key mark of punctuation, along with initial caps, commas and the rest developed by printers and beloved of pedants but used sparingly, eccentrically or not at all in this text, the most important observation being that the absence of a full stop in these two volumes, and perhaps also in a third, in no way is meant to show disrespect for full stops, in fact I have a long and affectionate association with full stops, being a lover of short sentences balanced by medium to long sentences, preferably, as I was taught in my youth, periodic rather than loose, so much a lover indeed that an enemy once attacked me for terseness, but since it was an enemy I took it that he would be insensitive to rhythm and so continued to write in the full stop way until now, hoping that with this departure from the stop (but not be it noted the initial cap) I have not caused Francis’s teacher a problem, for being a modern teacher, as her views on procedural texts show, she will no doubt define a sentence as a text starting with a cap and ending with a stop, and I wonder therefore what she will say when Francis says his grandfather is currently not using full stops, in which eventuality I would advise her to switch the conversation to question marks and commas, though of course the latter in particular do present…

problems

namely that commas too, like full stops, maybe like all punctuation marks, do not obey the clear-cut rules so beloved of schoolbooks, letters to the editor, and even some manuals of style, and really how can they when they serve the double and distinct purposes of clarifying meaning and marking rhythm, and may be dispensed with altogether if the writing is good enough or the writer prefers line or word breaks or is even seeking ambiguity, any more than seemingly straightforward things such as question marks or allegedly straightforward things such as apostrophes can be tied down to rules that work, though they manifestly can be strung up on rules, and on the latter mark I realise that in saying previously that I was using only commas, parentheses and italics I had wrongly suppressed the apostrophe no doubt because of subliminal issues such as my belief that they are not only unnecessary, though sometimes justifiable, in the ill usage of the tradespeople so apostrophized by the pedants, but also sometimes unnecessary and even unjustifiable in the good usage of the style schools, issues that make be eager to learn I hope one day soon what positions Francis and his teacher will take on these issues, hoping that they do not baulk at relativism intrinsic in my positions but are prepared to stand up to the popes and abbots who inveigh against relativism along with other immoralities of the modern world and declare themselves on the side of glorious doubt, and so buoyed by this possibility I set out in the early morning of a bright day rugged up but carelessly unscarved against the bitter chill which I usually attribute to snow on the hills, perhaps more in accord with the meteorology of poetry than of science since it always brings St Agnes Eve to mind, and made my way to the physiotherapy salon of the fortuitously named Mark Backway (except that so many cooks are named Baker and so many carpenters Wood that more than fortune must be at play) at an hour when the lollypop people are on duty so that I had a chat with the sub-continental lady who is so friendly and who asked after Lorna noting that she was letterboxing for the coming by-election isn’t it and passed by the South American gentleman whom I have long regarded as the state’s best lollypop man who at the moment of my passing was dancing in front of a crosser shielding her with his stop sign on a pole, immaculately costumed, if that can be said of the lollypop costume, which he takes to his post in wheeled suitcase, and full of cheer for the many who greet him as they pass by, and landed spot on time for an amount of hand prodding from Mark followed by electric treatment from a machine labeled (jocosely by a client) a thumper, followed by a treatment for the hip called ultrasound administered by the good-looking assistant with newly dyed red hair and exotic jewellery that justifies my naming her Cleopatra, treatements that of course involved me lying prone for a long time that I filled with brooding on how I would get from this present point in the story of 2012 to the ending I have already sketched, brooding which was I’m pleased to say pretty successful in that I have dreamt up a line of narrative on which digressions can be hung and which will involve …

Reet again

who was relaxing over a cuppa after a session crocheting egg cosies in Penny’s workshop, egg cosies (a little textile cap made to fit over a boiled egg in its cup) being an art cultivated by Reet, and to my uncertain knowledge no one else, as an adjunct to serving breakfast to boarders in the days when cash was short, breakfasts that consisted of extravagances that were denied to us, to wit the said egg cosies to keep the uncapped egg warm, toast cut into triangles in a silver toast rack that never adorned our own table, and no doubt tea arrangements which I don’t recall no doubt because I was a milk drinker at the time, but egg cosies aside, for they do enter the realm of crafts as practised (with an s) in Penny’s workshop, Reet as a cook was more innovative than artful, a quality exemplified in my memory by an incident in which, having been asked by a neighbour how to cook a rabbit Reet reeled off a recipe and with the neighbour safely out of hearing remarked that she must try that herself, and exemplified in another way by her practice of transferring marmalade from a giant ten pound tin sold by Rosella to small bottles labeled in Mrs Wright’s spidery hand as home-made orange marmalade and sold on to the public at a Saturday morning street stall in aid of the South Melbourne Orphanage, which had housed my father from age ten to fourteen along with his younger brother Ted who died in New Zealand, to a public moreover who declared that they always patronised the stall because of its home-made marmalade, and would not in any case suspect two charitable old ladies of deception, unless of course they had had occasion to try the same old ladies cooking, but despite the mischievous boasting of Reet about the deception I hesitate to call such a well-motivated deception dishonest partly because street stalls and fetes are the classic outlets for unverified home-mades and partly because the ladies themselves saw the operation more as opportunistic than dishonest and partly too I suppose because they would have been horrified to think they were being dishonest for they were normally upright, or in Mrs Wright’s case as upright as her osteoporosis would allow, in all their affairs, so it seems the language needs a new word for charitable cheating, for non-core dishonesty, for opportunistic ambiguity, for venial rather than mortal swindles, a word such as might appear on the wretched eyesandteeth and arentwefuuny Randling, so promising and so bad, a word say in the style of infrahonesty which may suggest an underlying honesty but also, unhappily, a lower form of honesty where it could be argued perhaps a trifle Jesuitically that it is really a higher form, so that subhonesty or midhonesty are clearly unsuitable but suprahonesty interesting, or should we be looking at obfuscating suffixes such as honestily, truthable etc, efforts I fear that lead to the conclusion that in spite of centuries of clerical double-talk, our language inclines to be black and white on moral questions, which is so unlike life and so contrary to the reasoning of many philosophers that it makes us wonder why we have never developed a mid way between synonym and antonym, a mesonym we could say, that would allow us to be both honest and dishonest at the same time and without opprobrium or praise but rather with worldly understanding, just as a Jesuit philosopher once answered a question as to whether we should always tell the truth with the wonderful reservation that we do not have to tell all the truth, which perhaps makes the truth , the whole truth and nothing but the truth formula look too dependent on the skills of the interrogators and the respondents, but at this point I feel the need for a more positive subject which by chance came to me this morning as I left the gym, with towel, to mingle with the crowd of parents and kids on holidays in their Kangaroos finery enrolling for the fun and games of North’s family day and enjoy the loudspeakers belting out the Kangas’ team song of join in the chorus and sing it one and all join in the chorus North Melbourne’s on the ball, the song that never fails to recall to me the young Rory at seven or eight standing to attention and proudly showing to all that he knew the Kangas’ anthem by heart, a memory not so much heartbreaking as heartwelling for the child’s pleasure and confidence in knowing something form the wide world where the good things are, that childish pleasure that for all of us one day mingles with doubt or disappointment however mush it is augmented by greater knowledge, hope and satisfaction, on which last sentiment I will elaborate next time when we journey to …

the house of meatballs

and the labyrinth of dreams, IKEA, where dreamers assemble their homes and their futures in accord with a Swedish mystique of orderly calm, a mixture of underworld and Elysium to which we took ourselves with John Wood early the other morning intent chiefly on planning a new kitchen for Ithaka, where we will restore the original configuration of an included laundry with a doorway opening to the courtyard of Smyrnan graces and generally clean up, replace or add benches, appliances, cupboards and drawers that these days glide out without falling to the floor and can be fitted for storage solutions, as they say, to sate the most obsessive compulsive cook, dishwasher or creator of rubbish, set in bamboo benchtops which John loves because they are really grass, and so what with solemn appraisals of many options and advice from a Eurydice with a sweet voice and a youth from Sweden who seemed to know the entire affairs of IKEA across the world, bit by bit we pieced together a preliminary plan that we resolved to confer upon soon when we had committed our several schemes to graph paper, and then with wandering steps and slow we took our way through the rest of paradise till we came to the meatballs, which to John and us are a highlight of the trek and which I think in Reet’s view would be the only highlight, on the one hand because she’d have no time for this modern furniture that would fall apart as soon as you looked at it and on the other because the meatballs are very cheap, always on special, not obviously foreign and obtained in a help –yourself- on -a -tray cafeteria, an institution that was just finding its way into department stores in Reet’s maturity and which was much favoured by ladies shopping or taking the kiddies out for a treat, and indeed the latter diversion was in full swing in IKEA’s scrupulously organized cafeteria, where one entrays an empty mug to be paid for at the cashier and filled with indifferent tea or coffee by the diner and again and again for free if the diner so wishes, thus avoiding the need to employ a second Chinese cashier and, in keeping with the scrupulosity of organization, extensively equipped with toys and stuff for kiddies of all stages who were at the time, in fact lunchtime, milling about and having great canwegotoikeaagainmummy fun whilst Lorna John and I ate our meatballs and mash, drank our tea and talked about options and dreams resolving as I said to severally plan and meet again, to which end I have begun to imagine what will be involved in preparing some typical meals beginning with one of Adonis’s favourites featuring stuffed mushrooms, rack of lamb with two vegies and salad and apple pie, an exercise that will follow the steps of Francis’s procedural text but will be prefaced by necessary locational information indicating that the fridge will be at the end of the space less than a metre diagonally from the stove and gas hob next to which is a substantial bench with microwave above, sink beside and drawers with batterie de cuisine below, and opposite this as happens in galley kitchens a generous bench with serried containers, above and below, of raw ingredients not needing refrigeration and incorporating an appliance cupboard for machines such as mixers, graters and blenders, and before I forget let me note that there are certain essentials that must be to hand on each side so that no matter where preparation is occurring oil and condiments are there to hand, requiring no turning or walking about, and so with these locations settled we can turn to the first step of Francis’s procedural text which is to list ingredients, which are, apart from oil and condiments, mushrooms, bacon, cheese, rack of lamb, potatoes, greens (say broccoli with feta), salad, pastry and cooking apples, all items in the fridge (still going despite the carbon tax) except for the potatoes, which must be in a well-ventilated drawer under the bench opposite the stove and cooking apples which would seem logically to belong with other fruit on the dining room dresser bur pragmatically among the vegetables in the kitchen, and to this list, though Francis might place them in step two, we should add required kitchen implements namely a good knife, an effective peeler, pots, microwave bowls, salad bowls and oven dishes, all of which happen to be close to hand for the execution of this menu as are the stove hob and microwave, so that in the best of all possible worlds once the dishes are set to cooking the resultant mess can be sorted into the bins under the sink and everything is washed and put away, apart from the pots and pans that have to be washed after being served from, but quite how or whether this cleaning and filing can be done pre-meal rather than adding to the post-meal chaos in and around the sink is a matter for concern but happily beyond the scope of Francis’s procedural text which as I understand it ends at the cooking and leaves the eating and cleaning to a new text, a text moreover that will not alter the locations laid out here for Adonis’s meal, so I will turn next to the most common kitchen task of all, in some houses so common it is not located in the kitchen at all, to wit making tea, a task that requires a location close to the water, the dining room and the courtyard, essentially at one end of a free bench abutting the dining room and exit to the yard and containing an electric kettle, if that is to be preferred to one on the hob, and ready access to drawers housing teapots and tea, both of which seem easy enough so I will pass to breakfast, a simple moving between fridge and cereal stores but with an unresolved provision for a toaster and a question as to the best location of a bread drawer, neither of which are especially difficult problems in the layout envisaged even though their precise location is not determined and might even change, and although I could also track a Lorna meal I think they are so slight that they must fit, so I will move on to …

questions of health

not our own which is fine but global and historical health a subject that the coincidences and clashes of Year 12 timetabling have caused Adonis to study and which has in turn obliged some tutoring from us especially from Lorna a circumstance that found all three of us discussing the meaning of epidemics and the siverthreaded regaling golden youth with tales of health threats and remedies in the bad old days also known as the good old days when the family doctor made house visits to take the pulse read the thermometer palm the forehead listen to the chest and wonder what to do now that bleeding has gone out of fashion praising the while Reet’s care of the patient with a disease now known only in the third world where anti-biotics are too dear which mention o0f antibiotics recalled for me the first time I enjoyed their benefit the time I caught pneumonia from standing on the forward line of a losing team on a cold day and after a bout of delirium in which my body was being racked and attacked by characters from the Pickwick Papers that I had recently read awoke to find the doctor explaining what he called the new sulpha drugs which would and did quickly dispense with my pneumonia so there I was on the dawnstep of a new era in public health having spent my earlier youth running through clouds of sulphurous fumes ignited by public authorities and consuming Reet’s favourite patent medicines in particular Beechams pills and Dr Somebodyorothers cough mixture supplemented in curative mode by spoonfuls of sugar and eucalyptus oil and in preventative mode by sulphur powder on spoonfuls of malt extract all of which might indeed have worked for I was a bronchial child as they said and on top of the usual measles and stuff that were basically good for you as inoculators I also had a fearsome bout of whooping cough that had me standing up in the bed breathless and deluded that there might be more air above if only I could get there and of these events I can still picture myself standing up in the bed in panic and the doctor speaking though the mists about the new sulpha drugs and my father dribbling into the malt tin as he prepared the sulphur and malt treatment whilst of Reet I remember of course the scenes of madness but also her great pleasure at the doctor’s praise of her nursing and her tapping her chest as she urged me to bring up that phlegm but I will leave to another time her …

fits

as she called them and that I call her madness which I recollect as of three sorts the first and most common being a disturbed paranoia that made her suspicious of the motives of invisible listeners and broadcasters, whom she would address ironically with yesyouwoulds and soyousays as though they beyond the walls and not you sitting beside her were her real interlocuteurs, and if she did notice you it would be to look at you also darkly and suspiciously accusing you of something obscure or occasionally very plainly, and rightly, of having put her away, for I had a part in sending her to asylums several times, troubled by the thought of the poor creature jerking and convulsing under shock treatment but not knowing what else could be done, whereas by contrast the second form of madness was a state of being gently lost in a world where not you nor anyone known to her was recognizable, and the third, very rare, state being still, calm, and quite conscious of your presence and identity, but chanting, almost singing, as though in a dream, rhythmned phrases in praise of you as a hero, a presence bringing good to her in her distant dimension, very strange stuff indeed, but let’s call that enough about her madness for I want to turn to things that would have given her great joy were she here to see them, namely that Nick of the sunlit smile, back from Crete, and Adonis grave and courteous have each had good results in what Reet would have called their exams, a misconception perhaps but as a shorthand a quite just perception of the progress of formal education, so in honour of those truly merited successes we assembled a meal of meats comprising pies for appetizers, lentils with sausages as entrée followed by steaks as main course, and poured libations, forgetting to name the relevant god if there is one for such lowly mortal contests as exams, on which issue the great Homer is no help at least not in the Iliad, concerned as it is with the endings rather than the beginnings of heroic lives , an astounding masterpiece, than which I can think of none better (if that’s a grammatical construction) which I have just finished reading aloud, warm in my blue and white bedsocks and still not needing spectacles, to a recumbent Lorna, and after which we made the mistake of starting David Malouf’s 2009 novel Ransom , regrettably on the VCE exam list on the assumption one supposes that modern youth need more of a prosaic emotional lift than the Iliad offers, much as there is no doubt somewhere on the lists of published or forthcoming works Doubt: the story of Hamlet as told by the Prince of Denmark to a celebrated modern novelist, but in the wonderful David Malouf’s favour I confess that we did not get past the awfully deflating first chapter of Ransom’s five chapters before we turned to the immediately uplifting Odyssey and therefore we are not in a position, and may never be, to judge David’s work in full for I understand that he does introduce some interesting views from a character who barely figures in Homer but I would hope that David’s prose, usually so fine, will rise above the banalities with which Ransom started and which contrast so markedly with the forthright power of Homer’s poem
(as translated by Robert Fagles or Richmond Lattimore), and on that sweet and sour note I will turn to …

negotiations
 in the first instance with Lorna whom I had described in reference to my nightly readings aloud of Homer as incumbent, on the grounds that she was already in the bed whilst I was still putting on my blue and white bedsocks, but which she argued would be better expressed as recumbent meaning she was lying down preparing to fall asleep during the reading (some of that interpretation being mine rather than hers) neither of us thinking that the word should have been superincumbent given the bitter chill of the night nor, unimaginably in her case, succumbent, and the other cumbents available in the dictionaries being of a botanical kidney we agreed in the true spirit of negotiation, unknown to the Greens party, to settle for a bit of each with reincumbent or inrecumbent or maybe irrecumbent, though that would leave her standing unsure how to compose herself for listening and loving (Homer of course), and so to the second instance of negotiations this time with Reet, whom I visited in the shade outside Home Sweet Home where, as Yeats put it, we had spoken of childish days under that very tree … when we had all the summer-time and she had all the spring intending as the mood developed to tell her at last of the regret I have that never goes away, the regret that I had not seen her dead, not because I couldn’t have but because I thought the coffin would be open at the church and it wasn’t, a regret that might seem slight yet is remarkably strong and persistent, but it turned out that there wasn’t a good time for my confession, for as soon as I mentioned oh so casually that her grave was not only unnamed but also unvisited she fell to chiding me in those dreary tones of rebuke I used to call, as a child, moaning and  that always used to get my back up, but fortunately, this time I restrained myself and fell to thinking how I might compensate with some rewards for my neglect, how I might offer her things she deserved and might want, even appreciate, so I took my temporary leave after a conciliatory cuppa and hied myself to Mr Backway’s physiotherapy salon where Cleopatra, today without her storied jewellery, ultrasounded my hip whilst I began to compile a list of rewards for Reet, a ransom you might say to bring her back from her unvisited tomb, beginning with some fine hats of the inverted-bowl-with-vegetal-embellishment kind favoured in the springtime of her days, supplemented next by high quality shoes of the best leather so well-fitting that she would no longer be wincing at the corns that along with overgrown, horny toenails made her feet distinctly inelegant, and next perhaps some Smyrnan overcoats if they could be found in time, or if not we can pass to the gift of three tickets for  Pioneer bus tours, one to  Healesville where creeks sparkle uphill under old apple trees and  great mountain ashes, one to  the sunlit plains extended of the Riverina and one to the house of death to visit lovers, old friends and goodolds, and finally a promise, indeed a resolve, to visit and name her grave, in the company I hope of her four granddaughters, Siobhan, Shelagh, Mairead and Deirdre and as many as will come of the grandchildren, none of whom she ever met in life but whom she might sense however faintly if they stood before her, from Cal and Nick, both men of action and distinguished students, Annalivia the asserter, supporter and distinguished student, Rory loyal and bustling, Adonis courteous and grave, Gabriel wry and ebullient, Aoife the cool and smiling, Apollonia bold and creative, Louis and Raph, precise and rapturous and finally offbeat and entertaining Francis and sweet-singing Josephine, all of whom, gathered together in their youthful promise offer us a certain protection against the surrounding …
chaos

for although we have been trying to put some order into our papers, paints, tools, camping gear, unsold books and empty bottles awaiting preserves, in preparation for our move to Ithaka, my weekend has been overtaken by two events that impose thoughts about chaos, the first being a by-election in our state seat of Melbourne, contested chiefly by my mob, Labor, and the other lot, the Greens, for which as usual I had undertaken to hand out Labor how-to-vote tickets at the Buncle Street booth and to which I had repaired at 11.30 intending to vote myself and then for the next couple of hours encourage others to vote the same way, my journey, on foot, being set back to begin with by the need to return for a hat to shade my face against the unusual sunlight, but finally accomplished with great satisfaction as it took me across quiet streets lined with tranquil houses and new apartments, past a playground in which children played gently, to the polling booth decked with bunting and fronted by more spruikers for candidates than there were voters dribbling in from the public housing surrounding it but none that I saw over two hours from the new apartments opposite the booth which were separated by streets newly named, thankfully in the North Melbourne tradition, after identities of earlier days, Wilson, a mayor and manufacturer of boot-making equipment who drowned mysteriously in Healesville, a long-serving town clerk Randall, buried with his wife and crippled son in Melbourne General Cemetery, the redoubtable Brettena Smyth, pioneer of birth control promotion and sex education from her shop in Errol Street, and Crow Street, named for Ruth and Maurie Crow but I like to think especially for Ruth a round-the-clock campaigner for multiple and changing causes represented by a collection of pamphlets she always carried in a cloth shoulder bag for immediate and casual distribution , these new streets adjoining old ones named for two Hotham mayors, the publican James Mark and John Buncle a most ingenious manufacturer, and so there we were standing in the shallow waters of municipal history creating a tiny sandbank of the present destined to be analysed briefly in future history as a close battle between the Labor Party and the Greens, each represented by young (to me) women, yet despite the enjoyment of the playing children, the calm of the streets, and the reassurance of remembered history I could not but feel we were close to an underlying chaos calling faintly to us from the burial ground of the old willowware factory present only as another street name among the prim apartments that have replaced it, faintly recalling the ambitions of men and women of Hotham, now dead as street signs, and vanishing as the sounds of electioneering come to the foreground, an old socialist bemoaning the loss of ideals in the Left, a couple of Christians finding ideals in the blue yonder, Greens seeing a new dawn already rosy, Labor impressing on old Chinese ladies the need to number every square, brusque blokes intent on voting informally for want of a sufficiently conservative candidate, in short a bustling portent of the chaos soon to descend upon the counting of the vote as it became slowly laboriously clear that the Labor underdog was going to beat the overbragging Green, to the dismay it turned out of the betting agency that had paid out on the Greens to win before the result put egg on their and many other media and pundit faces, a result that forced a chaotic reworking of Greens rhetoric wherein a narrow loss became a nearly win and a glorious moral victory, demonstrating if nothing else that it is very cold and windy on the high moral ground and further that order cannot be imposed on what has in one’s affairs become chaos, for it takes little for the underlying chaos of the world to break through our illusions of order, and it so happened on that same day that a second event, chaotic in the extreme, broke through in the form of …

the death of a friend

which gives us a glimpse of the chaos that lies behind our certainty that we will all die, for Jack Keating whom I knew for over thirty years and before that his father Frank when he, Frank, ran the Catholic Worker and I met with the Campion Society in a nearby room to discuss long-forgotten Catholic social philosophies, an acquaintance that illustrates that I am a decade and a half older than Jack and highlights thereby the chaos of his being the first to die when he was as fit as one can be, on top of a great policy debate about schooling, anticipating retirement into an active life at home and among his multitude of friends, and unaware until it was too late that a cancer he thought had been controlled had reappeared and was attacking his lungs and other organs but not thank the gods his brain which remained alert to the end, nor his remarkable calm and acceptance of what would be, an understanding of destiny that I had seen in a childhood friend, Jim Murphy who somehow stayed in control of his spirit even though his tumour blocked his power to express himself with the precision he so prized, and John Curtain who held court with his customary good humour as he was dying, both of them a reminder that Jack too was not allowed to quickly turn away, as Yeats hoped, but could still voice a warm goodnight, thinking more of his family than of himself, aware that his friends believed that he had added much to the greater good of the world but not himself taking credit for it and exemplifying a kind of truth, that although the certainty of death is reassuring its chaotic circumstances leave us with unidentifiable regrets , which will bring me back to …

51

Reet’s grave

still unmarked, as Reet pointed out to me with some reproach, and which should by rights be marked, as should the grave shared, if that’s the word, by her mother and my father, for that too continues to be unmarked no doubt because we didn’t have the cash for a headstone at the time and when we did we kept putting it off, you know how it is, but now I aim to mark them , beginning with Reet’s, to which end which I rang Fawkner Memorial Park, quoting the number of Reet’s lawn grave and my purpose in ringing, not really surprised by Cerberus at the other end announcing the burial date of 1985 with palpable disapproval, as if I didn’t know it mind you and it written there in front of me, before reassuring me that it didn’t matter, implying we all show our indifference in our own way don’t we, but I let that wash over me, inwardly guilty outwardly insouciant, hoping that we could get on with pricing and wording a plaque only to find that an appointment, an hour long believe it or not, would be necessary and was accordingly made for 10.30 a couple of weeks hence, so there for the moment I had to leave the matter, and fill out the days with this and that,
mostly plans ever finer ever grander for the move to Ithaka, or speculations, I’ll not say misgivings for I feel none, about the future of English, for although some dread that with the coming of texting the apostrophe will vanish, u will displace you except at the fingertips of the most pedantic and c u will wave to us across the ether, I am of the opposite view that the imminence of voice recognition apps will preserve many of these cherished pedantries, entrench barbarisms of the your/you’re/ there/ their/ kidney and by way of jolly compensation introduce us to endlessly ingenious homophollies such as those that appear on the tele screen at the gym to lighten the tedium of the exercise bike, inventions such as wreckless, nightmayor, lootenant , descenter, weightlisted, pornbroker, menopores, sinurgy and many more, material for a game of definitions and ultimately a dictionary of homophuns, but on the matter of Ithakan plans I will mention that we have almost, and by we I really mean the estimable John Wood, built a shed to contain some tools and a whole lot of papers, reams and reams of the stuff, that will be stacked in plastic boxes with lids and labels, illuminated in the dark by solar-powered lighting and will thus finally create the clutter free house in which all things will be in their places behind cupboard doors and in drawers whilst we sit about in Smyrnan elegance with tea, canapés (the accent came unasked) and The London Review of Books, recalling perhaps our initial trip to the Fawkner Memorial Park symbolically at the end of the North Coburg tram terminus where we parked in front of a pair of visitors dunnies, both disabled and nothing but disabled, both labeled with information in roman script and in Braille, features than which it might not be possible to be more correct, and so we bearded Cerberus who instructed us to take a seat to await our appointment which was soon kept by a charming chap named Stephen who took us to an office where, far from conducting the grief counseling session I was dreading, he simply settled the sort of plaque we needed, looked up the grave and to our great startlement revealed that Reet was but one of three possible occupants, which news required us straight away to alter the plaque somewhat to allow for multiple inscription, and of course to speculate as to who the memorialized might be, only to find almost immediately afterwards that the grave that Lorna had enquired about contained not only her grandfather but also cavity for one more, though who that could be will hinge on who owns the grave, and in the course of choosing the design to suit several memorials a problem of Latin grammar arose in that my intention to write requiescat foundered on the difficulty that more than one occupant would require requiescant , but short of writing the rubric RIP which alludes also to pace and thereby teases the imagination, I had to settle for the singular, noting as I did so that neither Stephen nor Lorna was at all exercised by the problem of plurality or for that matter peace, so there things remained, the plaque was paid for and we retired until another day, meanwhile recalling…

Jack’s funeral
 
for it seems that most days deliver a trivial, unsought reminder of Jack, today’s being a couple of the paving stones bought by North supporters and laid outside the entrances to the rooms and the gym, one declaring that the donor had been a Roos supporter for 65 years, which was how old jack was when he died, and another that a Keating (Doug in the case) who lived from 1921 to 2007 would be ‘forever a Roo’, just as it was said several times of Jack at his funeral that he lived and died a Magpie supporter, a fact well-known to all and acclaimed by those for whom Collingwood are goodolds forever, it being the custom in Melbourne of recalling the football allegiances of the deceased and expecting that they will be honoured in some way at the funeral with the club flag, scarf or beanie on the coffin, and perhaps also with the club song played as a processional, and although none of these sporting gestures was made for Jack, there were many references to his club loyalty both during and after his funeral, which was an exceptionally big occasion held on a Friday at 3.00 p.m. in a bluesestone church in Williamstown, one built in the days when churches had to be a good size but which was still not good-sized enough to contain the enormous crowd of family, friends, colleagues, admirers and beneficiaries of his good will that filled the seats, lined the walls and congregated outside the entrance, a crowd big enough in number and in its composition influential enough to constitute a movement to advance Jack’s most recent cause which survives in the Gonski review of school funding, the scheme in which he put aside his former hope that Catholic and government system schools would combine in some way to become all public schools and accepted that all schools should be recognized as equals for a basic entitlement and added to according to need, a position that probably everyone at the church supported but that might not come to pass because the enemy could well soon be the government and the enemy will have nothing to do with ideas or money coming from Labor and Jack was Labor, well known to be Labor, honoured at this ceremony by one former Labor premier, Joan Kirner, speaking his praises and another, Steve Bracks, pallbearing, and in yet another way by me singing Joe Hill, an anthem of unions, although otherwise the music was of the ethereal rather than the rousing kind, Vaughan Williams’ silver chain of sound The Lark ascending and Mairead and Dee singing of and with Amazing grace, both works of a piece with the speeches by Graham Marshall and Joan Kirner about Jack’s public life and loyalties and by Liam, Bonne and Linelle about Jack’s home life, his jokes, his building, his carpentry, his love for them all and they for him and as we watched images of Jack on a screen we remembered what a genial, kindly, self-effacing lover of a good story he was and I could only think of the times he would call in with a bottle of his red, expressing always admiration for our daughters and their children, and great pride in his own, and how we would talk, and it was because of those times that I was so pleased to hear Dee and Mairead singing for him and see them and Tony and Rory, especially the loyal and loving Rory, at the following drinks, a monumental occasion first at the Williamstown RSL where we heard a Lest We Forget at dinner time, thence through the rain to Jack’s place to down some more of his very large supply of fine red, from which he had once hoped to make money but in the washup had to settle for pleasure, and so to …

a celebration

to wit the marking of Cal’s finishing his first degree which our two households celebrated, at Lorna’s instigation, with a David Jones lemon meringue cake and champagne preceded by a large dish of tacos in the Mexican manner as Cal had learnt to do them during his months of study in Mexico and although Cal is now 21 and working and Rory is 18 and also working, having temporarily suspended his studies in drumming, I could not but be drawn back in unspoken memory to the days almost four years ago now when would come in bursting with philosophy, from Plato to Satre, far and away his favourite school study, or so I thought, and the years before this one when Rory would come in for French, which he studied so doggedly and so well apart from a swallowing of his rs, and in which we would jointly depress ourselves with Prévert’s Déjeuner du matin, wonderful days these, reminding me of the delight of teaching and the excitement of young spirits, and so we sat happily at our tacos, Mairead, Tony, Rory, Cal, Nick, Adonis me and Lorna, chatting of the good things happening to us, but in a way sadly too because the finishing of a degree and the beginning of work mark for Cal a categorical change in life towards complete independence and for Rory suspending study after first semester at RMIT because of a bad injury to his hand had created a hiatus he was unsure how to fill, whilst for Mairead and Tony their engagement with and dedication to youth, their own and their children’s, was coming to an end, and for me and Lorna the opportunities we once had to care for these beautiful boys were virtually gone, for no matter how things might turn out for them we knew we would not have the part in their lives we once had, thoughts that compel us to think also of …

the state of the world
 
apropos of which you will remember that time at the booths, almost a month now, when we saw our candidate on her way to Parliament and left the Greens blowing their nail on the high moral ground, whilst across the nation a much bleaker prospect opened for our lot, what with union membership down and down and Labor’s popularity down and down and a thug on the up and up, an educated thug mind you brought on by the Jesuits, but a thug none the less, one who has learnt enough about the inconveniences of reason to have nothing to do with it, and all this without mentioning the miserable performances of so many of our Olympians, and on that subject I saw on the screen above my gym bike one recent morning an athlete sub-titled by voice recognition saying that she had experienced ‘a motion as she crossed the finishing line’, an earthy way indeed to talk about one’s feelings, but back to the decline of unions and with Jack and Joe Hill still in my head, I thought for a while of asking Uncle Pat his views on the subject but then I reminded myself that there was a reason why I always saw him  sitting by his boree log fire on the Old Man Plain looking out for some drovers or bullockies or wanderers to come along the track, while the billy hissed  for tea, and the reason was that he had been blackballed by the squatters and had no employ because he had organized the Shearers Union at Bourke in the green years of the great strikes and was therefore always on the union side, there being no other side for him because he had made what the Italian Left used to call his choice of class so that being union had little to do with personal anything and everything to do with class  loyalty, such as that which brought everyone on the track, the gentle and the cantankerous, the dreamers and the doers to share the strong sweet tea of solidarity, and we must therefore speculate that if unionism is declining now perhaps so too is the idea of class, but when I raised this possibility with Uncle Pat he shrugged, and as the sun sank and the roads of the world grew dark causing his fire to dwindle to a speck of light on the horizon he whistled a low tune  and announced  that the very best mutton to be had anywhere in the world was two-tooth mutton fed on Riverina saltbush and on that we feasted until it was time to unroll our beds by the boree and sleep until the fire and the stars went out and Dawn brushed me with her rose-red fingers, as I turned to see that Uncle Pat had decamped without rekindling the fire for some tea and so I lay in the warm swag transported by the singing of the dawn magpies and thinking idly about the Odyssey which I am now reading aloud to Lorna, having finished the majestic Iliad, and wondering whether we are right to speculate that the barley the swineherd sprinkles on the pork before throwing it on the fire  is crushed barley used rather as we use flour to dip meat into before we cook it and wondering more generally who is right about Homer, those who imagine him as some sort of composite of many bards or those who think of him as an historical figure who either composed or compiled and edited these two wonder works, a single literary genius in short, and needless to say I have no way of knowing which scholars if any might be right, because my modern imagination cannot conjure on the one hand a committee of bards so skilled and on the other that an accumulation of  long-loved tales could achieve the order and power of a tragedy from Aeschylus or Sophocles, speculations made all the more difficult by the fact that the Odyssey, which I had thought from earlier reading to be a bit in the picaresque manner compared to the fearsome unity and plotting of the Iliad is also artfully plotted and equally an account of the gods’ domination of  our affairs, an observation that causes me to think I might meddle a little in the affairs of Francis, now sitting with me after a sleepover, who has just written a story, Cops and Ghosts, according to his rubric, taught at school to Grade 1 do you mind, that a story has a plot, a setting and characters and is created first as a draft to be adjusted before being printed, illustrated and supplied with a blurb, which is now being done while I attend to …

matters of blood
 
concerning which no one will be surprised that I in my eighty-first year and Lorna facing her eightieth – years in this case being counted from zero and therefore including the overlooked first year of existence, reflected I assume in four of Uncle Pat’s siblings being listed on his father’s death certificate as ageless and dead – no one will be surprised as I said that we are already well into the world of internal body measurement as taken by pathologists and radiologists and are making headway into the universe of self-monitoring via a prick your finger device to measure blood sugar and another to compress your arm to gauge blood pressure and pulse, the results of these scientific procedures being recorded in our respective notebooks in order to impress the estimable Dr Ralphine Wall with the progress we are making thanks to rigorous dieting and exercising, and I was in fact taking one of these measures when I saw that Francis had amended the blurb to his book which initially he described as a chapter book with fantastic stories about police and ghosts(being) Francis Butler’s third book to read a unchapter book with fantastic stories etc and since he has left I will have to ask him what an unchapter is at his next sleepover, supposing that he will arrive with the necessary literary disc in his brain, for according to Dee he equips himself for a sleepover with us by inserting in his head an artistic disk, because he draws a lot here, and a conversation disc, which he certainly plays through, so we can only hope that one of these discs will retain the definition of an unchapter book, which I suspect might mean a nochapter book but I don’t want to presume, and until that time I have many things both great and small to preoccupy me, the great being house-moving and the small being ways to bring down blood pressure particularly in Lorna since my tests show me in very good kidney – if I might stretch that usage in this context – whereas Lorna’s, not to put too fine a point on it, do not, with the result that some pill-taking has had to be added to our commendable low GI diet which has been further reduced by low salt and no caffeine and no alcohol and supplemented by walking over and above that done to get to the gym and keep the machines moving, thinking up ways to cut down on stress, for, as I see it, Lorna’s day is one long stress from matutinal meditation to vesperal dreaming, from rising to cut lunches for paper bags to snoozing to the song of the Odyssey which I nightly read aloud and I like to think con moto and in a state of wonder at the skill of the ancients whose diet of fat meats, dark wine and little else might well have generated high blood pressure but which might have been counterbalanced by their faith that the gods controlled everything and there was no gain in worrying, but then of course they wouldn’t have had the benefits of our measuring machines, which reminds me that we have to establish a location in our new premises at 22 where we can take and record regular readings, a location I will call the sometron, which will need to be indoors and accessible in the morning and at other key times, and especially relaxing so that the most favourable blood pressure readings will be returned but away from what we normally think of as relaxants, coffee for example, and well away from anything that suggests stress, such as traffic, visitors, images of Tony Abbott on screen or morning paper, voices of broadcasters making up news which they then comment on, the phones, the distant barking of watchdogs, sirens suggesting dashes against death or the pursuit of criminals, and so forth, you get the idea and are probably beginning to think that every home should have one even if it’s used as something other than a sometron for we all need to combat stress whether it is brought on by dread of the will of Immortals or the tension of waiting for the traffic lights to change so that you can take off before the Scylla behind you beeps, for the world like the blood is full of monsters requiring to be controlled just as one’s own body must be controlled by …

diet and exercise

a classic duo that would be better made into a trinity since even-numbered entities tend to be hard and dull, the stuff of straight lines and squares, whereas ones threes fives sevens and nines are magical, potent, divine, the stuff of cathedral proportions, gods and invocations, so the question must arise as to how diet and exercise can be made part of a powerful trinity and the answer is obvious, viz. that the mind is missing and what after all are remedies for the body worth without mental strengthening of the kind we gain from learning languages, memorizing poetry and playing with word games and puzzles, so let us now turn the dualistic diet and exercise, which treat only inner organs and muscle, into the trinity of diet, exercise and ideas, a trio that accurately represents our regular mornings, which begin with scrounging the Age, to which we no longer subscribe, and copying the target word letters, dodging the traffic to get to the gym , which we share with nymphs and blokes, and returning to the breakfast table for muesli and low fat milk, which I alone supplement with highly healthy toast and low GI cumquat jam, foods eschewed by Lorna, during which we puzzle out the target words, aiming always to meet the very good and sometimes the excellent target, and trying through research and discussion to deepen our knowledge of diet and exercise since the dieter in particular cannot rely on printed or webbed advice, which varies and sometimes looks suspiciously like the work of vested interests and is happy to present as new, knowledge that’s probably been around for ages, a wonderful example being the research I came across on the web about the manner in which drinking skim milk after working with weights adds to muscle and reduces fat, not advice I took to all that kindly I must admit because I grew up believing that skim milk was the form of milk best fed to pigs yet once I took it up I found it quite agreeable but I was especially tickled to find that over three millennia ago the loyal swineherd Eumaeus gave Odysseus skim milk to put strength in his legs, so fie to new research and hurrah for those who know pigs and their wheys, strength in the legs being a matter of particular concern to the notoriously wobbly aged and indeed a somatic quality that could profitably be measured in the sometron, by a machine that might for example test how long the subject can remain balanced on one leg without grabbing the wall or a passerby – out of necessity of course, not desire, which would have to be separately measured – thus provoking speculation as to what other measures could be taken, profitably or vainly, in the sometron, for there should without doubt be a set of scales for body weight, a wall scale for body height, a device for calculating girth, biceps expansion, thigh and neck circumference (available from rugby clubs), dumbbells of various grunt, stationary bikes that indicate heart recovery times, and so on, bodily quantities that should be supplemented by facilities for the mind and spirit such as a meditation tent, podcasts of poets and philosophers, art works depicting the most virtuous vegetables, and speaking of philosophers I was attracted this morning to a talk on the radio with Anthony Appiah about moral revolutions, his examples being our views on slavery, dueling and smoking, which have reversed themselves, and his hope that the same might happen in the case of honor killing, whereupon I fell to wondering whether the idea of moral revolution might be applied to education, for I have long maintained that teaching is a moral act and have long believed that the greats of universal education, the Frank Tates and Ron Reeds in Victoria’s case, did what they did for moral reasons and not simply because they were responsible bureaucratically and politically for adapting to change, in which regard I wondered if I might find the pair of them somewhere in Elysium, or Paradise as they would both have called it, perhaps by walking back and forth over a bridge or two until I came across Beatrice, fell in love with her on sight and asked to be guided to visit the greats, which would surely be awesome but really icing on the cake since I’m absolutely sure I’m right about their motives, that they were indeed moral revolutionaries and would therefore be dismayed, though not I guess surprised, at the means by which their revolutions have drifted down paths of immorality, the chief means to this fell end being, as we well know, selection, selection and more selection, so if it’s moral to teach, provided that what is taught is itself moral, is it immoral to organise ignorance I wonder as I approach…

another epic
 
 
to wit the Aeneid of Virgil which will take me not only to Hell as Rome imagined it but to the little hell of Year 10, then known as Inter, at Christian Brothers College St Kilda, where Inter was divided into Blue and Gold, Gold being for large, well-developed boys destined, in general, for careers in crime, the police force or import-export and who studied the less demanding subjects of geography and commerce rather than the French and the Latin that marked out the weedier scholarship lads, like myself, destined for the learned professions or the church, and it was in Latin, taught by Bro Clarrie Ulmer, who once gave me sixteen cuts for sixteen mistakes in a Latin prose, that we travelled through Book VI of the Aeneid, or specifically the part of it that begins with crossing the Stygian waters in Charon’s leaky boat,
but before I let this glance to the past take us too far into the future, threatening even to open The Divine Comedy, I have to farewell Homer who has entranced both of us every night for months and caused us the think anew about destiny and free will, destiny represented of course by the gods of the Greeks and the God(s) of the Christians, they who plan all, decide most and confer favour unaccountably, and free will represented by us mortals who don’t have a clue what’s going to happen next except that it quite often does as we hope it will, gulling us thereby into thinking life runs to patterns, as for example that one of us is naturally better at getting the nine-letter word in target words whereas the other gets more of the smaller words, which may simply be an outcome of our desires but may perhaps express deep differences in our mental makeup, one being more disposed to considering the whole and the other the day to day, with the result that one will enjoy speculating about the existence and habits of the gods whereas the other will see the whole issue as of passing significance and each will have differing attitudes to their daily blood tests and so on, leading to the conclusion, rather obvious really, that thought and belief are as much matters of temperament, whatever that is, as emotions and dispositions, and that it is the effect, perhaps the role, of great works such as the Homeric epics to take us to the heights from which we may consider the chaos below, and since it is already clear that Virgil for all his skill as a story-teller and peddler of national myths (this time to the glory of Trojans and Romans rather than Greeks) is not going to show us a way through the chaos any more than he could guide Dante into Paradise, for that particular journey relies on brief remembered glimpses of beauty and spheres within crystal spheres of transporting words, images and rhymes, parallel perhaps to the raptures that overcome those believers who wave their arms in the air and call on the Lord for His gifts, though I have to say in defence of Dante that his vision of paradise is not remotely like the overwrought world of Hillsong or a gathering of the Republican party, but much more restrained, harmonious and overawed by beauty, none of which qualities we must note finds a way into the violent world of Homer where beauty is in the bard’s telling and within the spirits of the protagonists except, tellingly, not within the gods at all for they prefer the cunning and deviousness of Odysseus, whom they help to survive, above the clarity and loyalty of Achilles, whom the they betray and kill with characteristic dispassion, so we seekers after Truth must console ourselves with the mysteries explicated in the epics, visions and holy books we carry with us to the heights and accept that on the plain below where the battles rage there are no answers to simple questions such as why one player is better at the big word and the other at the shorter ones, why one warrior will die and another live, when and how we will die, indeed why we will, who will go mad and maybe decide the death question for themselves, why we hurt those we love, why we can look calmly upon serious injustice yet rage over small slights – I needn’t go on for we are all familiar with chaos even as we deny it, so let’s leave it at that and return to …

remembrance of Reet
 
to which end I called on Uncle Pat in Elysium to light his boree log fire and boil the old black billy next to home sweet home so that we could have a cuppa with Reet in the shade of the old apple tree, phrases that indicated to Pat that I wanted to chat about old times with Reet rather than timeless social, political and ideological matters with him, and with this in view and a warning that she was sometimes inclined to fade, he led me to Reet who was relaxing in a cane armchair singing to herself that daggy music hall tune about the groom leaving his beloved at the altar and in the lurch because his wife wouldn’t let him marry another (which can be downloaded as a ringtone on your mobile) , a gag that amused Reet muchly so that she greeted me gaily and pressed me with questions about how my days were passing which I felt I should answer freely before getting round to my own most pressing issue, so I told her about the doings of Nick Adonis and Rory who are regulars in the house and about Dee’s and Siobhan’s kids who all seem to be well in control of things, and from there we passed to the progress of my health which most recently has included a visit to a podiatrist, a free visit in fact thanks to my diabetic condition and a benign government, which took me to an establishment in Errol Street where as I waited for my appointment I read from advisory material pinned to the wall about how to avoid amputations of the feet and legs, for it seems that diabetes can lead to desensitising and eventual rotting of those extremities resulting if not in amputation at least in bizarre situations of walking round with drawing pins embedded in the soles or even to toes dropping off, a catastrophe, I learnt from the very charming podiatrist Nguyen as she cleaned my extremities, which can begin with a simple accumulation of toe jam not unlike the embarrassing quantities she was swiping out from between my toes, such accumulations being it seems rich quarries for unwelcome bacteria to mine, all of which narrative held Reet entranced because she had always suffered considerably from corns and other discomforts of the foot , though her interest fell away somewhat as I described how my charmingly communicative carer wanted to learn to play piano and would have liked to be an astrophysicist had not her education pointed her to the ground rather than the stars, a fading of interest I noticed coincided with, though I think was not connected to, a period of visual fading in which her image, indeed her whole setting, flickered, vanished, reappeared in pieces and finally shook back into a solid image, and at the same time the image of Uncle Pat at his fire dwindled rapidly to a point on the horizon, as I had in fact seen it do once before, returning just as rapidly to its comforting presence, a slight hitch in our reality that was soon restored by a discussion of our arrangements for moving to Ithaca next door in which I mentioned that whereas the sometron would have to be near our sunlit breakfast table our podiatry station would have to in the bathroom where one dries, and now must purge of toe jam, the bare feet before encasing them in protected environments for breeding bacteria, all of which discourse, needless to say, led Reet into paths of reminiscence about Healesville, Moonbria, Coburg, Peel Street, Middle Park , Murrumbeena, Prahran and so forth i.e. places where she had lived and in some cases so had I, a discourse I began to realize that was taking us further and further away from the topic I had wanted to broach with Reet, which now indeed seemed not quite appropriate, but which I was thinking might have to be broached soon if the fading became more frequent, to which end I asked Uncle Pat to be prepared for …
 

 a return visit

and perhaps one of the last because the flickering was increasing and as I waited for Reet to take solid form I asked Uncle Pat why he too didn’t flicker since he had after all been in Elysium longer than Reet yet all I had noticed was his sudden vanishing to the horizon as a speck of firelight, to which he answered that he didn’t know, that he had once been given the impression that he would always be available to do some guiding around the underworld, and that in general people faded at very different rates, some not long after they arrived, some long after, some perhaps never, who knows why, perhaps because of things in the world they had left, for he had noted that W.G. Spence had faded as the unions grew weaker and that Reet always talked about her family so that maybe when I found her and visited her she began to think things had come to a proper end, that she could leave the shades and join the spirits who never suffered corns, or rheumatics or turns or disappointments , and so it was that as the old apple tree leaves shimmered into fleshy green I could at last embark on the discourse with Reet that I had long wanted but barely sought, a discourse about remembrance that began with the fact that she had died alone, having been brought from the nursing home to the hospital thence to the undertakers where, with tears pricking in my eyes, I described how we had failed to sit with her corpse in the chapel even though our good neighbour Mrs Pappalardo had asked if we might go to visit the /vechietta/ .as she always called Reet who even in life was fading, to which I had foolishly replied that we would be able to farewell her in the coffin in the church, only to find that the coffin would not be open for us to see one more time that beloved tortured face now perhaps at rest, and so it was that the unwitnessed body went to a tiny lawn grave at Fawkner cemetery where it lay unvisited, unnamed and unremembered for twenty-five years while we prospered and multiplied and eventually got round to celebrating that piece of earth, which still, we were told, has space for another, whoever that will be, with a plaque, thus

REET

Born Rita Chandler 17 March 1897 in Healesville

Wife of Bill Hannan

Mother of Betty and Bill

Grandmother of Siobhan, Shelagh, Mairead and Deirdre

Joined the shades 13 September 1985 in Melbourne

Requiescat

and as I go over those words I wonder whether the plaque or more particularly the acts of figuring out the inscription (eschewing /in pace/ as not quite Reet thus leaving a grammatical problem to be resolved when the second occupant is interred) and having it put in place, whether this act of remembrance might to some small extent ameliorate the regret I continue to feel and which I see Reet is sensing as she tells me not to worry about it, that she doesn’t remember clearly what was going on in the nursing home and the hospital all those years ago or at least what she does, which is mainly unpleasant, has long been washed out by these lovely times in the green valleys with their pretty cottages and chattering streams in the company of shades who’ve often had much worse times than her, whose children did not even visit them, whose husbands and wives were off with others, whose ailments were many times worse than a little dementia, whose sight had failed and hips gone out of joint, whose inner organs had been eaten by cancers, whose siblings and offspring had ignored them or worse still denigrated and defrauded them, in all a litany of unfortunate lives that made Reet ever more cheerful as she recollected them with appropriate concern amid volleys of poorolds and dearolds and occasional that’s (as in ‘that Maisie Field’, a turn that conveys contempt without need of an adjective) and that caused my own regretful neglect to recede in her mind and to some extent in mine, so that I was able to proceed to telling her where the plaque was located, what it was made of and what it said and moreover give the satisfying reminder that there was still room for another two above her, for to Reet and indeed her whole generation a place in the earth was an indispensable property that had to be reserved by time payment with a reputable undertaker, in her case Rayboulds of Chapel Street (est 1852), now themselves among the shades where they are held one would hope in some honour, and as we recalled such matters Reet flickered a little and soon a lot, fading as well as flickering, reaching out a hand towards me that I knew I would not be able to touch any more than I could when the coffin had closed over, and as she faded so did Uncle Pat suddenly leave where he was to reappear a distant speck of fire on the horizon against a night sky so filled with stars that even the plain beneath glittered with heavenly light, but …

Days 60 is the final episode of /Days of 2012/, which will now go to book form and merge soon into a third volume of the sentence to be entitled /These Ithakass

These Ithakas: a love story

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C.P. Cavafy Ithaka
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

now it’s time to recognize that Reet, my mother, will continue to fade from my courtyard of memories and regrets which she so often filled with laughter and complaint, so that only Uncle Pat will continue to seem substantial enough to guide me occasionally to the various Ithakas that mark the coordinates of my own marvellous journey through a long sentence that initiated with an account of the schooldays of my grandsons, continued with the story of Reet and myself during 2012 and will end in this volume either with the full stop of the lapsed agnostic, for whom further speculation is fruitless, the question mark of the active agnostic who likes to go on wondering, or the colon followed by a litany of pleasures or punishments that the religious imagine, and, since all are fancies, it is altogether legitimate to allow for all three possibilities to co-exist with any number of others, the semi-colon perhaps of reincarnation, the inverted commas of the old apple tree, the unending brackets within parentheses of parallel universes, the ellipsis of immortality or the exclamation marks of regressions to the raptures of childhood, and it was on this last ending that I mused a couple of nights ago at a musical swarry in the primary school hall (gift of the ‘education revolution’) in which choirs, bands and rockers from three primary schools and Adonis’s college performed spiritedly but not, apart from the Xylouris and friends ensemble, so compellingly that they distracted me from memories, if nostalgia is indeed memory, of those occasions at school, so long ago, when we felt free to run around the hall while teachers performed in unfamiliar roles as creators, conductors, backstage masters, announcers and wits, with parents now as well as kids under their control, and then to sit together up the front on the floor in a mob transported by the acts, applauding everything, not wanting it ever to finish and when it did going home in the dark talking about who was great and did you see Maxie and can we have a drink before we go to bed if we must go to bed while this magic night keeps going with its cool November breeze and starry sky just like that sky we used to watch on the way to midnight mass at Xmas, spotting the star of Bethlehem every few minutes, dropping off as we waited for the Children of Mary to sing Silent Night, waking again to walk home in the warm night, no the early morning, to a drink of milk a Marie biscuit and dreams of presents and sixpences in the pudding, memories, but very alive at that school swarry especially among the primary school kids, that set me wondering whether such feelings, clichéd as they are in some ways, might be part of that consciousness of a long life full of fine things, of discoveries on sunny mornings and adventures on starry nights, whose ending when it comes we will know has nothing more to give us…

2 yet the puzzle remains that we end with a collection of memories that don’t seem to add up to the fullness of experience they ought to, that memory as Proust so magnificently saw consists of time lost that might if we make the effort be regained bit by broken bit in the way Lorna did as we walked to the gym on an unusually hot morning in late October and she remarked that October, her birthday month, was coming to an end and that her birthday was also the feast day of the Most Holy Rosary in the month of the Rosary which became the feature month of the Family Rosary Crusade launched by Father Patrick Peyton CSC in gratitude to Mary Mother of God for a miraculous recovery from tuberculosis, a crusade that captured America and the world thanks to Fr Peyton’s silver hair and sacerdotal plamas backed by radio broadcasts of rosary recitations, that became more dramatic but no less pious in Family Theatre of the Air, famous on billboards around the USA advertising that The Family That Prays Together Stays Together and even more famous by the backing of many Hollywood notables, not only the well-known-to-be-Catholic Bing Crosby (Going my way being one of only two films my father saw, the other being The Overlanders, though ‘saw’ is an exaggeration since at the opening scene of drovers and a mob of cattle where he had expected sheep, he grunted and, as any loyal merino man would, fell asleep) but also names to conjure with, if you’re my age, names such as Pat O’Brien, Loretta Young, Grace Kelly, James Cagney, Bob Hope, Irene Dunne, Gregory Peck, Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, Rosalind Russell, Jack Benny, Raymond Burr, Barbara Stanwyck, Margaret O’Brien, Helen Hayes, Natalie Wood, Maureen O’Hara, Jane Wyatt, Ronald Reagan. William Shatner, James Dean and Shirley Temple, and it is details like these cast up from my own memory or revived by Wikipedia and random conversation that begin to form a coherent tale with larger meanings comparable to, say, a painting, a Madonna and Child by Murillo, for example, (said to be an inspiration to Patrick Peyton) that like so many other images on the same subject – from Cimabue, Bellini, Della Robbia, Rafaello , great after great – or more banally to a scene from the Mutual Radio Network’s Family Theatre, a final scene perhaps in which the family comes together after a day of tensions to recite the rosary, the father putting his arm around the mother who looks up to him fondly while an older child gently calms the little one who’s pulling his sister’s plaits, and the peace of the Mother of God draws the family together, so like the family documented in the Catholic Tribune’s weekly column I talk with Bill Smith who, led by Bill, discussed the sermon as they broke their fast after Sunday Mass drawing superficial lessons from it that the columnist (a Fr Somebody) charitably deepened for Bill, but these lovey-doveys are silly examples next to the centuries of Madonna and Child paintings that can draw on an almost perfect story, perhaps the best of all, though the Crucifixion’s pretty good and the US Republicans would give their left arm for a franchise on the Last Judgement but even these seem one-dimensional and certainly depressing compared to a classic Madonna and Child which takes us back millennia to mythic times when immortals assumed the shape of birds and beasts and employed divine messengers to prepare the ground for copulation with mortals who then gave birth to heroes, half divine half human (leaving the seers and rhapsodes to puzzle over the proportions of each) , and in the same image takes us forward to our universal reverence and love for mothers and dramatically to the contemplation of the sorrow that all mothers experience as the thought creeps into them that their infant will grow, change, contradict and burden his parents, and perhaps even die too young, so whether it is Cimabue’s Madonna showing her hero son to the world, Bellini’s posing herself and her son for the painter against a sunny Veneto background, Della Robbia’s absorbed in her child against a blue Marian background watched over by cherubs and the father-out-of-wedlock or Raphael’s Italian beauty demurely cradling her child and quietly reading with him in an Umbrian landscape, the story is always that: a mix of joy and sorrow that puts the image beyond words, which is what images need to be if they are to last and play their part in rosary crusades and other transports of piety, for it is the piety of my childhood that such images evoke in me at this moment as I try to regain the lost time of a Catholic upbringing lived in fact among mawkish images, except for the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor (and weren’t we introduced to a recondite vocabulary early in life – succor, mystical, transubstantiation, penance, clement, begotten, crucifixion, resurrection, assumption, omnipotent, powers and dominions &c &c) yet even those bland sentimental images gained some presence from the cloth of gold the priest wore, the incense that as an altar boy I blew in clouds from the thurible over the congregation, the bells, the chant (so badly executed), the hymns, the precious chalices and ornate doors they hid behind, the flow of the Latin, all preparing my senses however modestly for the lilt of plainsong, the glories of polyphony, the magnificence of Chartres and the extravagances of the Baroque, all of these together making up a voyage to an Ithaka that still lives in me for all my unbelief, an Ithaka whose end was confirmed, I think, on…

3 the road to Santiago, usually called the camino, a pilgrimage route across Spain, that we walked twice, once from a town in Aragon called Jaca and once from Conques a little along the way from lentil-rich Le Puy, to end in Santiago de Compostela near the Atlantic coast, and why did we go on pilgrimage at all let alone twice I still ask myself for there are many ways of satisfying an urge to walk a long way even though the Spanish one is well set up with stopping places, free accommodation and good eats, which can’t be said of Aussie walks that are mostly of the bushwalk, carry your camping gear and eat oats variety, an image that always amused Jack Keating when Lorna expounded her plan to leave food drops of dried oats at certain exit spots along the Alpine walking track from Walhalla where my uncle James who followed the gold is buried, they say vertically because of the steepness of the hill, to Canberra where hopes may be buried at any angle but which nonetheless represents the Ithaka of our national democracy, yet it so happens that the long walks we did in as civilized a way as possible (i.e. stopping overnight at hotels) did not measure up to the camino, partly perhaps because they could not be so long in a sparsely serviced Australian countryside that would require support vehicles operated by friends to set up camp and tucker along the way (which is in fact provided commercially to cycling parties, if that’s not too ambiguous a phrase, in the outback) but mainly because they were pristine whereas the camino embodies the footsteps of centuries of penance, hope and belief, the last quality made real to us many times by the deference paid us by passersby telling us they wished they had been pilgrims themselves, by priests who asked their congregation to welcome us, by workers in fields who paused to bless themselves as we passed, by a funeral party who took our gawking as a blessing or by the shopkeeper who, on hearing of the unexpected death of the parish priest greeted our presence as a kind of divine coincidence, all entirely unwarranted tributes to our piety and intercessionary powers, but signs that necessarily make you think that when we filled in the form to obtain a pilgrim credential entitling us to accommodation in refuges and other privileges, plenary indulgences among them (which reminds me I must find out if these have a use-by, for they sound pretty sinproof) and from the multiple choices concerning our motives for pilgrimage, ticked cultural rather than religious or sporting but of course multiple choices can leave you regretting those unticked choices that may have had some validity in other circumstances, as of course religious would have once had and as sporting indeed did have in this context if it included getting lighter and tougher but not of course if it associated us in any way with the flocks of cyclists who spandex past and sometimes hog space in the refuge until the keeper of the refuge expels them in favour of foot pilgrims who have always been the true pilgrims even in the days when signori on horseback were admitted to the ranks of the true, perhaps under lordly pressure but legitimate enough to have stables provided at some refuges, an unwelcome reminder of a book I read pre-pilgrimages of a Pom who horserode the camino in the company of a young female whose long blonde hair streamed out behind her in the wind as her white charger galloped over the fields, wouldn’t you know it, but to get back to the point, walking the camino did have an aspect of an unresolved Ithaka and certainly fitted into the view of the great Alexandrian that the marvellous journey of a long life to one’s Ithaka is composed of many lesser Ithakas, how many being the question now on my mind since my own life can be filled in with many Ithakas that make up its meaning, some that have yielded all they will, others that are still going, creating experience and teasing me to think about, in an irritatingly fragmentary way, the meaning of those experiences, if indeed they have any meaning within a larger experience that may not itself have any meaning …

4 but I am not going to let that dark thought stop me from nosing around those Ithakas that might add up to some sort of meaning however fragmentary, namely religion, as I’ve already signaled, the vision splendid that Uncle Pat embodied for me, my work in teaching, unions and bureaucracy, my writings, my travels, the Ithaka I am now living in, roomy, gracious, spick and rich with reminders of earlier lives, and above all else my life and love with Lorna, all fifty-five years of it, more than half a life I regret to calculate, and I can say the only one I would want when I compare it, as one does, with imagined lives with others, and I am not going to dress it up as though we’re still in our wedding wardrobe she with the fine ankle and waist, me in a rare four button suit, suggesting something of the hussar, and Italianate manners bred of two years in Italy and France whence I returned with narrow cuffless trousers, pointed shoes, a taste for suits and elaborated jackets and with French and Italian in the mouth both of us processing through the men of the cathedral choir conducted by Rev Percy Jones the great Catholic musicologist whose Palestrina choir, with me one of the tenors, rivaled any in the world, admittedly against restricted competition since large choirs of boys and men are hard to form, harder still to train and maintain and close to impossible to get to perform the polyphonic masters with the vigour and style they intended, as opposed to the all-too-common wan and flutey Protestant style, a choir St Pat’s formed by rare chance from the Vienna Boys choir which was stranded in Melbourne in 1939, but to return to the pilgrimage matter I note that I sang the splendours of Palestrina and Victoria at St Pat’s at the beginning of a period of thirty or more years, time to procreate and send into the world a family of four, before setting out on pilgrimage, time in fact to have discarded religion in favour of a confusing, to others at least, posture of being an anti-clerical atheist Catholic, and although the anti-clerical part can be frequently vindicated, except in the case of most priests I know, the atheist bit is necessarily called into question on a pilgrimage headed towards the relics of an apostle translated to Iberian shores in a stone boat do you mind, and the Catholic bit certainly needs some glossing since it is there mainly to refute the condescension of ‘lapsed Catholic’, as though that’s the best you can manage in matters of practice and belief carrying as it does the implication that not lapsing is somehow a thoughtful action, for many of my associations with Christmas, just passed, the memories of crowds listening to carols in St Pat’s, and wonderfully well sung they were, of staying up into the early hours after midnight mass as a kid, even of wandering the stores choosing presents for the family when I first had some cash of my own, of the pleasure I felt in spending for someone else – not too much mind – of choosing the object to be treasured or consumed as a rare indulgence, of giving back I suppose, a pleasure I saw in Nick, Cal and Rory this Christmas and always see in Betty and our daughters who choose with such care after all those years of giving presents and of course in Lorna who always has an eye out throughout the year to accumulate likely presents and who gives so mush detailed care to the right choice, with a sidelong look to improvement, pleasure I think that can be associated also with the Christ story, so it was even in the matter of testing against the fearsome Spanish reputation the idea that I am still a Catholic, as well as the more formidable task of testing what sort of atheist I am, that I realized that setting out on pilgrimage placed me, and Lorna, in Dante’s dark wood in mezzo del camin di nostra vita where the Poet felt he had lost his way and needed to be guided through a vision of the universe as it is ordered, although we must note that the image of the dark wood need not be of a terrifying place any more than Dante’s limbo for the unbaptised virtuous is other than extremely agreeable, for as in fairy tales there are open, dappled paths and sunny clearings peopled with friendly dwarves and fairies as well as shadows haunted by goblins and hobyahs, pleasant ways that on the camino take the form of trails secluded from the highways, stops at views, fruit trees and coffee bars, days when the rain holds off, hills that only run down, mountains that come to an end, blisters that fail to reform, backpacks that cease to be sweaty, conversations that get somewhere, silences that also do and thoughts that are not altogether circular, so in those senses, a pilgrimage taken in a mood of elevated calm is a marvellous journey whose Ithaka though it had not fooled us did have something to give us, and so I will turn to…

5 other metaphors that promise journeys, none so dramatic as the metaphor offered to me in childhood by the nuns and priests, essentially because they offered it as the reality that would overwhelm us when we saw beyond the shadow world of this life on earth, and it may be, I now think, that had they offered it straight out as a metaphor, as the camino is offered today as a metaphor for a journey of the spirit, I would perhaps have understood the nature of religion and certainly the uses of metaphor earlier in life for it is now clear to me that most things worth thinking about in our lives belong in the world of these Ithakas, whether they be grandiose or morose fantasies of an afterlife or simple things like the idea of home, the romance of the bush, even the satisfaction of a job (or a vocation as we little Christians were taught to call worthy work) and undoubtedly the elations and torments of love, all metaphors that I’d like to untangle, beginning with …

6 a short chat with Uncle Pat, partly to catch up on events since Reet’s fadeaway and also he seemed to me to be a good bet as a /to sound him out on whether he would be my/ guide to the Bush and Outback where he had so long followed the pilgrimage tracks taking supplies and supplications to stations near and remote, but first we exchanged news, his being that he had recently travelled the track to Ivanhoe in the company of Tich and Murph, a pair ready made for a Bulletin writer to put in a story, Tich being short, square and cheerful, Murph tall, bony and solemn, a strange pair in a way to be always together, but a handy pair since Murph, often known along the tracks as the Thinker, had a way of looking as though he was giving a question more thought than ordinary blokes did and of pronouncing a conclusion that none of his listeners ventured to query, and Tich always contrived either to repeat Murph’s pronouncement in altered words or to wander off in silence looking for firewood, but anyway Uncle Pat had left the pair of them behind him at Ivanhoe and was making for the Darling so we had one another to ourselves and I filled him in on my news, first with the latest from the sometron where both blood and body measures are sound, then with a few thoughts about God which had come to me as I lay on the physio’s couch waiting for Mr Backway to thump me studying the while a wall chart about the human spine, which detailed among other spinal malfunctions the outrageous fortunes the sacroiliac is heir to, and musing perforce on the design vs evolution question, concluding that even if one takes the charitable view that we’re the result of a mixture of design and flow-on accident, the likelihood that any design let alone a Grand and Divine Design would consciously be so prone to mishap (unless the design includes an intention to punish, as the God’s Will school seems to imply), for if it were accidental we’d be wandering in the Vale of Doubt and if deliberate in the Slough of Despond, states I hastened to tell Uncle Pat were not mine nor I supposed his, so I passed to the disturbing story unearthed by Silver Threads in leaked documents I called simply the Burden Papers, but which I was unable to expand upon since I suddenly returned to real time in 22 – to be named Ithaka one day in the fanlight above the front door from which the original name of the house (no 20 still has Fairview without the F on its fanlight) has been lost in a breakage long ago, for at least 48 years to our knowledge – to find Francis and Josephine being creative under Lorna’s encouraging eye, Francis with a story book of his alter ego Superbear and Josephine with gentle work about a mermaid and a fairy, and although we can see imaginings such as these as creations from the world of children’s stories and storybooks, their way of visualizing and talking about their versions of that world makes you wonder how real it is to them, for although they know they’re in a story world they act more as though they’re in a blended world, what I think of as a blurred world between metaphor and reality, and therefore much like my own worlds be they the world of lost time made up of legends of Hell, Heaven and the Bush, the living present of home and family, the past-into –present of a society we paradoxically both enjoy and wish to perfect , or of course the ever more proximate prospect of death, and I would like if I can to look into these times in order at least insofar as our shifting home, from 20 to 22, will allow, beginning with, fortuitously …

7 a trip to the bush with a load of timber and stuff unwanted in 22 but useful in outhouses at American Gully, a trip that passed by the store in Deer Park (an outer outer WoopWoop Western suburb with a couple of huge dream housing estates beside a highway lined with elephantine hardware stores, tile stores, appliance stores and everythingforhomeandcar stores) where we picked up a replacement for the door shelf that broke in our fancy two-door fridge that had been reduced in price at the paylesspaycash store because it was white and white is no longer the favoured colour for fridges, the housing estate hostess wanting to be seen getting the white wine and ice cream from behind the double doors of a stainless steel fridge, though white is probably still OK for the bar fridge cooling the beer by the barbie, a taste quirk that suited us fine because the aesthetic of 22 Ithaka is white white white except for bamboo, old cedar and works of art, an aesthetic that amazingly we fell into in the brand new Shell and Coles service station that seemed to be based on a painting by Jeffrey Smart with an immense expanse of all white occasionally trimmed in red, giving it the capacity to isolate every element on the expanse, from the car wash, the dog wash (no kidding) behind it, the bowsers isolated on a concrete ground the size of a Riverina sheep paddock, the shops at the distant edge of the paddock where a solitary diner sat still at a solitary table outside the Subway, and where the door to the drinks, chip, takeaways and cashier greeted you with a jolly Hi in a cursive font, altogether an entrancing space that I entreated Lorna to photograph, a space as near as can be to an anti-Bush but at the same time a new Bush in the sense that it represents our legends just as accurately, maybe more so, than the Bush of the vision splendid that called to me in the sublime Victorian Readers that filled our inner city imaginations with drovers, Anzacs, pioneers of the air, dying children, sunlit gullies, the singing of magpies and bush tracks vanishing into past time where the drover’s wife fought the Serpent and the union buried its dead (but not in this last case in the Readers, which inclined to imperial and landtaker sentiments) , and so, elated by a new vision splendid of concrete space extended, we completed our task of unloading unwanted stuff from 22 Ithaka into the bush sheds where it would be very useful indeed, and returned by mid-afternoon to sift more stuff as we completed the emptying of no 20 and tried to avoid recreating the mess in 22 Ithaka which as you know must be clean, bare, white and elegant to a standard we have never before aimed at, since I’ve usually been an open shelf person and a litterer of tabletops and Lorna has favoured open-floor storage, but these are failings of the past to be replaced by everything-in-drawers-or-cupboards except perhaps for an occasional high art display of open shelving, an ornamented mantelpiece for example, or a couple of austere kitchen shelves in the manner of Mondrian with not much on them, set in a white expanse wall left by Ikea cupboards and drawers in which everything may and will we expect be stored, including appliances behind a rolladoor, the whole in white with silver trim except for the benches which are of stylish bamboo and which caused me no end of trouble in the finding, obliging me eventually to order them from Taree, home of the Big Oyster in the land of hurricanes and summer floods north beyond Sydney, circumstances in short that explain why we take stuff to the bush and why we feel such triumph and smugness, as Nick and I did, when we contrived to pack in accessible manner the wine, the vinyls and the spare linen all in the cupboard under the stairs, which, once finished, Nick thought would be best named the Dionysion, making me think that the sometron, where health is measured might one day have to incorporated in an Asclepion if the number and variety of pills and unguents against old age, aka the Burden, multiplies, and it is in thinking thus on 22 Ithaka that I realize that home too is a blur of legend and fact, though considerably stronger on fact than Catholicism or the Bush, the legends that I think formed my Youth more than others but which I can’t manage to link in significant ways and will therefore postpone only to …

8 matters arising from a Catholic youth during which I became much interested in Catholic social teachings as expounded in Rerum Novarum an encyclical letter of Pope Leo XIII and elaborated in Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, largely forgotten theories now thanks, among other things, to their being sidelined by conservative Catholic political parties here there and everywhere (in our case the DLP) but a little bit of which came back to me during a visit to the optometrist, a visit that I had to make before I had my half-yearly interlocution with Leanne guardian of my diabetic plan and herself cheerful as a guardian angel would have been in the days when we had them, a visit by the way that showed incipient degeneration in my vision, a visit, to get back to the point, in which Andrew the optometrist speculated that rather than rid ourselves of the state level of government, which is by now the received opinion, we should reduce or even perhaps get rid of the federal government, for the very sound reasons that it often stuffs up (which is not perhaps in itself a reason to be rid of government) and that it obliges us to deal more closely then we’d like with New South Wales, indeed to be often dominated by that state (which is certainly a sound reason to weaken the federation), and what this idea recalled to me was the principle of Catholic social thought called subsidiarity, another of those splendid big words the Church gave us, this one meaning that power should be exercised by the smallest competent authority, so there we had an unusual remnant of a Catholic youth, still valid in its way but whether it matters now any more than the theological dreaming that mixed with it in my youth I don’t know though I’d like to think so, but I do fear as I try to recall the themes and dreams of my childhood and youth that they cannot be made to add up to anything comprehensible, either singly or together, whether for example the attempt we made on the camino to review what Catholicism gave to us came to anything more than a dismissal of its present relevance, despite the colour it added to our imaginations and whether on a larger scale it linked significantly with the other major themes, home, the bush, mates , and if they did not in fact blend in some way into a larger pattern, you have to wonder what meaning has a past that no longer reaches fingers into the present, what, for instance, does the Bush of the drover, of Uncle Pat, of the bush boy calling through the hush of his heart, have to do with the bush Nick drove the ute to yesterday with me to unload stuff from the houses that won’t fit into the new spare elegance of 22 Ithaka, the bush that conceals here and there houses of occasional visitors who produce nothing, who want in fact to return the bush to an imagined pristine state, what in truth could it ever have had to do with the city boy who didn’t see the plains and the everlasting stars until he was eighteen, and perhaps that’s what the Bush has in common with Catholicism, that both are shadows in the mist with no more significance than the tables of avoirdupois or measurements by rod pole and perch that we memorized at school and that now no longer apply outside old titles, though in saying that I don’t want to imply that metrics are better for being less tangible, but it isn’t really much for two worlds to have in common is it , I thought as I brooded on who to put such a question to, finally settling on Uncle Pat who at least knew the bush if not the church, which is how it turned out to be …

9 for he said straight out that religion didn’t have much to do with life on the tracks and in the outback, apart from being a topic for talk round the fire with the likes of Tom Collins who would debate with other bullockies for hours about evolution and Darwinism and God stuff without coming to any agreement let alone conclusion, because it’s not really a thing you come to a conclusion about, he reckoned, but rather a subject on which people thought what they thought, and as he recollected things, his brother Bill didn’t ever think much about it even though he went to Mass when he was in town and taught you (i.e. me) to say the rosary and the Hail Holy Queen which to begin with, I told him, I used to get wrong, being only about three years old after all, by reciting to thee do we send up our sighs morning and evening, instead of mourning and weeping and had I been able to write I would no doubt have written size for sighs thinking I suppose that the Virgin could thus make me a white first communion suit to measure, for we were encouraged to think that the saints and angels were always by our sides to help us through our daily woes, while the higher powers, the choirs of cherubim and seraphim, principalities and dominions attended to celestial affairs, that for all the grandeur up there we down here were not forgotten, and Reet thought even less than Bill about it, having been born into a notable Healesville Anglican family and converted, as we say, to Catholicism on the grounds, as she often said, that one religion’s as good as another, by which she certainly meant as irrelevant as another, whereas both she and Bill believed so deeply in the sunlit plains extended that I did too without even seeing them throughout my childhood but knowing the moment I did see the land flattening along the rail track and the fences running to their vanishing points on horizons apparently lined with trees that this was the paradise my parents had told me about, that I belonged there along with the selectors, station hands and jackeroos who rode up in dust clouds to the siding to collect mail and bread from the train, that this was the land of legend exalted in our Grade Readers by Clancy, The Loaded Dog and the Old Bush School, the land that I would learn later displaced a great and very old legend with one of its own created within a mere half century leaving only a few place names as remnants of the old, a land that found and marketed its own golden fleece, and that’s how it is I said to Uncle Pat, a childhood in black and white like an F Oswald Barnett slum photograph coloured by two grand fantasies, each with its own stage sets, perfumes and songs, both intersecting somewhere among the stars, both moored in the past, neither able to be revived by journeys or pilgrimages, each an Ithaka with nothing more to offer than the marvellous journey it once gave you, to which Uncle Pat nodded in sympathy, murmured something hazy and said that since the bread was a bit old I might like to toast it on the fork he’d cut from a pliant watlle, which I did, relishing the thought of spreading the toast with golden syrup, aka bullockies’ joy, best served on fresh damper, which unfortunately Uncle Pat had not made for a few days, but it seems he had not lost interest in the religion business because he asked me what conclusions we had come to on and after the camino, so it was my turn to hum a bit and make a few false starts before saying that it had confirmed my atheism and moved Lorna from agnosticism to atheism, but that subsequently we had become deterred by the Believers’ fatuous insistence that atheism is actually (as they say) also a Belief so we moved away from calling ourselves atheistic Catholics and found the excellent label of lapsed agnostic which is defined neatly as don’t know don’t care, but lately, in case a Believer looks meaningful when we say the agnostic bit (aha so you admit it’s possible) we’ve tried a few others, such as Dee’s apatheist (still leaving a chink) or my unlikeliest (also chinky) or small-l-catholic (true enough and adequately non-committal but open to unwelcome questioning), none of which I’m afraid would dim the fanatical fires, so I’m sticking for the moment to lapsed agnostic which seems the most offhand and is slightly jocose, not to mention its subtle sending up of that snooty label of lapsed Catholic that comes so readily to the mouth of fundamentalists, one of whom, an occasional travelling companion of Uncle Pat with the double-barrelled name of Fred Aquinas-Pritchard who travels the outback roads selling insurance and leaving behind apocalyptic tracts, failing, however, to explain that although the saved would be redeemed at the Second Coming their savings in the Second Colonial Life and Accident Mutual Benefit would not, and who I thought was clearly to be avoided in serious debates about religion and the meaning of it all, to which end I confined myself to telling Uncle Pat that the camino had left me happy to continue to be known as a catholic just as my heritage of the bush legend made be happy to think of myself as an Australian, but, wary of Fred, I did not elaborate the obvious implication that labels of identity such as these are based on legend rather than anything you’d call real, that when I delighted in the architecture and decoration of old churches, was transported by Victoria’s Requiem or savoured the fragrant mix of incense and Latin that enveloped us all those years ago, I was, as I have suggested already, making an image of myself from legend, just as I did when the word Australia placed me among the yellow grass on a softly-winded plain in the Riverina, nor did I think to remain much longer by Uncle Pat’s boree fire , for another quite urgent matter needed my attention, namely…

10 the latest on the Burden from my inside informant Mary du Jour whom we prefer to call Marie (stress on the ee) because of the surname she has from her great grandfather who started up a smelly French cheese factory near Daylesford but finding customers in short supply, Australia being more of a cheddar culture, took up politics, becoming both mayor and MLA, Marie’s latest as I was saying being that the government is close to launching Stage One of its plans to deal with the Burden but still has a good way to go with what is its major initiative, for which Stage One is a ground laying exercise designed the make the electorate aware of the scope of the Burden and the inadequacy of our present means of coping with it, and by way of detail, Marie described some rushes she’d glimpsed through the door of the media unit, stuff showing Ageds crowded into a Facility so small their wheelchairs were colliding and tipping out the feebler of the inmates who were being kicked by the grumpier of the still seated inmates, but she judged from the comments being made round the unit that a softer approach would be favoured, one in which for example, said a mediaman, a healthy young beauty turned into a hag as the viewer viewed and the VO said something to the effect that she didn’t think about it either till it was too late and isn’t it too late for us all and if you’re wanting counseling go to burden.com.au, and from there the media people drifted into the usual debates about how heavily to flog the Burden message, whether to use youthful or creaky, authoritative or plaintive VOs etc, and Marie and I pondered the several ways in which Age is burdensome to those who aren’t as well as we are, touch wood, how it is experienced not only in well-known temporal, auditory and visual terms, but also less obviously in spatial terms (the Facility etc) and now as a major factor in the national economy, not to mention the national conscience, if such a concept exists, and on a lighter note I recited to her Ogden Nash’s Old Men
well, read it actually since although I memorise poetry to keep dementia at bay I had not memorized this one, which Marie remarked was Ogden Nash being wry rather than funny, and so in order to strike an optimistic note, referring to our mentioning the spatial dimension of the Burden, I told her the latest on the move to 22 Ithaka, specially how much we were enjoying the grandeur of the spaces, their elegance, and the sense of comfortable, but not smug, privacy we felt with our new bed, in-room tele and ongsweet, and perhaps above all these comforts the knowledge that we were indeed in a tangible Ithaka for, unlike the promised Ithakas with their celestial spheres, sunlit plains, choirs of angels and everlasting stars, as seen by both Dante and the Banjo, 22Ithaka is like the Ithaka of Odysseus and Telemachus, site of a palace they once owned, lived in, left, dreamed of and returned to, a palace necessarily enchanted by its memories but also generous with its space, its light, its age, its curves, its poise, its sense of rest, seemingly new again with its faultless white walls, gleaming timber floors, spotless bathroom and ikeaed kitchen where drawers shut softly and appliances hide behind rolladoors, not to mention the graceful courtyard and garden where the birds beat us to the fruit, all creating, perhaps faithfully, memories of love, family, school, writing, art and so on, memories that sometimes find a kind of reality as we sort papers, file photos, hang pictures and refurnish spaces that become again what they once were…

11 in short, a return, reviving our notion that we might, perhaps, maybe, if the idea doesn’t seem trite, one day replace the plain fanlight over the front door with one naming the house Ithaka (or Ithaca?) but for the moment we have a lovely video of Lorna explaining the house as a return, a video made of her in 22 for a Melbourne Council project called Home Art which consisted of guided audiences walking through North Melbourne to eight performances in eight houses by their residents, one of whom was Lorna, who welcomed them into the light-filled central stairwell with its gracefully curved banisters, which also serves as the entrance space because the stairs up to the front door are on the outside whence she explained how she had first entered the house nearly fifty years ago carrying the newly born Mairead and re-enacting with her wonderful smile the pleasure she had felt in bringing new life into this new part of our world, itself not completely renovated just as it is now still being worked on as the audience could see all around them in the old playroom, as we called it, that was probably the original dining room, thence to the courtyard filled with ladders, timbers and the like, not yet furnished with its covered barbecue benches from which Nick will do a lot of the smoking, greasy, meaty cooking to be accompanied by salads at which Adonis excels and as-yet-to-be-determined other dishes by Apollonia (gka Api) but probably in the mezedes line (for which we usually use borrowed terms such as antipasto or hors d’oeuvres rather than the native savouries, appetizers or, ugh, nibbles, all of which are less precise in their sense of time, being vaguely latish in the day as ballast for drink, unless for afternoon tea, or even a wanderer’s substitute for a meal), and finally, to the back gate where she told them other stories as they came to her, sunlit them with smiles and optimism and gave each a sprig of rosemary for remembrance, in all one of the best of performances among a notable eight we saw from a terrace on the big screen at Federation Square, which is a wonderful space at any time but entirely enchanting on a warm, busy Friday evening when it is peopled, but never seems crowded, by strollers, loungers, diners, coffeedrunkards, nymphs with long brown legs and thumbs darting over their iKeyboards, iPadders in distracted realms of their own, and on this Friday us, me, Shelagh, Api and Herself, welcomed by the tallest, thinnest, most upright and tightly garbed male figure I have ever seen, being fed chicken sticks, sushi and delicious eggplant bits and downing champagne (not Api) regularly topped up by the most obliging of waiters, as we waited and soon delighted in the freshness of many of the performances in particular that of a pair of young sisters, both profoundly deaf who told us in signing, speech and subtitles the names they imagined they had for themselves at various times inside what we imagine to be their silent heads, but can’t really be because we too hear much in our heads without external sound, so, much satisfied with the success of this novel project we farewelled neighbours, performers, planners from Melbourne City Council, notably the ebullient and charming Bec, and with this introduction of 22Ithaka to the Melbourne public completed we caught the 57 tram, whereon until Vic Market we endured the egregious company of a number of followers of the Melbourne Rebels, a rugby team, in Melbourne do you mind, who threw balls around and made bad, and I mean bad, jokes mostly at the expense of nearby passengers, but tbg they left us and we turned our minds to the menu for an historical dinner with our four daughters, all of whom spent much of their childhoods and youth in 22Ithaka, from 1965 onward…

12 to which end I had asked Siobhan, Shelagh, Mairead and Deirdre to tell me of dishes they remembered from their days in 22 so that we could plan a properly confabulated menu, which we decided should follow the long-standing pattern of aperitif, hors d’oeuvre, fish, salad, main, salad, cheese, dessert, coffee and digestivo with red and white wines as appropriate, beginning with a Jack Keating, may his memory prosper, special red decanted into a broad based long necked flask, interrupted by a Winsome white with the fish, but what with Dee being late, unavoidably of course, some grissini had to be brought out with the aperitif and relaxed converse followed before we could move to the dining room table oriented in the direction it always had been and set with heirloom crockery and cutlery, including fish knives and forks, a showy addition I admit since we rarely use them ourselves though we eat a lot of fish – well, more than we once did – because of the lowGI dietandexercise regime, where we transported from the designated bamboo kitchen bench the first course traditionally misnomered in the family, where it was much served by my sister Betty and Lorna’s mother Mavis, as angels on horseback but actually devils on horseback since angels are oysters wrapped in bacon whereas ours were always prunes in bacon and properly known as devils on horseback but why the initial angels on horseback were so named, first it seems in French then as a staple in English working class cuisine when oysters were cheap and common, is not known, angels and devils both being winged and in no need of horses for roles in scenes of the Last Judgement, but none of this affected our relishing an old delicacy whether hors d’oeuvre, savoury or pre-nibble and usually known to us anyway, and ,pertinently in this case, as horses doovers, along with which we had carrots in butter and honey in what we thought of as the Welsh manner, Mavis having Welsh heritage, and with these two horses trotted out and exhausted to the accompaniment of chat whose content I no longer remember apart from that about the food we segued to sardines, baby octopus and orange-with-onion salad each justified in its particular way, the sardines being freshly fried by Shelagh as I had learnt to love them in Italy rather than tinned as I had grown up with, and fried moreover on one of two iron dishes of especial value being presents from Siobhan and Shelagh given us when they were first able, aged about ten, to choose, use their savings to buy, and rejoice in giving presents, the baby octopus, also prepared by Shelagh, which were a reminder of our discovering early in our marriage that squid and octopus could be human food as well as angler’s bait, whilst the orange-with-onion salad was a Lorna specialty recalled in several lists of remembered delights, after which we returned to Jack’s red, may he be long remembered, in the bell-shaped carafe Joan Spiller gave us to accompany poulet antiboise (chook slow cooked in a lot of onion) with green salad and conversation about the disgraceful state of urban planning, the baleful effects of capitalism on democracy and the role of the royals as the world’s leading sex workers, the poulet being a reminder of Elizabeth David and her great works, and in this way we proceeded at the stateliest of paces and the most gracious of humours to work through tasty cheese steeped in port, yoghourt with honey, and digestivo until sometime beyond midnight, an immensely satisfying celebration of house, family and memory …

13 memory also of Jack whose wine and work I described to Uncle Pat though he showed only polite interest, red wine being the drink of squatters when they dressed up for dinner and schooling being something you finished as soon as you might in the old bush school, or else something for the sons of squatters who went off to board in Geelong or Sydney or somewhere, and he paused for a while to recall that Bill had got his Merit Certificate at the orphanage school and to wonder whether their younger brother Ted had also got his Merit before both of them left the orphanage, Bill he thought back to Bendigo and later the Riverina and Ted eventually to New Zealand, following the sheep or the shearing he supposed, but on the matter of Jack his main concern was to work out where in Elysium Jack might be if he had already left the triage area, wondering in fact whether the new bloke in the workshops the drivers were talking about was him, so I asked him to follow that up and let me know because it occurred to me after we’d talked at dinner about the spread of selective schools, in particular the time when the ALP in Victoria thought it was a great election wheeze to promise two selective secondary schools one in our electorate, and the Libs thought they’d better cap that by promising four and the Greens didn’t know what to think especially as they fancied themselves to win in this electorate, but Labor won and as a result of objections from this electorate moved the promised school to Ringwood where it was similarly rubbished with the result that it is now somewhere in Outer Woop Woop East and its companion in Outer Woop Woop West, a tale that reminded me that discourse with Jack about schools had not ever ended and would be profitable to resume once he was settled in Elysium, which is partly why I had asked Uncle Pat about his whereabouts if he was indeed abouts at all, though of course my main reason was simply to see Jack again in whatever form, younger maybe, certainly not as drawn and in pain as when I had last seen him, transformed perhaps more into the shape of his father Frank a tradesman and a good Labor man who had become the driver of the Catholic Worker, a thorn in the Church’s crown that Santamaria’s Movement eventually caused to be banned from sales outside church, but essentially Jack in whatever form, the essentials being the generous smile, the respect for truth, the love of wit and joust and the faint lisp, so I stressed to Uncle Pat that I was keen to find him and he promised he’d do everything he could starting with the workshops and the drivers on the grounds that Jack likely took to some carpentry and cabinet making as I had told him that Jack loved to put in a lot of his spare time working with wood and building, a pastime made all the easier by his living in a timber house with a yard big enough to keep accumulating sheds and contain a cellar for his stock of fine wine – the stock he’d hoped to sell but wound up having to consume and give away, to our benefit among others – and so indeed he did find Jack riding on a wagon stacked mostly with supplies but also with a nice glass-doored bookcase Jack had fashioned from old cedar and that he hoped to sell, or if necessary give, to the squatter on Hesperus, a young fair-haired bloke whose even younger wife had vanished one day and was found a few days later on the plains, mad as a cut snake and nearly done in with thirst, and now that she was in Sydney he had much more time to read and could spout yards of old Greek poems to the hands, the horses or the sheep, whoever, and there was indeed a big box of new books for him also on the dray, as I saw when the wagon stopped, Jack being so pleased to see me with Uncle Pat that he and the bullocky had stopped for a cup of tea, then a bit of brownie and finally for the night, and so it was by the firelight that we talked about life and death, well death really, and what kind of death we could have, whether to rage against the dying of the light, drop down dead without even knowing you were going to, say your prayers to the priest and set out for your particular judgement (which you’d have to be confident of passing), passing away peacefully with your family around you as the death notices so often have it, go out regretting or resenting some large wrong done by or to you, in short all the many ways one could go including what I think of as Jack’s generous way thinking through his considerable pain mainly of his family, putting his friends at ease as they visited him, accepting eventually that he’d said his last word on school funding and the like, in short, for all the pain and the struggle, dying nobly…

14 which I saw as a proper correction to my old fancy of being found one sunny morning under a big gumtree holding a letter addressed to the coroner saying that this was how I wanted to go, intoxicated by a long run and giving out my life to the brightening sky, for I saw, as I thought of Jack, that one must prefer to die generously rather than solitarily, so having thought that I turned the conversation to a subject so unfamiliar to Uncle Pat that he went to collect some more boree, namely that I had just returned from a show by the songster and rockster Nick Cave (whose family Lorna had known in Numurkah then Wangaratta) where Lorna, Api, Shelagh and I had good seats courtesy of bandmember Warren Ellis via drummer Jim White, son of good old friend Doug White, seats marred by powerful spotlights pointed straight at us but strangely enhanced by much of the audience crowding down the aisles to the front below the stage (of the Myer Music Bowl) and those in the seats behind them standing up, so that to see we too had to stand, the whole standing crowd becoming a spectacle in itself with arm-waving, jiggling and finger pointing not unlike what one sees at film of revivalist meetings, in which it must be admitted Nick Cave’s lyrics would be not be totally out of place at the hellfire end of things for they are pretty dark, full of stuff about worlds ending and devils arising, evidence I suppose of a Catholic upbringing given compelling physical presence by rapid serpentine stalking across the wide stage without once tripping on the long mike cord (which Lorna wondered might be there for show) and if you think this sort of show isn’t my usual fare you’re right, but I always seize the chance to try something out, and of course in this case I knew some of the people involved, so whether they were favourites of now or then is not relevant, and in any case if I’d been of a later era I probably would have been a Cave fan but my age and upbringing meant I was a fan when a child of Bing Crosby, that smiling, softly Catholic family man in marriage-ridden, divorce-torn, promiscuous Hollywood, next a Graeme Bell, Louis Armstrong, Golden Wedding teenager, then for the rest of my life a wanderer in the high ranges of Mozart, the heavens of Palestrina, the streets of Bob Dylan, the green valleys of the Irish and the stony hillsides of the Greeks, but be that as it was, with the night still mellow and the sky again star-crowded I thought to broach a larger topic to Jack, two actually, to wit whether in Elysium shades had the same hang-ups they had in life, hang-ups like the two bugging me lately in others, the one I call know-it-all-ism and the other a wanting-to-be-still relevant syndrome and then how one knew when the time would come to leave Elysium, and of course he said with his usual caution he hadn’t heard much yet, in fact had only overheard some shades saying that you weren’t sent off – and nobody knows where to – until you were cleansed of your phobias, illusions of superiority, chauvinism and a few other things Jack didn’t remember except to remember being thankful that doubt was not amongst them, but yeah you could say they’re hang-ups and he agreed with me that know-it-all-ism is annoying, not so much because the know-it-all might be right, or might be not, but because the know-it-all’s aim is to fence off what can be talked about, but I sensed I was starting to sound sour and that Jack’s patience with the whinge was waning so we fell silent, poking the fire a bit until he asked me how the school thing was going by which he meant the school funding arguments to which he had been a significant contributor for a good while before his too-early death, so I told him it was still up in the air being hit about like a volleyball by parties and governments with Labor seeing it as a king hit in its plans to run schools nationally and the Libs seeing it as money badly spent keeping state schools afloat when private schools do a better job for less, and anyway a Labor idea so no good, but I imagined, I said to him, that there were no surprises there and I ventured, seeming by way of consolation, that maybe just fixing up the money wouldn’t go to the heart of the problems of schooling anyway, to which he agreed with the proviso that the funding mess should be fixed up anyway, to which I in turn agreed, and so we fell silent again looking up at the stars and back at the boree coals crumbling redly as Uncle Pat came back into the firelight, still, according to what Jack had overheard, with some hang-ups not shuffled off, but more likely for some other reason he still had to nose out, so I thought I’d open up a more general subject…

15 namely, the Burden question, on which I’d not heard anything lately from Marie le Jour or anyone else but which seemed to me to offer some parallels, maybe a bit far-fetched, to recent changes in schools, but first I needed to fill them in on what Marie had told me about the government’s plans to make the aged a big social policy issue, which their spin people reckon should run under the rubric of the burden of an ageing population, the Burden for short, and I mentioned that this might backfire since the aged also vote and mightn’t want to be branded a Burden, but Jack rightly pointed out that older voters didn’t change their vote no matter what you did to them and the mob you’re talking to are the next generation who readily see what you’re talking about and are looking for government support even if they have to kick in a bit themselves and Uncle Pat added that they mightn’t take too much notice anyway of whatever labels are stuck on them because they’ve got bigger things on their minds, as we all know, and I could only agree, thinking to myself that some were no doubt trying to figure which of their Ithakas were working out or in most cases I guess where Ithaka was at all whatever it was called, and isn’t it some sort of pagan idea anyway, so I saw that the idea of the Burden would be OK as a policy for either side of politics really, a sort of parallel to Disadvantage in schools (which could equally be called a Burden without putting anyone important off) , so the issue would boil down as always to who would put up the money, how much it would be and where it would come from, with Labor, being the current government for a while, having to come up with a figure, which according to Marie was the point they were now at, arguing about quantities and then about how to quantify, and what indeed was meant by aged, for although ageing population would be a concept vague enough to run with, actual ages were also in play, like for example sixty-five for the pension, something else for taxability and so forth, not to mention degrees of frailty, dates for late onsets of this and that, whether symbolic ages such as eighty (beyond which we hear cardinals are no longer voters for the next pope) need to be rethought as centenarianism begins to loom as a previously unthinkable burden, unthinkable once because a codger had to be very hale to make it, and more generally what is the Burden profile for a given age bracket which might indicate what frailties and ailments need to be funded and which can be dismissed with a minimum or nothing, in short the Burden must be quantified in detail and as they say its elements prioritized before the millions can be announced, a process that, according to Marie’s sources, was hardly up let alone running but she had heard for what it was worth that they had been getting briefings from the education people who were already well into the stats/transparency caper with NAPLAN and My School, which looked like a combination that might work for the Burden because you could test individuals and report on groups, so let’s say they might find out that as a diabetic my feet are starting to fall off and then add up all the ones with that problem and figure out how much cash to put into podiatry for the Burden and what sort of press release it would be best to put out to avoid headlines of the Government foots bill for the Burden or Leprosy scare: govt treading fine line – expert genre and hope that Leg up for aged and the like is picked up by the city dailies, all airy fairy stuff really since they haven’t really decided anything yet beyond the wish to have an indicator of the Burden the way schools have indicators of disadvantage and the economists have indicators of everything, comparisons that show how useless the whole enterprise is anyway, and on that note we made a billy of tea and listened to the distant sounds of the night …

16 until I thought to have a first go at adding up my own Ithakas, some of which I’ve been over a bit, my Catholic youth for one and our return to 22Ithaka for another touching on the legend of the Bush on the way but glancing only slightly at what must be the big, big ones, namely schools and love, but as I try to add these up in some way they disperse as though they don’t really have goals or endings, which in fact they don’t, for they fit neatly into the great Alexandrian’s metaphor of Ithakas that gave us the marvellous journey, and so it is that I think briefly of what might have beens, of the time for instance when I was finishing Leaving (Year 11 since we stopped naming school years after examinations) and suggested to my mother that I might go working in a bank to help out with the family income such as it was, and incidentally to get out of going to a new school for Matric., to which she replied in consternation that there were still a couple of years left on my scholarship and they shouldn’t be handed in, for, even though they represented only fees and books rather than cash in hand, her dread of wasting money remained strong, and off I went to matric, uni and teaching, but what, I think now, if I had gone banking, compensated for the dullness of it by writing verse and living wantonly, and ended up now in a country mansion with a multi-million-dollar payout ruing the global financial crisis over dinner with fine reds from the estate, as opposed to living just outside the reaches of Centrelink, writing an unending sentence and over toast and muesli ruing the state of schools, or what if, again, if I had lived wantonly and therefore had not maintained the affections of Lorna who had a Catholic upbringing, a Catholic Action presence at Melbourne University (if we can call the Newman Society Catholic Action), a stern morality and a forbidding father, and what if, dear me what if, other unions had spawned reprobate and exigent offspring, and so the what ifs go, bringing into question the destinations that seemed destinies , tipping one’s view of the past towards the Fates and God’s Will and that sort of stuff, which perhaps really is the way things are, making me favoured, according to one version, or in common sense just lucky, which I suppose some of us have to be, and there’s an end to the what ifs, a useless lot for in the real world (and there’s a bold concept) my twenties passed pretty much to plan, first with a degree being finished, then with four years teaching in the bush, not so far away that I couldn’t continue to sing the polyphonic glories in St Pat’s, then a couple of years on a scholarship to Perugia and a stint at the Sorbonne, after which with Italian and English in the mouth, medieval and renaissance art on the retina, narrow cuffs and pointed shoes on the leg and Mediterranean tastes on the palate, I returned to romance Lorna née Hogan, and strangely enough, for I had known her quite well since university days, first as a fearsome cigarette-in the-side-of-the-mouth feminist defying the men-only bar rules of the time, next as one of a band of friends who exchanged tales of teaching in the bush in sundry coffee houses in Melbourne, occasionally after going to the Cathedral to bathe in Palestrina then as an unaccountably generous carer for my parents while I was in Europe, not that they needed care in the medical sense but because they liked the company of those who knew me, but for all that previous long acquaintance strangely enough our romance was sudden, love at second sight could we say, a sunburst in January and lifelong pledges with consummation in May, and needless to say doubts in between, the last of them settled memorably when in response to doubts raised by her, I asked is it May or may not, a mot better said than spelt in view of the punctuation, and one she thought so neat she decided, so she still says, that I’d be the one for her and May it was, with the choir of St Pat’s as we’ve seen, port from Mat Hogan, of which we still have at least one bottle, can you believe, over fifty years on and a disgraceful decision of mine to not make a speech at the reception, confining myself to a thank you, whereas the proper thing would have been and continues to be to eulogise the bride, who should return the compliment, thank the Fates for favouring you with this Venus who also has a sense of fun, praise the parents of all concerned and make a few jests in good taste – rarely accomplished at weddings where copulation is never far from the imaginations of the guests already excited by the virginal whites and veils – and so it was that furnished with a magnum of cognac we settled into our first Ithaka, a small timber cottage in Richmond, very working class at the time in accord with our leveling inclinations and soon to be the first home of the first two of our daughters after which (five years to be exact) we moved to 22Ithaka where…

17 I am now brooding on why friendship changed to sexual love just like that and whether I will take part in a trial of Burden tests, one tentatively called the National Aged Movement Evaluation (NAME), another a test of short term memory and a third of long tem memory, neither of which have catchy acronyms, possibly to avoid their being easily remembered, and I must say the test of short term memory is a masterpiece of multiple choice testing, for the first question asks what day it is and offers Monday Tuesday Wednesday None of the above and I don’t remember as the choices but, and here’s the clever bit, answers to this don’t score no matter what they are, right or wrong or incriminating, but the scorers pass instead to the second and subsequent questions each one of which asks the testee what the answer was to the preceding question, a method that obviously puts short term memory to a rigorous test, but needless to say I wondered what the upshot of this would be once a Burden had been identified as being in the top, say, decile or quartile of forgetfulness, and assuming of course that whatever the percentile it would become a funded Burden, not of course directly to the Burden who by definition could not be trusted to remember what to do with it but to some organization I suppose that would establish what the Burden really needed, as opposed to wanted, to remember and equip him or her (gender differences being not yet documented) with a gadget that delivers a mild shock and a reminder, voiced for hearing Burdens, texted for others or maybe texted for all but the sight challenged, and so on, but I avoided doing the short memory test, not wanting to know the result, and puzzled I must say over how they were thinking of testing long term memory on a national scale, but realizing that this was but one of many items that would have to be tested and that the bigger puzzle was how the results would be combined into a single index that could be used on the news the way the stock exchange is, an index I hazarded might be called the All Olds, though Marie thought that was a bit too flippant to go down with the spin men, so, losing interest in any case, I let the matter rest for want of more news and reflected on the great success of the Method in 22Ithaka, the Method being the label I apply to the business of keeping the kitchen immaculate and uncluttered, the latter ideal requiring of course a certain kind of furnishing, the former a method that allies the dishwasher and sink with a small number of ironcast rules known to everybody so that anyone at any time can keep things spick, a method that is, you will agree, in a category above the roster convention that often prevails in families and group households or the servant convention that prevails within the patriarchy, but one as I said that requires a setting as uncluttered as is imaginably possible, with everything in drawers or cupboards and nothing on benches, a circumstance we have achieved with the sole exception of an electric kettle which we have placed so far on the bamboo benchtop rather than in the appliance cupboard behind whose rolladoor and drawer fronts lie all other appliances, the most used, such as the toaster and a shredder always plugged in, the whole entirely out of sight once the rolladoor has been drawn down leaving only the current cooking and eating utensils as clutter requiring a method to guarantee that they will be temporary, which is to say that they will clutter benchtops and the cubical porcelain sink (a French reference) for no more than the duration of a meal, a state that is achieved by observing two rules, to wit (1) that the cook wash, drain, dry and put away all cooking pans and utensils and (2) that anyone else around without distinction of age, gender, level of participation or previous record rinse dishes, vessels and cutlery, stack them in the dishwasher, turn it on at ordained times, after dinner especially, or at other ordained times, before breakfast in particular, empty the said dishwasher so that it will gradually fill during the day, et voilà , a method that might sound complex in this description but has worked consistently, indeed with much exclaimed-over distinction, ever since it was outlined to the household, one which has filled out an image of domestic order never before achieved, for even in the days when Lorna kept an orderly kitchen, in Richmond where we first settled, then in 22Ithaka, the conventions of kitchen organization decreed that certain items would be on open shelves ideally in tins labeled flour sugar oats tea and coffee and that the many fewer appliances then invented might live permanently on the benchtops with the result that a kitchen was seen as a kind of workshop with essential tools at the ready rather than as an abstract composition symbolising domestic pride, even superiority, the achievement of a state once thought inefficient and still thought impossible, as the presence of an electric kettle on the bench bears witness to, but as I thought of this my attention drifted to other places I lived in as a child and youth, some hardly now even a single image others a part of me…

18 and I was trying to work through my old houses in a sequence with Lorna during our drive back from finally catching up with Dean and Sandra in their sunrise house above Adelaide when somewhere outside Ouyen, in the Mallee, on the dead straight road accompanying a dead straight railway built to serve the silos that stand at the point where the perspectives of the road vanish, somewhere along there I noticed a sign pointing to the left into the scrub saying Lone Grave, which sat in my head for a couple of km before I told Lorna about it and we turned back, found the sign, eschewed the bit of dirt track going in, crept through one of those fences topped with barbed wire you have to help one another through and stood before the lone grave framed by logs, bordered by saltbush and marked with a gravel cone a foot or so high inscribed to an unnamed railway worker buried there in 1913, and as we wondered why the dead man remained unnamed I looked up at the immense white sky, heard across the plain the keening of the wind through the saltbush and saw the small group of railway workers, hats to their chests standing over their mate’s grave as he departed to the judgement that mighty afternoon, an image that overshadowed for a good while my attempt to remember the house my parents had in Weigall Street South Yarra when I was four, a house now gone in the slum clearances hence no longer listed in Melways under South Yarra but present in Kensington Melways A2-B4, Brunswick East and Carrum Downs aka Woop Woop, which leads one inevitably to find out on the net who Weigall was to have several dispersed, small streets named after him or her, but as we waited to leave American Gully where we relished Carlo’s two kinds of baccalà on Good Friday and lamb on Easter Sunday, and return to the net, I started a parallel list of where Lorna and I had lived before we met, beginning on my side in February 1932, the exact day being disputed but now marked on the ninth in accord with the birth certificate after having been celebrated throughout my boyhood on the tenth, the same birth certificate that calls my father a confectioner of Murrumbeena, an altogether inappropriate occupation for a man who spent most of his working days scanning distant dusty horizons for pure bred merinos, but who did come into his own the day when as a two year old I wandered away from the shop and he commandeered the Marchants’ lemonade dray and rode on the footboard behind the great festooned horses summoning a search party, a bold posture at odds with what I imagined but never saw as his posture behind the counter weighing out boiled lollies or wrapping bread, high tin loaves preferably for he disdained the common alternative known as square tin which he said was baked with the tin upside down compressing the bread into sogginess, but apart from the lemonade dray image, which of course is not real because I could not possibly have seen it, being lost at the time, I have only one other Murrumbeena image, perhaps also illusory, of crawling on the shop floor at my mother’s feet, and one later image of a place in East Prahran, street unremembered, where I was in the back yard outside a couple of bungalows housing single men seemingly of low wage and uncertain age, Depression blokes you’d have to say, until I get to Weigall Street which Google told me could perhaps have been called after one of three elaborately named Weigalls, of whom one, Arthur Edward Pearse Brome Weigall, Egyptologist, stage designer and writer, can be eliminated if only because he was alive in England until 1934 and therefore fails the common predecededness test for street naming, thereby leaving two Australian possibilities , a judge, Theyre à Beckett Weigall from Elsternwick, deceased less than ten years before we moved to Weigall Street, which makes him a dodgy but going by his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography the most attractive candidate, and finally and most likely Albert Bythesea Weigall (1840-1912), a much praised headmaster of Scotch College Melbourne funereally eulogized as ‘worthy to rank among the foremost in the muster roll of famous Headmasters of the Empire’ (ADB), whose middle name was his mother’s and whose commemoration on a slum street name is as curious as the appearance of his mother’s maiden name, Brome, among the Egyptologist’s string of given name, yet in truth none of the three is all that promising as patrons of the street whose gutters I enjoyed playing in, or of the dwelling we shared with the mice and Reet’s mother, whom Betty well remembers as a somewhat mischievous old lady fond of playing with her granddaughter, though all I remember is long black dresses from another age, nor of the street we walked down to St Joseph’s where I started school, at four and a half, in a vast room at whose distant horizon stood an old nun saying something, nor of the street my mother must have been taken along to the institution to recover from a bout of fits, as she called her breakdowns, whilst we two children after a few weeks of eating eggs boiled by my father were sent away, I to my Uncle Frank’s and Auntie Flo’s in East Malvern, Betty to the Good Shepherd Convent in Middle Park, two places of exile from which most of our three and five year old memories come, so until I hear from Moreland Council why Weigall Street in East Brunswick is so named, and I bet they don’t know, I will suspend judgement and move on, or back really, to…

19 the parallel lives of Lorna and me before we became one flesh, which on her part was spent mainly in the bush as I moved from Woopwoopish Murrumbeena to several inner city postal districts in the City of Prahran, which then played in a two-blues guernsey in the VFA whereas the neighbouring municipalities (except Malvern of course which only does stuff like tennis) of St Kilda, South Melbourne and Richmond were pillars of the glorious VFL which by 1932 included even the Jonny-come-late lies Hawthorn and North Melbourne, the former still in rather VFA-style colours, but, as I was saying, Lorna was in the bush , except for a year in Elwood by the bay, adorning the sort of towns that a rising primary school headmaster, viz her father Mat, would move to, starting with Bunyip, at that time a little settlement bordering a swamp that might have harboured a monster, now a dormitory of nothing scarier than nightmares, next moving up a notch to the middling-sized town of Numurkah near the Murray, thence to the slightly larger Stawell of the famous Gift, and finally, that is to say until Lorna left home, to Wangaratta, a town or should I say rural city that I once thought of as a cultural eminence in the days when to be in the country was still thought to be superior to being in the city, a sort of footnote I suppose to the Legend of the Bush whose hierarchy had the drovers and co on top, the townsfolk next and the city dwellers at the bottom, a hierarchy it seemed of freedom and enterprise, and so it had been then, we worked out, Lorna at the nuns’ school in Numurkah – St Joe’s nuns of course – as I moved to the most respectable house we’d so far had in Alfred Street Prahran, too respectable to last more than a year, and to a new school, just out of the lane behind the house, called St Francis Xavier’s, which occupied the three upstairs rooms above the church that could be converted (good word) to a hall and from which possibly, for I remember nothing of it, my grandmother was buried unless she was still Anglican which I’m thinking she might well have been because I suspect Reet in fact postponed her conversion to the one holy catholic and apostolic church until I was a year or two into school and mum, as Reet called her, lay in Springvale cemetery in a still unmarked grave bought on an instalment plan from Rayboulds the undertakers, in which my father would also lie one day, both fleshless, not yet boneless I suppose, yet with an existence inside my memory, in my grandmother’s case mostly as a puzzle, in my father’s case as major props for an imaginative biography, one admittedly as much about his times and places as about his inner and active self but fact-filled for all that, which makes me wonder what reality it is that memory represents, what we mean when we say that one who has died will always be remembered, whether we mean that there is a sense in which they have not died but rather become bodiless, though for how long we don’t say since while they exist in our memories (and in themselves, who can know) they thereby have a kind of immortality or at least represent our preference for immortality over death, but of course, say in the case of my grandmother and my father as I imagined him before he served us with boiled eggs, read Curly Wee and Gussie Goose to us and set off with his kitbag to tend wealthier people’s gardens with his old wool shears, saving the tickets from the best-numbered trams to count a hand of cribbage, imagined him, that is, as a young man riding the wide plains, no more within my perception than the great events of my childhood, the Depression that delayed the slum clearances, the War that delayed them further, the War that Lorna remembers being announced in big black letters in the newspaper, published exceptionally on a Sunday (something normally done only in sinful Sydney) which my father bought as we were going up the High Street hill to Mass at the Sacred Heart West St Kilda, even though it was the Sun News-Pictorial which he despised, and of course we knew that it was Hitler’s war and that we would have to pray for him to see the light, Lorna remembers, and I too remember prayers of the sort being said even after the 11 o’clock Mass which was grudgingly celebrated for the apartment-dwellers of St Kilda who would have been taking coffee rather than fasting and who stood in need themselves of supplication, but these were small matters on Sunday 3 September 1939, with Hitler in Poland, Menzies in Canberra, Lorna still in Numurkah and I now living in the dwelling beside and above a pastrycook’s in Punt Road Windsor…

20 no Ithaka that but to my mother at that stage in our family’s life, a dwelling shared with a cake shop, a pastrycook’s kitchen and a loft originally for flour and mice but in our time rented by the man with the ornate Hollywood sweet shop and soda fountain on the corner of St Kilda junction as a space in which to play with his vast model train system, even such a dwelling as this must have seemed an anchorage of a sort, a godsend with a rent of £1.2s.6d that was defrayed by a couple of boarders each of whom paid 10/- I seem to remember– and one of whom, a Mr Marx reliably reputed to be a Communist for more than nominal reasons, perched me on his shoulders at the MCG to watch St Kilda lose a preliminary final to Collingwood (who in turn lost the grand final to Melbourne) just three weeks after Menzies, a Carlton supporter and abject monarchist apprised us inheritors of the Bush Legend of his “melancholy duty to inform (us) officially that, in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war” leaving us to ponder retrospectively that even bellicose Germany then was a her – not a herr (haha) – but for whatever reason we stayed there, at Punt Road as we came to call the shop-bakery-modeltrainloft-dwelling, for the rest of my schooldays and all of my university days until the dwelling became uninhabitable and a possible contributor to one of Reet’s psychotic episodes, at which point, once she had recovered her senses and was again able to use her extraordinary persistence and charm she surprisingly bought, on a pension mind you and by instalments of course, a very respectable terrace house at the modest end of Toorak, an Ithaka at last that made her happy even if it didn’t see her consistently sane, so it is from here mostly that I have to muster my memories of childhood and youth, which I am finding to be dispiritingly few, reminding me thereby of something I was actively trying to forget, if that makes sense, namely the putative Index of Population Ageing and Decline, what I call the All Olds and which I understand is gaining momentum as statistics of the gathering clouds of dementia continue to haunt the news bulletins, so dogged as I am by these shadows over the future I resolve here and now to round up all my memories, put them in order and figure out what they collectively mean, for youth surely has a shape of the kind we read about so often in memoirs, a story of growth, learning, coming of age, first loves unrequited, images of lives to be led and so forth, and the job of memory is to find that heightened stage, that turning point in identity, an apotheosis might we say, and, amazingly, just as I was writing that Lorna texted me that a sign had appeared in the sky and I rushed outside to read cloud trails saying ‘marry me Lorna’ and I started to think how incidents and fancies that seem to belong more in fiction than elsewhere might in fact be the real stuff of memoir and autobiography, that the best bits in short happened mainly in the autobiographer’s imagination, and I am strengthened in this thought by the great difficulty I am having trying to give shape to my own most obvious nostos, my homecoming to 22Ithaka, where so many wonderful things happened but which do not collectively assume the shape of a significant story except for the love story within it, of Lorna, me and our kids, the story that the sky writer inscribed on the heavens, causing me to wonder whether we were dealing with a coincidence or with a lovesick rival, of which many surely exist, and if the latter whether I should take to the air and use the skills Biggles taught me all those years ago to bring the bounder to earth, but before I take up this story to see if its wonder overcomes the doubts I have in the telling of it – literary doubts of course not romantic ones – I want to recount a warming day in the life of 22Ithaka…

21 a day that began in a low key at the gym where I was able to use an old set of headphones that didn’t fall out of my ear like the iPhone buds do and that made radiofatuous a distant background, and morphed into a quiet morning and amiable lunch with Dee who was delivering the lyra for Louis to have his Monday lesson from Nick and taking Lorna with her to sell back the cello that Raph was no longer taking seriously enough, and it is a very serious instrument we must acknowledge, which reminds me that we frequently share the gym, he mostly on cardio machinery, with an orchestral conductor, a strongly built young fellow who props the score, one a Sibelius symphony we learnt, on the bike in front of him, may or may not listen simultaneously on his buds to the magnificence, and occasionally makes a typical conductor’s fluid folding the hand over the arm gesture as he pedals, but to return to the day in question, little time elapsed before Api (Apollonia) the sister of Nick and Adonis and now also a denizen of 22 Ithaka, was home from school, which I must interpolate she likes a lot – even the uniform – and seems to do very well at, and ready to travel through the lands of Lystrygonians, outposts of Dandenong and Frankston such as Springvale Keysborough, Aspendale and Edithvale to the island of Waterways where a charming and highly enthusiastic breeder of budgies and small parrots was waiting with a sociable light blue and yellow fellow in a cage which Api duly paid for from her own pocket money, so revealing a worthy thriftiness, and with the unnamed (later called Pippi I think) budgie on the floor of the van at her feet and biting her hand we drove back home stopping at a Springvale supermarket for bread and milk and coming away surprised by the extremely high proportion of Asian customers and staff and somewhat appalled by the level of municipal neglect visible in the street and car park and arrived home on time to find that Nick and Adonis had prepared a handsome meal from the available stocks which they served to me, Api, Louis and themselves – Lorna being at a meeting – with a great deal of pride that extended to their cleaning up thoroughly according to the Method, all conducted in the most amiable and sociable atmosphere which Louis clearly enjoyed as much as he had his lyra lesson and continued to enjoy through the detailed talk of footy form and statistics and impressive mental feats of multiplication and division, in short an occasion of great humanity and respect such as we like to think the best domestic events are in ambience, provision, care, grace and amiability, and not something I would have once imagined to be part of the life of the aged who are typically portrayed as a grey couple taking tea in the old lounge room or walking along the beach contemplating superannuation or perhaps only a survivor from a once purposeful couple full of years crouched in an armchair beside a mantelpiece of photos wondering where the old love has gone, so relative to those lonely images we are enthroned on Olympus surrounded by beautiful youth, an Ithaka where I must now try to relive the part, the essential part, of my life that has been formed by love…

22 and in pursuit of love I figure that I should turn to the poets to find lavish images that do justice to the mystery, such as Yeats’s Love, for instance, who ‘paces across the mountains and hides his face amid a crowd of stars’, which to me is a grander image than the one Yeats chose not to take from Ronsard who finished his verse for the belle Helene, now, like Yeats’s lover, old and crouching by the fire, with the injunction to ‘cueillez les roses de la vie’, the same image one imagines that Herrick took up in his injunction to ‘gather your rosebuds while you may’, though whether we can any longer urge youth itself as a sufficient reason to marry is more open a question than it probably was in Herrick’s day, yet fine and enduring as these images and those that surround them are I find myself dissatisfied for the moment with their emphasis on youth, which admittedly in Yeats’s case is tempered by the ‘pilgrim soul’ idea that allows there’s more to love than youth, beauty and the need to secure oneself with a partner, and am much more attracted to Shakespeare’s view that love is not ‘Time’s fool’ for though ‘rosy lips and cheeks’ are in its compass it lasts ‘even to the edge of doom’ , all relevant in their way to the idea of love but somehow not for some reason answering to my experience or ideas on the subject, so I’m becalmed for the moment thankful to have had an argument to pursue with an obtuse energy supplier, thankful
too to have a talk to prepare on the subject of temperance or more precisely the Temperance Hall in Queensberry Street, a Hall that had only a brief life devoted to preaching abstinence then a longer life as a centre for evangelism and then surprisingly a centre for Communism and avant garde music, strange bedfellows actually when we recall that Stalin banned jazz, but if nothing else a tale that keeps me diverted from the puzzling task of describing love to which I must however return because no matter how puzzling it is it is plainly central to the idea of Ithaka as the marvellous journey and intimately, if that’s a good word in context, connected to my life in 22 Ithaka and to the lives of me and Lorna then and in the preceding years, and as I sift through my accumulating quotations on love I am attracted to Thornton Wilder’s reflection in The Bridge of San Luis Rey that ‘there is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival’, which seemed apposite just after I had been to two funerals for colleagues who will of course be remembered in some way for a while by those who knew them but who will ultimately survive in a brief immortality imagined by their lovers, and it is that brief immortality, that surviving beyond the death do us parting that ensouls the idea of love, an idea that of course embodies our glorious first lusts and our miraculous procreations, but does not seek to hide in romance the mountainous conflicts or the molehills of disappointment that characterize loving relationships, altogether I think a better way to go, for although sex and love are not, as the theologians liked to say, coterminous, sex is beyond all doubt in my mind and has been since I found it could be more than a solitary activity, a necessary part of love but, again as the theologians liked to put it, not a sufficient part, so love can be seen as a sort of body and soul affair even if one is not a dualist in principle, which as I concluded on the camino I am not, but before this argument ends up swallowing itself like a demented python I will pass to…

23     Bionic Ear Lane, an alleyway opposite the outpatient entrance to the Eye and Ear Hospital, perhaps immortalising the first cochlear ear implant developed (by Melbourne University’s Graeme Clark et al) in 1978, or maybe the super version of 1991, or both, but it was not for my encroaching deafness that we were outside the Eye and Ear but for Lorna’s eye, the right one, that weeps of its own accord even as Lorna remains cheerful, which amazingly she manages to do even as the eye pains, so it is with trepidation that we wait for the doctors of the Eye and Ear to say what they think might be done not just to stop the painful flow but also to restore a tiny bit of vision, which latter boon might be achieved surgically they say by inserting a sliver of cornea from a corpse, a procedure that says something about the continuity of life or forms of immortality I suppose not to mention the courage of the operatee, and I guess it was the intimation of that courage that formed one of the bases of love long ago when we were young and romantic, for what interests me now as I try to relive and recount the ways of love is that although it is as anyone will tell you impossible to define and beyond the scope of natural science we can nonetheless identify many of the things it is and it isn’t, that it is not for example whatever it was I felt for the women I mooned over before I luxuriated in the sunshine of marriage but more a knotting together of strands from first loves, early loves, mature loves, doubting loves, ageing loves and so on, a babel of loves I thought after I had noticed a pretty slip in channel 7’s voice recognition on their wretched breakfast show (on at the gym) wherein a bold suggestion about how to bring on a marriage proposal was said to be more of a ‘babel bat’ than a mere verbal thump and of course I wondered whether the great Shipley (maker of several dictionaries of word origins) would come up with more about babel ba ba and barbarian than I already knew but alas he didn’t but since the biblical tower was intended as an entrance to heaven I figured that the babel of love would serve very well as a hold-all for reflections on the nature of the phenomenon, with stuff about loyalty, admiration, passion, fruitful differences and the like but then I soon figured that such a babel would be no entrance to paradise but probably a babble of selections from the book of bad quotations, unless I decided to write a novel, fullstopless of course, where I could go to town with the lust aspect, so I decided one cold morning at the gym while stretching my dodgy latissimus dorsi that I’d confine myself to the pilgrim soul approach that fits Lorna like no other, even though with her eyes as they are she couldn’t take down a book, read even slowly or dream favourably of the eyes she had once, her most vivid memory of them being the time as a child she lay in hospital after an eye operation and peeping out from under the bandages saw her father at the bedside with tears in his eyes, but for the rest, the glad grace, the beauty, the sorrows and the losses, they’re all there and I like to think that the pilgrim soul especially saw something of itself in me for we joined together, for life as it’s turned out, fifty-four years of it anyway, very soon after I had returned from the pilgrimage I had been so keen to make to Italy and France, one which I believe did change my mind/soul/memory/perceptions etc as pilgrimages are supposed to not to mention my appearance, which went from tweedy-bulky-hairy to avant-fashion-smooth (alas all gone), and several fresh accomplishments that included fluent French and Italian in the mouth and a wealth of art and architecture in the eye, the former changing what I would teach and the latter sufficient to draw me into writing about the art world here, in the process becoming a champion of the abstractionists, then beginning to gain favour, a form of painting that, like architecture, makes you think directly of the meaning of images undistracted by overt reference to reality although there’s nothing new about abstraction in the history of art, and even in the great churches heavy with images there is plenty of meaning to be abstracted from the buildings itself which are but huge frames defining the worlds you are entering, worlds that make up a great deal of our joint pilgrimages, ranging from … 

24         our little journey to Cudgewa North to see the ground on which Lorna’s mother’s first school once stood, a journey recorded earlier in this sentence, to hope-filled journeys to Byzantium to learn and learn again from those monuments whose forms and images are set to the calm of chant and the magnificence of polyphony, from arts that justify, if little else does, the Church we grew up in, and I did wonder as we walked this morning to the gym whether our almost-daily journeys to fitness might not be skeined into a modest journey to a Byzantium for the ageless, on which subject I note that as I sat at the lat pulldowns machine waiting for a lady of a certain age to leave the leg press on which she was spending an inordinate amount of time, tuning in the mobile for her earphones, finding a spot to perch her water bottle, pressing at a pace so leaden that she seemed sometimes to fall asleep between presses, reminding me of my mother Reet’s stately motions that she called exercises, which were interlarded with massagings of the skin to concentrate and thereby expel the wind she believed formed a layer beneath the skin, I was compelled to watch (the screen being set just above the lat pulldowns apparatus) the unchangeably wretched Channel 7 sunrise show discussing a novel proposal for marriage vows, namely that bride and groom pledge to maintain the slimness of the first marriage bed lest fat do them part, a promise I fear I would not have kept since over our fifty-four years I have slimmed and fattened several times – though Lorna in my view has not – each time with some consequences in bed and the last time with drastic consequences at the clinic and the board, leading me to my present persistence with the gym and the low GI, but whether or not the gym can qualify as a journey to Byzantium, or an Ithaka, pilgrimages to monuments filled with stories certainly do rank as Ithakas, their cathedrals, churches, chapels, temples and tombs in stone, mosaic and fresco rivalling the cathedrals of sound built by polyphonic masses and perhaps too the cathedrals of words and stories, Homer, for instance, so like Chartres with his grand plan and host of characters flocking from the world of the dead, or Shakespeare, each play occupying a side chapel in a mighty pile of language, or Yeats with works assembled like a temple glowing with mosaics, all Ithakas once you have reached some understanding of what they mean, too many to deal with adequately in the scope even of a very long sentence (or indeed several books, for the two, on France and Greece, we’ve already written about don’t even get round to Italy or Bavaria or Turkey) but nonetheless still singing masters of our days some of them simple reminders of the masters, treasured but seldom consulted, though they might be more so if we had a strategic coffee table offering Mantegna, Chartres, Ravenna, Minoans at al et al, others from friends that speak to us daily in symbols from the walls of 22 – Fred Williams, Peter Upward et al – from the walls of the same room in fact that we celebrated, or should I say commemorated, the other day our 54th wedding anniversary in the company of all the grandchildren and three out of four of their mothers, Shelagh being in Crete, an anniversary that we memorialised together, just the two of us, in a Malaysian-Indian restaurant named Chillipadi Mamak Kopitiam, which we chose first of all for its name, which bundles into one name words for little hot chilli, Malaysian-Tamil street food and coffee with snacks shop, and secondly because it advertises crab, mud crabs specifically, which came to us crouching in a pool of chilli sauce accompanied by crab piercing tools that were pretty useless, a pile of roti bread that was delicious and indispensable, bowls of water to rinse the fingers and large bowls to hold all the broken bits which in crab eating you can well imagine greatly exceeds the quantity of flesh that one can fork out and in, all this in a busy venue in Racecourse Road Kensington which in my memory of childhood boasted a pie shop but absolutely not a kopi tiam, so if we can accept that succulent flesh and cracking skeletons may represent the early and late days of till-death-do-us-part (without the obey bit) then we had a symbolic anniversary dinner that rolled along in genial chat about I don’t remember what – which is perhaps an additional symbol – except that some of it was about the wonderful show we had, at Api’s instigation, seen at La Mama, a further symbol of the occasion and indeed the most potent, which was an artful assembly called Love is my sin in which  Peter Brook has turned some Shakespeare sonnets into a dialogue between a man and a woman, each sonnet intact except for the last exchange, all about love but much more in the fallen leaf and wasted time mood than the exaltation of a summer’s day, and with these verses singing in me I resolved to…

25     begin immediately to memorise more poetry because (1) there is something useful in your head as you walk around doing this and that, (2) you come to understand your favourite works better the more you play them over, (3)  memorising is said to slow down the onset of forgetfulness and worse plagues so that even as you stand in front of somewhere wondering why you’re there you have something to say to yourself that you do remember, and (4) poetry keeps your language alive, as does, though not of course in the same league, TV’s word recognition software which today at the gym yielded insultish and inkilling, the first being pretty promising I think because we don’t yet have a single word for a bit insulting despite having many shades of insulting going on especially now on the net where some of the lunatic stuff requires a word for outrageously insulting though whether that could be achieved with affixes is questionable  (uberinsult being a regular formation and insultoon, though novel, not convincing), whilst the second (inkilling) seems Hopkinsish, but since I have no plans to compile a dictionary of non-existent but worthy words I’ll leave these occasional examples in the drawer and give some thought to what project might follow this sentence when it ends, not necessarily with a full stop but surely when I’ve settled what little understanding I expect to have of love, the candidates at the moment being an anthology Against the Onset, a goer maybe for the struggling Burden campaign, and a local history volume about the housing clearances in  North Melbourne, not because I think at the moment that I will write such a book  but rather because I like the idea of digging up some stuff about the last fifty or so years in North Melbourne, essentially our years in North because we came to 22 in 1964 with Siobhan and Shelagh not yet at school and Mairead just born, and got it for a good price mark you because there was still fear around that the clearing of the old streets was not over yet, that the public housing, then called Commission housing, already surrounding 22 at both ends, would spread yet further, as in fact it did in some pockets before the once high-minded and sometimes misguided housing program degenerated into shady land deals in which public authorities demolished whole blocks and handed the land over to private developers who to our disgust replaced the shops, pubs, houses, drinkers, footy teams and wags collectively known as Happy Valley, our shopping centre for years, with flats, and it was the memory of these early days that was prompting me to nose into the origins of the public housing around us and the character of the community that left North Melbourne during that time to be replaced by immigrants, especially Italian and Maltese who presence is remembered by statues and plaques in St Mary Star of the Sea, home of co-adjutor archbishops, briefly in the case of Daniel Mannix, interminably for Justin Simonds who had to undo the ties between Mannix’s church and Santamaria’s fronts, Santa himself being an old St Joseph’s boy, along with his victim Arthur Calwell and his protege Frank McManus, who came from further along Shiel Street (50 or 48?) and, according to his ADB entry, always called North Melbourne his ‘native land’, which prompts me to ponder what view I would put of the clearances that so changed North Melbourne from an archetypal working class community with a powerful Irish-Catholic background to the pricey renovating suburb it now is, where extended kitchens and open plan living rooms have virtually eliminated backyards – never very big anyway – at the end of which an outdoor dunny backed on to a cobbled lane where night men could whisk out dunnycans, as I seem to recall one did once while I was in  situ though I can’t imagine where, in Weigall Street perhaps, for I could of course paint a romantic picture of stout-hearted slum dwellers being displaced by good-hearted reformers with dreams of new, well-housed communities, a bit in the Kevin McCloud manner but on a far grander scale, whose dreams darkened as the world turned out to be less communitarian, less Christian, less noble than they had imagined, at least in the soul of one of their prime movers F.Oswald Barnett, the great photographer of Melbourne’s slums, a vigorous organiser for slum reclamation in the 1930s, one of the first commissioners of the Housing Commission, campaigner against the high rise estates, one of which replaced the slum I lived in the 1930s, left-wing sympathiser, dedicated Methodist and author of half a dozen, now rare, volumes of verse including Happy endings to old nursery rhymes and I hear the tramp of millions the latter of which I now have a used copy illustrated in industrial social realist black by Andor Meszaros famed sculptor of medallions and consisting of seventeen militant works entitled The Revolutionary God, The Poor Must Rule at Last, An Apology to the Slum Dweller and like calls to action with the collection’s title rising up in To Christians Everywhere with the opening lines

I hear the tramp of millions on the march
The poor the toiling masses of the world
Their weapons are not guns or bombs
But throbbing live ideas
on the scansion of which I would value Barry Breen’s comments, but if we suspend for the nonce our judgements of form and accept that the substance is a fairly restrained sample of the book’s sentiments we cannot be surprised that Barnett was a moral force behind slum demolitions but a disenchanted critic of the high rises hat came after them, which as he and others saw them were inimical to family and community life, nor can we be surprised many of the displaced North Melbournites did not want to go back, yet, even so, we should not fall into thinking that the many old inhabitants who, like Frank McManus, remembered and still like to claim North Melbourne as their homeland were somehow forced out of their Ithaka, because as I observed things at the time many wanted to leave North and go to newer outer suburbs where houses were new, kitchens looked like the ones on TV, indoor dunnies were planned and lawns were big enough to justify a Victa whose song would replace the church bells of their childhood, whereas new arrivals such as ourselves were delighted to find Victorian houses, pleased that the place was full of Italians and intent on modernising the primitive kitchen, bathroom, dunny arrangements for what we saw as spacious family set-ups, just as we were also delighted at how cheap these treasures were and would remain until the suburb acquired tone. of which it now threatens to have an overdose, and on that sourish note I’ll move to…

26     to-day’s new word-recognition software coinage catastrophy, an object perhaps of which there are many in a glass cabinet in the Leader of the Opposition’s room, each with a favourite government crisis engraved on it, thence to Erskine Place that I walked along this morning noting that Barnett took his photo after the bend in what is really a cobbled lane rather than a flash Place, where there are new flats carefully crafted to leave room for cars to manoeuvre into garages as indeed one did after it passed me, wondering no doubt whether I was loitering with fell purpose as I wondered in reply what a car was doing regaraging just after 9 am  if it wasn’t returning from delivering an offspring to a distant and acceptable school, and now to remembrance of our first five years of marriage and procreation in Laity Street Richmond with its timber cottage Reet had found for us and its kitchen improved by Mat, five years of high satisfaction sexually and parentally, five years that still furnish me with several vivid memories of losing my temper, slapping children, staying out at the pub, old woes that never fade, five years with certain precious friends now hidden in death’s dateless night (Sonnet 30), friends such as Jim Murphy uka Murph,who told Lorna she couldn’t give up the fags that once adorned the corner of her mouth so of course she immediately did stop, and Peter Upward an action painter who taught at Moreland High School where I had started the year (1959) of our marriage (in May hey ding a ding, and during term holidays I might say so that colleagues would not be lumbered with my classes), who picked me up each morning in one of those old cars with a single cabin and a boot that opened back for two to sit in and hold on to their hats and who took me into the world of new art where I wrote some intros to programs, the first for the great Melbourne abstract painter Roger Kemp, now also in the dateless night, and rather quickly, considering my complete lack of reputation and experience, to the regular job of art critic for the Observer, then for The Bulletin, and at the very mention of that sacred text of the Australian legend, I found myself under the everlasting stars warming my hands and face at the fire opposite Uncle Pat who of course had been a regular reader, as had my father until it turned Tory, who didn’t see its white Australia trumpeting of much consequence and who was managing to take both sides in the debate Lawson and the Banjo had set up in the 1890s when the price was wool was falling, shearers went out with other unions and Uncle Pat was blacklisted by the squatters for having called the strike in Bourke, maintaining that Lawson was right to see the bush as poor, dry and no place to live but also that the Banjo was right to see it as a paradise on earth and conceding that their background probably gave them respectively the worker and the squatter view of the world, a version really of the view I picked up from my father that the bush looked romantic from the squatter’s homestead but that the failed selector would be better off in the city, but such knowledge at one level in no way dimmed my Victorian Readers vision of the bush until it faded away in the national consciousness, rather quickly I said to Uncle Pat, starting (the fade I mean) maybe when he stayed with us in Punt Road to settle into old age after his perilous experience on the track, which was some time during the War if I remembered aright, then extending over the following years into the 1950s, and I well remember that my dreaming of home when I was in Italy and France late in the 1950s was not of the bush, though I do not well remember what it was of, except that it was not, or at least had not been, equal to the sophistications of Italian and Parisian life, but I rush to add that this is not one of those judgements made as to-day’s decadists are wont to do that the 50s were frozen in an old world and the 60s  sprang to life and so on, for I have no time whatever for decadist cliché if only because, as I remember those years of the 50s, they were not as they are caricatured nor could they be when love was young, marriages were consummated, life works were being tried out (teaching in my case), St Kilda had three Brownlow medallists in a row, television arrived, I sang in the choir at the Olympic Games opening, the ALP split and belief could be suspended in clouds of incense and Latin, events that might indeed glow in the foreshortened memory of age, but more than enough to make me think of forming a Society for the Defence of the FFiftiess, which, as the militant arm of Silver Threads, could have the pugnacious acronym of SODOFF the double ff and double ss in ffiftiess indicating  that much of the forties is attached to the fifties and that the fifties reach well into the sixties so I’m going to make a big effort to… 

27    come to grips with what these Ithakas mean, if they mean anything rather than being a fine metaphor for we-don’t-know-anything-but-should-make-the-most-of-it, which would seem to be the great Alexandrian’s view, whereas for Odysseus, whose tale we are reading now for the third time – in Fitzgerald’s translation which strikes me as the best so far – getting back home, slaughtering a good number of enemies and rejoining Penelope by the loom, is what Ithaka is all about, the difference between the two being that for Odysseus the return is full of danger and frustration, even as he lies (temporarily unfrustrated) with the lovely immortal Kalypso, whereas for the great Alexandrian the hope is that the journey will be long, full of adventure, full of discovery, adorned with unexpected accomplishments and deeper knowledge, so full in fact of everything desirable that there will be nothing more to have when you arrive, so I’m thinking in my case that I need to merge the two views, Cavafy’s because the journey has been marvellous for sure and Homer’s because homecoming too is great even if you must waste time on old woes long regretted as you return to lifelong loves, misted now and romanticised by foreshortening age, so although there’s no way I can name exactly when I set out on the marvellous journey nor when I landed in Ithaka, I think I could say that a map for the journey began to form after I’d taught for a bit and travelled (latish in the 1950s of decadist scorn) and that a destination came into view sometime late in the 1970s, so that in the beginning, according to the scripts I’m following, I was keeping my thoughts raised high, except for the more earthbound preoccupations with women and the drink that dog young men, and except perhaps for my thoughts about teaching which were not yet settled, and except probably for my views on religion, which I think were changing at that time and certainly not in the direction of becoming more devout let alone monkish, as some of my circle were, so I think I need to go back over how these three big matters figured in what was at the time a hopeful journey but would turn out to be a marvellous one as I first improved myself by living in Italy and Paris for a couple of years, Italy because of religion and art, Paris because it was still the centre of the intellectual world or so I thought, then on my return almost immediately fell to real love, with marriage to prove it and soon enough family to demonstrate it, so with these sun-filled harbours, these Ithakas in the marvellous journey arrived at, the matters of teaching and religion were ready to play out for I was fortunate to be appointed to Moreland High School already in love and four months from marriage, and I was still a tenor in St Pat’s Cathedral choir which perhaps did not mean I was still much of a believer but which I well remember thinking pleasurably of rejoining when I was in Europe and which I continued to enjoy for most of the next decade (being the sixties of decadist fond memory), and I am now beginning to have the seemingly quaint thought that the rise in my enthusiasm for the world of education paralleled the decline in my attachment to a religion I still claim in name, and I must say the more I mull on that thought the less quaint it seems because it points a way to a third position between the opposed claims of those who face off against one another these days on much the same terms as they did in the nineteenth century when science put up a serious challenge to religion creating thereby two opposing dogmas both in themselves quaint whenever they pretended to have the answer to existence, for although the claim of religion to truth is manifestly silly so but less obviously is the claim to reliable truth of what my old friend John Cowburn SJ calls scientism in a book he had launched the other day, the problem in that case being that whatever science can teach us about nature and reality there is plenty it can’t, about morality for example as John said at the launch, though whether he thought religion did any better he didn’t say, and while I’m on religion I note, according to the elaborate calendar we absorbed as children, that we are now between two Ascensions, the Western Church’s having passed and the Byzantine’s still to come, and of course the Assumption a long way off yet, a feast I recall that a good friend of ours, a Methodist but otherwise of sound learning, believed was a commemoration of the assumption that God existed, whereas we who took that as a certainty rather than a speculation found ourselves wondering how the idea of dualism played out since for Mary, categorically human, it didn’t seem to apply as it does to us, though Lorna explained to a puzzled me that Mary’s case was simply an advance example of what would happen to all of us, damnation aside, on the Last Day, and so as we hover above that puzzle I see that I am within one day, a rogation day we would call it, of the Orthodox feast of the Ascension and it was still on a rogation day that I made my regular visit to the skin doctors of Royal Melbourne Hospital, where, as I waited…

28     reading some Yeats, daydreaming and watching old people also waiting I went over the consultation we’d had – ‘we’ meaning Silver Threads – with the Burden of Ageing Taskforce (BOAT) on the subject of diversions for inmates in age-care facilities, a consultation with various interested organisations chaired by a suit assisted by a blonde ponytailed secretary, as might be expected except that the suit was female and the blonde kind of male-looking, who announced at the outset, the chair I mean, that BOAT saw the meeting more as a brainstorming than a consultation on pre-ordained proposals, which pleased Silver Threads because apart from community singing, bingo and quiz afternoons which everyone present endorsed enthusiastically we did actually have a few less obvious proposals, the first being a series of information sessions on school choice aimed at giving the olds material to counsel their children and grandchildren on this matter of keen interest among parents, an idea that the suit called most original and that prompted the ponytail to pass her a plastic bottle of water from which she took I thought a rather studied swig, and the second being a raft of proposals to enliven quizzes, and perhaps bingo, the best of them being that contestants be grouped into teams and adopt a team song, just like footy teams do, and as the suit looked like going for the bottle again we hurried into suggesting some suitable team songs, obvious ones such as silver threads amongst the gold, when I grow too old to dream, believe me if all those endearing young charms, home sweet home, home on the range, reflective ones such as je ne regrette rien, thanks for the memory, as time goes by, I can’t get started, upbeat ones such as happy days are here again and when the saints go marchin’ in and soulful ones, especially the Duke’s  solitude, whose Sam Cooke lyrics (opposite) seem so apposite, but as I was launching into a word picture of the teams’ circling wheelchairs singing their victory song I was cut short by the ponytail announcing that the afternoon tea was ready and would we all adjourn to the buffet where the urns were steaming and the Lipton bags and Nescafe sachets were laid out beside the tomato, egg and corned beef sandwiches beside the sausage rolls and party pies, but no sponges I’m sorry to say nor fruit cake for that matter, but anyway I remember that, as I was tucking in, the chair made a point of thanking Silver Threads for our thoughtful contributions which she assured me would be taken on board and find their way into BOAT’s agenda for actioning at the appropriate time once all the contributions had been evaluated and prioritised, which I thought made our participation pretty worthwhile despite our having given up on the project generally, and as I recalled this gathering with satisfaction I heard my name being called by a pretty young lady in white who led me to a room, introduced herself as Shirley, asked me to undress behind one of those curtains that whiz along on an overhead rail and don one of those white sheet-like garments hospitals have in quantity, and investigated the skin all over for signs of danger, declaring things to be OK and remarking to my great pleasure that I looked more like sixty than eighty-one, so after heaping compliments on her I secured a new appointment and went down in the lift with a bloke who chatted in a robot voice through a microphone held to his throat, so that was that, a good morning I thought that had started at the gym as usual and could be continued with some shopping for the 22 dream, first to replace the black electric kettle that had stopped working with a brilliant red one that now sits next to the stove, then to stock up on garden stuff including a medium for planting the orchids that I’ve been inspired to go in for by the pot of orchids that hadn’t bloomed for a good while suddenly becoming a glorious presence in what is clearly an ideal spot beside the new library shed in the courtyard, said shopping of course being done with Lorna who loved choosing between the white kettles and the red and who was attracted to what looks like a great battery-run vacuum cleaner which we thought we might consider once we’d put on the back burner a microwave small enough to fit the space left for it but on the whole a bit passé when one has a steam oven capable of doing anything a microwave does and more, except heat the milk drink with coffee essence that Lorna so loves to take at night as she watches the news preparatory to dropping off during our reading of Homer, which to be fair she is  not doing lately so much as she used to, so…

29       I want to return to this matter of science vs religion vs all the stuff they both leave out but before I do I must mention a valuable addition to English, courtesy of Channel 7’s word recognition program, to wit intergnash, which naturally gives rise to gnashional, a perfect term you will agree for our politics, and on the subject of Homer offer some versions of a favourite passage for your pleasure and commentary, thus

The Odyssey Book XI lines 41-46

translated by Robert Fagles 1996

… and up out of Erebus they came,
flocking toward me now, the ghosts of the dead and gone…
Brides and unwed youths and old men who had suffered much
and girls with their tender hearts freshly scarred by sorrow
and great armies of battle dead, stabbed by bronze spears,
men of war still wrapped in bloody armour

translated by Robert Fitzgerald 1963

Now the souls gathered, stirring out of Erebos,
brides and young men, and men grown old in pain,
and tender girls whose hearts were new to grief;
many were there too, torn by brazen lanceheads,
battle-slain, bearing still their bloody gear.

translated by Alexander Pope 1725

When lo! appear’d along the dusky coasts,
Thin, airy shoals of visionary ghosts:
Fair, pensive youths, and soft enamour’d maids;
And wither’d elders, pale and wrinkled shades;            
Ghastly with wounds the forms of warriors slain
Stalk’d with majestic port, a martial train:
These and a thousand more swarm’d o’er the ground,
And all the dire assembly shriek’d around

(to which I’d like to add Richmond Lattimore, whom I read on the road to Santiago, when I find it)

and in case I forget to say it later I have to give Camus much credit for affecting my thinking about existence, L’Etranger being the first book I read when I arrived in Paris and began to dream in French, with Camus still alive and, I suppose, walking the same streets and boulevards and riding the same métro that I took to get from the Etoile to the Sorbonne though I never bumped into him or any other philosopher of the absurd, not when passing Les Deux Magots nor when ensconced in the old Café Procope, since much tarted up, on a bench said to be the one Voltaire occupied to drink his forty cups a day of coffee and where I had a favourite hangover remedy of steak tartare and fresh cream (in that order, not together) and began to ponder how the idea of the absurd fitted with the idea of engagement, to the extent that when I was back in Australia my still theological friends began to call me an existentialist and puzzle somewhat at my avant-garde taste for the nouveau roman of AlainRobbe-Grillet (scripter of Last Year in Marienbad 1961), Michel Butor (L’Emploi du temps a particular favourite), Nathalie Sarraute and Claude Simon, all, Google tells me, long-lived, Butor still going, and who gave me an early taste for long sentences and multiple digressions, which I indulged shortly after our marriage, while still living in Richmond, by writing a novel entitled And all is always now whose plot and style did not appeal to any publisher but which prompted the director Wal Cherry to get me to write a play, Not with yours truly to open his and George Whaley’s Emerald Hill Theatre in 1961, a play that was meant to illustrate a new style of team acting and was compared to Brendan Behan whom I had not read at the time, but, and it is a big but, at the same time as I was getting into the avant-garde stuff I was pursuing what became a lifelong enthusiasm for medieval and early renaissance art and was still singing the splendours of polyphony in St Pat’s, whose choir at the time was really in the very top handful of Palestrina choirs, up there with the Sistine, and to this day I see no contradictions in those two tendencies and tastes, probably because the notion of the Absurd seems pretty right once you get used to it, the notion of engagement seems to fill the vast gaps left by science or dogma, and imagery as rich as the cathedrals, frescoes, harmonies and pomps of the triumphant Catholic centuries gives you an imaginative life without drifting into delusion, so in those three things I think there is a very useful combination of reality, morality and imagination that has stuck with me in various forms and under many labels for the rest of my life and which probably determined my parting with dogmatic Catholicism yet my continuing use of ceremonial Catholicism, which I guess can be summed up as I’m still a Catholic, quite ant-clerical and don’t believe any of it, a position which is of slight interest even to me but which can lead usefully to figuring out what it is that actually motivates one’s moral life…

30     for morality does seem to me possibly the biggest missing bit left over once you’ve taken in the claims of religion and science, for science tends to limit its morality to a proper regard for truth, which it does not see as absolute, whilst religion attempts to occupy the entire field which is odd not only because it allows also for conscience, but also because plenty of people seem to be quite moral without any of it so that even for someone of my background religion is manifestly but a part of the story, mixed as it is in unknown proportion with the influences of family and friends, the imaginative tugging of the bush legend, the experiences of teaching, politics, indeed the very fact of growing up in a social democracy that took over many good works from the churches and acknowledged that the faithful too had some power over the clergy, and therefore the insistence of the religionists that really it’s the morality in their Book as interpreted by Themselves that underlies all these other sources of morality, that, for example, what your parents might teach you is in fact but a passing on of what They say which is in turn but a passing on of what He said and there’s an end on it, to which I say what if after all the Book isn’t The Source but simply one among others, which makes it at least interesting to speculate on what has plausibly come from each of the many sources that make up one’s thinking life, from politics for example, from teaching, from love, from family life, from travelling about maybe even from the gym where I have recently gone back to the intimidating treadmill having noticed that quick walking, quick for me that is which is not really, puts much strain on the feet and ankles and no doubt on the quads and hammies if I could still feel them, and therefore that the Achilles holds the key to age as he himself did to mortal contest on the plain before Troy, which might be a way of saying to look after what your body advises and leave others to paint the bigger picture, which is what we’ll all do one day anyway, except that I like thinking about things that go in circles, aka philosophy,  if indeed the sources of morality qualify as philosophy (or maybe science, sources being perhaps ascertainable and open to evidence even if the morals themselves are not) and it was at this point in my oft interrupted thoughts on the sources of morality that I found myself in the waiting room (and I stress waiting) of the retinologists surrounded on all available chairs by people of advancing age, several with walking sticks or crutches, several others in the white moleskins and herringboned singlevented sports coats clearly indicative of the Eastern suburbs, two whose noses unequivocally indicated mother and son, one a sub-continental lady in turquoise and bejewelled silk with dark glasses that gave her a marmoset look, directed at length towards me, and a couple whose male side had a huge belly and whose female side, when they arose, showed that they both thrived in the same eating order, and as I wondered, without asking them, as Lorna was then doing in the eye and ear hospital waiting room across the road, what was going through their heads, for they were all silent and only a few were reading waiting room magazines, and one, to my dismay, the Australian with a gleeful banner front page headline that Abbott had become more popular than Gillard, i.e. less unpopular, I was called to be prepped by a young woman (retinologosts being male and their preppers female, wouldn’t you know) named Lana, who lived up to my childhood memory of that glamorous name and who was immediately amiable and chatty, though as always she did not tell me which letters on the screen I got right, which immediate and relaxed friendliness, I thought, illustrated the morality practised in so many casual, professional encounters even over the phone with a call centre person somewhere in Woop Woop, whose patience and charm, once you get to them that is, brings out the plamas in me, and they do indeed respond to soft talk, not in my view because they’re being monitored but because strangers usually respond to strangers who treat them as they’d like to be treated, if I may paraphrase, so civility I suggest is a form of morality as on a larger scale civil society is a form of the good that makes public activity into moral activity, and within such a society its parts, such as schooling, welfare, health care and so forth are also forms of moral activity, which reminds me that I once described teaching as a moral activity to the great satisfaction of several good Catholic friends who clearly relished the idea that you didn’t have to find a sacred text to justify an idea when an apparent heathen, or at best apostate, actually a lapsed agnostic, could utter it in front of you, but I should probably qualify my praise of call centre interactions with a reminder that they are also a major cause for grump, and where grump stands in the universe of morality could be the subject of…

31     some thoughts about youth and age for, although I’d like to be wrong, it seems to me that grump grows with age, that an ubi sunt is built into the DNA of life and arises in spite of the elations of youth that flood back as the choir of exquisite, gowned youth sings gaudeamus, and the joy of graduating in youth and knowledge drowns the warnings that life is short and that those who came before us are already gone, and where?, which is the question I puzzled over when I looked up one of the romantic tastes of my medievalising Catholic youth, the reprobate poet Francois Villon who famously ubi sunted with the line asking where are the snows of yesteryear the puzzling bit for me being the ‘snows’ since I don’t associate snows with the lost beauties of youth but be that as it may if I have any imclinations to grump they are driven out by the memory of the excitement of knowing, of realising that a descendant of yours has graduated to the gown and mortar and is being graced by the eulogy to the mind, a grace that recently was conferred on Mairead and will soon see Nick in the regalia of knowledge, but living in me most strongly as a memory of teaching, of giving a good lesson, of figuring out a valuable task for my students, of developing an approach that can be explained to others as a method, that can find its way into articles, seminars and textbooks, of which Lorna and I wrote many with the inestimable Alec Allinson, certainly the greatest teacher of English I have ever known and possibly one of the best that’s ever stood on a platform in his dusty academic gown enchanting classes with tales and moral dilemmas from books, a dapper man who unhappily finished life in reclusion but who had not a grump in him and whom I like to imagine now back in a village in Durham where he was born and where I could drop in on him and we could chat again without a grump between us, not even those disguised as goodolddays, about kids’ books, which we saw as the last repository of moral literature, well of straight-out moral as opposed to deep down find-it-if-you-can moral, about how he counselled students in trouble, a role for which he had been trained by the great John McLeod, head of the Education Department’s Psychology and Guidance Branch, whose doctrine was that success in work rather than pity for unchangeable home circumstances was the way to recovery, and about good prose which we first judged for accuracy and rhythm and finally, in his timeless phrase, dry-horned for correctness with much debate over commas, debate that I still profit from for I am not a follower of much of the conventional wisdom about commas, believing they should work in the service of rhythm as well as sense and that in a perfectly rhythmed piece there would be no need for them except perhaps as breathing marks for people reading aloud and even then good rhythmed prose or verse and an alert reader should suffice, for I notice in the version of the Odyssey I’m currently reading aloud to my poised-for-slumber bedmate, that (if the god of punctuation – who would be Parenthesis and certainly not Apostrophe – will pardon a comma separating a verb from its complement) although poetic line breaks could often do the job that commas are doing as far as a reader’s phrasing is concerned it is comforting in a way to see the conventions of commaing being followed, which makes my position on commas a bit fragile and not one that Allinson would endorse, his position being, as always judiciously, that commas should be properly placed but as sparse as possible, a position I will interpret to mean that they don’t have to be there at all if the rhythm does the job, but this is, pace Purists, too small a matter to intrude on recollections of how teaching English to expand and liberate minds must have played a part in forming our morality if only because it made concrete what would otherwise be abstractions serving merely to adorn hopes for things one cannot influence, fodder even one day for grump about how things might have been in a better world forged on high principle, which suggests does it not that remembered accomplishment might prevent present grump, that grump is perhaps regret for failed chances, a way to blame others for frustrating what might have been, a kind of smugness that They are no less morally inert than you once were for all your talk…

32     and whilst I was chatting to Alec it occurred to me that the answers Gaudeamus gives to Ubi sunt are either Paradise or Inferno, which is an understandable Divina Commedia view of the afterworld but in no way how I imagine the afterworlds of Reet, Uncle Pat, Jack or Alec, what with Reet fading into the shade of the old apple tree, Uncle Pat still yarning his way across the plains, Jack also on the plains of Elysium but destined I think for a seat among the thinkers in the circle of integrity, and then Alec, glimpsed briefly in Durham but more vividly back in the dining room of 22 at the table with the teapot ready and the pen poised for dry-horning text, the dining room that is still the dining room of 22Ithaka, where I tell him a story of the sort he loves to hear, wherein little Ambrose who is watching on TV the fall of one Prime Minister and the resurrection of another asks his mother Alice if he can say the f– word and given permission on such an important occasion does so utter the f– word, the same word that we of course use fearfully and inevitably the moment a Liberal politician’s face or voice rears up before us like a Cyclops, one great eye running repetitions and a mouth slobbering at the thought of office, and anyhow as we chatted about Laurie Lee’s As I walked out one Midsummer Morning and Cider with Rosie I asked whether writers had the same trouble I have trying to turn their pasts into stories or whether autobiographies are really stories of their personas, rather than themselves, to which question most of them  I imagine would say so what because it’s the story not the life that sells, but then I’m not selling mostly because I suspect that single sentences are saleable, if at all, only when they’re short, which is an entirely different challenge, suited I guess to tweeting rather than emailing, but anyway, as I thought about this present story of uncertainty without climaxes and endings I chanced to muse on the story of the Odyssey – a story on my mind at the moment on account of Lorna’s difficulties with reading, which may in the fullness of Eye and Ear time be remedied somewhat by a transplant from the generous dead – that story most often thought of as a tale of trials and adventures but which is more accurately a tale of homecoming, for of twenty-four books only eight are do with his journey from Troy to Ithaka, the first four being concerned with his son leaving home to find him and the final twelve with his plotting and executing a bloodbath in the name of home and wife, a structure that fits quite well I thought with our first sojourn in 22 after we had escaped from the heroic deeds of our youth and our final return to 22Ithaka where all the demons of the past could be rearranged and rested, leaving only the intervening adventures of raising children, conquering schools, and travelling to legendary caves of ice to concord somehow with its metaphors of violence represented by man-eating  Laestrygonians, Cyclops and Scylla, or its images of temptation, of forlorn Calypso longing for a lover, the early feminist Circe to whom men were best as pigs, and the sirens whose song I have heard time and again as I passed nymphs in the street and strained at my ties, which I must say always held as Circe had said they would, or finally of Poseidon himself, god and enemy, who must surely represent some wrecker, Bob Santamaria perhaps who lives on behind Tony Abbott’s eyes, but I must interrupt these muses to record that two of our three students in 22Ithaka to wit Nick and Adonis have just received wonderful results in their work, distinction and hay distinction respectively, which can be added to Api’s splendid results in her first semester, so the household flourishes still in the youth section, whilst the aged at least keep their chins up to the bar of the gym where the fans are blowing e’en on these bitter mornings and I use the treadmill to think about who might fill Poseidon’s shoes if Santa(maria) is too small for them, and …  

33     I can’t think of many, indeed any, Laestrygonians from those early days before our travels, the days when we romanced and procreated, the days of settlement, of discovering what can be put in a house, how young minds can be filled but not closed, how friends can be brought into a changed life, unless it be perhaps one of those whose visits we dreaded but put up with, whom we didn’t want to turn way simply because he irritated or unwittingly amused us, who was nonetheless later, in fact post mortem, unmasked as a scoundrel and a predator, but who might not have been at the time, probably wasn’t, a character in short who’d have to be moulded into a fiction to fill a proper monster role, so if I have no convincing monsters I will turn my memories to angels, to the two who came into our first five years in a Richmond cottage and the two then who came into 22, and alas! in summoning these four from the past I do indeed call up a demon, a monster of my own making, a person I would like to think was some other persona of mine but I know and will regret forever that it was me, is in fact still me in some form, a violent person, guilty especially of slapping these children of mine when a few words would have achieved whatever was worth achieving, and, further back, about seventy years back, for regret knows no age, I still see the moment when I and some others pushed the common butt of our bullying, a short-sighted only child named Harry who had more toys than us, down the staircase and broke his front tooth, so whatever the joys of my own childhood and parenthood may be, and they are many, they have been throughout my life darkened by regrets for brutalities such as these, acknowledging too that they were far from the only flarings of violence even if I no longer remember detail, and so with that never-to-be-propitiated monster at least recorded, I will move to a more cheerful subject for a while by describing the success of what I call the Method, an aspect of life in 22Ithaka that followed from a rigorous refurbishment of the kitchen such that everything, except the kettle and coffeepot, has a place out of sight, in a drawer or cupboard, with the result that a procedure can be described to everyone in the house who cooks, eats and cleans up, a procedure requiring a few rules to be internalised by all, namely that whoever cooks must wash and drain the utensils he or she used and that everyone, I mean everyone, knows how to clear the table to the sink, to empty and put away washed stuff from the dishwasher, to rinse all used crockery and cutlery, and finally to fill and, once full, start the dishwasher, with the result that, I can assure you, by the end of dinner all surfaces are clear and the dishwasher is blinking in a faultless kitchen beside a dining table clear for the next meal, which will normally be breakfast for Api, who likes Weet-Bix, and porridge or muesli with coffee (in sequence) for Lorna and me, normally taken while the lads sleep on, Api has left for school with her lunch in a paper bag and we have walked to and from the gym, through the incessant traffic I think of kindly as lines of lemmings, or sourly as Liberal pollies queuing to receive the slogans and insults for the day, which they memorise well I must allow and deliver without heed to relevance, but like the traffic roll on smugly, and me obliged to hear them because Lorna is addicted to the news (as her mother was I recall) but usually needs me to find it on the available medium, radio in the morning, online by day and TV at night but no longer the newspaper in print form (The Age in our house and never the Murdoch sausage-wrappers) which used to be the third element of breakfast, and soon I think will no longer figure for us even online because it is starting to charge for its punditry and we no longer do the nine-letter word game, which was for a while our main loss in not getting the paper, but before I dwell too much for now on the homecoming, I want to return …

34     to recollections of our early family years, in search of which I slumped in my brooding, napping and TV watching armchair to try putting together the images I have in my head of our four children in those years, but after a while and little success I had a shower and anointed myself, on the hip against some inflammation, on the groin to defeat some fungus and between the toes with earbuds and tea-tree oil, to clean out jam which my podiatrist warns can lead unless treated regularly to rot and loss of limb, musing the while that it would be handy to find a potion or ointment to recover memories, for what I have of all four of the children, two in Richmond and then two in 22 Shiel St, in the twelve years, that is, between ‘sixty and ‘seventy-two, is awfully little, and this somehow seems wrong, but it might improve if I hop into it with, for example, an image beside a road somewhere in the desert, when we have stopped for a drink and a look at the plant life, of Siobhan and Shelagh on the dirt at the edge of the road falling immediately to playing, heads together, drawing lines in the gravel, finding precious stones, arranging stray sticks, not at all in our world of botanical curiosity or even of travelling; or the memory of Siobhan knowing all the words of all the rhymes for children; of Shelagh laughing, mouth wide teeth shining;
of the two of them outside the playpen while Lorna worked on magazine proofs (of The Secondary Teacher) inside the pen; of Mairead insisting on having a bath in her tights; of Dee putting on plays that could run as long as the audience hung in; of Mairead singing along in made-up Latin with the cathedral choir; or of Dee enjoying Sergio’s banter with la cicchetta; or… I’d like to say I could go on but really I’m struggling for more images, so I’ll switch to whatever that form of memory is in which I’m reading to them about the man who didn’t wash his dishes or years later reading my way aloud  through Dickens or piggybacking them or pushing the swings and roundabouts or making sure they’re cosy in bed before the light goes out, or thinking as I watched the little figures setting out to school that I was somehow losing something in the hope that they would gain something we couldn’t give them, or, and here an image has surfaced of a birthday cake with green jelly set in the impression of an open hand in ice cream that we called the Icy Grip, in fact one of a grand succession of birthday cakes of childish design – trains, palaces, landscapes, funny faces etc –  and lo! another image of Siobhan in a high chair draped in spaghetti and yet another of all four of them around the table some singing others laughing in defiance of my ‘no singing at table rule’ which only I was allowed to break with jingles, especially a ‘things go better with Coke’ one , but I suppose these scrappy memories are just that – scrappy and inconsequential – because they are of little interest and no significance to anyone outside the protagonists, their significance being perhaps that they are so few and so slight, so unimportant when measured against the importance of their subject, against the immeasurable satisfaction not to say wonder that four such beautiful beings, all innocence, all good will, all trust, all optimism, all virtue, the outcome of pleasure and love, should have become part of our lives, an undeserved gift it seems until you stop to realise that it is deserved, that it’s not a gift from somewhere indefinite by a joint creation willed and borne especially by Lorna but also you in a lesser way, a sense of having lived so fully that no random set of images or remembered occasions can capture it, a sense represented perhaps by the feeling of elation one has when news of the birth comes – husbands did not spectate in those days – and the Headmaster, the inestimable Laurie Collins, takes over your class so you can go to the hospital to see your firstborn, and not long after the sight of the pointy head of the second, or the phone call to Mildura, where you were judging a sculpture prize, announcing the birth of the third during dinner at the Grand, or the relief that after some miscarrying the fourth was born and Deirdre was finally used as a name, Siobhan and Shelagh being chosen by us from Irish names then becoming known and Mairead being suggested by Mrs Monaghan, mother of Diarmuid, a genial friend whom I taught with in Koo-Wee-Rup, but once again, the detail fails to live up to the joy, so it’s time perhaps to …

35      consider the role of monsters and disasters in the marvellous journey, to wonder why the sum of a life for me seems to be so positive when there have been, must be, and are, within one’s band of family and friends, many setbacks and occasions for sadness, some based on little more than old slights, some publicly bemoaned, some avoided or barely spoken about, some that will go away and some that might not, some irrevocable as the tomb, some that time will change, and so how is it I ask that the balance, or I should say the doubt since balance has been so corrupted by pollies getting it right, the doubt tips always towards the favourable, towards joy so often, and could that be because, as the great Alexandrian says,  I (might by chance) have kept my thoughts raised high, and had many a rare excitement stir my spirit and my body, which is true, most of all as a result of having a partner and rearing our children, but also as an outcome of the many encounters I have had with art, architecture and artists, sometimes touring galleries, churches and monuments in Europe, sometimes writing about local art, examples of which now hang around the walls of 22Ithaka, most of them from about the 1960s, by artists who were or became friends, Peter Upward (who taught with me at Moreland High, succeeding John Olsen as it happened), Fred Williams, George Johnson, artists whom I praised and defended as abstractionists against some who fulminated that they were paltry imitators of Americans or Europeans and that true Australian art should be figurative, improbably enrolling Nolan, Tucker and Boyd in their cause, which is about as plausible a position as that of the cleric-critic whom I attacked for claiming, would you believe, that proper religious art cannot be abstract, not an easily sustained contention in the face of talk about iconoclasm or Byzantine imagery dutifully dodging realism, but then it does not take consciously abstract art to make a case for the abstract nature of all art, from the images that little kids spread so casually across their butcher paper to Mantegna’s account of the Crucifixion to Streeton’s romance with the Australian landscape, all abstractions in their particular ways, but I see that it is confusing to say that all art is abstract when to do so clouds the intentions of art that is consciously and assertively so, whereas it is illuminating, I think, to maintain that no art will be really representational since it will inevitably be made individual and to some degree metaphoric by its composition, materials, viewpoint, perception of subject and so on, which is just as well since metaphor has a limitless role in human affairs, indeed might be the only way we confront a reality that is itself individual and indefinable and therefore in some way abstracted, that same reality, art tells us, that our religion impressed upon us was less real than the worlds of the golden apses, teeming altarpieces, Golgothan dramas and serenely sad madonnas that artists imagined for centuries (and madonna reminds me that the recent royal birth frightened Channel 9’s voice recognition software into warning us at the gym that childbirth can be baneful and feeding a bib-by messy) and it is this role of metaphor in pointing to meaning that brings me to understand a bit why it is that art over time goes back and forth from abstraction to representation to abstraction again as it becomes familiar with its metaphors, why early artists painting rocks or carving stone at an early stage attempt to depict their spirits and soon move to abstracting them, why a figurative artist uses images as symbols while an abstract artist wants to show us our inner selves more directly, and on top of that we have to ask where a particular art or artist stands within the society being symbolised, whether for example Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton with their narratives and landscapes are deliberately offering an heroic, enchanting view of the bush legend in order to counter the Henry Lawson picture of the bush as desolate and hostile, a place for the lonely and the mad no better nor worse than the hopelessness of the city streets, to which question I can offer no answer because I loved all three and my city-boy story-book grade-readers imaginings caused the visions of the painters, and their fellow-travelling Banjo, to fill out and colour the doubting of the story-teller, so that I read The Drover’s Wife as a portrait of courage and The Union Buries its Dead as a testament to the labour movement,but on a lesser matter…

36 I have to figure out how our large collection of family photos and memorabilia might be displayed in 22Ithaka now that most of the wall space has been occupied either by the paintings I just mentioned or by a number of elegant wall heaters almost as good as an abstract sculpture, for as you might imagine we are both of us reluctant to have such treasure buried in a filing cabinet or albumised on shelves but quite how we’ll manage to have it on display is still to be worked out, a portable board, on wheels maybe like a whiteboard, somewhere discreet and able to be changed from time to time, for there are many more items to display than there could be space to display them, some framed, which is perhaps awkward, some laminated, some from the camera, some printed from iPhoto, a technical challenge in short needing to be coped with alongside the emotional/historical challenges of what the display and when, for we might start, for example, with some sort of 80th birthday display for Lorna in October, if we had a board ready, a display of childhood in Bunyip, youth in Numurkah and Wangarattta, university days, teaching in Traralgon, performing in King Lear with the town drama group, marrying, posing with babies, maybe even some video of her act for home art, the spectacular images of her cam[paigning for the North Melbourne swimming pool and thrashing the ALP machine men for a place on Melbourne City Council, a great display you will agree that could best be followed in my view with a rundown of the grandchildren and their mothers, like the one of Siobhan and Annalivia with Lorna and the estimable Penny Wong, Finance Minister at the time, along with drawings by Francis and Josephine and if the equipment’s there Francis recently science video Adventures in gavity, and drawings we have saved from Dee and others, and then pics of Louis, Raph, Gabriel and Aoife in typical poses, Raph at football for instance when his team almost won the preliminary final, or Louis at the computer, Aoife on the mobile , Gabriel doing a sinuous rap, and then, lest we forget, Api in school uniform, Adonis at the DJ desk and mirable dictu Nick in cap, hood and gown at graduation, and then in the case of Cal and Rory with whom we shared a courtyard for so long we could have photos of them dining with us, which is fairly regular , since they are now fending for themselves, or – and this is what I would really like – find images, if they exist, of the young, keen Rory singing Join in the chorus and sing it one and all, join in the chorus North Melbourne’s on the ball and of Cal comfortably settled in the armchair opposite me exploring the turns and doubts of philosophy, at which he was so adept and devoted, or, back to Rory, learning off Prévert’s Déjeuner du matin and reading Barbara, the first an image of private desolation, the second a lament for the passing of a world, both of which he took to heart and I hope remembers, so if we don’t have an image of that, which I suspect we don’t, maybe we could put an image of Rory beside the text of one, a possibility that makes me think we could juxtapose other grandchildren beside their passions, Annalivia already with hers, as is Gabriel dancing, Louis perhaps with the Bulldogs in action, Josephine and Francis at a sleepover or head high to the table with the birthday candles still burning, Api singing, Nick and Adonis playing for dancers, in short images that we want in 22 Ithaka because they represent our lives, or perhaps just mine in some cases, a project that I should leave now to…

37      glance at political lives – ours and others – beginning at the top, at the PomPom on the bonnet of the infant Prince George whom Channel 9’s VR has praised as the ‘key to the monkey’s future’, and moving on then to our own leader-to-be-he- hopes, Warden Abbott of the Three Words, who has this very night declared war and appointed a task force to find an enemy, the task force to be headed by a 3 star general reporting to News Ltd, and who has we must assume also appointed a loyal Catholic group within the NPMO to examine certain unpublished documents, entrusted to the abbott by Bob Santamaria, which outline  how to run the country during a national emergency, plans developed to deal with the catastrophe we just managed to avoid aka the Communist menace but which is brewing today within the union movement and on Christmas Island (or maybe Manus Island, somewhere anyway),  and so as we take tea and await the end of democracy as we have known it, I have it in mind to discuss with Lorna the connexions, if any are significant, between political activity, one’s own that is, and the moral journey, whether agitating in unions, being in and out of parties, representing the locals or working for ministers, whether any of these lead to discovery, adventure and high thoughts, to which end I went looking for Lorna in the great palace of which 22Ithaka is but a wing and found her not far from the tower sifting through an old wooden trunk, scattering the contents on the unpolished Baltic pine floor, in search of Rerum Novarum or Quadragesimo Anno , and with neither of them turning up I proposed we continue to talk about how they might apply today, relying on my memory of their ideas, mine because although both of us had avoided Santamaria’s movement I had been in the Campion Society where Distributism was taken seriously whereas Lorna had been in the Newman Society which went in for mystical body, incarnation and the like, mine also because my recollections were likely to be clearer than papal prose, although to be sure of my memory I did read both encyclicals on the web, finding my memory to be good on the social theory aspects of the reasoning but deficient on the piety side, for the three principles of (1) the rights of workers to organise, (2) the common right to property, and (3) subsidiarity of authority were indeed as I remembered them from discussions of Distributism but I had forgotten how these great reforms  could only be guided properly by good Catholics, and as I toiled through Pius XI’s praise for the thought of his illustrious predecessor of revered memory, I began to see how Santamaria was impelled by a mix of  piety and power, a mix as irresistible as love and lust, the sort of emotional brew that seems to drive America’s or Iran’s fundamentalists, that Santa was in fact more of a fanatic than a schemer, that he had taken to heart the papal insistence that secular unions were at risk of socialist domination and could only be countered by Catholic unions that at worst paralleled the secular ones and ideally supplanted them, which may be an extreme reading of the pontiffs but can be justified, for example, by a paragraph such as 35 in Quadragesimo Anno in which the heir to St Peter deplores circumstances that ‘ have prevented Catholics from founding purely Catholic labor unions (so that) Catholics seem almost forced to join secular labor unions’ in which case, he says ‘ it is clearly the office of bishops, when they know that these associations are on account of circumstances necessary and are not dangerous to religion, to approve of Catholic workers joining them, keeping before their eyes, however, the principles and precautions laid down by Our Predecessor, Pius X of holy memory’,  chiefly that …’side by side with these unions there should always be associations zealously engaged in imbuing and forming their members in the teaching of religion and morality so that they in turn may be able to permeate the unions with that good spirit which should direct them in all their activity’, and if this is not a sure blessing not only of the Industrial Groups established by Frank Keating and Arthur Calwell, alumni of St Joe’s along with Santa and Frank McManus, but also of Santa’s men-in-gabardine-overcoats-disappearing-through-unmarked-doors-in-252-Swanston-Street Movement, I’ll go he as my father used to say, my poor father, three years out of South Melbourne orphanage aged 17 in 1891 the year Rerum Novarum was issued, the same year his brother Pat called the shearers out in Bourke, the year the Labor Party was founded under the ghost gum at Barcaldine, the party to which my father gave his greatest gift, his loyalty, the party whose faithful he set on a roar in Prahran Town Hall when he heckled ‘sausage wrapper’ at the mention of the Murdoch Herald, (and what would we wrap in Murdoch’s Australian today), but tragically the same party that would test his loyalty to the faith of his fathers when Santa created a Catholic splinter mob, knocking the political stuffing out of my father for some years, not that he ever voted other than ALP, but  he was subdued, not caring a salami about Santamaria but bewildered that Mannix would back Santa in recruiting to the Movement and banning sales of The Catholic Worker at the church door, for straightforward Catholic that he was, always one of the first in the congregation to stand for the Gospel, he would have had little if any idea what Max Charlesworth was talking about when he said that ‘Santamaria, in his own quaint way, was very interested in (Distributism) but crossed it with a theocratic society’, but now that Santa is in the land of the dead and theocratic societies are an Islamic ideal to be enacted somewhere else, I believe it is time to revive talk of Distributism, though not under that name, to which end I invited Lorna…

38     to have a cuppa in one of her favourite wings of the palace, the Wangaratta/Numurkah Wing, and sitting on the wide verandah out of the bright sun that was making the surrounding bush glitter, we chatted about Distributism, which we’d agreed in a former chat was still relevant to politics today but would have to be given a new name and description if it was to get anywhere within, say, the Labor Party where it could fill the slot vacated long ago by socialism, a solution which would be better than being a fringe party or a think tank or a best-seller in the style of two ideologies I remember from my youth, viz  Douglas Credit, which Lorna’s father Mat spoke of as though he knew what it was, and my father named in his shorthand way but never explained, and the Henry George League which my father usually did explain by saying ‘Henry George single tax’ and which I well remember because my cousin Eileen Serpell, orchardist of Doncaster, was a regular Henry George League candidate for the Senate (third on a list that wasn’t going to get even one up) and her brother, Talbot Bateman, was a favourite ‘uncle’ of mine, one who left a coin behind when you shook a farewell hand, who readily yielded to requests to sing Jerusalem in a powerful baritone, who impressed on me that I could one day be a light on the Henry George hill and who died chivalrously opening his umbrella for a lady crossing Flinders Street in the rain and obscuring thereby his vision of the oncoming traffic, and to Uncle Talbot I could add his dashing brother Rupert who lived in Adelaide and would take visiting family up into the hills to see the lights, so with this past in fringe politics I was able to explain Henry George’s basic idea to Lorna and point out that the still extant Henry George League in Hardware Lane has renamed itself Prosper Australia, which is an omen perhaps for us vis-a-vis renaming Distributism, and then to ask her what she remembered of Douglas/Social Credit only to establish that we neither of us knew anything more than that it had seemed all right, in a distributive sense, at the time but had become associated somehow, possibly through no fault of its own, with the League of Rights and subsequently Pauline Hanson and what with this leading to that and one thing to another we ended up noting that the coming election date, September 7, happened to be the feast day of Frédéric Ozanam – a Dante scholar according to Wikipedia – whose Society of St Vincent de Paul started the South Melbourne Orphanage that my father and his brother Ted were in after their parents died in 1883-4 I think, all very curious-coincidental but not getting us anywhere in finding a new name for Distributism that might gain some traction in ALP discussions where unionism and the rights of workers, the prime subjects of Rerum Novarum, need no advocacy, but where two big themes of Quadragesimo Anno – workers’ rights to share in productive property and subsidiarity of authority – need a lot of arguing either because of the lack of policy on the ground, in the case of property,  or because the idea itself, subsidiarity, is foreign to ALP tradition, and to  most others in Australia for that matter, for which reasons it will be prudent to separate the themes and avoid a single -ism, for example by talking about the property question as a mix of rights and productivity, and about the subsidiarity question as a means of strengthening community through greater involvement and empowerment – a heart-warming run of cliche if ever there was, a list only the most curmudgeonly sniffer of hidden agendas would reject –  so in keeping with that approach we thought we’d foster some talk about co-operatives as they are today, since they are historically the great achievement and lasting outcome of pre-Santamaria Catholic thinking, and find a way into questioning and deploring ubercentralism, of which so many instances plague the land today, my pet monster being Commonwealth encroachment into schooling about which it knows bugger-all but that would really be but one of a long list of things in many fields being buggered up by Bigger Brother and likely to be perhaps even more so after September 12 when the Biggest Brother looks like being a post-Santamaria Catholic, a nobbler of unions, a mate of the sausage wrapper, a minion of winner-take-all business, a trasher of whatever’s in the way, at which glum point we took up our daily chat about the prospects of our local ALP outsider against the incumbent Green until the smell of something getting close to burning plucked me suddenly from the Wang Wing to the kitchen of 22Ithaka where…

39     dinner for the household and others is being assembled by myself in collaboration with Nick on meat at the barbecue, Adonis on salad, Api on table laying and Lorna on table embellishments, a table this night laid for the household five plus two more grandsons, Rory and Louis, Rory because he’s a neighbour and good company, Louis because he’s taking lyra lessons from the big cousins on Mondays which is the best day for going over the detail of the footie results, who smashed whom, what was unbelievable, which favourite team nearly won, who the Doggies will verse next week and so forth, all essential knowledge for the people of Melbourne, and somehow known even to the cousins whose enthusiasm is ignited more by Liverpool FC and European champions in competitions where everyone nearly wins all the time than by the real footie of the AFL, though I do of course conceal this prejudice in conversation, drawing on my limited knowledge of the scoreless game to keep the ball rolling so to speak, but before we delve further into dinner conversation I should note the extent to which the menu conforms to Burden guidelines as interpreted by Silver Threads where we have focussed on foods that combat high blood pressure, heart-threatening cholesterols, hip-weakening osteoporosis, diabetic fatty tissues around significant inner organs, uncertainty of bowel and bladder function, danger of rot and loss in toes and feet, mutinous Achilles and the many other things that blood and bone tests reveal about our ageing flesh, flagging organs and crumbling bones, and so, beginning with the antipasto we can allocate an excellent score to the crudités  but with some points off for the bocconcini and a lot for the salami, but such things are put there, in the passive of imputing blame to the gods, to test us and of course we can easily be restrained since the problem foods vanish rapidly leaving the crudités to us, and as I praised the virtues, moral rather than gastronomic, of carrot and capsicum raw, Rory asked why I had put a wedding photo of me and Lorna inside the front door, which I explained by saying that it was just the size needed to block the unusually generous view into the house offered by the letters slot – vertical and at eye level – that invites visiting or other eyes to peer into the house clear through dining room and kitchen, where we now are, to the laundry, at which mention of  the photo both Api and Adonis remarked that we were a handsome pair when the bloom was on us, implying in their always flattering way that age had withered the bloom not the tree, and so we went over the where-we- had- met-how-I- proposed- where -we- had-married detail that seems to fascinate the young, perhaps because they are composing the same sequence for themselves, until the entree of grilled, stuffed mushrooms was tabled and after much relishing of these, talk returned to our early days of romance with Lorna describing me as rather unkempt (this being before my Italian transformation) and me recounting, not for the first time in this company, my cherished story of the undergraduate with the beret, the cigarette in one corner of the mouth, Ozaccents issuing from the other, defying the hotel to kick her out of the public bar into the ladies lounge, but when talk turned with the salad– an Adonis spectacular – to detail of the wedding and its trappings I emphasised the presence of the cathedral choir and the guidance on formalities of Frances as bridesmaid but evaded description of the reception where I disgraced myself and dismayed Mat by not giving a proper speech and glossed over the fact that we hadn’t gone on a routine honeymoon but instead bought a magnum of cognac and got straight onto things in our new house, which I still think is a better idea than interposing a long trip between ceremony and bed or booking into a leering hotel for the night like a pair already discovered in adultery, and so having diverted conversation from our first and later days in Richmond I helped Nick to bring in and serve the sausages and chops he had seasoned so carefully with salt and oregano before barbechewing them, adding from my own preparations a mish-mash of broccoli and potato with feta, very popular with Adonis and Rory, while conversation drifted around Nick’s internship in a New York recording studio, a glamorous way if ever there was to finish the final year of a degree, and Adonis’s growing list of  gigs that keep him from the communal table several days a week, but never Monday when he helps teach Louis to play the lyra, at which Louis his teachers say is shaping up as a star, and so as the chat lapped around the table…   

40   I thought, as I half listened to the surrounding talk, about what it would be like to have a long and open future before you, as five of those around me have, Nick and Adonis apparently settling into that bit of the future filled by work, Rory still casting about for attractive opportunities, Api planning a heap of futures that can’t all fit in, Louis sure of maths and sport, and I recalled of course that I had once had a lot of future before me, when I used to tell uncles who asked me what I was going to be that I wanted to be a civil engineer, which they kindly didn’t ask me to define, or when some time later I aspired to the security of public service or to white collar jobs with salaries of a thousand a year, which my father saw as a sure sign of a sinecure, or when I satisfied dreams of an adventurous, insecure life by borrowing from the Prahran library memoirs of journalists, or when finally I bound myself to a teaching career for three years in exchange for the chance for university study with barely an instrumental thought in my head, coming as I did from a line of saints and bards and mingling with friends of literary bent and ambition, or when I left teaching to return to the middle ages of cathedrals and frescoes, or when I went back to teaching and found that I still liked it, and so on, all adventures, all discoveries in their way but no Ithakas compared with the marvellous journey of romance, homemaking, love and family embodied now in 22Ithaka and partly represented around the table as we hopped into nutritionally incorrect lamb with low GI mash and virtuous salad and discussed Nick’s view, formed in New York, that ‘the key to success in the recording industry is to be positive and always with good energy (for) that way people hire, even though they don’t have any idea how good or bad you are’, a view he insisted, against the deplorations of Api and Lorna, was true, interesting and probably undesirable but true, and with that unresolved and prompted by a  question from Rory, I told the table that I was having a few problems with the sentence, this sentence that is, in particular that when I tried to get a word count Word kept giving me different totals, one wildly inconsistent which I would ignore, the others never quite the same, which was more understandable given that I put bits and pieces in and out, but more importantly, and this was really a problem, I was losing track of the theme, partly because I’d taken a few blind paths but mostly because the title theme, These Ithakas, was getting impossible to pin down, maybe because Ithaka, as the great Alexandrian says, has nothing to give when you get there, which means maybe there’s no Ithaka, that the epic journey is marvellous because it’s a procession of ordinary bits without an extraordinary ending, that the homecomings and the entries into the lands of shades, the renovation of 22Ithaka, the chats with Reet, Jack, Uncle Pat and Alec, the perfect days in the garden, the cosy evenings reading Dickens to the kids and Homer to Lorna, the lunches and dinners, the company of the young, the gatherings of old comrades, the triumphs and indignations of politics, the understanding that the end will be no Ithaka but simply the end, and it is probably because our Ithakas are ordinary and epic that this sentence has to meander and not end except to answer one more request from the family to recall the stories that tell what it is that Lorna and I liked about one another, and still do, and to that end I retell the story of the dangling cigarette and the story of Lorna in the playpen working, with Siobhan and Shelagh outside the pen, and she the story of May or may not, but I keep to myself my real favourite memory which was of the day you asked with trusting eyes…

41     it will be perfect won’t it and yes, I answered, yes

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