Message on my secret diary. See that lock? That means if you read my diary you'd dead. I mean, not really dead. I'm a girl, it's not like I mean dead dead. But.
My secret diary while reading Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine.
Day one. I was going to read lots of this book today, but Manny said we had to go to see the History of Lingerie exhibit at the Grenoble museum. Boring. Why do men think women's underwear is interesting? And after I got lost and found Manny again he was watching a video of girls who had nothing on. I'm like 'What's that got to do with underwear?' And he replied in his lofty tone 'You wouldn't understand, you don't have the right sort of brain.' Day two. There's all those little things that get in the way all the time. You think you are going to sit down and read properly and then it turns out you have to do the cooking. And then there was getting a cushion for Manny's feet, which wasn't like a sexist thing to do or anything because I wanted to, he didn't ask me, I just thought of it on my own. That's how my brain works. And reading all his reviews. Apparently I'm not cooking enough rhubarb. Could it be true?, I wondered to myself as I knitted later on while watching TV and thinking about things like rhubarb. Maybe girls do have different brains. And before you know it, it's... Day three. I was so determined to read this PROPERLY today. NO interruptions. No, I'm not going to have sex, I'm going to read this book. What do you mean you don't believe I'd rather read this book than have sex. No. No. NOOOO!!!! Later.... Apparently my 'no's really sound like yes. Everybody tells me that. Apparently when I say 'no' I need a new persona for it. Somebody who sounds like I mean it. Anyway..... Day six. I never stick to these diaries, I'm just no good at being a girl. A secret diary should be practically the most important thing in my life and it isn't. At least I finished the book.
This was the first Tan book I picked up - not surprisingly, given it's the wordiest of this illustrator's work. I bought threee copies in Melbourne an...moreThis was the first Tan book I picked up - not surprisingly, given it's the wordiest of this illustrator's work. I bought threee copies in Melbourne and before I knew it they'd all disappeared into other people's bookshelves. One more for me then.
A charming book that will make you smile, if not giggle, and quite a (brave?)departure in style from his others. There is not a dark moment in it.
My curiosity was piqued while listing KESTEL, R.W.O. Radiant Energy, a Working Power in the Mechanism of the Universe. Port Adelaide [printed by F. Co...moreMy curiosity was piqued while listing KESTEL, R.W.O. Radiant Energy, a Working Power in the Mechanism of the Universe. Port Adelaide [printed by F. Cockington] 1898. The Tasmanian antiquarian bookseller Richard Neylon had this to say about it:
The frontispiece of experimental apparatus must be one of the best examples in the history of Australian scientific illustration: a new theory explaining the workings of the universe can be tested with a decapitated corrugated iron water tank, two rules and a ball on a string. It also, just in graphic terms, has a radiant energy of its own. This is a stylish little book and has a stylish and reasoned generosity not always present in such works: “the difference in the two theories does not at all effect the accepted laws of the force of gravity, as given us by Newton”. As to considerations of a Newtonian universe he points out that “of two theories, if one can be demonstrated by … experiment and the other cannot, I prefer the former.” An humane execution. I wonder if R.W.O. is the Ralph Kestell [sic], mason of Port Adelaide, that appears in the directories but can’t add any more to that.
The picture of the apparatus is charming…what can one add except ‘Cern, eat your heart out!’
I poked about the internet for a bit and came up with a fascinating picture of the author.
Ralph Wheatley Odgers Kestel 1838-1903 landed in South Australia from Cornwall as a youngster with his parents and immediately, at age 10 was working in the mines of Kapunda and Burra. At the age of 14 he started going to the gold diggings interstate and worked as a builder in Adelaide as well involved in various notable buildings. He was prominent in Port Adelaide, mayor at one point, and a contemporary record has it that:
He was instrumental in doing much good for Port Adelaide during his councillorship. He introduced a drainage scheme for the sanitary improvement of the town, but, although it was not adopted, it found much favour and led to prompt action by the civic body. He took a prominent part in the purchase of the land for the Corporation Wharf, and also in securing 1,000 feet of wharf frontage to Tam o'Shanter Creek, and strongly supported Mr. H. W, Thompson when mayor in introducing asphalt footpaths Notable South Australians; Or, Colonists, Past and Present (1885) Author: George E. Loyau
Kestel, R. W. O. (Ralph Wheatley Odgers) A man ahead of his time?
He was of a period where anybody who was a good thinker could become engaged in considerations which are now the purview of a tiny number of people around the world academically engaged as ‘cosmologers’. His book Radiant Energy, a Working Power in the Mechanism of the Universe attracted a review in Nature, no less, which is worth reprinting in full:
Nature 69, 101-101 (03 December 1903) | Radiant Energy A Working Power in the Mechanism of the Universe F. S. THE loose and unscientific use of terms, such as force, the curious absence of ordinary mechanical conceptions, as, for example, inertia, and the almost puerile objections raised against the Newtonian theory of planetary motion, sufficiently proclaim this book to be the work of the untrained amateur with original ideas. In consequence, none but a discerning reader will profit by its perusal.
Yet the closing sentence— “Radiant Energy is a Working Power in the Mechanism of the Universe”—is a remarkable one, considering that the book is dated as having been published five years ago. The researches of Nichols and Hull in America, and Lebedew in Russia, on the pressure due to radiation have established the author’s contention.
In the chapter on comets some of our present notions of the cause of comets' tails are clearly anticipated, but in applying the same idea to other parts of the mechanism of the universe, the author has fallen into the error of imagining a repulsion from the sun “just thirty thousand million times too large.” The main idea is that “a repelling force radiating from the sun” “partakes of the sun’s motion of rotation,” and “is carried round in the direction the sun is revolving.” The author justifies himself by mechanical analogies, and uses the idea to account for the origin of both the orbital and axial motions of the planets. By the aid of a model in which the repulsive force is represented by a stream of horizontal water jets emanating from a rotating nozzle, many of the phenomena of planetary motion, it is claimed, can be demonstrated experimentally.
The idea, although so crudely expressed, when applied to our present knowledge does seem to possess a real value. Light, radiating from the sun, should, it seems, be affected by the rotation of the sun, in such a way that the resultant of the pressures from all parts of the solar surface which reach a planet passes through a point displaced from the centre in the direction of the edge approaching the planet. The same would apply to pressure exerted by normally projected corpuscles or electrons. The effect is to produce a positive acceleration of the planet in its orbit. Whether there is also a couple acting to produce rotation suggests a nice problem for the astronomer. Is it possible that these infinitesimal pressures acting over infinite time could originate the motions of the planets? Could these pressures maintain the planet in uniform motion through a resisting ether? These problems should now admit of a definite answer, and seem worthy of a more competent analysis than the reviewer is able to give.
It is quite clear from other evidence we can glean here and there, that Kestel was a person of substantial intellect who had applied himself in original and notable ways to solving the mysteries of the universe despite his seriously deficient education. Or one wonders if that last sentence should read somewhat differently: because of his lack of education, rather than despite it. There is a record from the Astronomical Society of South Australia 1901 minutes described on its site thus:
In 1901 there was another controversial lecture, accompanied by a demonstration, this time by a Mr Kestel. There was no doubt that he believed in what he said, which was that Newton hadn't quite got it right and there was a force of repulsion as well as attraction. Since the secretary records Mr Kestel's uniform courtesy under trying conditions, and at one stage in the discussions, before beginning his reply, Kestel obtained a promise that members would not interject unduly, it seems as if the audience may have remained unconvinced. Astronomical Society of South Australia http://www.assa.org.au/about/history
Unfortunately we don’t know exactly what his idea, as brought to this meeting, was, but we do know that the general sense of it was eventually vindicated. There is indeed a force of repulsion.
What a pity that Kestel died before he could read the rather positive review he received at the hands of Nature. As it is, in bringing it to the attention of Adelaideans via a Letter to the Editor of The Advertiser, the main broadsheet of Adelaide until Murdoch took possession at which point it became a tabloid, first in nature and next in shape.
The Advertiser Friday 8 January 1904 The Late Mr RWO Kestel To the Editor. by JC Kirby Sir-The late Mr. R W O Kestel, of Port Adelaide, was much given in the intervals of business to the study of astronomy, and especially of celestial physics. Eventually he published a work, "Radiant Energy: A 'working power in the mechanism of the universe " This has been reviewed in Nature of –December 1903, a copy of which came from the publishers to the home of the deceased gentleman by sea mail, and, on the whole, bears remarkable testimony to the originality of his ideas and their substantial truths. For the honor of the memory of one of the most worthy men and able thinkers South Australia has produced, allow me to call attention to certain statements in Nature [quotes at length from the review]…...
From the above it appears that Mr Kestel was a foremost pioneer in celestial physics, and that without the advantages to be found in Universities and the great centres of knowledge he made distinct acquisition to the volume of the world's science. It is pleasing to remember that he received much sympathetic encouragement from Sir Charles Todd, and also from Mr Russell, the Government Astronomer of New South Wales Both these gentlemen felt that there was a large measure of truth in Mr. Kestel's speculations, and that they were worthy of the attention of men of science. The instrument, which in so many respects has no parallel in the world, is still at Port Adelaide. It would be a pity for it to be broken up, as it sheds remarkable light "upon celestial mechanics, and I believe in all mechanics.
Kirby then goes on to a personal reminiscence of Kestel, which sent shivers up my spine as I read it:
Our deceased fellow-citizen had a great sense of righteousness. One day he told me, I have had a great temptation from the devil, for in the course of my investigations, I saw, as in a moment, how a machine could be made, and forces used, which would be capable of destroying men men ten thousand at the time, and make ordinary artillery useless. I felt he said, that if I revealed it to one of the Great Powers I should have large money, but I should bring great calamity on mankind, and so I have resolved never to reveal what I have found out. and content myself with the machine I have made, which, while it will never give me pecuniary profit, will help the world in good knowledge. In Mr Kestel, Port Adelaide and South Australia lost a citizen of genius.
If I'd had to guess, I would have said 'tour de force' is one of those expressions we use, but the French don't. Not that we do use it, it's one of th...moreIf I'd had to guess, I would have said 'tour de force' is one of those expressions we use, but the French don't. Not that we do use it, it's one of those expressions you can't use because it's been watered down in that way, you know. The coffee is awesome. That kind of way.
To my surprise, however, I see this book, which the French love, described by them as a 'tour de force'. I can't help thinking that when the French use this expression they probably don't mean it is a trivial thing, slightly better than another comparable trivial thing.
I was reading what the French have to say about Perlman because he is regularly described as being 'one of the 50 most important writers in the world' a tag accorded him by Lire magazine. I couldn't find that when I looked at their site. But they clearly adore him, as do the Germans:
His second novel, Seven Types of Ambiguity, was a national bestseller in France where it was described as 'one of the best novels of recent years, a complete success' (Le Monde). In Germany it was called a 'literary sensation' (Deutschlandradio), 'an impressive, iridescent all-encompassing view of feeling' (Der Spiegel), and described as having "the virtues of the great modern European novel' (Süddeutsche Zeitung).
So good, his work could be considered European. Thus does a blatantly Australian writer arrive.
How about in Australia? The SMH, in an interview, observed of this novel that 'it has also brought him extravagant praise he has not quite yet won here.' I guess I have to 'fess up. I've never read any of his books, though I did see the movie of his first and it was terrific. I'm making up for it, the others will be read soon.
Australians may take for granted this writer who has electrified the world with his work, but of the many awards and accolades Seven Types of Ambiguity has received, I wonder if one that would sit best with the author is The Queensland Premier's award for Advancing Public Debate. Here is a man who cares, Elliot Perlman, he cares passionately and he does not disguise that for one moment. This book is a moving indictment of white first world attitudes, the ones that have forgotten any sense of common good and are all about get more, more, more for me, me, me. In some writers you'd be relieved that he got away with this, that it didn't spoil a good yarn, but Perlman is so good he has you all but weeping with disgust at the way you live whilst utterly unable to put down a book which has a plot, characters, dialogue, clever construction and technique.
For several days in a row I did almost nothing but sit with all 607 pages in two point font. There are times when I feel bad that I give so many books 3 stars that others give more generously to. But then, every now and again a book comes along that is so obviously so superior that I remember why I save up 5 stars. In fact, right now what I think I'm going to do is review my 5 star ratings, just to make sure the others are worthy enough to be in the company of this book. It's that good.(less)
A stunning triumph for form and style, as well as for the daring of Redstitch to put this on - well, commission it, not merely stage it. Melbourne rea...moreA stunning triumph for form and style, as well as for the daring of Redstitch to put this on - well, commission it, not merely stage it. Melbourne readers of this, if you aren't yet subscribers and attenders of Redstitch, shame on you.
Throughout this play all the characters who are on stage at the same time speak at once. I have no idea why the reviews I've seen don't mention this as it strikes me as both brave and unusual. The incredible thing is it works. To begin with you think it will be like watching News on the television these days where you are torn between reading the stuff up the top, the stuff down the bottom or should you be listening to the guy talking or - and it all passes you by as you make this decision. But NO, NO, NO. This is not what happens here! Somehow I believe that you intuitively know what you should be listening to. Well, either this is intuitive or a very clever manipulation by the play's construction. At any rate, what might fail dismally in fact remains etched in my memory as one of the best pieces of theatre I've ever seen.
Why this is a famous opening baffles me. It is vulgar, too brash. It is an...moreIain Banks' Crow Road begins thus:
'It was the day my grandmother exploded.'
Why this is a famous opening baffles me. It is vulgar, too brash. It is an opening by a writer that wants the reader to look at him, not the words on the page. It shows off.
Murray Bail's short story 'Camouflage' begins thus:
'All things considered, piano-tuning is a harmless profession.' Now that's a great opening gambit.
'Camouflage' and 'The Seduction of My Sister'.
Two trifles, both about flying in odd ways. Impossible to put down, to be read in moments. You end reluctantly, wishing for more, like the end of a dessert that wasn't quite large enough, or sex sometimes.
Update. I gave this to an English friend who read it at that hasty speed that means she couldn't put it down. One of the comments she made afterwoods...moreUpdate. I gave this to an English friend who read it at that hasty speed that means she couldn't put it down. One of the comments she made afterwoods was 'Is food really like that?' She was struck by how ordinary people seemed to have very sophisticated tastes. The answer is 'yes'. That's why I've been having so much trouble in the UK where food, not to put to fine a point upon it, sucks.
Same with coffee. I don't drink it, but judging by the impressions I get from my many world experienced friends, coffee in Melbourne is the best in the world. Indeed, a friend of mine came back to Manchester from Melbourne a while ago and has been trying ever since to teach the local coffee makers how to make coffee.
Melbourne people don't just love food and love coffee. They are fussy about it too.
So, this is the story that really says how it is. Last time I was in Adelaide, I wandered past an ordinary suburban petrol station and observed the large billboard inviting you in to have a coffee prepared by their barista. Not just any old barista, either. Their barista had a photograph and a name. Even by local standards and expectations that sort of blew me away.
The backdrop is bushfire.
The end sees our hero – and I use that word advisedly – engulfed in flames, along with his father and brother as they fight to save their property. When all is lost they climb into the water tank: they are still going to die, presumably by boiling, but it gives them a few more minutes. Suddenly at the very last moment the wind turns, all are saved. Ah, you think. The artifice of the author. An author can do that. But the fact is bushfires do that. Water has no agency. A tsunami takes all in its path without exception. If one is saved it is because one has fought to do so. A tsunami bludgeons its way forward. A bushfire appears sentient by contrast. It is absolutely true that all properties surrounding a house might be lost, that one house miraculously standing. It is absolutely true that the bushfire of its own volition turns certain death into a reprieve. We city dwellers have not seen this, but nonetheless we have experienced it in some oddly intimate ways.
The last terrible bushfires in Adelaide. Huddled against a low stone wall are a group of people who are going to die. One of them is a reporter and he is describing what is happening on radio as he crouches as low as he can with the others. The background noise is the wailing of people who are about to be burned to death. He now finds out for sure, just before he dies, that he is a true reporter through and through. After all, how else could he do what he is doing? His sense of calm is amazing. So we are all pruriently listening to the distressed sounds of this group of people. And then, at the very last second, the fire changes direction. Certain death is still, in the grand scheme of things, certain, but not immediately foreseeable, at any rate.
Same bushfires. My sister is part of a hundred girls and staff at a retreat bang in the middle of the bushfires. There are many anxious calls to the authorities about them, but they have rescued another such group nearby and nobody even realises these kids are there as well, trapped. Eventually they retreat to the main hall, they put wet towels under the doors to futilely delay the inevitable and they pray. There is nothing they can do. They are about to be burned to death. Suddenly, at the very last minute, the fire changes its mind. It loses interest in them. Moves on elsewhere.
Of course, there are the opposite stories too, the bad luck ones. But the point is that the end of this story is the artifice not of the author, but of the bushfire.
And lips are pursed by sour-faced persons who think there is a difference between a who-done-it-thriller which is widely and enthusiastically read, and literature.
Because, you see, this book won Australia’s major literary award, the Miles Franklin. It is obvious why. It is awarded to a book which is ‘the best’ about Australian life in some way. Tim Winton has won it a hundred times, half of them in abeyance for books he hasn’t yet written but will. I’ve only read one of his books, but if it is any guide, they are richly deserved. So is this one. Quintessentially Australian. Fabulously written. (less)
Hands up anyone who’s played chess with a Nazi war criminal. And did you win? Looks around. So that’s just me, is it?
I go to visit the home of one of...moreHands up anyone who’s played chess with a Nazi war criminal. And did you win? Looks around. So that’s just me, is it?
I go to visit the home of one of Australia’s top players for many years. He loves chess. All he has ever wanted to do is play chess. All he wants to do now, as I come to talk to him for my book is play chess. We play chess. I win. In Ozols’s 60+ years of playing chess, this is a first. He has never lost to a female. We play again and my heart has melted at how gentlemanly he is about this loss. I don’t have it in me to beat him again.
I play him chess and I look around and cannot help observing that I have many friends and acquaintances who came to Australia as survivors of concentration camps. As it happens, in the circles in which I move, these are all wealthy people, some extremely so. Here I see the only non-Jewish refugee I have met from this period. I see a poor man who has lived a hard live. He lives in an undesirable part of town, he lost his only son while he was a teenager to measles, he has clearly struggled. None of which matters because he lives chess. That gives him his joy in life.
A while before I go to visit him, Ozols becomes one of the people that the special unit set up for the purpose is going to take to trial for Nazi war crimes. A prominent chess journalist in Australia sees fit to identify him – he is supposed to be known only by a code name. This journalist considers he has the moral right to expose this person. Innocent until proven guilty? Bah. We all know better, don’t we? There is a report see? And he wouldn’t be going to trial unless he was guilty. So when I go to see him, a frail man in his eighties is less than that. He is a frail man who has been beaten up and run over by those who consider they have a moral right.
This might ring in your ears whilst you play again, as recorded in Edward Winter’s Chess Archives:
Harrowing charges of Nazi war crimes have been levelled against a chess master who participated in the Kemeri, 1937 tournament alongside such figures as Alekhine, Fine, Flohr, Keres, Reshevsky and Tartakower. A densely-documented 12-page report by Zandy Alter and Michael Kapel in The Australia/Israel Review Vol. 22 No. 14 (1-22 October 1997) states that Karlis Ozols ‘executed thousands of Jews and liquidated entire Latvian villages during World War II’. Among the specific claims are that on 1 July 1941 he joined the Latvian Security Police in Riga; that in early 1942 he was trained at Fürstenberg (Germany), an establishment run by the Sicherheitsdienst (the security service of Himmler’s SS); that he commanded a unit of about 100 Latvians which, between 24 July 1942 and 27 September 1943, assisted in the transportation, guarding and execution of Jews; that between July 1942 and September 1943 over 10,000 Jews from the Minsk ghetto were murdered, with Ozols personally carrying out some killings; that on 8-9 February 1943 Ozols and 110 Latvians under his command assisted the SS to kill more than 2,000 Jews of the Slutz ghetto. ‘The killings [open-air shootings and gas vans] were efficiently organized. Orders directly from Hitler were passed down the SS hierarchy to the Latvian officers under their command.’ On 20 April 1944 Ozols was promoted to the rank of Obersturmführer and was decorated with the KVK II (Kriegsverdienstkreuz – the War Merit Cross). The following December, he disappeared.
But not like this does: innocent until proven guilty. If we don’t live by this we are fucking savages.
Ozols’ wife has invited me to stay for lunch. ‘You are the butcher’ she says to her husband, ‘you take this chicken’ and she means only that he is the man, it is his job to chip the bird up, but under the circumstances macabre to say the least.
Innocent until proven guilty. And I hope you understand where this is going. I hope it is obvious what we are talking about here. We are talking about this campaign on goodreads to get a person on it, and all the virtuous drivel it has spouted by people talking reasonably about sock puppets. All fucking crap. Just crap.
The virtuous mob. Let’s get this guy. We are morally right. There’s a website some girl’s set up that says we are morally right. Let’s get him, let’s go. The mob. I’ve been ignoring various warnings I’ve received about him, insinuations by private letter. Web links. Well, that proves it doesn’t it. I mean, there’s a web link. A link on the web says this guy’s a monster. Hey. It must be true. We live in a fucking society that has rules. Mob morality is not one of them, thank fucking Christ. If you want to behave that way go to fucking Afghanistan, join the Taliban, dispense summary justice, join virtuous mobs stoning people to death. Leave this society please, which does things differently and, which if you live here, you should uphold, better.
You all should go to see the film ‘M’ about the mob vs. a person we would now call a paedophile. Come out disgusted with yourselves.
Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord. It’s for a fucking good, fucking obvious reason. You have no right to take on that mantle. It’s wrong. Go somewhere else where mob justice is the way. Me, I want police and the legal system and the civilisation that results.
This was the hardest thing I've had to do as a historian. Decide what to do about Ozols. In the end I figured it was a chess history. I etched into my history Ozols the chess player. That was all. For a while lately I wondered if that was correct. Now that I have observed the goodreads mob in action it has reaffirmed for me that I did make the right move. For once in my chess life.
Added later in the day:
A strange continuation to this story. A woman is doing her PhD but is dying and it is a race against the clock. The issue has arisen of my writing up her PhD. It is about the trial of an accused Nazi war criminal, an investigation of the process. In Australia in these cases a judge hears the evidence and decides whether it goes to a jury trial. In this case it did not. Big publicity, of course. Does the person who undergoes this trial ever escape the implication of it? This is one of the things her supervisor, a law academic raises herself. So this guy didn't go to trial. Does that make a practicable difference to his life? Does he hold his head up high? Do those around him believe he is innocent? Treat him as innocent?
I'm reminded of something a friend told me years ago after I'd published a book about cheating at bridge, the main argument of which was that perhaps those accused aren't cheating. Seamus said to me, 'You know what's going to happen now, what your lot is?' 'No,' I replied. 'People will have this vague idea...hmmm, wasn't she the one who was cheating?' Somehow the book seems to have been so memorable, it hasn't happened yet, but I totally concede the logic. It will happen...(less)
One of the things that makes Australians feel so lucky is, having satisfactorily subjugated the indigenous population, it has nev...more2 February 2011 Update
One of the things that makes Australians feel so lucky is, having satisfactorily subjugated the indigenous population, it has never really faced an external threat. We have sent, I suspect, more than our fair share of men to fight other people's wars, if you like, but despite Japanese bombing of part of Australia in WWII, we are rarely concerned with such issues.
We have this incredible balancing enemy within: the weather. To have watched the bushfires a couple of years ago in Victoria where two hundred died, whole towns razed to the ground; the devastating floods a couple of weeks ago in Queensland and then Victoria where a vast unnatural inland unanchored sea floated about; followed by what is happening this moment as I write:
The cyclone that is hitting Queensland, which sounds like it will be even worse when that is hard to imagine.
Natural enemies abound and they have their impact in unexpected ways. Julia Gillard's government is in a precarious position at the best of times. Evidently rallying together is not on the mind of the Liberal (ie conservative) Opposition leader. He is begging for donations to finance a fight against the idea of a national once off tax levy to pay for the rebuilding which must next take place. It is almost enough to make one laugh.
So I'm sitting on the pavement at the Marion Shopping Centre, covered in blood and thinking, yes, indeed, Lucky Country.
My mother had caught her foot on some loose pavement, and fallen down hitting her head which bled horribly for a while.
Two lovely girls independently stop. One of them gives me her mobile so I can call a friend to come and get us. The other one gives me a packet of tissues. Shane, Security from the Shopping Centre comes out and deals with phoning an ambulance while dishing out sensible advice and first aid.
The ambulance comes and a couple of great guys give my mother a thorough examination, the bleeding has stopped, they think she can go home as long as she is happy to.
Honestly. We are the luckiest people in the world to live in this country.
Update: 26 March 2011 walking around London. The Westminster city council has decided that homeless people should find somewhere else to be. So, as we...moreUpdate: 26 March 2011 walking around London. The Westminster city council has decided that homeless people should find somewhere else to be. So, as well as declaring that the homeless will no longer make the city their home, the Council has told charities that they aren't allowed to feed the homeless any more. My friend S-L who told me this said that the Council did that to get rid of pigeons, now they are doing it with human beings. Attention Londoners, no feeding the homeless.
Lady Di is quickly forgotten. I don't they they would have dared do this if she were alive.
Lost on the way to the theatre this evening, a chap stopped to direct us. After we moved on, Henrietta said how nervous she was, the guy was a drug addict. He looked like a perfectly ordinary chap to me, but she insisted. Maybe because I’ve shared my life intimately with drug addicts from time to time, I see them differently. If a drug addict wants to rob you, which was her fear, it is only because society for no good reason cripples these people financially. If drugs were ‘free’ or thereabouts, nobody would be robbed to pay for them. It seems to me a reason to be outraged on their behalf, rather than scared of them.
As we were walking along I talked to her about my experiences on Grey St, St Kilda. It was a street I travelled up and down daily for six months or so while I was living at one end of it, my PO Box at the other. It is a strip full of crazy people, mostly men, and to begin with I felt as nervous as she did. It didn’t take long for me to realise, however, these were human beings. Ordinary human beings. Strange to think that we fear people simply because they are powerless, that we somehow invest power into their powerlessness. Strange to think we are scared of people because they have nothing and live on the street. So, before long, these were people I knew, not in any intimate way, but in that sense you do people you see every day. We’d smile, nod, say hello. I might add that these people were empathetic. They were quite capable of ignoring you if they felt that is what you wanted.
As I’m telling all this to Henrietta, who believes not one word of it, I was regretting not walking along there anymore. I’m now torn between thinking that would be a lovely thing to do, but wishing to stay away from a place that has memories that are sometimes painful to evoke. I seem to be scared of making the trip.
Back from the theatre, I continue something I’ve been doing the last couple of days: reading what I can of Gaita online, having watched the film Romulus, My Father over a couple of nights. I come to this point. The Sacred Heart Mission is in the heart of Grey Street and accounts for the nature of the street’s inhabitants:
In the same week that Romulus, My Father received a literary award, with all the glamour attached to such ceremonies, I read from it at the Sacred Heart Mission, in St. Kilda, reluctantly, for I was aware that people came for lunch, not for literature. At one stage a man, obviously mentally ill, called for me to stop. He raised his head, which he had held in his hands and exclaimed "God is in this book!" Remembering the times I had worked in mental hospitals, I was anxious about what he would say next. "I mean, that it's filled with love", he explained. His words moved me deeply. I remembered the day when my father and Vacek visited me at school. That tribute, by a man destitute of all worldly goods and achievements, quite without status or prestige and also quite mad, moved me, gratified me and convinced me of the worth of what I had done more than all the accolades the book has received.
I hope you all now understand that you must see this movie, read this book. And take a walk down Grey St if you can.(less)
Before you fairly start this story I should like to give you just a word of warning.
If you imagine you are going to read of model children, with perhaps; a naughtily inclined one to point a moral, you had better lay down the book immediately and betake yourself to 'Sandford and Merton' or similar standard juvenile works. Not one of the seven is really good, for the very excellent reason that Australian children never are.