March 2013 archive

Longing to belong

The money collectors are out on
street corners in honour of the Good Friday Children’s Hospital appeal.  I try not to resent the rattling of
tins at every intersection I pass through on my way home from the airport.  One of my daughters is off to China
with her boyfriend and we were up at 4.45 am in order to make their flight to
Sydney and from there onto Shanghai. 
Most years I relish the quiet of
Good Friday but this Good Friday has already been anything but quiet.  It’s the middle of the day before I
have a chance to sit down and write. 
Yesterday a free-standing brick
wall on a construction site fell over in Carlton killing two young people and
critically injuring a third.  An
hour or so later a couple of suburbs away in Richmond a truck clipped a car at
a busy intersection, mounted the curb and then struck a fourteen year old
schoolgirl on her way from home. 
She died at the scene. 
Two freak accidents which have left
me waiting for a third and so frightening on Holy Thursday, the Thursday before
Easter,  or so it has been named in
my family on my mother’s side for generations.  Holy Thursday and the last supper. 
I can only think of the families of
those young people who died, through no fault of their own.  A freak accident.  In the wrong place at the wrong time
and try as I might everything else pales into insignificance. 
The people rattling their tins
offer broad and coaxing smiles – 
give give give.  Most are
dressed in uniform, from the fire brigade, to the SES, even school kids.  Collectors with arm bands and bright
coloured tins.  All collect for
charity. 
On the way home from the airport
another daughter and I stopped in Carlton at Baker’s Delight to buy some bread and encountered a family of fire
brigade collecting folk, father, mother and a few children.  They were all dressed in fireman’s
overalls and rattling their tins in the faces of diners at one of the open air
cafes where patrons enjoy their meals on the street footpath. 
I tried hard not to judge.  All in a good cause and people were
polite and agreeable but inside my head I thought the collectors were
intrusive.
It’s not a bad thing I know but
still the part of me that resiles from too much generosity cringes.  Maybe such ‘begging’ has the hall mark
of my overly Catholic childhood where excess generosity hid all sorts of
atrocities. 
It’s sometimes hard to put the good
deeds of the church up against the things that go on behind closed doors – the
abuses, not just of children, but of others who are powerless to protect
themselves. 
I went to an Anglican service on
Wednesday night where one of my daughters sang in the choir.  I went to listen to her singing but the
religious elements were to the fore, 
not that they convinced me. 
I enjoyed the spectacle, the back
and forth chanting across the church hall, the slow extinguishing of six of the
seven candles in the centre of the church until a church helper in black robes
took the last one from the church – 
to symbolise Christ’s death or so it said in the accompanying pamphlet –
and we were left in darkness. 
As I looked around at some of the
people in the church, those whom I imagined had arrived out of conviction
rather than from a wish to hear their children sing, I felt a twinge of
jealousy. 
Oh, to believe.  To have such conviction, and a certain
view the world and our place in it.  I have no such certainty.  As much as a part of me admires them their confidence,
another part of me shudders. 
And there’s a shut out quality for
those who don’t believe. 
I felt this as a child growing up
within the Catholic church.  There
was ‘us’ and there was ‘them’.  And
belonging to the ‘us’ part of the equation offered security.  We were on the right path, the one true
faith. The rest, the poor misguided souls were headed elsewhere. 
We could pity them.  We could have some level of respect for
their mistaken ways but we were on the side of right and might and all was
well. 
My mother’s church from whence some of my sense of certainty first sprang. 
I lost that certainty a long time
ago but these days when  I see
signs of it elsewhere, and not just within religious institutions – it exists
in football clubs, political parties, professional groups – I can feel the same
cringe of exclusion, but this time from the other side, from that of the
outsider. 
The same fear of and longing to
belong.  

The -isms are everywhere

Last night I watched a 1969 movie,
The Magic Christian, on You Tube. 
I was led there when someone put up a Face Book entry of a short excerpt featuring John
Cleese, Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.   The excerpt took my fancy.  
In it, Peter Sellers who plays the part of an wealthy business
man, Guy Grand, takes his newly adopted adult son, played by Ringo Starr, to an art
gallery in London. 
Guy grand had adopted his son, whom
he calls Youngman, after meeting him by chance in a park where both men took
to feeding the ducks.  Youngman has
lived as a vagrant sleeping in parks with no money or good fortune to speak of
until Guy Grand meets him, falls in love, in a ‘paternal way’ and then takes him
under his wing. 
The two then go off both to spend
money and to demonstrate how easily people can be bought for any price.  The film’s theme song is that old
Beatles number, which I still enjoy, If you want it, here it is, come and get it, but you betta hurry ‘cos it may not last….
In the art gallery Guy Grand and
Youngman inspect a dark portrait painting with the air of experts. Grand asks the proprietor
whether it’s a Rembrandt.  It is
indeed but as yet it is unauthenticated Dugdale/John
Cleese tells the two Grands.
‘It’s extremely dark,’ observes Guy
Grand.
‘Rembrandt was a master of light and
shade,’ Dugdale says by way of explanation.  
‘What is this exercise in light and shade worth?’ asks the
older Grand. 
‘It’s to be sold at auction,’ says
the well spoken and po-faced Dugdale but we expect to get ten
thousand pounds. 
 ‘I’ll offer you fifteen
thousand,’ says Grand.  At which stage Dugdale stops the conversation he had been enjoying with some other fellow in
a suit, and turns his full attention onto Grand who ups his offer to thirty
thousand pounds in response to Dugdale’s suggestion that he/Dugdale has been advised
not to accept any offers prior to auction.  The price seals the deal.  Both men spit on their hands and shake by way of contract. 
Grand then tells his son that this is a marvellous
example of French painting at which Dugdale interjects,  ‘Rembrandt was Dutch.’ 
Guy Grand then takes out
a pair of scissors and cuts through the canvas to remove a small square that
features the nose of the character in the Rembrandt painting.  Dugdale looks on horrified.
Guy Grand then offers the square of
canvas to Youngman and urges his son to put it in his pocket as an excellent
example of a French Rembrandt nose.  As
the two men walk off leaving an awestruck Dugdale behind them, Youngman turns
back and urges Dugdale to keep a look out for ‘a good French ear’.
Very Monthy Python-esque you might
say, a feature of the humour we enjoyed in the 1970s, British humour, that takes
the Mickey out of the upper class and is deeply iconoclastic.
Somehow it fits in well with the
crazy week we’ve endured here in Melbourne with our politicians seemingly going
berserk.  Leadership spills and the
like. 
I despair of politics, the cut and thrust,
the constant lobbying for power.  And
here in Australia, I can’t help but think there are quite a few men in positions
of power who are finding it hard to take orders from a female politician, whatever
her merits. 
Everyone acknowledges our prime
minister is tough but that sort of toughness seems to intimidate or disturb
many people.  It’s not womanlike,
so to speak. 
That’s my pet bug bear at the
moment, but I must be wary.  On the
airwaves throughout social media there are so many different takes on so many
issues that seem to me to be gender based, race based and/or age based.  
The –isms are everywhere.  I dare not add to them with my own
prejudices.

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