Legends from our own lunchtimes

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The first day of the first test

The serious end of the cricket season in Australia always begins with the first test match of the year, and the first test match is always at "the Gabba", Brisbane's Woolloongabba Cricket Ground, home of the Queensland Cricketer's Club, and at other times the Brisbane Lion's who play a game called Australian Rules Football.

A year or two ago, about the time when a team of gentlemen from England visited to once again lose the right to call 'the Ashes' their own, the Australian Cricket Board decided it would be a good idea to clamp down on people having fun at the cricket, so they stopped the uncivilised practice adopted in some quarters, of arranging for a young lady to provide a drink waiter service during the match, in fact to make it doubly difficult beers could only be ordered in lots of two, and they were light at that. Not being one to imbibe alcoholic beverage, I wasn't too perturbed personally, but the banning of whole oranges or watermelons because they could be used to smuggle alcohol was probably going a bit too far, as was the blanket ban on packaged foods, canned drinks of any sort, musical instruments, cameras with "telescopic" lenses and generally having any sort of behaviour which could in any way be construed as having fun.

I even wrote to the Board at the time to suggest that perhaps the Mexican wave could be allowed occasionally under police supervision, or just maybe the occasional taunt of a non-racial, non-sexist nature could perhaps be allowed through to the keeper.

But the board knew better, it stopped selling tickets in blocks of more than four to disrupt unruly gatherings, it encouraged patrons to "dob in" anyone who's behaviour was mildly annoying, anonymously, by SMS.

In year three of this new regime, only two beach balls were confiscated, and the Police had to quietly talk to some of the Milo kids to urge them to curb their enthusiasm, but by and large we could have slept untroubled for much of the day.

I can't recall a test match day with large sections of grandstand vacant before and while I suspect someone in a board room somewhere is blaming the harsh economic times for the lack of attendance, I was sorely tempted to SMS the hot line and complain about the Kiwi supporter wearing the black shirt of the New Zealand Baaa-rmy Army.

Barracking along partizan country lines needs to be stamped out in the interests of the game, that should take care of the rest of those of us who bother to turn up.

I'm sure the Board will blame the empty seats on a lack of interest by the public in games against New Zealand, and they have a point. On the last night of the test, Suncorp Stadium could only squeeze in 55,000 disinterested fans for a Rugby League match between the same two countries!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not Cute

Mr Two, his mother and grandmother found themselves in a large chemist shop a few days ago, the sort with lots of aisles and a cash register near the door.

While the elder duo were somewhat occupied at the register, finalising their purchases, Mr Two took it on himself to explore, carefully covering his tracks under the guise of looking for his grandmother. "JoJo" he called as disappeared from view, with that sort of half crouch that children adopt when they are intent on finding something that is lost.

His mother was not amused, and tried her darndest to ensure that her mother would not be either.

"It's not cute, Mum" she admonished.

And it wasn't.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spirit Levels

One of the delights of having small children around, is that they believe pretty much anything they hear. It’s not that I deliberately set out to deceive them, but sometimes my mouth just goes off before my brain is engaged and I just can't help telling great big lies.

One of the really sad things about watching kids grow up, is coming to the realisation that they have reached an age where they don’t believe those tall stories any more, or at least in the days before the internet was invented they didn’t.

Now there’s a thing called Wikepedia, which seems to be the one resource that all students use as the basis for obtaining knowledge. This is a somewhat terrifying prospect for the world, as it is an enterprise which draws its knowledge collaboratively. Anyone, even someone like me, can dial in and add to the knowledge pool on any given subject.

In theory that’s a grand idea, it’s supposed to ensure that knowledge is always cutting edge, that the merest hint of an inaccuracy will be immediately clarified by an expert in the field, but the reality is that the information is readily open to sabotage either willful or accidental.

When I was checking the spelling of Stokes Poge the other day I decided to check the Wikepedia entry for Thomas Gray, whom I knew had been buried beside his Mum at that spot, and had died in 1771, coincidentally the year after the discovery of Australia by James Cook.

“Thomas Gray (December 26, 1716 – July 30, 1771), was an English poet, classical scholar and professor at Cambridge University.

He was born in Shellharbour, Australia, the son of an Ultrasonographer and a Nurse. He was the first of three children and the only child in his family to survive infancy. He lived with his mother after she left his abusive father. He was educated at Kiama Community College where his uncle was on drugs. He recalled his schooldays as a time of great sorrow, as is evident in his Ode on a Distant Prospect of Kiama Community College. Gray was a small and sickly boy who spent his time reading and avoiding athletics. It was probably fortunate for the young and sensitive Gray that he was able to live in his uncle’s household rather than at college. He made three close friends at Kiama: Andrew, son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, Shawn, and Alexander. The four of them prided themselves on their sense of style, their sense of humour, and their appreciation of life.”

Those who know about these things, tell me that the entry was “only” left in this form for about two weeks, as if two weeks worth of final year students may not have handed in their plagiarised and worthless assignments based entirely on the contents of this article.

Which of course brought me to a rather exciting conclusion. I don’t have to lie to my grandchildren anymore.

If for example I was to build a machine to collect the bubbles of pre-digested wind that the goldfish pass in the pond, (to sell to the Chinese of course - that’s what they use for the bubbles in spirit levels you know) I wouldn't have to tell anyone what it was.

I wouldn't have to, because I’d build a detailed entry for Wikepedia complete with photographs, and I’d tell them to look it up.

After all, the internet doesn’t lie.

Not like their grandfather.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bill and Audrey

Everyone needs an Uncle Bill and Auntie Audrey.

They've both gone now, but until Bill’s demise this month, for the entire lives of four generations of us, and all but twelve years of my mother's life, they've loomed in our family like imaginary friends of the very best kind. They were real of course not imaginary, but Bill, Audrey and our parents, were destined never to meet despite a lifetime of being so close, leaving a touch of surreality about their relationship.

Audrey lived on opposite sides of the world to my mother, half a century and more before computers and email were to be invented, and closer to a century before video chat. At some time in the 1930's, wen both were twelve years of age, they began to correspond.

They became what was known as "Pen Friends", which if one thinks about it is very much like logging on to Facebook, except the messages were longer, and took three months to deliver by sea mail. It’s hard in this era of instant communication to imagine a communication method that provided the answer to a question six months after it was asked, but that’s what being a pen friend meant.

Writing letters by hand, licking stamps and leaving them in a pillar box where they would by some magical means be transported halfway around the world to another little girl in an unimaginable country, was how it was done.

Monthly correspondence passed on ships in the night.

War arrived, and my mother sent relief parcels from Australia to Audrey’s family in war-torn England, they remained in their own countries, grew older and eventually married all the while keeping up their regular communications. Their respective husbands became part of the friendship. When my mother produced children, it was natural that we should be adopted by an Auntie and Uncle whom we’d never met.

They would send us marvelously exotic parcels to us each birthday or Christmas wrapped in battered brown paper and string with a green customs sticker on them hinting at the contents, and stamps from England that would be soaked off and left to be lost on the kitchen window sill. Books and toys from the other side of the world. We’d write in return to offer our thanks, and our incredible family from the other side of the world became closer and the communication network broadened.

Airmail became economical, and the letters became Aerogrammes, a lightweight folded tissue paper, on which Mum and Audrey would type their correspondence on ever blank space, with single line spacing and no paragraph breaks to get more words in. With a little luck, they'd arrive within a few weeks of being posted.

When Bill and Audrey went abroad, we’d receive photos, we knew all their relatives and the state of health of each of them, and they knew ours.

For us their house was the thing of fairytales, it had a name of it's own, and was located in the impossibly English "Swallow Close", it was hard to believe it just wasn't part of an elaborate movie.

One year, international telephony arrived and after booking a call weeks in advance because that's what one had to do to make use of the limited lines available, we phoned them on Christmas day.

They didn’t have children of their own, but our extended family was their extended family, we had children of our own, they became "Great".

Travel over that distance was once the realm of the wealthy and the idle, and the relationship had stood for almost half a century of before any of us had the pleasure of connecting face to face. As fate would have it, I was to be the first of our family.

With the Mother of my children and the eldest (and only at the time) two of them in our little red rented car with its "Visitor to Britain" sticker on the windscreen, we turned into their driveway one fine summer afternoon in 1982.

We had arrived at "Hunter's Mead", Swallow Close.

We were to about to meet for the very first time. We were about to cross a bridge that was half a world long.

Audrey and Bill rushed into the yard.

Life turned into slow motion, we knew them so well from the countless holiday snaps.

Surely this was Deja Vu. We knew the house, we knew every flower and the little concrete owl, everything was eerily familiar. They were, well they were them in their socks and outdoor shoes with their skin the colour of fresh milk.

Oddly, she was dressed to exactly match the colour of the door of their garage, although that didn’t seem at all odd at the time, they were English after all.

Her first words to us face to face, were such a powerful testament to the power of long distance relationships that my hair stood on end, and although my hair these days is permanently on end, I still get a shiver when I think of them:

“It’s so lovely to see you again!”

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Elegy written in a country Churchyard

Sadly, Bill passed away last week.

While there are many things that he will be remembered for, (including Julian's "come friendly bombs" encounter), this photograph of our two eldest daughters with their father will always be one of them.

Late in the very first evening of our very first visit, Bill packed the three of us up while the ladies were otherwise occupied, and took us to the churchyard in nearby Stoke Poges, where he posed this photo of us sitting/leaning on Thomas Gray's mother's tomb, said to be the very spot Thom had sat while writing his elegy.

If you'd ever met him, you would have enjoyed his ability enthuse others with his own quiet charm and love of life's important things.

Our contact was infrequent, our encounters rare, but on the day the photo was taken, he didn't need to know I could only recite the first four lines from memory when he asked if I'd heard of Gray's Elegy.

I'd fluked my way through a test he didn't know he'd set, and Bill was just as impressed with my detailed knowledge of English poets then, in 1982, as he was with Julian's during what was to be our last visit twenty-five years later.

For Uncle Bill:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault
If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Yet e'en these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd Muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
E'en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires.

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate, --

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
"Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;

"There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high.
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

"Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.

"One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

"The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,-
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn."

The Epitaph

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
And Melacholy marked him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode
(There they alike in trembling hope repose),
The bosom of his Father and his God.

By Thomas Gray (1716-71).


Monday, November 03, 2008

Emissions Trading

Our family has always been aware of the dangers of greenhouse gasses.

While it wasn’t long ago that global warming was observed and considered to be a threat, and even less time before scientists became so confused with what they were seeing that they renamed the phenomena “climate change”, how the simple logic behind the science has escaped almost the entire population of the world is beyond us.

Each year after Christmas, my grandparents used to holiday at Redcliffe, now one of Brisbane’s outer suburbs, although in the early sixties that was a relatively easy commute to “town”, it seemed to be miles from anywhere. We’d join them for some of the time, although my father never took leave from his duties in the office presumable a better alternative than spending protracted periods with his mother in law!

If some of those Global Warming Scientists had spent any time at all with my grandmother after Christmas, the concept of emissions trading would be well evolved by now. By the age of ten, it was pretty clear to me that the temperature of the toilet compartment in the flat had consistently increased by more than a few degrees after her occupancy of the space. If one grandmother was capable of that, what evil powers were being unleashed on the earth each day by the combination of all the grandmothers in the world?

It was my father though, who took the concept of emissions trading to an entirely new level. In what some would describe as his declining years, although undoubtedly his view was that he had been saving his best till last, he developed a temporary condition which polite company would refer to as a “stomach bug”.

We were picnicking in a lush green parkland when he felt the urge to respond to what colloquially may be described as a “call of nature”. He was bent almost double, with the beginning of a tear in his eyes as he hobbled across to the conveniences.

In due course he emerged, still bent double, still with tears in his eyes so it was difficult to tell at first whether his condition had improved, but on closer inspection the grimace that had once graced his countenance had been replaced by an evil grin.

He was claiming a personal best.

He had not been alone in that toilet block. The cubicle beside the one he had occupied had a tenant of its own.

Apparently, the greenhouse gases he had produced were of sufficient toxicity to increase the temperature of an entire suburb by considerably more than a few percentage points, although confined as they were in a relatively small space, it didn’t take a very long time at all for the neighbour to become acutely aware of the impact of global warming on his own little patch.

So overcome was this invisible stranger that he became suddenly loudly and violently ill, his plaintive retching reverberating through the otherwise silent cavern, except of course for my father's muffled chuckles.

This tale of course gives rise to some serious thought on the question of emissions trading. If we have something so terribly nasty that it can change the global weather, who is going to be silly enough to trade with us, and what will we get for them?
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