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.