John Clare Writings

Working Up Some Wrath

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1. Ah yes, I see that I have been invited once more to LIKE someone’s new status. At the risk of revealing myself to be a complete snob, I will admit that I do LIKE their new status as Governor General much more than their old status as garbage man.

2. I have yet another pamphlet: GOD LOVES YOU, handed to me by a comically dour and fierce grey-bearded man. This one makes it clear that God will also cook me, unlike those leaflets that pussyfoot on this topic. He will cook me, like any good chef, with love. Here, according to the pamphlet, are some ways to incur wrath and be assigned to the lake of fire: I quote: ‘How about blasphemy? Taking the Lord’s name as a swear word, such as ‘Oh God’ or ‘Jesus!’  God records every word we say and will hold us accountable for every line we have said. How would you like your name used as a swear word?’

Gosh, if that happened I would get really hot under the collar and most likely declare that I was mad as hell and would not take it anymore. Burning people up is not within my purview unfortunately. Many decades ago I was talked into performing fornication with her by a wicked woman. Some way into this terrible procedure – my first and last time I assure you – she cried out ‘Oh John’ then ‘John!’ I find that the only way I can fully express my mortification at this use of my name is with this quote from R.E.M: ‘I think I’m losing my erection.’

3. I’m getting wrathful as hell now. I had about eight invitations from Facebook to LIKE a photo of myself taken by the late, great Dave Ades, except they did not know he was late or great. Nor that he had never taken a photo of me. I had never seen a camera in his hands. There followed a number of comments, many regarding my lovely smile. One woman said it nearly made her swoon. I had to pay this ruse. Flattery first, but even more guileful, an invitation to view something that did not exist. Well, there were Dave and I standing together and looking toward a camera presumably. I remember this series of photos at Wangaratta, but not the name of the photographer. Obviously it was not Dave. Incidentally the smile was on his face not mine. I have never been known to smile. Facebook, how did you program your computer to get it all so wrong? It didn’t have the brains to know that a photo of Dave was of much more interest than one of me, even if that were taken by Dave – which it wasn’t. Wrath is on the rise.

4. Ya, suck on this Labor! Curtin, pooey! We of the willing Coalition now have our own wartime Prime Minister, who directs the campaign from a khaki army tent and will soon no doubt lead his troops into battle like Richard the Third. Ultimately he will transform the whole Arabic/Moslem world into something that closely resembles that Golden Age when they invented algebra, built architectural marvels and acted as curators of the Grecian, Roman, Egyptian and Minoan mathematical and philosophical heritage. God willing of course.

Yes, I too am fearful, and just as sceptical as I was in the early days of the Arab Spring, amazing Social Media notwithstanding. Of course America backed tyrants and undermined the democratically elected. We don’t know what would have happened if they had sat on their hands. There is an argument, you may have noticed, that it was the West that undermined the abovementioned glory and fostered Arab infantilism. For a couple of examples of unpleasant Middle Eastern infantilism, though perhaps of a trivial nature (I mean what was whipping the camel on which I was mounted out into the Libyan Desert in an attempt to extract more money if not trivial?), scroll back through these blergs to Death Somewhere Near The Nile. And perhaps Omen In Malaysia. Whatever they are doing to us and to each other is nothing beside that which we have done to them. Therefore it is a bit rich to imagine that we will reconstruct their noble traditions at a point where they no longer want them (thanks to us). It is because of us that the current barbarism flourishes. So it can be argued, but it is very complicated. Crusaders went to the Holy Land first in order to protect pilgrims from Arabs who robbed and killed them, so it is also argued. Greater minds than mine by far have ideas on this, and I commend to you, for instance, Paul McGeough in the Sydney Morning Herald. He has actually seen it all on the ground and has a sober view that has so far proved right. I would also refer you to a friend whose conservative views are informed by a strong moral conviction, a strong sense of duty (sometimes an uneasy dialectic this) and a strong military tradition in his family. David Hodge, prize-winning architect now retired. Unfortunately I have lost contact with him.

I will admit that something vengeful, something wrathful in me cries out and asks how can we let this go on? The beheading and so on. About as long as we have let the stoning to death of women who have been raped go on. I have seen film of this. I have seen the men yodelling and shrilling and wetting their pants with excitement. As the women, on their knees and wrapping their hands pathetically around their heads, weave this way and that to delay the inevitable end under enthusiastically hurled rocks. Let he who is without sin.

Into all this horror and moral confusion allow me to introduce a very odd New Zealander who sneers at my shock and revulsion and dismisses any moral indignation (from our side, not from theirs) as hysteria. ‘They don’t think it is terrible,’ he has often told me. ‘They’ being a confluence of non-specific traditionals and ethnics – including of course ‘the Moslems’.

Look at the Maoris, he has told me. They eat their enemies to ingest their bravery and smash each other’s heads in with clubs – ‘a powerful symbol’ he maintains. They don’t think there is anything terrible in that. And anyway, look what we’ve done, he says, veering towards contradiction. Okay for them, bad for us. And there is no doubt that Medieval battles – such as the one in which Richard III himself was killed and had a spear rammed up his arse while being borne about triumphantly slung across a horse – were as barbaric as you could imagine. And of course we converted people on pain of death, just like the IS. Indeed, you could say that Anzac Day is a death cult; but we don’t gloat over Turkish deaths. In fact we praise the Turks, out of honest respect these days, and because it magnifies our bravery. Sure, I am disgusted by this and by that. Guantamo Bay, suicide bombers et etc. But somebody must appear as the good guy and someone as the bad, for those with an agenda. In short: the successes of the Ottoman Empire? Jolly good. One up for the East. The successes of the British Empire? Poor show, don’t you know. Dashed poor show. But for those being murdered by beheading, starvation or bombs it is all a poor show. They do think it is terrible and so do their families and neighbours, and theirs is the only opinion that matters as far as I am concerned. the Aztecs sacrificed their own people and prisoners of war to the sun. They groomed little children for sacrifice. Did they not think what they were doing was terrible? Don’t really know, but they wept as they looked at those children. They sacrificed them out of fear that the sun would not come back next morning. It was terrible and they were ignorant. Ask the Mayans who fought against them with the Spanish. We have tried to move on, and that is something. Galileo proved, with the use of telescopes, that the world goes round the sun. And does so without benefit of human sacrifice. We will go that way.

I hope.

As to Maoris, I lived on the South Island for a year, and there were very few Maoris there at that time, but when I was a boy I did have an Uncle Johnny Morgan who was a full-blooded Maori. He owned Morgan Steel Construction Company, which erected a number of once-prominent structures in Sydney. My father drove a mobile crane for him after the war – Prussian blue, I recall. Uncle Johnny admired my father but years later told me that Bill (Clare) would not eat his lunch with the other men. ‘Perhaps he thought he was better than them, and maybe he was, but…’

Nevertheless, their friendship was surely the reason he was my godfather, and not my real uncle as I had believed for some years. My point is that, though Johnny and his brother (who was killed in a building accident) used to dress in grass skirts and Hawaiian beach shirts (not really Maori gear), play their guitars or mandolins and sing Polynesian songs for business associates at barbecues round the back of Johnny’s mansion in French Street, Maroubra, and though Maoris still liked a punch up with the Tongans, they had all by and large moved on from thinking it was okay to eat a chap for his bravery or smash his head in with a club. My quasi-uncle was always genial and kindly to us kids (his office was then down near the beach and he always came out when we called) , and none of his relatives thought that murdering people was the way to go.

Further, I spoke with a number of Moslems – some of them friends – about my Kiwi friend’s opinions and they said they were false, insulting and probably a bit mad.

Now the other wrath-inducing irritant in my life is a woman whose agenda it is that East is always superior – more advanced, more spiritual etc. – than the West. ‘The Chinese invented the compass anyway,’ she proclaimed during an otherwise non-confrontational conversation about oceans (my favourite topic with which to bore people. ‘Strictly speaking, yes,’ I said. They discovered, not invented, the magnetic lodestone which can mysteriously impart a magnetic polar orientation to a needle (by stroking same). At first they used this for conjuring tricks and necromancy, but they later invented a very unreliable compass in which the needle floated on a straw in a bowl of water. Completely unworkable when the sea was up. They then abandoned this in favour of the European dry-pivoted compass. As did the Japanese, including Japanese pirates.

Of course the Chinese invented a number of things, but, for instance, they did not make glass but used a thin, translucent paper in their windows. No one was universally AHEAD forever.

The time of innovation in the East came to an end and eventually the Eastern world struggled and failed to catch up with the British and the Germans during the industrial revolution. Religious changes in the East and frozen social orders, and burgeoning democracy in the West may have had something to do with this. But who cares? Who cares? Eastern and Western peoples are a geographical accident whose origins we have not completely traced. If you draw meridians south from Britain through France you will strike Morocco and Afghanistan. Very different peoples to the Brits, but differentiated not by East and West orientation, but North and South. Furthermore, some Eastern nations do not resemble each other in any significant way. I have been to Malaysia and Singapore, where there are large numbers of Moslems (mainly Malays) and of Chinese (also Hindus and Sikhs and possibly some Indian Moslems). They are different in the extreme, linguistically, in religious belief in the main and in appearance and some of them hate each other as do factions in the West…’ Ah, but they are more spiritual’ my friend protested. Try telling that to someone who suffered in a Japanese prison camp, I protested in turn. Some forgave and even studied Japanese art in an effort to understand. Others were physically sick when they heard the Japanese language or accent. Before she could interrupt I told her of the occasional old square head in Japan who taunted my Chinese girlfriend as soon as they heard her accent. ‘Ah, remember Singapore…’

Here is where she and my  Kiwi friend are united in madness: Give it a name and it becomes spiritual and is redeemed.

‘Ah, but you don’t understand Bushido’…I understand it all too well, having read the ironically titled Knights Of Bushido when she was a baby or perhaps not yet born. One man I knew who had been in Japanese prison camp said there was nothing to be said for them. They would catch a pig and pour boiling water into its ear and roll about laughing. Sadistic is the word. Spiritual also starts with S, but forget it.

Enough, enough!

The Australians have of course come in for a good deal of bashing during my conversations with this pair (who would never read this, I must assure you), and there was routine racism about when I was a boy, but we did give the pilot of one of the midget subs who entered Sydney Harbour a burial with full military honours when he was finally found. They brought out his mother, who was visibly moved. And so was I.

I enjoyed Japan a great deal when I lived there, but Bushido had gone. In fact those old men would be dead now. Buddhism was predominant, with Shinto still lingering, in fox shrines and other memorials really within Buddhist temple grounds.

Some moron is now trying to revive Bushido.

5 Wondrous

When all nations fled from each other toward mighty Maroubra – sometimes translated as Place Of Wind, sometimes Beautiful Place – and some suffered the humiliation of calling desperately and being rescued from a rip by some uncouth local lifesaver even though they were champion of Bucharest or somewhere (in a swimming pool of course), I felt that this must be the most wondrous place on earth. They came here from all corners, even to the flat next door where an Austrian Jewish family arrived and became our friends. But no, it was just that we were less ghastly than other places during World War II. It was childhood that was wondrous, where there was nothing and no one without interest. Not even the ordinary Australians, including the Aborigines who lived there and went to school, and including my friend Jackie Mills who lived with his Aboriginal family in a shack made of galvanised iron and kerosene tins over the great sand hill that has now gone. There were even French people at Maroubra and I befriended them, though they laughed at the way I had pasted my stamp collection into an album. There were too many types to grade and judge them all. Nevertheless I am ashamed to say that not everyone was as free from racial judgement as I was.

Why was I free?

Because of my mother. She made sandwiches for both of us when Jackie came to our place. By then we had moved from the flats to a rented house down near the beach. She had befriended the Austrians next door and the Catholics above, and she told me to smile and say hello and not to stare at the Greek matriarch, the nuns or the Orthodox Jews who passed along French Street, predominantly or entirely in black on days of brilliant sunshine or grey rainy weather.

One day an old European man sat beside me on a wooden bench along the promenade and gestured toward the wintry sea and the ranked white waves advancing and said, ‘This is wonderful. We never saw waves like these and people walking on them on boards.’

Duke Kahanamoku had taught us to ride on surf boards, at Manly I think. He came here to teach us. And possibly to sell beach shirts which he designed. To me it seemed they all came here eventually. Like Captain Cook, they had to see what was here.

And of course they found people with an accent horribilis. Which, if the truth be known I’ve never learned to like much myself.

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