Broken pledges

We used to call them ‘demos’, demonstrations against the things that troubled us.

These days we call them rallies. We rally against or we march against. We no longer demonstrate.

Why the shift I wonder? Why not demonstrate, remonstrate, jump up and down against the things that appal us?

Like our treatment of asylum seekers.

No point in getting into a rant.  No point in getting hot under the collar on the page.  Best to go out there and protest, but elsewhere I read from someone online that they think all these marches and rallies are just a waste of time.

Worse still they’re a way of appeasing people’s guilt so they can go home after each rally feeling they’ve done their bit and no longer need to worry about the fact that not much of anything has changed for the better for asylum seekers in this country.

Though I reckon it will change. It has to change.

One day apartheid stopped in South Africa.

One day the Berlin wall came down.

One day the Vietnam War ended.

But each new atrocity is followed by others.

My optimism about the good of human nature wanes.

At the same time, I refuse to get onto the bandwagon that says things are getting worse, apart from in relation to the climate.

Things go up and down.

I’d prefer to be living today as against living in medieval times, but if I lived in medieval times I might have preferred that era to the previous one.

You make the most of what you have, if you have the sense, and there’s not much point in hoping for something else from before your time or into the future that’s out of your reach, except when you daydream.

Delicious day dreams like when you win Tattlslotto and how you’ll do this and that, get rid of your debts, buy all your children a house, donate to charity, too.

But from what I’ve read, it rarely works out that way for folks who win the lottery.

Last weekend, I cleaned out the trunk that sits under my desk, which I’ve filled with Christmas and birthday cards and other memorabilia from my past.

It took the best part of the day and put me in touch with my childhood and adolescent selves, folk I scarcely recognised.

Thank goodness I went to university. Without it, I fear I may have stayed stuck in my puritan mentality.

Among the treasures, I found a certificate signed by the head nun from my school certifying my pledge to abstain from all intoxicating liquor until my twenty fifth birthday. The Sacred Heart Pioneer Total Abstinence Pledge.


What was I thinking?

My first alcoholic drink came in the form of a Brandy Crusta, which I sipped in a bar beside the Edithvale beach, while I was visiting my first serious boyfriend.

It had a sweet though sharp edged taste from the bitters and I waited for the heady sensation to follow. I looked out across the waves and noticed them shimmer more than before I had taken those first few sips.

Could this be it? The lure of the demon drink? There was a delicious taste of wrong-doing in every mouthful.

Nineteen years old and I was breaking my promise to the nuns and to myself that I would never be like my father, who had lost his head to alcohol.

Before that day, alcohol was the beery smell that wafted out of the Palace Hotel whenever I walked past on a Saturday afternoon on my way down Burke Road to the Camberwell shops.

It was the chemical smell that stained the bottom of the sherry glasses left out in the mornings after we had visitors.

It was the unlabelled brown paper bags in which my father hid his bottles of Saint Agnes brandy, the ones with three gold stars and a picture of the saint in green on the front.

It was the stack of empties in the outside laundry where my mother stashed those bottles every weekend.

Alcohol was the man who came to our front door one night asking for money. My older brother answered and told him we had no change, which was true no doubt.  But it seemed an odd thing that we should turn away one drunk, while my father inside was also sunk low on alcohol, as low as the beggar who had come to our front door.

The shame of it all, my fifteen-year-old self thought. To have a father who could not control his drinking and who would one day wind up in the gutter. Always the gutter, never on the streets.

In those days I did not consider where my father had come from, what he had been through, even as my mother pleaded for us to show our father some respect and to recognise his dreadful childhood.

A dreadful childhood, I thought then, was no excuse for bad behaviour.

These days, I consider it is every excuse, though it cannot justify worse behaviour. It simply makes it understandable.

Still it’s hard to understand an entire nation’s bad behaviour.

It’s hard to fathom why a whole group of us cannot recognise what’s going on in our own back yard, even when the rest of the world can see it.


4 thoughts on “Broken pledges”

  1. One of the many interesting words I came across as a young logophile whilst pawing through Hartrampf’s Vocabulary Builder was “mobocracy”. Even back then it was a word that made me feel decidedly uncomfortable. The only unruly masses I’d had any experience of were at school but that was quite enough; I saw the potential and I didn’t like where my imagination was taking me. So in general, religious conventions excepted, I’ve stayed well clear of large bodies of people especially large bodies of disgruntled people. I have therefore never been to a demonstration or a rally or marched anywhere. My fear of mobs aside I’ve never felt passionate enough about anything to get off my arse if I’m being totally honest. I’m sure much of this disinterest can be traced back to my childhood where it was impressed on me that although I might have to be IN the world I didn’t need to and shouldn’t want to be a part OF the world. Which suited me just fine. I lived in my head and let others take care of business. I should’ve been overjoyed when the Berlin wall came down and the Vietnam War ended and apartheid stopped in South Africa but I can’t say I really was. I took cognizance of the facts and got on with my little life in nowhere town knowing full well as you say that something would come along soon enough to fill the void.

    I never went to university. I do regret that. Perhaps there I might’ve developed some interest in politics. But I never did. Had I gone I’m not sure I would’ve associated with those kinds of people anyway but we’ll never know. It’s all random. I did drink back then but I can’t remember my first drink. We’re Scottish and drinking’s a part of the culture here so I was expected to partake and I did as expected but I was never any good at it. If I drank I got drunk and it never took much. By my early twenties I’d lost all interest and although I did take partake of the occasional libation after then I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been inebriated since. I’ve been pretty much teetotal for as long as I’ve been with Carrie. So I suppose in my teens I could’ve wound up at one of the many student bars in Glasgow desperate to fit in and who knows who I might’ve encountered there? A pretty Communist perhaps with loose morals and big boobs.

    I may not remember my first drink but I do remember my first tastes of alcohol. During my early childhood my parents rarely drank but occasionally a bottle of Martini would find its way home and we were allowed a sip just to shut us up. It was horrible stuff but as far as I’m concerned most alcohol is unpalatable which is why I tend to smother the taste with sugary mixers. I could never understand why they—and by “they” I mean Dad—bought it; it was worse than medicine. At least medicines were designed to make you feel better, not sicker. Not that I remember my mum or dad ever throwing up but I knew then what they were doing was somehow not right and it scared me; they were different after a drink and not in a good way.

    1. Smart move to avoid the mob, Jim. I steered clear of such things when I was young, but as I grow older they draw me in, especially when I’m fired up enough to protest. In some ways you’re lucky to dislike the taste of alcohol. It makes it so much easier to avoid. I enjoy certain forms of wine, but I despise beer. To me, beer of any type smells like ditch water. It makes it so easy to resist. but I reckon if I needed to, I could also acquire the taste. And then I’d have the additional problem of avoiding a cold beer on a hot day. Give me a gin and tonic over beer any day. Thanks, Jim.

  2. Oh, Elisabeth. You make me laugh and you make me sad. Brandy Crusta was my first drink, too. And don’t forget Harvey Wallbangers!
    But yes, the human capacity for atrocity is endless.
    Looking into the mirror of history and our so called democracy, I have never felt so powerless.

    1. And how about those Bloody Marys with Vodka, Karen. They gave the illusion of healthy drinking. In contrast to the human capacity for cruelty. As you say, endless. Thanks.

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