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Archive for the ‘alcohol’ Category

droppingout_e-cover

Sitting here waiting for my son and his wife and kids to wake up. They leave to return to the UK today. I hadn’t seen my son for ten years, and I’d never seen my grandchildren, who are nine and five. They’ve been here for three weeks, on and off when they weren’t exploring the countryside in their rented campervan, and it’s going to be a wrench, I know.

I sit here sipping coffee, trying to fortify myself for the ordeal to come. Fortunately, my daughter, who’s up from Melbourne, will be here until Monday, so I won’t have to lose them all at once.

Attachment. The Buddhist masters have always talked of the evils of attachment. Not that it’s evil in itself, but that it causes us humans so much pain from loss, or even the fear of it. But then, I wonder, how would we care properly for our young if we weren’t attached to them? Attachment seems to be hardwired into us, with all that it entails.

There’s one being in my household who won’t be sad to see the whole caravan go. That’s my cat Tim, who’s spent the past 14 years in the peace and quiet of my solitary existence, and who’s never had to deal up close with little people.

timmy-p-72

He had to be taken to the vet yesterday afternoon with nervous exhaustion. The vet gave him a B shot. I could’ve done with a B shot myself.

I’m still recovering from the book launch last night, which turned out to be a comedy of errors. The first night I chose at the hotel for drinks turned out to be too close to my daughter’s arrival from Melbourne. So I moved the night from Wednesday to Thursday — usually a quiet night for pubs. To my horror, after I’d notified all the people concerned, I discovered that the pub was holding a huge band night with a $30.00 cover charge that Thursday. So I moved the night to Friday.

I had envisaged a nice quiet book launch on a quiet night in a peaceful garden setting. Some food, some drinks, nice conversation; a good way to put a full stop to the book I’d just completed.

loud-singer

We could hear the music blocks away as we parked the car. After that, it was all shouting, as we tried to make ourselves heard over the din. More than half of us were well over sixty, and we had a particularly hard time. “What was that?” we kept saying to one another. “Say that again.” I envied the cat, at home watching TV and enjoying his newfound B status, nerves all nicely taken care of.

Anyone reading this who was invited but couldn’t come, you didn’t miss anything. But as they say, it’s all part of growing up and being human. And these things have a habit of being funny later on.

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I first met John Macgregor about ten years ago. Turned out he lived down the street from me. John’s over in Cambodia now, having adventures, while I, ever unadventurous, am still in the same street. (Anyone who’s read my trip to NZ post will know that I’m not a traveller, never was.)

 John has recently put his award-winning novel, Propinquity, up on the web. I asked him to write a few words about the book and how he felt about it after all these years. This is what he wrote:

Propinquity cover

 

I tend to think of the 1980s as being quite close in time – a bit like Now With Bulky Devices. But exhuming Propinquity, my 27-year-old novel, revealed just how much Australia has changed in the few years since then.

Propinquity was disinterred for publication as an e-book. This meant I had to read the thing – for the first time since I was a young lad of 36 who regarded it as reasonable behaviour to wear black all the time, and smoke a lot.

I knew I had changed. And I knew my alter ego narrator would have changed (had I attempted anything so gauche as a sequel). Australia was the character which provided the surprises.

To get the difficult bit over with first: during the Mullumbimby section of the novel, my narrator, Clive, regularly goes swimming naked with two girl children (his girlfriend’s kids). That would probably be out these days. Indeed I’m nervous about even mentioning it. I suspect the way this passage was received in 1986 (not a single comment from a reader or reviewer) is different to how it will be read now.

But far more interesting (to me) is that Clive habitually tends to put a negative spin on things. I did not know in 1986  that this “pessimistic explanatory style” is the leading cause of depression. After 35 years of the black dog I was very happy to put it down about ten years ago, thanks to some learned optimism training. Many others have done the same. In my opinion we’re in something of a Golden Age of psychology – an age which lies in Clive’s future. So seeing his episodic gloomfulness now – from that future – is a bit like observing a gloomy adolescent: you feel he’ll grow out of it.

Small, linguistic things have changed too. There are no “awesomes” in the book, but one “whatever”, and one line that made me LOL:

“She laughed out loud.”

And what is it with all these hyphens? Back-drop? Match-box? Stick-figure? Plaster-board? Sun-tan? Heart-beat? Switch-board? Did we ever spell like that? If so, two and a half more decades of Americanisation have ended it.

It’s not just language that’s changed, but diction. After the Loyal Toast at a Melbourne wedding reception, Clive tells us: “The toasting done, assumed English accents at neighbouring tables began to rise again in volume.”

This alludes to a generation of Melbourne society women, who are now all dead. No-one thinks a fake English accent is sophisticated any more, even in Toorak. (One also suspects the Loyal Toast has gone the way of the Divine Right and Charles I’s head.) But it’s remarkable how recently these faux Englishwomen walked (and talked) among us. I can still hear the terrifying, brittle voices which cut the air before them them as they beelined toward you at a party, like the Queen with an icepick behind her back.

The book also suggested how our views on alcohol, diet and health have changed in scarcely a generation. Clive drank a real lot (“we spent a month drinking beer in the Portsea pub”; “The wine was tolerable too, the second bottle tasting better than the first.”), as did his friends. They even did this at breakfast. I don’t drink at all these days, and if I had anything to do with it (which I would) neither would Clive.

And to think that this young idiot also drank iced coffee and ate camembert! Didn’t he know coffee crashes the adrenals, and that dairy is the world’s number one allergen? To make matters worse, on page 126: “I consumed mountains of garlic bread.” These grain foods were the very thing that would soon make me sick for an entire decade, till the arrival of the Internet enabled me to learn that we’re not a grain-eating species. D’oh.

But Clive is incorrigible. He seems determined to submerge himself in over-work, coffee, tax evasion, alcohol, grand theft, garlic bread, procuring perjury and eating dairy – all the vices, not just a few:

“The meetings and telexes and coffees and cigarettes had been endless.” Unspeakable.

Indeed, after he has discovered the divine female at the heart of Christendom, exposed a 2,000-year Church conspiracy, fled Westminster Abbey, been chased by the authorities across the globe, and is finally nabbed by the law in Byron Bay, he tries to makes his escape by slugging a policeman. These days police are armed, and he’d be shot.

The foregoing also reminds me how radically the way people think about God has shifted. Propinquity is saying that everything we have been taught about God is nonsense – a fringe view in 1986, which is now mainstream. The old structures totter on, but the cynicism about them is total.

Finally, for all his sins, my hero Clive was right to suggest a post-revolution firing squad for Rupert Murdoch, for it is his ilk who have ensured that “the old is dying, and the new cannot be born”.

“In this strange interregnum” (to complete the quote from Antonio Gramsci) “many morbid symptoms arise”. Looking around me now at 61, he wasn’t wrong about that.

In 1986 it was thought that we were in with a chance to save civilisation, and the planet that gave rise to it. The ensuing quarter-century saw the ideas and structures by which that could have been done steadily abandoned. Now we’re down to a series of rear guard actions. The emphasis has shifted, with a slow, intricate subtlety, from preventing disaster to adjusting to it. None of that was visible when I was 36, and wore black, and smoked a lot.

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“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” * It’s Boxing Day. Christmas is over for another year, and I couldn’t be happier. Celebrating a winter solstice festival in the middle of the Australian summer is no picnic. ‘Tis a wearisome business, more like hard work.

Boxing Day 2

The toads are out, drunken bogans are in plague proportions, and the ants have organised themselves into raiding parties – they seem particularly fond of cat food. In the horror run-up to Christmas, we drip with sweat as we rip open cards showing snow scenes while the thermometer climbs into the 40s and the radio dispenses songs about chestnuts roasting on open fires, and sleigh bells — most of us have never seen a chestnut or heard  a sleigh bell, but there y’ go. ‘Tis the season for psychosis, tra la la la la, la la la la.

I had been going to celebrate the arrival of Boxing Day by taking the cats into the torn-apart-and-put-together study tonight and watching a little junk TV while I mended my rags, but I’ve discovered the TV is on the blink. I haven’t seen any TV since The Great Python Debacle of 5th December (see previous blog), when I was forced to leave the study so precipitously; all I’ve done since is make one-hour sorties into the room to keep in touch with people on the net, clean, and throw out the things that had  accumulated under the stairs in the last 14 years — old computers, keyboards, printers, scanners, plus mucho miscellaneous stuff, and empty boxes I thought would come in handy sometime, you know the syndrome.

It’s impossible to get a tech to the house at this time of year so I must go on contenting myself with radio. At least, they’ve stopped playing Christmas songs. I’ve had a horror of Christmas since I fell ill with diptheria when I was 18 months old and spent the whole Christmas fighting for my life in a hospital bed. In those days (we’re talking millions of years ago, tiny cats), parents weren’t allowed into the wards on the grounds that their leaving at the end of visiting time would upset the children. Ho. Instead, the children had to contend with what must have seemed to them (it certainly seemed so to me) like total abandonment by everyone they had ever trusted and loved. Every so often, to provide some light relief from my misery, three strangers, dressed all in white and wearing masks, would come into my room, hold me down and paint my throat. Merry Christmas, Kid.

To change the subject, lately I’ve become possessed of some kind of death ray for electrical objects. Show me anything that runs on electricity and I can disable it. Currently, my washing machine is playing up, the TV won’t work, my computer is taking 15 minutes to access documents or the net and, last week, when I went to iron the dress I’d bought for my daughter for Christmas, the iron blew up! Partly, I suppose, it’s the result of living so near the sea, but I’m convinced that it’s also partly me. It’s an expensive quality to have: a veritable parade of technicians will be required to put this place back into working order. But all that is days away; you couldn’t get a tech today if your life depended on it. They’ve all turned off their mobiles, the better to enjoy their hangovers — them and the rest of Australia. Now we are in the beautiful hiatus that comes between Christmas and New Year. No need to worry about plans and how to implement them in the coming year, no need to struggle to fulfil expectations, yours or anyone else’s; just a beautiful seven days in which to recover from what my daughter calls ‘the season of psychosis’.

I do love Boxing Day. And the icing on the cake is — it’s raining.

May 2013 bring you your heart’s desire.

* Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

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